Of Allah’s greatest names is Al-Ghafuwr (الغَفُور). It’s one of the most common names mentioned in the Qur’an (91 times). The name itself is on the pattern that denotes a very powerful doer of an action.
Linguistic Meaning: The root of Al-Ghaffuwr and Al-Ghaffar is the verb is ghafara (غَفَرَ), which does NOT mean “to forgive”; rather, it means to shield and protect and cover. Like a helmet, which, in Arabic, is called a “mighfaar.”
Islamic Meaning: Islamically, Allah (سبحانه وتعالى), Al-Ghaffuwr is the one who shields and protects YOU form the consequences of your own actions. One of the connotations is, you shield and cover something based upon knowledge. So when Allah does maghfirah, he’s covering your sins, being fully aware of what they are. So we say he’s the one who FORGIVES, regardless of how large the sin his. That’s what Al-Ghaffuwr is—the one who does the concept of ghafara to a higher level. Even if it’s a large quantity—a HUGE sin—Al-Ghafuwr will cover it up. It’s a QUALITY of covering.
In contrast to Al-Ghaffuwr, Al-Ghaffaar is only mentioned about four times in the Qur’an. Al-Ghaffaar is the one who CONTINUES to forgive, again and again and again and again and again. So Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) forgives you REGARDLESS of how many times you sin—again and again, he gives you continuous forgiveness. It’s a QUANTITY forgiveness.
This great name of Allah (سبحانه وتعالى), Al-Ghafuwr, is mentioned in combination with several other names of Allah.
- Ar-Raheem: 72 times, Allah mentions Al-Ghafuwr with Ar-Raheem, one of the most common sets of pairs of Allah’s names—signifying that he COVERS these sins because he’s merciful to us.
- Al-Haleem: 6 times, Allah pairs Al-Ghafuwr with Al-Haleem—and Al-Haleem means the one who is able to restrain his anger after being justifiably angry. He is capable of being angry with us, but he restrains and forgives us.
- Al-‘Afuww: 4 times, Allah pairs Al-Ghaffuwr with Al-‘Affuw, meaning he is the one who covers our sins, and also wipes them out, utterly obliterates them, with his forgiveness.
- Ash-Shakuwr: 3 times, he pairs this with As-Shakuwr (الشكور), the one who appreciates what you’ve done and rewards you with more then you deserve. Pairing this with Al-Ghafuwr, you get the one who forgives you, and gives you more then you deserve for your good deeds. And Suratush-Shuraa, the people of Jannah say: “we made it because Allah is Ghafuwr and Shakuwr—He forgave us, and gave us more then we deserve.”
- Al-Aziz: 2 times, Allah pairs Al-Ghafuwr with Al-Aziz (العزيز), and Al-Aziz is, the one who has honour and power, and the one who has power in himself so he cannot be harmed, and the all-powerful. These are the meanings of Aziz. By combining with Al-Ghafuwr, Allah is saying, “I’m forgiving you DESPITE the fact that I’m all-powerful.” Because if a bully comes and hits you, you might forgive him, because there’s nothing you can do—you’re weak and incapable—but Allah says “no, I forgive even though I am Al-Aziz.” And that is the HEIGHT of forgiveness.
- Al-Waduwd: 1 time, Allah pairs Al-Ghafuwr with Al-Waduwd (الوَدُود)–the one who shows extra love, the caring type of love (Arabic has over 10 verbs to describe different types of love). And Al-Waduwd has connotations of caring and loving and protecting. Allah is saying “I forgive you because I love you with that type of love”–best described as a parent’s love (wudd) for her child.
And this is Allah (سبحانه وتعالى), our Lord, the one whom we worship alone–not some man-god or pious person, but rather, the one who is Al-Ghaffuwr and Al-Ghaffaar.
And remember–if you’ve sinned or wronged somebody, or even wronged yourself, call upon Al-Ghafuwr, call upon Al-Ghaffaar, to forgive you–because unlike humans, He (سبحانه وتعالى) never, ever tires of forgiving us.
Yasir Qadhi. Lecture. AlMaghrib. Light Upon Light: Fundamentals of Faith 102. Metro Toronto Convention Center, July 2007.