وَاذْكُرْ رَبَّكَ إِذَا نَسِيتَ وَقُلْ عَسَىٰ أَنْ يَهْدِيَنِ رَبِّي لِأَقْرَبَ مِنْ هَٰذَا رَشَدًا
Wadhrku rabbaka idhā nasīta waqul ‘asā an yahdiyani rabbī
li-aqraba min hādha rashada.
And when you forget, remember your Lord and say, ‘Maybe my Lord
will guide me to that which is closer to righteousness than this.’
(Sūrat Kahf No.18, Āyat 24)
This verse is preceded by the order to say inshāAllah – if God wills – after an intention to do something in future. When a believer plans to do something he has to include the words InshāAllah, as it conveys the understanding that what he wants to do can only happen if God wills it and allows it to happen. It is a reflection of the complete dependence of the servant (‘abd) on the Master (mawlā).
When a believer forgets to say that and realizes it later, the above verse tells him to remember God at that time. It is interesting to note the process here:
• an intention is made to do something
• the phrase ‘InshāAllah – if God wills’ is omitted
• realization comes later
• God should then be remembered
• A prayer should be made that God may guide towards a better course of action next time
Note that the word wadhkur rabbaka means that when you remember, after forgetting God and being heedless for a while, that remembrance can be in any form. It can mean saying ‘InshāAllah -if God wills’ or it could be istighfār seeking forgiveness for having forgotten it, or any other form of dhikr that would constitute remembering God. The dhikr conveys your submission and dependence on Him. It is to make amends for the earlier mistake and can be done in any way.
Although the remembrance after forgetting is good, it is not the best course of action. Better than that would have been not to forget it in the first place. That is why the prayer for rashada– the right course or guidance. It is what the Companions of the Cave (ashābul kahf) had prayed for. (See Q 18:10).
After a mistake is committed and realization occurs there is no need for bitterness and self-blame. Instead the Quran tells us to take steps to make amends. In this verse Allah saying to remember Him again after you forgot and pray that it may not happen again. These are the two ways of countering the mistake made. In another verse He says: And when you see those who engage in false talk about Our signs, avoid them until they enter into some other discourse. But if the Shaytān makes you forget, then, after remembering, do not sit with an unjust people (Q 6:68). It is an order to avoid the company of those who mock the communications of Allah. But if you forget and sit with them, then withdraw as soon as you remember.
This verse tells us what to do when we make a mistake. Recite it to remind yourself that after a mistake is made it is necessary to take steps to make amends. Negativity over your mistakes does not change what has happened. But taking the right steps shows you have learned from the mistake and are less likely to repeat it. This is important to move forward in life.
Sources: Āyatullāh Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Seyyid Hossein Nasr, (Ed), The Study Quran; http://www.alketab.org/مريم_٦٥