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wabil-asḥāri
وَبِٱلْأَسْحَارِ
And in the hours before dawn
hum
هُمْ
they
yastaghfirūna
يَسْتَغْفِرُونَ
would ask forgiveness,

Wa bilashaari hum yastaghfiroon

Sahih International:

And in the hours before dawn they would ask forgiveness,

1 A. J. Arberry

and in the mornings they would ask for forgiveness;

2 Abdul Haleem

praying at dawn for God’s forgiveness,

3 Abdul Majid Daryabadi

And in the dawns they prayed for forgiveness.

4 Abdullah Yusuf Ali

And in the hour of early dawn, they (were found) praying for Forgiveness;

5 Abul Ala Maududi

and would ask for forgiveness at dawn,

6 Ahmed Ali

And every morning asked forgiveness,

7 Ahmed Raza Khan

And used to seek forgiveness before dawn.

8 Ali Quli Qarai

and at dawns they would plead for forgiveness,

9 Ali Ünal

And in the hour of early dawn, they would implore God’s forgiveness.

10 Amatul Rahman Omar

Also in the hours of the early dawn as well they were (found) praying for His protection.

11 English Literal

And at the times at end of night before dawn they ask for forgiveness.

12 Faridul Haque

And used to seek forgiveness before dawn.

13 Hamid S. Aziz

And in the morning they prayed for forgiveness.

14 Hilali & Khan

And in the hours before dawn, they were (found) asking (Allah) for forgiveness,

15 Maulana Mohammad Ali

The used to sleep but little at night.

16 Mohammad Habib Shakir

And in the morning they asked forgiveness.

17 Mohammed Marmaduke William Pickthall

And ere the dawning of each day would seek forgiveness,

18 Muhammad Sarwar

and asked for forgiveness in the early morning.

19 Qaribullah & Darwish

and at dawn would ask forgiveness,

20 Safi-ur-Rahman al-Mubarakpuri

And in the hours before dawn, they were asking for forgiveness.

21 Wahiduddin Khan

praying at dawn for God's pardon,

22 Talal Itani

And at dawn, they would pray for pardon.

23 Tafsir jalalayn

and at dawns they used to seek forgiveness; they used say, `Our Lord! Forgive us',

24 Tafseer Ibn Kathir

And in the hours before dawn, they were asking for forgiveness.

Mujahid and several others said;

"They were performing Salah."

Others said that they would stand in prayer during the night and delayed asking Allah for forgiveness until the latter hours before dawn.

As Allah, the Exalted the Blessed, said;

وَالْمُسْتَغْفِرِينَ بِالاٌّسْحَارِ

And those who seek forgiveness during the last hours of the night. (3;17)

This is because it is better if asking for forgiveness is done while praying.

It is confirmed in the Sahih collections as well as others, from several Companions, that the Messenger of Allah said,

إِنَّ اللهَ تَعَالَى يَنْزِلُ كُلَّ لَيْلَةٍ إِلَى سَمَاءِ الدُّنْيَا حِينَ يَبْقَى ثُلُثُ اللَّيْلِ الاَْخِيرُ فَيَقُولُ

هَلْ مِنْ تَايِبٍ فَأَتُوبَ عَلَيْهِ

هَلْ مِنْ مُسْتَغْفِرٍ فَأَغْفِرَ لَهُ

هَلْ مِنْ سَايِلٍ فَيُعْطَى سُوْلَهُ

حَتْى يَطْلُعَ الْفَجْر

Allah, the Most High, descends each night to the lowest heaven when the last third of the night remains. He says,

"Is there anyone who is repenting so that I may accept his repentance?

Is there anyone seeking forgiveness, so that I may forgive him?

Is there anyone asking of Me, so that I may grant him his request?"

until Fajr begins.

Many of the scholars of Tafsir said that when the Prophet Ya`qub said to his sons;
سَوْفَ أَسْتَغْفِرُ لَكُمْ رَبِّيَ
I will ask my Lord for forgiveness for you (12;98), he delayed doing so until the hours before dawn.

Allah the Exalted and Most Honored said,

وَفِي أَمْوَالِهِمْ حَقٌّ لِّلسَّايِلِ وَالْمَحْرُومِ