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Greater Sins and Smaller Sins

Abstaining From the Greater Sins Cause the Lesser Sins to be Overlooked

If one avoids the Greater Sins, the Lesser sins shall be overlooked. Allah, the Almighty, by His grace, excuses the Lesser sins. As it is mentioned in the following verse of the Holy Qur’an :

“If you shun the Greater Sins which you are forbidden, We will do away with your smaller sins and cause you to enter an honourable place of entering.” (Surah an-Nisā’ 4: 31)

The Gates of Paradise are Open for the Pious

The Holy Prophet (S) is reported to have said,

“I swear by Allah, in Whose power is my life, there is not a single person who prays five times a day, fasts during the month of Ramadhan and abstains from sins that the gates of Paradise will not be opened for him.”

After this he recited the Qur’anic verse quoted above.1

Intercession

A person who commits a Greater Sin and does not repent for it, is a transgressor. Salāt is not allowed behind him (he cannot lead a prayer assembly). His testimony is unacceptable. After death, he is liable for Divine punishment. By the Grace of Allah (S.w.T.) such a person may yet get salvation; and the Grace of Allah (S.w.T.) that can make this possible is the intercession of Muhammad (S) and his Progeny (a.s.).

As the Holy Prophet (S) says in one of his traditions:

“My intercession has been kept for the sinful among my followers.”2

He (S) also said,

“My intercession is specially for the sinful ones among my followers. But those who abstain from the Greater Sins, for them there is no accounting (of deeds).”

That is, they would be admitted to Paradise right away.

Intercession Should not Prompt one to Commit Sins

There is hardly any doubt regarding the reality of Shafa’at (intercession). Actually it is the right bestowed upon the Holy Prophet (S) and the purified Imams (a.s.), by Allah (S.w.T.), to show their greatness and position. The other aim of intercession is to make their respect evident. The people who have committed Greater Sins shall be entrusted to them. By the grace of their intercession the sinful people will be able to ascend the heights like other groups of people. All this is evident from the Holy Qur’an and the authentic reports. It is also clear from Mutawatir (most frequently related) traditions. It would be needless to relate all such traditions for such a short discussion.

Only one point must be stressed at this stage. Intercession should not be taken as a license for committing sins nor should it make one heedless of repentance.

Suicide in the Hope of Salvation

To sin and not to repent in the hope of intercession is akin to consuming poison or putting ones hand in the snake’s mouth with the hope that a doctor would arrive and cure you. It is against logic, because after consuming poison it cannot be taken for granted that medical assistance would be available. Even if a doctor and medicines arrive on time it is still difficult to say that life would be saved. Before the medicine could have any effect the poison may spread to the whole body and death may occur.

In the same way, one who performs lewd actions in the hope that he would be interceded after death; cannot be sure that intercession will come to the rescue immediately.

Death is of Three Types

Imam Muhammad Taqi (a.s.) has related from his forefathers that Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) was queried by someone about death. He replied,

“You have come to the knowledgeable (personality).” “Death occurs to a person in one of the Three ways:

He is given the good news of everlasting bounties, or informed of the never-ending retribution or he remains in a perpetual state of terror and fear.

His affair remains undecided and unpredictable, and it is not known about the kind of future that awaits him. Then (you must know) that our devotee who is obedient of our command and does not sin, is given the good news of everlasting bounties. But our opponent shall forever be involved in Divine punishment. And the person who has been unjust to his soul and who has abused it will be found in an unsure condition. Unaware of what the future will hold. Such a person is a sinner whose death will be accompanied with terror and fear. But Allah will not consider him on the same level as our enemy. Rather he would be removed from Hell because of our intercession.

Then, act (rightly) and obey the commandments of Allah. Do not consider the Divine punishment to be trifle, and certainly there are such people who would not be able to receive our intercession till after 3,00,000 years.”3

I am Concerned About You Regarding Barzakh

Umar Ibn Yazid says that, “I asked Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.), “I have heard you saying that all our Shia’s will enter Heaven however sinful they may be?” Imam replied,

“By Allah I had truly said, they shall all belong to Heaven.”

Then I asked, “May my life be sacrificed upon you, even if their sins are great and in large number?” Imam said,

“All of you (Shias) shall enter Paradise by the intercession of the Holy Prophet (S) or his successors on the Day of Judgement. But, by Allah I fear for you the Barzakh.”

I asked,”What is Barzakh?”

He replied,

“Barzakh is the grave. Its duration commences from the time of death until the Day of Judgement.”4

Tears of Blood

The Holy Prophet (S) called the attention of Ibn Masud and imparted some advice to him. He said in this regard.

“Never imagine a sin to be trifle and small and abstain from the Greater Sins, because, on the Day of Judgement, when the slave beholds his sins, tears of blood and puss shall flow from his eyes. At that moment Allah shall say, “This is the day when everyone shall see his good or bad deeds, and wish there be a great distance between them and their sins.”5

It is also related from the Holy Prophet (S) that he said,

“Verily, a person shall be kept imprisoned in Hell for a hundred years for each of the sins (that he commits).”6

No Intercession for Those Who Regard Salāt Unimportant

Making light of Salāt is counted among the Greater Sins. It is mentioned in some reports that the one who considers the prayers unimportant is not eligible for intercession.

Thus Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) said:

“Our intercession is not for those who consider the Prayers unimportant.”

Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) said:

“Our intercession is not for those who considered the Prayers lightly.”7

It is related from the Holy Prophet (S) that he said:

“One who considers prayers unimportant is not from me. By Allah, he is not from me. By Allah, he cannot reach near me at the Haudh al-Kauthar.” (the cistern in Paradise)8

The above discussion makes it evident that not avoiding sins, committing sins blatantly and then repenting in the hope of intercession is foolishness and a sign of arrogance and negligence.

Excessive Sins Destroy the Faith (Belief)

Whatever has been mentioned in the discussion of intercession states that intercession comes to the rescue when the person concerned has died with correct belief. It happens, sometimes that, due to excessive involvement in sins and delay in repentance, faith in religion is erased from the heart. Subsequently he enters the limit of doubt and reaches the point of denial (Kufr). At this time if he is taken away by death, such a person is similar to the one who had consumed poison in the false hope that the doctor would save his life. But when the doctor arrives, death had already preceded him. What can the doctor do to cure him. In the same way the request of the intercessors is ineffective for the one who has died as an unbeliever.

“So the intercession of intercessors shall not avail them.”(Surah al-Muddaththir 74:48)

In order to prove my statement I propose to quote one verse from the Holy Qur’an and two traditions:

“Then evil was the end of those who did evil, because they rejected the communications of Allah and used to mock them.”(Surah ar-Rūm 30:10)

Sins Blacken the Heart

The first tradition is reported from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.): He said,

“There is no man who does not have a white spot in his heart. When he commits a sin a black spot emerges from this spot. If he repents, the blackness goes away but if he sinks in sin and continues to sin the blackness keeps on increasing till it surrounds the whiteness of the heart completely. When the white spot is totally covered by the blackness, the owner of this heart will never revert towards goodness. This tradition is in consonance with the utterance of Allah:

“By no means! But on their hearts is the stain of the (ill) which they do.” (Surah al-Muťaffifīn 83:14)

The Blackened Heart is Immune to Advice and Counsel

The people with the ‘blackened heart’ are totally unaffected by any counsel because their sins have caused the darkness to spread all over their heart. The loss of the inner eye prevents them from perceiving truths nor can they recognise the truth when they see it. They cannot accept any exhortation and revert to the path of virtue. It is in this connection that Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) explains:

“A man resolves to perform a sinful action but does not act upon it, but sometimes does commit it; Allah sees him and says: “By My Glory, after this I shall never forgive you.”

According to another report, the (sinner) person is kept away from the Mercy of Allah (S.w.T.) due to his sin. He also does not get the impetus to seek repentance, hence his sin is never forgiven. Allama Majlisi (r.a.) writes in the explanatory note of the above tradition: “The purport of this tradition of Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) is that, the Imam has commanded us to fear all types of sins because every sin seems to be such that it may not qualify being overlooked.

To Be Fearful of the Past Sins

The believing people should always be fearful of the sins committed in the past and should weep for them since we do not know which of our sins can bring about out destruction. The Imam (a.s.) has not informed us of any sin that we can ignore and remain bereft of the Mercy of Allah (S.w.T.). However, it is certain that the sin for which we have not repented would be sure to prevent our salvation. So we must enter the domain of Allah (S.w.T.)’s grace through the door of repentance. We should sincerely repent for those sins, which are forgotten by us and especially seek forgiveness of those sins that we remember. The method of repenting shall be explained later insha’Allah.

Intercession Should Neither Raise False Hope, Nor be a Cause to be Arrogant

The preceding discussion has shown that the element of intercession does not become the cause of arrogance and disobedience. Rather, intercession imparts strength to the sinner in a state of despair. It creates in him the habit of repenting with fervour. Consequently, he would be able to reach a high position and achieve nearness to the Lord of the Worlds.

The Fear and Dread of Sins is Still Necessary

It should not be so, that a person is hopeful of intercession and is negligent at the same time. Along with the hope of intercession the fear of Allah (S.w.T.) is also a must. Because fear is not contrary to intercession. The one who is hopeful of the grace and mercy of the Almighty Lord may also experience fear. Otherwise he may not be able to obtain intercession of his masters {The Holy Prophet (S) and the Imams (a.s.)} for a very long time.

In other words, such a person would be able to receive intercession only after being afflicted with the punishment of the grave for a long period of time. In the meantime the fear, awe, agony, suffering and misery that he is experiencing, may become the cause for him to receive intercession of the purified Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.). It may also spur him to be attached to them steadily.

The Shias of Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.)

One of the traditions concerning the position of the Shias and the lovers of Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.) states that the fire of Hell cannot scorch them. Thus, these types of traditions impart strength to our hope. Our love for the Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.) is certainly a surety for us but it should not tempt us to commit sins blatantly.

Shia and Mohib

The traditions regarding this subject are based on two important points. The first is concerned with ‘Shia’ and the second ‘Mohibs’ (Admirers) of the Holy Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.). The position and status of those Shias who have achieved excellence in the field of knowledge and good deeds is definitely higher. Even so, such people did not consider themselves fit to be called the Shias of Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.). Take the example of Muhammad bin Muslim Thaqafi. He was the honourable companion (Sahābi) of Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) and Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.).

Both the Holy Imams (a.s.) have recommended him to the Shias for solving their religious problems. Muhammad bin Muslim Thaqafi has also been mentioned as the greatest Jurist of his time in the books of Rijal (Chain of narrators).

On one occasion Muhammad bin Muslim along with Abu Karibatul Azdi went to see Qazi Sharīk. Sharīk glared at him in anger and said, “These two are Ja’fari and Fatimi!” [Shias of Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.)]. Upon hearing this, both of them began to cry bitterly. When the Qazi enquired the reason for their lamentation, they replied, “You have associated us with such a lofty personality [Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.)]!. Are people like us who lack in piety and abstinence to be compared with such an exalted person? What connection does the dust have with the Divine existence? (A Persian saying). We shall be highly obliged to you if you can accept our request (and give us not the title that we do not deserve).”

The True Shias are Those Who Follow (Obey) the Imams (a.s.)

Yes, we can give the title of ‘Shia’ to that individual who follows the Imams (a.s.) in all aspects of character and speech. Thus, Bab-ul-Hawaij Imam Musa al-Kadhim (a.s.) says:

“Our shias are only those who follow us (in every respect), walk in our footsteps and imitate our actions.”9

Conversation of ‘Ali (a.s.) With Some Shias

On a certain evening ‘Ali (a.s.) was departing from the mosque. The surroundings were bright due to the moonlight. He saw behind him a group of people walking towards him. He enquired as to who they were? They said: “We are your Shias.” ‘Ali (a.s.) looked at their faces carefully and said.

“Why is it that your faces do not exhibit any sign of you being a Shia?”.

“Master, what are the signs of a Shia?”

“Their faces are pale due to excessive worship and the fear of Allah, their backs are bent due to prolonged prayers, too much fasting causes their abdomen to touch their backbones, their lips become dry be repeating endless invocations, and their hearts are filled with the fear of Allah.”10

Now I will quote three traditions for the benefit of the readers.

Mere Claim is not Sufficient

1) Jabir (a.r.) relates from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) that he said,

“Is it sufficient for one to associate himself with Shiaism and say that, “I am a lover of Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.)? By Allah, our Shia is not, but the one who fears Allah and obeys His Commands.”11

2) Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) told Mufazzal bin Umar,

“If you wish to see one of our devotees then look for that person who abstains from sins and fears more His Creator and remains hopeful of His reward. Whenever you find such an individual then take it for granted that he is one of my devotees.”

3) Isa bin Abdullah Qummi entered in the presence of Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.). The Imam said,

“That person is not from us nor do we hold him in esteem, the one who, if he lives in a town of a population of hundred thousand and there is even one non-Shia who is more pious than him.”12

Thus the belief, actions and the piety of the Shias of Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.) should be such that they should be the best and none should excel them. Allah (S.w.T.) has defined such people ‘Khairul Barīya’ in the Holy Qur’an:

“(As For) those who believe and do good, surely they are the best of men.” (Surah al-Bayyina 98:7)

The Holy Prophet (S) is reported to have explained that ‘Khairul Barīya’ connotes the Shias of ‘Ali (a.s.):

“O ‘Ali, ‘Khairul Barīya’ means you and your Shias. On the Day of Judgement, they would be satisfied with what Allah has bestowed upon them and they shall be liked by Allah.13

Wilāyat

There is not an iota of doubt that the one who possesses the Wilāyat of Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.) would be deserving of salvation. In fact, he shall be with the Prophets (S) and the Pure Imams (a.s.). Imam Riďa (a.s.) said:

“Allah shall collect our Shias on the Day of Judgement in such a condition that their faces shall be aglow with (radiance). His arguments would be lighted (manifest) and his proof shall be obvious before Allah. It is upon Allah to collect our Shias with the Prophets, the martyrs and the truthful ones on the Day of Judgement. These personalities are the best of the loyalists.”14

The Meaning of Wilāyat

It is written in the book Majmaul Bahraen regarding the meaning of the word ‘Wilāyat’: “Wilāyat is the love for Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.), the natural consequence of which is to follow them in religious matters, to fulfil the obligations laid down on us and to abstain from the things prohibited. Wilāyat is to walk in the footsteps of the Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.) following their ways in deeds, behaviour and manner of speech.”

Wilāyat therefore means love and obedience. This idea is supported by a tradition from Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) wherein the Holy Imam (a.s.) has related love with obedience.

Wilāyat of ‘Ali (a.s.) is a Strong Fort of Allah (S.w.T.)

The tradition explaining this concept is to be found in the tradition of Silsilatuz Zahab. It is related by Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) from Imam Riďa (a.s.). It is as follows:

“Allah says, “The Wilāyat of ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib is My fort. Then one who enters My Fort is safe from My wrath (Ghazab).”15

There is no doubt that entering the Wilāyat of the purified Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.) implies taking refuge with the Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.), to abstain from all unlawful acts and to remain aloof from their enemies. The word “Tahassum” denotes ‘taking refuge in an established fort’ and it also suggests that the refuge is not only physical in nature but of a moral form (in spirit) as well. It is therefore imperative to take refuge with these exalted personalities and to follow their superior examples in all aspects of speech and behaviour. In short one who follows them has actually taken refuge in their fort.

Verbal Claim Unaccompanied by Actions is Insufficient

After describing the qualities of the Shias, Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) observed;

“O Jabir, is it enough for one, to say that ‘I love ‘Ali (a.s.) and I have achieved his Wilāyat,’ whereas he does not act upon it?”

“If someone says, “Surely, I love the Holy Prophet (S) because he was superior to ‘Ali (a.s.) and I am Shia al-Muhammad.” Inspite of this claim he does not follow the Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.) whom the Holy Prophet (S) had ordered to follow. It is surprising that even after claiming to love the Prophet they do not follow his Purified Progeny (Ahl ul-Bayt a.s.). Mere claim of love is not sufficient.”

Success is Through Actions Alone

The tradition continues,

“O Jabir, the nearness of Allah is not achieved without His obedience. When our Shias do not have obedience and action (to their credit) we have no authority to free them from Hell. Merely a verbal claim, “I am a Shia” is not sufficient argument for Allah. (If Allah wills he can involve him in punishment; Allah has not promised to bestow salvation upon the claimants of Shiaism- the criteria are obedience and good actions). Then, only one who obeys Allah is our Walī (lover) and the one who is a sinner is our enemy and our Wilāyat cannot be achieved but by piety and good deeds.”16

Types of Taqwa According to Allama Majlisi

According to Allama Majlisi (r.a.) there are four types of ‘Taqwa’ :

1. “Wara at-Ta’bīri”, which means to abstain from the prohibited things.

2. “Wara as-Salihīn”, to abstain from doubtful things so that one may not commit a Harām act.

3. “Wara al-Muttaqīn”, to abstain from permissible things so that one is absolutely protected from ‘Harām’.

4. “Wara as-Sādiqīn”, to avoid everything that is not religious so that one may not waste precious time in useless acts, even though there may not be any risk of committing a sin.

Love

According to traditions, both from the Shia and the Sunni sources, it is established that love protects one from being a slave of one’s desires and Shaitan. This is because the love of an exalted personality entails that we also love his friends and hate his enemies. The friendship of Shaitan and the following of one’s evil desires are two of the biggest hurdles in one’s love for Allah (S.w.T.) and the Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.).

Insha’Allah the followers of ‘Ali (a.s.), by the blessing of his love will remain away from the path of Shaitan. Thus, love (for Ahl ul-Bayt) protects one from evil rather than make him susceptible to sins. In order to explain this idea a few traditions are mentioned below:

Love Makes a Man Steadfast

Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) has said,

“Whoever has been bestowed the love of ‘Ali (a.s.) in his heart by Allah, is not prone to wavering (from his path) but he becomes steadfast (on the path of Allah) and also towards other (matters).”17

The Testimony of Jabir Ibn Abdullah Ansari (r.a.)

Hazrat Jabir Ibn Abdullah Ansari (r.a.) says: If the first step of the lovers of Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.) is in the wrong direction due to excess sins the next step is guided aright by (the grace of) their love.18

The Angels Seek Forgiveness for the Partisans of ‘Ali (a.s.)

According to the traditions of the Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.), it is an established fact that even the angels ask forgiveness (on behalf) of the followers of ‘Ali (a.s.). A tradition is quoted in Bihār al-Anwār from the Sunni sources in this regard. Anas relates from the Holy Prophet (S) that he said,

“Allah has created seventy thousand angels from the light of ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib’s face. These angels will (continue to) ask forgiveness (on his behalf and on the behalf of his devotees) till the Day of Judgement.”

Devotion for ‘Ali (a.s.) Consumes Our Sins

The love and devotion for Hazrat ‘Ali (a.s.) destroys one’s sins as is proved by the numerous reports. Bihār al-Anwār has the following tradition related from the Holy Prophet (S) by Ibn Abbas (r.a.):

“Love of ‘Ali (a.s.) consumes the sins like fire consumes wood.”

There is a Persian ‘Qata’ (four-line poem) which summarises this discussion as follows:

The love of ‘Ali (a.s.) removes the darkness of the heart like the moon and the stars illuminate the night. Salvation will be based on ones love for him and not ones worship deeds.

But those who are his devotees, must also rely upon the Merciful (God). We should not be satisfied only with this devotion and forget Allah (S.w.T.).

Difficulties and Calamities Nullify the Sins

The Almighty Allah (S.w.T.) imposes difficulties and sends calamities to the sinful people among the followers of Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.) This is because He wishes to cleanse them of their sins so that they are not liable to any punishment after death. If the sins are more, then he gets a difficult death and if the sins are still in excess then he is punished in Barzakh (grave) upto the Day of Judgement.

It is also stated in the traditions that if there is a sinner whose sins are so much that even after all the punishment they are not expiated; then that person will be interned in the Hell-fire till he has recompensed for the remaining sins. The devotee of Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.) shall not remain in the fire forever. The everlasting punishment is only for the unbelievers and the enemies of Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.)

The Rewards are Proportionate to the Intensity of Love

Another point to be remembered is that, the intensity of one’s devotion is the means for the early forgiveness of ones sins. If love is more, the intercession is swift. Even the painful moments of death are converted into comfort by the help of Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.). There was a poet by the name of Sayyid Himyari who died in 173 A.H. He was an ardent devotee of Hazrat ‘Ali (a.s.) and has composed a Qasida (panegyric) on each and every quality of this exalted personality. Whenever there was a Majlis (gathering) in the honour of Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.) he always insisted upon reciting one of his poems. Various books of the Shias and Sunnis, like Al-Ghadīr (vol.3), Kitab Aghani, Manaqib Sarwari, Kashful Ghumma, Amāli of Shaikh Sadūq, Basharatul Mustafa and Rijāl Kashi mention about him. The following is the gist of the miraculous happenings at the time of his death.

Sayyid was very handsome and fair. At the time of his death he was surrounded by people. Among them were also those who were opposed to the Shias. The condition of the Sayyid deteriorated and all of a sudden a black spot appeared on his face. The stain spread on his face and his complete face turned charcoal black. The opponents were pleased to see his discomfort. The pain caused the Sayyid to lose his consciousness. When he regained his senses he turned towards Najaf al-Ashraf and pleaded: “O Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.). O the centre of the hope for helpless people. Do you deal with your devotees in this way?” He repeated this phrase twice more. No sooner did he complete his entreaty that a spot of whiteness became visible on his face. It spread upon his face and soon his face became radiant once again like a full moon. Sayyid was filled with joy, and recited the following couplets extemporaneously.

“Who said ‘Ali (a.s.) could not save his followers from difficulties lied. I swear upon my Creator that I have entered Paradise with my sins all forgiven. I give this good news to those who are devoted to ‘Ali (a.s.) till death. And after him revere his eleven descendants who are the Imams.”

After reciting these couplets he confessed to the Oneness of Allah (S.w.T.) and the Prophethood of the Holy Prophet (S) and the Wilāyat of Amir ul-Mu’minīn (a.s.). Then he closed his eyes and departed from this world.

Evil Desires are a Barrier to Devotion

Sometimes the desire of this world and its material comforts can cause the love of Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.) in ones heart to decrease. An excess of such desires may even make the heart bereft of the love of Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.). Such a person when he approaches his last moments will obviously not get any help from the material he had cherished in his life but he will be so unfortunate as to forfeit the intervention of Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.) to save him from a painful death. Several traditions to this effect are present in the books. It would be too lengthy to relate these here, as also it would be straying from our point. Only a casual mention of some traditions would suffice for our purpose.

A Persian Saying

There is a saying in Persian which means that, “Those who believe should try to develop as much as possible the love for the Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.) in their hearts.” It could be further explained that one should also remove all other objects of desire from the heart and especially refrain from the Greater Sins so that (Inshāllah) they are safe from a dreadful death and the horrors of the Hereafter.

Do Not Use the Bounties for Committing Sins

Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) wrote a letter to certain friends of his:

If you wish that your life and the hereafter be accomplished with the best of the deeds and that your soul be captured (death occurs) in this condition, then acknowledge the supremacy of Allah. Do not misuse the bounties and gifts granted to you by Allah in committing acts that are forbidden by Him and become disobedient to Him. Respect all those who remember us, Ahl ul-Bayt, and claim to love us. It is immaterial (for you) whether he is truthful or not. For you will be rewarded according to your intention and they (the liars) will be punished for their sins.19

The Gloom of Sins and the Glow of Repentance

Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) was explaining the following verse of the Holy Qur’an:

“Allah is the guardian of those who believe. He brings them out of the darkness into the light.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:257)

He said,

“It means Allah takes them away from the darkness of the sins to the light of repentance. Because they were having ‘Wilāyat’ of all the just Imams (all twelve of whom are appointed by Allah). The next portion of the same verse is, “and (as to) those who disbelieve, their guardians are Shaitans who take them out of the light into the darkness.”

The Imam further explained,

“It only means those who followed the light of Islam initially but later started following each an every usurper (leader) not authorised by Allah. They left the light of Islam and entered into the darkness of disbelief (Kufr). Thus Allah ordained upon the disbelievers the fire of Hell.

Greater Sin and Lesser Sin

The foregoing discussion has made it clear that sins are of two types- The Greater and the Lesser. The characteristics of the Greater Sins and their evil effects have also been explained. Now we shall enumerate various Greater Sins. The traditions regarding the number of Greater Sins are sometimes in disagreement with each other. It is not possible to study all such traditions due to their voluminous nature. It is also beyond the scope of the present book. Those who wish a detailed study may refer to the Exegesis of al-Kāfi or ‘Arbaīn’ of Shaikh Bahai (a.r.).

All the scholars and the jurists agree that the most authentic tradition is the one quoted by the eminent jurist of the school of Ahl ul-Bayt, Sayyid Muhammad al-Kadhim Tabatabai Yazdi. He mentions four ways of recognising a Greater sin:

What is a Greater Sin?

1) All those sins are Greater which have been specifically termed as Greater in the Holy Qur’an and the traditions. The number of such sins exceeds forty and they all have been explained in the traditions of the Holy Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.). The explanation of these traditions will follow later.

2) All those sins are Greater about which the Qur’an and Hadith explicitly state that those who commit these sins will enter Hell. Or if it is not explicit then it should purport to mean the same. For example the tradition of the Holy Prophet (S):

“Certainly the Almighty Allah and His messenger disown such a person who willfully neglects prayers.”

In this tradition the punishment of Hell is not named specifically but it amounts to the same thing. Another report corroborates this assertion. Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) and Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) said,

“All those sins are Greater (the doer of which) is promised the fire (Hell).”

There is another tradition from Imam Zadeh Abdul Azīm Hasani, which shall be quoted later. Thus we understand that there is no difference whether the promise of the Divine punishment is given in the Qur’an or in a hadith.

3) Any sin, which is clearly Greater than a sin specified as a Greater one in the Qur’an and hadith; is also Greater. For example the killing of a person is a sin and it is clear from the Qur’an and hadith. Thus the tradition from Ibn Mahbūb clearly states that the killing of a ‘soul’ is a Greater sin. The Qur’an has promised Divine punishment for murder. Then if any other sin is proved to be more than the killing of a person, by the verses of Qur’an or authentic reports then this sin will also be considered as a Greater sin. For example the Holy Qur’an says that to spread corruption in the world is worse than murder:

“And the (spreading of) mischief is Greater than murder.”(Surah al-Baqarah 2:191)

Hence we can conclude that the spreading of disturbance must also be counted among the Greater Sins.

4) Any sin which has all along been regarded as a Greater one by the scholars and the jurists should also be considered as ‘Greater’. But it should be ascertained that such a sin has been regarded as Greater from the present time right upto the time of the Ma’sūmīn (a.s.). Examples of these types of sins are to descerate the Holy Ka’ba, or a mosque or to throw away a copy of the Qur’an. All such acts have been regarded as the Greater Sins. Now we shall mention the traditions that explain the Greater Sins.

First Tradition

1) Sadūq (a.r.) has recorded in Oyūne Akhbār that Imam Zadeh Hazrat Abdul Azīm the son of Abdullah Hasani said, “I heard from Abu Ja’far the second, Imam Muhammad Taqi (a.s.) who heard from his respected father Imam Riďa (a.s.) who quotes Imam Musa al-Kadhim (a.s.) that he said,

“A person by the name of Umrū bin Abīd entered into the presence of Abu Abdillah Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.). After taking his seat he recited the following verse of the Qur’an:

“And those who shun the great sins and indecencies...” (Surah ash-Shūrā 42:37)

Then he (Umrū bin Abīd) paused.

“Why have you become silent?” asked the Imam (a.s.),

“I would like to derive the Greater Sins from the Holy Qur’an.” he replied.

The Imam said,

“O Umrū, the Greatest of the Greater Sins is Shirk (to attribute partners) with Allah. The Almighty Allah says,

“Certainly whoever associates (others) with Allah, then Allah has forbidden to him the Garden (Paradise)...” (Surah al-Mā’ida 5:72)

2) After this, is “to despair from the Mercy of Allah (S.w.T.).” As the Almighty Allah (S.w.T.) says,

“Surely none despairs of Allah’s mercy except the unbelieving people...”(Surah Yūsuf 12:87)

3) Then, “not fearing the retribution of Allah (S.w.T.).” The High and the Mighty Allah (S.w.T.) remarks,

“But none feels secure from Allah’s plan except the people who shall perish.”(Surah al-Ar’āf 7:99)

4) One of the Greater Sins is to disobey ones parents because the Glorified Allah (S.w.T.) has said,

“And dutiful to his parents, and he was not insolent, disobedient.” (Surah Maryam 19:14).

Here the disobedience of the parents is considered a form of insolence or transgression.

5) To kill a believer is prohibited by Allah (S.w.T.). Because Allah (S.w.T.) has informed,

“And whoever kills a believer intentionally, his punishment is Hell; he shall abide in it, and Allah will send His Wrath on him and curse him and prepare for him a painful chastisement.” (Surah an-Nisā’ 4:93)

6) To slander a believing man or a woman of adultery (or sodomy) is a Greater sin as is proved by the statement of Allah (S.w.T.).

“Surely those who accuse chaste believing woman, unaware (of the evil), are cursed in this world and the hereafter, and they shall have a grievous chastisement.” (Surah an-Nūr 24:23)

7) The usurpation of an orphan’s property is a Greater sin, as is clear from the following verse:

“(As for) those who swallow the property of the orphans unjustly, surely they only swallow fire into their bellies and they shall enter burning fire.”(Surah an-Nisā’ 4:10)

8) It is a Greater sin to retreat from Jihad (Holy war) as the Divine verse says:

“And whoever shall turn his back to them on that day- unless he turn aside for the sake of fighting or withdraws to a company- then he, indeed becomes deserving of Allah’s wrath, and his abode is Hell; and an evil destination shall it be.” (Surah al-Anfāl 8:16)

9) One of the Greater Sins is to take “interest.” Allah (S.w.T.), the Almighty informs:

“One who swallows down usury cannot arise except as one whom Shaitan has prostrated by (his) touch does rise. This is because they say, trading is only like usury; and Allah has allowed trading and forbidden usury.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:275).

{Explanation: Some people say that taking interest is same as any other business. But this verse clearly says that usury is different from trade. Secondly, usury is forbidden whereas trading is permitted.}

10) And magic is a Greater sin. Thus Allah (S.w.T.) says,

“and certainly they know that he who bought it (the magic) should have no share of good in the hereafter and evil was the price for which they sold their souls; had they but known this.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:102)

11) Among the Greater Sins is Adultery (fornication). Allah (S.w.T.) says in the Holy Qur’an,

“And they who do not call upon another god with Allah and do not slay a soul which Allah has forbidden except in the requirements of justice, and (who) do not commit fornication. And he who does this shall find a requital of sin. The punishment shall be doubled to him on the Day of Resurrection, and he shall abide therein in abasement. (Surah al-Furqān 25:68-69)

12) One of the Greater Sins is taking a false oath. Allah (S.w.T.) says about it.

“(As for) those who take a small price for the covenant of Allah and their own oaths-Surely they shall have no portion in the hereafter, and Allah will not speak to them, nor will He look upon them on the day of resurrection nor will He purify them, and they shall have a painful chastisement.” (Surah Āli- ‘Imran 3:76)

13) Among the sins which are specifically graded as Greater is a sin of “betrayal of trust, or to act unfaithfully. Allah (S.w.T.) has informed thus:

“And it is not attributable that he should act unfaithfully; and he who acts unfaithfully shall bring that in respect of which he has acted unfaithfully on the day of resurrection; then shall every soul be paid back fully what it has earned, and they shall not be dealt unjustly. Is then he who follows the pleasure of Allah like him who has made himself deserving of displeasure from Allah, and his abode is Hell; and it is an evil destination.” (Surah Āli- ‘Imran 3:161-162)

14) Failure to pay the Zakat is a Greater sin. Allah (S.w.T.) says regarding it:

“and (as for) those who hoard up gold and silver and do not spend it in Allah’s ways, announce to them a painful chastisement. (Surah at-Tawba 9:34)

15) To bear a false witness is also a Greater sin. Allah (S.w.T.) says

“...and avoid false words.” (Surah Hajj 22:30)

16) Do not conceal evidence as it is a Greater sin. Allah (S.w.T.) says:

“...and do not conceal testimony and whoever conceals it, his heart is surely sinful; and Allah knows what you do.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:283)

17) Drinking of wine is a Greater sin. As it is prohibited by Allah (S.w.T.) in the following verse of the Holy Qur’an:

“They ask you about intoxicants and games of chance. Say: In both of them there is great sin and means of profit for men, and their sin is greater than their profit.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:219)

18) To wilfully avoid the prayers is a Greater sin.

19) The failure to perform any obligatory religious act is a Greater sin. The Holy Prophet (S) says:

“One who wilfully avoids the prayers is away from the protection of Allah and His Messenger.”

20) Breaking an oath is also a Greater sin. Allah (S.w.T.) has stated:

“Who break the covenant of Allah after its confirmation and cut as under what Allah has ordered to be joined, (that is mutual relationships) and make mischief in the land; these it is that are the losers.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:27)

21) To break ties with the relatives is one of the Greater Sins. In the Qur’anic verse quoted below, Allah (S.w.T.) says,

“and cut asunder what Allah has ordained......”(Surah ar-Rā’d 13:25)

When Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) concluded his hadith the narrator, Umrū bin Abīd rose up and while going out stopped and said: “Certainly, one who does not follow the guidance of the Imams (a.s.) and gives his own opinion is doomed.” It means that those who refuse to follow the Imams (a.s.) are on the wrong path.

Second Tradition

Ibn Mehbūb has mentioned in his ‘Sahih’ that he and his companions had written a letter to Imam Riďa (a.s.) enquiring about the number of the Greater Sins. Also the method of determining their “greatness”. The respected Imam (a.s.) replied thus:

“The Greater Sins are those, the performers of which have been promised (Hell) fire. If any believer abstains from these or repents for the same Allah will forgive these sins. There are seven such sins, which have been promised (Divine) punishment.

To kill one whose murder is prohibited.

To disobey parents.

To accept usury.

To return to ignorance after migration (Hijrat).

To accuse a chaste woman of adultery.

To consume wrongfully the property of orphans.

To flee from the battlefield.20

Third Tradition

Abu Samit has narrated from Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.) that he said:

The Greater Sins are;

To associate others (attribute partners) to Allah.

Killing anyone whose killing is prohibited by Shari’a.

Wrongfully acquiring the property of orphans.

To disobey parents.

To accuse falsely a chaste woman of adultery.

To flee (cowardly) from the battlefield.

To deny any of the obligations of religion promulgated by Allah.

Abdur Rahmān Ibn Kathīr has narrated from the same Masūm (a.s.) that he said:

“Not acknowledging the rights of us (Ahl ul-Bayt) is a Greater sin.”

Abi Khadija has quoted a tradition that:

“To attribute falsehood to the Holy Prophet (S) and the Holy Imams (a.s.) is counted among the Greater Sins.”

Sadūq (r.a.) has quoted that: “To deprive anyone of his rights (What he rightfully deserves) by not mentioning him in one’s will is a Greater sin.”

The book Kanzul Ummal has mentioned in a tradition:

“Shedding blood in the precincts of the Holy Ka’ba is a Greater sin.”

This is because Allah (S.w.T.) has ordained it to be a protected sanctuary.

Fourth Tradition

In the Uyūn al-Akhbār ar-Riďa (a.s.) there is a tradition quoted by Fazl Ibn Shazān. He quotes from reliable authorities that Imam Riďa (a.s.) wrote to Mamun a letter prohibiting the following sinful acts, as they were Greater Sins:

1) To kill those whose murder is prohibited by Allah (S.w.T.).

2) Adultery.

3) Stealing.

4) Drinking of Wine.

5) To disobey the parents.

6) Fleeing from the battlefield (in Jihad).

7) Usurping property of the orphans.

8) Eating dead animals (animals not slaughtered in the Islamic way) blood and pigs without any compulsion.

9) Accepting usury when it is obvious.

10) Consuming prohibited (Harām) wealth.

11) Gambling.

12) Cheating in business by under-weighing.

13) To accuse chaste women of adultery.

14) Homosexuality.

15) To despair of the Mercy of Allah (S.w.T.).

16) Not fearing the Divine retribution.

17) Not acknowledging the bounties of Allah (S.w.T.).

18) Cooperating with oppressors.

19) To associate with the oppressors.

20) Taking a false oath.

21) To obstruct the rights (of someone) without (any valid reason or compulsion).

22) Lying.

23) Pride (arrogance).

24) Squandering wealth.

25) Expenditure in ways not permitted by Allah (S.w.T.).

26) To betray trust.

27) To consider Hajj of the Holy Kabā unimportant.

28) To fight the friends (devotees) of Allah (S.w.T.).

29) To enjoy vain poccupations (like music).

30) To persist in sins.

Insha’Allah these traditions shall be explained at the appropriate places.

A Difficult Problem and its Solution

Some people raise the following objections regarding the subject of Greater Sins: -

1. Why does the Qur’an not explain in detail such an important subject as the Greater Sins?

2. Why are there conflicting reports from Ma’sumīn (a.s.) with regard to the Greater Sins?

Some traditions mention that the Greater Sins are five, some give the figure as seven, nine, twenty one and thirty one. One of the traditions reported from Ibn Abbas says that the total number of Greater Sins are seven hundred and seven. Let us now consider these objections so that appropriate replies can be provided.

Reply to the First Objection

It is Allah (S.w.T.)’s grace that He has not mentioned the total number of Greater Sins in the Holy Qur’an. There is hidden wisdom in this. Let us suppose that the fixed number of Greater Sins had been given in the Qur’an. Then the people would have abstained only from these sins.

They would have freely committed other sins thinking that they are not doing anything against the Holy Book. In this way they would, be emboldened to perform all other types of misdeeds. Thus Allah (S.w.T.) has prohibited his creatures to avoid even the lesser sins. This is because if one becomes unmindful of the lesser sins, he will slowly be attracted to the Greater Sins too.

To Persist in Lesser Sins is Equivalent to Committing a Greater Sin

It is an established fact that if one repeatedly commits a lesser sin he eventually becomes liable for a Greater punishment. Insha’Allah we shall explain in detail the lesser sins in the chapter of “Persistence in Lesser Sins.”

By not specifying the number of Greater Sins the Almighty Allah (S.w.T.) has bestowed a favour upon the people. Had such a number been fixed, the people would have the tendency to abstain mainly from these sins. They would be inclined to regard other sins lightly and indulge in them, underestimating their seriousness. Such indulgence over a period of time makes an individual bold enough to perform other types of misdeeds. It is for this reason that Allah (S.w.T.) has commanded His creatures to avoid all types of sins, because, being unmindful of minor sins will gradually attract them towards Greater ones. It is indeed Allah (S.w.T.)’s Grace that by encouraging us to abstain from all types of sins, He keeps us safe from the most dreadful ones.

Another important and subtle point that should be stressed is the fact that considering a minor sin to be minor is itself a Greater sin. No sin is to be considered insignificant and trivial. This point shall also be explained in the future.

Deprived of Divine Rewards (Tawāb)

He who commits a minor sin is deprived of the Tawāb, he would have deserved, had he abstained from it. Also every sinful act has some evil repercussion or the other; so it happens that one who repeatedly commits minor sins slowly becomes susceptible to the Greater ones. On the other hand, he who refrains from such acts becomes the recipient of Allah (S.w.T.)’s blessings. Besides he who avoids Greater Sins has his minor sins spontaneously forgiven. Thus one who persists in minor sins will be doubly unfortunate. He will not derive the Tawāb that is reserved for avoiding these sins -and secondly he will be disqualified from Allah (S.w.T.)’s forgiveness for these sins.

This idea has been presented in the following tradition from the Masūm (a.s.):

“May Allah forgive the sins of the sinners. These people have surely been deprived of the Tawāb of good deeds.”

It is Necessary to Refer to the Holy Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.)

It may be mentioned here that another subject also dealt with briefly in the Qur’an but elaborated by the Holy Prophet (S) and the Imams (a.s.) concerns the absolute authority of the Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.) as the representatives of Allah (S.w.T.) upon the Earth, to teach and demonstrate to mankind the laws of Allah (S.w.T.) about the right and the wrong.

Allah the Almighty Himself says:

“And We have revealed to you the Reminder that you may make clear to men what has been revealed to them, and that haply they may reflect.” (Surah an-Nahl 16:44)

Allah (S.w.T.) makes it obligatory for the people to refer to the Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.). He orders in the Holy Qur’an:

“So ask the followers of the Reminder if you do not know.” (Surah an-Nahl 16:43)

How the Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.) are the People of Remembrance (Ahl ‘ul-Zikr)

Numerous traditions have reached us which explicitly state that the ‘Ahl ‘ul-Zikr’ mentioned in the Qur’an are the Holy Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.). One such tradition is the statement of Imam Riďa (a.s.) in the court of Mamun:

“We are Ahl ‘ul-Zikr.”

Sunni scholars present at the meeting objected to this statement and maintained that Ahl ‘ul-Zikr in the Qur’an means the Christain and the Jews; and Zikr refers to the Injīl (Bible) and Taurat (Torah). Imam Riďa (a.s.) replied:

“Glory be to Allah! How is it possible? How could Allah command the Muslims to refer to the Christians and the Jewish Scholars? If we refer to them they will consider their religion to be the true one and better than Islam, and will invite us to their point of view. Will you accept this invitation?”21

Mamun interjected, “Can you support your claim with the Qur’anic proof?” The Imam said,

“Yes, Zikr means the Holy Prophet and we are his people (Ahl). To prove my point I quote the following ayat:

“O (those) who believe! Allah has indeed revealed to you a reminder (zikr), an apostle who recites to you the clear communications of Allah.” (Surah at-Talāq 65:10-11).

Shahristani a Sunni scholar has reported that Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) and Hazrat ‘Ali (a.s.) said:

“We are the People of remembrance (Ahl ‘ul-Zikr)”.

Another argument is that since Allah (S.w.T.) has mentioned only in brief many of the important subjects in Qur’an, He must have appointed a point of reference for the guidance of the people, which would provide a detailed explanation to the subject. And this reference point is undoubtedly the Progeny of Muhammad (Āli Muhammad) in whom Allah (S.w.T.) has reposed His Knowledge and His secrets, not known to any of His other creatures. Those who desire knowledge and truth will forever be dependent on Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.) and remain attached to them with love and devotion. And this devotion for the Ahl ul-Bayt itself is a blessing, which fetches Allah (S.w.T.)’s rewards and Mercy.

Reply to the Second Objection

From the traditions of the Pure Imams (a.s.) it is clear that they are not in favour of mentioning the exact number of Greater Sins, nor do they describe in detail the Greater Sins. Although time and again they do indicate the method of determining whether an act is a Greater Sin or not is exemplified by the already quoted tradition from Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.):

“The Greater Sins are those (sins) the doer of (those who commit them) are promised the fire of Hell by Allah.”

The reason for the Imam (a.s.) not to be specific is the same as stated above in the reply to the First objection.

Some of the Greater Sins are Included in Others

The Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.) did not specify some of the sins because they come under a broad classification of a sin they have stated to be a Greater one. Hence they are not mentioned separately. Abīd bin Zorara relates from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) that he said:

“The Greater Sins as mentioned in the book of ‘Ali (a.s.) are seven:

To disbelieve in the existence of Allah (S.w.T.).

To kill a believer wrongfully.

To disobey parents

Accepting usury when it is clear (obvious).

To wrongfully acquire any property belonging to orphans.

To flee from the battlefield in Jihad.

Reverting to disbelief after accepting Islam.

The narrator asked, “Are all these the Greater types of sins? “Yes”, The Imam (a.s.) replied. Then asked the narrator, “Which is the Greater sin, acquiring of a single Dirham (silver coin) from an orphan forcefully or neglecting prayers?” Imam (a.s.) replied,

“Neglecting prayers is comparatively a Greater sin.”

“Why did you not include the neglecting of prayers among the Greater Sins?” In reply Imam (a.s.) asked,

“What was the first Greater sin that I mentioned?” Disbelief in Allah.”

He said,

“The leaving of the prayers unattended is the same as disbelief.”

Hence he had not mentioned the neglecting of prayers as a separate Greater sin.22

It is clear from the foregoing discussion that there is no tradition from the Ma’sūmīn (a.s.) which limits the number of Greater Sins. Hence we can say that none of the traditions are fully comprehensive in listing the total number of Greater Sins.

However if we study the Sahifa of Abdul Azīm Hasani carefully we can conclude that in the tradition related by Umrū bin Abīd, Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) has told about twenty one Greater Sins from the Holy Qur’an. Umrū ibn Abīd left the Imam’s assembly suddenly. Had he listened more patiently the Imam might have proceeded on the subject and enlightened him further.

I would like to inform the readers that I have explained in detail only those sins, which are the confirmed Greater ones. However it does not mean that all those sins which are not mentioned in this book are not Greater. Rather those sins, which are not established as the Greater ones are mentioned briefly.

It is not even confirmed that these are among the lesser sins. Hence pious people should exercise precaution and abstain even from these sins. There is always a possibility that the sin which we think to be small maybe a Greater one. We would be deceived only because its seriousness is not proved to us. We will now proceed towards the detailed explanation of the various sins that are confirmed as Greater Sins.

  • 1. Tafsīr Minhājus Sādiqīn
  • 2. Bihār al-Anwār vol.3
  • 3. Bihār al-Anwār vol.3 quoted from Ma’aniul Akhbār
  • 4. al-Kāfi
  • 5. Bihār al-Anwār vol.17
  • 6. al-Kāfi
  • 7. Bihār al-Anwār vol.3
  • 8. Bihār al-Anwār
  • 9. ihār al-Anwār
  • 10. Bihār al-Anwār, Al-Irshad
  • 11. al-Kāfi
  • 12. al-Kāfi
  • 13. Tafsīr Tabarsi, Manaqib Khwārazmi, Ibn Hajar
  • 14. Bihār al-Anwār
  • 15. Uyūn al-Akhbār ar-Riďa
  • 16. al-Kāfi
  • 17. Bihār al-Anwār
  • 18. Safinat’ul-Bihār
  • 19. Bihār al-Anwār
  • 20. Wasa’il ul-Shia
  • 21. Uyūn al-Akhbār ar-Riďa
  • 22. Wasa’il ul-Shia

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