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The Fortieth Greater Sin: Persistence in Minor Sins

The fortieth Greater Sin according to Qur’an and the traditions of Ma’sūmīn (a.s.) is committing a lesser (minor) sin repeatedly. Amash relates from Imam Sadiq (a.s.): “And consistency upon the smaller sins” is a greater sin. In the same way Sadūq has narrated that Imam Riďa (a.s.) considered, “And consistency on sins” a part of greater sin. Similarly we have a tradition of Imam Sadiq (a.s.),

“A smaller sin which is committed again and again is a greater one. And a greater sin for which one repents doesn’t remain greater.”1

That is, if one commits a Greater sin and repents sincerely there is no punishment for it. But if one does a smaller sin again and again, it assumes the form of greater sin.

Abu Basīr says that I heard Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) saying:

“By Allah! As far as a person continues to sin, Allah does not accept any of his worship acts.”2

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

This ayat is speaking about those minor sins, which are forgiven in lieu of avoiding greater sins and performing all Wajib duties. These minor sins can therefore become a barrier in the acceptance of worship and supplication, only when they are repeated often as a result of which they assume the magnitude of a greater sin; the consequence of which is that the other acts of worship are not accepted. There is a tradition from the Messenger of Allah (S) in al-Kāfi that says:

“One of the signs of wretchedness is repeating a sin.”

One of the conditions of forgiveness is that the sin should not be repeated again and again

One of the proofs that repetition of smaller sins turns them into greater sins is, that Allah (S.w.T.) has made the giving up of sin its forgiveness and a condition for entering Paradise. The Almighty Allah (S.w.T.) says,

“And those who when they commit an indecency or do injustice to their souls remember Allah and ask forgiveness for their faults and who forgives the faults but Allah and (who) do not knowingly persist in what they have done.” (Surah Āli- ‘Imran 3: 135)

According to Tafsīrul Mizan the word ‘Fahesha’ implies an evil deed and is usually used to connote adultery. Therefore if in this ayat it is used to mean adultery then the word ‘Zulm’ should definitely mean a particular smaller sin. And the words “remembrance of Allah” would then imply that forgiveness and repentance can be achieved only if the sinner remembers Allah (S.w.T.) and turns his attention towards Him with a sincere heart. Merely chanting ‘Istighfar’ in a mechanical way will not avail him. The phrase, “and (who) do not knowingly persist in what they have done,” clearly indicates that forgiveness is only for those who do not repeat the sins.

The consequences of committing a sin repeatedly is that the sinner develops a disregard for Divine commandments and gradually reaches a stage when he thinks them to be unimportant. Under these conditions he has no desire to submit himself to the will and pleasure of Allah (S.w.T.) and remembrance of Allah (S.w.T.) does not affect him. However, this occurs only when one persists in sins intentionally. That’s why the word ‘knowingly’ is used.

The Greatest Sin

Hazrat Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) says,

“Beware of persistence on sins, for it is the greatest of the greater sins and a serious crime.”3

Imam (a.s.) has also said,

“The greatest sin is one that the doer repeats again and again.”4

He (a.s.) also says,

“Persistence in sins is the Greatest sin.”

Muhaqqiq Khwansari (a.r.) explains the above statement of Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) in the following words:

It is clear from these that the magnitude of a sin increases until its repetition and persistence in sin is a greater sin than all the greater sins. Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) has also quoted the following tradition:

“I swear by Allah! Worship and obedience of one who persists in sin is not accepted.”

What does Persistence Mean?

There is unanimity among scholars that persistently committing a smaller sin makes it a greater sin. A widely accepted view is that persistence is that a person commits a sin, is not repentant, and continues to indulge in it. For example wearing gold or silver (which is Harām for men but is not a confirmed greater sin in Islam) or to look at Non-mahram or to enter another’s house without permission. The Martyr writes in Qawaid that, persistence is not restricted to committing one particular sin repeatedly but it also includes committing different types of lesser sins like a person may wear gold or silk; look at Non-mahram or shake hands with her or embrace her, and not be repentant for any of these acts.

According to some scholars committing a lesser sin with the intention of repeating it again makes it a greater sin. Also, the mere intention of committing a smaller sin twice renders it greater. Shahīd has termed it Isrār al-Hukmi (Implied persistence) in his book, Qawaid.

A group of scholars maintain that not being repentant for a sin and not seeking forgiveness for it is persistence, even if there is no intention to do it again. However, according to my research the last two cases are very unlikely because they do not conform to any of the several meanings of the word, ‘Persistence’.

Two traditional reports in this connection are given. One of them is related by Jabir from Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) in which he is explaining the word “persist” as mentioned in the ayat of Surah Āli- ‘Imran. Imam (a.s.) says,

“Persistence means that a person commits a sin, does not seek forgiveness for it and has no intention to discontinue it.”5

So, it is possible that in this ayat Imam (a.s.) has explained the meaning of ‘persistence’ as mentioned in this ayat and not the persistence that is considered a Greater sin.

The second tradition is narrated by Ibn Umair from Imam Baqir (a.s.) and a part of it is presented below to illustrate our view.

“Every believer shall receive the punishment for the sin that he has committed except that he repents for it. And when he is repentant and discontinues the sin he will be eligible for intercession. And one who is not repentant for his sin is one who is persistent on it and one who is persistent is not eligible for salvation. Because actually he has no faith in that which Allah has promised. If at all he had believed in Allah’s promise he would have been repentant.”6

In this tradition, like in the tradition of Jabir, Imam (a.s.) has considered the unrepentant attitude and failure to seek repentance as persistence.

Since the subject of Imam’s discussion is greater it is possible that not seeking forgiveness for greater sin amounts to persistence. But repeating a smaller sin is also a greater sin. Besides Imam (a.s.) is speaking about the case where not seeking forgiveness is due to carelessness, heedlessness of Divine commands and feeling safe from Divine anger. And it is clear that if a person does not fear the wrath of Allah he does not seek forgiveness, which is a greater sin.

It is also possible that his failure to repent and seek forgiveness is ‘persistence’ is metaphorical. Thus there is a saying from Imam Baqir (a.s.),

“Indeed, persistence in sins is the consequence of heedlessness of Divine chastisement and only those people are the losers who are heedless (of Divine chastisement)”7

To consider a sin small

According to some jurists, repeating a smaller sin makes it a greater one. But there are some other factors that also render the smaller sin into a bigger one. The very fact that a person who commits a smaller sin, considers it small and insignificant, and thinks that he is not liable to be punished for such a trivial sin, itself makes his sin a greater one and brings down the wrath of Allah (S.w.T.) upon him. His thinking reveals that he does not give importance to the prohibitions laid down by the Almighty and is not in total submission to the will and pleasure of Allah (S.w.T.). According to traditions such a sin is unpardonable.

Scholastic theology maintains that forgiveness of smaller sins for those who abstain from greater ones is due to Divine mercy and grace. Otherwise according to reason every disobedience of Allah (S.w.T.), whether small or great makes one deserving of punishment. It is clear that Divine grace is only for those who do not leave the path of His obedience and servitude. One who is vain and proud and does not realize his insignificance and magnificence of Allah (S.w.T.) can never receive Allah (S.w.T.)’s Grace, instead he would be disgraced and humiliated.

Allah (S.w.T.) will remit the smaller sins of those who abstain from greater sins and do not consider their smaller sins, small.

Hazrat ‘Ali (a.s.) says,

“The greatest sin is one, the doer of which considers it little.”8

Hazrat Imam Baqir (a.s.) states,

“Among the unpardonable sins is the saying of a person, “I wish that except for this sin which I have committed other sins had not been accountable.” [He considered this sin insignificant.]9

Beware of the sin that are considered small and insignificant. Indeed, they are ones that shall be questioned by Allah and these (small sins) will be heaped upon the person till it (becomes a great sin and) destroys him.

Imam Sadiq (a.s.) says,

“Seek (Allah’s) refuge and save yourself from the sins that are considered small and insignificant.”

The narrator asked, “Which of the sins are small?”

Imam (a.s.) said,

“A person commits a sin and then says: How lucky would I have been if I had not any sin except this one. (Because) this sin is small and insignificant.”

Being Pleased with a Sinful Act

One of the things that magnify a sin (make the smaller sin great) is that one feels good and is pleased after committing it. A necessary condition of faith in Allah (S.w.T.) and Qiyāma is repenting for ones sin, even though it may be small. As the Messenger of Allah, (S) says,

“One, whose good deeds please him and sins make him aggrieved is a believer.”10

Allah is High and Mighty, and disobedience to His commands and prohibitions is a great sin. It is related from Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) that at the time of sinning do not consider the smallness of your sin but consider the greatness and Might of Allah Whose (law) command you are breaking.”11

Just as regret and repentance erase the sin and cleanse the sinner in the same way feeling happy after committing a sin reinforces it.

The Messenger of Allah (S) says:

“One who is laughing (happy) while committing a sin will enter Hell weeping.”12

He (S) also said,

“Four things regarding sins are more severe than the sin itself: considering the sin small, being proud of it, being happy about it, being persistent in it.”13

Making it Public

Informing others of one’s sins and relating about them to other people is a greater sin. Also announcing a sin is an insult to Allah (S.w.T.)’s command. The Messenger of Allah (S) has said,

“One who performs a good deed and keeps it a secret will be rewarded seventy times (than if he has announced it). And one who commits a sin and makes it public (due to shamelessness or ignorance of religious law) will be disgraced by Allah. (That is, he will not get the Tawfīq of repentance and he will remain deprived of Allah’s kindness and Mercy) but if he keeps it secret (due to shame) he will be forgiven.”14

Making a sin public is not harmful in two cases: One when it is necessary to do so, for example, its admission before a doctor for treatment or to a religious scholar for learning about an Islamic law.

Secondly when it is an expression of servitude and helplessness before Allah (S.w.T.) and confession of one’s sins. For example, a person can make a general statement: “O Allah! I am your sinful slave! I am a disgraced one! I am drowned in the sea of evils. I have committed mortal sins! Please forgive me.” However, it is appropriate to mention the particular sin. Like ‘I have imbibed wine,’ etc. Confessing ones sins before Allah (S.w.T.) and imploring forgiveness is the best act of worship and is very beneficial for the acceptance of repentance, illumination of one’s heart by the light of faith and raising of one’s status.

In other words, a general confession of sins and acceptance of ones mistakes is the opposite of pride and arrogance. It is the favourite habit of our religious leaders. So much so, that even in their letters and books they mention themselves as disobedient, sinners, lowly, wrong doers, the most lowly slaves etc.

Sin and Social position

According to our religious tenets, a person with knowledge, piety and purity is to be highly honoured and respected. When such a person, who is held in high esteem by the people, commits a small sin the very foundation of their faith and belief may be shaken. Just as a higher status is accorded to religious personalities by religion, so also their smaller sins are considered equivalent to greater sins of ignorant people.

Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says,

“Seventy sins of ignorant one will be forgiven before one sin of an Ālim.”15

Misdeed of an Ālim corrupts many worlds

Muhaqqiq Khwansari comments on the above statement made by Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) in the following way. Misdeed of an Ālim could be the sin he commits himself or the mistake that he commits in the discharge of his duty as a jurisprudent. Both these mistakes are not restricted to the scholar himself but have far-reaching consequences involving a large number of people and several spheres of activity, spreading corruption and disorder. When people see a knowledgeable person committing a sin, the severity and evil of the sin is lost on them, they think it to be insignificant and begin to indulge in it. If he makes a mistake in promulgating a law of Shari’a, many people can be adversely affected by a law which is defective. Also the validity of many acts may be dependant upon this faulty command.

Therefore the responsibilities of an Ālim are tremendous and he has to be cautious and vigilant in refraining from sins and mistakes.

In the same strain is the following statement:

“The sin of an Ālim is like the wrecking of ship. That takes others with it (when it sinks).”16

Persistence is really a greater sin

As we have already seen, lesser sins assume the proportions of greater ones under the following conditions:

1) When they are committed due to heedlessness.

2) When they are considered insignificant and not punishable.

3) When the person who commits them is pleased and happy with himself.

4) To commit them again and again without feeling any remorse and repenting for them.

5) Being aware of the fact that doing them again and again makes them a greater sin.

Another point of contention is that when an Ālim commits smaller sins which take the magnitude of greater sins, is his reliability as an Ālim maintained? The answer is not clear, but apparently his reliability is maintained.

Persistence is established by common parlance

As we have already explained before, persistence implies committing a particular sin again and again or different types of sins, without regretting it or seeking forgiveness for it. Or to commit different types of sins together. But the number of times a person must commit the sin that makes it ‘persistent’ depends upon how it is generally considered. So, there is no fixed standard because of the wide variations in smaller sins and their proximity to greater sins. Some smaller sins become great only by committing them thrice and some more than Three times and some in less than that. It all depends upon what is generally accepted.

An Important Point

The forty greater sins discussed so far are those which have been clearly named in authentic traditions.

There are two traditions in Wasa’il ul-Shia in the chapter of Taīnul Kabair. These two traditions are without chains of narrators and they have been taken from the book of Jihad. One of them is considering the property permissible for ourselves, which shall be discussed later.

Here we shall study the second one in brief. This is, depriving ones lawful heirs of their rights. By this we desire to ensure that all greater sins that are clearly mentioned in traditions have been discussed by us.

Depriving in will

It is an injustice not to include in the will some or all the heirs such that they stand to lose their lawful share. The Tafsīr of Qummi explains the verse,

“Whoever then alters it after he has heard it, the sin of it then is only upon those who alter it; Surely Allah is Hearing, Knowing.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2: 181)

Regarding this ayat Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says,

“‘Haif’ in will is that one bestows more on some heirs and deprives others and ‘Ithm’ (sin) denotes preparing place of worship or to give order to prepare intoxicant (meaning will for unlawful activities).”

In the above two cases the legatee should disregard the instructions.

The poor heir must be kept in mind

If the heir is self-sufficient the maker of the will can bequeath one third of his property in the way he desires and he can also exceed this limit if the heir permits. If the heirs are poor or extremely pious the will-maker can give them some share even from this one third part to ensure that he is not giving more than the share of heirs which shall be derived from the two-third portion.

If the heir is poor it is better not to make a will (for the 1/3 part), or to bequeath only 1/6, 1/5 or 1/4 of ones property, because one of the best utilization of this wealth is in fulfilling the needs of a poor heir. This would constitute an act of Silet ar-Rahm, especially when the heir is yet to reach puberty.

Hazrat Imam ‘Ali (a.s.) says,

“I prefer a bequest for one-fifth over that of one-fourth and the bequest of one-fourth over that of one-third. And one who makes a bequest for (full) one-third is as if he has not left behind anything.” That is, he has fully exercised his right to bequeath one-third and in this way deprived the poor heirs who might have benefited if it had been to the contrary.17

Imam Riďa (a.s.) said,

“It is Mustahab to bequeath some share to those relatives who are not ones heirs and if one does not make such a will his action will end in Allah’s disobedience”18

Such a person is regarded as sinful because he has not taken care of the rights of relatives, which is one of the obligatory religious duties. Particularly, if a rich man disregards his very poor relatives who are not his heirs and does not bequeath them anything, it amounts to Qat al-Raham, which is Harām and a greater sin.

The Heir Precedes others

Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says that a man from Ansar died leaving many young children. He left no property except six slaves. At the time of death he be had freed all of them. When the Messenger of Allah (S) was informed of this, he asked,

“What have you done with him?”

“We have buried him”, replied the people

The Messenger of Allah (S) said,

“If I had known it, I would not have allowed him to be interred with Muslims because this man has compelled his children to beg from the people.”

Division of legacy according to Shariah

It is not permitted for a person to bequeath more than a third of his property. If he does so the executor of the will is not obliged to act upon it but he should give the heir to use his discretion in the matter.

Moreover, making a will for unlawful purposes is not allowed and the executor of the will is obliged to disregard it. He should, instead, utilize the funds in lawful ways. It is also not allowed to deprive any of the heirs of their share. And the executor of will must give the share of those who are eligible for it. (Please refer to books of jurisprudences, Tauzihul Masael for more information about making bequests).

If the heirs of the first level (ones children or parents) are present but the heirs of the second level (Paternal and Maternal Uncles and Aunts) are poor the rich will-maker should make some provision for them. If he does not make such a will it would generally be regarded as an act of Qat’a ar-Rahm, which is a greater sin.

Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) had willed that seventy Ashrafis (gold coins) be given to Hasan al-Aqtas, the son of his paternal uncle. Imam (a.s.) had also made similar bequests for a number of his relatives. Someone expressed surprise and said, “O Master! You have made a bequest for a person who has attacked you and wanted to slay you with a knife? Imam (a.s.) said,

“Do you not want me to be included among those who are praised by the Almighty for their Sil al-Raham in the following words?”

“And those who join that which Allah has bidden to be joined and have awe of their Lord and fear the evil reckoning.” (Surah ar-Ra’d 13:21)

The full text of this tradition has passed in the chapter of Qat’a ar-Rahm.

Part Two: Greater sins regarding whom there is no clear ‘nass’

Greater sins regarding whom there is no clear ‘nass’ (ayat or tradition).

As stated in the introduction of this book, a sin is considered a greater sin under four conditions:

(1) There is clear mention of it in ayat or tradition of Ma’sūmīn (a.s.).

(2) Its punishment is mentioned to be damnation in Hell in Qur’an or an authentic tradition, whether in unequivocal words or indication.

(3) It is mentioned to be greater than one of the great sins proved by other Three methods.

(4) The sin, which is considered great by a group of religious people.

The greater sins which come under condition

(1) have received full treatment in part one. The remaining Three shall be discussed in Three sections in part two. Before we start listing the sins that are promised divine punishment i.e. condition

(2) we must know that this condition itself is clearly mentioned in a number of traditions. Some of them are given below. A hadith recorded in the Sahih of Ibn Abi Yafur from Imam Sadiq (a.s.) says,

“The Adalat (reliability) of some people can be understood from their neglect of sins that are promised Hell.”19

This tradition clearly indicates that sins for which Hell is destined are indeed greater sins. In Sahih of ‘Ali Ibn Ja’far it is mentioned that he asked his brother Imam Mūsa Ibn Ja’far (a.s.) regarding the sins which are denounced in Qur’an.

Imam (a.s.) said,

“Those sins are great for which Allah has made Hell incumbent.”20

A tradition is recorded from Imam Sadiq (a.s.) in al-Kāfi. Abu Basīr says that when Imam (a.s.) was queried regarding this matter he (a.s.) recited the following ayat:

“…and whoever is granted wisdom, he indeed is given a great good and none but men of understanding mind.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2: 269)

Imam (a.s.) explains the meaning of wisdom:

“Marefat (recognition) of Imam, abstinence from Greater sins (those who fail in this) Allah has made Hell as their abode.”21

Muhammad Ibn Muslim relates from the same Imam (a.s.):

“Of whichever sin Allah has prescribed Hell is a Greater Sin.”

According to some traditions, specially, the one mentioned in the Sahih of Abdul Azīm, every sin which is specially promised Hell fire in Qur’an or Sunnah (traditions) of the Holy Prophet (S) and Imams (a.s.) is a greater sin, whether it is unequivocal like that for the one who does not pray:

“But there came after them an evil generation, who neglected prayers and followed sensual desires, so they will meet perdition.” (Surah Maryam 19: 59)

Or the sinner is described as an inmate of Hell. For example in the tradition, “The one who leaves prayers is a polytheist,

“and the abode of polytheists is Hell.”, So be steadfast in prayers and do not be of the polytheist,”(30:31)

Similarly Qur’an says,

“So woe (Hell) to the praying ones, who are unmindful of their prayers…” (Surah Ma’ūn 107: 4-5)

Or as mentioned in the tradition of the Holy Prophet (S),

“One who leaves prayers wilfully will go out of the refuge of Allah and the Messenger of Allah (S).”22

According to Ibn Abbas the number of sins that are mentioned in ayats and authentic traditions are very many. If all of them are enumerated they will exceed seven hundred. This would be a very time consuming job. So we shall discuss only some of the most common sins that people are prone to commit.

  • 1. al-Kāfi Vol. 4 page 288
  • 2. al-Kāfi Vol. 2 page 288
  • 3. Ghurarul Hikam Vol. 1 page 151
  • 4. Ghurarul Hikam Vol. 1 page 203
  • 5. al-Kāfi Vol. 1 page 288
  • 6. Wasa’il ul-Shia Vol. 11 page 266
  • 7. Tohafful Uqūl
  • 8. Wasa’il ul-Shia Vol. 11 page 246
  • 9. Wasa’il ul-Shia Vol. 11 page 247
  • 10. Wasa’il ul-Shia, Vol. 11 page 266
  • 11. Wasa’il ul-Shia Vol. 11 page 247
  • 12. Wasa’il ul-Shia Vol. 11 page 240
  • 13. Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il
  • 14. al-Kāfi Vol. 1, page 428
  • 15. al-Kāfi Vol. 1 page 48
  • 16. Amali Vol. 4 page 109
  • 17. Beharul Anwar Vol. 23 page 46
  • 18. Bihār al-Anwār Vol. 103 page 199
  • 19. Wasa’il ul-Shia
  • 20. al-Kāfi Vol. 2 page 276
  • 21. al-Kāfi Vol. 2 page 284
  • 22. Wasa’il ul-Shia Vol. 3 page 29

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