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November 7, 2022

Introduction | Imam Musa al-Hajjawi's Explanation of The Major Sins in Islam (Tanwir al-Basa'ir)

Mandhumah fi al-Kabair is a poem with 32 lines that brings together the different major sins (al-kabair). In this poem, Imam Musa al-Ḥajjawi started by mentioning what is defined as a major sin. The Imam then proceeded to mention 71 different major sins. This is a poem that needs to be explained and shared continuously to remind Muslims to abstain from the major sins and to repent whenever they indulge in any of those sins and hopefully, with that, Allah will forgive our sins and shortcomings and grant us His blessings and mercy both in this world and the Hereafter.

Introduction

Mandhumah fi al-Kabair is a poem with 32 lines that brings together the different major sins (al-kabair). Sheikhul Hanabilah, Imam al-Ḥajjawi did not write this poem as a separate work; rather it was written as part of his magnum opus, al-Iqna', according to many scholars. In this poem, Imam Musa al-Ḥajjawi started by mentioning what is defined as a major sin. He quoted both Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Imam Ibn Taymiyyah in their definitions of what constitutes a major sin, which can be summarised as:

A major sin is whatever belief or action that has:
1. A hudūd punishment in this dunya
2. A threat of Hellfire in the Hereafter
3. A threat of nafy al-Iman (disavowal of faith) for the doer
4. A mention of curse upon the doer

The Imam then proceeded to mention 71 different major sins. This is a poem that needs to be explained and shared continuously to remind Muslims to abstain from the major sins and to repent whenever they indulge in any of those sins and hopefully, with that, Allah will forgive our sins and shortcomings and grant us His blessings and mercy both in this world and the Hereafter.

Allah tells us in the Quran,

إِن تَجْتَنِبُوا كَبَائِرَ مَا تُنْهَوْنَ عَنْهُ نُكَفِّرْ عَنكُمْ سَيِّئَاتِكُمْ وَنُدْخِلْكُم مُّدْخَلًا كَرِيمًا

“If you avoid the major sins which you are forbidden, We will remove from you your lesser sins and admit you to a noble entrance (into Paradise).” [Surah al-Nisa, 31]

Ibn Abbas رضي الله عنه in explaining the above verse stated: “Major sins are those Allah ends it with the threat of hell, wrath or curse or severe punishment.” [Tafsir al-Quran al-‘Azim, 2/282]

Anything that has these four falls under the category of a major sin and that which doesn't have these four is a minor sin. Imam Sufyan ibn Uyaynah رحمه الله stated the major sins are those sins on which Allah has legislated a punishment be it in this dunya or the hereafter.

Sheikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah رحمه الله was asked about the major sins mentioned in the Qur’an and Hadith.

He replied, "The best of the views concerning this issue is that which was narrated from Ibn Abbas and was mentioned by Abu ‘Ubaydah, Ahmad ibn Hanbal and others. It is the view that the minor sin is that for which no punishment is specified in this world or the hereafter. This is similar to what was said by those who say that it is a sin that is not subject to a hadd punishment in this world. And it is similar to what was said by those who say that any sin concerning which mention is made of a curse, divine wrath or warning of Hell is a major sin.

And it is similar to what was said by those who say that the minor sin is that concerning which there is no hadd punishment in this world, and no warning of punishment in the hereafter – that is, a specific warning such as a warning of Hell, divine wrath or curse.

Similarly, every sin concerning which the doer is warned that he will not enter Paradise or even smell the fragrance of Paradise, or it was said concerning it that the one who does it is not one of us, or the one who does it is a wrongdoer – all of these are major sins." [Majmu‘ al-Fatawa (11/650-652)].

Are All Major Sins the Same?

You will not find a list of major sins all in one place. Scholars have worked to list as many major sins as they can in works like that of Imam al-Dahabi in his al-Kabair. Yet, there are many more apart from these as well.

Even among the major sins, they are not all at a uniform level. They also vary and have different levels of severity. It is important for us to learn and understand the distinction for the ruling that is to be applied on the sinner depends on this.

Narrated Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud رضي الله عنه‎: I asked the Prophet ﷺ, "What is the greatest sin in the Sight of Allah?" He said, "That you set up a rival unto Allah though He Alone created you." I said, "That is indeed a great sin."

Then he asked, "What is next?" He said, "To kill your son lest he should share your food with you." I asked, "What is next?" He said, "To commit illegal sexual intercourse with the wife of your neighbour." [Bukhari]

Abu Bakrah رضي الله عنه reported: The Prophet ﷺ said three times, “Shall I not tell you about the worst of major sins?” They said, “Of course, O Messenger of Allah.” The Prophet said, “They are to associate partners with Allah and to be disrespectful to parents.” The Prophet was reclining and he sat up, saying, “And surely to speak falsely.” The Prophet continued to repeat it until we wished he had stopped. [Agreed Upon]

Anas ibn Malik رضي الله عنه reported: The Prophet ﷺ said regarding the major sins, “They are associating idols with Allah, disobedience to parents, killing a person, and false testimony.” [Agreed Upon]

Often we hear that there are 7 or 9 major sins. This does not mean that these are the only major sins. These are highlighted because they are from the Akbarul Kabair aka the Greater of the Major Sins.

Abu Hurairah رضي الله عنه reported: The Prophet ﷺ said, "Avoid the seven great destructive sins." The people enquire, "O Allah's Messenger (ﷺ)! What are they? "He said, "To join others in worship along with Allah, to practice sorcery, to kill the life which Allah has forbidden except for a just cause, (according to Islamic law), to eat up Riba (usury), to eat up an orphan's wealth, to give back to the enemy and fleeing from the battlefield at the time of fighting, and to accuse, chaste women, who never even think of anything touching chastity and are good believers..” [Agreed Upon]

Ibn Abbas رضي الله عنه reported: A man came to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and he said, “What are the major sins?” The Prophet said, “To associate partners with Allah, to despair of relief from Allah, and to feel safe from the plan of Allah. These are the worst of enormities.” [Tafseer Ibn Abi Hatim] A person who falls into these has lost a lot because now he will keep continuing to persist in sin till it eventually destroys him completely.

Are Major Sinners Deemed Disbelievers? 

Many people have the misconception that the one who commits a major sin becomes a disbeliever straight away. It is wrong to be hasty and make blanket statements of kufr without understanding the context and establishing the proof for the sinner. Calling people who commit major sins as disbelievers was the trait of the khawarij who rebelled against the sahaba.

It is reported on the authority of Ibn Umar رضي الله عنه that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, "Any person who called his brother: "O unbeliever" (has in fact done an act by which this unbelief) would return to one of them. If it were so, as he asserted (then the unbelief of man was confirmed but if it was not true), then it returned to him (to the man who labeled it on his brother Muslim). [Muslim]

Allah says,

إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يَغْفِرُ أَن يُشْرَكَ بِهِۦ وَيَغْفِرُ مَا دُونَ ذَٰلِكَ لِمَن يَشَآءُ ۚ وَمَن يُشْرِكْ بِٱللَّهِ فَقَدِ ٱفْتَرَىٰٓ إِثْمًا عَظِيمًا

Indeed, Allah does not forgive associating others with Him ˹in worship˺, but forgives anything else of whoever He wills. And whoever associates others with Allah has indeed committed a grave sin. [Surah al-Nisa, 48]

Imam at-Tabari said, "This ayah makes it clear that everyone who has committed major sin is subject to the will of Allah: if He wills He will pardon him for it, and if He wills He will punish him for it so long as his major sin is not that of associating others with Allah (shirk). [Tafseer at-Tabari (8/450)]

Allah says,

قُلْ يَـٰعِبَادِىَ ٱلَّذِينَ أَسْرَفُوا۟ عَلَىٰٓ أَنفُسِهِمْ لَا تَقْنَطُوا۟ مِن رَّحْمَةِ ٱللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يَغْفِرُ ٱلذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًا ۚ إِنَّهُۥ هُوَ ٱلْغَفُورُ ٱلرَّحِيمُ

Say, ˹O Prophet, that Allah says,˺ “O My servants who have exceeded the limits against their souls! Do not lose hope in Allah’s mercy, for Allah certainly forgives all sins. He is indeed the All-Forgiving, Most Merciful. [Surah al-Zumar, 53]

Shirk is the only sin that Allah does not forgive. Other than this, any sin no matter how major can be forgiven by Allah. Allah can choose out of His Mercy to forgive this sin or take the person to task for their sin. Indeed Allah is Most Just. This forgiveness of Allah is subject to the condition of Iman. Allah will not forgive a disbeliever.

The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "Whoever said "None has the right to be worshipped but Allah and has in his heart good (faith) equal to the weight of a barley grain will be taken out of Hell. And whoever said: "None has the right to be worshipped but Allah and has in his heart good (faith) equal to the weight of a wheat grain will be taken out of Hell. And whoever said, "None has the right to be worshipped but Allah and has in his heart good (faith) equal to the weight of an atom will be taken out of Hell." [Bukhari]

Allah calls people who commit major sins like fighting and killing other Muslims as believers as well when He says,

وَإِن طَآئِفَتَانِ مِنَ ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ ٱقْتَتَلُوا۟ فَأَصْلِحُوا۟ بَيْنَهُمَا ۖ

And if two groups of believers fight each other, then make peace between them. [Surah al-Hujurat, 9]

This is a major evidence that tells us that a person who commits a major sin has not left the fold of Islam automatically. No one has the right to declare a sinner out of the fold of Islam and hasten to give fatwa without due process.

Narrated Abu Dharr رضي الله عنه: I came to the Prophet (ﷺ) while he was wearing white clothes and sleeping. Then I went back to him again after he had got up from his sleep. He said, "Nobody says: 'None has the right to be worshipped but Allah' and then later on he dies while believing in that, except that he will enter Paradise." I said, "Even if he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and theft?" He said. 'Even if he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and theft." I said, "Even if he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and theft?" He said. 'Even if he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and theft." I said, 'Even it he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and theft?' He said, "Even if he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and theft, inspite of the Abu Dharr's dislike. Abu `Abdullah said, "This is at the time of death or before it if one repents and regrets and says "None has the right to be worshipped but Allah. He will be forgiven his sins." [Bukhari and Muslim]

Abu Hurairah رضي الله عنه reported: The Messenger of Allah, said, “The adulterer is not a believer while he is committing adultery. The drinker of wine is not a believer while he is drinking wine. The thief is not a believer while he is stealing. The plunderer is not a believer while he is plundering and the people are looking to him.” [Agreed Upon]

This hadith again shows that a person who commits major sins is still a Muslim even though his Iman has decreased when he commits the sins. The janazah will be prayed upon all these sinners as they still died as Muslims and the judgement of their sins is left to Allah.

Ibn Umar رضي الله عنه said, "We used to refrain from begging (Allah) for forgiveness for those who commit major sins until we heard our Prophet reciting, "Indeed, Allah does not forgive associating others with Him ˹in worship˺, but forgives anything else of whoever He wills.and the saying of the Prophet: "I have reserved my intercession on the Day of Resurrection for those among my Ummah who commit major sins." [Bazzar]

Ibn Mas'ud رضي الله عنه said, "I said, "O Messenger of Allah! Which is the greatest sin?" He said, “To set up a partner alongside Allah, even though He alone created you.” [Bukhari]

Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jama‘ah believe that the one who persists in sin is a faasiq (evildoer) and not a kafir (disbeliever). None of the people of the qiblah (Muslims) can be deemed a kaafir because of any sin less than shirk so long as he does not regard it as permissible.

Ibn Mas‘ud رضي الله عنه said: This ummah will be divided into three thirds on the Day of Resurrection: one third will be admitted to Paradise without being brought to account; one third will receive an easy reckoning; and one third will come with great sins and Allah will say: Who are these? although He, may He be blessed and exalted, knows best. The angels will say: These have come with great sins, but they did not associate anything with You. So the Lord will say: Admit them to My vast mercy. Then ‘Abdullah recited this verse: “Then We caused to inherit the Book those We have chosen of Our servants” (Surah al-Fatir, 32). [Tafseer al-Tabari (20/456)].

Sheikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah رحمه الله said, "A man only commits haram actions because of the weakness of his faith and love; if he does makruh actions it is because he does not have enough hatred towards it, or because of the strength of the love for it that overwhelmed his heart. No person does any haram action, such as immoral conduct both obvious and hidden, or sin and transgression, or associates things with Allah for which He has sent down no authority, or speaks about Allah without knowledge, except because of weakness of faith, because of lack of knowledge and belief, or because of the weakness of love and hate. But if his faith is basically sound, which means that he believes in all that Allah sent, then when the believer does these actions, he feels hatred and resentment towards them, and if he does them then it is because his whims and desires overwhelmed him, so when doing them he inevitably hates them and fears Allah's punishment for them, and he has the hope that he will rid himself of the consequences, either by repenting or by doing good deeds or by being forgiven, and so on. But if he does not hate them and does not fear Allah with regard to them and does not hope for His mercy, then this is not a believer under any circumstances; rather he is a kaafir or a hypocrite." [Qa‘idah fi’l-Mahabbah]

One of the salaf said, "Sin is the harbinger of kufr and there is the fear for the one who persists in sin that if he takes the matter lightly and does it as he does permissible things, without hating it or fearing the consequences, his faith will be rendered invalid."

al-Hafidh al-Hakami رحمه الله said: Question: How can we reconcile the words of the Prophet ﷺ in the hadith, “It will be up to Allah; if He wills He will pardon him and if He wills He will punish him” with what is mentioned above, that the one whose bad deeds outweigh his good deeds will enter Hell?

Answer: There is no contradiction between them, because whomever Allah wants to pardon, He will give him an easy reckoning, of which the Prophet ﷺ said describing it: “One of you will be brought close to his Lord, may He be glorified and exalted, until He conceals him with His concealment, then He will say: Did you do such and such? He will say: Yes. Allah will say: Did you do such and such? And he will say: Yes, and He will make him admit his sins. Then Allah will say: I concealed your sin in the first world and I forgive you for it today.” Agreed upon.

As for those who will enter Hell because of their sins, they will be the ones for whom the reckoning will be difficult. The Prophet ﷺ said: “Anyone whose record (of deeds) is questioned thoroughly will be punished.” Agreed upon. [A‘lam As-Sunnah al-Manshurah]

Imam Ibn Daqiq Al-'Id رحمه الله said in his commentary of the 40 ahadith of Imam Nawawi, "Al-Khattabi mentioned this, stating, “There are people who are outwardly Muslim but secretly disbelievers; we accept their outward Islam.’ This is the opinion of most of the scholars."

A person leaves the fold of Islam when they commit major sins that constitutes shirk and kufr. A statement of disbelief has to be clear and without any other possible way of explaining it other than it being a statement of disbelief. If a statement is made we have to seek clarification because many a time people do not know what they are saying.

Some of the forms shirk takes are as follows:

- Shirk in Knowledge: This is the ascribing of a partner to Allah in matters of knowledge ( ‘ilm), for example believing that a certain pious person knows about everything in this universe all the time. Other forms could be asking an astrologer or a fortune-teller or a diviner about things that are going to take place in a person's life, things which belong to the unseen world, an exclusive domain of Allah.

- Shirk in Power: This is ascribing to others the powers and rights which are the exclusive domain of Allah as for example, taking someone to have the power and authority to provide gain or inflict loss. It includes things like asking someone to grant wishes or to ask for sustenance, and children.

- Shirk in Ibadah: This means the ascribing of a partner to Allah in acts of worship which is the sole right of Allah. Some of the forms it could take are to go down in prostration for anyone, to sacrifice an animal in the name of other than Allah, to make a vow (mannat, nadhr) in someone's name; to make tawaf (rounds, circumambulation) of someone's grave or house; and things like that.

Based on explanation by Sheikh Zafarul Hasan Madani حفظه الله and other scholars.

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