[In the light of Surah an-Nisa Ayah 31]
“If you avoid major sins, which you are forbidden, We will remove from you your misdeeds and We will admit you to a noble entrance.”
Kaffarah is what makes amends – an expiation. It means that righteous deeds will be taken as kaffarah for minor sins which will thus be written off, resulting in reward instead of punishment and Paradise instead of Hell. This is in accordance with authentic ahadeeth where it has been stated that when a person makes wudhu for salah, the act of washing each part of his body becomes the kaffarah for sins; the washing of the face becomes the kaffarah for sins committed by the eye, the ear, the nose; gargling becomes the kaffarah for the sins of the tongue; washing feet washes away the sins of the feet – and when he walks towards the masjid, every step he he takes brings with it the kaffarah of sins.
Major Sins are Forgiven by Tawbah Only
From the ayah, we learn that the expiation of sins through righteous deeds such as wudhu, salah and the rest, which appear in ahadeeth, concerns minor sins. As for major sins, they are not forgiven without Tawbah; and for minor sins, the condition is that one should have made the effort to stay away and remain safe from major sins. This leaves us with a note of warning – if someone, while staying involved in major sins, goes on performing his wudhu and salah, then this wudhu and salah and other righteous deeds will not at all expiate for even his minor sins, let alone the major ones. It is a warning that when a person appears on the Day of Resurrection, carrying the heavy burden of his major and minor sins, he will find no helping hand to make his burden any lighter.
It will be recalled that some major sins were mentioned in the previous ayaat along with the warning of severe punishment for those who commit them. It is a peculiar style of the Qur’an that when it warns of punishment against a sin, it is generally followed by some aspect of persuasion towards obedience.
In the present ayah too, a particular Divine reward has been mentioned and people have been persuaded to acquire it by staying away from major sins, in which case, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala will forgive their minor sins on His own. Thus, cleansed of all sins, major and minor, one could look forward to entering the home of honor and peace, the garden of Paradise. In sha Allah!
Two Kinds of Sins
This ayah tells us that there are two kinds of sins. Some of them are kabeerah, that is, major sins; others are sagheerah, (termed as Saiyyat, in this ayah) that is, minor sins. He who musters enough courage and succeeds in staying away from major sins, has been given a promise by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala that He will forgive his minor sins on His own.
Now, the act of staying away from major sins also includes the act of fulfilling all obligations [fard and wajib] because neglecting or abandoning obligations is a major sin in itself. Thus, we come to the conclusion that if one dutifully fulfills all obligations and succeeds in saving himself from all major sins, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala will overlook his minor sins.
Defining Major and Minor Sins
The word, kabair used in the ayah is the plural of kabeerah meaning major sins. Before we proceed further, we should understand the nature and identification of major sins. Also, we should know the definition of minor sins, and their number. Being an important subject, scholars of the Muslim community have devoted books to throw light on this subject from various angles.
Let us, first of all, realize that sin, in the absolute sense, is the name of an act which is against the command and the will of Allah. Starting from this particular point, you will be able to see that the sin known as sagheerah or technically, a minor sin is, in fact, no minor for that matter. To disobey Allah and to oppose His will is invariably a grave crime. Therefore, based on this view, a large number of Muslim scholars have ruled that every disobedience of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and every opposition to His will is nothing but kabeerah or major sin. The distinction between kabeerah and sagheerah, major and minor sins, is made only when these are compared to each other. It is in this sense that the Companion, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas radhiAllahu ‘anhu has been reported to have said:
“Any act forbidden by the Shariah is a major sin.”
In short, a sin which is technically known as minor does not mean that people should go about indulging in it neglectfully, indolently or just ignore it as something ordinary. On the contrary, a minor sin, if done with nerve or heedlessness, does not remain minor anymore – it becomes a major sin. A good example of a major and a minor sin, as given by some sage, is that of a small scorpion and a big scorpion, or that of a large ember and a tiny spark, for man cannot hear the pain given by any of these. Therefore, Muhammad ibn Ka’b al-Qurazi said that the greatest act of worship offered for Allah is to give up sins.
The ibadah or worship by people, who offer prayers and remember Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, yet do not give up sins, is not accepted. The famous mystic, Fudayl ibn Ayad said:
“The lighter you take a sin to be, the greater it will become with Allah as a crime.”
The righteous elders of the Muslim community used to say:
Every sin is a courier of kufr which invites people to manners and morals typical of disbelievers.
According to the Musnad of Ahmad, ‘A’ishah radhiAllahu anha wrote a letter to Mu’awiyah radhiAllahu anhu in which she said that a servant of Allah who disobeys Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala finds his fans become fault-finders, and friends turn into enemies. Heedlessness toward sins is the cause of the man’s permanent ruination.
It appears in an authentic hadeeth that the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said,
“When a true believer falls in sin, a black dot appears on his heart. If after that, he repents and seeks forgiveness from Allah, this dot disappears. If he does not repent, this dot keeps on increasing, so much so that it covers his entire heart.”
In the Qur’an, the name given to this dot is rayn, as in كَلاَّ بَلْ رَانَ عَلَى قُلُوبِهِمْ مَّا كَانُواْ يَكْسِبُونَ that is, their evil deeds have rusted their hearts. [83:14]
However, it is necessary that there be a method to distinguish between sins in terms of corruption they cause, evil results they bring and harmful outcome they produce. Thus, it is because of this need to differentiate that a certain sin is called ‘major’ and a certain other ‘minor’.
[Taken from Maarif-ul-Qur’an by Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani]