An-Nisa · Juz 5 · Qur'an Tafseer

Major Sins

[In the light of Surah an-Nisa Ayah 31]

The definition of kabair, as indicated in the Qur’an and Hadith and as explained by the most revered elders, is that a sin on which a Hadd or punishment has been prescribed in the Qur’an or Sunnah to be enforced in this present life or on which words of curse or ‘lanah’ have appeared, or on which stern warning of Hell has been mentioned, are all major sins. Similarly, every sin the evil outcome of which is equal to or more than a major sin shall be counted as a major sin. Also, a sin done with a rebellious attitude or done as a permanent habit is also included in the major sins.

Someone said before Ibn Abbas that the number of major sins was seven. He said: ‘Not seven. Say seven hundred, which is better’. In his book Al-Zawajir, Imam Ibn Hajr al-Makki has given a list of all such sins with their full explanations, sins which are included under kabair in accordance with the definition given above. The number of major sins listed in his book reaches up to four hundred and sixty seven.

The truth of the matter is that some scholars have considered it sufficient to count prominent major sins only and thus the number they have come up with is lower. Others who went in details and dealt with all divisions and sub-divisions of the subject came up with a higher number. Therefore, this is not much of a contradiction. The Prophet has himself pointed to many sins as being major. Then, as appropriate under given circumstances, he has also named them in threes and sixes and sevens or even more elsewhere. From this, the scholars of the Muslim community came to the conclusion that the purpose is not to determine any particular as a universal statement. Rather, each number mentioned in a hadith relates to particular occasions or circumstances where that particular number was deemed appropriate in the given situation.

In a hadith of al-Bukhari and Muslim, the Prophet sallallahu aalyhi wa sallam has been reported to have said:

“I warn you against the top ones from among the major sins. They are three in number – to associate a created being as a partner in the divinity of Allah, to disobey parents and to give false witness or to lie.”

In yet another narration of al-Bukhari and Muslim, it has been reported that someone asked the Prophet as to what could be the greatest of all sins. He said:

“That you ascribe partners to Allah although He has created you.”

He was then asked as to the greatest of all sins after that. He said:

“That you kill your child for fear of his sharing in your sustenance and that you will have to feed him.”

He was again asked as to the greatest of all sins after that. He said:

“Committing adultery with the wife of your neighbor.”

Since the protection of the family of a neighbor is the responsibility of all human beings very much like the protection of one’s own family, therefore, the gravity of this crime become twofold.

According to yet another hadith reported by al-Bukhari and Muslim, the Prophet said:

“That someone uses abusive language for his parents is also one of the major sins.”

Surprised, the Companions asked: “O Messenger of Allah, how is it possible that someone starts using abusive language against his very own parents?” He said: “Yes. A person abuses the parents of another person as a result of which the latter abuses the parents of the former. This too is as if he has abused his own parents, because he was the one who became the cause of those abuses.”

As in a narration of Saheeh al-Bukhari, the Prophet has counted – shirk, unjust killing, eating up of the property of an orphan by false means, devouring income from interest, deserting the battlefield of jihad, false accusation against chaste women, disobedience to parents and the desecration of the Ka’abah – among major sins. In some hadith narrations, the eventuality – that a person winds up living in a country of disbelievers (dar al-kufr) and emigrates to a country of believers (dar al-Islam), but later, leaves the country to which he has migrated and goes back to live into the country of disbelievers – has also been ruled as a major sin.

There are other narrations of ahadith where some of the forms of behavior cited below have been included in the list of major sins, such as, taking a false oath, holding back water in excess of one’s need and refusing to share it with those who need it, to learn magic, and to practice magic. The Prophet has said:

“Drinking is the greatest of major sins”.

He also said, “Drinking is the mother of all shameful deeds,” because once drunk, man can fall into any conceivable evil. There is another hadith where he said: “The gravest major sin is that one imputes to his Muslim brother a fault which stains his character.”

According to one hadith, one who brackets two salahs at one time without an excuse approved by the Shariah has committed a major sin. It means that he did not perform a salah at the time it was due, but performed it as qada (missed) prayer along with another salah. Some hadith narrations declare that losing hope in the mercy of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala is also a major sin; and so it will be in the event if one becomes careless or daring enough to forget all about His punishment and retribution. Another narration rules that making a will to bring loss to an inheritor or to reduce his share in the inheritance is also one of the major sins.

And it appears in a narration from the Saheeh of Muslim that the Prophet sallallahu aalyhi wa sallam once spoke the words: “Destitutes, losers, they are ruined.” Abu Dharr al-Ghifari radhiAllahu anha asked, “O Messenger of Allah, who are these unfortunate people?” He replied:

“ONE: a person who let his trouser or wrap or shirt or robe hang all the way down below his ankles; TWO: one who spends something in the way of Allah, then publicizes his favor; THREE: one who, inspite of his old age, indulges in shameful deeds; FOUR: one who, despite holding a position of authority, tells lies; FIVE: one who, despite having a family, waxes proud; SIX: one who gives his hand of allegiance in the hands of a worthy Imam or master just for the sake of material gains.”

Concluding in the same vein, we refer to another hadith from al-Bukhari and Muslim which proclaims that the backbiter will not be admitted in the Paradise. And a hadith in Nasai and the Musnah of Ahmad enlarges on the theme by saying that some kinds of people will not be admitted in the Paradise, that is, the drinker, the disobeyer of parents, the unjustified severer of relations with kinsmen, the publicizer of a favor, the diviner of the unseen through jinns, shaytans and other medium and the dayyuth, a wittol or cuckold who is so contented with his shamelessness that he never stops his wife and family members from going the way of immodesty. And a hadith from the Saheeh Muslim says that lanah or the curse of Allah is for one who sacrifices an animal for anyone other than Allah.

[Taken from Maaruf-ul-Qur’an by Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani]

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