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What Is the Concept of Sin in Islam?

Question and answer details
Andy Mac
2014/04/13
I do not know that much about Islam but I know that you do not believe in the original sin? How do you distinguish who is a sinner and who is not?
Shahul Hameed
Answer
Salam (Peace) Dear Andy,


Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.


The word 'Islam' in Arabic represents two basic concepts: One is 'submission' and the other is 'peace'. As the name of the religion, it stands for 'the peace we can attain in this world and the next by submitting to the One and Only God of the universe'.


Islam teaches that all the prophets of God – including Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them all) taught basically the same religion: namely 'to worship the One True God and lead a life of obedience to His commandments'.


This is what Islam stands for. And for this reason, Muslims consider all the prophets of God as prophets of Islam; and all of them preached to their people the same message.


The story of our first parents Adam and Eve narrated in the Bible is also recounted in the Quran, which was the noble Book revealed as the Last Testament of God; that is, as the perfected form of the Guidance of God, which had been progressively revealed through the earlier scriptures such as the Torah and the Gospel.


Both Christians and Muslims are united in the belief that Adam – the father of mankind – was misled by Satan to disobey God and to eat the forbidden fruit, and consequently God expelled him and his progeny from Paradise.


Muslims believe that Adam soon after the act of disobedience became aware of the seriousness of his sin and repented. He sought the forgiveness of God, and God forgave him. In the Quran we read what means:


{We said: "O Adam! dwell you and your wife in the Garden; and eat of the bountiful things therein as (where and when) you will; but approach not this tree, or you run into harm and transgression.


Then did Satan make them slip from the (garden), and get them out of the state (of felicity) in which they had been. We said: "Get you down, all (you people), with enmity between yourselves. On earth will be your dwelling-place and your means of livelihood - for a time.


Then learnt Adam from his Lord words of inspiration, and his Lord turned towards him; for He is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful.} (Al-Baqarah 2:35-37)


As distinct from the above narration, the Christians hold the belief that God did not forgive Adam's sin and for that reason all the children of Adam till the End of Times would bear the blemish of that sin on them.


This is what they call 'Original Sin', and this sin will not be forgiven according to them, except for those children of Adam who believe that God sent His only-begotten son to vicariously suffer and die on the cross as expiation for that sin.


Muslims do not accept that there is anything called 'original sin'. They strongly reject the idea of God begetting a son for this purpose: To them God is one and one only; He does not beget, nor is He begotten; and there is no one like God.

Sin, from the point of view of Islam, is a conscious and willful act that violates a commandment of God or the right of a fellow being. We cannot consider a person to be a sinner if he or she acts under duress or out of ignorance, because human accountability is an important aspect of justice as envisaged in Islam.  And no one can be truly held accountable for an action he has no power to avoid. Because, God does not lay more burden on a human than he can bear.  

Islam teaches that sin is an avoidable act that harms the perpetrator's own soul.  This means that there is no innate or inherited nature that prompts a person to disobey God. That is to say, it is a person's free choice whether to sin or not; and one's disposition to sin is only as much as, if not less than, their inclination to do good.


One important teaching of Islam as taught by the Prophet is this hadith:

 

"Deeds are but by intentions and every person shall have what he intended." (Al-Bukhari and Muslim) 

 

This means that a person's motive should be taken into consideration when we judge his or her actions. And we know that motive is something that is in the mind of the people and even if they speak out why they have acted in a particular way, we have no means of verifying their claim.


For instance, consider the case of a nurse who gave a patient a dose of the wrong medicine which proved fatal. The nurse may maintain that she did not know it was the wrong medicine; rather she was acting in good faith; but by mistake it happened to be the wrong medicine. If her claim is accepted, she cannot be held guilty of poisoning the patient to death. But suppose her claim is untrue. How can we know whether she is telling the truth or lying?


We may be able to see people who openly commit easily recognizable offences; but we should be on our guard before we judge a person on the basis of external evidence alone. That is to say, in a good number of cases we are likely to go wrong in our judgment. Only God can judge us and our actions correctly, without favor or prejudice.


Among the obvious sins we can count the following as examples: Associating God's creatures with God in worship, murder, adultery, robbery, bearing false witness, committing oppression, cheating, arrogant showing off, consuming usury, appropriating undeserving property especially that of orphans, plotting evil and harming people, etc.


Any person who indulges in one or more of such actions is obviously a sinner. But we should bear in mind that it is difficult for us humans to correctly evaluate a person's actions and arrive at a proper judgment. Because, we as humans, have our own limitations in properly assessing the actions of an outsider before arriving at a judgment; as we are unable to weigh the circumstances of a person's deed or his mental condition.


Therefore, only God Almighty can be the Judge of our beliefs and actions; and hence He is described in the Quran as "the Owner of the Day of Judgment."


In Islam, all sins can be forgiven except associating others with God. Whatever sins a Muslim commits, will be pardoned if he offers sincere repentance and does a lot of good deeds. The good deeds wipe out the bad ones. The door of repentance is always open and Allah will accept the repentance until the Muslim dies.


I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch.


Salam.


Useful Links:


Original Sin or… Innocence?


Adam & His Sin


Forgiveness Despite Repeated Sins


Eve's Sin


Did Jesus Die for Our Sins?


Are Sins Inherited?


Will I Ever Be Forgiven?


Will Allah Accept My Repentance?


Tears of Repentance


Repenting Grave Sins


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