WE are all inclined to sinning, even though we know that it is wrong. In monotheistic religions, sinning is assumed to be natural for humans, but while Christianity believes in the original sin, Islam considers every person to be born innocent of sin and upon the natural fitrah. It is the external environment and Satan’s temptations that drive humans to sin.
In the Quran, lying, cheating, backbiting, eating pork, consuming alcohol are among the lesser sins, while murder, adultery, usurping rights of orphans, usury, falsely accusing others of adultery and associating partners with God are major sins.
Have we reflected upon what sin is and why Islam has clarified that humans are naturally capable of understanding the difference between being righteous and sinful? The Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have said: “Sin is that which disturbs your heart and which you do not want people to know about” (Muslim 2553). It causes uneasiness inside one’s breast and one would like to keep it hidden. It produces a sense of guilt, which, in a person who is God-conscious, would lead to repentance and efforts to never commit it again. Sincere repentance after sinning brings one closer to the Creator.
A useful explanation of sin, derived from the Quran, is given by Dr Farhad Shafti, a Quran scholar and teacher. A sin is what one would do against one’s natural self: an act that reduces one’s status as a human being and that degrades one’s soul. God has declared humankind as His vicegerent on earth: He takes pride in his creations, but humans continue to commit actions that go against the requirement of such a role. They dishonour themselves and disrespect the trust placed in them by God.
We oppress and hurt our fellow beings, oppressing our own souls in the process.
Having been blessed with the capacity of differentiating between good and bad, we do often choose the latter, overcome by our weaknesses. Sinning thus against ourselves, we belittle our worth, dignity, aspiration towards transcendence and spirituality. While sinning a few times is natural, committing the same deed again and again renders repentance meaningless.
Most of our sins are against our fellow human beings. We oppress and hurt them in various ways, oppressing our souls as well as the collective society. Our sins take on a multiplier effect. Bringing down this darkness on our own souls is what is so eloquently described in the Quran: “… It strikes and destroys the harvest of men who have wronged their own souls. …” (3:117). The first prayer in the world was by Hazrat Adam and Eve: They said: “Our Lord! We have wronged our own souls: if thou forgive us not and bestow not upon us Thy Mercy, we shall certainly be lost” (7:23). The same prayer was recited by Hazrat Younus when he left his people without instructions from God, and Hazrat Musa when he had inadvertently killed a man.
Each time we commit a sin, our souls lose some purity. Only repentance can remove this darkness, but repeated sinning will only increase it until the soul is no longer capable of being redeemed. This is what the Quran means by “the screen over their hearts” (6:25).
Why do we then sin? The Quran says that it is because we forget and ignore God. Prophets and revelations were sent by God to remind people of Him and give guidance, so that “man could decipher the primordial writing on his heart more clearly and with greater conviction” (Fazlur Rahman, Major Themes of the Quran). If humans forget God, they give in to whims and desires which God has warned against and corrupt their souls. The consciousness of God leads to taqwa, a barrier against sin.
The sins of a person are not visited upon others. If one sins, one corrupts one’s own soul and if one does good, one benefits one’s own soul. No other being shall either be punished or rewarded for the actions of others. God hides the sins of people unless they make them public themselves or they come to light due to other reasons.
Confusion exists between the concept of sin in religion, which is forbidden by God and is repulsive to the fitrah, and crime, which is a legal concept. The two are not necessarily synonymous, although many sins are crimes and vice versa. Crimes may go unpunished in this world but unrepentant sinners must face justice in God’s court.
The best time to buttress ourselves against sin is the month of Ramazan, which is fast approaching. During this month, by the spiritual force of fasting and prayer, we can keep satanic temptations at bay. We clean our bodies by consuming less, our souls by keeping guard over our behaviour and establishing a connection with God through frequent and intense worship. This is the period to restock.