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How do We Understand the Sinlessness of Prophets in Light of Their Reprimand in the Qur’an?

Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Question: I have learned in the SunniPath course on the Essentials of Belief (in lesson 8, line 59 of the poem) that the Prophets (peace be upon them) were free from sin in the sense that they never disobeyed the commandments of Allah. However, from time to time there were instances that a Prophet ‘Alayhis-Salaam took the lesser course of action for which they got reprimanded by Allah. Examples have been given… Was the expulsion of Adam and Hawwa ‘Alayhimus-Salaam, from paradise a punishment from Allah Most High?

Answer: In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate

May Allah’s peace and blessings be upon His Messenger Muhammad, his folk, companions, and followers.

It is from obligatory Islamic belief that the Prophets were trustworthy and preserved from sin.

The classical definition of amana (trustworthiness), which relates to `isma (being preserved from sin) is:

“Allah Most High preserving the Prophets from falling into that which has been prohibited,” as explained by the commentators of the Jawhara. [Tattan/Kaylani, `Awn al-Murid `ala Jawharat al-Tawhid, 2.727; also: Bajuri, Tuhfat al-Murid]

Another definition of trustworthiness was given by the great 20th Century Hanafi scholar from Hama (Syria), Shaykh Muhammad al-Hamid in his work Rudud `ala Abatil [297, as quoted in the above text],

“It is a trait that Allah creates in His servant through which they are disposed to doing the good and that prevents them from the bad.”

The Proof for the Sinlessness of Prophets

Allah Most High has commanded us in the Qur’an to follow the Prophets in numerous verses that are decisive (qat`i) in their indication–such as, “These are the ones whom Allah has guided, so follow their guidance.” [Qur'an, Surat al-An`am: 90]

And Allah Most High has informed us that He only commands the good, and made it clear that He does not command the wrong or sinful.

Thus, it would be absurd for Allah to command us to unconditionally follow the Prophets and to take them as absolute exemplars if they were given to sin–for this would entail us fulfilling command of Allah through something that entails committing sin.

Qur’anic Correction of Prophets

When Allah corrects the Prophets in the Qur’an, this correcting is because they exercised their judgment, but their judgment–though good, sound, and not an act of ‘disobeying’ the Divine Command–was not ultimately the optimal course of action that Allah wished from them.

Thus, Adam (peace be upon him) ate from the tree not out of ‘disobedience’ of the Divine Command but because either he didn’t think that this fell under the prohibition; or out of unawareness; or because he believed the words of the Devil, for Adam didn’t conceive of anyone in Paradise lying. Allah corrected him immediately; and made him leave Paradise to manifest the honor of moral responsibility that He had in fact created Adam and his offspring for in the first place.

Thus, the ‘descent’ of Adam and Eve (Allah bless them and give them peace) from Paradise was in fact a ‘raising’ in rank and an ultimate honor. They sought Allah’s forgiveness because of their awe of the Divine, and because of the inherent sense of shortcoming and humility that the best of creation have when they consider what is due to Allah Most High–absolutely everything.

Similarly, in every instance in which Allah Most High corrects the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) in the Qur’an, our Beloved Messenger had acted in a sound and noble manner–it is simply a case that Allah Most High wished another yet higher course of action. This manifests Allah’s divine concern (`inaya) for His Beloved (Allah bless him and give him peace), and is a lesson for all humanity to be humble before the Divine.

[See: Bajuri, Tuhfat al-Murid; Tattan/Kaylani, `Awn al-Murid; Qari/Qadi Iyad, Sharh al-Shifa; Kashmiri, Fayd al-Bari `ala Sahih al-Bukhari; Farhari/Taftazani, al-Nibras `ala Sharh al-`Aqa'id al-Nasafiyya]

And Allah alone gives success.

Wassalam,

Faraz Rabbani

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