Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Question: Can one lie about sins that one committed in the past if he truly repented from them? What is the ruling on talking about past sins?
Answer: In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
Sins are wiped out by sincere repentance. However, if they relate to the rights of another, this right has to be returned. If it is a wrong that cannot be returned in this life, like taking a life, one’s repentance should be coupled with a true turning to Allah, lest the one killed demand requital on the Day of Judgment.
Talking About Sins
It is prohibited (haram) and sinful to talk about sins, whether current or past, except when there is a Shariah-countenanced reason. Even when such a reason exists, if it is possible to mention something general (such as not mentioning oneself or any particular type of sins) then mentioning specific sins would remain sinful. This is because it is:
(1) obligatory to avoid vain talk, and
(2) obligatory to conceal one’s sins.
Imam Barkawi defined “vain talk” in his al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya, stating,
“Talking about the vain is to talk about sins [K: one’s own or others], such as talking about gatherings of drinking, or the fornicators, without there being a valid reason. This is because it is revealing a sin, whether one’s own or another’s, without a [K: religiously valid] reason.” [al-Bariqa al-Mahmudiyya Sharh al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya, 3: 224-225]
The obligation of concealing one’s sins is also mentioned clearly by the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace). Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) reports that the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him) said, “All my Community will be excused except those who are blatant. And it is from blatancy for one to perform an act at night and to wake up and tell something that they did such-and-such, while Allah had concealed it for them. They slept under the cover of Allah, and they rended Allah’s covering from themselves in the morning.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
What if I am asked whether I did such and such?
Given this, if someone asks one whether one used to do drink, for example, in the bad old days, one cannot answer in the affirmative. Rather, one should answer by an indirect answer, like, “Why would any Muslim drink?”, or, “Alhamdulillah, Allah protected me from that”, intending that Allah protected one after one stopped. If such an indirect answer does not come to one’s mind, it would be permitted (or, rather, necessary) to lie and deny this.
The reason why it is so important not to talk about sin is because of what sin is: it is that which Allah hates, and may punish its doer for in the Hereafter. Sins go against the very purpose of the creation of humanity, which is to know and worship Allah. If you examine sins, all of them either entail or lead to social harms. Mentioning a sin is therefore a sin in itself. It is like (or worse than) dropping one’s pants in front of others; shameless. It is a serious issue that people are not careful about.
Further, talking about sin allows it to lose it’s gravity and people start thinking (even if only subconsciously) that it is not all that bad to sin. When a person talks about sin normally, then it becomes for him “just the way things are”.
Guarding One’s Eyes & Ears
In light of this, it is also important to avoid seeing and hearing that which is not permitted. This not only relates to obvious sins, but also reading and seeing things that may affect one’s beliefs or understanding of Islam. This is why the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) instructed that, “From the excellence of a man’s Islam is to leave that which does not concern him.” [A sound (hasan) hadith, transmitted by Tirmidhi and others]
Mulla Ali al-Qari, the famous Hanafi hadith scholar, commentating on this in his Mirqat al-Mafatih, states:
“That is, to leave that which is not important or befitting of him, whether in speech, actions, or thought. Thus, the excellence of a man’s Islam is its perfection, such that one remains steadfast in the submission to the commands and prohibitions of Allah, and surrenders to His rulings in accordance to His destiny and decree (qada wa qadr). This is the sign of the heart having been expanded by the light of its Lord, and the descent of quietude (sakina) into the heart.
The reality of that which does not concern him is that which is not needed for a worldly or next-worldly necessity, and dos not aide in attaining his Lord’s good pleasure, such that it is possible to life without it.
This includes excess acts and unnecessary speech. This hadith may well be taken from Allah Most High’s saying, ‘And who shun all vain things.’ [Qur’an, 23:3; f: vain things (lagw) is, which Imam Baydawi explains in his Tafsir as being: “that which does not concern them of speech and actions.”]
And it has been related in a Prophetic hadith that, “The people of the Garden will not remorse except for moments that passed them by without remembering Allah.” [Tabarani from our master Mu`adh (may Allah be pleased with him)]
So glad tidings to one who takes himself to account before he is taken to account!
Allah Most High has said, “O you who believe! Observe your duty to Allah. And let every soul look to that which it sends on before for the morrow. And observe your duty to Allah! Lo! Allah is Informed of what you do. And be not you as those who forgot Allah, therefore He caused them to forget their souls. Such are the wrongdoers.” (Qur’an, 59:18)
Awza`i said, “`Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz wrote to us, ‘Whoever is frequent in remembering death is content with but a little of this world. And whoever counts his speech from his actions speaks little except in that which benefits him.'” [Mulla Ali al-Qari, Mirqat al-Mafatih, 8: 585 #4840]
And Allah alone gives success.
(Edited by Salman Younas)