Definition of Sin

Hanafi Fiqh

Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Weltch




What is the definition of sin? Is doing a Haram action out of ignorance or out of forgetfulness a sin? What is meant by the word (dhamb), with regards to the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace)?



In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate

The Definition of Dhanb (Sin)

The word (dhanb) in Arabic is defined as any sin, crime, or act of disobedience. [Ibn Manzur; Lisan al-Arab]

Sins Done out of Forgetfulness

Acts of disobedience performed out of forgetfulness are generally excused. The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Indeed, Allah have overlooked for my community accidents, actions done out of forgetfulness, and that which they were compelled to commit.” [
[al-Mawsu’a al-Kuwaitiyya al-Fiqhiyya]

Sins Done Out of Ignorance

As for actions done out of ignorance, it depends on the action. Ignorance for the most part is not considered a valid excuse: this is due to the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) commanding us saying, “Seeking Religious knowledge is an obligation on every Muslim.” [ ]
[al-Mawsu’a al-Kuwaitiyya al-Fiqhiyya]

If, however, a person is a new Muslim or they live in a place where they don’t have access to authentic scholars – they are pardoned for such ignorance.

The Mistakes of the Prophets

The scholars of the Sunni mainstream (Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jamā’) are in consensus that it is inconceivable for Prophets (Allah’s blessings and peace be upon them all) after receiving Prophethood to commit sins, outwardly, such as lying; or inwardly, such as envy, ostentation, or showing off. [Ibid.]

This is because the Prophets and Messengers were sent as exemplars whom we are commanded to follow in their beliefs, their actions, and their character traits. This demands that their voluntary beliefs, actions, and character are all in the obedience of Allah. [Ibid.]

Sinlessness Before Prophecy

There are multiple reasons to support this consensus.

If it were possible for the Prophets to sin and we were commanded to follow them exactly – this means that Allah Most High commands us to follow them in their sins. This is not only inconceivable for the Prophet, but it is also inconceivable that Allah Most High would do that. This would mean that Allah commanded us to sin. [Ibid.]

Allah Most High says, “Allah does not command indecency.” [Quran; 7:28]

Allah Most High tells us that the Prophets are to be taken as examples and role models.

Allah Most High says, “You have in them (i.e., the Prophets) a great example for those who yearn for Allah and the Hereafter.” [Quran; 33: 60:6]

Also, “Indeed, in the Messenger of Allah, you have a great example for those who yearn for Allah and the Hereafter and remember Allah much.” [Quran; 33:21]
[al-Mawsu’a al-Kuwaitiyya al-Fiqhiyya]

Post-Prophecy Sinlessness

As for their committing sins before Prophethood, the relied upon position is that this its also inconceivable for many reasons:

1) There was no Sacred law

This is especially supported for those Prophets who have no remaining Sacred law from a previous Prophet. This is because if there is no Sacred law then there are no criteria for obedience or disobedience. To disobey a law that does not exist is a fallacy and inconceivable. [Ibid.]

2) Even if there was a Sacred law

For example, the case of Luṭ who lived at a time when Ibrahim, his uncle (Allah’s peace be upon them) was present with his own Sacred law. In this scenario, there is no definitive proof that such a Prophet could not sin. However, the biographies and stories of the Prophets and their praiseworthy character even before Prophethood strongly indicate their sinlessness even before revelation. [Ibid.]

3) Their Actions are the Law

Of the strongest proofs that the Prophets are sinless, both before and after revelation, and whether there was a pre-existing Law or not is the following:

The Sacred Law of each community is established through the actions, sayings, and condoning of the Prophets. For example, if the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and give him peace) were to do something continuously, automatically it would become either (a) obligatory, (b) necessary, (c) a Sunna practice, or (d) merely permissible. If he (may Allah bless him and give him peace) were to intentionally leave an action, that action would be either (a) strictly prohibited, (b) disliked and sinful, or (c) discouraged.

This being the case, it is inconceivable for a Prophet’s actions to be considered a sin as their actions directly influence the Sacred law and establish obedience from disobedience.

Hope this helps
Allah knows best
[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch
Checked and approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Yusuf Weltch is a teacher of Arabic, Islamic law, and spirituality. After accepting Islam in 2008, he then completed four years at the Darul Uloom seminary in New York where he studied Arabic and the traditional sciences. He then traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he stayed for three years studying in Dar Al-Mustafa under some of the greatest scholars of our time, including Habib Umar Bin Hafiz, Habib Kadhim al-Saqqaf, and Shaykh Umar al-Khatib. In Tarim, Shaykh Yusuf completed the memorization of the Qur’an and studied beliefs, legal methodology, hadith methodology, Qur’anic exegesis, Islamic history, and a number of texts on spirituality. He joined the SeekersGuidance faculty in the summer of 2019.