What is the Difference Between Major Sins and Minor Sins?

Answered by Shaykh Ilyas Patel

Question: I have heard a hadith that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah (swt) be upon him) said that if you commit a sin follow it up with a good deed for good deeds wipe out sins. (I am sorry I do not have the exact wording). Would you please explain this for me? For example, does a small sin require a small good deed and a greater sin require a greater good deed. And what are the good deeds that would be acceptable in this context and what kinds of sins would be wiped out as a result of this – would even the great sins be wiped out?

: In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

Greater sins mean “major sins”, which are those which appear by name in the Qur’an or hadith as the subject of an explicit threat, prescribed legal penalty, or curse, as listed in the Book of Imam Dhahabi ,Kitab al-Kaba’ir (Book of Enormities) and Imam Ibn Hajar Haythami in Al-Zawajir. Small sins mean “minor sins”, which may be forgiven from prayer to prayer, from one Friday prayer to another, and so forth, as there many acts and deeds through which minor sins are forgiven.

Below are few examples:

The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “the five prayers, Jumu`ah to Jumu`ah and Ramadan to Ramadan entail forgiveness for what is between them as long as the enormities are avoided.”

Thawban reports that I heard the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) saying, “Make prostration in abundance, because you do not make one prostration, but Allah will raise you in status and wipe your sins because of it”

Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) reports that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Shall I not show you something, which will wipe out your mistakes? They replied, Yes O Messenger of Allah! The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, Complete wudhu with difficulty, steps towards the masjid and waiting for prayer, because this is commitment and self-control”. (Imam Nawawi, Riyadh al-Salihin)

All what is mentioned in the Qur’an and ahadith, of following up a bad deed with a good deed means the wiping away of minor sins and not major sins. Minor sins do not require a specific proportion of small or greater good deeds, but major sins require repentance (tawba).

There are conditions for a valid tawba as mentioned by Imam Nawawi as follows:

a) to refrain from the sin

b) to regret having done it

c) and to resolve never to commit again

If the repentance is connected with the rights of another human being, repentance has four conditions: the three mentioned above, plus clearing oneself of the obligation owed to the other person. If this obligation is property or the like, one must return it( by any means, secretly or openly, even as a gift to him). If the person has right to retaliate for a murder or injury, then one must give oneself up to him or ask him to forgive him .