Why Are Some Sins Major and Others Considered Minor?

Hanafi Fiqh

Answered by Shaykh Abdullah Anik Misra

Question

Why is something like a white lie a major sin when stuff like masturbating which is very bad for you and can destroy you, is a minor sin?

Answer

In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate

Firstly, we need to understand that all sins – whether we call them “major” or “minor”-are an affront to Allah Most High, and all are wrong and must be avoided. They all should be repented from. This is while knowing that Allah is Oft-Forgiving.

Secondly, the terms “major” (kabira) and “minor” (saghira) are technical terms the scholars use to differentiate between sins based on the severity of the warnings that the Sacred Law holds against them. A major sin is defined as a sin that has either been identified as such by the Quran or Sunna or brings with it a worldly hadd punishment, curse from Allah or His Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), or a threat of punishment in the Hereafter. [Dhahabi, Kitab al-Kaba’ir]

Sometimes, a sin is classified as minor because there is a lack of evidence to call it major – that does not detract from its sinfulness or harm, however. It still must be avoided. In fact, the scholars tell us that with heedless persistence and no repentance, minor sins repeated over and over can become major sins. [Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim]

Thirdly, we do not delineate the status of sin by our own logic and reasoning – these are matters known through revelation and evidence from the Sacred Law. There is no “minor sin” when looking at the supreme station and right of Allah Most High, nor is there a sin too great for Allah’s mercy and forgiveness when He wills.

Therefore, it is completely plausible that masturbation as a one-off act may be a minor sin in terms of its harm being short of fornication and limited to the individual. Still, the addiction or repetition of it (which is likely) can become a major sin and destructive.

A “white lie,” on the other hand, is a term that Islam did not coin nor endorses. A lie could be about anything, but lying is the basis of denying the truth, which is the basis of disbelief and falsehood, so the harm of permitting lying on the tongue has far worse outcomes and potential other-worldly consequences, especially when it becomes habitual. So we should not judge superficially which sin is worse by our own reasoning but rather follow the rulings and wisdom of the Sacred Law.

Wassalam,

Shaykh Abdullah Anik Misra
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Abdul-Rahim Reasat

Shaykh Abdullah Anik Misra was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1983. His family hails from India, and he was raised in the Hindu tradition. He embraced Islam in 2001 while at the University of Toronto, from where he completed a Bachelor of Business Administration. He then traveled overseas in 2005 to study the Arabic language and Islamic sciences in Tarim, Yemen, for some time, as well as Darul Uloom in Trinidad, West Indies. He spent 12 years in Amman, Jordan, where he focused on Islamic Law, Theology, Hadith Sciences, Prophetic Biography, and Islamic Spirituality while also working at the Qasid Arabic Institute as Director of Programs. He holds a BA in Islamic Studies (Alimiyya, Darul Uloom) and authorization in the six authentic books of Hadith and is currently pursuing specialized training in issuing Islamic legal verdicts (ifta’). He holds a certificate in Counselling and often works with new Muslims and those struggling with religious OCD. He is an instructor and researcher in Sacred Law and Theology with the SeekersGuidance The Global Islamic Seminary. Currently, He resides in the Greater Toronto Area with his wife and children. His personal interests include Indian history, comparative religion, English singing, and poetry.