When Does the Intention to Sin Become Sinful?

Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam

Question: Assalam alaykum

I read that a sin is not recorded unless it has been committed but I can’t seem to reconcile it with a hadith I read about two men fighting and both the killed and the killer would go to hell. Does that mean that if one intends to commit a sin and is deterred by circumstance, it is the same as having committed the sin?

Answer: Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullah,

The scholars differentiated between various types of intent.

Accordingly, the mere presence of an inclination is not the same as resolve (‘azm) or being on the verge of doing something (hamm). These latter categories are something a person is taken to task for, contrary to merely passing thoughts (khatir) or self-talk (hadith al-nafs).

The tradition (hadith) in question, “When two Muslims fight each other with their swords, then both the killer and killed are in the Fire” [Bukhari], is understood to be in the context of the aforementioned resolve. Thus, the one killed, too, is liable for his action.

This interpretation complements what we already know about human responsibility with respect to the actions of the heart. For instance, envy, slander and other internal vices are held against us if we don’t repent from them. Similarly, coveting the unlawful is also that which falls under the category of actions we are duty-bound to abstain from.

What this should remind us, then, is of the imperative to purify the heart. Otherwise, believers may leave this world committing major sins (kaba’ir) without even knowing it, as one of the spiritual masters informed us. We ask Allah Most High to forgive us, and purify our inward and outward.

[Qari, al-Mubin al-Mu‘in li Fahm al-Arba‘in (2.263)/Mirqat al-Mafatih Sharh al-Mishkat al-Masabih, quoting Ibn Malak; Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir]

Please also see: Do the Angels Wait Before Writing down a Bad Deed? and: A Reader on Sincerity, Intention, and the Purpose of Spiritual Routines and: How Can I Purify My Heart? A Reader

And Allah Most High alone knows best.

[Ustadh] Tabraze Azam

Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Ustadh Tabraze Azam holds a BSc in Computer Science from the University of Leicester, where he also served as the President of the Islamic Society. He memorised the entire Qur’an in his hometown of Ipswich at the tender age of sixteen, and has since studied the Islamic Sciences in traditional settings in the UK, Jordan and Turkey. He is currently pursuing advanced studies in Jordan, where he is presently based with his family.