Grave Sins (Arabic: الكبائر) also known as Major Sins or Great Sins are sins for committing which there is a promise of the hell in the Qur'an and hadiths. There are different views on the count and names of grave sins listed from seven to forty.
One who has committed one of the greater sins, if does not repent, is a grave sinner and according to Islamic jurisprudence, cannot be followed in prayer, whose testimony would not be acceptable in the court of law, and deserves to be punished after death, unless he receives divine blessings such as the intercession of the Prophet (s) and his family.
Sin ("dhanb" in Arabic) is committing what God has forbidden or abandoning what God has made obligatory. Sins include bodily acts such as breaking fasting and actions of the heart such as ascribing partners to God. Ithm, dhanb, ma'siya, khati'a, sayyi'a, zalla, hawb, and junah are Arabic synonyms referring to sins.
Determining what a sin is and what is a righteous act can be possible through the Qur'an and narrations, because in many cases, it is not known to intellect if an act is a sin and God out of His knowledge and wisdom has explained them for happiness of human beings though revelation and religion.
Sins are of two types: greater sins (major) and lesser sins (minor).
This categorization has roots in the Qur'an and narrations. In verse 31 of sura al-Nisa', it is said,
|“||If you avoid the major sins that you are forbidden, We will absolve you of your misdeeds, and admit you to a noble abode.||”|
|— Quran, 4:31|
Also about the dwellers of heaven, in verse 38 of sura al-Shura, it is said,
|“||…what is with Allah is better and more lasting for those who have faith and who put their trust in their Lord. (36) —Those who avoid major sins and indecencies, and forgive when angered||”|
|— Quran, 42:36-37|
We have many narrations from Imams (a) indicating the categorization of sins to major and minor ones. Also in al-Kafi, there is a chapter titled as Bab al-Kaba'ir which is dedicated to greater sins containing 24 narrations.
In the first and second narration of this chapter, it has been clearly stated that greater sins are those sins for them, God has fixed hell and hellfire. In some of these narrations (narration no. 3 and 8), seven sins have been considered as greater sins, and in some narrations (e.g. no. 24) nineteen sins have been regarded as greater sins.
With regards to disobedience of God's order, scholars of ethics consider any sin (major or minor) a major transgression in itself. Categorization of sins to minor and major is due to the comparison of some sins with others.
Some criteria have been mentioned for greater sins:
- Any sin clearly mentioned in the Qur'an and narrations as major.
- Any sin for committing which the hellfire is promised.
- Any sin considered in the Qur'an and narrations greater than a sin which has been certainly regarded as a major sin.
- Any sin which is regarded grave among religious people in such a way it can be concluded that it has been considered a major sin at the time of the Infallibles (a).
- Persistence on minor sins.
- Some jurisprudents have considered fixing of legal punishment (hadd or ta'zir) for a sin, a sign of its greatness.
However, greater sins are not at one level. Some might not be forgiven without repentance, such as ascribing partners to God and some might be forgotten without repentance under circumstances following good deeds.
Some narrations have mentioned 7, some 19, and some 31 sins as major. Some scholars of ethics have mentioned greater sins 7, some 10, some 20, some 34, and some 40, and more. Of such listings, it can be understood that they are examples of major sins:
Of all these, ascribing partners to God, rejecting what God has ordered, and enmity with the friends of God are among the greatest sins.
Changing Minor Sins to Major Sins
From verses of the Qur'an and narrations, it can be understood that in some situations, minor sins will turn into major sins:
- Persistence on minor sins: persistence on minor sin might change it into a major sin. About the righteous, the Qur'an says, "and who do not persist in what they have committed while they know". (Qur'an 3:135) To interpret this verse, Imam al-Baqir (a) said, "here, persistence means that a person commits a sin and does not ask God for forgiveness and does not think of repentance".
- Underestimating sins: Imam al-'Askari (a) said that, it is among unforgivable sins that a person wishes that he would not be punished unless for one sin; i.e. underestimating a sin. Imam Ali (a) said, "the worst of sins is the one, the committer of which underestimate it".
- Expressing happiness upon committing a sin: enjoying a sin and showing happiness when committing it is among issues which will make it greater and brings up more punishment. Imam Ali said, "One who enjoys when committing a sin, God will make him taste humility instead of that pleasure". Also Imam al-Sajjad (a) said, "Avoid happiness upon committing a sin, since this happiness is greater than committing that sin itself".
- To become proud of the time granted by God: one of the matters which makes minor sins great is that the sinner thinks of the time granted by God and not being punished as the consent of God or thinks that he is beloved before God.
- Committing sins openly: to do sins openly turns minor sins into greater sins.
- Sins of noble figures: sins of those who have certain positions in the society are not equal with others' sins and even their minor sins might be as great as major sins, because their sins have two dimensions: a personal dimension and a collective dimension. Sins of figures and noble ones regarding their collective dimension can provide the grounds for social deviation and weakness of people's faith. The Prophet (s) has said, "laymen of my people would not be corrected unless the noble ones of my people are corrected". Someone asked, "who are the noble ones"? Imam (a) answered, "they are four groups: rulers, scholars, worshipers, and businessmen".
Repenting from greater sins is like repenting from other sins and differs in manner regarding different sins. Some sins are violation of God's rights, such as adultery and some violate both God's rights and people's rights such as theft. The way of repentance from sins which violate God's rights is through true regret and determination to permanently abandon them and do not repeat them and makes up for them in cases in which they can be made up (such as performing prayers and fasting the person has not done, etc.). However, about sins which violate people's rights, in addition to being regretful, the person needs to restore people's rights to them unless the owner of rights gives up his rights and forgives him.
If one dies without repenting and making up for his sins and the hardships he endured in this world did not bring up forgiveness of God for him, and did not receive God's mercy, he will receive punishment for his sins. Intercession of the friends of God is a form of God's mercy. In a hadith, the Prophet (s) said, "I have saved my intercession for the great sinners among my people, but good-doers (those who abandon great sins) will not receive any admonition.
One who Commits a Great Sin: Disbeliever or Evil-doer?
Mu'tazilites regarded committing a great sin as abandoning faith, but they did not considered the committer disbeliever and rather considered him an evil-doer.
According to Ash'arites, if one commits a great sin, he cannot be considered a believer anymore and basically judging such cases is out of our capacity and it must be left to God.
In Shia's view, if a believer commits a great sin, he will be an evil-doing believer and the faith in him would not be lost.
Upon committing one great sin, the person would be considered an evil-doer and not a just ('adil) person anymore: thus, he cannot be followed in the prayer, his testimony is not accepted unless he has repented and made up for his sin and others approve of his repentance.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from گناهان کبیره in Farsi WikiShia.