Islamic Views On Sin

This article covers the Islamic views on sin.

Sin is an important concept in Islamic ethics. Muslims see sin as anything that goes against the commands of Allah  (God), a breach of the laws and norms laid down by religion. Islam teaches that a sin is an act and not a state of being. It is believed that Allah weighs an individual’s good deeds and against his or her sins on the Day of Judgement and punishes those individuals whose evil deeds outweigh their good deeds. These individuals are thought to be sentenced to the afterlife in the fires of جهنم Jahannam (Hell).

The Quran describes these sins throughout the text and demonstrates that some sins are more punishable than others. A clear distinction is made between major and minor sins (53:31–32), indicating that if an individual stays away from the major sins, then he/she will be forgiven of the minor sins.

Sources differ on the exact meanings of the different terms for sin used in the Islamic tradition.


A number of different words for sin are used in the Islamic tradition.

According to A.J. Wensinck’s entry in the Encyclopedia of Islam, Islamic terms for sin include dhanb and khaṭīʾa, which are synonymous and refer to intentional sins; khiṭʾ, which means simply a sin; and ithm, which is used for grave sins.

According to Cyril Glasse, Islam recognizes two kinds of sin (khati’ah): dhanb, a fault or shortcoming which is to be sanctioned; and ithm, a willful transgression which is to be punished.

Panel of four calligraphic tiles

A panel of four calligraphic tiles

Semantic analysis of terminology in the Qur’an

Several different words are used in the Quran to describe sin—1) Dhanb 2) Ithm 3) Khati’ah 4) Jurm 5) Junah/Haraj. By examining the choice of words in Quranic verses used in connection with these terms, scholars have attempted to determine which sins are associated with which terms.


Dhanb (plural dhunub) is frequently applied to heinous sins committed against God. One of the main examples of Dhanb in the Quran is of “crying lies of God’s signs”, or having excessive pride that prevents an individual from believing the signs of God.

For in God’s sight are (all) his servants, (namely), those who say: ‘Our Lord, we have indeed believed: forgive us, then, our sins (“dhunub”), and save us from the agony of the Fire.’

— Quran 3: 15–16

This use of dhanb in the Quran exemplifies that this type of sin is punishable in the afterlife. In fact, dhanb is considered a ‘great’ sin and is often used in the Quran to contrast with sayyi’a, which denotes a ‘smaller’ sin. The Quran states that if you avoid these great sins, your lesser evil deeds or sayyi’at will be forgiven.

If you avoid great sins (kaba’ir or dhanb) which are forbidden you, We will remit from you your evil deeds (sayyi’a).

— Quran 4: 31 


Some scholars believe the basic meaning of ithm to be an unlawful deed that is committed intentionally. This contrasts to dhanb in that dhanb can be both intentional and unintentional. However, this definition is somewhat nebulous and the best description of the word is based on the contextual situations. In the Quran, ithm is found quite frequently in legislative descriptions. For example, falsely accusing your own wife in order to gain money is constituted as an ithm (Quran 4: 24/20). However, ithm is also used in connection with haram, or committing an unlawful deed, a taboo, such as consuming food or drink that is forbidden by God:

They will ask thee about wine and maysir. Say, ‘In both of them there is great sin (ithm) and also some uses for men, but their sin is greater than their usefulness.’

— Quran 2: 168/173

Ithm is also associated with what is considered the worst sin of all, shirkShirk signifies the accepting of a presence of other divinities at the side of God. The Quran states that:

He who associates with God has surely forged a great sin (ithm).

— Quran 4: 53/50 

This association with shirk is noteworthy for shirk is considered unforgivable if not repented of.

God forgiveth not (the sin of) joining other gods to Him; but He forgiveth whom He pleaseth other sins that this: one who joins other gods with God hath strayed far, far away.

— Quran 4:116


Khati’ah is considered by many scholars to be a “moral lapse” or a “mistake” This interpretation has led some scholars to believe that Khati’ah is a lesser sin than ithm; however, the word Khati’ah is frequently used in conjunction with ithm in the Quran.

Whoso, having committed a khati’ah or an ithm, throws it upon the innocent, has burdened himself with calumny and an obvious sin (ithm).

— Quran 4:112

This Quranic verse indicates that khati’ah is considered an ithm, a grave sin. In fact, the word khati’ah is associated with some of the most heinous religious sins in the Quran. In one Quranic verse this word is used to describe the sin of slaying one’s own children for fear of poverty. (Quran 17:33/31). Scholars believe that dhanb or ithm could be used in place of khati’ah in this instance; however, the word choice indicates that khati’ah is more than just a moral lapse or mistake and is punishable.


The word Jurum is often considered to be a synonym of dhanb for it is used to describe some of the same sins: crying lies of God and not believing the signs of God. In the Quran, the word mostly appears in the form of mujrim, one who commits a jurm. These individuals are described in the Quran as having arrogance towards the believers.

Behold, those who commit jurm used to laugh at those who believed, winking one at another when they passed them by, and when they went back to their own fold, they returned jesting, and when they saw them they used to say, ‘Lo, these have indeed gone astray!

— Quran 83: 29–32


Junah and Haraj have a similar meaning to that of ithm, a sin that warrants a punishment. In fact, these words are used almost interchangeably with ithm in the same chapters in the Quran. Like ithm, these words are found frequently in legislative portions of the Quran, particularly relating to regulations regarding marriage and divorce.

It is no sin (junah) for you that you offer proposal of marriage to women or keep it secret.

— Quran 2:235

Definition in Hadith

Sin is discussed extensively in the hadith, (the collection of Muhammad’s sayings). It is reported by An-Nawwas bin Sam’an:

“The Prophet (Muhammad) said, “Piety is good manner,and sin is that which creates doubt and you do not like people to know it.””

— Sahih Muslim, 32:6195,Sahih Muslim, 32:6196

Wabisah bin Ma’bad reported:

“I went to Messenger of Allah (SAWS) and he asked me: “Have you come to inquire about piety?” I replied in the affirmative. Then he said: “Ask your heart regarding it. Piety is that which contents the soul and comforts the heart, and sin is that which causes doubts and perturbs the heart, even if people pronounce it lawful and give you verdicts on such matters again and again.”

— Ahmad and Ad-Darm

In Sunan al-Tirmidhi, a Hadith is narrated:

Allah’s apostle said, “Every son of Adam sins, the best of the sinners are those who repent.”

— Sunan al-Tirmidhi,Hadith no. 2499

In Sahih Muslim, Abu Ayyub al-Ansari and Abu Huraira narrated:

Allah’s apostle said,” By Him in Whose Hand is my life, if you were not to commit sin, Allah would sweep you out of existence and He would replace (you by) those people who would commit sin and seek forgiveness from Allah, and He would have pardoned them.”

— Sahih Muslim, 37:6621

Effects of sin

Sin pollutes and darken human’s heart. The effects of sins are so many to the extent that they are uncountable. Yet some of the effects are:

  • Sin causes various types of Corruption in the land.
  • Disobedience ceased favours and blessing from Allah (both spirituals and materials).
  • Also in this regard Imam Ali said: “Even if Allah had not threatened for disobeying Him, people must not disobey Him in order to be grateful to His blessings.”
  • Disobedience of Allah increased heart’s diseases.
  • Qur’an refers to the sinners as “the greatest loser”. {Qur’an, 18:103-105}
  • It brings about displeasure of God and his messenger, as quoted by Imam as-Sadiq when he addressed a group of people and inquired why they annoyed the Messenger of Allah. Someone asked Imam (‘a) how they did so, and he (‘a) said: “Do you not know that your deeds are reported to him (S)? When he (S) observes a sin against Allah among them, he becomes displeased. Therefore do not hurt the Messenger of Allah but do please him.”
  • Sins bring about hard-hearted in a man.
  • Disobedience weakens human’s body and reduces life span .

Consequences of some sins

Imam al-Baqir, quoted Muhammad been stated seven consequences for different sins as thus:There are some sins which its ill-consequences were stated in the Qur’an and hadith, we shall quote some of them here:

  1. “When adultery appears (abundantly in a society) the (number of) sudden deaths increases;
  2. when there is fraud, Allah takes them in expensiveness and loss. When people stop giving alms tax, the earth holds back its blessings from plants (crops), fruits, mines, and all such things.
  3. When they act unjustly according to (divine) ordinances, they have helped injustice and aggression.
  4. When they breach (their) promises, the Lord will set their enemies as absolute masters over them.
  5. When they break off connections with their kindred, possession of properties will be put in the hands of the wicked. And,
  6. When they do not perform enjoining right and forbidding wrong and, also, do not follow the chosen ones of my Ahlul Bayt, Allah will set their vicious ones over them and, in this condition, their good doers utter invocations but they are not responded to.”
  • The Qur’an,chapter 4 verse 10 said in this regard as thus: “(As for) those who swallow the property of the orphans unjustly, surely they only swallow fire into their bellies and they shall enter burning fire.”
  • Concealing part of the Qur’an is among the sin which its consequences were stated in the Qur’an;as it was said in Qur’an 2:174-175:“Surely those who conceal any part of the Book that Allah has revealed and take for it a small price, they eat nothing but fire into their bellies, and Allah will not speak to them on the day of resurrection, nor will He purify them, and they shall have a painful chastisement. These are they who buy error for the right direction and chastisement for forgiveness ; how bold they are to encounter fire!”
  • Imam Zaynol Aabideen stated some sins ant their consequences as thus:
  1. “The sins that remove blessings are: oppressing people, giving up doing good and favor, being ungrateful for blessings and giving up thanking Allah.
  2. The sins that cause regret are: killing innocent ones, breaking off relations with the kin until they feel in no need of each other, not offering prayer until its time elapses, being inadvertent to wills and to wronged people, not giving zakat until death comes.
  3. The sins that bring calamities are: disobedience of a knowing one by oppressing people, being rude to them and mocking them.
  4. The sins that keep blessings away are: pretending poverty, sleeping until after dawn and until the time of Fajr Prayer elapses, scorning blessings and complaining against Allah the Almighty.”
  • Also he stated:
  1. “The sins that disgrace honors are: drinking wine, gambling, joking and talking nonsense, mentioning the defects of people and accompanying sinful and bad people.
  2. The sins that bring calamities are: refraining from helping needy people, refraining from supporting oppressed people, not enjoining what is right and not forbidding what is wrong.
  3. The sins that cause the enemies to prevail are: doing injustice openly, spreading debauchery, violating prohibited matters, disobeying good people and submitting to evil people.
  4. The sins that hasten perishment are: cutting communications with one’s kin, false oath, lying, adultery, blocking the ways of the Muslims and pretending to be an Imam falsely.
  5. The sins that dispel hope are: being desperate of the mercy of Allah, relying on other than Allah and disbelieving in the Promise of Allah.
  6. The sins that darken the space are: magic, divination, believing in stars, disbelieving in fate and being undutiful to one’s parents. #The sins that uncover the curtain (of the unseen) are: borrowing with no intention of repaying, exceeding in spending on impermissible things, being stingy with one’s family, children and relatives, impoliteness, impatience, laziness and making little of religious people.”
  • The follows are some other sins with their consequences :
  1. “The sins that reject supplication are: malevolence, ill-intention, hypocrisy with brothers, disbelieving in responding to supplication, delaying obligatory prayers until their prescribed times elapse, giving up approaching Allah via doing good and paying charities, and using bad and obscene sayings.
  2. The sins that prevent the rain of the heaven are: the injustice of rulers in judgments, perjury, concealing true witnesses, preventing zakat, preventing loan and helping the needy, hard-Heartedness towards the poor and the needy, being unjust to orphans and widows, chiding the beggars them.”

Repentance of sin

See also: Repentance in Islam

According to Islam, one can be forgiven of sins through genuine tawbah (repentance) which literally means “to return.”

Ask your Lord for forgiveness, then turn back to Him.

— Qur’an, sura 11, ayat 3

Unlike the Catholic concept of atonement, tawbah does not entail formal, eccelesiastical confession to a religious leader. Like Protestantism, Islam allows followers to repent directly to God. In addition, while Christianity and Islam considers humans as prone to sin, Islam ultimately views them as responsible for their actions and refutes the Christian concept of original sin.

For man’s very soul incites him to evil unless my Lord shows mercy.

— Qur’an, sura 12, ayat 53

More so, in Islam Muslims are discouraged from confessing their sins and sharing the wrongdoings of others.

Also, according to Islam, Blood sacrifice cannot add to Divine Grace nor replace the necessity of repentance. However, sacrifice is done to help the poor and to remember Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son at God’s command.

It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah. it is your piety that reaches Him…”

— Qur’an, sura 22, ayat 37

When a human has violated another human’s rights, ḥuqūq al-ʿibād, compensation is necessary in order to show that one has made amends.

When a human has offended or disobeyed God, ḥuqūq Allāh, penitence, remorse, and resolution are necessary in order to show that one is sincere, and will not repeat the wrongdoing in the future.

According to Shaddad ibn Aws:

Shall I not how to seek forgiveness? O Allah, You are my Lord, there is no God but You; for You created me and I am Your servant; and I am upon Your covenant and Your promise as much as I am able; I seek refuge in You from the evil of what I have done; I acknowledge Your favors upon me and I recognize my sins, so forgive my sins; verily, none can forgive sins but You.

— Sunan At-Tirmidhi, Book of Supplications, Number 3393, Hasan

From a traditionalist perspective, sin is applied to an individual’s actions. Through belief and good works, an individual can remove his/her sin and attain God’s good favor. Classical legal scholar Muhammad al-Shafi’i (767 – 820) derived this understanding from Quranic passages such as:

But He will overlook the bad deeds of those who have faith, do good deeds, and believe in what has been sent down to Muhammad —the truth from their Lord —and He will put them into a good state.

— Qur’an, sura 47, ayat 2

From a modernist perspective, sin has also been applied to a group or community’s collective behavior. Through public acknowledgment of wrongdoing, people can take responsibility for the lack of morality within their society and enact social reform. Egyptian reformer Muḥammad ʿAbduh (1849–1905) and his disciple Muḥammad Rashīd Ridā (1865–1935) derived this understanding from Quranic passages such as:

Unless they repent, make amends, and declare the truth. I will certainly accept their repentance.

— Qur’an, sura 2, ayat 160

Other modern reformers, such as Sayyid Qutb, held that repentance involved a renewed, holistic commitment to Islam, rather than admission of sin for the sake of being pardoned of punishment. This understanding draws from classical Sufi thought, whereby one experiences a personality transformation and his/her sinful impulses are replaced by virtue. Qutb derived this understanding from Quranic passages such as:

Those who repent, believe, and do good deeds: God will change the evil deeds of such people into good ones.

— Qur’an, sura 25 ayat 70

Repentance for sin can be accomplished through acts such as, “fasting, giving charity, sacrificing an animal, and freeing a slave.” In addition, going on the hajj can serve as a form of repentance.

According to Shaddad ibn Aws:

The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said, “The lesser pilgrimage unto the lesser pilgrimage will expiate whatever sins were committed between them; and the accepted pilgrimage has no reward other than Paradise.

— Sahih Bukhari, Book 27, Number 1

However, regardless of one’s outward deeds, God does not accept the forgiveness of those who are insincere in their repentance and only do so in order to avoid jahannam.

It is not true repentance when people continue to do evil until death confronts them and then say, ‘Now I repent.

— Qur’an, sura 4 ayat 18

Major sins: Al-Kabirah

The most heinous sins in Islam are known as Al-Kabirah (Persian: گناه کبیره‎) which translates to the great or major one. Some authors use the term enormity. While every sin is seen as an offense to Allah, the al-Kaba’ir are the gravest of the offenses. Allah’s power is thought to be only eclipsed by his mercy and thus small sins are tacitly understood to be forgiven after repentance. Not every sin is equal however and some are thought to be more spiritually damning than others. The greatest of the sins described as al-Kaba’ir is the association of others with Allah or Shirk. Scholar differ as to how many major sins there are. In contrasting major sins with minor sins (al-sagha’ir), the eighth-century Shafi’i scholar Al-Dhahabi found the hadith collections of Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj listed seven major sins, while the tradition from Abd Allah ibn Abbas stated that there were closer to seventy major sins.

Headless Greek statues

Headless Greek statues

Some of the major or al-Kaba’ir sins in Islam are as follows:

  1. Shirk (associating anything with Allah)
  2. Despair of Allah’s mercy
  3. Disobeying parents
  4. Zina (adultery)
  5. Sodomy
  6. Theft
  7. Consumption of alcohol % other intoxicants
  8. Gambling
  9. Backbiting (saying bad things about a person who is not there)
  10. Leaving daily prayer (Salah)
  11. Zakat evasion
  12. Witchcraft
  13. Killing one whom Allah has declared inviolate without a just case
  14. Consuming the property of an orphan
  15. Devouring usury
  16. Turning back when the army advances
  17. False accusation of chaste women who are believers but indiscreet

It should be noted that these are only the opinion of particular scholars and do not wholly represent Islam.

Although many of the ideas for what is unacceptable overlap, the seven major sins of Islam differs from the seven deadly sins of Christianity. The Islamic sins refer more to specific undesirable behavior rather than to the general negative characteristics or actions of the cardinal Christian sins. Despite the similar names, the seven main sins in Islam are more comparable to the Ten Commandments rather than the seven deadly sins. They both provide the bottom line for believers in terms of what is acceptable behavior in the faith. The actions themselves differ most of the major crimes in Islam relate to subservience to Allah. Any form of polytheism is seen to be the most severe offense in the religion and all of the other transgressions are in some form of association with Allah. Witchcraft, for example, is the taking on of supernatural powers in order to make the practitioner a being above the normal human. This challenges the power of Allah as the person in question has superseded their mortal position to become something greater and akin to a god. The same can be said of murder, as ultimately the power to decide who shall live and die is believed to belong solely to Allah. Life is thought to be a gift from Allah and the unjust taking of life is a severe spiritual offense, as it is not only seen as morally wrong but also as an affront to God.

In addition to what Muslim scholars agree are the principal seven sins, the idea exists that the major sins extend far past the seven. These additional transgressions, potentially up to seventy, are not universally settled upon nor are they explicitly stated in the Qur’an, however they are thought to be implied by the text. The supplementary sins as a whole lack the spiritual gravity of the original seven and include things such as drinking alcohol and eavesdropping.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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