Divine Prohibitions Have Different Degrees of Severity
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
(Friday speech delivered by Imam Mohamed Baianonie at the Islamic Center of Raleigh, NC on November 21, 1997)
The divine prohibitions are not all on the same level of severity; they have different degrees of severity. Some prohibitions were prohibited emphatically and these form the area of haram (Prohibited), and some of them were mentioned less emphatically and these form the area of makrouh (Disliked).
Also, the area of haram (Prohibited) is not of one degree, but there are various degrees of haram. For this reason, the sins are categorized either under the major sins or the minor sins. The scholars of Islam came to this conclusion based on so much evidence from Qur'an and sunnah. For example, Allah (S.W.T.) says in surat Al-Najam, (Verse 32), what can be translated as, "Those who avoid major sins and Al-Fawahish, except the minor faults, verily your Lord is of vast forgiveness." This verse indicates clearly that, in the area of haram, there are the major sins and the minor sins.
The scholars agree that the major sins also have different degrees of severity. They also came to this conclusion based on many evidence from the Qur'an and the sunnah.
The scholars agree that the most dangerous sin is associating with Allah other partners, and the only way to leave this sin, is to repent and to believe in Allah and his Oneness, and whosoever repents from this dangerous sin by entering Islam, Allah (S.W.T.) will accept this repentance and all the sins done before entering Islam will be removed.
The scholars agree that whosoever dies in a state of disbelief, Allah will not forgive him on the day of judgment. Allah (S.W.T.) says in surat An-Nisa twice’, (Verse 48 and 116), what can be translated as, "Verily, Allah does not forgive associating with Him other deities, but He forgives (anything else) for whom He pleases.
The scholars differ in categorizing some sins as major, and differ in the number of major sins. Some scholars say that there are seven major sins, which are mentioned, in an authentic hadith, and some scholars say that there are more than seventy major sins.
The best definition of a major sin may be: It is every sin that Allah (S.W.T.) warns that the result will be a strong punishment on the day of judgment, like entering the Hell Fire, barring from Paradise, severe wrath from Allah and His curse, and Allah dictated for it a punishment in this life.
Here are some ahadith that explicitly mention some major sins:
The prophet (S.A.W.) says reported by Imam Bukhari and Muslim, "Avoid the seven destructive sins" They asked: "Oh messenger of Allah, what are they? The prophet replied: "Associating with Allah other partners, magic, killing of a soul which Allah forbade except with the truth, eating usury, eating the money of the orphan, fleeing from the battle, and accusing the married innocent believing women (with adultery)."
The prophet (S.A.W.) says in another hadith reported by Imam Bukhari: "The major sins are: Associating with Allah other partners, Being not kind to the parents, killing of the soul, and swearing on something false."
In another hadith reported by Imam Bukhari and Muslim, that the prophet (S.A.W.) said, "Should I not tell you about the biggest major sins? Should I not tell you about the biggest major sins? Should I not tell you about the biggest major sins?" The companions said, "Certainly, o messenger of Allah". He said, "Associating with Allah other partners and being not kind to the parents" and he (S.A.W.) was leaning on his side on the floor, then he sat and said, "and certainly be aware of saying falsehood and false witness" and he kept repeating it till the companions said, "We wish that he stopped saying it"
In another hadith, reported by Imam Bukhari and Muslim, that the
prophet (S.A.W.) said, "Among the Biggest major sins is that the man curses his father" they asked, "O messenger of Allah, how does a man
curse his father?!" He said, "He curses a man's father, and that in turn curses his father, and he curses a man's mother and that in turn curses his mother."
In addition to what was mentioned in these ahadith, fornication or adultery, drinking alcohol, stealing, road blocking, cutting good relationship with blood relatives, suicide, and spreading rumors among people.... and others are among the major sins that were mentioned in the book named Alkaba’ir (The Major Sins) by Imam Ath-Thahabi.
All scholars agree that if someone commits a major sin, and he is punished for it in this life, then he would have paid his dues. If he is not punished, then he has to repent, and it is up to Allah (S.W.T.) whether He forgives him or punishes him on the day of judgment. This is according to authentic ahadith.
The scholars also agree that the major sins have to have a sincere repentance. But the minor sins are removed with: righteous deeds like making Wudu' (ablution), the five daily prayers, attending prayer in the Masjid, the Friday prayer, fasting the month of Ramadan, and praying its night prayers, fasting the day of Arafah, hajj and umrah. All this is supported by many authentic Ahadith like when the prophet (S.A.W.) said, reported by Imam Muslim, "The five daily prayers, and from the Friday prayer to another, and from Ramadan to another wipe out the (minor) sins committed in between as long as the major sins are avoided."
Also, the minor sins are removed with hardships, disasters and crises that a believer might go through. This is clear from many Authentic ahadith like what was reported by Imam Bukhari and Muslim that the prophet (S.A.W.) said, "When a Muslim gets hurt with any harmful thing like the prick of a thorn or what is more severe than that, Allah (S.W.T.) will wipe out his (minor) sins, and his sins will fall off like the tree sheds its leaves."