Islamic views on sin

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Sin is an important concept in Islamic ethics that Muslims view as being anything that goes against the commands of God or breaching the laws and norms laid down by religion.[1] Islam teaches that sin is an act and not a state of being. It is believed that God weighs an individual's good deeds against their sins on the Day of Judgement and punishes those individuals whose evil deeds outweigh their good deeds.[The Quran Surah Al-A’raf (7:8-9) 1]

The Quran describes these sins throughout the texts and demonstrates that some sins are more punishable than others in the hereafter. A clear distinction is made between major sins (al-Kabirah) and minor sins (al-Sagha'ir) (Q53:31–32), indicating that if an individual stays away from the major sins then they will be forgiven of the minor sins. Sources differ on the exact meanings of the different terms for sin used in the Islamic tradition.[2]


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

According to A. J. Wensinck's entry on the topic 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.[3]

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.[4]

In scriptures[edit]

Semantic analysis of terminology in the Quran[edit]

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.[5]


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 Allah's signs", or having excessive pride that prevents an individual from believing the signs of God.[5]

For in Allah'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.'

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.[5] 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).


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.[5] 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 gambling. Say, 'In both of them there is great sin (ithm) and also some uses for men, but their sin is greater than their usefulness.'

Ithm is also associated with what is considered the worst sin of all, shirk.[5] Shirk signifies associating partners with God.[7] The Quran states that:

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

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.


Khati'ah is considered by many scholars to be a "moral lapse" or a "mistake".[8] 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.[5]

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

"Say: "O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah: for Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." Surah Az Zumar, 39:53

Again, God says to the believers in a Hadith Qudsi: "O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me, and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth, and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it."

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.[5] 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;[5] however, the word choice indicates that khati'ah is more than just a moral lapse or mistake and is punishable. And all sins are eligible for forgiveness through God's mercy and repentance.


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.[5] 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!


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.[5]

It is no sin (junah) for you that you [indirectly] allude proposal of marriage to (recently widowed (Iddah stage)) women or keep it to yourself.

Definition in Hadith[edit]

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."

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-Darmi[10]

In Sunan al-Tirmidhi, a Hadith is narrated:

The Prophet (Muhammad) 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:

The Prophet (Muhammad)," 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."

Repentance of sin[edit]

The Islamic concept of repentance for any sins and misdeeds is called tawba.[11] It is a direct matter between a person and God, so there is no intercession or formal, ecclesiastical confession to a religious leader.[12] There is also no concept of original sin in Islam.[13][14] Islam has no concept of original sin, need for atonement, or ecclesiastical confession. Another contrast to Christianity is, that sin isn't seen as the worst. Abu Uthman al-Maghribi argues that sin is better than complacency, since the sinner makes tawba.[15]

Repentance and forgiveness are a direct matter between the individual and God, requiring no intercession. In cases of sin against another person, restitution is required. In cases of sin against God, repentance, remorse, and resolution to change one's behavior are considered sufficient. Although classical scholars emphasized the individual dimension of repentance, many revivalists and reformists have tied individual actions to larger issues of public morality, ethics, and social reform, arguing for reimplementation of the Islamic penal code as public expiation for sins.

Sufis understand repentance as a process of spiritual conversion toward constant awareness of God's presence. Muhammad reputedly requested God's forgiveness several times daily.[16] It is the act of leaving what God has prohibited and returning to what he has commanded. The word denotes the act of being repentant for one's misdeeds, atoning for those misdeeds, and having a strong determination to forsake those misdeeds (remorse, resolution, and repentance). If someone sins against another person, restitution is required.[17]

Major sins: Al-Kaba'ir[edit]

The most heinous sins in Islam are known as al-Kaba'ir (Arabic: كبيرة) which translates to the great or major one. Some authors use the term enormity. While every sin is seen as an offense to God, al-Kaba'ir are the gravest of the offenses.[1] God's power is thought to be only eclipsed by his mercy and thus minor or small sins (al-sagha'ir), are tacitly understood to be forgiven after repentance. Not every sin is equal however and some are thought to be more spiritually hurting than others. The greatest of the sins described as al-Kaba'ir is the association of others with God or Shirk.[18]

Hadiths differ as to how many major sins there are. Different hadith list three, four, or seven major sins.[19] In contrasting major sins with minor sins, 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.[20] Ibn Ḥajar al-Haythamī (d. 974/1567) found 467 major sins, and "often-quoted definition attributed" to "companion of the prophet" and mufassir Abd Allah ibn Abbas (d. 68/686–8), states that a major sin is "everything for which God has prescribed a fixed punishment (ḥadd) in this world and the Fire in the hereafter",[21] bringing the number closer to seventy major sins.[20]

Some of the major or al-Kaba'ir sins in Islam are as follows:[22]

  1. Shirk (reverence due God directed toward those other than God);
  2. Committing murder (taking away someone's life);[23]
  3. Consuming the property of an orphan placed in one's care;
  4. Taking or paying interest (riba)
  5. Witchcraft
  6. Theft
  7. Harassment of parents
  8. Leaving off the five daily prayers (Salah);
  9. Not paying the minimum amount of Zakat when the person is required to do so;
  10. Not fasting on the days of Ramadan (without a valid reason such as medical, traveling, too young, too old, etc.);
  11. Never having performed Hajj to the holy city of Mecca (within one's lifetime) while being financially able to do so (as per the Qur'an 3:97);
  12. Cutting off the ties of relationships (choosing to never speak to one's parents for example and not forgive them, as all are human and make mistakes);
  13. Committing zina (adultery and/or fornication);
  14. Falsely Accused of zina
  15. Using intoxicants (khamr), such as alcohol, or any other mind-altering drugs or harmful substances. (To harm one's body is considered sinful.)
  16. Gambling
  17. Lying about religion, i.e.: lying about God, Muhammad, Jesus or any of God's prophets or creations except to prevent harm to others or dissent in the community.
  18. Oppression
  19. Suicide
  20. Imposing or forcing your religious beliefs on others[24]

Good deeds in Islam include:

  1. Enjoining right;
  2. Forbidding evil;
  3. Kindness to all others;
  4. Planting trees and preserving the environment;
  5. Not hunting animals except for food;
  6. Never harming an animal;
  7. Kindness to parents; with specific emphasis placed on kindness to one's mother;
  8. Forgiving wrongs and apologizing and seeking forgiveness from those a Muslim has wronged;
  9. To right one's wrongs;
  10. Pick up harmful things from the road to prevent them from harming others;
  11. To respect members of all religions;
  12. To raise an orphan and feed the needy;

These references do not constitute all major sins in Islam or the extensive list of good deeds. There are other fifty-four other notable major sins[25] and countless good deeds. Even the smallest act of kindness such as a friendly word or a smile is considered a good deed and rewardable kind act. Some within this list also represent the opinions of particular scholars and so they do not perfectly represent Islam. Islam encourages all of mankind to work to do good deeds every day and to avoid bad deeds/sins, to be the best they can be.

Although many of the ideas for what is unacceptable overlap, the seven major sins of Islam differs from the seven deadly sins of some denominations 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 God. 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 God. 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 God 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 God. Life is thought to be a gift from God 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.[22] The supplementary sins as a whole lack the spiritual gravity of the original seven and include things such as drinking alcohol and eavesdropping.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Surah Al-A'raf 7:8-9 - Towards Understanding the Quran - Quran Translation Commentary - Tafheem ul Quran". Retrieved 5 March 2024.


  1. ^ a b Esposito, John L., ed. (2003). "Sin". The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-512558-0.
  2. ^ Alwazna, Rafat Y. (1 June 2016). "Islamic Law: Its Sources, Interpretation and the Translation of It into Laws Written in English". International Journal for the Semiotics of Law – Revue internationale de Sémiotique juridique. 29 (2): 251–260. doi:10.1007/s11196-016-9473-x. ISSN 1572-8722.
  3. ^ Wensinck, A. J. (2012). "K̲h̲aṭīʾa". In P. Bearman; Th. Bianquis; C. E. Bosworth; E. van Donzel; W.P. Heinrichs (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam (2nd ed.). Brill. doi:10.1163/2214-871X_ei1_SIM_4141. ISBN 978-90-04-08265-6. DOI link is to the first edition's entry.
  4. ^ Glassé, Cyril (2003). "Sin". The New Encyclopedia of Islam (The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam revised ed.). Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press. p. 431. ISBN 978-0-7591-0190-6. In Islam sin is divided into two categories. The first is that of dhanb, which is a fault or shortcoming, a limitation, an inadvertencies, the consequence of which is a sanction rather than a punishment. Sin as dhanb is distinguished from willful transgression (ithm), which is more serious and clearly incurs punishment rather than sanction. ... The term khati'ah is used in practice indiscriminately for both concepts of sin.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Ituzsu, Toshiko (1966). Ethico-Religious Concepts in the Qur'an. Montreal: McGill University Press. pp. 193–249.
  6. ^ a b Ali, Adbullah Yusuf. The Holy Qur'an. p. 126.
  7. ^ Brill Encyclopedia of Islam. Leiden Brill. 1997. pp. 484–486.
  8. ^ Brill Encyclopedia of Islam. Leiden Brill. 1997. pp. 1106–09.
  9. ^ Hassan, Faridah; Osman, Ismah; Kassim, Erne Suzila; Haris, Balkis; Hassan, Rohana (2019). Contemporary Management and Science Issues in the Halal Industry: Proceedings of the International Malaysia Halal Conference (IMHALAL). Springer. p. 237. ISBN 978-981-13-2677-6. Retrieved 4 June 2020.
  10. ^ "40 Hadith: Nawawi: 27, English translation: Hadith 27". Retrieved 14 April 2015.
  11. ^ B. Silverstein Islam and Modernity in Turkey Springer 2011 ISBN 978-0-230-11703-7 page 124
  12. ^ Moosa, Ebrahim (2009). "Repentance". In Esposito, John L. (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. ISBN 978-0-19-530513-5.
  13. ^ "Tawbah - Oxford Islamic Studies Online". Archived from the original on 25 August 2018. Retrieved 25 August 2018. See Repentance
  14. ^ "Repentance - Oxford Islamic Studies Online". Archived from the original on 25 March 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2018. Arabic tawbah. A major theme of the Quran, mentioned over seventy times and with an entire surah (9) titled for it. Usually described as turning toward God, asking forgiveness, and being forgiven.
  15. ^ "EBÛ OSMAN el-MAĞRİBÎ".
  16. ^ "Islam | religion". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 25 August 2018. In order to communicate the truth of Divine Unity, God has sent messengers or prophets to human beings, whose weakness of nature makes them ever prone to forget or even willfully to reject Divine Unity under the promptings of Satan. According to the Qurʾānic teaching, the being who became Satan (Shayṭān or Iblīs) had previously occupied a high station but fell from divine grace by his act of disobedience in refusing to honour Adam when he, along with other angels, was ordered to do so. Since then his work has been to beguile human beings into error and sin. Satan is, therefore, the contemporary of humanity, and Satan's own act of disobedience is construed by the Qurʾān as the sin of pride. Satan's machinations will cease only on the Last Day.
    Judging from the accounts of the Qurʾān, the record of humanity's acceptance of the prophets' messages has been far from perfect. The whole universe is replete with signs of God. The human soul itself is viewed as a witness of the unity and grace of God. The messengers of God have, throughout history, been calling humanity back to God. Yet not all people have accepted the truth; many of them have rejected it and become disbelievers (kāfir, plural kuffār; literally, "concealing"—i.e., the blessings of God), and, when a person becomes so obdurate, his heart is sealed by God. Nevertheless, it is always possible for a sinner to repent (tawbah) and redeem himself by a genuine conversion to the truth. There is no point of no return, and God is forever merciful and always willing and ready to pardon. Genuine repentance has the effect of removing all sins and restoring a person to the state of sinlessness with which he started his life.
  17. ^ D. Beaulieu, Peter (2012). Beyond Secularism and Jihad?: A Triangular Inquiry Into the Mosque, the Manger, and Modernity. University Press of America. p. 88. ISBN 978-0-7618-5837-9.
  18. ^ Quran 4:36
  19. ^ Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, k. al-adab 6, k. al-shahādāt, bāb 10; Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ, k. al-īmān 144. Hadiths in al-Bukhārī's and Muslim's collection are cited according to Wensinck, A.J.: Concordance et indices de la tradition musulmane, 8 vols, Leiden, 1936–88. quoted in Lange, Christian (2016). "Introducing Hell in Islamic Studies". In Christian Lange (ed.). Locating Hell in Islamic Traditions. BRILL. p. 7. ISBN 978-90-04-30121-4. JSTOR 10.1163/j.ctt1w8h1w3.7.
  20. ^ a b Siddiqui, Mona (2012). The Good Muslim: Reflections on Classical Islamic Law and Theology. Cambridge University Press. p. 126. ISBN 978-0-521-51864-2.
  21. ^ al-Dhahabī: Al-Kabāʾir, ed. Bashīr Muḥammad ʿUyūn, Riyadh 1423/2002, 6. quoted in Lange, Christian (2016). "Introducing Hell in Islamic Studies". In Christian Lange (ed.). Locating Hell in Islamic Traditions. BRILL. p. 7. ISBN 978-90-04-30121-4. JSTOR 10.1163/j.ctt1w8h1w3.7.
  22. ^ a b Adh-Dhahabi, Muhammad bin 'Uthman (1993). The Major Sins Al-Kabirah. Translated by Mohammad Moinuddin Siddiqui. n.p.: Kazi Publications. ISBN 1-56744-489-X. OCLC 948371212.
  23. ^ Shah, Sayed Sikandar (January 1999). "Homicide in Islam: Major Legal Themes". Arab Law Quarterly. 14 (2). Leiden: Brill Publishers: 159–168. doi:10.1163/026805599125826381. eISSN 1573-0255. ISSN 0268-0556. JSTOR 3382001. OCLC 535488532.
  24. ^ "Surah Al-Baqarah - 256". Retrieved 4 March 2024.
  25. ^ Chanicka, Jeewan (7 January 2023). "Major sins in Islam" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 May 2021. Retrieved 8 January 2023.