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Constant Sins & Repentance: Pearls from the Sunnah (#1)

Ibn Abbas, may Allāh be pleased with him, reported that the Prophet, salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam, said,

“There is no believing slave [of Allāh] except that he has a sin that he continually commits, from time to time, or a sin that he constantly does – it never leaves him until he leaves this world. Verily, the believer is created muftannan, tawwaban, nassaa`an – when he is reminded, he remembers.”

The Takhreej of the Hadeeth
The hadeeth is reported in the al-Mu`jam al-Kabeer of Abul Qasim Sulayman b. Ahmad b. Ayyub al-Tabarani (d. 360 A.H.).
Al-Tabarani was one of the last of the great huffadh (memorizers of hadeeth). He lived an extremely long life, dying a centenarian. Hence, in his later years, he could narrate ahadeeth from scholars who died a generation earlier than most of the other scholars of his time could narrate from. He wrote three famous works, all of them entitled al-Mu`jam (meaning: a book of hadeeth where the hadeeth are arranged according to the names of the Companions who narrated the hadeeth, or the teachers whom the author narrated the ahadeeth from). The largest of these three was called al-Mu`jam al-Kabeer, the middle one al-Mu`jam al-Awsat, and the smallest (not surprisingly) al-Mu`jam al-Sagheer. The most famous of these is the largest one – in its sole printed edition (edited by the great scholar Hamdi Abd al-Majeed al-Salafi), the number of ahadeeth is 21547. This edition utilized a manuscript that had three entire volumes missing (volumes 13 to 16), hence the printed work is incomplete, and no known complete manuscripts exist.
This makes al-Mu`jam al-Kabeer one of the largest collections of hadeeth in print. Al-Tabarani tried to narrate as many ahadeeth from each Companion that he could find, and in many cases he also narrated biographical information about them. Hence this work is an important treasure trove for information about the Companions of the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam.

An Explanation of the Hadeeth
This hadeeth is a ray of light and a source of optimism for the believer. For there is no single believer amongst us who is perfect – how can he be, when perfection is for Allāh alone? And there is no believer amongst us who is sinless, for it is only the angels who are sinless. In this hadeeth, the beloved Rasul salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam is reminding us that there will be sins that a believer does – notice that he called such a person a mu`min, a true believer, despite these sins. Furthermore, he pointed out that it is possible that a servant is tested with a particular sin that he has become addicted to, a sin that he continuously does until he dies.

The Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam then described such a believer with three characteristics, and stated that the believer has been created with them. Hence, to have these three characteristics is a sign of a true believer.

The first of them is that he is muftan, meaning he will be tried and tested. The implication from this description is that the believer has been created in order to be tried and tested, and of the ways he is tried and tested is through sins.
Trials and tribulations are of many types, some of them are worldly, others spiritual; some of them deal with physical pain, others cause mental anguish; some of them are losses of this material world, to see how patient we are, others are gains and blessings given to us, to see how we use them. In all cases, such fitan – such trials and tribulations – should draw us closer to Allāh. Even if a sin has occurred, the true believer uses this sin to come closer to Allāh.
But how can a sin be used to draw nearer to the very One whom he has disobeyed?
Through the act of repentance, tawbah. Hence, the next description given is that the believer is tawwab, meaning that he repents continuously, repeatedly, relentlessly. The believer does not become discouraged due to the quantity of sins that he commits, because he realizes that Allāh's mercy is infinite and limitless. The true mu`min is not demoralized by his past habits, but rather inspirited and uplifted by hopes of a grander future. The believer always remembers the encouraging words from his beloved Rasul salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam who said, “The one who repents from a sin is like one who has not committed it in the first place” (Reported by Ibn Majah in his Sunan). Thus, this second description given to the believer shows that the believer will always repent from his sins, regardless of how many times he has done other sins, or even this very sin, before the repentance.
The Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam then gave the third and final description of the believer, that he is nassaa`a, meaning that he continually forgets and relapses. Thus, the believer becomes heedless of the commandments of Allāh, oblivious to the realities of the afterlife, and, when tempted by what he perceives to be a pleasing and sweet deed, falls prey to the seductions of Shaytan, and swallows that poisonous sweet. But as soon as the deed has been committed, and the outer layer of sweetness dissolves, it is followed up by the bitter aftertaste of the poison and pollutant that he has just ingested.

But not all hope is lost, for all such deeds can be undone, once again through repentance – that greatest gift of Allāh to the sinners! The believer feels this guilt, and all that is needed is a prodding, perhaps he hears a verse being recited, or attends a lecture that stirs him, or listens to a khutbah that reminds him of his spiritual bankruptcy. So, '…when he is reminded, he remembers', because he has an inner core of good, a repository of taqwa that need only be exposed and brought out in order to cause this change in him.

And so the believer is ever in a cycle – an perpetual, never-ending cycle – of committing sins, and then repenting, and then falling headless and committing sins again, only to be reminded of his purpose in life, after which he will repent, and fall into thoughtlessness once again, only to be prodded into action and good behavior…

So the cycle of life continues, and it is this life that characterizes the life of the believer, for the believer repents and strives to attain perfection, whereas the fasiq or hypocrite commits the same sins or worse, and cares little to better his situation.

What separates the mu`min from the fasiq is not the sin – both Adam and Iblees disobeyed Allāh – but the reaction to the sin. Adam repented, and became beloved once again to Allāh; Iblees obstinately persisted, and become the most accursed creation of Allāh.

The battle of the believer is a never-ending one. He will perpetually fall into sins, but as long as he perpetually repents, and is reminded by the Speech of Allāh and His Messenger, he is still a believer, and will continue to remain a believer, until he dies.

Always remember those uplifting words of the Basheer whom Allāh sent to us, “Whoever is pleased with his good deeds, and saddened by his evil deeds, is indeed a mu`min” (Reported by al-Tirmidhi in his al-Jami).

May Allāh grant us all īmān and taqwa, and bless us to be amongst those who, when tested, are patient, and when blessed, are thankful, and when sinful, are repentant. Āmīn!

allah ameen iman

About Yasir Qadhi

Yasir Qadhi is someone that believes that one's life should be judged by more than just academic degrees and scholastic accomplishments. Friends and foe alike acknowledge that one of his main weaknesses is ice-cream, which he seems to enjoy with a rather sinister passion. The highlight of his day is twirling his little girl (a.k.a. "my little princess") round and round in the air and watching her squeal with joy. A few tid-bits from his mundane life: Sh. Yasir has a Bachelors in Hadith and a Masters in Theology from Islamic University of Madinah, and a PhD in Islamic Studies from Yale University. He is an instructor and Dean of Academic Affairs at AlMaghrib, and the Resident Scholar of the Memphis Islamic Center.

35 comments

  1. jazakAllahu khayr that was a very nice read. according to the definition of mu’jam then is musnad imam ahmed also considered a mu’jam work (or ever referred to as such by the scholars of hadith)?

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  2. JazakAllah khair Sh. Yasir… I am amazed at the specificity in the hadith. Correct me if I am wrong, but the hadith seems to be referring particular sins that particular people are more prone to. So, on the spectrum of sins, some of us may be inclined towards music, others may be inclined towards alcohol, yet others may be inclined towards women. And what I mean by inclination in this context is the obsessive inclination, a strong fitna within the heart that yearns for this particular sin.

    As the Prophet (S) defined women as the biggest fitnah (trial) for men, this hadith gives hope– that you may falter, but you are not doomed. On the flip side, dare I say that perhaps there are people who are inclined towards the grave sin of homosexuality, and it is in this fitna that Allah continually tests them. So, if there are men who have feelings for other men (or women for women), as unnatural we may feel this is, then their fitan is in how they protect and prevent themselves from engaging in these forbidden desires.

    May Allah keep us among the tawabban (those who repent)…

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  3. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    What a beautiful reminder.

    Jazzak Allaahu Khayr Shaykh Yasir.

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  4. Subhanallah, this makes me feel very happy. Jazakallah Khair. But I have a question though, isnt it true that if a person persistently does a bad deed and even though he repents he goes and does it again. I heard that, that wont be forgiven. Is this a contradiction? I hope I made some sense if not Ill try to explain differently.

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  5. Ameeeeeeeeeeeeeennnnnn!!!!!!!

    JazakAllahu khair for this wonderful soothing balm upon the soul… it is something that we may take comfort in and draw hope from (and boy, do we need it!), al-Hamdulillaah!

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  6. Assalamu Alaikum,
    Mashallah, very beneficial, may we all benefit inshallah. Jazakallahu Khairan!

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  7. Assalamu Alaikum Sh. Yasir,

    That was truly very beneficial, a true pearl of many from the Sunnah. Jazakallah Khayr!

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  8. Amad – yes that is the primary reference in the hadeeth, that each person, without exception, has a specific weakness that he/she finds it difficult to totally abandon. So they end up battling that problem as long as they live, and this battle is a demonstration of Iman in itself.

    Moiez – if a person sincerely repents, his sin will be forgiven. Sincere repentance includes the intention never to return to that sin; however only Allah knows the future, and it is possible that a person will intend not to return to that sin but will eventually fall into it. So he will repent again, and again, and again….
    Some scholars say that any habitual minor sin becomes a major sin; what is meant by this is a minor sin that a person commits without the intention of repenting. Thus there is a feeling of carelessnes about the sin, and this feeling in itself is a sign of a lack of Iman.

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  9. Jazakallah Khair

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  10. Ameeeeeen! JazakaAllah khair for the enormous reminder. Continous repentance helps us remember our Rabb, and in remembering Him do our hearts find ease.

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  11. May Allah SWT make us all amongst those who continuously repent, for we are in ever need of the mercy of Allah.

    JazakAllah Khair Sheikh for a wonderful reminder, May Allah SWT grant you and all of us the blessings of being a mu`min, Ameen.

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  12. Salam 3alaykum,

    It is these beautiful Hadiths that touch the heart and silence the shaytan. I wish I’d heard more of them when I was growing up as opposed to the harsh threatening approach of other scholars that have done nothing but to repel me from religion.

    Thanks once more, may Allah give you the appropriate Jazaa.

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  13. Can someone clarify the hadith a bit further: It is comforting to know that God forgives sin but does the hadith also say that such propensity is built-in to us? Whether it be directly or as an indirect product of free will that God must have known would come about as a consequence?

    I am confused. Does God help us through sins that he programmed us to do? He is more powerful than the devil and our autonomous free will but allows these two to take course with us. Sounds like the original sin concept of Christianity. Is this a philosophy that both our religions share- in slightly different forms?

    Please help with an explanation.

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  14. Another point if I may: Is there anything wrong with believing in a God who is omnipotent, omniscient but not omnibenevolent?

    In other words we believe in a just God but justice necessitates being kind to some and cruel to others who deserve it. So I assume it is not blasphemous to say that since God is just it entails he is not omnibenevolent as not all creation is worthy of such benevolence.

    The reason why I bring this up is because I was bemused by an article on the existence of evil (not the type that comes about from free will but the type that comes with nature).

    The philosopher is happy to conclude that evil can not exist in the province of a totally benevolent God. I see his point but I think benevolence is a term we loosely associate with the God we worship.

    I may need to explain myself further if my point did not come across but I don’t want to be too lengthy.

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  15. Br. Chihab, let me take a stab at answering some of your questions…

    First of all, there is a huge difference between the concept of original sin and the propensity to sin. Original sin implies that the new born baby comes out of the womb of his mother already sinful. A Muslim on the other hand is 100% pure and sinless when born, or when he reverts to Islam.

    As for propensity of sin, this goes to the fact that man is built with desires for certain things like food, intimacy, etc. And every desire that man has, Allah has provided a halal/permissible route to fulfill it. So, there is halal food to eat, there are wives and husbands to enjoy intimacy with, etc. It is only when, out of your own free-will, you choose to divert these desires into the haraam/forbidden. If these desires did not exist, then there would be no test for mankind, and there would be no discrimination between the righteous and the sinful.

    As for Allah’s Benevolence, we know that Allah is the Most Merciful and the Most Beneficent. These are His greatest attributes. At the same time, we know that Allah does get angry with the disbelievers and with the sinners. So, that too is His attribute. However, His Mercy supersedes His Wrath:

    The Prophet said, “When Allah created the creatures, He wrote in the Book, which is with Him over His Throne: “Verily, My Mercy prevailed over My Wrath.”
    (Al-Bukhari)

    He also said, “Allah has divided mercy into 100 parts, and He retained with Him 99 parts, and sent down to earth 1 part. Through this one part creatures deal with one another with compassion, so much so that an animal lifts its hoof over its young lest it should hurt it.” (Al-Bukhari).

    This article on islamonline.net has more ahadith and Quranic verses on the Mercy of Allah. Hope this clarifies inshallah.

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  16. ADENIYI ADEGBENRO

    Kindly teach me how I can be getting regular supply of your handouts. This is the first issue that I have ever seen and its very educative.
    Jarzakallahu khaeran.

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  17. you can get regular updates by subscribing via email here:

    http://www.feedburner.com/fb/a/emailverifySubmit?feedId=770199

    every time a new post is made on the site inshallah you will get notification.
    jazakAllahu khayr

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  18. Alhamdulillah!!!

    May Allah Taala guide all momins and give us the a firm hold on the Rope of Allah..Ameen

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  19. Abdelrahman Issa

    wow that’s cool.

    So a man who is addicted to a minor sin, gets counted as a major sinner?

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  20. Good stuff, jazakAllahu khair Shaykh Yasir.

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  21. Salamalaykum warahmatullah,

    may Allaah reward you very very much and grant you Jannat al-Firdaws.

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  22. Ma sha Allah, Amazing article – one of MM’s best.
    Jazakum Allahu khayran.

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  23. Salam shaikh yasir,

    After reading this article and many others on tawbah, it almost feels like that there is a strong pull towards committing sin (not major but minor) so I can be able to repent. Not to say that I am completely sinless but let’s say that alhamdullilah not into any major sins (at least not knowingly and intentionally) and Allah knows best.

    So which slave is better, the one who fights temptations and resists sins, or the one who gives in (feeling guilty while committing sin) but returns immediately to repent to Allah?

    An answer will be highly appreciated.

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  24. is the hadith saheeh?

    plz give some reference mentioning from early scholars who graded it sahih or hasan?

    if it possible plz give some explanation from early scholars?

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  25. Jazakallahu khairen for this article. Understanding such ahadith simply overwhelm the heart–how merciful is Allah!

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  26. Does this Hadith apply to all major sins

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  27. Does this apply to a major sin if committed

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  28. Assalamu alaikum,

    This came at the right time when i needed it the most…one proof for me that God responses and does not forsakes His slaves…..fa lillaahil hamd

    The first time i read this hadees was from a book written by Shaykh Halabi [40 hadees on Islamic Personality] and it did console me for some while but the traps of Shaytaan were so cunning that the accursed one made this very hadees the pretext to sink me deeper into disobedience.

    However, this morning i would have almost slipped had it not been for this hadees which just blinked into my conscience. Tired & exhausted at the end of this spiritual warfare i just wanted an explanation for this hadees. And i remember the starting words of this hadees to its precision: “THERE IS NO BELIEVING SLAVE EXCEPT THAT HE HAS A SIN…..” and the moment i typed these words into Yahoo search, Lo! this page was the first result………

    Nothing more can be added to those words of truth which came from the True one and our brother has done well in explaining it especially with regards to the sequence of words that came in the hadees.

    It would be highly appreciated if anyone can come forward with the ARABIC SCRIPT so that those words of our Beloved resonates within our hearts…..I presume it must be starting something like this “Maa min abdin mu’minin illa wa lahu zanbun…..”

    Hoping for an immediate response……respond to the creation & The Creator responds to you – follow the Golden Rule :-)

    Was-Salaam

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  29. Allaaah.. That was beautiful and very hope-inspiring. JazakumAllahu khair.

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  30. Thanks brother Yasir.
    May Allah guide all of us to the right path,ameen

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  31. these beautiful words have uplift my sorrowness
    and bring optimism for a better tomorrow

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  32. Although, i am not an authority on the beautiful Ahadith-e-Rasool (SAW) but I can think of a simple scenario where this hadith can easily lead people somewhat astray:
    e.g. It would give a perfect reason to a bribe-giver in Pakistan to continue giving bribes and also to a bribe-taker to keep on taking it, as long as they go back home every day and with a sincere heart apologize to God for their wrong act. And then they proceed with their routine evil the next day. They can very well justify taking or giving bribes e.g. b/c their salary is not sufficient to feed their children etc.
    However, this is in contradiction to other more authentic hadith of the Prophet (SAW), e.g.:
    Abdullah bin Amr (RA) narrated: Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) cursed the one who bribes and the one who takes bribe.
    (Hadith No. 1337, Chapters on Judgements, Jami’ At-Tirmidhi, Vol. 3).
    Moreover, Ghalib had also addressed the phenomenon supported by the above hadith in the following couplet:
    “Raat bhar pi, subah toba kar li,
    Rind ke rind rahey, Jannat bhi na gayi”
    Hence, I am forced to question the authenticity of above hadith in the light of the Islam’s true teachings, and I feel that such views might ultimately result in the decay of a society.
    Under the light of above hadith, wrong-doers would begin to go unchecked and unpunished because they would claim to have repented to Allah and of being a true believer, while they continue to commit sins. The system of morals, ethics, and justice would ultimately perish.
    Allah is no doubt most forgiving and most merciful and forgives him/her who repents from heart (Taubatan Nasuha) and do not commit or insist on sin again and again, because Allah is first and foremost an Aadil, Just.

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