Islamic vs Christian Concepts of Sin

Thank you for your quick response. I have some follow up questions. You said that God does not expect us to be perfect. Is that in the Qur’an? Would it be a fair summary of your response to say that repentance and trying to obey God better would be how one receives forgiveness? When will your sins be completely forgiven?

In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

Islam teaches that sins are forgiven on a continuous basis. Likewise, sins are earned by people on a continuous basis. The test of this worldly life is to seek forgiveness “faster” than one falls into forgetfulness and sinning. It is like balancing a chemical equation. People naturally make mistakes and succumb to desires, but a person who attempts to control his or her desires, constantly remembering the Presence of God will have a “slower” rate of sin. At the same time, increasing one’s devotion, worship, good deeds, charity, fasting, and remembrance of God will have a “faster” rate of good deeds and forgiveness. That balance is checked when a person dies. Even if a person dies with a few sins still on their record, so long as the effort was made to correct one’s actions and purify one’s heart, the balance of evil will be forgiven by God on the Day of Judgment. If this is not the case, then a person will have to pay for those unrepentant sins on that Last Day, either by a very difficult questioning from God or by spending some time in Hell until those sins are purged.

Hell is the temporary abode of those who had faith, but led sinful, unrepentant lives. The Prophet taught that they will be punished in Hell until their sins have been purged and their souls have been purified. Once this purification is complete, by God’s mercy they will be taken out of Hell and admitted into Paradise. The only sin that will not be forgiven is taking other gods besides God and dying on this disbelief. For these people, Hell is permanent, and they will never leave.

Since God is the Most Gracious, the Oft-Repenting, the Forbearing, and Ever-Compassionate, Muslims believe He is willing and able to forgive sins, even the one committed by Adam and Eve… Therefore, Islam does not have Original Sin, therefore there is no need for a Universal Redeemer for mankind. If there is no Original Sin there is no need for a Universal Redeemer. In addition, this concept of God means that each human being can turn to God without any intermediate and ask for Forgiveness. Since Repentance is in the hands of each human being, the role of all Prophets (including Jesus in the Islamic worldview) is to remind people of God’s mercy and exhort them to turn to God themselves. So in a sense, Muslims view that Jesus’ role was to “help you get it together” rather than “get it together for you.”

This understanding comes from both the Qur’an and the Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).  

The Prophet said: “Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, has said: ‘I live in the thought of My servant and I am with him as he remembers Me.'”  

The Prophet also said: “Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, has said: ‘When My servant draws near to Me by the span of his hand, I draw near him by the length of a cubit. When he draws near to Me by the length of a cubit, I draw near him by the length of a fathom. When he draws near to Me walking, I draw close to him hurriedly.”  

The Prophet also said: “Verily, when the believer commits a sin, a black spot appears upon his heart. If he repents and abandons the sin and seeks forgiveness, then his heart will be polished. If he increases in sin, then the blackness is increased.”  

In the Qur’an, God says: But indeed, I am the Perpetual Forgiver of whoever repents and believes and does righteousness and then continues in guidance. (20:82)  

Also, the Qur’an says in 6:164, 17:15, 35:18, 39:7, and 53:38 that “No bearer of burdens (meaning sins) shall be made to bear another’s burden.”  

So these are just a few verses (and there are many more) that teach that every human being can TURN BACK to God on their own, with their own actions. The person who uses that time wisely for cultivating his soul and connecting with his Creator will be successful in the Hereafter, whereas those who neglect or corrupt their soul and ignore their Creator will be ruined in the Hereafter.

May peace be with you,

Thanks very much for this! I do appreciate you taking time with me. I want to repeat a question from earlier that I’m still not clear on. Where does the Quran say that God does not expect people to be perfect? As a follow up question, how many perfect (sinless) people have ever lived according to Islam?

In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

The Qur’an does not explicitly state that “God does not expect Man to be perfect.” However, our scholars explain that the Qur’an only contains the over-arching guidelines and principles of theology, the Concept of God, morality, and ethics. It is the Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that contain the specifics of these topics on your question:

The Prophet said, “By Him in whose hand is my soul, if you did not sin Allah would replace you with people who would sin and they would seek the forgiveness of Allah and He would forgive them.” (Sahih Muslim 2749)

The Prophet said, “If none of you had any sins for God to forgive for you, God would bring forth a people with sins that he would forgive for them.” (Sahih Muslim no. 7140)

The Prophet said, “A slave sinned and said, ‘O God, forgive me my sin.’ God, Blessed and Most High, said, ‘My servant sinned and knew that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for them.’ Then he sinned again and said, ‘O Lord, forgive me my sin.’ God, Blessed and Most High, said, ‘My servant sinned and knew that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for them.’ Then he sinned again and said, ‘O Lord, forgive me my sin.’ God, Blessed and Most High, said, ‘My servant sinned and knew that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for them. Do what you wish, for I have forgiven you.’” (Sahih Muslim no. 7162)

The Prophet said that God said, “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. 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. Son of Adam, were you to come to Me with faults nearly equaling the earth and were you then to meet Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly equaling the earth.” (Sunan al-Tirmidhi no. 3885)  

The first two Sayings have similar wording but they were by narrated by different Companions, which is why I included them both. Scholars classify these kind of Sayings as “multiple-narrators” and teach us that their authenticity is of a higher grade because of the corroboration. So we see that these Sayings explicitly teach that God expects mankind to sin. Now, the next two Sayings are less explicit, but also highlight how readily God forgives the person who sins and repents with sincerity.

In light of these specific teachings, we can now go to the Qur’an and see what general principles it contains on this topic. Here are just three that I found quickly:

Your Lord hath prescribed for Himself mercy, that whoso of you doeth evil through ignorance and repenteth afterward thereof and doeth right, (for him) lo! He is Forgiving, Compassionate. (6:54)

My mercy embraces all things, therefore I shall ordain it for those who ward off (evil) and pay the poor-due, and those who believe Our revelations. (7:156)

Say: O My servants who have been transgressed against their own souls! Despair not of the mercy of God, Who forgiveth all sins. Lo! He is the Forgiving, the Compassionate. (39:53)

We have indeed created man in the best of mould, then We cast him down as the lowest of the low, except for those who believe and do good deeds—theirs shall be an unending reward! (95:4-6)

God wishes to explain things to you and guide you to the ways of those who have gone before you and to turn to you in mercy.. God is all knowing and all wise. He wishes to turn towards you in mercy, but those who follow their own passions want you to drift far away from the right path. God wishes to lighten your burdens, for man has been created weak.. (4:26-28)

Therefore, when we take the general teachings of the Qur’an and the specific teachings of the Prophet, we see why Muslim scholars have concluded that God expects mankind to sin.

Moving on to your second questions, the only infallible (or sinless) people were the Prophets themselves. This is explained in the Qur’an in the numerous places where the one of the Prophets (either direct instruction to Muhammad or narrated instruction to another Prophet like Jesus, Moses, Jonah, etc) was instructed by God to make Istigh-faar which is an Arabic word that can mean to seek forgiveness or to seek protection. The most famous example of this in the Qur’an is the chapter of Joseph: She started towards him, and he would have succumbed to her, if he had not seen a sign from his Lord—Thus do we keep evil and indecency away from him, for he was truly one of Our chosen servants. (12:24)  

This same process described in the specific instance of Prophet Joseph (pbuh) being tempted by the Egyptian’s wife is what Muslims believe to happen for all Prophets in the face of temptations. While there are only 25 prophets mentioned by name in the Qur’an, the Prophet Muhammad taught that over 120,000 prophets were sent to humanity before him.

May peace be with you,

2 thoughts on “Islamic vs Christian Concepts of Sin

  1. Regarding the second question which is asking where does it say in the Holy Qur’an that Almighty God doesn’t expect us to be perfect:

    “Those who avoid the major sins and immoralities, only [committing] slight ones. Indeed, your Lord is vast in forgiveness. He was most knowing of you when He produced you from the earth and when you were fetuses in the wombs of your mothers. So do not claim yourselves to be pure; He is most knowing of who fears Him.” – Holy Qur’an 53:32

    Is this verse also not making us understand that Almighty God knows that we are not perfect and we can fall short on our deeds and He knew this even when He was creating us. So, He doesn’t want us to even claim that we are perfect, but rather He wants us to fear Him, strive in the best way we can, and be pious?

    1. Salaam Fatih,

      Yes, this verse clearly conveys to the reader that not only does God expect us to make mistakes and fall short, He also expects us to humble ourselves based on this understanding. Sh. Abdul-Aziz al-Arifi has said: “Allah has destined for man to fall into error to remind him of his weakness and the perfection of his Lord. If man was to always be correct, he would forget his Lord and deny His existence, but Allah causes him to fall into error so that he turns to Him, thus not becoming arrogant nor transgressing.”

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