Seeking Sacred Sunni Knowledge

Are the Prophets Sinless?

In another post, sister striving4jannah posted a letter from Adly criticising the mentally unstable pseudo-salafi Layla Nasheeba. In it he stated, in criticism of her,

1. The Prophet doesn’t commit sin.

To which Sidi Ibn ‘Ajibah responded with:

Imam al-Laqqani said in his poem on creed al-Jawhara:

Bil Mu’jizat Ayyidu Takarruman
wa Isma al-Bari li Kulli Hattama

Through miracles they were aided by [His] generosity

And the infallibility given to them by the Creator is clear

The fact is there is disagreement amongst the earlier and later scholars regarding this issue. Imaam Abu Bakr Al-Kalabaadhi writes in his “Ta’arruf” the following concerning the matter (translated by Arberry):

    “Al-Junayd, An-Nuri and others of the great Sufis hold that whatever happened to the prophets only affected them outwardly, and that their secret hearts were absorbed with the contemplations of God. They cite in support of this view the words of God: ‘But he forgot it, and we found no purpose in him’ (( He is referring to 20:115 Where Allah says about Aadam و لقد عهدنا إلى آدم من قبل فنسي و لم نجد له عزما – We had already, beforehand, taken the covenant of Adam, but he forgot: and We found on his part no firm resolve” )) . They say that acts are not genuine, unless they are preceded by resolves and intentions, and that if something is without resolve and intention, then it is not a deed : God denies this in the case of Adam when He says, “But he forgot t, and we found no purpose (i.e. firm resolve to sin) in him.” When God censured them for such things, it was only in order to serve as a mark for other men, so that they might know, when they are disobedient (to God), that they have the chance of seeking God’s forgiveness. Others, however, admit these faults (in the prophets), explaining, however, that they were slips arising out of faulty interpretation (ta’wil). They were censured forth because their rank was so high and their stations so exalted; and this was intended to serve as a warning to others, and an instruction, to preserve the title superiority which the prophets have over other men. Some Sufis say that these faults are to be regarded as instances of forgetfullness and heedlessness, explaining that they were forgetful of the lower thing because of their preoccupation with the higher (thing): so they say, in connection with the occasion when the prophet forgot to pray, that he was pre-occupied with something greater than prayer; for he said,”My delight has been set in prayer.” With these words he informs us that there is something in prayer which delights him: he did not say “I have made prayer my delight.” Those, however, who assert that the Prophets were subject to faults and errors only reckon them as minor sins closely allied to repentance : So God says, when speaking of His elect Adam and his wife, “O Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves!” and again, “And He turned towards him, and guided him”; and of David He says, “And he thought that we were trying him; and he asked pardon of his Lord and fell down bowing, and did turn (repentant).”

So from this we see that the mutasawwifa (sufis) were in minor disagreement. Furthermore, Imaam Al-Juwayni – known as Imaam Al-Haramayn (the Imam of the two harams – makkah and medina) in his Irshaad voices the opinion that the prophets could possibly commit minor sins. He says,

    “It may be asked: Is it necessary that they (i.e. the prophets) be exempt from acts of disobedience? We answer: In regard to vile acts that imply defects and a diminution of faith, it is necessary by unanimous agreement of the community that the prophets be exempt from them.But reason does not attest to this. Rather it bears witness to the necessity of impeccability only with regard to those who controvert the evidence provided by miracles. As for sins counted as being minor, according to the provisions we will explain later, rason does not deny them in prophets. In my view, there exists no decisive proof in tradition that either denies or affirms them, because decisive proofs exist only in the textual passages or in consensus and, since the scholars differ among themselves regarding the permissibility of attributing minor sins to the prophets, there is no consensus. And textual passages, on the basis of which principles are affirmed as decisively proven and which are not susceptible to interpretation, do not exist in this case.”

((Translated by Dr. Paul Walker and reviewed by Dr Muhammad S. Eissa published by Garnet pages 193-194 ))

Qaadhi ‘Iyaad affirms that the majority of the four schools maintain that the Prophet Muhammad is sinless in his book Ash-Shifaa’. To read more see Shaykh Gibril Haddad’s article on this issue: http://qa.sunnipath.com/issue_view.asp?HD=7&ID=4659&CATE=108

Just in case the link does not show for some reason the following is the article :

    How Are The Prophets Protected From Error And Sin?

    Answered by Shaykh Gibril F Haddad

    Q: I come from a Christian background and so I was raised to think of the prophets (except for Jesus) as capable of sin. And I actually don’t think that it would be so terrible if occasionally some of the prophets said “Do as I say, not as I do”. But I think my real difficulty with the issue is that it seems like I’ve often heard the claim that there is agreement (ijma) that all the prophets are protected from sin to some degree but 1) I’m not sure of what the limits are of that protection. And I’m not sure where this principle is found in the Quran and sunnah. Can you please clarify?

    A: Wa `alaykum as-Salam,

    Ibn al-Juwayni (Imam al-Haramayn) said in al-Irshad (p. 298-299):

    “As for sins that are considered small, according to specificity as we shall explain, the minds do not deny them [as possible for Prophets]. I did not come upon a categorically explicit transmitted proof either negating them or asserting them [as possible]. For explicitly categorical proofs come either from explicit texts (nusus) or from consensus (ijma’) and there is no consensus [either], since the ulema differ over the possibility of small sins for Prophets. The explicit, unambiguous or un-interpretable texts that would categorically establish the principles pertaining to this issue are simply not found. So if it is said that since the matter is conjectural, what is the strongest conjecture in the matter in your opinion? We say: Our strongest conjecture is that they are possible. The stories of the Prophets in many a verse of the Book of Allah Most High bear witness to that [conjecture]. But Allah knows best what is right.”

    Imam al-Ghazzali said the same in substance in al-Mankhul (p. 223), a youthful work consisting of his class-notes from Imam al-Haramayn.

    But Imam Taj al-Din al-Subki said in his Qasida Nuniyya:

    “They said Allah precludes small sins from Prophets

    and in our [Ash'ari] School are two positions.

    “Preclusion is narrated from the Master ((The Master = Abu Mansur `Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi, author of Usul al-Din, al-Farq Bayn al-Firaq, and other important works of doctrine. )) and al-Qadi `Iyad, and it is the strongest position.

    “It is the position I take and was that of my father.”

    [cf. Taqi al-Din al-Subki, al-Ibhaj 2:263],

    exempting their rank from any defect.

    “Al-Ash’ari is our Imam but in this we differ with him

    one and all.

    “And we say that we are on his path but his companions

    are split in two parties over the matter.

    “Some Ash’aris even said Prophets are completely free

    of forgetfulness.

    “Yet all are considered al-Ash’ari’s followers. This

    dissent does not expel them from that status.”

    [Source: Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyya al-Kubra (3:387-388).]

    So the conjecture of Imam al-Haramayn (d. 478) and his student Hujjat al-Islam (d. 505) was NOT retained by later Ash’aris nor earlier ones other than al-Ash’ari himself. Instead, the majority of the ulema including the Imams of the Four Schools of Law followed what they considered to be the stronger position, namely that Prophets are protected even from small sins.

    Thus al-Amidi said in al-Ihkam (1:171) that all but the Khawarij concur Prophets are protected from the minor sins if the latter bear on their character. If, however, it comes to a rare word spoken out of anger, then the majority of the Ash’aris and Mu’tazilis allow it.

    Qadi `Iyad in al-Shifa’ said that the Jumhur of the Jurists from the schools of Malik, al-Shafi`i, and Abu Hanifa, agree that the Prophets are protected from all minor sins because one is required to follow them in the minutest matters. It is even reported from Malik that this is obligatory to believe.
    Abu Ishaq al-Isfarayini’s (d. 418) position was that no sin great or small issues from Prophets whether deliberately or by mistake and this is also our position.” [Taj al-Din al-Subki Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyya al-Wusta as cited in the Kubra (4:260) ]. Imam al-Zarqani said in his monumental commentary on al-Qastallani’s al-Mawahib al-Laduniyya (5:361) [Al-Qastallani’s original text is in parentheses):

    <<(And among his Mu'jizaat [stunning miracles] is that he is immune from sins) before Prophethood and after it (both great and small, both by deliberate commission and by mistake) according to the soundest view, outwardly and inwardly, in secret and in public, in earnest and in jest, in contentment and in anger. And how not, when the Companions were unanimous in following him and faithfully imitating him in all his acts? (As were the Prophets) Al-Subki said: “The Umma concurs on the true immunity (‘isma) of Prophets, in what pertains to conveyance and other, from grave and small, contemptible sins as well as persistence in small sins but there is disagreement over small sins that do not detract from their rank. The Mu’tazila and many others allow them. The preferred view is that they are precluded because we have been ordered to follow them in what issues from them; how then could something inappropriate occur on their part? As for those that deemed it possible, they did not do so on the basis of any textual stipulation or proof.” That is, they only clang to externalities which, if they followed their logical conclusions, would lead them to violate consensus and take positions no Muslim takes, as expounded by `Iyad [in al-Shifa'].>>

    They concurred that a necessary attribute of Prophets is absolute trustworthiness (amana):
    “And essential for them [Prophets] is absolute trustworthiness” (Jawharat al-Tawhid, verse 59)
    which necessitates true immunity (‘isma) or from haram, makruh, and inappropriate acts, speech, or thoughts (khilaf al-awla) (and even some of the mubah or indifferently permitted) except for a necessity of legislating a law, because Allah Most High made them our qidwa – obligatory paradigmatic model to follow without exception – and He does not want us to follow any haram, makruh, and inappropriate acts, speech, or thoughts.

    {Verily in the messenger of Allah ye have a good example for him who looketh unto Allah and the last Day, and remembereth Allah much} (33:21).

    Further, Allah Most High praised and literally exalted the Prophet’s character in no uncertain terms:

    {And lo! thou art of a tremendous nature} (68:4).

    The apparent counter-examples found in the Qur’an all without exception have interpretations that confirm the over-riding principles derived from the above verses and the conclusions of the majority of scholars (jumhur) I have just documented. For example, our liege-lord Adam’s “disobedience” (upon him peace) meant forgetfulness, or he was given Prophethood after he was forgiven. The consensus is that Prophets were sinless but were not necessarily created so nor made so from the very beginning of their Prophetic mission.

    Yet such verses are a mercy from Allah Most High and His confirmation of other verses to the effect that the Holy Prophet is one of mankind, not an angel, and so were previous Prophets, so that mankind will have no excuse such as the claim that he and they were impossible to imitate or understand etc. – and Allah Most High knows best.

    As for the question whether protection (‘isma) from sin is the absence of volition, i.e. that the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, “could not” rather than “would not” sin and that he was devoid of free will in this regard, this is incorrect. We may describe isma in terms of Wilaya, Nubuwwa, Wahi, Tawfiq, Hifz, and others but not as absence of free will. And Allah knows best.

    The closest text to this issue is probably the following explanation of the hadith of the removal of the black clot from the heart of the Prophet, upon him peace. I came across this beautiful passage in Ibn al-Subki’s Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyya al- Kubra (10:266-267):

    “I heard my father – Allah have mercy on him – say, when he was asked about the black clot that was removed / from the heart of the Prophet – Allah bless and greet him – in his childhood, at the time of the splitting of his breast, and the statement of the angel to him, ‘This is Satan’s lot from you (hâdhâ hazhzh al-shaytâni minka)’:

    <<This clot Allah created in the hearts of human beings as naturally fit (qâbilatan) for whatever Satan casts into it and it was removed from his heart – Allah bless and greet him – so that no place remained in it fit for anything Satan could cast. This is the meaning of the hadith. There was no lot for Satan in the Prophet whatsoever. What the angel threw out was only a matter present in all human constitutions. That capacity was removed but its presence did not [in the first place] necessitate that anything had been cast into the heart. If you asked, “Why was that capacity created in that noble person when it was possible to create it without it?” I say, Because it is part of the human constituents. So its creation is part of the completion of human creation and is indispensable, while its removal is a Divine command that took place later on.>>

    “I saw in the hand-writing of my brother, our Shaykh the Imam Abu Hâmid Ahmad, Allah save him, that he saw my father in dream on top of a high mountain lush with magnificent gardens. In my brother’s hand was a lantern by the light of which he was reading to my father the text of the above discussion. He then thought that the lantern had gone out and began to repeat to my father, ‘The lantern is out’, several times. My father raised his head and told him, ‘No’. My brother looked and saw that it was as my father said; ‘But,’ he said, ‘there were lights on my father many times stronger than the light of the lantern and this is why I had thought it went out. In my sleep it came to my heart that those lights were because of the blessings of this research.’” End of the text from Ibn al-Subki.
    The writer of these lines heard another moving explanation of the “black clot removal” related from the great Imam Ahmad Rida Khan, namely, that the clot consisted in the portion of the disbelievers at whose eternal doom, had it not been removed, the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) would have felt unbearable mercy on the Day of Judgment because he was created and sent as a mercy for the universes. Even so, the Prophet shall include them in his intercession at the time all creatures stand in wait under the sun for the Judgment to begin! So Blessings and peace on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions until the end of time and for all eternity.

    The purification of the heart of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, as a young boy is also a proof that he received `Isma even before his Nubuwwa, and Allah knows best.

    See on this topic, in addition to the above sources:
    - Al-Razi, `Ismat al-Anbiya’ (`Ilmiyya p. 28, top)

    - Al-Laqani, Jawharat al-Tawhid verse 59.

    - Al-Laqani, Ithaf al-Murid (p. 179-180).

    - Al-Bajuri, Sharh al-Jawhara.

    - Al-Sawi, Sharh al-Jawhara (p. 280).

    - Al-Rifa`i, al-Ma`rifa (p. 77-78).

    - Al-Hashimi, Miftah al-Janna (p. 204)

    - Nuh `Ali Salman, Sharh al-Jawhara (p. 124-125).

    - Al-Maliki, Muhammad (sallAllahu `alayhi wa-Sallam) al-Insanu al-Kamil

    - Siraj al-Din, Sayyiduna Muhammad (sallAllahu `alayhi wa-Sallam), etc.
    See also al-Shatibi’s Muwafaqat (3:265).

    And Allah knows best.

    As a general note unrelated to this particular question, it is advisable not to approach the status of Prophethood with enquiries except with the highest good manners. Prophets are the elect of the Creator and like or above the angels in rank. We should take care, also, to focus on what is vital to our salvation and relinquish pursuits that are not only irrelevant but actually damaging to faith and works.

    Hajj Gibril

Two other reads that are pertinent to this issue are:

http://qa.sunnipath.com/issue_view.asp?HD=7&ID=4567&CATE=108

http://qa.sunnipath.com/issue_view.asp?HD=7&ID=5841&CATE=108

12 Responses to “Are the Prophets Sinless?”

  1. Ibn Ajibah says:

    Indeed, and at the end of the day, that sister, as misguided as she is/was, cannot be said to be in error for that position, as opposed to Ustadh Adly’s assertion that it is wrong.

  2. striving4jannah says:

    ithink shaykh adly mistyped. she said that the prophet was not sinless.

  3. striving4jannah says:

    48:2 That Allah may forgive thee thy faults of the past and those to follow; fulfil His favour to thee; and guide thee on the Straight Way;

    shaykh adly said “thee” refers the prophet saw. he said that the prophet cannot commit major sins but he can commit minor sins. if a prophet could not commit sins, then he would be an angel.

    there is also a hadith where the prophet *saw* prayed at night until his feet were swollen. Then aisha *ra* asked, “oh prophet, how come you prayed all this and Allah has already forgiven you for past and future sins.” how could Allah forgive sins if he is sinless.

  4. striving4jannah says:

    adam *as* eating from the forbidden fruit tree is another proof.

  5. striving4jannah says:

    ibrahim *as* was asked to make intercession, but he said no, because i have lied 3 times. lying is a sin

  6. f says:

    salam, did you put your notes up from the suhba with shaykh Nuh?

  7. Abul Layth says:

    No. My notes from the suhba are just that; my notes. Sorry, they won’t be going up.

  8. striving4jannah says:

    bro. abdul layth,

    im still waiting for your comment on sh. adly’s comments

  9. Abul Layth says:

    Sister Striving, please note that my kunya is ABUL (father of) and not ABDUL (slave of). May Allah bless you. Also note that in the beginning of this article I stated that there is ikhtilāf (disagreement) of the scholars of Islām upon this issue. Thus, when there is not consensus of Ahlus Sunnah on an issue, it is valid to disagree. So I respect ‘Adly’s right to choose the opinion he takes. Some great Imāms took his stance, such as Imam Al-Juwayni who I quoted above from his masterpiece “Irshād”. I encourage you to read the post again so you can see both sides of the debate. So again, to make myself clear, I am not attacking the stance that ‘Adly takes nor am I attacking the stance that Nasheeba takes either. The article I wrote was to show that there is disagreement but that the majority opinion is that the Prophets do not sin.

    Now, those who hold that the Prophets are sinless have responses to the arguments raised by ‘Adly.
    Firstly, regarding the issue of Aadam, then that has already been responded to above by Al-Junayd and others. Another interpretation is that he was not yet a Prophet, and Sinlessness is not applicable to the prophets themselves. There are many other explanations that the scholars who hold on to the sinlessness of prophets use.

    Secondly, the issue of āyah 48:2 that says,
    لِيَغْفِرَ لَكَ اللَّهُ مَا تَقَدَّمَ مِنْ ذَنْبِكَ وَمَا تَأَخَّرَ وَيُتِمَّ نِعْمَتَهُ عَلَيْكَ وَيَهْدِيَكَ صِرَاطًا مُسْتَقِيمًا

    Translated by Yusuf ‘Ali as:
    “That Allah may forgive thee thy faults of the past and those to follow; fulfill His favour to thee; and guide thee on the Straight Way;”

    There are many responses to this interpretation posed by ‘Adly. The word “dhanb” is not restricted to sin. It can also literally mean mistakes or faults. In Ma’arif Al-Qur’an Mufti Muhammad Shafi (rahimahullah) explains this verse as follows:

    “Wherever words like dhanb and ‘Isyān (sin or fault) are attributed to them in the Qur’ān, they are in relation to their lofty status. Works that are merely unadvisable contrary to the preferred practice are also referred to as “dhanb” in relation to the high status of the Prophets by way of reprimand. “Past (taqaddam)” refers to shortcomings committed before conferment of prophet hood, and “those to follow (ta’akkhar)” refers to shortcomings committed after the conferment of prophethood. (MaTH-harī)” [End quote of Imam Muhammad Shafi]

    Imām Jalālud-Dīn As-Suyūtī in his tafseer offers another explanation in his Tafsīr Jalālayn. He basically states that it is mu’awwal for the Ummah of the Prophet because the prophets are sinless, encouraging them for Jihaad etc. His wording is difficult for me to translate. So I will paste his tafsīr here for those interested:

    “لِيَغْفِر لَك اللَّه” بِجِهَادِك “مَا تَقَدَّمَ مِنْ ذَنْبك وَمَا تَأَخَّرَ” مِنْهُ لِتُرَغِّب أُمَّتك فِي الْجِهَاد وَهُوَ مُؤَوَّل لِعِصْمَةِ الْأَنْبِيَاء عَلَيْهِمْ الصَّلَاة وَالسَّلَام بِالدَّلِيلِ الْعَقْلِيّ الْقَاطِع مِنْ الذُّنُوب وَاللَّام لِلْعِلَّةِ الْغَائِيَّةِ فَمَدْخُولهَا مُسَبَّب لَا سَبَب “وَيُتِمّ” بِالْفَتْحِ الْمَذْكُور “نِعْمَته” إنْعَامه “عَلَيْك وَيَهْدِيَك” بِهِ “صِرَاطًا” طَرِيقًا “مُسْتَقِيمًا” يُثَبِّتك عَلَيْهِ وَهُوَ دِين الْإِسْلَام

    Imām Al-Qurtubī quotes the famous Mufassir Tābi’ī, ‘Atā’ Al-Khurasānī as explaining this with the following words,

    ” مَا تَقَدَّمَ مِنْ ذَنْبك ” يَعْنِي مِنْ ذَنْب أَبَوَيْك آدَم وَحَوَّاء . ” وَمَا تَأَخَّرَ ” مِنْ ذُنُوب أُمَّتك

    “From your past dhanb (errors or mistakes)” Meaning from the mistakes (or sins) of your parents Aadam and Hawwā’. “And future ones” meaning from the mistakes of your Ummah.”

    Lastly, check the links out that we gave in the article. That might clarify for you insha’allah.</blockquote>

  10. striving4jannah says:

    Sorry ABUL layth, my husband is abdur rahman, so i guess typing the abd comes naturally to me. yes i do understand the difference, but jazzaakAllah khair for the reminder.

    ok, so i went onto islam q.a. and researched the question regarding if the prophets are sinless, and they were of the same opinion as shaykh adly. yes i know u are going to say that is a pseudo salafi site, blah blah blah, but i still like to refer to them when i have questions like these.

    ok peace out.

    assalaam alaikum

  11. Abul Layth says:

    Wa’alaykum Salaam sister,

    The opinion they hold is held by some of the scholars of the past. So like I said, there is no blame on them for holding such a view. If you wish to hold such an opinion, then there is no problem in doing so.

    My opinion though is that the Prophet’s were sinless, in that their mistakes are not considered “sins” but rather “mistakes”. Whatever the case, we can all agree that our beloved Prophet Muhammad (‘alayhis salaam) is a perfect example for us all as Allah ta’alaa says,

    “…and verily in the Messenger of Allah you have a perfect example!”

  12. Abul Layth says:

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    http://WWW.SUNNIPATH.COM

    And sign up for their classes. One will learn the proper ‘aqeedah, manhaj, and fiqh as well as arabic. If you are too poor to pay for classes, they will give you financial aid.