Major & Minor Sins in the Quran – B

article picked 4U by - Mohammad Shahrour

July 8, 2021

Major sins in the Quran -b

Diversity led to tensions and people began to disagree about the correct way of eating, drinking, dressing, and sleeping by quoting the example of the Prophet to substantiate their own positions and refute others. Every little dispute was transformed into a battle over the right methodology, creating separate schools for every single issue or particular opinion. T

his situation not only resulted in several schisms within the community, best illustrated by the Battle of the Camel and the Battle at siffin in 36 A.H., it also led to further confusion over the term kaba”ir, which now came to be defined according to the positions of the schools, sectarian conflicts, and dynastic rivalries that more and more obscured the original concept of the Book. Let us therefore return once more to the original source, the Book.

We said earlier that prohibitions express the negative aspect of divine legislation, and that ‘major sins’ are formulated as prohibitions, some of them in the form of absolute taboos. The difference between (the generic form of ) prohibition and absolute taboos (which is one spe- cific type of prohibition) is that the former contains rules that are contingent and that give people the choice between obedience and disobedience, while the latter are absolute and eternal, even though the former includes the latter. It also means that ‘major sins’, in contrast to absolute taboos, may increase or decrease in number according to the historical (legal and moral) context.

If, for example, in a certain society traffic incident have reached an alarmingly high number because of the inconsiderate behavior of drivers, the authorities, equipped with more legislative powers, will change their attitude, and while having viewed inconsiderate driving as a minor offence in the past will now regard it as a major crime and punish it with tougher sentences. This will continue until the new regulations have made an impact and have reduced the number of incidents.

In contrast, absolute taboos do not increase or decrease in number and do not change their content. To kill a person or to marry one’s mother or sister remains haram everywhere—in London, Damascus, or Mecca, and at all times in history, whether in the seventh, twentieth, or fortieth centuries. The Book gives fourteen absolute taboos, of which the first nine are as follows:


To commit idolatry


To be disrespectful to parents


To kill one’s children for fear of poverty


To come close to shameful deeds (adultery)


To take life unjustified


To consume the property of orphans


To give false measure and weight

VIII. To commit perjury


To break a vow (this is different from an oath which God has allowed us to expiate; but the vow of a doctor is a pledge to Allah binding the doctor to the cure of his patients: breaking a vow cannot be expiated by a fast of three days or the feeding of ten poor people; unfortunately, many people often confuse an irrevocable vow to Allah with an expiatory oath). Together with the tenth (religious) command, which is to follow the straight path (6:153), these nine taboos comprise God’s ethical guidance (al-furqan), elsewhere called the ‘Ten Commandments’ or the ‘First/Old Testament’.

In addition, the following prohibitions received by Moses were eventually turned into absolute taboos through Muhammad’s message:


To marry maharim relatives (mother/sister/daughter, etc.)


To eat dead meat (carrion) and pork, and drink blood;


Usury (‘merely’ a prohibition in Moses’ message);


To commit illegitimate sins and transgressions;


To say about God what cannot be known.

The first twelve taboos are clear and self-explanatory. The remaining two, however, need further elaboration:

  1. The attribute ‘illegitimate’ for a sin implies the existence of a ‘legitimate’ sin—in addition to the subdivision of ‘sin’ (in 42:37 and 53:32) into major and minor sins.

But what are legitimate sins? The Arabic term for sin is ithm. This term occurs forty-eight times in the Book, mostly in the context of,

  1. a) to stay behind, to fall back, for example, when we say ‘the she-camel fell back’ (athamat al-naqa), that is, it stays behind the rest of the caravan; or b) to abstain or refrain, as in ‘if one is forced by necessity, without willful disobedience, nor transgressing due limits, then is he guiltless (fa-la ithm‘alayhi)…’ (Baqara:173). The sinner in this context is someone who does something that others do not do. The first context expresses a legitimate sin, while the second refers to an illegitimate sin.

The horseman who falls back with his horse in a race, the student who falls behind the rest of the class, the pupil who stays behind the group on an excursion; these ‘sins’ are all legitimate. But whoever holds back his witness when he should give it, commits an illegitimate sin, because: ‘conceal not evidence; for whoever conceals it, his heart is tainted with sin (ithmun).

And God knows all that you do’ (Baqara:283). If alcohol is used for the benefit of society, for example, as an anesthetic in surgical operations, as was done before the discovery of chloroform, it is classed as a legitimate sin. The same drug can yield both a great sin and great benefit depending on the intention of its use. It is a great sin if alcohol is used for pure pleasure and if it is consumed until the brain is intoxicated so that a person cannot control his tongue any longer. If gossip is used to defame your relatives at home and your colleagues in the work place, it is classed as slander and a great sin. But if it used as a tool by the secret intelligence services in order to gain advantage over the nation’s enemy, it is a legitimate sin.

The Arabic term for ‘transgression’, baghy, is used ninety-six times in the Book. In a more literal sense, it means to seek hard in order to obtain something desirable.

Mostly, the term is used to indicate a violation of moral standards, implying injustice, rudeness, and causing enmity:

 It means the opposite of ‘doing good’ and is—as the Book says—a rebellion against God’s command of justice: ‘God commands justice, the doing of good, and liberality to kith and kin, and He forbids all shameful deeds, and injustice and rebellion (al-baghy)…’ (Nahl:90). And yet, there are situations where we find legitimate forms of transgression, for example, if we look at the issue of (the actually prohibited act of) seeking oracles from lot-casting. If at the beginning of a football match lots are cast (in order to decide what team plays on which side and who kicks off ), it is a legitimate transgression.

If, however, lot-casting is practiced in matters of trade, marriage, travel, or even in political and military affairs (e.g., to decide on war or peace), it is an illegitimate transgression. We know that deliberate, callous theft is an illegitimate form of taking things away, but paying the price and to take things away after one has paid for them is perfectly legitimate. We believe that in every legal system there are many grey areas where legislation is not (and can never be) clear cut. Between the definite limits of Allah’s law, we are faced with an area full of ambiguities.It is as the Prophet said: ‘The lawful is clear and the unlawful is clear, and in between are ambiguities.”

  1. The prohibition ‘to say things about God without knowledge’ is based on the Book’s injunction 7:33.44 Widely known examples of things said without knowledge are the content of the fatwas by our honorable scholars who have invented an increasing number of absolute taboos (close to a hundred by now), including the (absolute) ban on smoking, adopting children, surrogate motherhoods, listening to music, and singing in public.

Even clearer examples are their fatwas which, by applying all sorts of legal tricks—applying the strategy of fraudem legis agere—allowed dubious monetary institutes to run their business under the name of ‘Islamic Banking’, which, to our mind, is just a different way of legalizing serious financial fraud. The Book tells us that the prohibition ‘to say things about God without knowledge’ was first revealed as a (normal) prohibition but was later, because of its seriousness, upgraded to an absolute taboo:

But say not—for any false thing that your tongues may put forth— ‘This is lawful, and this is forbidden’, so as to ascribe false things to God. For those who ascribe false things to God will never prosper. (Nahl:116).