THE PERCEPTION OF CRIME and CRIMINAL IN ISLAM
By Bilgin Erdogan
In Islam, repentance (tawbah) is the most revered, noble and beloved form of obedience in the eyes of Allah (SWT). He loves those who repent because He loves His creation. Allah says:
(Az-Zumar, 39:53) “Say, "O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful."”
We as human beings can make mistake or error. We all make mistakes in our lives and we all commit sins. We sometimes tend to lose the path for a while. That is why asking repentance from Allah (SWT) for the sins that we commit is very important. The Messenger (saw) said: “All the sons of Adam may commit a sin and the best among the sinners are those who repent.” [Ahmad]
In order to repent from our sin, we need to clarify our perception. We have to question our perception. Is our perception on death for example, according to Islam or not? The perception of the believer will not be similar to the perception of the non-believer. For instance, Ibn Taymiyah said, “What can my enemies do to me? If they put me in a dungeon I am thankful for I have the solitude (khalwah) to be close to Allah. If they exile me, I am also thankful because it is a holy migration (hijrah) for me. If they execute me, it is matyrdom (shahadah) for me, thus I am most thankful too.”
Thus, perception is very important in the way we look at matters in our life. Our life perception when we believe in this world and the hereafter is different from those who only believe in this world. Do we live our life based on aqidah or not? Do we plan our future according to Islam or not? What is the purpose of our life on this earth? What is our perception on success? Who are the successful ones?
In Islam, the successful ones are those who protect themselves from the way of satan. In the time of the Messenger (saw), a companion named Amir bin Fuhayra said, “Alhamdulillah I am the successful one and I am the winner” even though he was dying after being stabbed by a man called Jabbar. Why did he say that? This is because he held the Islamic perception that good triumphs over evil and he had done good in his life and happy to die in that state.
Let us compare to two persons of the same business, one conducts his business with honesty in all his dealings whereas the other operates with cheating and deceiving people to get ahead. The former’s business eventually goes bankrupt while the latter become so successful he opens more branches for expansion. Who is the successful one? If we place our values according to Islam, then our perception of success is different than if we only believe in life for this temporary realm.
So, the question of perception is very crucial when looking at the sin and the sinner. Do we consider the sin and the sinner in the same light? Al- Qur’an and As-Sunnah have a perspective on a person who commits a sin. To understand the perception, we need to look at the conception of sin itself.
What is Sin?
Generally sin is anything that goes against the commands of Allah (SWT), a breach of the laws and norms laid down by Islam. Sin is an act and not a state of being. Al Qur’an uses different words throughout to describe sin. The difference in the meanings of these words is subtle and often not recognizable to the common reader.
Basically these are several words1 used to describe sin in the Quran which are:
1) ZALIM (ظالم - singular) / ZULM (ظلم - plural), roughly the same as KHATA (خَطَا): A sin that is not done intentionally by any human and it happens accidently. For instance a hunter while hunting a prey kills a human. And, if this mistake can be rectified by some offering, then its punishment can be reduced, and it is called KHITA’ (خِطْأ) KHAT’A (خَطْأ). And if of some other kind of sin, Allah can forgive it if begged for mercy and for good deeds, and this is known as KHATAA’ (خَطَأ) (Plural KHATAAYA (خطایا)). And KHATIA (خَطِئَ) (Plural KHATIA’AT (خطئات)) also comes in the same meaning.
2) ITHM (اِثْم): Any such act that stops from good deeds, (Plural ATHAAM (اٰثام)) (Opposite BIRR (بِرّ)). ITHM (اِثْم) is that condition of heart that stops from good deeds and encourages vice and sinful activities and when time comes a person cannot resist from sin. ITHM (اِثْم) is related more to heart than to act [not necessarily voiced out/acted upon] i.e. having wrong assumptions of someone and such a person is called ATHEEM (اِثِیْم) (Opposite SALEEM (سَلِیْم)). It is done intentionally. As opposed to ZAMB (ذَنْۢب) which is done intentionally and unintentionally: Any act whose outcome is bad and MA-YATBA’-ZAMM (الذم یتبع ما) and its usage is so common that it can be used for small mistakes to bigger sins. (Plural ZUNOOB (ذنوب)).
3) SAYYI’AT (سيّئات): general sinning encompasses all wrong, literal/abstract bad/evil (mentioned in the Qur'an as sins of bad character/conduct with people). It consists of the major (kaba’ir) and minor (sagha’ir) sins.
4) IJRAAM (اِجْرَام): JURM (جُرْم): literally is an action that is punishable by law. Its root is “Jeem-Ra-Meem”. Its basic meaning is ‘to cut off something or to strip some things naked’. It is generally spoken of ‘cutting or plucking off the fruit of a tree’. It denotes plundering, exploiting, usurping the hard earned outcomes of others’ labor, utilizing others’ reward & working and those who do so are called “Mujrimoon”, the criminals. JURM (جُرْم) and JAREEMAH (جَرِیْمَۃ) means someone who commits huge sins. It is used for committing a crime, a fault; an offence, or an act of disobedience. AJRAMA (اَجْرَمَ) means the misfortune that comes from a sin (dictionary al Manjad). JURM (جُرْم) is every such act which is not legal and not as a result of some obligatory or worthy action
5) FAAJIR (فَاجِر): (Plural FUJJAR (فُجَّار), Opposite ABRAAR (ابرار)) FAJARA (فَجَرَ) meaning to divide or tear apart something widely, like solatul fajr; divide the light from night. It is to divide or tear our personality or action apart from the law of Allah (SW). FAAJIR (فَاجِر) is a person who betrays and disobeys religion. A vicious person. A person who keeps on committing sins and does not repent. An evildoer. FAJOOR (فجور) is a person engrossed in sins or fornicator. FAJARA (فَجَرَ) means to be stubborn. FAAJIR (فاجر) is that sinner who does not consider committing sin as bad.
6) FAASIQ (فَاسِق): FASAQA (فَسَقَ) meaning to abandon the path of righteous and virtue. FASIQ (فَاسِق) word is used for a habitual disobedient; an immoral person. But a FAASIQ (فَاسِق) does distinguish a sinful act as sin and disobedience.
7) JUNAH (جَنَاح) 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. It doesn’t actually mean sin but to sway towards a sin, to incline to sinful activities, JANAHA (جَنَحَ) means to incline or lean towards.
8) LAMAM (لَمَمْ): Those tiny mistakes and sins that lead to committing bigger sins. And ALAMA (اَلَمَ) means to commit small vices or sins, for instance before adultery visiting a stranger woman, to talk freely with her. Or opinions and advices related to theft before actually committing a theft.
9) MUNKIR (منکر): Any uncommon or surprising thing. (Opposite of INKAAR [denial] is ARFAAN (عرفان); opposite of MUNKIR (منکر) is MAROOF (معروف)) Thus MUNKIR (منکر) is that thing that is rendered nefarious by society. But Shariah has not limited the MUNKIRAT (منکرات) to social dislikes but also if something obscene is famous in a society and is not considered wicked by the society, such things are also corrected by the Shariah. And practise of Al-Munkar (disbelief and polytheism and every kind of evil wicked deed) in your meetings.
Humans are Vulnerable Beings
Forgetfulness is the nature of human beings. No man is perfect; we all make mistakes and commit sin in some parts of our lives. Even the most pious people can make mistakes in their life. Even the Prophets, peace be upon them all, who are protected by Allah (SWT) from sinning, can sometimes make mistakes. Al Qur’an relates to us how the Prophets were able to fall into some minor errors due to mistakes, out of forgetfulness or ignorance, or because of their being human. Al Qur’an describes the errors of our Prophets to show that only Allah (SWT) is All-Perfect. He is Al-Quddus; the One who is pure, spotless, without blemish or fault. He is the One who is far from, and untouched by, worldly imperfections or faults.
The Errors of the Prophets
Satan was the first disobedient creature of Allah (SWT). He broke the law of Allah (SWT) and as a punishment he was banished from heaven. On the other hand Adam (as) was the first disobedient man to Allah (SWT). He ate from the forbidden tree, and an example of a mistake (khaṭa’). He broke the law of Allah and he too was banished from heaven. But what is the difference? The difference is Allah (SWT) condemned Satan whereas He forgave Adam (as). The difference is Adam (as) repented to Allah (SWT) for his sin, Satan didn’t.
Al Qur’an also mentions the error of Prophet Nuh (as). At the time of the flood, Nuh (as) interceded on his son's behalf for his rescue but Allah (SWT) prohibited him from doing so.
(Surah Hud, 11: 45-48) “And Nuh called upon his Lord, and said: “O my Lord! surely my son is of my family! and Thy promise is true, and Thou art the justest of Judges!” Allah replied: “O Nuh! He is not of thy family: For his conduct is unrighteous. So ask not of Me that of which thou hast no knowledge! I give thee counsel, lest thou act like the ignorant!”
Nuh (as) said: “O my Lord, I seek refuge in you from that of which I have no knowledge. I will become of the losers if you do not forgive me and have mercy on me.” It was said: “O Nuh, alight with peace from us and blessings upon you and those who are with you.”
Nuh (as) made dua for his son. Allah (SWT) reprimanded him from making such a dua. Thus Nuh (as) admitted his fault and requested for His forgiveness and mercy. The Qur’an also relates to us the mistake of a similar, minor nature for Ibrahim (as).
Another example came from the error of Prophet Yunus (as). He was sent to teach the people of the town of Nineveh who were idolaters and lived a shameless life, the worship of Allah (SWT). Try as he might to convince them, they still rejected and ridiculed him. Disheartened he took off in anger and left the city without Allah’s permission.
He boarded a ship filled with other passengers. After some time, the ship ran into a storm. The people on the ship cast lots, with the idea that the person whose name shows up should be thrown overboard. The name of Yunus (as) came up in the drawing three times, after which he threw himself into the sea. Allah (SWT) commanded a huge fish to swallow Yunus (as) without hurting him or breaking his bones. Yunus (as) realized that he had made a mistake by leaving his city and its people without the permission of Allah. This was why he was now imprisoned in this strange way in the belly of a fish in the depths of the ocean.
Upon realizing his error, he repented sincerely to Allah (SWT):
(Surah Al-‘Anbiya’, 21:87-88) “And remember Dhun-nun (Prophet Yunus (a.s.)), when he went off in anger and thought that We would not decree [anything] upon him. And he called out within the darknesses, "There is no deity except You; exalted are You. Indeed, I have been of the wrongdoers."
“So We responded to him and saved him from the distress. And thus do We save the believers.”
We also see the error in the case of Prophet Musa’s (as) accidental killing of an Egyptian:
(Surah Al-Qasas, 28:16) “And he entered the city at a time of inattention by its people and found therein two men fighting: one from his faction and one from among his enemy. And the one from his faction called for help to him against the one from his enemy, so Moses struck him and [unintentionally] killed him. [Musa] said, "This is from the work of Satan. Indeed, he is a manifest, misleading enemy.”
He did not intend to kill him, but only to strike him with his hand in order to push him away from the Israelite. Thus, the strike was intentional, but the killing a mistake, and Musa (as) quickly repented to Allah (SWT):
(Surah Al-Qasas, 28:16) “[And] he prayed: O my Sustainer! Verily, I have sinned against myself! Grant me, then, Thy forgiveness!" And He forgave him - for, verily. He alone is truly forgiving, a dispenser of grace.”
In the time of the Messenger (saw), one day while the Messenger (saw) was earnestly engaged in trying to persuade some big chiefs of Makkah to accept Islam, a blind man named Ibn Umm Maktum, approached him to seek explanation of some point concerning Islam. At that time the Messenger (saw) disliked his interruption and ignored him. Thereupon Allah sent down this Surah:
(Surah ‘Abasa, 80: 1-12) “He frowned and turned away. Because there came to him the blind man, [interrupting]. But what would make you perceive, [O Muhammad], that perhaps he might be purified. Or be reminded and the remembrance would benefit him? As for he who thinks himself without need. To him you give attention. And not upon you [is any blame] if he will not be purified. But as for he who came to you striving [for knowledge]. While he fears [Allah], From him you are distracted.
The Messenger (saw) was the Mercy of Universe, still he had slight error and Allah (SWT) reprimanded him with this verse. And all these examples show us that whenever there are errors or mistakes we should not be quick to judge a person as bad. This is the Quranic perception. That is why our perception is important. We have to question our perception of the sin and the sinner before making any judgment.
The Errors of the Companions
When we look at the life of the companions here too we can see the Messenger’s (saw) perspective in this matter. For example, in the case of Maiz al Aslami (ra). Once he appeared before the Messenger (saw) and bore witness against himself four times that he had committed adultery with a woman. Everytime he made his statement the Messenger (saw) turned his face away from Maiz. After the fourth time, the Messenger (saw) took action and he was ordered to be stoned to death. Later on, the Messenger (saw) heard a companion say to another, “See Maiz, he disclosed the matter, even though Allah covered the matter, and so he was stoned like a dog”.
The Messenger (saw) however kept quiet and continued walking. After a certain distance the Messenger (saw) arrived to a place where there was a dead donkey with one of its legs sticking up. Seeing this, the Messenger (saw) asked, “Where are so-and-so” (i.e. the two men talking about Maiz). They replied, “We are here”. The Messenger (saw) told them to eat the dead donkey. But they replied, “May Allah forgive you O Messenger of Allah! Who can eat a dead donkey?”. Thereupon the Messenger (saw) observed, “What both of you said by mud-slinging your brother (Maiz) is more disgusting than eating this dead donkey. By the One who holds my life, he (Maiz) is now diving into the canals of paradise”.
We know that adultery and fornication (zina) is a serious sin in Islam, however we should not hate the sinner that commits it because when a person commits a sin, it is between them and Allah (SWT). We should hate the sin but we should embrace the sinner and guide them back to the right path because the sin is only one part of his life, it does not define the whole person. He is still the servant of Allah (SWT).
In another example, take the case of Julaybib (ra). When he was 17 years old he committed sin in sexual nature. Everytime he did this he would be punished by the community. One day he went to the Messenger (saw) asking for advice. He said: “I cannot control myself anymore O Messenger of Allah, please give me permission I want to fornicate.” The Messenger (saw) said, “Don’t you have a mother? A sister? Surely you don’t want your mother or your sister to fornicate do you?”. Julaybib started crying upon hearing this.
At the time when Julaybib posted his question to the Messenger (saw) there were other companions in the room and overheard and they were very upset and angry at Julaybib. The Messenger (saw) shook his head and put his hand on his heart and made dua for Julaybib. The Messenger (saw) later found a woman for Julaybib to get married with. He became a devoted servant of Allah (SWT) and beloved companion of the Messenger (saw). He gained respect and affection from the Messenger (saw), for his sincerity, integrity and strong Islamic belief. Julaybib earned the honor he yearned and became one of the most valued companions of the Messenger (saw).
When Julaybib died in a battle the Messenger (saw) stood over him and said, “He killed seven and then was killed? This man is of me and I am of him.” He repeated this two or three times. The Messenger (saw) then took him in his arms and it is said that he had no better bed besides the forearms of the Messenger of Allah. The Messenger (saw) then dug for him a grave, and himself placed him in it.
One more example is about the Ansar people. They were the best people of mankind. Allah says:
(Surah ‘Ali ‘Imran, 3:110) “You are the best of peoples ever raised for mankind, you enjoin good and forbid evil, and you believe in Allah.”
(Surah At-Tawbah, 9:100) “And the first to embrace Islam of the Muhajiroon (the Emigrants from Makkah) and the Ansar (the citizens of Al-Madeenah who helped the Muhajiroon) and also those who followed them exactly (in Faith). Allah is well-pleased with them as they are well pleased with Him. He has prepared for them Gardens under which rivers flow, to dwell therein forever. That is the supreme success.”
However, one day a caravan came from Syria when the Messenger (saw) was giving khutbah in a mosque and many of them came out to rush and buy supplies from the caravan because of the scarcity situation at that time. Only 12 men were left in the mosque and that made the Messenger (saw) angry. This was a mistake by the companions. Allah (SWT) then warned them with this verse:
(Surah Al-Jumu’ah, 62:11) “But when they saw a transaction or a diversion, [O Muhammad], they rushed to it and left you standing. Say, "What is with Allah is better than diversion and than a transaction, and Allah is the best of providers.”
The mistake was done but that did not make the people bad. They repented to Allah (SWT). The same case happened during a battle when the soldiers dispersed to collect war booty. Allah (SWT) warned them in:
(Surah ‘Ali ‘Imran, 3:152) “And Allah had certainly fulfilled His promise to you when you were killing the enemy by His permission until [the time] when you lost courage and fell to disputing about the order [given by the Prophet] and disobeyed after He had shown you that which you love. Among you are some who desire this world, and among you are some who desire the Hereafter. Then he turned you back from them [defeated] that He might test you. And He has already forgiven you, and Allah is the possessor of bounty for the believers.”
So, in the perspective of Al-Qur’an and Sunnah, we have to look at the sin and sinner apart from each other. It is clear that we should despise the sin, nevertheless never reject the sinner because we have the duty to embrace and guide him back to the truth. That is why faith plays an important role here. Faith is like a mountain whereas errors or mistakes or sins are just like gravels and stones. Committing a sin does not constitute the collapse of faith (with the exception of shirk).
Looking at sin also requires us to take into consideration the sinner’s circumstance. For instance, at the time of the Messenger (saw) a poor man entered a garden and stole some dates. The landowner caught him and brought him to the Messenger (saw) for punishment. However the Messenger (saw) response was anything but. He said to the landowner, “He was ignorant and you didn’t teach him, and he was hungry and you didn’t feed him”.
Meanwhile in another incident a woman from a well-to-do family stole some jewelry. One of the companions, Usama, asked the Messenger (saw) to forgive the man. The Messenger (saw) was angry at this and asked, “Are you asking me to change the law of Allah?” The Messenger (saw) then rose and delivered a sermon in which he said that the people of earlier days were ruined due to their inability to prosecute the rich and reputed, and their promptness to prosecute the poor. He said, “I swear by Allah even if Fatimah, the daughter of Muhammad stole I would punish her with my own hands.”
When we look at these two incidents, the sin or crime was the same but it occurred in different circumstances. Thus we should despise the sin itself but treat the sinner according to appropriate reproach or punishment.
Approach to Punishment for a Sin
Notwithstanding the circumstance of the sinner, the approach to punishment for a sin or crime should not be biased or be favorable between believers and non-believers. A sin or crime is an immoral act or omission considered to be a transgression against divine law and is punishable by law no matter what faith we believe it. The Qur’an and Sunnah do not favor the believer from the pagan when injustice and harm are done.
For example in the time of the Messenger (saw), Tu’me bin Ubeyrik from Ansar (Madinah) stole Katade Bin Numan's armour in the sack then hid it near a Jew, Zayd bin Samin. He then accused Zayd of the theft. Flour had been poured out of the sack so people followed the track and reached to house of the Jew. The Messenger (saw) nearly believed that Zayd was guilty, but Allah (SWT) sent down the following verse:
(Surah An-Nisa’, 4:105) Indeed, We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth so you may judge between the people by that which Allah has shown you. And do not be for the deceitful an advocate.”
Therefore the innocence of the Jew was understood.
The same message was also depicted during an incident involving Hatib bin Abi Balta’ah. Hatib had children and wealth in Makkah, but he was not from the tribe of Quraysh. When the Messenger (saw) decided to conquer Makkah, after its people broke the peace treaty between them, he ordered the Muslims to mobilize their forces to attack Makkah, and then said, “O Allah! Keep our news concealed from them.” Hatib thought that he had better send a letter to the leaders of Makkah, with a woman from the tribe of Quraysh (Sarah, a servant of Abu Lahab), informing them of the Messenger's intent to attack them. He wanted them to be indebted to him so that they would grant safety to his family in Makkah.
This was a severe mistake. However, the letter was intercepted of course after a revelation came from Allah (SWT). When confronted by the Messenger (saw), Hatib pleaded, “By Allah, I have faith in Allah and His Apostle. I have never doubted, but I am a man who has close relatives and family in Mecca. I therefore wished to do the people of Quraysh a good turn in order that they in turn act kindly towards my family.”
Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra) was so angry he said, “O Allah's Messenger! Allow me to chop off the head of this hypocrite!”
The Messenger (saw) replied, “He attended the battle of Badr. What can I tell you, perhaps Allah looked at those who attended Badr and said, "O the people of Badr, do what you like, for I have forgiven you.” At the end the Messenger (saw) said to Hatib, “I have pardoned your crime. Seek forgiveness of your Lord, therefore, and do not commit such an act again.” Allah then sent down:
(Surah Al-Mumtahanah, 60:1) “O you who have believed, do not take My enemies and your enemies as allies, extending to them affection while they have disbelieved in what came to you of the truth, having driven out the Prophet and yourselves [only] because you believe in Allah , your Lord. If you have come out for jihad in My cause and seeking means to My approval, [take them not as friends]. You confide to them affection, but I am most knowing of what you have concealed and what you have declared. And whoever does it among you has certainly strayed from the soundness of the way.”
People do Change and Repent
In a book titled ‘Crime and Punishment’ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, he tells a story of Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished ex-student who commits the henious crime of killing two women. If we read the first 30 pages of the book, we will quickly judge him to be a monster. However, if we read the whole book we will see that he is actually a good person. Though there is no proof to his crime, it does bother his conscience and Raskolnikov surrenders to the authority and is sentenced to eight years of penal servitude in Siberia. It is only after some time in prison that his redemption and moral regeneration begin. He struggles through his inner demons and comes out a better man.
When we look at history, they are many people that appear to be bad but people can change. We should not judge and condemn the sinner for good for the rest of their life. We should never underestimate people because of the way they are as every individual has the capacity to become a good servant of Allah. It is only Allah who guides; we can only try with kindness to reach out to their hearts.
(Surah Al-Furqan, 25:70) “Except for those who repent, believe and do righteous work. For them Allah will replace their evil deeds with good. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.”
Human beings can never, ever reach a state in which they will not commit sins. Allah (SWT) has ordained the nature of man to be fallible. Those, whom Allah has blessed with higher ranks of righteousness and piety, can reach a level, in which the magnanimity and regularity of their sins is greatly reduced, but no believer can ever rest at peace about not committing a sin in the future. Therefore, the wise believer takes proactive steps in order to minimize the regularity and severity of the sins he commits.
It is important that we understand that sin itself is wrong and evil. Sinning is a way of Satan and he shall not stop ever to the end of time from encouraging and whispering to the human kind to sin. And human beings are by nature created weak. Allah (SWT) created ‘man with weakness’; thus He knows and we should know that ‘to err is human’, and ‘no one is perfect’.
However, if Allah (SWT) can forgive a sinning person, why can't we? Why shouldn't we? We must not turn our back to the sinner, we must allow them to change and give opportunity to them to repent. We are the servant of Allah (SWT), and that fact must be taken into consideration because the sin that we commit does not make us a doomed being for eternity.
This is where repentance comes to place and it is the utmost important obligation for us Muslims. Any sin, no matter how major, is expiated by sincere and proper repentance. Hate the sin but give the sinner the benefit of doubt. Allah (SWT) loves those to repent for He is All-Forgiving and the Most Merciful. His Mercy overtakes His punishment and anger:
(Surah Ash-Shuraa, 42:25) “And it is He who accepts repentance from his servants and pardons misdeeds, and He knows what you do.”
Anas (ra) said that he heard the Messenger (saw) say: “Allah the Exalted said: “O son of Adam! As long as you invoke Me and plead to Me, I will forgive you whatever you have committed, and I will not make much of it. O son of Adam! If your evil deeds reach the borders of the sky, and then you ask Me for forgiveness, I will forgive you. O son of Adam! If you bring forth the earth full of errors, then you meet Me while you do not associate anything (or anyone) with Me, I will bring forth for you its full of forgiveness.” [At-Tirmidhi]
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- http://www.quransynonyms.com & http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_views_on_sin