Why Do We Sin? (And steps for prevention)
Allah has ordained the nature of man to be fallible. We are constantly subjugated to the pulls and desires of this worldly life. While we have the ability to steer our “free will” in any direction, we remain exposed to Satan’s attacks and whispers that can stray us from the straight path. We can counter Satan’s plan of pulling us down with sins by increasing our faith, knowledge, and good deeds and that can then elevate us to a level which can merit our meeting with Allah with bright and shining faces. Alternately, we can ignore Allah’s commandments and burden ourselves with sins thus bringing in darkness and sadness on our faces. As Allah says in the Quran:
Some faces that Day shall be Nadirah (shining and radiant). Looking at their Lord (Allah). And some faces, that Day, will be Basirah (dark, gloomy, frowning, and sad), Thinking that some calamity is about to fall on them (Quran, Al-Qiyama:22-25).
For those of us who believe, the anticipation of meeting Allah alone should invigorate us to straighten our acts and to stay clear from all types of sins. But again, the fallibility of our essential nature makes us either forget or neglect our obligations and drives our nafs (self) to sin. To shield ourselves from misguidance, therefore, we should look at the root causes that can help us become aware of Satan’s tactics and accordingly prevent our nafs from being misguided.
The following are some of those reasons and the divine guidance that can help us overcome the temptation to get into sins.
Lack of knowledge
Lack of knowledge about religious matters and the vast chasms that it creates in our understanding is one of the reasons why many of us engage in sins. This also denies us the know how about the allowed (halal), and the prohibitions (haram). Consider what the prophet (S.A.W.S.) said regarding our responsibility to learn Islamic knowledge that he brought for mankind:
“The example of guidance and knowledge with which Allah has sent me is like abundant rain falling on the earth, some of which was fertile soil that absorbed rain water and brought forth vegetation and grass in abundance. (And) another portion of it was hard and held the rain water and Allah benefited the people with it and they utilized it for drinking, making their animals drink from it and for irrigation of the land for cultivation. (And) a portion of it was barren which could neither hold the water nor bring forth vegetation (then that land gave no benefits). The first is the example of the person who comprehends Allah’s religion and gets benefit (from the knowledge) which Allah has revealed through me (the Prophet) and learns and then teaches others. The last example is that of a person who does not care for it and does not take Allah’s guidance revealed through me (He is like that barren land.)” [Bukhari, Vol. 1, Book 1, Hadeeth 79].
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to see Muslims today who fall in the last category and make little effort to learn such knowledge. This is what Caliph Umar Ibnul-Khattaab had predicted when he said: “Soon the bonds of Islam will be loosened bit by bit, because people will enter into Islam but will be unaware of Jaahiliyyah (ignorant practices that Islam opposes),” meaning that they won’t hesitate to follow them [Ibn Taymiyyah – Majmoo’ul-Fataawaa (10/301)].
Moreover, to excuse ourselves from the obligation to learn more about Islamic matters, some of us rationalize to ourselves that our daily worships may be sufficient for us to live meaningfully. Again, this is one of those traps that many scholars over the centuries had warned us about. This is because worshipping Allah without the basis of knowledge leaves our foundations of faith very vulnerable and fallible. In this context, Ibn Al-Qayyim comments about the two verses of Suah Al-Hashr (16, 17) where an ignorant worshipper based his life on worshipping Allah unknowingly, so Satan seized the opportunity and thus seduced him (due to lack of his knowledge) to disbelieve in Allah [Al Fawwaid]. So, we see that an ongoing effort to strengthen our faith through knowledge is essential not just to protect us from minor sins but also to prevent us from the greatest sin of all, which is to disbelieve in Allah.
A number of us sin not because of willful disobedience but because sometimes we get pulled into the act reluctantly. It is no secret that certain social (and other) pressures tend to push us into committing sins that we normally would not commit. When in such situations, we quiet our conscience and then go with the social flow. This is one of the reasons why the prophet sallal lahu alaihi wa sallam warned us about keeping company that can take us away from the straight path. He sallal lahu alaihi wa sallam said: “A man will follow the way of his close friends, so let each one of you look at who he takes as a close friend.” (Narrated by Abu Dawood, 8433; classed as hasan by al-Albaani in Saheeh Abi Dawood, 4046.)
We should remind ourselves that time always passes and such friends won’t last us for the full journey of our life and they won’t be with us on the day when we are held accountable for the sins that we committed due to their influence. Consider what Allah says in the following two verses about the Day of Judgment:
“Friends on that Day (the Day of Judgement) will be enemies except al–Muttaqoon (the pious)” (Az–Zukhruf 43: 67).
“And (remember) the Day when the wrongdoer will bite at his hands, he will say: O! Would that I had taken a path with the Messenger (Muhammad). Ah! Woe to me! Would that I had never taken so–and–so as a friend. He indeed led me astray from the reminder (the Quran) after it had come to me. And Satan is ever a deserter to man in the hour of need” (Al–Furqaan 25: 27–29).
Let’s, therefore, ensure that if our social circles are directly or indirectly pushing us to commit sins or discouraging us from performing good deeds then we should disengage from such groups and people immediately. By quieting our conscience in the face of social pressures, we also start to slowly regard many wrongs as rights and gradually lose our internal compass of the right and wrong.
Sense of pride and arrogance
Pride and arrogance can lead us to suppress the goodness and common sense within us simply to provide merit to our egocentric agendas. One sign of such an attitude involves engaging in frequent argumentation, disputes, and quarrels simply to push misguided viewpoints. Such an attitude in general stands counter to everything that the Quran and the prophet taught us. As one of the Islamic scholars stated, if faith (eemaan) was simply knowing the facts in one’s heart, then that is similar to Satan’s situation because he was very knowledgeable about his Lord (rabb) , yet his arrogance and pride led him to become argumentative and disobedient to Allah, and in the process became the worst of creatures.
Let’s remember that the prophet sallal lahu alaihi wa sallam associated such an attitude with misguidance. He said, “A nation never went astray after being guided except by means of disputation (Tirmidhi #3253 and ibn Majah #48 on the authority of Abu Umamah).” Consider the example that Allah provides about such people:
And when the son of Maryam (Mary) is quoted as an example (i.e. Jesus is worshipped like their idols), behold! Your people cry aloud (laugh out at the example).
And say: “Are our aliha (gods) better or is he (Jesus)?” They quoted not the above example except for argument. Nay! But they are a quarrelsome people (Quran, 43:57-58).
We ought to, therefore, look within ourselves and see whether the pride in our hearts or the arrogance of our attitudes in anyway influence us to refuse seeing or listening to the truth. For those of us who suffer from such diseases, what is needed instead is an attitude of humility or humbleness that can motivate us to stay calm and open to seeing our mistakes thereby providing an opportunity to fix them. Ibn Al-Qayyim said that a sin that leads one to submission (and humility to Allah in repentance) is preferable in the sight of Allah than a good deed that causes pride (in one’s heart) (Al Fawwaid). That is obviously because pride puts a veil on our eyes and hearts and can lead us to more sins.
Not taking minor sins seriously
Many take minor sins lightly taking it for granted that Allah will forgive them for such sins. As a result, they persist in such sins thereby getting desensitized to the need to address them. Consider the hadith of the Prophet sallal lahu alaihi wa sallam where according to one report he said, “Beware of minor sins, for they will pile up until they destroy a person” (Reported by Ahmad; Saheeh al-Jaami’, 2686-2687).
Some scholars are of the view that when minor sins are accompanied by a lack of shame or remorse, and with no fear of Allah, and are taken lightly, then there is the risk that they will be counted as major sins. Hence it is said that no minor sin is minor if you persist, and no major sin is major if you seek forgiveness .
Abandoning the practice of enjoining good and forbidding evil
One of the reasons why we see sin proliferate is that many of us have forgotten the principles of inviting people to good and stopping them from doing bad. When people live in environments (within the family or other social circles) where advice for the good isn’t encouraged much, it takes away the opportunities for improvements and also lets people develop false perceptions about themselves. As we discussed earlier, Allah has created us weak and as a result staying away from sins requires periodic doses of knowledgeable advice and wisdom. Additionally, Islamic teachings also command us to advise each other on matters of right or wrong. When communities fail to espouse these principles, sins spread more easily. Allah says in the Quran (about Muslims):
“You are the best of peoples ever raised up for mankind; you enjoin Al-Ma’rûf (the good and the truth) and forbid Al-Munkar (the wrong, evils, sins, etc.), and you believe in Allâh . . .” (Quran 3:110)
Malik ibn Dinar said, “We have become accustomed to loving the world, so that we do not enjoin good or forbid evil to one another. Allah the Most High will certainly not permit us to continue doing this, but would that I knew what kind of punishment shall befall us!” Imam Al-Bayhaqi (The Seventy-Seven Branches of Faith).
The Prophet sallal lahu alaihi wa sallam said: “If the people see an evil and they do not change it, soon Allah will inflict them all with His Punishment (Hadith – Ahmed, graded authentic by Albaani in Saheeh al-Jaami’ (1/398).”
However, matters of giving advice should be handled wisely. It is not uncommon to see people getting discouraged (whether in situations of advising or when being advised) due to the manner in which such advice is given. This is because they fail to see the difference between advising and condemning. It was said to one of the Salaf (pious followers that came after the death of the prophet): “Would you love that someone inform you about your faults?” So he replied: “If he does so with the intention of blaming me, then no.” Also, Al-Fudail (rahimahullaah) said: “The believer conceals (the sin of his brother) and advises (him), while the evildoer disgraces and condemns (him).” Similarly, when we know of the wrong actions of believers, we shouldn’t make it a point to propagate their weaknesses to others. The salaf, for example, used to hate the commanding of the good and forbidding evil when it was done to someone in a public forum. Instead, they loved that it be done privately. This is since it is not the goal of the one who is advising to spread and publicize the faults of the person he is advising, rather his goal is only to put an end to the evil that he has fallen into [The Difference between Advising and Condemning by Al-Haafidh Ibn Rajab Al-Hanbalee].
Not knowing the ill effects of sins
Another reason why many people sin, or care little about their sins is their failure to see the impact that sins can have on their lives in this world and in the hereafter. The truth is that if we don’t understand the ghastly nature of sins, we wouldn’t stay away from them. Consider a sample of the ill effects of sins that Ibn Al-Qayyim had explained:
Sins deprive a person of provision (rizq) in this life. In Musnad Ahmad it is narrated that Thawbaan said: “The Messenger of Allah (SAWS) said: `A man is deprived of provision because of the sins that he commits.'” (Narrated by Ibn Maajah, 4022, classed as hasan by al-Albaani in Saheeh Ibn Maajah).
A sinful person experiences a sense of alienation (indifference) with his Lord, and between him and other people. One of the salaf had said that he could see the impact of disobedience to Allah (in some aspects of his daily life).
A person who commits sins sees that things become difficult for him. In any matter that he turns to, he finds the way blocked or he finds it difficult. By the same token, for the one who fears Allah, things are made easy.
`Abd-Allaah ibn `Abbaas said: “Good deeds make the face light, give light to the heart, and bring about ample provision, physical strength and love in people’s hearts. Bad deeds make the face dark, give darkness to the heart, and bring about physical weakness, a lack of provision and hatred in people’s hearts.”
Sin breeds sin until it dominates a person and he cannot escape from it. Sin weakens a person’s willpower. It gradually strengthens his will to commit sin and weakens his will to repent until there is no will in his heart to repent at all . . . So he seeks forgiveness and expresses repentance, but it is merely words on the lips, like the repentance of the liars, whose hearts are still determined to commit sin and persist in it. This is one of the most serious diseases that is likely to lead to doom. He becomes desensitized and no longer find sins abhorrent; so it becomes his habit, and he is not bothered if people see him committing the sin or talk about him.
All in all, let’s remember that for us to stay clear from sins we need to constantly work at building a strong internal frame of reference that is reinforced with knowledge of the truth. This must be coupled with a living conscience that can help us recognize sins when we see them and to have it poke at us should we get inclined to indulge in those sins. Again, reflecting back on the verses of Sura Al-Qiyamah that we reviewed earlier, let’s strive to keep the burden of our sins light when we meet Allah, so that our faces are Nadirah (shining and radiant) rather than Basirah (dark, gloomy, frowning, and sad).
Lecture by Sheikh Dr. Abdul Aziz Al-Qari