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What is the Criterion with regards to the Greater Sins?

By: Ayatullah al-Uzma Nasir Makarim Shirazi
In connection with the greater sins, reference to which has been made in several verses of the Noble Qur`an[145], there have been many views by commentators on the one hand and the scholars of traditions and the jurists on the other.
Some have regarded all sins as being greater sins; this is because against Allah, the Mighty, every sin is enormous.
Others are of the opinion that the concept of lesser and greater, employed in connection with sins, is relative in nature. Every sin, in comparison to a more serious sin is looked upon as being lesser while in comparison to a less serious sin, as great.
Some believe that Allah's (s.w.t.) warning, in the Qur`an, of chastisement with respect to a sin, serves as a criterion for that sin to be considered great.
Occasionally it has also been said that every sin which necessitates the implementation of legal (religious) penalty is a greater sin.
However, in view of the fact that the term 'great' indicates upon the enormity of the sin, the best description for it would be every sin, which happens to possess one of the following, can be regarded as a greater sin:
The sins with respect to which Allah (s.w.t.) has issued a warning of chastisement.
Sins that have been regarded by the Imams and the traditions as being grave.
Sins that have been regarded by religious sources to be more severe than sins that are known to be of the greater sins.
And finally, sins, which the authentic traditions expressly state to be great.
The greater sins that are mentioned in the Islamic traditions vary in number. In some traditions, they are said to be seven in number (killing a soul, being disowned by the parents, usury, returning to the land of kufr after emigrating from it, falsely accusing a chaste woman of adultery, misappropriating the property of orphans and flight from jihad.)[146]
Some other traditions have enumerated them to be seven in number with the difference being that 'being disowned by the parents' has been substituted by:

.
All (those sins) for which Allah (s.w.t.) has made (the punishment of) Hell mandatory.
In some, their number is seen to be ten, while in others it is 19 and in yet others the figure is much higher.[147]
This difference in their figure stems from the fact that all the greater sins are not uniform and similar - some are more serious and grave than the others, or in other words, they are Akbar al-Kabair (greatest of the greater sins) and thus, there is no conflict or contradiction amongst them.[148]
Notes:
[145] Suratul Nisa` (4), Verse 31; Suratul Shura (42), Verse 37, and the verses presently under consideration.
[146] Wasa`il ash-Shi'a, vol. 11, Chapter Abwabu Jihad al-Nafs, Chapter 46, no. 1
[147] For further explanation, refer the above source (Chapter 46 from Abwabu Jihad al-Nafs). Thirty seven traditions, which enumerate and specify the Greater sins, have been mentioned there.
[148] Tafsir-e-Namuna, vol. 22, pg. 541

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