Persistence in Minor Sins is a Greater Sin
By: Shaheed Ayatullah Abdul Husain Dastghaib Shirazi
The fortieth Greater Sin according to Qur’an and the traditions of Ma’sūmīn (a.s.) is committing a lesser (minor) sin repeatedly. Amash relates from Imam Sadiq (a.s.): “And consistency upon the smaller sins” is a greater sin. In the same way Sadūq has narrated that Imam Riďa (a.s.) considered, “And consistency on sins” a part of greater sin. Similarly we have a tradition of Imam Sadiq (a.s.), “A smaller sin which is committed again and again is a greater one. And a greater sin for which one repents doesn’t remain greater.” (al-Kāfi Vol. 4 page 288)
That is, if one commits a Greater sin and repents sincerely there is no punishment for it. But if one does a smaller sin again and again, it assumes the form of greater sin.
Abu Basīr says that I heard Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) saying: “By Allah! As far as a person continues to sin, Allah does not accept any of his worship acts.” (al-Kāfi Vol. 2 page 288)
“If you shun the great sins which you are forbidden, We will do away with your small sins and cause you to enter an honourable place of entering.” (Surah an-Nisā’ 4: 31)
This ayat is speaking about those minor sins, which are forgiven in lieu of avoiding greater sins and performing all Wajib duties. These minor sins can therefore become a barrier in the acceptance of worship and supplication, only when they are repeated often as a result of which they assume the magnitude of a greater sin; the consequence of which is that the other acts of worship are not accepted. There is a tradition from the Messenger of Allah (S) in al-Kāfi that says:
“One of the signs of wretchedness is repeating a sin.”
One of the conditions of forgiveness is that the sin should not be repeated again and again
One of the proofs that repetition of smaller sins turns them into greater sins is, that Allah (S.w.T.) has made the giving up of sin its forgiveness and a condition for entering Paradise. The Almighty Allah (S.w.T.) says, “And those who when they commit an indecency or do injustice to their souls remember Allah and ask forgiveness for their faults and who forgives the faults but Allah and (who) do not knowingly persist in what they have done.” (Surah Āli- ‘Imran 3: 135)
According to Tafsīrul Mizan the word ‘Fahesha’ implies an evil deed and is usually used to connote adultery. Therefore if in this ayat it is used to mean adultery then the word ‘Zulm’ should definitely mean a particular smaller sin. And the words “remembrance of Allah” would then imply that forgiveness and repentance can be achieved only if the sinner remembers Allah (S.w.T.) and turns his attention towards Him with a sincere heart. Merely chanting ‘Istighfar’ in a mechanical way will not avail him. The phrase, “and (who) do not knowingly persist in what they have done,” clearly indicates that forgiveness is only for those who do not repeat the sins.
The consequences of committing a sin repeatedly is that the sinner develops a disregard for Divine commandments and gradually reaches a stage when he thinks them to be unimportant. Under these conditions he has no desire to submit himself to the will and pleasure of Allah (S.w.T.) and remembrance of Allah (S.w.T.) does not affect him. However, this occurs only when one persists in sins intentionally. That’s why the word ‘knowingly’ is used.
The Greatest Sin
Hazrat Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) says, “Beware of persistence on sins, for it is the greatest of the greater sins and a serious crime.” (Ghurarul Hikam Vol. 1 page 151)
Imam (a.s.) has also said, “The greatest sin is one that the doer repeats again and again.” (Ghurarul Hikam Vol. 1 page 203)
He (a.s.) also says, “Persistence in sins is the Greatest sin.”
Muhaqqiq Khwansari (a.r.) explains the above statement of Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) in the following words: It is clear from these that the magnitude of a sin increases until its repetition and persistence in sin is a greater sin than all the greater sins. Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) has also quoted the following tradition: “I swear by Allah! Worship and obedience of one who persists in sin is not accepted.”
What does Persistence Mean?
There is unanimity among scholars that persistently committing a smaller sin makes it a greater sin. A widely accepted view is that persistence is that a person commits a sin, is not repentant, and continues to indulge in it. For example wearing gold or silver (which is Harām for men but is not a confirmed greater sin in Islam) or to look at Non-mahram or to enter another’s house without permission. The Martyr writes in Qawaid that, persistence is not restricted to committing one particular sin repeatedly but it also includes committing different types of lesser sins like a person may wear gold or silk; look at Non-mahram or shake hands with her or embrace her, and not be repentant for any of these acts.
According to some scholars committing a lesser sin with the intention of repeating it again makes it a greater sin. Also, the mere intention of committing a smaller sin twice renders it greater. Shahīd has termed it Isrār al-Hukmi (Implied persistence) in his book, Qawaid.
A group of scholars maintain that not being repentant for a sin and not seeking forgiveness for it is persistence, even if there is no intention to do it again. However, according to my research the last two cases are very unlikely because they do not conform to any of the several meanings of the word, ‘Persistence’.
Two traditional reports in this connection are given. One of them is related by Jabir from Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) in which he is explaining the word “persist” as mentioned in the ayat of Surah Āli- ‘Imran. Imam (a.s.) says, “Persistence means that a person commits a sin, does not seek forgiveness for it and has no intention to discontinue it.” (al-Kāfi Vol. 1 page 288)
So, it is possible that in this ayat Imam (a.s.) has explained the meaning of ‘persistence’ as mentioned in this ayat and not the persistence that is considered a Greater sin.
The second tradition is narrated by Ibn Umair from Imam Baqir (a.s.) and a part of it is presented below to illustrate our view.
“Every believer shall receive the punishment for the sin that he has committed except that he repents for it. And when he is repentant and discontinues the sin he will be eligible for intercession. And one who is not repentant for his sin is one who is persistent on it and one who is persistent is not eligible for salvation. Because actually he has no faith in that which Allah has promised. If at all he had believed in Allah’s promise he would have been repentant.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia Vol. 11 page 266)
In this tradition, like in the tradition of Jabir, Imam (a.s.) has considered the unrepentant attitude and failure to seek repentance as persistence.
Since the subject of Imam’s discussion is greater it is possible that not seeking forgiveness for greater sin amounts to persistence. But repeating a smaller sin is also a greater sin. Besides Imam (a.s.) is speaking about the case where not seeking forgiveness is due to carelessness, heedlessness of Divine commands and feeling safe from Divine anger. And it is clear that if a person does not fear the wrath of Allah he does not seek forgiveness, which is a greater sin.
It is also possible that his failure to repent and seek forgiveness is ‘persistence’ is metaphorical. Thus there is a saying from Imam Baqir (a.s.), “Indeed, persistence in sins is the consequence of heedlessness of Divine chastisement and only those people are the losers who are heedless (of Divine chastisement)” (Tohafful Uqūl)