"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What does it take to get rid of all those sins?

Notes and my reflections as I read Muhammad: A Prophet For Our Time by Karen Armstrong

Over the last two or three years I've read a number of blogs and comments on blogs written by Muslims. I've read their thoughts on a variety of issues with interest  and have learned quite a lot. I figured it was better to learn about Islam from Muslims rather than only reading Christian sources that might have a bit of a different spin.  :)

One issue I'm not really clear on is forgiveness of sin. I recall my questions while reading the Quran since it seems to imply God can only forgive some sins. (see this post for an example). Muslims told me on other blogs that God can only forgive sins you commit against Him, but not ones you commit against others.  The offended one holds the power in this case.  He must forgive you, but God cannot. 

I recall a few months back Christians were basically laughed at for believing someone like Hitler could have been forgiven by God according to our beliefs.  "Marc" - an American convert to Islam - didn't believe it was in God's sense of justice to forgive really bad sinners.  Especially at one fell swoop.  Like something so silly as admitting your sinfulness and relying on God's mercy alone to save you. You know, that whole Jesus thing most of us Christians believe in.  Yeah, it really was quite an amusing dialog especially when a friend - not Muslim or Christian - pointed out that we were really debating whose God was more merciful! And there I was trying to prove Allah was just as merciful as Yahweh!  It was great!  :)

The reason I bring this up now is because I read this in Karen Armstrong's book yesterday in the final chapter called Salam.

She said when Khalid ibn al-Walid finally accepted Islam he was afraid of reprisals since he and his buddy 'Amr had killed many Muslims at the battles of Uhud and the Trench, "but Muhammad assured them that the act of islam wiped out old debts and represented an entirely new start."  (pg. 196) 
The solution for getting rid of those pesky sins & guilt?

I realize Khalid and 'Amr killed during battles so maybe this doesn't count the same on the sinfulness scale, but still the quote there is that the act of surrendering to God (islam) wipes the slate clean, right? Is this not the same as what Christians believe when they claim accepting Jesus' work on the cross cleanses us from sin?

So God can, in fact, cleanse people from ALL sins and not just some.  I remember when "Marc" made this mocking accusation, I mentioned hajj and didn't Muslims often believe going to Mecca and performing the rituals cleansed them. He said "good point" and others clarified that no, actually, it only cleansed you from sins against God and not others.   A Muslim woman convert spoke up and said she was told having babies cleansed her from sin. So it's all rather confusing to me still, but quite an interesting topic. I like to see what various people think.

I believe from the Bible that God can forgive all sins. When we sin against others, we are, in actuality, sinning against God because each of us is HIS creation and, therefore, His.  (I argued about that in my notes on Sura 71.) Yes, it's great to ask others for forgiveness and I believe we should seek to right all wrongs. But what if we killed someone just like Khalid and 'Amr killed Muslims? Can we go ask those deceased people for forgiveness?  Are we doomed to hell because someone else holds the power of forgiveness and is either not willing or not present to extend forgiveness?

Thoughts on any of this?  Do you believe God can cleanse all sins ... even the really bad ones? Should He? Or is it against His sense of justice?  Where does God being most merciful and compassionate come into play?  How does one balance mercy, grace, compassion and justice?  How do you make sense of all this?


sanil said...

Do you know if sins against others condemns you to Hell in Islam? I haven't really heard anything about Islamic ideas of sin and judgment. Could it be that what they mean here isn't that God will judge and punish you for sin against others, but rather what you did isn't simply erased and you still have to repent and make things right with the people you wronged? Judaism has this idea with teshuva, around Yom Kippur you think over your actions and apologize to people you have hurt. And I think this is even taught to an extent in Christianity - God forgives you, but you still should apologize when you wrong someone. Is it just that Christianity is more afterlife-focused than the other two? Or does Islam actually teach that you will go to Hell for sins against others?

Wafa' said...

you know what i hate most Susanne? is that our relation with God/Allah
is becoming strictly "we should worship him/ accept him, so He will
forgive us and grant us heaven or forgive our sins". It's not a loving relationship anymore. Why can not i embrace Islam because i believe in it !! or i accept Jesus because of his loving message not so my sins would be dropped. I hate this i do something for you adn you do something for me.

but let's put my emotions aside and talk about sins and forgivness :)
(but still the quote there is that the act of surrendering to God (islam) wipes the slate clean, right? Is this not the same as what Christians believe when they claim accepting Jesus' work on the cross cleanses us from sin?)
yes it's the same but the difference -from the point of view of Muslims- is that we surrender to a God not a human aka "Jesus". so we tend to judge you from our point of view not understadning yours. But to me they are the same :)

( A Muslim woman convert spoke up and said she was told having babies cleansed her from sin.) never heard of that before !! but who says i know ALL about Islam. But good point with the Hajj .

As for sinning against others and against God, we are told that people whom you sinned needs to forgive but there are other ways for them to forgive you without asking them to, such as praying for them or repenting to Allah or giving money to the needy with the intention that the reward will be for them. And I am torn between my right to forgive those who sinned against me and to leave it all to Allah. But let me tell you something that not A LOT of Muslims talk about in this regard. even if it's up to you or me to forgive someone who done something bad to you, but you and me are still encouraged to forgive those people and we are even told of great rewards awaiting those who forgive SO who wouldn't want that :)

Nikki said...

@ wafa' - the beginning of your response sounds just like something I'd imagine Caraboska would say. She often stresses that our intentions need to be for the love of God/for God alone...not to get something for ourselves.

I don't have a lot to add myself. Just found it interesting that Wafa', a Muslim, said something that I've heard Caraboska, a Christian, say before. Just brings home the message that regardless of "title" or affiliation, we all have similar ideas about God.

Susanne said...

Nikki, what were you told about forgiveness of sin in Islam? Some Muslims have been told having a child erases all sin. Some say hajj does it. Some accepting Islam. Some say not ALL sins are forgivable unless others forgive you for it. What is your understanding of it?

More to you all later. Thanks for your replies! Gotta run. We have out-of-town company at the inlaws'.

Welcome back, Wafa'! :-D

Sophia said...

I too have heard conflicting things from Muslims on forums and blogs. I thought I read somewhere that any sin - even the very worst ones - could be forgiven by God if the repentance was sincere. This is in some ways a disturbing thought, since that means even rapists and tortures could conceivably be forgiven. But, on the other hand, if God is All-Knowing, then only He really knows what is in a person's heart. And if God is All-Loving, then He must have the capacity to love even the worst of us.

However, I personally think a sincere repentance from the heart naturally precedes real action - praying to God won't erase wrongs that affected others, at least not for them. Trying to make things right with those people and living your life determined to avoid those same failings are natural steps to take if one is sincere.

Lat said...

The Quran says that all sins are forgiven by God except those who ascribe partners to him.So Hitler's genocide may be forgiven by God as The Judge.We are not.Here I'm talking about Godly justice not human justice.

People seem to have different views on how sinning can be forgiven.Because there are a wide variety of acts of sinning therefore a wide range of forgiveness is present.

Say for mothers eg. a hadith that says heaven lies at the feet of mothers.So those who take good care of their mothers will get their recompense in the hereafter.Just like this pregnancy,charity,acts of worship all have good rewards and one of them is forgiveness.And forgiveness is always seen as a divine act and so encouraged in Islam.

Amber said...

Since all sins are ultimately against God Himself - we are created in the image and likeness of God so a sin against a person is also a sin against the icon of God that they are - I think the question of whether or not God can forgive sins against others is sort of moot. At least to me. :)

'Do you believe God can cleanse all sins ... even the really bad ones?'

If God *cannot* cleanse a sin then He's not all powerful, is He? In which case He's not God, and shouldn't be worshiped.

'Should He?'

In my opinion? Yes. If He doesn't make the offer equal - I'll forgive you, but not *you*, then it's not exactly just. Since all sins serve to distance us from Him, in His eyes all sins are essentially equal. One is not greater than another. In our terms sins can be greater or lesser based on the amount of damage that they do to us or to other people - murder is worse than theft, for example. But both are sins (as well as being actual crimes).

'Or is it against His sense of justice?'

If it was against His sense of justice He wouldn't have offered, would He? We may not understand it but it cannot contradict any other aspect of Himself. So.

'How does one balance mercy, grace, compassion and justice?'


'How do you make sense of all this?'

I don't. Not completely anyway. It's an ongoing process of understanding - no one has the whole answer, at least not on earth. :)

Does it go *hard* against the grain that someone like Hitler might have asked forgiveness in the last second? Yes. Then again, he did immediately afterward kill himself (murder, self or otherwise while in full control of ones facilities is a sin - and once you're dead you cannot ask for forgiveness) so I have a hard time picturing any way that Hitler got out of hell. Then again it's not like I think hell is a place with fire and brimstone either - it's the Presence of God when you're separated from Him spiritually. I imagine that's bad enough that you can do without the demons and the pitchforks. :)

Susanne said...

Sanil, when I was reading the Quran a blogger would come by often and explain questions I had such as this. From what I recall, she told me that a person does not have the power to send you to hell for unforgiven sin exactly. It depended on the "scales" - whether you had a lot of sins or just a few. I guess that person's unwillingness to forgive *could* be the tipping point, however, she said there were big incentives to forgive others so it was unlikely that that would keep you from heaven if you were basically good in all other areas. Maybe I completely misunderstood her, but that's what stuck in my mind as Sarira's explanation to my own questions along this line.

I enjoyed your comment and the extra bits you brought into it by reminding me of righting wrongs and Judaism's idea of teshuva. For sure we are to make restitution and make things right between us and people in Christianity, but my question is more about what happens if the other person REFUSES forgiveness despite the fact you are sincerely repentant and want to make things right. Some people are stubborn like that, I think.

Susanne said...

Wafa', that's a good point in your first paragraph. Maybe we have so intertwined the two messages (love of God/forgiveness of sin) that we just naturally think of them together... hmmmm. I'll have to think on that one some more.

Thanks for explaining your POV on those other things. I understand how from a Muslim perspective we are surrendering to human Jesus since that's how Muslims see him. Still I think "Marc's" problem was the thought moreso that God would have the audacity to forgive a reallllllllllllllllllly bad sinner. He just did not believe God would do this so it wasn't so much the Jesus thing he was mocking, but the fact someone could get rid of his sins that easily. But the hajj trip and accepting Islam instance shows to me that is DOES happen even in Islam.

Oh, I just wrote to Sanil about good incentives in Islam for forgiving others and then read what you wrote. Glad you proved my point for me! Really loved your thorough comment. And welcome back! I hope the big move went well! Missed ya! :)

Susanne said...

Sophia, I totally agree. I'm not talking a mere, half-hearted "oops, sorry I did that to ya" apology. I'm talking repentance which is a whole 'nother thing. Loved your comment. You explained it very well. Thank you!

Lat, thank you! I enjoyed hearing your understanding of forgiveness and its role in Islam. Lovely comment!

Amber, I really have nothing to add to what you said. Really enjoyed your thorough answer and I agree with most everything you said. Nicely stated!

Thanks, everyone, for your comments. They were great to read this morning. Yes, I am behind in reading ... but I'm catching up now! :)

Suroor said...

I really don't know. I try to be good. I try to love God. The rest is up to Him/Her. I hope I don't roast in Hell, though :-)

Tauqeer said...

I wanted to write on this but I think my is is same as written here:

There are two kinds of sins, Major and Minor and forgiveness depends on that.

Merely going to Hajj does not award you forgiveness. It is more of repentance being asked that day and sincere apology to Allah for not following His commands properly. Lets say if you start doing same things over after coming back from Hajj, then in my view it doesn't hold any significance.

Susanne said...

Suroor, thanks for your reply! :)

Tauqeer, thanks for that informative link! It seems the list of major sins is quite large. I really appreciate what you shared and how hajj doesn't wipe away all sins if you just go right back to them.

Tauqeer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tauqeer said...

And as somebody in the comments mentioned the concept of sins against other human being and their forgivenes, actually it has more to do with the 'rights'.

In Islam, we have "Rights towards Allah" and "Rights towards His Creation".

In Quran it is said: "And
strive hard in Allah's cause as you ought to strive (with sincerity). He has
chosen you (to convey Islam), and has not laid upon you in religion any
hardship, it is the religion of your father Abraham (Islam). It is He
(Allah) who has named you Muslims both before and in this (the Quran), that
the Messenger (Mohammad) may be a witness over you and you be witnesses over
mankind. So offer prayer perfectly, give Zakat (compulsory charity), and
hold fast to Allah, He is your Lord, what an excellent Lord and what an
excellent helper!" [22:78]

These are basic rights of Allah on mankind. And it is said in sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), that Allah can forgive people of His rights, but he won't forgive breaches of rights towards His creation committed by you.

The rights towards His creature are more of showing compassion towards fellow human beings and animals and to be sincere in dealing with others.

Susanne said...

Thank you for the additional information, Tauqeer! That is good to know. :)

Kind Heart said...

Allah says: “Say: O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah: for Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [Sûrah al-Zumar: 53]

Allah says “If you shun the most heinous sins which you are forbidden, We will do away with your small sins and admit you to a gate of great honor.” [Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 31]

Kind Heart said...

I love that green Oscar you are holding!

Kind Heart said...

Narrated 'Abdullah: I asked the Prophet, "What is the greatest sin in the Sight of Allah?" He said, "That you set up a rival (or equal) unto Allah though He Alone created you.

it is a known thing that if you pray to someone other than God,(eg pray to Jesus) God will not forgive you and that's the only sin not to be forgiven by God.

Susanne said...

Kind Heart, welcome and thanks for your comments on this post. I'm glad you like my picture with Oscar. Two grouches together. :-)

I appreciate your sharing the Islamic point of view on this question.

Nice having you drop by. :)

Tauqeer said...

Hi again, I am sorry I am bothering you again on the same topic, but I received response on your question from an Islamic scholar which I wanted to share.

As for the Khalid Bin Waleed's case, he converted to Islam, therefore his sins were wiped off and this is an established rule in Islam since.

If being Muslim, you kill someone, the only way to get rid of such a sin is to repent to Allah(SWT) and pay 'blood money' to the family of killed.

Generally, you need to ask for forgiveness from the people you have committed sins as such not giving them their due rights is concerned.

Susanne said...

Tauqeer, thank you! It's no bother to hear from you. I appreciate that you took time to ask and post the reply you received. Nice answer! Thanks again!