The amplifiers of minor into major sins

We often do a major disservice to Allah by judging sins via our own fallible standards; this can cause minor sins to amplify into major ones

Some sins, by their nature, are ruinous. And yet, they are perceived to be small, because of how frequently they are put on display. One such example is that of Ghība (backstabbing). Despite it being a major sin, it will nevertheless feature in most gatherings, whilst few will bat an eyelid.

However, had one – for example – stolen a sum of money, all will be appalled, denouncing his theft in the harshest of expressions. Whilst the latter had stolen from people’s wealth, the former had stolen from their honour. And yet, the reactions are inconsistent.

This happens when people, instead of assessing sins according to what they are to Allah, assess them according to what they are to themselves.

The scholars of Islam are agreed that:

الذنوب تنقسم إلى صغائر وكبائر بنص القرآن والسنة وإجماع السلف وبالاعتبار

“Sins are categorised into minor and major ones. This is by way of Qur’ān, Sunnah, and the consensus of the predecessors and logic.” [1]

Much has been said and authored about the major sins. This piece will focus on the minor ones, address their traits, as well as several misconceptions that surround them.

Defined by many traits

1 | Being erased by avoiding major sins

Unlike major sins that require a conscious repentance, minor sins – amongst other ways – are erased by avoiding major sins.

Allah says:

إِنْ تَجْتَنِبُوا كَبَائِرَ مَا تُنْهَوْنَ عَنْهُ نُكَفِّرْ عَنْكُمْ سَيِّئَاتِكُمْ وَنُدْخِلْكُمْ مُدْخَلًا كَرِيمًا

“If you avoid the great sins you have been forbidden, We shall wipe out your minor misdeeds and let you in through the entrance of honour.” [2]

Good news, therefore, to those patiently restraining themselves from the major sins. Their struggles are noticed, appreciated, and they are actively erasing their minor sins.

2 | Minor sins are passively erased through good deeds

The Prophet (ﷺ) said:

الصَّلَوَاتُ الخَمْسُ، وَالْجُمْعَةُ إلى الجُمْعَةِ، وَرَمَضَانُ إلى رَمَضَانَ، مُكَفِّرَاتٌ ما بيْنَهُنَّ إِذَا اجْتَنَبَ الكَبَائِرَ

“The five daily prayers, from one Friday to another, and from one Ramadan to the other, are expiation for the sins between them, so long as the major ones are avoided.” [3]

So, again, good news to those who are intentional in their worship, having avoided the auto-pilot feature in their relationship with Allah.

Their daily, weekly, and yearly acts of worship are not only adding to their good deeds, but also erasing sins that they may have forgotten about.

3 | Minor sins can grow into major ones

The title of ‘minor’ often runs the risk of being deemed insignificant or harmless by the perpetrator, though it is not that simple.

The Prophet (ﷺ) said:

إِيَّاكُمْ وَمُحَقَّرَاتِ الذُّنُوبِ فَإِنَّهُنَّ يَجْتَمِعْنَ عَلَى الرَّجُلِ حَتَّى يُهْلِكْنَهُ

“Beware of sins that are deemed small, for they gather upon a person, till they destroy him.” [4]

Drawing attention to a much-ignored reality, Imam Ibn al-Qayyim said:

وها هنا أمرٌ ينبغي التفطُّن له، وهو أن الكبيرة قد يقترن بها من الحياء والخوف، والاستعظام لها ما يلحقها بالصغائر، وقد يقترن بالصغيرة من قلة الحياء، وعدم المبالاة، وترك الخوف، والاستهانة بها ما يلحقها بالكبائر، بل يجعلها في أعلى المراتب، وهذا أمرٌ مرجعه إلى ما يقوم بالقلب

“There is a matter that should be noticed: a major sin may be coupled with an inner sense of shame and fear of Allah, where the doer considers it enormous, thus shrinking it to a minor sin.

“Similarly, a minor sin may be associated with a sense of shamelessness, carelessness, fearlessness, and viewing the sin as insignificant, thus amplifying it into a major sin, and may even raise it to the highest levels of crime.

“This is a matter that is traced back to the heart.” [1]

So, what are these accompanying factors that magnify minor sins, factors that are worse than the sin itself?

1st | الإحتقار | Belittlement of Sin

Some will argue,

“It’s only a minor sin. Others are doing far worse.”

In reality, such a statement could only be uttered by one who is yet to harbour any true sense of awe towards Allah.

Such an individual has forgotten that the One disobeyed was no mere mortal, but the Sovereign of the Heavens and the Earth, the Owner of all dominion, the King of kings, who is the worthiest of all fear, hope, love, and glory.

Our predecessors would say:

لا تنظر إلى صغر الذنب ولكن انظر إلى عظمة من عصيت

“Do not look at the smallness of the sin, but consider the greatness of the One Whom you have disobeyed.” [5]

Ibn Mas’ūd said:

إِنَّ الْمُؤْمِنَ يَرَى ذُنُوبَهُ كَأَنَّهُ قَاعِدٌ تَحْتَ جَبَلٍ يَخَافُ أَنْ يَقَعَ عَلَيْهِ وَإِنَّ الْفَاجِرَ يَرَى ذُنُوبَهُ كَذُبَابٍ مَرَّ عَلَى أَنْفِهِ فَقَالَ بِهِ هَكَذَا

“The believer views his sins as a mountain which he sits beneath, fearing that it may collapse on him at any moment.

“As for the rebellious one, he sees his sins as insignificant as a fly which lands on his nose, which he casually swats away.” [6]

With time, however, the belittlement of sin will give rise to the second amplifier.

2nd | الإصرار | Insistence upon Sin

Even the most devout fall prey to Satanic suggestions; thus is the nature of man.

However, the believer’s mark of distinction is that he desists, weeps in regret, and makes peace with Allah soon after.

Even if he slips up many times after this, he repeats the process just as many times.

As Allah says in describing the pious:

وَلَمْ يُصِرُّوا عَلَى مَا فَعَلُوا وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ

“..and they do not persist in what they have done while they know.” [7]

It is only when such sins are accompanied with insistence, where one develops a long-term stubborn relationship with them, that their dangers become catastrophic.

Imam Ibn al-Qayyim said:

الإصرار على الصغيرة قد يساوي إثمه إثم الكبيرة أو يربى عليها

“Insistence upon a minor sin could bear the same weight of a major sin, or more.” [8]

The primary drivers behind such insistence are threefold; these are: Jahl (ignorance), Ghafla (a distracted heart), and lack of Hayā (shyness) of Allah.

The ignorance diminishes the size of the sin in one’s eyes, making it seem unworthy of any bother; the distracted heart causes him to forget that he is even upon a sin; whilst the lack of shyness of Allah causes the sin to become part of his routine, like anything else he does habitually without thinking.     

‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Abbās said:

 لا صغيرة مع الإصرار ولا كبيرة مع الاستغفار

“There is no minor sin with insistence, and there is no major sin with repentance.” [9]

With time, however, insistence upon sin gives rise to yet a third amplifier.

3rd | المجاهرة | Proclamation of Sin

Everyone has skeletons in his closet, but the priority of a believer, when falling weak, is to conceal his doings.

He sees his sins as chinks in his armour, blemishes to his faith, and dirt to his name. And so – with his heartbreak – he veils them.

Such an individual is near to Allah’s mercy, as the Prophet (ﷺ) said:

مَنْ سَرَّتْهُ حَسَنَتُهُ وَسَاءَتْهُ سَيِّئَتُهُ فَذَلِكُمْ الْمُؤْمِنُ

“Whoever is pleased by his good deed and saddened by his sin is the believer.” [10]

Proclamation of sins, however, is the archenemy of the above, where the utter carelessness towards his Lord transforms what may have been a minor sin into a major one.

For example, an ‘artist’ who globalises his sinful habits via his lyrics, an influencer who posts of his/ her religious weaknesses in clothing, appearance, or weekend activity to the online community, or a businessman who markets his Shisha, dating, alcohol, interest-based services, or anything that is prohibited is, at his core, publicly celebrating his sin.

What is the outcome of such acts of proclamation?  

The Prophet (ﷺ) said:

كُلُّ أُمَّتِي مُعَافى إلاَّ المُجَاهِرِينَ ، وَإنّ مِنَ المُجَاهَرَةِ أنْ يَعْمَلَ الرَّجُلُ باللَّيلِ عَمَلاً ، ثُمَّ يُصْبحُ وَقَدْ سَتَرَهُ اللهُ عَلَيهِ ، فَيقُولُ : يَا فُلانُ ، عَمِلت البَارِحَةَ كَذَا وَكَذَا ، وَقَدْ بَاتَ يَسْتُرُهُ رَبُّهُ ، وَيُصبحُ يَكْشِفُ ستْرَ اللهِ عَنْه

“Every one of my followers will be safe, except those who expose their wrongdoings.

“An example of this is that of a man who commits a sin at night, which Allah has covered for him, but by morning he says: ‘O so-and-so, I committed such and such sin last night’, while Allah had kept it a secret.

“During the night, Allah covered it up, but by day, he uncovers Allah’s veil on him.” [11]

Such proclamation of sin, with time, will give rise to the fourth amplifier of sin.

4th | الجرأة على المعصية | Audaciousness with Sin

This is in reference to a brazen audacity that causes the sinner to not think twice about any sin that crosses paths with him, be it a recent trend, the latest ‘–ism’, a shady financial opportunity, or DMs that are welcomed or sent.

There is no second thought, but a bold and daring advance every time.

This is similar to the story of the people of the garden mentioned in Surat al-Qalam, who made a resolve, saying:

أَن لَّا يَدْخُلَنَّهَا ٱلْيَوْمَ عَلَيْكُم مِّسْكِينٌۭ

“Do not let any poor person enter your garden today.” [12]

Nothing was going to hold them back, totally fixed on their purpose:

وَغَدَوْا۟ عَلَىٰ حَرْدٍۢ قَـٰدِرِينَ

“And they left early, bent on their purpose.” [13]

From their reactions to when advice is offered to this category – the audacious sinner – it would seem that they were not believers in an afterlife, plagued with sarcasm, dismissiveness, or even mockery.

This is similar to that arrogant individual who, when he heard the Qur’ānic verse…

قُلْ أَرَأَيْتُمْ إِنْ أَصْبَحَ مَاؤُكُمْ غَوْرًا فَمَنْ يَأْتِيكُمْ بِمَاءٍ مَعِينٍ

“Say, ‘If your water were to sink into the Earth, then who else (other than Allah) could bring you flowing water?’” [14]

…replied in brazen arrogance:

تأتي به الفؤوس والمعاول

“Axes and shovels will bring it.”

So, his eyes dried up and lost his vision. [15]

Whatever that sinful opportunity may be, the audacious sinner will pick it up without hesitation, enjoy it without a trace of guilt, and may even sleep that evening with a perfectly clear conscience.

Imam Ibn al-Qayyim said:

وفرحه بها أشد ضررًا عليه من مواقعتها

“The sinner’s happiness with his sin is of greater harm to him than the sin itself.” [1]

With the claws of the above dug deep into the life of a sinner, the fifth and most dangerous amplifier sets in.

5th | اليأس | Despair due to Sin

Having fallen prey to the above, he finally pacifies any remaining trace of a guilty conscience within himself, via the false pretence that Allah’s mercy falls short of his sins.

So, he continues upon his misguided ways, ignoring all pleas from family, and advice from friends, to reform his ways. 

Shaytān spends a lifetime attempting to detain man by constructing prison walls around him, brick by brick. A brick of lustful gazes, a brick of prohibited income, a brick of delaying prayer, a brick of intoxicants, a brick of fornication, a brick of interest, until a lofty and impenetrable building is complete.

However, should a droplet of Allah’s mercy fall upon a sinner, the walls of this building will come crashing down in a single moment, for no sin can stand in the way of Allah’s mercy, when it descends. [16]

Indeed, there is no room for despair, when the name of our Lord is al-Rahmān.

Ibn ʿAbbās said:

قد دعا الله إلى مغفرته من زعم أن المسيح هو الله ، ومن زعم أن المسيح هو ابن الله ، ومن زعم أن عزيرا ابن الله ، ومن زعم أن الله فقير ، ومن زعم أن يد الله مغلولة ، ومن زعم أن الله ثالث ثلاثة ، يقول الله تعالى لهؤلاء : 

“Allah has (even) invited to His forgiveness those who claim that Jesus is Allah, those who claim that Jesus is the son of Allah, those who claim that ʿUzayr is the son of Allah, those who claim that Allah is poor, those who claim that the Hand of Allah is stingy, and those who claim that Allah is one of three, saying to them all:

أفلا يتوبون إلى الله ويستغفرونه والله غفور رحيم

‘Will they not repent to Allah and ask Him for forgiveness? And Allah is forgiving and merciful.’

ثم دعا إلى توبته من هو أعظم قولا من هؤلاء ، من قال أنا ربكم الأعلى وقال ما علمت لكم من إله غيري

“In fact, He invited to His forgiveness the one who did worse than this: the Pharaoh, who announced, ‘I am your lord, the most high’, and said: ‘I do not know of a God for you, other than me.’” [17]

He concludes by saying:

من آيس عباد الله من التوبة بعد هذا فقد جحد كتاب الله

“So whoever causes people to despair from repentance after this, has denied the Book of Allah.” [17]

So what is the solution?

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the weight of sins is not to be measured according to our human standards.

What we may classify as ‘minor’ may be, in Allah’s Eyes, the most major of them, either because of the gravity of the sin itself, or – as shown above – because of accompanying factors that amplify it, factors that are completely invisible.

The only viable solution to this all, then, is a wholesale retreat to Allah and a wholesome apology to Him, as the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) would say:

اللهُمَّ اغْفِرْ لِي خَطِيئَتِي وَجَهْلِي، وَإِسْرَافِي فِي أَمْرِي، وَمَا أَنْتَ أَعْلَمُ بِهِ مِنِّي، اللهُمَّ اغْفِرْ لِي جِدِّي وَهَزْلِي، وَخَطَئِي وَعَمْدِي، وَكُلُّ ذَلِكَ عِنْدِي، اللهُمَّ اغْفِرْ لِي مَا قَدَّمْتُ وَمَا أَخَّرْتُ، وَمَا أَسْرَرْتُ وَمَا أَعْلَنْتُ، وَمَا أَنْتَ أَعْلَمُ بِهِ مِنِّي، أَنْتَ الْمُقَدِّمُ وَأَنْتَ الْمُؤَخِّرُ، وَأَنْتَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

“O Allah, forgive my faults, my ignorance, my excesses in my matters, and all what are better aware of than myself.

“O Allah, forgive my faults of seriousness and playfulness, and those which I committed accidentally and deliberately, and all of these failings are in me.

“O Allah, forgive me those sins that I’ve advanced or delayed, and those which I committed in privacy or in public, and you are better aware of them) than myself.

“You are the First and the Last and over all things you are able.” [18]

Source: Islam21c


[1] Madārij al-Sālikīn

[2] al-Qur’ān, 4:31

[3] Muslim, on the authority of Abu Hurayrah

[4] al-Bukhari, on the authority of Ibn Mas’ūd

[5] al-Nasā’i

[6] al-Bukhārī

[7] al-Qur’ān, 3:135

[8] Ighātha al-Lahfān

[9] Jāmi’ al-‘Ulūm wa al-Hikam

[10] al-Tirmidhi, on the authority of Ibn ‘Umar

[11] al-Bukhārī and Muslim, on the authority of Abū Hurayrah

[12] al-Qur’ān, 68:24

[13] al-Qur’ān, 68:25

[14] al-Qur’ān, 67:30

[15] Tafsīr Jalāl al-Dīn al-Mahalli

[16] Elaborating on this meaning, Imam Ibn al-Qayyim said:

بنى ما بنى حتى إذا ظن **** ان ما بناه وطيد راسخ الاسس محكم

اتى العفو من كل القواعد ما بنى *** فخر عليه سقفه المتهدم

ولو أن ألفا من بناة جنوده*** بنوا كل يوم الف بيت ورمموا

لهَدت بيوتَ الكل توبةُ مخلص *** على ما جناه وصح منه التندم

[17] Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr

[18] Muslim, on the authority of Abu Musa

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