How human Mistakes are Viewed By the Qur'an and Sunnah

 

 

 

The Qur’an urges the believers to avoid mistakes and sins.  It even institutionalizes punishments for certain sins.  Muslims, therefore, usually view these wrongdoings as horrible behavior.  They try their best (correctly) to avoid them but they usually do not hesitate to blame the sinner harshly or even cut off relationship with him/her. This harsh treatment violates another Qur’anic command to extend mercy and tolerance to fellow Muslims and humans.

 

The Qur’an and Sunnah (what prophet Muhammad said and did) reserve a different view of human mistakes.  It entails that mistakes and sins can be opportunities for improving the individual’s commitment to the faith of Allah (swt).  This is a rather positive and constructive view.

 

The Qur’an hints to an important fact regarding human development.  Allah (swt) does not expect us to be perfect right from the beginning.  Instead, He wants to see us grow in faith and commitment towards perfection.  Earthly life is presented in the Qur’an as a phase in which we are bound to make mistakes but we are supposed to learn from them and improve ourselves accordingly “successful are those who purify their souls and unsuccessful are those who corrupt their souls” (91:9).

 

The Qur’an mentions repeatedly that Allah (swt) allows people to make mistakes but He also desires to see them realizing the horrible consequences of those mistakes so that they may return to Him in repentance.  “Corruption did appear on land and sea because of (the evil) that has been done by people’s hands, so that Allah may make them taste a part (of the pain) that they have causes, in order for them to return (to Allah).” (30:41).

 

“Corruption” in this verse refers to people’s sins and wrongdoings.  If the sinner eventually suffers the painful consequence of what he did, then, he may turn to Allah (swt) with regret and repentance.  And that is how he will grow in faith!

 

People learn from their mistakes.  It is one thing to avoid wrongdoings because we have been told so; but it is quite another thing to avoid them because we have personally experienced their harmful consequences. It is like a child who is told repeatedly not to touch the hot surface of a stove but he learns not to touch it only when he touches it and has his fingers burnt.  That is the Wisdom of Allah (swt) in allowing his servants to make mistakes.

 

The value of learning from mistakes in order to support our growth in faith cannot be overemphasized in the sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh).  He confirmed this view in a hadith (A Prophet Muhammad Saying) (narrated in Sahih Muslim, one of the most trusted Islamic books): “By Allah, if mankind ceased sinning, God would replace them with other people who would continue to sin and repent and gain God’s forgiveness”.

 

This hadith opens up a whole new perspective on how mistakes and sins should be viewed by Muslims.  If committing a sin is nothing but a bad deed that deserves only punishment, then why did the Prophet (pbuh) inform us that Allah (swt) would like to see us fall into sins?  Why did He create us with a potential to sin?

 

The answer is explicitly mentioned in the rest of the hadith.  The potential value of sinning is to eventually bring the sinner closer to Allah (swt) through repentance and seeking forgiveness (isteghfar).  That is the Wisdom of Allah (swt) in allowing us to sin.

 

The above views urge the believer to deal with sinning and sinners with utmost wisdom and tolerance.  This was also the example of the Prophet (pbuh) in a situation when some of his companions did not follow his instructions, let's know the situation:

 

During the battle of Uhud, the Prophet (pbuh) instructed his followers to take certain positions in preparation for the attack by their enemies.  They did that, but at one point during the battle, some Muslims started to feel the imminent victory. As they were motivated by gaining war booties, they disobeyed the Prophet’s instruction and left their positions.  Then, the army of Makkah (the enemies) found a gap through the lines of the Muslims’ army and managed to penetrate and defeat the Muslims.

 

The prophet (pbuh) felt very uneasy about those companions.  Their mistake was huge by any measure.  Disobedience of the Prophet (pbuh), especially in a situation of war was a big mistake.  But what was his reaction towards those companions?  The Qur’an narrates his reaction.

 

Allah says:

 

 “And it is by the Mercy of Allah that you dealt with gently.  And had you been rough and harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from you.  So, pardon them (let their faults go) and seek forgiveness for them and consult them in affairs” (3:159)

 

This reaction holds a very important lesson for us.  The Prophet (pbuh) understood the weaknesses of humans under certain moments of temptation.  He understood what the believer needs in this situation; not blame or a threat of punishment but a gentle approach.

 

He showed lenience and mercy towards those companions after the defeat.  And Allah (swt) commended this approach and reminded him of his good nature that made people gather around him.  If the Prophet was rough and angry with them, they would break away from him.  People who commit mistakes probably need someone with patience, understanding and love in order to be able to help them.

 

Those views and lessons are not meant to be justifications to commit sins but rather motivations to treat each other with tolerance and patience in the situations when human weakness overcomes the desire to avoid sinning.

 

Admitting these weaknesses: the Qur’an brings good news to the believers.  The sinners may not be denied the reward of the paradise if their overall behavior is judged positively by Allah (swt).  The people of the paradise are described in (53:32) in the Qur'an as those:

 

“who avoid great sins and shameful deeds, only (falling into) lesser faults; truly you Lord is ample in forgiveness.  He knows you well when He brings you out of the earth and when you are hidden in your mother’s wombs.  Therefore do not ascribe (claim) purity to yourselves.  He knows best who the God-conscious ones are.”

 

 

SWT: the abbreviation of an Arabic phrase (Subhanahu wa ta'ala) which means: MAY ALLAH BE GLORIFIED AND EXALTED

 

By Mohammad Shokr

 



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