Philosophy & Theology

al-Shawkani_the impeccability of the Prophets

Irshad al-Fuhul ila Tahqiq al-Haqq

min Ilm al-Usul



al-Imam al-Hafiz Muhammad b. ‘Ali b. Muhammad al-Shawkani (d.1250AH)

Translated and Annotated with notes


S. Z. Chowdhury[1]

The Section on: The Impeccability of the Prophets from Sins

(fi isamah al-anbiya’)

Section: Three

Regarding the Immunity of the Prophets from Sin

(fi ismah al-anbiya’)

في عصمة الأنبياء

By S. Z. Chowdhury

Autumn 2003.

“The majority of the people of knowledge (ahl al-ilm) hold to the view that the Prophets are immune from major sins (al-kaba’ir) post-prophethood regarding which al-Qadi Abu Bakr has reported the consensus of all the Muslims (ijmaal-muslimin). Such has also been reported by ibn al-Hajib as well as others of the later Usuliyyun. They have reported the consensus regarding their immunity post-prophethood from those things that disparage their[2] rank and dignity such as moral laxity (radha’il al-akhlaq), contemptible behaviour (al-dina’at) as well as all else that would make them loathsome which are said to include ‘the minor deviations’ (sagha’ir al-khissah) such as petty theft and slight niggardliness. Their[3] disagreement, however, lies in the evidence that purports to indicate whether the immunity [of the Prophets] is a matter established from the revelation[4] or reason.[5]

The Mu‘tazilites as well as some of the Ash‘arites have said that the evidence is indicated by both the revelation as well as reason. This is because [such deficient characteristics] are repulsive [for one] to emulate (munaffarah an al-ittiba‘) and hence it is impossible for such a reality to exist in them both textually and rationally.[6] Imam al-Haramayn has transmitted in his [book entitled] al-Burhan about the different grades of moral character and said: “Most of our Imams adhere to this view.”[7] 

            ibn al-Furak said that it is impossible as it is a requirement of the Prophetic miracle (mumtanimin muqtadi al-mujizah).[8]

al-Qadi ‘Iyad[9] said that this is the view held by the venerable teacher Abu Ishaq [al-Isfarayini] and those who follow him.[10]

            Also, al-Qadi Abu Bakr[11] and the bulk of the knowledgeable verifiers (muhaqqiqin) within the Shafi‘i and Hanafi schools hold that the evidence over its impossibility is from revelation (al-sam‘) only and it is related from al-Qadi Abu Bakr – may Allah be pleased with him – [that he said that the evidence for its impossibility is the consensus upon it and it is also related from him] that he said it is impossible from the revelation and consensus indicates this. He further said: if we were to reply to that by saying it was reason [that proves the impossibility] then it is not something which is thought to be impossible and this is what Imam al-Haramayn, al-Ghazzali,[12] Ilkiya[13] and ibn Burhan[14] preferred.

            al-Hindi[15] has said that this difference is regarding whether the challenge (tahaddi) is linked back to the miracle so if it cannot be linked back to it, then it is impossible via reason.

This is what the consensus has been upon which is their immunity – post-prophethood – from deliberate lying in matters of the Islamic rulings in order to indicate the miraculous nature of their truthfulness [and uprightness]. As for erroneously lying (al-kadhb ghalatan), the majority (jumhur) have said it is impossible but Abu Bakr [al-Baqillani] has said it is possible.

            The reasoning used by the majority is that the miracle indicates its impossibility whereas al-Qadi [Abu Bakr al-Baqillani] reasoned that the miracle only indicates its impossibility if it is intentional [lying] but not if it is due to error although the view of the majority is superior.

            As for the minor sins which do not disparage rank and integrity and are not contemptible behaviour, they disagreed whether it is possible for them and if it is possible whether or not it occurs in them. Imam al-Haramayn as well as al-Ilkiya from the majority have transmitted the view that it is possible rationally and ibn al-Hajib too has imparted this view from the majority. And Imam al-Haramayn and ibn al-Qushayri[16] have also transmitted the view – from the majority – that it does not occur [from the Prophets].[17]

            Imam al-Haramayn said regarding the view adhered to by those who permit it, it is that there is not to be found in the text anything definitive (qati‘) either negating or affirming that but what is apparent is the possibility of it occurring.[18]

al-Qadi ‘Iyad has transmitted from the bulk of the Salaf[19] regarding the possibility of minor sins occurring from the Prophets amongst them Abu Ja‘far[20] and the vast majority of the jurists and scholars of hadith. They said that it is necessary that their warning of it is either immediate (fi ’l-hal) according to the view of majority of the Mutakallimun or, according to some of them, before their death.

            And ibn Hazm[21] has reported in al-Milal wa ’l-Nihal[22] from Abu Ishaq al-Isfarayini and ibn al-Furak that all [the Prophets] are free from minor and major sins and also said: it is that with which we are indebted to Allah for. And this is what ibn Burhan preferred as well as al-Nawawi in Zawa’id al-Rawdah an al-Muhaqqiqin.

            al-Qadi al-Husayn[23] said: ‘that is the correct view according to our companions i.e. the Shafi‘ites. And whatever is found from that it is held over leaving the first.’

            And al-Qadi ‘Iyad said he holds the opinion over that which is in pre-prophethood or that they did it but with a non-literal understanding [of that action].

And al-Razi[24] preferred the view that [the Prophets] are immune if it is unintentional but allowed it if it was due to mistake.

            The [scholars] have differed over the precise meaning of “ismah”. Some have said it means that he who is immune from sin cannot commit an act of disobedience (an la yumkinu al-masum min al-ityan bi ’l-masiyyah).

            Others have said: it is that person who alone is distinguished (an yakhtassa) with a special attribute which necessitates preventing him from proceeding upon [an act of disobedience]. 

            Others have said it is: the ability (al-qudrah) for obedience and the inability to be disobedient.

            Again others have said it is: Allah that has prevented them [from being disobedient] by directing them away from it (bi-iltafihi bihim) and turning their motives far away from it (yasrifu dawaihim anha).

            Others have said: it is the aligning of the servant’s inclination towards conformity and that refers to the creation of the ability to be constantly obedient.

            If you should ask: what do say regarding what is found in the Noble Qur’an about the rank of all the Prophets the first being our Father Adam – upon him be peace – as Allah does say: (And thus Adam did disobey His Lord and erred).[25]

            I say: We have already mentioned the consensus of all the Muslims regarding their prevention from performing major sins post-prophethood. So it is necessary to do an interpretation (ta’wil) with that which departs from the external meaning (min zahirihi) in every manner whatsoever.[26] Such is also the case with what is attributed to Ibrahim – upon him be peace – as in his statement: (And he said: Indeed I am sick)[27] and his saying: (Rather, the biggest of them did it) and his saying to Sarah that she was his sister. These have to be interpreted from what departs from any suggestion of lying due to the consensus of all the Muslims regarding their prevention from [doing major sins] post-prophethood. Again, such is the case in what He Glorified and Most High says regarding the Prophet Yunus – upon him be peace: (And remember Dhu’ l-Nun when he departed in anger; he thought that we had no power over him…).[28] It is necessary to give a non-literal interpretation to it departing from the apparent meaning. Such is also the case with what the children of Ya‘qub had done to their brother Yusuf and such is the case with regards to what is found regarding our Prophet (SAW) in that he used to seek forgiveness from Allah every day and repent to Him every day.[29] So it is necessary that the interpretation refers to something that is more fitting than [the literal understanding].[30]

             As for forgetfulness (al-nisiyan), its occurrence for the Prophets is not impossible and this is said to be from consensus. It is authentically narrated from the Messenger that he said: “I am a mortal like you; I forget (ansa) just how you forget, so if I do forget, remind me (fa-dhakkiruni).”[31] Some have said it does not mean they continually tell him but that they remind [him].

            al-Amidi said: the venerable teacher Abu Ishaq al-Isfarayini as well as the majority of the Imams hold to the view of the impossibility of forgetfulness.[32] 

            al-Zarkashi[33] has said in al-Bahr [al-Muhit]: as for Imam al-Razi in a some of his books, he has apparently reported consensus upon the impossibility and al-Qadi ‘Iyad has transmitted the consensus regarding the impossibility of negligence (al-sahw) as well as forgetfulness in the statements [connected to the] proclamation of the message (al-aqwal al-balaghiyyah) and specified the difference as being over the actions. As for the rest, they held the view that it is possible. And those who forbid it [for the Prophets] gave an explanation of the narrations as being his (SAW) negligence and that he deliberately did such things. But this interpretation is absurd in the light of his saying: “I forget just how you all forget, so remind me.” As for the majority of those who consider it possible (jumhur al-mujawwuzin), they have given a condition for the negligence and forgetfulness and that is the connection of the reminder with the reality (ittisal al-tanbih bi ’l-waqiah).

            And Imam al-Haramayn said: it is possible [for them] to delay an action (al-ta’khir).

            As for prior to the message, the majority held to the view that, rationally, the Prophets are not precluded from either the major or minor sins.

            And the Rawafidite sect said that they are precluded from every sin prior to the message.

            The Mu‘tazilites said: they are precluded from the major sins but not the minor.

            And those who forbid it [for the Prophets] have used qualified and general  evidence for the major sins because the occurrence of sin (wuqu al-dhanb) prior to the Prophethood would be something detestable in them for Allah to send them [as Prophets] as it would undermine the Wisdom of the one who sent them,  and that would rationally be absurd.

            And the Reply to that is: because we do not submit to that and the discussion regarding this particular issue is satisfactorily found in the books of Kalam.”


And Allah knows best.                                                                               


[1] Taken from the 2 vols. 1st edn. ed. by Dr. Sha‘ban Muhammad Isma‘il, Dar al-Salam li ’l-Nashr wa ’l-Tawzi‘,Cairo 1998, vol.1, pp.134-138.

[2] i.e. the Anbiya’ (May Allah bless all of them!).

[3] That is, the scholars of kalam as well as the jurists.

[4] Meaning the shariah.

[5] Imam Taqi al-Din al-Nabhani (d. 1977) states in his book al-Shakhsiyyah al-Islamiyyah, vol.1, p.131 that: “The proof for the impeccability of the Prophets is a rational proof (dalil aqliyy) and is not a proof from revelation itself (dalilan samiyyah). This is because the certainty of a Prophet’s Prophethood (nabuwwah) and a Messenger’s Message (risalah) for the one who sent them is established by reason which is demonstrable via a tangible miracle (mujizah mahsusah). The very fact of a Prophet’s impeccability has to be proven rationally because it is one of the requirements for establishing the Prophethood of a Prophet or a Messenger.

The impeccability of the Prophets and Messengers is a matter that is necessitated by reason (yahtammuha al-aql) because the fact that someone is a Prophet or a Messenger demands that he be impeccable in delivering the Message from Allah since if doubt arises in a person’s mind regarding the possibility of [the Prophets and Messengers] not being immune from sin regarding one issue, then it will have an adverse affect in all issues. For the proof that a person is really a Prophet of Allah or a Messenger sent by Him implies that he is impeccable with regards to the message he is delivering from Allah. Hence, his impeccability in delivering the message must be definite (hatamiyyah) and so denial of it is denial in the Message (risalah) that was brought by him and denial in the Prophethood he was sent with.

Moreover, all Prophets and Messengers are free from error in delivering their message as it is an attribute of the Prophets and Messengers that they are completely impeccable in delivering the message. And it is the attribute which is necessitated by reason that it be found in all Prophets and Messengers.

As regards the immunity of the Prophets and Messengers from acts that contravene the commands and prohibitions of Allah, reason dictates that they are free from the major sins, for sure. They absolutely cannot perform a major sin because performance of a major sin means perpetrating disobedience (irtikab al-masiyyah) and obedience does not admit of divisions and neither does disobedience. If disobedience is implicated in an action, it will render doubt in the deliverance of the Message and this is in direct contravention of the Message and Prophethood. Therefore, the Prophets and Messengers are immune from all Major sins just as they are impeccable in delivering the Message from Allah.”

[6] In other words, serious failings whether moral, devotional or otherwise found in a Prophet of Allah indicate a lack of an exemplary mode of conduct and hence unsuitability for emulation and adoption by others. Reason establishes that it lacks sense and consistency to follow that person who simultaneously combines contradictory properties such as on the one hand condemning lying as a reprehensible practice but he himself commits it.

[7] See Abu ’l-Ma‘ali ‘Abd al-Malik b. ‘Abd Allah al-Juwayni, al-Burhan fi Usul al-Fiqh, vol.1, p.483. He had the title of being the ‘Leader of the Two Sanctuaries’ (imam al-haramayn). He is another of the Ash‘arite giants of the early middle Shafi‘ite period. Also known as the famous teacher of Imam al-Ghazzali. He authored numerous books on formal theology, doctrine and Usul. He died 478 AH; see the Wafayat al-Ayan wa Anba’ al-Zaman of ibn Khallikan, vol.1,p.287 and al-Alam, vol.4, p.306.

[8] The miracle is a necessary condition for the veracity of a Prophet and his Prophethood.

[9] He is ‘Iyad b. Musa b. ‘Iyad b. ‘Amru, Abu ’l-Fadl al-Yahsubi, the renowned Malikite scholar of Morocco and North Africa. He was a Master (hafiz) in the science of hadith and in his time was the Imam of the people of that science as well as the most knowledgeable of men in Arabic Grammar and Usul (Islamic Jurisprudence); he was also an expert in linguistics and semantics as well as history and lineage. He died in Marrakech in 544 AH. See Burhan al-Din Ibrahim b. ‘Ali ibn Farhun al-Ya‘mari’s al-Daybaj al-Madhhab fi Marifah Ayan al-Madhhab, vol.2, p.46; al-Qufti’s Anbah al-Rawat ala Anbah al-Nahat, vol.2, p.363 and Tadhkirah al-Huffaz of al-Dhahabi, vol.4, p.1304.

[10] Imam Taj al-Din al-Subki cites Imam Isfarayini’s position that no sin major or minor issues from any Prophet whether deliberately or by mistake and then concurs with that view, see his Tabaqat al-Shafiiyyah al-Wusta as cited in his Tabaqat al-Shafiiyyah al-Kubra, vol.4, p.260.

[11] That is Abu Bakr Muhammad al-Baqillani (1013 AH), the great Ash‘arite theologian and Maliki jurist in Iraq; one of the main propagators of Ash‘arite kalam as well as orthodox dogma. He famously debated in Buwayhid and Byzantine courts. Wrote many works on kalam and polemics most notable of which is a detailed exposition regarding the doctrine of the inimitability of the Qur’an (ijaz) in terms of its composition (nazm) independent of its rhetorical figures; see The Oxford Dictionary of Islam, ed. by John L. Esposito, Oxford University Press, 2003, p.37.

[12] In his book al-Mankhul min Taliqat al-Usul, p.223 which was written very early on in his life comprising of his notes whilst a student of Imam al-Juwayni.

[13] He is ‘Ali b. Muhammad b. ‘Ali, Abu ’l-Hasan ‘Imad al-Din al-Tabari known famously by the name “Ilkiya al-Harrasi.” He is one of the outstanding scholars in fiqh (Islamic legal rulings), usul, jadal (logic and argumentation) as well as being a hafiz of the hadith science. He died in the year 504 AH. See the Wafayat al-Ayan wa Anba’ al-Zaman of ibn Khallikan, vol.2, p.448; Shadharat al-Dhahab fi Akhbar min Dhahab, vol.8, p.4 of al-Hanbali and ibn al-Jawzi al-Hanbali’s al-Muntazam fi Tarikh al-Muluk wa ’l-Umam, vol.9, p.167.

[14] He is Ahmad b. ‘Ali b. Muhammad more widely known as “ibn Burhan”. He was a jurist of the Shafi‘ite school (but used to be of the Hanbalite school) as well as a scholar in the hadith science (muhaddith) and used to be known for giving very deep and penetrative examples (tabahhur) in matters of fiqh and usul al-fiqh. He died in 518 AH. See ibn Khallikan’s Wafayat al-Ayan, vol.1, p.482; ‘Abd al-Hayy b. ‘Imad al-Hanbali, Shadharat al-Dhahab, vol.4, p.62 and al-Maraghi’s al-Fath al-Mubin fi Tabaqat al-Usuliyyin, vol.2, p.16.

[15] His name is Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Rahim b. Muhammad, Abu ‘Abd Allah; his title being Safy ’l-Din al-Hindi. He was a Shafi‘ite jurist born in India in 644 AH. He travelled to Yemen, the Hijaz area, Egypt and Syria and remained in those countries teaching and giving fatwas (legal verdicts). He was very strong at presenting proofs for his arguments. He died in the year 715 AH. See al-Shawkani’s al-Badr al-Tali‘, vol.2, p.187; al-Hanbali’s Shadharat al-Dhahab, vol.6, p.37 and ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani’s al-Durar al-Kaminah fi Ayn Mi’ah al-Thaminah, vol.4, p.132.

[16] He is ‘Abd al-Rahim b. ‘Abd al-Karim b. Hawazin, Abu Nasr. He was the most knowledgeable son of Abu ’l-Qasim ‘Abd al-Karim al-Qushayri and the most famous of them by name. He was also a proficient scholar and vastly knowledgeable. He died in 514 AH. See ibn Khallikan’s Wafayat al-Ayan, vol.2, p.377, Fawat al-Wafayat of Muhammad b. Shakir b. Ahmad al-Kattabi, vol.1, p.559 and al-Hanbali, Shadharat al-Dhahab, vol.4, p.45.

[17] Imam al-Nabhani writes: “As for the minor sins, the scholars have differed regarding it. Some have said that [the Prophets and Messengers] are not immune from them because they are not considered disobedience to Allah whereas others have said that they are immune from it because it is considered disobedience. The truth is that for every decisive request to perform or leave an action i.e. all the obligations and prohibitions, they are immune with respect to them, that is immune from leaving all the obligations and immune from performing the prohibitions whether it is a major or minor sin i.e., they are immune from everything that is termed ‘disobedience’ and that which is confirmed to actually be disobedience. The exceptions to that are the disliked matters (al-makruhat), the recommended matters (al-mandubat) and those matters considered to be more deserving (al-awla), so they do not have immunity from them as these things do not contravene the Prophethood or the Message anyway. Thus they might perform the disliked actions and might leave the recommended actions for a sin does not result from it (la yatarattabu alayhi ithm). It is also possible they act contrary to that thing which is more deserving because it is simply performing one permissible act over another and because that is the case in all respect and so it does not fall under the meaning of the term ‘disobedience’. Therefore, this is what reason necessitates and requires with regards to the fact that they are Prophets and Messengers.

Furthermore, this impeccability of the Prophets and Messengers applies only when they have become Prophets or Messengers via the revelation given to them. As for prior  to the Prophethood or Message, whatever is possible for all human beings is also possible for them because the property of impeccability is connected to the [bestowal] of Prophethood and Messengership.” See al-Shakhsiyyah al-Islamiyyah, vol.1, p.132.

[18] The point is made in his book Kitab al-Irshad ila Qawati al-Adillah fi Usul al-Itiqad, under the section of ‘The Impeccability of the Prophets’, pp.356-357 where he says: “If someone asks: explain to us the immunity of the Prophets from sin and what necessitates that they must have it, we will respond by saying: Their immunity from sin is necessitated by those who would deny the evidence of miracles (‘amma yunaqidu madlula ’l-mujizah) and this is something we know rationally. The evidence of the miracle is their veracity (sidquhum) with respect to what they convey [from Allah]. So, if it is asked: Is it necessary that they be free from acts of disobedience (al-maasi)? We will reply: In regard to vile acts (al-fawahish al-mu’adhdhanah) implying defects (al-suqut) and a deficiency in religiousness (qillah al-diyanah), then it is necessary by consensus of all the Muslims, that the Prophets are immune from them.

But reason does not attest (la yashhadu) to this, it only attests to the necessity of immunity with regards to that which opposes the evidence of the miracle. As for those which are considered to be minor sins, as will be explained later, reason does not deny them [in Prophets]. In my view, I have not come across any definitive proof in the Tradition neither negating nor affirming them because definitive proofs (al-qawati‘) only come from [decisive] texts and consensus and there is no consensus since the scholars are in disagreement over where it is permissible to attribute minor sins to the Prophets. And texts on the basis upon which foundational principles are affirmed as definitively proven and are not susceptible to a [different] interpretation (fahwaha ’l-ta’wil), do not exist in this case.

If someone asks: If the question is one of probability (maznunah), what in your opinion is most probably true? We will reply by saying: Most probably, in our view, they are possible [on the part of Prophets]. A number of narrations about the Prophets in the verses of The Book of Allah Most High show this. But Allah alone knows the truth.”

[19] The ‘Pious Predecessors’ (al-salaf al-salih) who comprise the first three generations.

[20] He is Muhammad b. Jarir b. Yazid, Abu Ja‘far al-Tabari, the great Imam and absolute jurist (mujtahid mutlaq) who had comprehensive knowledge of all the Islamic sciences equalled by none in his time. Known famously for his unsurpassed, unique and encyclopaedic commentary of the Qur’an entitled Jamial-Bayan fi Ta’wil Ay al-Qur’an (‘The Comprehensive Exposition regarding the Interpretation of the Verses of the Qur’an’); the distinctive feature is that he offers his chain of narrations for each hadith cited therein. He died in 310 AH. See ibn Khallikan’s Wafayat al-Ayan, vol.3, p332; al-Hanbali’s Shadharat al-Dhahab, vol.2, p.260 and Imam al-Nawawi’s Tahdhib al-Asma’ wa ’l-Lughat, vol.1, p.78.

[21] He is ‘Ali b. Ahmad b. Sa‘id b. Hazm, al-Umawi al-Zahiri. He was considered by some to be an expert in the hadith science, knowledgeable in both rulings (fiqh) and jurisprudence. He employed a literal hermeneutic model to derive Islamic rulings from primary texts otherwise he was deemed to belong mainly to the Shafi‘ite juristic school. Some of his greatest works are al-Ihkam fi Usul al-Ahkam, al-Mahalla and al-Milal wa’l-Nihal. He died in 456 AH. See Tadhkirah al-Huffaz, vol.3, p.1146 of al-Dhahabi; ibn Khallikan’s Wafayat al-Ayan, vol.3, p.13 and al-Hanbali’s Shadharat al-Dhahab, vol.3, p.299.

[22] See al-Milal wa’l-Nihal, vol.4, p.2.

[23] Husyan b. Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Marwazi. He was one of the great contemporary and colleagues of Imam al-Qaffal who was one of the knowledgeable men of the middle Shafi‘ite period. al-Marwazi also acclaimed prominence and himself became one of the great scholars in the Shafi‘ite school. He died in 462 AH. See al-Subki’s Tabaqat al-Shafiiyyah al-Kubra, vol.4, p.356; al-Nawawi, Tahdhib al-Asma’, vol.1, p.164 and al-Ibr, vol.3, p.249 of al-Dhahabi.

[24] Muhammad b. ‘Umar al-Husayni, al-Razi; the great Ash‘arite theologian, Shafi‘ite jurist and exegete. He was considered a ‘reviver’ (mujaddid) of his century and unrivalled in his time with regard to the intellectual sciences (al-ulum al-aqliyyah). Authored many texts on jurisprudence such as al-Mahsul but famously authored the gigantic Qur’anic commentary dubbed ‘Tafsir al-Kabir’. He died in 606 AH. See al-Subki’s Tabaqat al-Shafiiyyah al-Kubra, vol.8, p.81; ibn Khallikan’s Wafayat al-Ayan, vol.1, p.287 and al-Alam, vol.4, p.306.

[25] See surah Taha:121.

[26] That is, to construct an interpretation that is independent of a literal reading of the text inclined towards a more non-literal rendering but keeping in agreement with the rules of the Arabic language as well as broader Islamic principles.

[27] al-Saffat:89. The incident is where Ibrahim (AS) told his village folk that he was too weak and ill to accompany them to their pagan festival. He did this in order to remain in the temple and demolish the idols there. For a fuller discussion related to all these seemingly overtly censorious remarks about the Prophets, see al-Qadi ‘Iyad’s discussion in the Kitab al-Shifa, pp.310-314 & 329-336 (Aisha Bewley’s trans.).

[28] al-Anbiya’:87.

[29] From the hadith of Abu Hurayrah, al-Muzani and Anas (RA) that the Prophet (SAW) said: “I indeed seek forgiveness from Allah and repent to Him seventy times a day” and in another narration “one hundred times.” See Bukhari, Sahih, vo.4, p.99; Muslim in his Sahih, vol.4, p.2075, hadith:2702; Abu Dawud, Sunan, vol.1, p.348, hadith:1515; al-Mubarakfuri, Tuhfah al-Ahwadhi, vol.9, p.143 and ibn Majah, Sunan, vol.2, p1254, hadith:3815-3817.

[30] Imam al-Qadi ‘Iyad writes: “… and it has been said that the Prophet’s abundance in seeking forgiveness and his repentance as well as other Prophets [who do the same] stems from [their] keen adherence to humility (mulazamah al-khudu‘), servitude (al-ubudiyyah) and [their] resignation to the fact of being imperfect (Itiraf bi ’l-taqsir) out of pure thanks to Allah for His Favour as in when he (SAW) said upon being granted Divine pardon from the punishment for the wrongs he had committed before and what [he will commit have committed in the future]: “should I not be a grateful servant of Allah? (afala akunu abdan shakuran).” He [SAW] also said: “Indeed, I am the one who fears Allah the most from amongst you (inni akhshakum li-Allahi) and I am the one who knows the most about God-fearingness (wa alamukum bi-ma attaqa).” [Bukhari, hadith:1130 & 4836 and Muslim, hadith:2819-2820].

 al-Harith b. Asad [al-Muhasibi] said: “The fear of the Angels and the fear of the Prophets arises out of high esteem and utter devotion to Allah (‘izam wa taabbud li-Allahi) because they are truly protected from Allah’s punishment (li-annahum aminun).” It is also said that [the Prophets] do such actions in order for them to be followed in that and their people make it an established practice (tastanna bi-him umumuhum) as in what he (SAW) said: “If you only knew what I knew, you would laugh little and weep much (la-dahiktum qalilan wa la-bakaytum kathiran).” [Bukhari, hadith:6480, 6637 & 93; Muslim, hadith:781 and al-Tirmidhi, hadith:2314].

                Furthermore, there is another more subtle meaning in repentance and seeking forgiveness that some scholars have pointed out which is seeking the love for Allah. Allah Most High says: (Allah loves those who turn to repentance and He loves those who purify themselves [al-Baqarah:222]). The commencement by the Messengers and Prophets in seeking forgiveness, repentance, regret and return in every instance was to seek the love of Allah (istida’un li-Mahabbat Allahi) and the meaning of seeking forgiveness is repentance. Allah Most High says to His Prophet  (SAW) after having forgiven his past and future wrongs: (Indeed Allah had turned to the Prophet as well as the Muhajirun and al-Ansar [al-Tawbah:117]). And Allah also said: (Glorify the Praises of your Lord and seek forgiveness from Him; He is ever-Turning [al-Nasr:3]).” See the Kitab  al-Shifa of Qadi ‘Iyad, vol.2, pp.507-508.

[31] This is part of a longer narration found in Bukhari’s Sahih, vol.1, p.82 and Muslim in his Sahih, vol.1, p.400. See also al-Shawkani’s extensive analysis in Nayl al-Awtar, vol.3, p.133.

[32] See Imam Taj al-Din al-Subki, Tabaqat al-Shafiiyyah al-Wusta mentioned in the Tabaqat al-Shafiiyyah al-Kubra, vol.4, p.260 where he cited Isfarayini’s position as being that no sin major or minor issues from a Prophet whether negligently or deliberately.

[33] He is Muhammad b. Bahadur b. ‘Abd Allah, Badr al-Din, Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Zarkashi; the Shafi‘ite jurist of Islamic jurisprudence as well as an expert in the hadith science. He died in 794 AH. See ibn Hajar’s al-Durar al-Kaminah, vol.4, p.17; al-Hanabali’s Shadharat al-Dhahab, vol.6, p.335 and al-Maraghi’s Fath al-Mubin, vol.2, p.209.


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