Answered by Shaykh Abdullah Anik Misra
What does the hadith on those who publicize their sin mean?
In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate
The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “All of my Ummah (spiritual community of believers) will be safe from their sins except the ‘mujahirin’ (those who publicize their sins). It is a type of publicization that a person commits a sin at night, and though Allah screens it from the public, then he comes in the morning and says, ‘Hey so-and-so, I did such-and-such evil deed yesterday,’ while he had spent his night screened by his Lord (none knowing about his sin) and in the morning he removes Allah’s screen from himself.” [Bukhari; Muslim]
Two Interpretations of This Hadith
This hadith has two different interpretations. According to Imam al-Tibi, the Arabic term where the whole Ummah is “mu’afan” does not mean they are forgiven automatically of their sins, but it means that they are in well-being and safety from being slandered for their private sins by others. In other words, because most people hide or are ashamed of their sins, their reputations cannot be smeared due to those sins.
However, someone who voluntarily and publicly boasts of their sins – let alone doing shameful sins publicly – is not considered slandered if someone else mentions that specific sin they did not care to hide (without any additional insult or slander). This is because they belittle the right of Allah Most High not to be disobeyed and arrogantly reveal what Allah allowed them to hide, thereby tearing down the veil between them and their sin on the Day of Judgement as well. [Ibn ‘Allan, Dalil al-Falihin]
For example, for someone who openly drinks alcohol or publicly posts pictures of their drinking and has not repented, it would not be considered impermissible slander if someone merely said that he drinks alcohol by his open admission. (Note: this does not mean that discussing even public sins without need is permissible.)
Otherwise, mentioning the sin or anything disliked about another Muslim is slander, which is sinful without a valid legal excuse and intention. [Ghazali, Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din]
I recommend the course “Watching Our Words” on SeekersGuidance Academy to learn more about slander.
Another Interpretation of This Hadith
The other interpretation is that it does not refer to being “safe from slander” at all, but rather those who hide their sins in this world are less liable to be punished severely for them than those who publicize their sins without regard. In this sense, it praises those who take advantage of Allah’s cover over their sins, and they are safer and more likely to be forgiven. [Qari, Mirqat al-Mafatih]
This hadith is not referring to those who ignorantly or accidentally do sin in public or mention a private sin without the intention of publicization. However, one should still not recount their past sins when there is no legal need or benefit to mention them.
[Shaykh] Abdullah Anik Misra
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Abdul-Rahim Reasat
Shaykh Abdullah Anik Misra was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1983. His family hails from India, and he was raised in the Hindu tradition. He embraced Islam in 2001 while at the University of Toronto, from where he completed a Bachelor of Business Administration. He then traveled overseas in 2005 to study the Arabic language and Islamic sciences in Tarim, Yemen, for some time, as well as Darul Uloom in Trinidad, West Indies. He spent 12 years in Amman, Jordan, where he focused on Islamic Law, Theology, Hadith Sciences, Prophetic Biography, and Islamic Spirituality while also working at the Qasid Arabic Institute as Director of Programs. He holds a BA in Islamic Studies (Alimiyya, Darul Uloom) and authorization in the six authentic books of Hadith and is currently pursuing specialized training in issuing Islamic legal verdicts (ifta’). He holds a certificate in Counselling and often works with new Muslims and those struggling with religious OCD. He is an instructor and researcher in Sacred Law and Theology with the SeekersGuidance The Global Islamic Seminary. Currently, He resides in the Greater Toronto Area with his wife and children. His personal interests include Indian history, comparative religion, English singing, and poetry.