Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Question: If one commits some sin, lets say he/she killed someone or committed zina. The person is truly sorry and makes sincere istighfaar and never does this again. Is it true that if asked sometime in the future if has ever previously committed murder/zina he can say NO? So in other words, does making sincere istighfaar wipe your slate clean so that if asked about it one can answer as if he/she has never done the sin in question?
Answer: In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
Sins are wiped out by sincere repentance. However, if they relate to the rights of another, this right has to be returned. Killing is especially dangerous because taking the life of another is a wrong which cannot be returned in this life. As such, one’s repentance should be coupled with a true turning to Allah, lest the one killed demand requital on the Day of Judgment.
Talking About Sins
It is prohibited (haram) and sinful to talk about sins, whether current or past, except when there is a Shariah-countenanced reason. Even when such a reason exists, if it is possible to mention something general (such as not mentioning oneself or any particular type of sins) then mentioning specific sins would remain sinful. This is because it is:
(1) obligatory to avoid vain talk [defined below] and
(2) obligatory to conceal one’s sins.
Imam Barkawi said in his al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya,
“Talking about the vain is to talk about sins [K: one’s own or others’], such as talking about gatherings of drinking, or the fornicators, without there being a valid reasons. This is because it is revealing sin, whether one’s own or another’s, without a [K: religiously valid] reason.” [al-Bariqa al-Mahmudiyya Sharh al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya, 3: 224-225]
Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) reports that the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him) said, “All my Community will be excused except those who are blatant. And it is from blatancy for one to perform an act at night and to wake up and tell something that they did such-and-such, while Allah had concealed it for them. They slept under the cover of Allah, and they rended Allah’s covering from themselves in the morning.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
What if I am asked whether I did such and such?
Given this, if someone asks one whether one used to do drink, for example, in the bad old days, one cannot answer in the affirmative. Rather, one should answer by an indirect answer, like, “Why would any Muslim drink?” Or, “Alhamdulillah, Allah protected me from that,” intending that Allah protected one after one stopped. If such an indirect answer does not come to one’s mind, it would be permitted (or, rather, necessary) to lie and deny this.
The reason why it is so important not to talk about sin is because of what sin is: it is that which Allah hates, and may punish its doer for in the Hereafter. Sins go against the very purpose of the creation of humanity, which is to know and worship Allah. If you examine sins, all of them either entail or lead to social harms.
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Believers see their sins as if they were sitting at the foot of a mountain and feared that it may fall on them, while the corrupt see their sins as if they were a mere fly that flew by their nose.” [Bukhari and Muslim] Sins are something extremely grave. The believer fears even getting close to sinning, because of their firm belief, sincere devotion, and true love.
When people start talking about sins, they lose their gravity and people start thinking (even if only subconsciously) that it is not all that bad to sin. For example, if one missed praying Fajr, one must feel remorseful. This remorse would lead to repentance and a determination not to make the same mistakes again. However, if one went to the breakfast table, and everyone was talking normally about how they didn’t get up for Fajr, this sin would feel less grave. Eventually, it would just be the way things are.
Taking Care of One’s Eyes and Ears
This is also why it is important to avoid seeing and hearing that which is not permitted. This is not only the obvious sins, but also reading and seeing things that may affect one’s beliefs or understanding of Islam.
We have been instructed by the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) that, “From the excellence of a man’s Islam is to leave that which does not concern him.” [A sound (hasan) hadith, transmitted by Tirmidhi and others]
The great Hanafi hadith expert, jurist, sufi, and expert in Qur’anic recitations, Mulla Ali al-Qari (Allah have mercy on him) mentioned in his expansive commentary on Mishkat al-Masabih:
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,
“From the excellence of a man’s Islam is leaving that which does not concern him.”
That is, to leave that which is not important or befitting of him, whether in speech, actions, or thought. Thus, the excellence of a man’s Islam is its perfection, such that one remains steadfast in the submission to the commands and prohibitions of Allah, and surrenders to His rulings in accordance to His destiny and decree (qada wa qadr). This is the sign of the heart having been expanded by the light of its Lord, and the descent of quietude (sakina) into the heart.
The reality of that which does not concern him is that which is not needed for a worldly or next-worldly necessity, and dos not aide in attaining his Lord’s good pleasure, such that it is possible to life without it.
This includes excess acts and unnecessary speech. This hadith may well be taken from Allah Most High’s saying, “And who shun all vain things.” [Qur’an, 23: 3; f: Imam Baydawi explains vain things in his Tafsir as being: “that which does not concern them of speech and actions”]
And it has been related in a Prophetic hadith that, “The people of the Garden will not remorse except for moments that passed them by without remembering Allah.” [Tabarani from our master Mu`adh (may Allah be pleased with him)].
So glad tidings to one who takes himself to account before he is taken to account!
Allah Most High has said, “O you who believe! Observe your duty to Allah. And let every soul look to that which it sends on before for the morrow. And observe your duty to Allah! Lo! Allah is Informed of what you do. And be not you as those who forgot Allah, therefore He caused them to forget their souls. Such are the wrongdoers.” (Qur’an, 59: 18)
Awza`i said, “`Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz wrote to us, ‘Whoever is frequent in remembering death is content with but a little of this world. And whoever counts his speech from his actions speaks little except in that which benefits him.’” [Mulla Ali al-Qari, Mirqat al-Mafatih, 8: 585 #4840]
And Allah alone gives success.