Question: Is it true that there is a hadith that says that if one commits sins in private all of one’s good deeds will be in vain?
Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
Thank you for your important question.
The only thing that makes all good deeds of a person come to nothing is through leaving Islam. There is a hadith that gives that sense those who do good deeds in public but bad deeds in private, and it is authentic, but it means that they did their work out of ostentation. Works done out of ostentation are not good deeds, to begin with.
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘There will surely be groups of my nation who will come on the Day of Rising with “good deeds” like white mountains of Tihama, but Allah Mighty and Majestic will make it all comes to dust (haba manthura).
Thawban (Allah be well pleased with him) asked, ‘O Messenger of Allah, describe them to us and make them obvious lest we unwittingly be of them.’
‘They will be your brothers and they will be just like you, and they will pray at night just you do. However, they are people who while they are in private do all sorts of haram things that Allah has forbade’ (Ibn Majah).
This hadith is sound: Busiri said the chain was sound, and Shaykh Shuayb al Arnaut said the hadith was authentic (hasan).
To take the hadith at face value would mean that people who do good deeds but then do bad deeds in private will have all their good deeds taken away. This is something that we know from the Qur’an and Sunna to be false.
Rather, the proper way to understand the hadith is to say that people who merely show off and fake righteousness in front of others, while they unrepentantly persist in all sorts of vile and licentious acts in private will have no good deeds on the Day of Rising.
As testimony to this interpretation, the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, ‘All of my nations will be forgiven, save but the loudmouths (mujahirin). Being a loudmouth means that someone commits a sin by night, and then enters the morning having had the sin covered over for him by Allah, and then he goes off and tells others, ‘Hey So-and-so, yesterday I did such-and-such.’ Allah had covered up his sin at night, and then he uncovers Allah’s cover in the morning’ (Bukhari and Muslim).
So doing sins in private does not mean that one is a hypocrite and has no more good deeds. Rather, it means that one is sinful and that one should repent because there is still hope for one.
The hadith is sound but doesn’t mean that if a person has committed a sin in private then that person is doomed. Rather, it refers to people who are completely fake and only into religious activities and causes for the sake of prestige or money.
Someone who falls prey to the Devil by themselves should look for good company.
‘O you who have believed, fear Allah and be with the true.’ (Qur’an, 9: 119)
I pray this helps.
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadh Farid Dingle has completed extensive years of study in the sciences of the Arabic language and the various Islamic Sciences. During his studies, he also earned a CIFE Certificate in Islamic Finance. Over the years he has developed a masterful ability to craft lessons that help non-Arabic speakers gain a deep understanding of the language. He currently teaches courses in the Arabic Language