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What Effect does Sin Have On Faith? Suicide in Islamic Thought part 3

Joe Bradford

| 06/12/2018

Introduction and Recap

In previous entries, we covered the primacy of God’s oneness as a core tenant of Islamic belief inculcates in a believer self-accountability. Our acts, therefore, are not without repercussions. We will be judged for our actions, especially those that we perpetrate against others and ourselves, but also those we perpetrate against God. The fear of God’s punishment is precisely to persuade us to repent and admit responsibility for our actions.

Removed from this is the idea of coercion and mental incapacity. When someone is coerced into an act, or his mental capacity is diminished to a level that he is not cognizant of his actions, in this case the person may not be ethically culpable for the action, even though legally there are consequences for that act.

Killing of any type is a sin, and an offense against God’s right to give and take life. This applies even to taking one’s own life, as we mentioned earlier. However, does the commission of an act of sin necessitate one be sinful in all cases? And when one sins, is that sin unforgivable? In other words, if a person were to die by suicide, does that mean they’ve committed a major sin in all cases? Or that if they did they are not worthy of prayers, forgiveness, and compassion?

What Effect does Sin Have On Faith?

As mentioned previously, the act of suicide is sinful. There is however an important nuance to the idea of sin that must be mentioned. While suicide as an act is considered sinful, the one who dies by suicide may not be considered a sinner. A main precept of Ahl al-Sunna wal-Jama’a is that anyone who commits a sin is relegated to God’s will; their culpability and judgement is in God’s hands alone. Tahawi mentions in his famous creed “And we do not excommunicate someone from the People of the Qibla due to a sin – as long as they do not claim it is permitted. And we do not say that sin does not harm those that do them.”

So if a person commits a sin, then we as Muslims do not label them an unbeliever simply for the commission of that sin. A person can be sinful and a believer in the same instance. As long as the person committing the sin does not make it permissible, in the sense of declaring what is “Haram” as “Halal.” And although a person can be sinful as a believer, this does not mean that committing a sin does not harm their faith. Sins decrease faith, and can have a cumulative effect on the person, drawing them ever nearer to greater sins.

What does this all mean with regards to suicide?

Suicide is a sin. Believers die by suicide. There is no contradiction then in someone dying by suicide and being a believer worthy of paradise. Every sinner is still a believer, bar the greatest sin “Indeed God forgives not that partners are associated with him; He forgives anything less than that for whomever He wills.”

The only groups to differ with this were the Mu’tazila and the Khawārij, the latter holding that sins excommunicated those that committed them; the former consider them in a “station between two stations” in this life (not believers or disbelievers) but ultimately disbelievers in the Afterlife.

Thus the outrage, indignation, and lack of compassion that some show to those who die by suicide and their families is antithetical to orthodox Muslim belief.

“Residing therein eternally”?

One verse that is quoted about killing is from 4:93:

وَمَن يَقْتُلْ مُؤْمِنًا مُّتَعَمِّدًا فَجَزَاؤُهُ جَهَنَّمُ خَالِدًا فِيهَا وَغَضِبَ اللَّـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَلَعَنَهُ وَأَعَدَّ لَهُ عَذَابًا عَظِيمًا ﴿٩٣

“And whoso slays a believer wilfully, his recompense is Gehenna, therein dwelling forever…”

The phrase khālidan, as been rendered in different ways. Arberry has it as “therein dwelling forever,” Asad has it as “therein to abide,” Hilali & Khan “to abide therein,” Pickthall renders it “his reward is hell for ever.”  Explaining this verse, al-Jalalayn says “This is interpreted to mean the one who permits (makes Halal) for himself killing.” Others have said that the linguistic meaning of خالدا Khālidan is  ماكثا remaining therein under God’s will, not eternalized, as all in Hell are under God’s will. We can see from this that Asad and Hilali & Khan are more approximate to the meaning of the verse’s Arabic phrasing.

This is clarified in similar verses, such as verse 107 of Surat Hud:

خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا مَا دَامَتِ السَّمَاوَاتُ وَالْأَرْضُ إِلَّا مَا شَاءَ رَبُّكَ ۚ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ فَعَّالٌ لِّمَا يُرِيدُ ﴿١٠٧

Abiding there so long as the heavens and the earth endure save for that which thy Lord willeth. Lo! thy Lord is Doer of what He will. (107)

Therefore all who enter hell are under divine will. and since there is a qualifier for their exit from Hell this would take precedence. What are those qualifiers? Repentance, belief, and good deeds after bad:

وَالَّذِينَ لَا يَدْعُونَ مَعَ اللَّـهِ إِلَـٰهًا آخَرَ وَلَا يَقْتُلُونَ النَّفْسَ الَّتِي حَرَّمَ اللَّـهُ إِلَّا بِالْحَقِّ وَلَا يَزْنُونَ ۚ وَمَن يَفْعَلْ ذَٰلِكَ يَلْقَ أَثَامًا ﴿٦٨﴾ يُضَاعَفْ لَهُ الْعَذَابُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ وَيَخْلُدْ فِيهِ مُهَانًا ﴿٦٩﴾ إِلَّا مَن تَابَ وَآمَنَ وَعَمِلَ عَمَلًا صَالِحًا فَأُولَـٰئِكَ يُبَدِّلُ اللَّـهُ سَيِّئَاتِهِمْ حَسَنَاتٍ ۗ وَكَانَ اللَّـهُ غَفُورًا رَّحِيمًا ﴿٧٠﴾

“…who call not upon another god with God, nor slay the soul God has forbidden except by right, neither fornicate, for whosoever does that shall meet the price (68) of sin-doubled shall be the chastisement for him on the Resurrection Day, and he shall dwell therein humbled, (69) save him who repents, and believes, and does righteous work — those, God will change their evil deeds into good deeds, for God is ever All-forgiving, All-compassionate; (70)”

Suicide is a Sin, but is it unforgivable?

So while taking any life, even your own, is a sin, a person that takes their own life is:
1- under God’s will
2- judged as by his/her circumstance
3- not excluded from the community of believers in this life or the next

I think points 1 and 3 have been discussed enough, let’s tackle point 2. 

Being judged by one’s circumstances in the Afterlife, as we said, is ultimately up to God. What is the status of suicide in this life? There are a number of texts to cite as proof of unequivocal indication that suicide is not only impermissible, but that the one who commits it is indelibly a major sinner. One such Hadith is that of Abu Hurayra in Bukhari “Whoever kills himself with a knife then it will remain in his hand killing himself in the fire of Hell. Whoever sips poison, he will sip it…” with several other acts mentioned as well.” This and others that are general in their indications are tempered by 1) the even more general precepts we discussed in point one, 2) the context of these acts in the Hadith literature. We’ll delve into these deeper soon.

First let us look at one last verse about killing that indicates an nuance to the motive for such killing. Then in our next installment we’ll discuss this verse and others in light of the Hadith alluded to above.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَأْكُلُوا أَمْوَالَكُم بَيْنَكُم بِالْبَاطِلِ إِلَّا أَن تَكُونَ تِجَارَةً عَن تَرَاضٍ مِّنكُمْ ۚ وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ كَانَ بِكُمْ رَحِيمًا ﴿٢٩﴾ وَمَن يَفْعَلْ ذَٰلِكَ عُدْوَانًا وَظُلْمًا فَسَوْفَ نُصْلِيهِ نَارًا ۚ وَكَانَ ذَٰلِكَ عَلَى اللَّـهِ يَسِيرًا ﴿٣٠﴾

O believers, consume not your goods between you in vanity, except there be trading, by your agreeing together. And kill not one another. Surely God is compassionate to you. (29) But whosoever does that in transgression and wrongfully, him We shall certainly roast at a Fire; and that for God is an easy matter. (30)

Verse 29 is an oft-cited evidence of the unconditional sin of suicide. When read with verse 30 however, we can see that the act of killing is conditionalized: whoever does so “in transgression and wrongfully” which indicates motive and premeditation, as this verse wouldn’t be applied to one who was killed accidentally. Ibn Kathīr explains this saying, “One who transgresses what God has forbidden, oppressively, knowing it’s prohibition and audacious in contravening it.” This points to the precept of all sinners being under God’s will that I mentioned before. It also takes into consideration intention in performing an act, even an act as heinous as killing, including one’s self.

When is an act of killing “Oppressive, Transgressive” and when is it not? How then do we differentiate between killing/suicide done oppressively and transgressing?

We’ll cover this in our next installment.

Article One: Suicide, God’s Oneness, and Theological Precepts related to suicide.

Article Two: God’s Attributes, The Sin of Killing, & Is Suicide a sin?

Article Three: What Effect Does Sin have on Faith? (This Article)

Article Four: Is Every Suicide a Transgression?

Article Five: Summary and Resources (TBD)


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