Is disrespect to parents (disobedience) a bigger sin than fornication?

The Details of the Question

- Allah states in verses 68-69 of the chapter of al-Furqan in the Quran that 3 major sins that will double a person’s penalty on the Day of Judgment are polytheism (shirk), murder and fornication.
- However, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) states in Sahih Bukhari 5976 that the biggest of the major sins is polytheism and disrespect to parents.
- How should we understand it?
- Does it mean that disrespect to parents is a bigger sin than fornication?
- Does it mean that disrespect to parents is unbelief, which makes a person exit the religion of Islam?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Both fornication and disrespect to parents are major sins; they are haram.

Besides, although disrespect to parents is a major sin, a Muslim who commits it does not become an unbeliever; he violates the rights of both parents and Allah. He should repent and win the hearts of his parents.

The verses mentioned in the question are as follows:

“Those who invoke not with Allah any other god nor slay such life as Allah has made sacred except for just cause not commit fornication and any that does this (not only) meets punishment, (But) the Penalty on the Day of Judgment will be doubled to him and he will dwell therein in ignominy - Unless he repents believes and works righteous deeds for Allah will change the evil of such persons into good and Allah is Oft-Forgiving Most Merciful.” (al-Furqan, 25/68-70)

It is stated in the verses and hadiths regarding the issue that the reward for good deeds will be doubled but that the penalty for bad deeds will not be doubled. (1)

In that case - as some commentators such as Zamakhshari and Razi state (2) - it is not meant in the verse that the penalty of a sin will be doubled when it is stated that the punishment of those who commit the sins mentioned in the verse will be “doubled” but it is meant that the penalties for crimes such as polytheism, murder and fornication will be added to one another.

Major sins are mentioned in the hadiths with terms such as “mubiqat (destructive deeds), kabair, a’zam adh-dhunub”.

In various hadith narrations,

- Associating partners with Allah,
- Murder,
- Disobeying parents,

- Devouring orphan’s property,
- Devouring interest (riba),
- Accusing honest women of unchastity,
- Practicing sorcery,
- Fleeing from war,
- Committing perjury
- Dying with so much debt that cannot be paid
are mentioned as primary major sins. (3)

The fact that some of the sins are understood as major sins is generally explained by the fact that those sins are deeds for which worldly or otherworldly punishment is foreseen for the person who commits them. (4)

Therefore, the main purpose of the texts that mention major sins is not to rank them according to their size, but to state that the sins in question necessitate severe penalties. Moreover, the situation of the person or group addressed sometimes affects the mentioning or ranking of the deeds that necessitate reward or punishment in the texts.

From this point of view, it is understood that the order of sins in different verses and hadiths will not show whether such a sin is bigger than another sin.

However, if it is necessary to make a classification in terms of being the biggest of the major sins, it can be said that the biggest sin after murder is fornication. (5)

References:

1) an-Nisa 4/40; al-Anam 6/160; ash-Shura 42/40; Bukhari, Tawhid 35; Muslim, Iman 203-209.
2) Zamakhshari, Razi; the interpretation of verse 69 of the chapter of al-Furqan.
3) Musnad, 2/201, 214; 4/392; 5/413; Muslim, Iman, 143-146.
4) see TDV İslam Ansiklopedisi Kebair item.
5) Ghazali, Ihya, IV, 20.

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