Does committing a major sin make a person an unbeliever?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

َمَنْ لَمْ يَحْكُمْ بِمَٓا اَنْزَلَ اللّٰهُ فاُولٰٓئِكَ هُمُ الْكَافِرُونَ  “If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) Unbelievers.” (al-Maida, 44)

One of the most debated issues in the Islamic history is the state of a person who commits major sins. According to Kharijites, major sins make a person an unbeliever and those who commit such sins are people of Hell. According to them, there is no level between belief and unbelief and deed is a part of belief. Some people living today also hold the same view though they do not say, “We are Kharijites.”

We regard it useful to attract attention to the following points regarding the issue:

-Man is a being that tends to sin. He is apt to follow Satan by being defeated by his soul. However, the door of repentance is open until a person dies. Therefore, it is an excessive judgment to accept that a person who commits a sin becomes an unbeliever. A sinful believer is called a “fasiq”, not an “unbeliever (kafir)”.  

-Eternal Hell is for unbelievers. A believer whose sins are more than his thawabs does not stay in Hell forever; he will exit Hell after he pays the penalty.

Belief can be likened to the roots of a tree and deeds to its fruits. If the roots are weak, the fruits will be few and feeble. Similarly, deficiency in deeds indicates weak belief. There are so many drinkers who want to give up; they regret it and beg Allah by saying, “O Allah! Save me from being a drunkard!” We have no right to call such people “unbelievers”. However, if a person commits major sins easily and without regretting, it is clear that such a person has no share from belief.  

-When a person commits sins by being deceived by the soul and Satan, he does not become an unbeliever but if he does not accept that what he commits is a sin, he becomes an unbeliever. For instance, a person who takes alcoholic drinks does not become an unbeliever because of drinking. However, if a person who does not take alcohol says, “alcoholic drinks are not haram”, he becomes an unbeliever because it is stated by the Quran that alcoholic drinks are haram. A person exits the religion of Islam when he does not accept any decree of the Quran.

-Man should be tolerant toward others but strict toward his soul. Seeing his own mistakes and faults should prevent him from seeing the mistakes and faults of others.

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