Will the thawabs of a person who performs prayers but commits sins be more than his sins due to his prayers?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

An approach like "the thawabs of a person who performs prayers will be more than his sins" is not appropriate. Sometimes, a very small sin can cause a lot of destruction in our spiritual world. Therefore, it is not appropriate to underestimate a sin.

Every sin that is committed does not annul man’s worshipping but it decreases its thawabs. Allah Almighty praise the believers who have taqwa (fear of Allah) in the Quran. The first principle of taqwa is to abandon sins. The first thing that comes to mind about taqwa is abandoning haram deeds. They are definitely forbidden.  

It is followed by avoiding makruhs. Makruh means bad and unpleasant deeds, words and states. Taqwa necessitates abandoning what is makruh too.  

Then comes doubtful things. They are near haram like makruh things. Taqwa necessitates abandoning the things about which there are no definite decrees by thinking that they might be haram.

Then comes mubah and halal things. Taqwa necessitates making use of them sufficiently and avoiding extravagance.

The chapter of al-Fatiha is described as “the index of the Quran”. The second verse of the chapter followed by al-Fatiha shows the importance of taqwa very clearly as follows: “This Book is guidance to those who fear Allah.” The following verse of supplication exists in the chapter of al-Fatiha: “Show us the straight way”. When it is considered together with the verse “the Quran’s being guidance to those who fear Allah”, it is understood that guidance (hidayah) means “as-sirat al-mustaqim” (the straight path). That is, being on the straight path means guidance.

Thus, taqwa means being concerned that one will be away from the way of guidance and keeping away from all kinds of mistakes that will deviate man from this path.

In the chapter of al-Fatiha, the statement “those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace” is used for those who follow the straight path. It is stated in another verse that those who attain that boon are “the prophets, (who teach), the sincere (lovers of Truth), the witnesses (who testify), and the Righteous (who do good)”. Accordingly, taqwa is the most distinguished characteristic of this fortunate congregation. Taqwa is the greatest condition of following that congregation.

Muttaqi means a person who has taqwa. It means a person who avoids and keeps away from anything that will harm man spiritually. After the statement “The Quran is guidance to those who fear Allah”, at the beginning of the chapter of al-Baqara, the attributes of a muttaqi are listed as follows:

“Who believe in the Unseen, are steadfast in prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them.”

The things mentioned in the verse are belief and righteous deeds but they are included among the attributes of a muttaqi. The following is clearly understood from it: Belief in the Unseen is the opposite of unbelief. Not being steadfast in prayer means performing that lofty deed of worship haphazardly, without based on tadil al-arkan, and insincerely. They are the issues that need to be paid attention to in terms of taqwa.

Giving zakah is fard; not fulfilling this great principle of Islam is something that has to be avoided by people of taqwa. In this sense, every righteous deed can be regarded to be included in taqwa. As a matter of fact the attributes of a muttaqi are listed as follows in the chapter of Aal-i Imran (verses 134 and 135):

“Spending (freely), whether in prosperity, or in adversity.”
“Restraining anger.”
“Pardoning (all) men.”
“After having done something to be ashamed of, or wronged their own souls, earnestly bringing Allah to mind, and asking for forgiveness for their sins.”
“Never being obstinate in persisting knowingly in (the wrong) they have done.”

As it is seen, taqwa and righteous deeds are intertwined in the things listed above. Besides, taqwa is an important cause that leads man to righteous deeds.

Let us go back to the chapter of al-Fatiha. The holy people who keep away from all kinds of extremism and who follow the straight path are on the way of “guidance”; their opposites are described as “those who incur Allah’s wrath” and “those who go astray”. That is, the rebellious nations who incurred Allah’s wrath and the deviant groups who abandoned the true path by following the beliefs and thoughts that are contrary to Islam. When taqwa is in question, the fear of being included in those two evil groups should come to mind.   

It is also necessary to remember the nations of Nuh, Lut and Salih, which incurred Allah’s wrath due to immorality, debauchery and other sins, to think that one will follow them when he follows the way of sins and disobedience, and to be worried that one will follow the Way of Qarun (Croesus) when he enters a path that is contrary to Islam. A letter related to taqwa is included in Kastamonu Lahikası of Risale-i Nur Collection. The letter, which Said Nursi says “is very important” starts as follows:

“Nowadays, I have thought of the principles of taqwa and righteous deeds, which are regarded as the most essential issues by the Quran after belief. Taqwa means avoiding forbidden things and sins; and righteous deed means acting based on divine orders and doing charity. Driving evil away is always preferred to obtaining useful things but in this age of destruction, debauchery and attractive desires, driving evil away and abandoning major sins, which is taqwa, is especially preferred.”

As it is known, there are two principles of all kinds of development and evolution whether material or spiritual: Doing useful things and avoiding harmful things. The first one is called obtaining useful things and the second one is called eliminating evil things. It is stated that “eliminating evil things is always preferred to obtaining useful things”, that is, the former is always more important than the latter.

If the harm is not driven away, benefit will be of no significance. There is no use filling a bucket that has a hole with water. First, it is necessary to eliminate the things that prevent benefits in order to make benefit possible. Reading the Quran is a good deed in all senses. When we start this lofty deed, in which we gain at least ten thawabs for reading a single letter of it, we take refuge in Allah from the evil of accursed Satan first. That means driving the evil away. It is followed by obtaining good things: uttering bismillah and reading the Quran. A person who does not close the ways that lead to harm might lose more than he earns, which will lead him to bankruptcy.   

Spiritual trade is also like that. The righteous deeds that are done need to be protected by taqwa. The following hadith about bankruptcy is formidable and frightening:

“The poor (bankrupt) of my ummah would be he who would come on the Day of Judgment with deeds like prayers, fasting and zakah  but since he had hurled abuses upon others, brought calumny against others and unlawfully consumed the wealth of others and shed the blood of others and beat others, he would find himself bankrupt on that day because his virtues would be credited to the account of those who suffered at his hand. And if his good deeds fall short to clear the account, then his sins would be entered in (his account) and he would be thrown into Hell.”

Both the night and the day are important for a plant. The night resembles taqwa and the day resembles righteous deeds. We receive different benefits from each one. There is an interesting determination regarding the issue in the letter that we have mentioned above:

“There is a kind of righteous deed in taqwa because it is wajib to abandon something haram. To do a wajib deed gains man thawabs equal to many sunnahs. Since man encounters a hundred harams every minute in today’s lifestyle, he is regarded to have done one hundred righteous deeds with taqwa and the intention of avoiding harams.”

Thus, when a believer abandons thousands of sins that attack him with the fear of Allah and by demanding His consent, he does many wajib deeds. In the previous centuries, most of the doors to the sins were closed and the opportunities to commit sins were limited. If a young man wandered in the streets to see a haram face, he could see one after some days.

However, it is very different today. As Nursi puts it, sins “are flooding”. This negative atmosphere of this age affects man’s spiritual life too; the heart and the spirit, which are harmed by so many sins, can hardly worship in tranquility. It is very difficult for a person who is wounded in several placed in a battle to worship in tranquility by forgetting about his pains; similarly, it is as difficult or even more difficult to worship in tranquility and sincerely in this age.    

However, the divine justice compensates for this great deprivation of Muslims living with the mischief of the end of time with taqwa and gives them the great opportunity of “doing thousands of wajib deeds by avoiding one haram”.

It is necessary to think as follows and question ourselves:

Since “it is very difficult for a person to be successful with righteous deeds sincerely in this age”, the only way out is to compensate for it with taqwa. If we make concessions about it, danger is inevitable."

Acting upon different verses, tafsir scholars divide taqwa into three stages: 1. To be protected from polytheism through belief. Thus, a person is protected from staying in Hell eternally. 2. To avoid committing major sins and to avoid insisting on minor sins. That is the most common meaning of taqwa. 3. To keep one’s heart away from anything that prevents him from God.

The first one is called “taqwa from polytheism (shirk)” the second one is called “taqwa from sins,” and the third one is called “taqwa from everything except Him”.

Since it is not possible to think that a believer can commit polytheism in its general sense, “hidden polytheism (shirk al-khafiyy)” should be understood by the phrase taqwa from polytheism. Here are two lessons of reality from Risale-i Nur Collection about hidden polytheism:

“This is to flatter the ego and give high status to the evil-commanding soul by attracting attention to oneself and public acclaim, driven by the desire for fame, renown, and position. This is a serious spiritual sickness that also opens the door to the hypocrisy and self-centeredness called the hidden association of partners with God, and damages sincerity.” (Lem’alar, Yirmi Birinci Lem'a)

We are taught by the sentences above that hypocrisy and self-centeredness, that is, conceit, are types of hidden polytheism. It is so strange for man, who was sent to this world to worship and to know Allah, to try hard in order to be liked by others by showing off and hypocrisy. To love oneself and to boast are as meaningless and as strange as hypocrisy. A believer “who praises Allah, who is the Lord of the realms” in every rak’ah of prayers will get rid of the disorder of loving himself only through stating that all praise belongs to Allah. If he cannot get rid of it, it means he has not taken the lesson regarding the issue from the chapter of al-Fatiha and has approached hidden polytheism by loving himself instead of praising God.  In that case, it is necessary not to regard taqwa as only avoiding major sins but also trying to keep away from such wrong understandings and wrong feelings that lead us to hidden polytheism.

Another aspect of hidden polytheism is described as follows:

“When the hidden polytheism originating from egoism gets strong, it is transformed into the polytheism of causes.” (Mesnevî-i Nuriye)

Thus, man’s loving himself and feeling too confident is a spiritual disease; when it gets worse, another disease occurs: the polytheism of causes. It is regarded as hidden polytheism to think that things or incidents, which are used as causes in divine deeds in this realm, can influence things, that they are real causes and to tend toward them with the heart. In that case, we need to regard the universe and everything in it as Allah’s creatures and officials and the boons coming through those slaves of Allah, who receive orders from Him, as coming from Allah. As Said Nursi puts it, we must not make the mistake of, “kissing the foot of a lowly man who conveys to you the precious gift of a king and not to recognize the gift’s owner”. Otherwise, we will have regarded the official as the partner of the king. We always encounter this aspect of taqwa and we are always tested through it; the test of knowing that the cloud is only a cause of rain, the tree is only a cause of the fruit, the sun is only the cause of the light and the father and mother are only causes of the baby and the test of not regarding them as the real doers. The fear of losing this test is another aspect of taqwa.

As for the third aspect of taqwa,  it is related to knowing that the heart becomes satisfied only with belief in Allah, and knowing and loving Him, and being afraid of placing the love of creatures in the heart. Unfortunately, man, who acts very cautiously so as not to put harmful food in his stomach and who does not want even a small straw to enter his eye, does not act as cautiously and sensitively related to his heart, which is the king of those organs and feelings.  It is certain that his soul and Satan have a great share in it. To act cautiously and sensitively in order to protect the heart is an important aspect of taqwa. I believe that acting in compliance with the following principles included in Risale-i Nur Collection will help us a lot to pass that great test:

“It is necessary to renounce the world for the following four reasons: 1. It goes swiftly and decays. The pain arising from decay and separation remove the pleasure of attainment of, or union with, something subject to decay. 2. The pleasures of the world resemble poisonous honey. It includes pain as much as pleasure. 3. The grave, which waits for you and toward which you travel, is the door to the other world. It does not accept your ornaments of the world as gifts, for in the other world they will change into error and sin. 4. [To understand the difference between this world and the Hereafter, reflect on] the difference between staying for an hour among enemies and vermin and among your most beloved friends and elders for years. The Lord of earthly and spiritual dominion calls you to abandon that hour of pleasure so that you may have perfect comfort and satisfaction in the company of your beloved ones in those years. So answer His call before you are sent to Him fettered.” (Mesnevi-i Nuriye)

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