Will you explain the hadith about committing sins by mistake and forgetfulness? What is our responsibility here?

The Details of the Question

"Allah has forgiven, for me, my ummah's mistakes and forgetfulness, and what they are forced to do." Will you explain this hadith a bit? Is it not a sin when we do something by forgetting or when we are forced?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

"Allah has forgiven, for me, my ummah's mistakes and forgetfulness, and what they are forced to do." (Ibn Majah, Talaq, 16)

"... Our Lord! condemn us not if we forget or fall into error..." (al-Baqara, 2/286)

That is, we are determined to fulfill in the best way the duties you have assigned us to the extent of our capacity and to progress by doing more good deeds if we can with a feeling of obedience and enthusiasm; however, if we forget one of the duties that you rendered fard because we are human or if, by mistake, we do something that you rendered haram while trying to do something good, which will be in the form of abandoning something good or doing something evil, we can be called to account for it. Do not punish or torture us, the ummah of Muhammad, due to forgetfulness and making mistakes, the causes leading us to forgetfulness and making mistakes, and abandoning something good or doing something evil because of them. 

Forgetfulness and mistakes are divided into two: In one of them, the owner can be excused; in the other, the owner cannot be excused. For instance, if somebody sees some dirt on him, postpones cleaning it and forgets it, and then performs a prayer, he is not excused. He is regarded to have made a mistake since he has not cleaned it as soon as he has seen it; if he has not seen it, he is regarded as excused.    

Similarly, if a person aims at a game animal and shoots a human, he is not regarded as excused if he has not considered that there may have been some people there, that he may have hit them if there are people there and if he has not taken necessary measures.

Likewise, if a person does not try to memorize religious orders and duties and if he does not revise them so as not to forget them but still forgets them, he is regarded as excused due to forgetting something like this. The methods of documenting for it have been shown and it is stated that they should be written.

Thus, man cannot avoid some forgetfulness and mistakes but he can avoid others. Therefore, the phrase, "except those he can do..." does not mean that he will not be called to account for all mistakes and forgetfulness.

The verse does not eliminate the possibility of being called to account fully. It should be taken into consideration that the deeds that man can avoid are included. That is, the issue is hard. The bad deeds that are done by mistake or forgetting are indeed harmful, illegitimate and depend on man. 

It cannot be said that the poison that is swallowed by forgetting or by mistake is not harmful. It is like that. Bad deeds and sins are harmful like poison. In short, not to forget at all and not to make any mistakes are out of the control of man but they do not change the outcome of what they caused in the eye of Allah; they are all included in the decree. Therefore, man has to avoid them as much as possible.

There are some decrees of obligations for man like in the example of killing a person by mistake. Forgetting and making a mistake do not prevent the compensation from being paid about the harm given to somebody. Therefore, the phrase "Do not hold us responsible!" not the phrase "Do not hold us obliged!" is used in the verse. Thus, not being freed of the obligation but not being held responsible are asked in the supplication due to mistakes, forgetfulness and their prerequisites, causes and even outcomes. Such a teaching includes good deeds and justice too. As a matter of fact, the following hadith is related to this issue:

"Responsibility emerging from mistakes and forgetfulness was removed from my ummah." (Ibn Majah, Talaq 16; Kashfu'l-Khafa, I/522)

Yes, making a mistake and forgetting are bad things but, with your grace, do not hold us responsible!

"Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden like that which Thou didst lay on those before us."

Do not make us like the nations that disobey and rebel. That is, do not put us under the burdens that will make us unable to move, that will squeeze us, under obligations that are unbearable, hard orders, strict rules, laws and practices; do not inflict on us hardships and do not turn us to monkeys and pigs by changing our appearance. Our Lord! Do not inflict hardships, difficulties and pressures on us in our rules and social life.

(see Elmalılı M. Hamdi YAZIR, the interpretation of the relevant verse)

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