Atonement in Islam

Atonement in Islam

September 24, 2009 14:35
4 minute read.

Islamic law, Shari'a, specifies the different kinds of atonement for different transgressions committed by Muslim men and women. The Koran has more than 15 different words for sin, each denoting a different kind of wrongdoing. Muslim tradition recognizes the original sin of Adam, which led to his and Eve's eviction from the Garden of Eden, in the Chapter of the Cow 2: 35-38: And We said: O Adam! Dwell you and your wife in the garden and eat from it a plenteous (food) wherever you wish and do not approach this tree, for then you will be of the unjust. But the Shaitan made them both fall from it, and caused them to depart from that (state) in which they were; and We said: Get forth, some of you being the enemies of others, and there is for you in the earth an abode and a provision for a time. Then Adam received (some) words from his Lord, so He turned to him mercifully; surely He is Oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful. We said: Go forth from this (state) all; so surely there will come to you a guidance from Me, then whoever follows My guidance, no fear shall come upon them, nor shall they grieve. This shows that the story of Adam in the Koran is similar to the one in Genesis. According to Muslim belief, it is in the nature of man to make mistakes and sin, but the best person is one who admits his wrongdoing and repents (thawaba). Only when a person shows a deep recognition of his sins, takes responsibility for their consequences and commits to making amends for them can there be atonement (kafara) followed by forgiveness (ghufran). There are some 14 verses in the Koran about atonement. The Cow, 2:271: If you give alms openly, it is well, and if you hide it and give it to the poor, it is better for you; and this will do away with some of your evil deeds; and Allah is aware of what you do. The Chapter of Hud 11:114: And keep up prayer in the two parts of the day and in the first hours of the night; surely good deeds take away evil deeds, this is a reminder to the mindful. The literal meaning of the word for atonement, kafara, is to hide. Muslim commentators note that the difference between atonement and forgiveness is that atoning for a sin means hiding it in this world, whereas forgiveness means erasing it in the world to come. Forgiveness comes after reparation. Reparation means doing good deeds to repair the consequences of the sins. If people were hurt by the act of sinning, they must be appeased first. Their forgiveness is a precondition for divine forgiveness. But if the sin was a matter of faith and the connection between man and God, the required actions are ones that strengthen one's faith and connection with God: prayer, fasting, pilgrimage to holy sites (haj), charity, reading the Koran and freeing slaves. The act of reparation is determined by the kind of sin and the ability of the sinner. For instance, atonement for unintentional killing, in the Chapter of Women 4:92: And it does not behoove a believer to kill a believer except by mistake, and whoever kills a believer by mistake, he should free a believing slave, and blood-money should be paid to his people unless they remit it as alms; but if he be from a tribe hostile to you and he is a believer, the freeing of a believing slave (suffices), and if he is from a tribe between whom and you there is a covenant, the blood-money should be paid to his people along with the freeing of a believing slave; but he who cannot find (a slave) should fast for two months successively: a penance from Allah, and Allah is knowing, wise. For perjury, Chapter of the Table 5:89: Allah does not call you to account for what is vain in your oaths, but He calls you to account for the making of deliberate oaths; so its expiation is the feeding of 10 poor men out of the middling (food) you feed your families with, or their clothing, or the freeing of a neck; but whosoever cannot find (means) then fasting for three days; this is the expiation of your oaths when you swear; and guard your oaths. Thus does Allah make clear to you His communications, that you may be faithful. With all of Islam's intense encouragement to repent and atone for sins, there are sins which cannot be atoned for. • Idol worship. Chapter of the Women 4:116: Surely Allah does not forgive that anything should be associated with Him, and He forgives what is besides this to whom He pleases; and whoever associates anything with Allah, he indeed strays off into a remote error. • The intentional killing of a believer. Chapter of the Women 4:93: And whoever kills a believer intentionally, his punishment is hell; he shall abide in it, and Allah will send His wrath on him and curse him and prepare for him a painful chastisement. • Leaving Islam. Chapter of Imran 3:90: Surely, those who disbelieve after their believing, then increase in unbelief, their repentance shall not be accepted, and these are they that go astray. The writer is one of the earliest members of Neveh Shalom Wahat al-Salam where he is a member of the Pluralistic Spiritual Center staff.

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