About Sin, Repentance, and Intercession - 1
By Dr Basheer Ahmed Khan
Garden Grove, CA
Sin is the religious equivalent of what is termed in legal and common language as crime. Sin has a moral and religious connotation and crime has a legal and ethical context: both aim to discipline and civilize the behavior of man.
While ethics derive model and modalities from life experiences and intellectual understanding, sin is sanctified as the decree from the One who has created man and knows his strength and weaknesses to suggest the right remedies. While crimes are investigated, prosecuted, punished and curbed by human effort, sometimes wrongly so, sin has an additional element of the force of the unseen to cure and curb it. In a world where morality is relative and irrelevant, sin has lost its meaning except by those that have true belief in the power of the unseen.
As we have sidelined religion we have blurred our moral bearing. As a result each one of us would have committed countless sins and subjected ourselves and our societies to countless troubles before understanding the evil consequences of flouting the decree of our Creator about vice and virtue. Therefore it is important for us to know about the reality of sin, repentance and intercession in order to avoid sins, and to know the way to remedy them.
Man has the uncanny knack of creating differences on every issue to keep a conversation alive. Our concepts of sin, repentance and intercession are no exception. Apart from the opinions of established religions, every person has his own nuanced understanding of these terms and every action labeled under this term. In my opinion, the best understanding of this or any other term should be judged by how these definitions help or harm in developing good human beings and good societies and bring about peace and progress to our lives and to the world.
Some people consider sin to be a moralistic slant to behavior based on cultural practice, and is therefore relative to it. By this definition it is ok to do anything as long as it has the approval of the society irrespective of how badly it affects individuals or society. For others, everything which is not to their liking is a sin and such people, if they are religious, have a religious justification to it even though the society might be hurting because of such biased decrees.
One of the very popular definitions of sin is that it is what is against the law. For some law is the command of Allah and others it is the law of the land. In fact it is both. That is why Jesus (peace be upon him) said: ..unto Caesar the things which are Ceasar’s; and unto God the things which are God’s (Matthew Ch 22 V 21). And the Qur’an said: Obey Allah, His messenger and those appointed over you to manage your affair (Ch4 V59). Laws of the land can be wrong and can be amended after finding the lacunae. Laws of God being final, God has mentioned very few actions which are sinful that must be shunned in our own interest. The rest are clubbed under a common title of Munkar, which means strange; strange to the common sense of individuals and strange to the collective psyche of the society. Unfortunately, some of these strange things are being made normal by shifting the paradigm. Greed is justified under the pretext of growth of wealth. Same sex marriage under the alibi of equality before law. Sexual immorality and aberrations are justified under the alibi of freedoms and mutual consent, etc. On the other hand, some of the basic liberties are branded as sin and curbed because of their abuse or because they serve the interest of the religious and ruling elites.
Scientists have come to support every type of behavior through their discovery of genes. As God has kept a gene for every type of behavior, we do not consider it right to blame individuals or discourage them for their abnormal behavior. In fact, we want to trigger these dormant genes and make them hyperactive through real and cooked up stories in the mass media. Instead of subduing morality and justifying our revolt against it on the basis of social philosophies and scientific discoveries, we should try to understand the social, economic and political causes for our bad behavior and understand the importance of morality in solving these causes in order to curb our bad behavior.
The first sin was committed by Adam and Eve when Satan lured them to eat from the forbidden tree on the promise of divinity and eternity, and they were banished along with Satan from the Garden of Eden for doing so. Satan had refused to prostrate before Adam and had vowed to mislead Adam and his progeny. Instead of understanding this metaphorical episode in scriptures in its correct perspective we have tried to dilute its importance by raising impertinent questions and discussions on them. Instead of understanding the command of God as symbol to denote restraint amidst the freedoms, we are curious to know the name of the tree. There are several interpretations to this biblical event. One of it denigrates Eve and the other denigrates Adam and mankind. Those who want to denigrate Eve say that Adam succumbed to accept the satanic bait because of persuasion from Eve. Those who want to denigrate Adam and mankind say that man is sinful by nature and that is why he ate from the forbidden tree despite the clearest warning from his Lord. And some blame God for this test of Adam; and for the sneaky tests that they face in their lives.
Adam who was created earlier than Eve and had more exposure to the glory and power of God shares greater responsibility in this than Eve. Therefore to denigrate Eve for this is only misogyny. Man is not sinful by nature. As God had created Adam for his vicegerency of this planet earth and not the occult world in which he was created, God designed this strategy to send Adam, Eve and Satan for the test of their life on earth. This test was also meant to etch on the memory of Adam, Eve and their progeny that they should be careful about satanic tricks as they can succumb to them easily and thus confirm the supposition of Satan that Adam and his progeny is unworthy of vicegerency. God did not subject Adam to ignominy for violating His rule by eating from the tree because of his sinful nature but to make him conscious of the consequences of rebellion against His laws. It is both interesting and informative to recollect the story of Adam, Eve and the serpent to put things in perspective.
When Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree their nakedness (reality) was evident on them which they covered with the fig leaves. Adam felt so ashamed and cried so much that in a Hadith narrated by Abi Buraid in Shuab Al Iman, it is stated that Adam shed as many tears as the whole mankind will shed till the end of time (Hadith # 834). Adam was forgiven for this transgression. Adam started his life fresh on earth not as a sinner but as a forgiven man with an assurance that God would be sending to him and his progeny guidance through messengers so that they do not slip into trouble, and those who do not follow the prophets will suffer because of their rejecting this guidance (Ch2 V37-38).
Allama Iqbal wrote the following couplet in the very first poem of his poetic career extolling the tears of a repentant soul. He says: Mercy of Allah picks up the tears of a repentant sinner and values them more than pearls.
Mothi Samajh Ke Shaan e Kareemi Ne Chun Liye
Khat ray May-ri Palak pe jo thay Infa-all Kay.
It is not man, who is sinner, but it is Satan who has the sinful nature due to its arrogance. It is Satan who has cunningly made us believe that mankind is born in sin to escape its share of responsibility in our sins. (For more on Satan read my article “Reality of Satan in Hadith and Qur’an, Pakistan Link, Jan 29, 2016). Arrogance is what made Satan disobey Allah by not prostrating before Adam whom Allah chose to give His vicegerency. When Allah asked him about the reason for this disobedience, he was arrogant and said: I am superior to Adam because I am created from fire while Adam is created from mud (Ch38 V76). Satan was supposed to be very knowledgeable and had the title of Mu-Allim ul Malkooth, the teacher of the angels. Satan could have escaped the wrath of Allah by giving this excuse: Your order was to the Malaika (angels) created from light, and not to me who was created from fire, so I refrained. But no, he was arrogant about his source of origin from fire and he was a prey to his own arrogance.
While boasting about his origin from fire this “teacher of angels” forgot that fire is extremely destructive and needs much restraint to show its usefulness. On the other hand, the nature of soil is to accept the seed in its bosom and grow it to its fullest capacity for the benefit of mankind and has no destructive potential. If at all the earthly existence of man has any destructive potential it is because he permits the fiery element in him (Satan) to dominate over him and mislead him through its insinuations (Ch14 V22). Insisting on his arrogance Satan further asked permission from Allah to grant him respite to mislead Adam and his progeny till the end of time (Ch17 V62) to prove that Allah’s decision to make Adam His vicegerent was wrong, and Allah swt granted it. The True Sovereign could not refuse this challenge from His own measly creation (Ch18 V50-51).