Does Allah Desire That People Sin? A Clarification of an Important Hadith
Argument Posed by Critics:
In the hadith literature we read the following statement attributed to Muhammad:
Abu Ayyub Ansari reported that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: If you were not to commit sins, Allah would have swept you out of existence and would have replaced you by another people who have committed sin, and then asked forgiveness from Allah, and He would have granted them pardon. (Sahih Muslim, Book 037, Number 6621)
Here it basically says that Allah wants us to commit sins. In fact, he NEEDS us to commit sins in order for him to be considered a complete deity. This shows that the Muslim God is immoral and deficient for wanting human beings to commit sins, for he relies on human beings who commit sins to exist in order that he may exert his attribute of mercy and be considered a complete deity.
One way to interpret scripture is the "bad intentioned Islamic critic" way and that is to look for any excuse to abuse the literal reading of a text in isolation of other scriptural texts and attach to it negative meanings and connotations in order to attack Islam. This is the path these critics took when it came to interpreting the aforementioned hadith.
The other way is to keep an open mind, analyze scripture in its proper and overall context in light of other verses and ahaadith out there and truly seek and desire to learn what the overall intended message behind a particular verse or hadith is. This is the path we seek to take in this article when it comes to analyzing and understanding the aforementioned hadith.
Let us see how some top Islamic scholars understood and interpreted this hadith.
Shaykh Saalih Al-Fawzaan said:
الحديث يدل على مسألتين عظيمتين:
أولا ـ المسألة الأولى: أن الله سبحانه وتعالى عفو يحب العفو، غفور يحب المغفرة.
ثانيا ـ والمسألة الثانية: فيه بشارة للتائبين بقبول توبتهم ومغفرة ذنوبهم وألا يقنطوا من رحمة الله ويبقوا على معاصيهم ويصروا عليها، بل عليهم أن يتوبوا ويستغفروا الله سبحانه وتعالى، لأن الله فتح لهم باب الاستغفار وباب التوبة، هذا معنى الحديث.
..وليس معناه أن الله يحب من عباده أن يذنبوا أو يحب المعاصي، فالله سبحانه وتعالى لا يحب الكفر ولا يرضاه ولا يحب المعاصي، ولكنه يحب من عباده إذا أذنبوا وعصوا أن يتوبوا إليه سبحانه وتعالى وأن يستغفروه، هذا معنى الحديث.
The hadith highlights two great points:
First of all - the first point: Allah All-Mighty is, The Forgiving and loves to forgive sins, The Concealer of Sins and loves to conceal sins.
Secondly - the second point: This is a glad tiding for having repentance accepted and sins concealed to those seeking repentance and that they should not despair of the Mercy of Allah and should not remain insisting on committing their sins. Rather, they should repent to Allah All-Mighty and ask for their sins to be concealed because Allah opened for them the doors of repentance and concealment of their sins. This is the meaning of the hadeeth.
.. And the meaning of the hadeeth is not that Allah loves that His servants commit offenses and sins, for Allah All-Mighty does not love kufr and is not pleased with it and does not love sins, however He does love those servants of His who seek His repentance if they commit offenses and sins. This is the meaning of the hadeeth. (Source)
At-Touribushti (d. 661 A.H.) said:
لم يرد هذا الحديث مورد تسلية المنهمكين في الذنوب وتوهين أمرها على النفوس وقلة الاحتفال منهم بمواقعتها على ما يتوهمه أهل الغرة بالله ، فإن الأنبياء صلوات الله عليهم إنما بعثوا ليردعوا الناس عن غشيان الذنوب واسترسال نفوسهم فيها ، بل ورد مورد البيان لعفوا الله عن المذنبين وحسن التجاوز عنهم ، ليعظموا الرغبة في التوبة والاستغفار ، والمعنى المراد من الحديث هو إن الله تعالى كما أحب أن يحسن إلى المحسن أحب أن يتجاوز عن المسيء ، وقد دل على ذلك غير واحد من أسماءه الغفار الحليم التواب العفو ، فلم يكن ليجعل العباد شأنًا واحدًا كالملائكة مجبولين على التنزه من الذنوب ، بل يخلق فيهم من يكون بطبعه ميالاً إلى الهوى مفتتنًا ومتلبسًا بما يقتضيه.
This hadeeth hasn't come in order to provide laxity to those who are absorbed in committing sins and undermine its effects on the souls and justify having a lack of care for committing sins just as those who are neglectful of Allah fancy. The prophets peace be upon them were sent to discourage the people from delving into committing sins and unconstraining themselves in regards to it. Rather, the hadith has come in order to make clear the fact that Allah is willing to forgive sinners and overlook their faults so that it may increase their desire to seek repentance. The intended meaning of this hadith is that Allah All-Mighty, just as He would like to do good to those who do good, also likes to overlook the faults of the sinner. And this is manifested by more than one of His names Al-Ghaffaar, Al-Haleem, At-Tawaab, Al-'Afuw. He wasn't going to make His servants in one state, just like His angels who were fashioned in a way that they don't incline towards sin. Rather, He created from amongst His creation those who have a nature, which inclines towards desires and are so engrossed in them.(as cited by Al-Mubaarakfuri in his commentary Mir'aat al-Mafaateeh Sharh Mishkaat al-Masaabeeh)
Ibn Malik said:
ليس هذا تحريضاً للناس على الذنوب بل كان صدوره لتسلية الصحابة وإزالة شدة الخوف عن صدورهم، لأن الخوف كان غالباً عليهم حتى فر بعضهم إلى رؤوس الجبال للعبادة، وبعضهم اعتزل النساء، وبعضهم النوم، وفي الحديث تنبيه على رجاء مغفرة الله تعالى وتحقق أن ما سبق في علمه كائن لأنه سبق في علمه تعالى أنه يغفر للعاصي فلو قدر عدم عاص لخلق الله من يعصيه فيغفر له.
This is not an encouragement for people to commit sins, rather it was issued (i.e. the hadith) in order to provide ease and relaxation to the companions and remove the extreme fear they had, for fear overcame them to the extent that some of them would escape to the top of mountains in order to worship, while others secluded themselves from women. Some even avoided sleeping. And this hadith alerts our attention to the hopeful forgiveness of Allah All-Mighty. It has been ascertained that whatever preceded in Allah's Knowledge actually exists, for it preceded in Allah's Knowledge that Allah would forgive the sinner. So even if Allah destined that there would be a sinless person, He would still create those who would sin against Him and forgive them. (As cited by Muhammad bin 'Alaan As-Siddiqui in Daleel al-Faaliheen li-Turuq Riyadh us-Saaliheen, Volume 4, Pages 59-60)
Zayn ud-deen Abdur Raouf Al-Munaawi (d. 1031 A.H.) said:
)لو لم تذنبوا لجاء الله تعالى بقوم يذنبون) أي ثم يستغفرون ( ليغفر لهم ) لما في ايقاع العباد في الذنوب أحيانا من الفوائد التي منها تنكيس المذنب رأسه واعترافه بالعجز وتبرؤه من العجب
(If you were not to commit sins, Allah would have swept you out of existence and would have replaced you with another people who have committed sin): that is, they would seek repentance. (and He would have granted them pardon): sometimes there is benefit when the servant commits sin. Of these benefits is the humbling of the sinner and his admission of his deficiencies and his disavowal of self-admiration. (Zayn ud-deen Abdur Raouf Al-Munaawi, at-Tayseer bi-Sharh al-Jaami' as-Sagheer. Also see his Faydul Qadeer Sharh al-Jaami' as-Sagheer, hadith no. 7418)
Sheikh Sulaiman bin Abdullah Al-Majed said:
ومعناه أن من حكمة الله تعالى في خلق الناس هو بلواهم ، قال تعالى : "هو الذي خلق الموت والحياة ليبلوكم أيكم أحسن عملا" ، ولهذا فطرهم الله تعالى على حب الشهوات ، وجعل فيهم خصائص النقص من الغفلة والنسيان والأثرة والحسد ؛ مما يكون سببا للمعاصي ، ولو لم يقع منهم الذنب لكانوا من الملائكة الذين جبلوا على الطاعة المحضة ؛ فهنا تتخلف حكمة الله في الخلق لأجل البلوى ، ولو وقع هذا لاستبدلهم بغيرهم ؛ لتحقيق الحكمة المذكورة . والغاية من هذا الكلام هو تقرير عظيم نقص الإنسان ، وعظيم عفو الله تعالى عن عباده ، وأن لا يجعل المرء من معصيته سببا للبعد عن الله ؛ بل بالمبادرة إلى التوبة ؛ للنجاح في الامتحان الرباني بإظهار العبودية لله في أجل العبادات وهي التوبة والإنابة التي تدل على حسن معتقد العاصي من الخوف والمحبة والرجاء والإنابة وعدم اليأس والقنوط من رحمة الله ؛ مما يحبه الله ويرضاه من عبده ؛ فيكون سببا لمغفرة ذنوبه . وبالجملة فإن المقصود هو الحث على التوبة ، وعدم القنوط من رحمة الله.
It means that one of the wisdoms of Allah in creating mankind has to do with trialing them. Allah said: "Who has created death and life, that He may test you which of you is best in deed" (67:2) and this is why Allah instilled into them natural inclinations toward worldly desires. He also created them with deficiencies such as heedlessness, forgetfulness, selfishness and envy, which are causal factors leading up to committing sins. If they did not commit sins, then they would be like the angels who have been fashioned in a way that they only purely offer worship. This stands in contradiction to Allah's wisdom of creating mankind in order that they go through trials and if this were to occur He would replace them with others than them in order to attain and actualize the aforementioned wisdom. The ultimate purpose behind this speech is making clear and known the great deficiency in human beings and the greatness of Allah All-Mighty's Mercy displayed toward His servants. And that man should not make his committing of sins a reason for departing from God, but rather the initiative toward seeking repentance, in order to be successful in passing the test set forth by the Divine by displaying servitude toward Allah through acts of worship such as seeking repentance. This indicates the sound belief of the sinner, for he is displaying fear, love, hope, repentance and hope in the Mercy of Allah. This is what Allah loves and is pleased with from His servant, consequently resulting in Allah's forgiveness of his sins. In summation, the intended meaning (i.e. of the hadith) is incitement toward repentance and to not have despair in the Mercy of Allah. (Source)
In summary, we see that the overall intended meaning and purpose of this hadeeth is that Allah is Merciful and that sinners should not despair of Allah's Mercy. At the same time, Allah has a Divine Plan for salvation for mankind, which He desires to abide by. He didn't will and desire that we human beings be created like the angels who were fashioned and created in a way that they don't have the free will and capacity to commit sins. Rather, human beings were created with the capacity and inclination to commit sins, due to them having the free will to do so. Hence, Allah is emphasizing and reassuring us that He is fully aware of the fact that we are not capable of being perfect and that it was never in Allah's Divine Plan for us to ever be so to begin with. If we were, then it would contradict the plan that Allah set forth for us and that is obviously something impossible to occur. At the same time, Allah's creating us in a way where we have inclinations towards sin make us realize that we have deficiencies and aren't perfect, hence humbling us to be modest and realize that there is no justification for self-admiration. So when Allah says "and would have replaced you by another people who have committed sin", He is emphasizing to us that it's His Will and Divine Plan for us that we have free will and are prone to sin. That is a matter of emphasis only. It's like me saying "Even if I did hate my mother, I would still respect her", in order to emphasize the importance that I have attached to respecting my mother. It doesn't mean that I condone or am open to wanting to hate my mother! Similarly, Allah is in no way showing that He is pleased with or accepting of mankind committing sins. Rather, His emphasis is on the fact that He has willed for us in His Divine Plan that we be created in a way in which we are prone to sin and aren't fashioned like how the sinless and non-free willed angels are and as a result of that we shouldn't have the false notion that just because we sin that means that should despair of Allah's Mercy. This is the correct understanding of the hadith.
In regards to the argument that Allah is somehow dependent upon His creation in order to exert His mercy, then this has already been addressed and touched upon in the appendix section over here.
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