The Qur’an on bearing the sins of others

The following is a translation of a chapter from this book (pages 432-441).

The texts relating to the doubt are as follows:

How does this statement of Allah {Beware of a trial that will not only affect the wrongdoers among you [Q.8:25]} and the Hadith [Allah does not‎ punish the public for wrong deeds committed by exclusive people…][1] agree with the verse {And no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another [Q.35:18]} and the verse {Every soul, for what it has earned, will be retained [Q.74:38]}?

The question can be responded to in a number of ways:

  1. The key point is {And no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another}.
  2. The punishment is deserving upon not enjoining what is right and not forbidding what is wrong.
  3. The punishment or trial that falls on everyone or the public is purification for the believers and indignation for the disobedient.
  4. As a warning so it won’t be as a penalty for the ones who violated the punishment.
  5. If Allah sends a punishment on the ones who sinned and the ones who did not sin, then Allah will resurrect each based on their intention.
  6. The punishment may be sent to the common people, because they were a reason for spreading the sins and trials.
  7. The trial is caused by the human, the bad person harms the good one and thus it is a test for the obedient and the disobedient.
  8. Allah may send death, poverty, and blindness on his slave as a beginning of good to follow.

We discuss each of these eight points below:

     1. The key point is {And no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another}

Ibn Kathir said: this means that no one will bear the sin of anyone, and no one will reap anything except for himself as Allah said {And if a heavily laden soul calls [another] to [carry some of] its load, nothing of it will be carried}.[2]

Al-Qurtubi said: and probably this verse might be intended to the hereafter. But in this life, people might bear the sins of others.[3]

Al-Tabari said: and the sinned soul will not be wronged for others’ sin but it will only be affected and punished for its own sin.[4]

Al-Baydawi said: {And no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another} is an answer to the disbelievers’ saying {Follow our way, and we will carry your sins}.[5]

Ibn Ashur said: the meaning of {And no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another} is that the soul will only carry its own burden and it will not carry the burden of others. Therefore, the meaning of ‘no soul will bear others’ burden’ is that every soul is only responsible for its own sin and no one will bear other than the sin only they committed and that they will not be accounted for the sins of their relatives or friends, and the soul will not be accountable for the sin of another soul; therefore, if a soul bears a burden then it would not be another soul’s burden, and that is the meaning of the statement.[6]

     2. The punishment is deserving upon not enjoining what is right and not forbidding what is wrong.[7]

Al-Karkhi said: for the one who finds confusion between the verses {And fear a trial} and {And no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another}, I say:

If people start making their sins open and visible to the public, then whoever sees it is obligated to change it, if he is capable of doing it. And if they stays silent about it, then all of them are sinners; one by doing it and the others by accepting it. Allah wisely equalised the one accepting the wrong to its doer and thus Allah organised the same punishment. The sign of accepting the wrong is by not feeling pain from the defects within the religion as feeling pain for losing one’s money or son. Anyone who is not in such a condition is accepting of the wrong and thus the indignation of calamity and punishment is considered.[8]

Ibn al-Arabi said: Our God told us that every soul for what it has earned will be retained, and that no one will be taken for another’s sin, and that the punishment is only attached to the sinner but if people start making the wrong visible then it is obligatory for whoever sees it to change it, and if people kept silent about it then they are all sinners; that by doing it and that by accepting it, and Allah, through His wisdom and judgement, put the one accepting the wrong in the same class of its doer and thus deserving of the same punishment which did not exceed its position, and that is a valuable lesson for whoever ponders over it.[9]

The Sunnah of the Prophet (ﷺ), indicates that if the wrongdoings become open and the people do not condemn them, then Allah would send punishment.

On the authority of Zainab bint Jahsh, she asked: Allah’s Messenger, would we be perished in spite of the fact that there would be good people amongst us? Thereupon he said: “Of course, but only when the evil predominates”.[10]

And the Prophet (ﷺ) made it clear with an example as in the Hadith of Nu’man b. al-Bashir; the Prophet (ﷺ) said: “The parable of those who respect the limits of Allah and those who violate them is that of people who board a ship after casting lots, some of them residing in its upper deck and others in its lower deck. When those in the lower deck want water, they pass by the upper deck and say: If we tear a hole in the bottom of the ship, we will not harm those above us. If those in the upper deck let them do what they want, then they will all be destroyed together. If they restrain them, then they will all be saved together”.[11]

Ibn Hajr said: and they deserved the punishment for not enjoining what is right.[12]

Abu Bakr said: “O people you are reading this verse: {O you who have believed, upon you is [responsibility for] yourselves. Those who have gone astray will not harm you when you have been guided [Q.5:105]} and I have heard from the Messenger of Allah saying: (if the people see the oppressor and do not try to stop him, then it may be that Allah will cover them with His punishment any time).[13]

Al-Nawawi said: and Allah saying {O you who have believed, upon you is [responsibility for] yourselves} is not against to the obligation of enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong because the correct teaching in the meaning of this verse is that if you do what you are assigned to, then the shortcomings of others will not harm you as Allah stated {And no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another}. And if one does what is assigned to him in enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong but the one he addresses to do not comply, then there is no blame after that on the caller since he did what he was assigned to.

And the Prophet (ﷺ) clarified this matter in another Hadith: “By Him in Whose Hand is my life, you will enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong, or Allah will be about to send you a punishment upon you and then you will call upon him and he won’t respond to you.”[14]

This is why Allah dispraised and cursed the children of Israel because they did not forbid what was wrong; Allah says: {Cursed were those who disbelieved among the Children of Israel by the tongue of David and of Jesus, the son of Mary. That was because they disobeyed and [habitually] transgressed. They used not to prevent one another from wrongdoing that they did. How wretched was that which they were doing [Q.5:78, 79]}.

Ibn Kathir said: Allah informs us that He cursed the disbelievers of the children of Israel long time ago through what He revealed on his Prophet Da’ood and from the tongue of Eisa because of their disobedience and assault on His creation.

Then he said: {They used not to prevent one another from wrongdoing that they did…} no one of them used to forbid the other from committing sins and incest, then Allah dispraised them for doing this to warn the, from doing the same of what they did so He said {How wretched was that which they were doing}.[15]

Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Rida said: Allah exposed their disobedience and gave the reason why they kept crossing the limits of Allah and insisted on continuing to do so by His saying: {They used not to prevent one another from wrongdoing that they did [Q.5:79]} which means they did not prevent each other from doing wrong even if it was very ugly or harmful. The purpose of forbidding what is wrong is to save the religion and to have a fence around good manners and virtues. Hence, if this was abandoned, the sinners would dare to show their sins and filth and whenever the general public start to see these wrongdoings with their eyes and hear them with their ears, the scariness and ugliness of such wrongdoings would disappear within themselves and then most of them would dare to commit them. The purpose of informing us of these affairs of the Children of Israel is to teach us how wrongdoings and corruption were spread within them because the existence of a problem indicates the existence of people affected by it. Since wrongdoings keep happening, it is most appropriate to keep forbidding what is wrong as a matter for people to work on and to preserve.[16]

     3. The punishment or trial that falls on everyone or the public is purification for the believers and indignation for the disobedient.[17]

Regarding this, there are many Hadiths of the Prophet (ﷺ) such as: “Never a believer is stricken with discomfort, hardship or illness, grief or even with mental worry that his sins are not expiated for him”.[18]

This is why the Prophet () said when asked by Zainab: Allah’s Messenger, would we be perished in spite of the fact that there would be good people amongst us? Thereupon he said: “Of course, but only when the evil predominates”.[19]

Al-Nawawi said: the meaning of the Hadith: if evil predominates then perdition for the public might happen even if there are good people among them.[20] And in the Hadith “The parable of those who respect the limits of Allah…”.[21]

And Ibn Hajar said: Al-Mahlab and others said: in this Hadith, there is torment for the public because of the sins of exclusive people among them and it has a reason and wisdom; for the torture to occur in this life on those who did not deserve it would either be forgiven of their sins or be raised to higher degrees.[22]

     4.      As a warning so it won’t be as a penalty for the ones who violated the punishment.

Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Rida said: Allah ordered them to prevent a type of a social trial that its punishment might consequently fall on the ones related to it and as for the ones who did not attempt to stop it and therefore, accepted it, Allah said: {Beware of a trial that will not only affect the wrongdoers among you} which means: fear the trials that might take place between the nations in their conflicts for their public interests as in ownership and sovereignty, or divisions in religion, Shariah, and religious groupings like varying and differing schools, and politics such as fighting to rule; punishment for the nations for their sins would occur in this life before the Hereafter.[23]

     5.      If Allah sends a punishment on the ones who sinned and the ones who did not sin, then Allah will resurrect each based on their intention.

Aisha said: Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “An army will invade the Ka`ba and when the invaders reach Al-Baida’, all the ground will sink and swallow the whole army.” I said, “O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)! How will they sink into the ground while amongst them will be their markets (the people who worked in business and not invaders) and the people not belonging to them?” The Prophet (ﷺ) replied, “all of those people will sink but they will be resurrected and judged according to their intentions”.[24]

Ibn Hajar said: this means: Allah would sink all people because of the bad people’s sins and then everyone will be judged based on their own intentions. Al-Mahlab said regarding this Hadith: whoever chooses to stay among the sinners and thus making them look as a majority then the punishment will include him with them.[25]

     6.      The punishment may be sent to the common people, because they were a reason for spreading the sins and trials.[26]

Al-Qurtubi said: whoever was ahead in misguidance and called people towards it and he was followed, then he will carry the sins of the people he misguided without their sins being diminished.[27]

And then he said: they carry the sins of the ones they misguided whose sins will not be any less. Abu Hurairah reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying: “He who called (people) to righteousness, there would be reward (assured) for him like the rewards of those who adhered to it, without their rewards being diminished in any respect. And he who called (people) to error, he shall have to carry (the burden) of its sin, like those who committed it, without their sins being diminished in any respect.”[28]

The callers to misguidance will bear the sins of their followers and Allah said {without  knowledge} which means they misguide the people without knowing that their followers’ sins will bind to them; if they knew this they would not have misguided.[29]

     7.      The trial is caused by the human, the bad person harms the good one and thus it is a test for the obedient and the disobedient.

There are many examples of good people who died because of trials such as Umar, Uthman, Ali, and many others. Details are as follows:

A. Despite being a rightly guided Caliph, Umar was killed. He was well known for his justice and had many virtues.[30] However, even with that, the trial occurred and led to his death by Abu Lulu al-Majusi. This trial resulted in martyrdom of Umar and had bad consequences for the disbeliever as well. The story of his death is as follows and it shows many lessons of his virtue, piousness, and justice:

Narrated by `Amr b. Maimun who said: I saw Umar b. Al-Khattab a few days before he was stabbed in Madina. He was standing with Hudhaifa b. Al-Yaman and Uthman b. Hunaif to whom he said, “What have you done? Do you think that you have imposed more taxation on the land (of As-Swad i.e. ‘Iraq) than it can bear?” They replied, “We have imposed on it what it can bear because of its great yield.” Umar again said, “Check whether you have imposed on the land what it cannot bear.” They said, “No, (we haven’t).” `Umar added, “If Allah should keep me alive I will let the widows of Iraq need no men to support them after me.” But only four days had elapsed when he was stabbed (to death). The day he was stabbed, I was standing and there was nobody between me and him (i.e. Umar) except `Abdullah b. `Abbas. Whenever `Umar passed between the two rows, he would say, “Stand in straight lines.” When he saw no defect (in the rows), he would go forward and start the prayer with Takbir. He would recite Surat Yusuf or An-Nahl or the like in the first rak`a so that the people may have the time to join the prayer. As soon as he said Takbir, I heard him saying, “The dog has killed or eaten me,” at the time he (i.e. the murderer) stabbed him. A non-Arab infidel proceeded on carrying a double-edged knife and stabbing all the persons he passed by on the right and left (till) he stabbed thirteen persons out of whom seven died.[31]

B. Uthman also had many virtues and great goodness. On his death day, when he was under siege by the Sabaeyun, the companions wanted to defend their leader Uthman but he refused it and wanted to avoid the trial and instead chose to sacrifice himself. He said: I ask from anyone who obeys me to avoid fighting, so the companions surrendered to the words of their leader and obeyed their Caliph. Hence, the ones who wanted to kill him entered, and the sinners and people of falsehood killed him. A drop of his blood fell on the Qur’an on the verse: {and Allah will be sufficient for you against them}. After that, Allah sent people who killed all the killers of Uthman and this verse might have been a sign of this revenge.[32]

Glory be to Allah, the Most High and the Most Competent, who ordered us to be patient on hardships and trials. He called the people of faith saying: {O you who have believed, persevere and endure and remain stationed and fear Allah that you may be successful [Q.3:200]}. And the Prophet (ﷺ) displayed this by saying about the believer’s condition: “Strange are the ways of a believer for there is good in every affair of his and this is not the case with anyone else except in the case of a believer for if he has an occasion to feel delight, he thanks (God), thus there is a good for him in it, and if he gets into trouble and shows resignation (and endures it patiently), there is a good for him in it… ”.[33]

Ibn Al-Qayyim said: Patience in hardships is observing the great reward, waiting for the essence of relief, making the tribulation easy after being gifted, and remembering the previous blessings. And then he said: the wise people of the nation agreed that heaven cannot be achieved through bliss, and whoever wants comfort in this life will not get it in the Hereafter. Therefore, if one values stress in this life, he will get comfort (in the next).[34]

As for the corrupt one who causes such trials, he will get his penalty, Allah said: {So whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it [Q.99:7-8]}.

     8. Allah may send death, poverty, and blindness on his slave as a beginning of good to follow, because based on Maliki school Allah does things well:[35]

Allah said in His Book: {Say, “O Allah, Owner of Sovereignty, You give sovereignty to whom You will and You take sovereignty away from whom You will. You honor whom You will and You humble whom You will. In Your hand is [all] good. Indeed, You are over all things competent [Q.3:26]}.

Al-Tabari said: he means by that: O Allah, O you the one who owns everything, O you the one who solely Owns this life and the Hereafter, You honor whom You will by giving sovereignty, authority, and capability, and You humble whom You will by taking off sovereignty from him and sending an enemy for him. {In Your hand is [all] good} means that everything happens through Your hand and no one is capable to do that because You are the most competent to do anything without the help of Your creatures and without what the disbelievers, the people of the book, and the illiterates from the Arabs considered and worshiped as a god, like Jesus and the idols.[36]

Al-Razi said: And his saying {and You humble whom You will}, al-Jabaai gave his explanation: God humbles His enemies in this life and the Hereafter, and He never humbles any of his allies and even when He makes them poor, ill, and in need for others, it is because Allah does such things to honour them in the Hereafter either by reward or compensation.

Its similitude is like phlebotomy and cupping; they cause pain for an instant but after that one gets great benefits from them; no wonder no one considers them as torture. He said: if poverty is described as humble, Allah metaphorically named the tenderness of the believers as humble in His saying: {humble towards the believers}.[37]

References and footnotes:

[1] And its continuation “Until they see the wrongdoing among them and they are able to forbid it but they do not; so if they do as such, Allah will punish the general and the specific”. Narrated by Ahmad (38/236). Al-Tabrani in al-Kabeer (17/138), Mujama’ al-Zawaid (7/25), Ibn Hajr (Fath Al-Bari 13/4), al-Albani al-Da’eefa (3110).

[2] Tafsir Ibn Kathir (3/42).

[3] Tafsir al-Qurtubi (7/154).

[4] Tafsir al-Tabari (5/113).

[5] Tafsir al-Baidawi (1/221).

[6] Tafsir Ibn ‘Ashur (8/207).

[7] Fath al-Bari (5/349).

[8] Fath al-Bayan fi Maqased al-Qur’an (5/160).

[9] Ahkam al-Qur’an of Ibn al-Arabi (2/847), and Tafsir al-Qurtubi (7-375).

[10] Sahih Muslim (2880).

[11] Sahih al-Bukhari (2361).

[12] Fath al-Bari (5/349).

[13] Fath al-Bari (5/349), al-Albani in al-Meshka (5142).

[14] Jami’ al-Tirmizi (2169).

[15] Tafsir Ibn Kathir (1/116,117).

[16] Tafsir al-Manar (6/490).

[17] Al-Qurtubi (7/374).

[18] Sahih al-Bukhari (5318), Sahih Muslim (2573).

[19] Sahih Muslim (2880).

[20] Sharh al-Nawawi (9/231).

[21] Sahih al-Bukhari (2361).

[22] Fath al-Bari (5/349).

[23] Tafseer al-manar of Muhammad Rashid Rida (9/637).

[24] Sahih al-Bukhari (2118), Sahih Muslim (2884).

[25] Fath al-Bari (4/399).

[26] Tafsir al-Sa’di.

[27] Tafseer al-Qurtubi (7/154).

[28] Sahih Muslim (2674).

[29] Al-Qurtubi (7/154).

[30] Look at the virtues and attributes of Umar in Sahih al-Bukhari in the 7th chapter, and Sahih Muslim’s section – Virtues of Umar, and Tarjmet Umar b. al-Khattab fi syar a’lam al-nubala, part 1.

[31] Sahih al-Bukhari (3700).

[32] Refer ‘al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya’ of Ibn Kathir (7/180-190), and ‘al-‘Awasem min al-Qawasem’ of Abu Bakr Ibn Al-Arabi from (140-150).

[33] Sahih Muslim (2999).

[34] Madarej al-Salikeen (2/166).

[35] Tafseer al-Razi (8/8).

[36] Al-Tabari (3/222).

[37] Tafseer al-Razi (8/8).

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