The Sinless Prophet
One mistaken idea many people share about the different prophets God sent is that they were all sinless. This idea goes against both common reason and God’s Word. It goes against reason because the prophets were also descendants of Adam just as all other men and shared his sinful and self-centered nature. And it goes against God’s Word because God’s Word states clearly that all people have sinned. God’s Word is very clear in describing the lives of the prophets. It tells their shortfalls and acts of disobedience as well as their great faith and acts of obedience. These were not simply mistakes but sins, transgressions against divine law. The wonderful thing about the prophets is that, after disobeying, they turned in repentance to God and received His forgiveness.
In most cases, the Qur’ān does not go into great detail about the sins of the prophets, but simply records their coming to God in repentance. For a more complete picture of their disobedience and why they were told to repent, one has to go to the earlier books. Given below are some of the passages in the Qur’ān relating to this. They clearly show the prophets as sinners needing God’s forgiveness:
Hazrat Ibrahim (A:)
“And who [Allah], I ardently hope, will forgive me [Prophet Abraham] my sin (خَطِيئَتِي khatiy’atii) on the Day of Judgment.” – Qur’ān , Sura Shu’araa (The Poets) 26:82
“He [Prophet Moses] entered the town unnoticed by its people, and found two men at each other’s throats, the one of his own race, the other an enemy. The Israelite appealed for Moses’ help against his enemy, so that Moses struck him with his fist and slew him. ‘This is the work of Satan,’ said Moses. ‘He is the sworn enemy of man and seeks to lead him astray. Forgive me, Lord,’ he said, ‘for I have sinned against my soul (إِنِّي ظَلَمْتُ نَفْسِي).'” – Qur’ān , Sura Qaa (The Story) 28:15,16
“Behold, this is my brother: he has ninety-nine ewes, whereas I have [only] one ewe – and yet he said, Make her over to me, and forcibly prevailed against me in this [our] dispute. Said [David]: He has certainly wronged thee by demanding that thy ewe be added to his ewes! Thus, behold, do many kinsmen wrong one another [all] save those who believe [in God] and do righteous deeds: but how few are they! And [suddenly] David understood that We had tried him: and so he asked his Sustainer to forgive him his sin, (فَاسْتَغْفَرَ رَبَّهُ faistaghfara rabbahu) and fell down in prostration, and turned unto Him in repentance.” – Qur’ān , Sura Suad 38:23-24
The Qur’anic interpreters such as Ibn Abbas, Tafsir Jalalayn, Tabari
explain that this verse is speaking of how David is being told a story to convict him of how he wrongly took Uriah’s wife and killed Uriah ( see here).
“Jonah was also sent with a message. He fled to the laden ship, cast lots, and was condemned. The whale swallowed him, for he had been blameworthy (مُلِيمٌ muleemun) and had he not devoutly praised the Lord he would have stayed in its belly till the Day of Resurrection. We threw him, gravely ill, upon a desolate shore and caused a gourd-tree to grow over him. Thus did We send him to a nation a hundred thousand strong or more. They believed in him, and We let them live in ease awhile.” – Qur’ān , Sura Saffat (The Ranks) 37:139-148
“Therefore have patience [O Muhammad]. God’s promise is surely true. Implore forgiveness for your sins, (وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لِذَنبِكَ waistaghfir lithanbika) and celebrate the praise of your Lord evening and morning.” – Qur’ān , Sura Mu-min (The Believer) 40:55.
“Know [O Muhammad] that there is no deity but God. Implore Him to forgive your sins (وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لِذَنبِكَ waistaghfir lithanbika) and to forgive the true believers, men and women. God knows your busy haunts and resting-places.” – Qur’ān , Sura Muhammad (Muhammad) 47:19
“We have given you [O Muhammad] a glorious victory, so that God may forgive your past and future sins (مِن ذَنبِكَ وَمَا تَأَخَّرَ min dhanbika wama taakhkhara), and prefect His goodness to you; that He may guide you to a straight path and bestow on you His mighty help.” – Qur’ān , Sura Fat-h (Victory) 48:1,2
Some people try to twist the plain meaning by saying that these were not sins but simply forgetfulness or personal weaknesses.
What arabic word is used? The Arabic word used in many of these verses about the prophets’ sins is ذنب (dhanb), which translates as “sin, crime, trespass”. Dhanb is a strong word, it does not denote merely minor faults or mistakes. In regard to Abraham, the word خَطِيئَت (Khatiy’at) is used for sin, which translates as “sin, transgression, trespass”. Furthermore, it makes no sense to “ask forgiveness” or “repent” of what is not a sin.
Second, what are the actions? The actions themselves which the Qur’an is speaking of are not simply personal weaknesses or forgetfulness, they are clearly sins – murder in the case of Moses, adultery and murder in the case of David. These are not simply personal weaknesses but rather transgressions of Divine Law.
“He (`Īsā) will speak to people in the cradle and adult-hood, and he is righteous .” (Al-‘Imran 3:46)
“He said: ‘I (God’s Spirit) am truly the messenger of your Lord, give you a sinless boy.'” (Maryam 19:19)
This testimony is confirmed in the Hadith:
Abu Huraira said,”I heard Allah’s Apostle saying, ‘There is none born among the offspring of Adam, but Satan touches it. A child therefore, cries loudly at the time of birth because of the touch of Satan, except Mary and her child .”1
The Injil is quite clear on the sinlessness of Jesus. In Hebrews we read that Jesus
“has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Even the disciple Peter, who knew Jesus well, declared that Jesus:
“committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22).
And in the 1 John 3:5 we read that:
“In him is no sin” (1 John 3:5)
and Paul confirms for us that Jesus “had no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Even Jesus himself asked those around him:
“Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” (John 8:46)
- Sahih Al-Bukhari , Volume 4, Book 55, No 641, see also 4:54:506)