The infallibility of the Prophets
Is it proper to say it is part of our ‘aqīdah to believe that the Prophets committed sins and were not infallible?
In the Name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful,
All praise and thanks are due to Allāh, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
All praise and thanks are due to Allāh, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
The Prophets are the best of mankind, and the most noble of creation before Allāh. Allāh chose them to convey the call to worship Allāh alone and to disbelieve in everything that is worshipped instead of Him, and Allāh has made them the intermediaries between Him and His creation in conveying His Laws. They were commanded to convey the message from Allāh.
Allāh Subhanahu wata’ala says:
“They are those whom We gave the Book, Al-Hukum (understanding of the religious laws), and Prophethood. But if these disbelieve therein (the Book, Al-Hukum and Prophethood), then, indeed We have entrusted it to a people (such as the Companions of Prophet Muhammad) who are not disbelievers therein”
The Prophets’ task was to convey the message from Allāh even though they were human; hence the issue of infallibility may be examined from two angles:
1. Infallibility in conveying the message
2. Infallibility from human error
Firstly: The Prophets were infallible in conveying the message from Allāh. They did not conceal anything that Allāh had revealed to them, and they did not add anything from themselves.
Allāh said to His Prophet Muhammad (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam):
“O Messenger (Muhammad)! Proclaim (the Message) which has been sent down to you from your Lord. And if you do not, then you have not conveyed His Message. Allāh will protect you from mankind”
“And if he (Muhammad) had forged a false saying concerning Us (Allāh), We surely would have seized him by his right and (or with power and might), And then We certainly would have cut off his life artery (aorta),And none of you could have withheld Us from (punishing) him”
And Allāh says:
“And he (Muhammad) withholds not a knowledge of the Unseen”
Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahmān ibn Sa’di said in his commentary on this verse: “He is not stingy with that which Allāh has revealed to him, concealing some of it. Rather he (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam) the most trustworthy of the inhabitants of heaven and the people of earth, the one who conveys the message of his Lord, the faithful conveyor (of the message). He does not withhold any part of it, from rich or poor, from ruler or subject, from male or female, from city-dweller or Bedouin. Hence Allāh sent him to an illiterate and ignorant nation, and he (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam) did not die until they had become knowledgeable scholars, steeped in knowledge…”
So with regard to conveying the religion of his Lord, the Prophet (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam) did not make any mistakes at all, whether major or minor, rather he was infallible and under the constant protection of Allāh.
Shaykh ibn Baaz (rahimallāh) said:
All the Muslims are unanimously agreed that the Prophets (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam) – especially Muhammad (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam) – are infallible and protected from error in that which they conveyed from Allāh. Allāh says:
“By the star when it goes down (or vanishes).Your companion (Muhammad) has neither gone astray nor has erred. Nor does he speak of (his own) desire. It is only a Revelation revealed. He has been taught (this Qur’an) by one mighty in power Jibreel (Gabriel)]”
Our Prophet Muhammad (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam) is infallible in all that he conveyed from Allāh, in word and deed and in what he approved of. There is no dispute on this point among the scholars.
[Fataawa Ibn Baaz, 6/371]
The ummah is agreed that the Messengers are infallible in their conveying the message. They did not forget anything that Allāh revealed to them, except for things that were abrogated. And Allāh guaranteed His Messenger (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam) that he would remember it and would not forget it, except for that which Allāh wanted him to forget, and He guaranteed to remember the whole Qur’an in his heart. Allāh said:
“We shall make you to recite (the Qur’an), so you (O Muhammad) shall not forget (it)”
“It is for Us to collect it and to give you (O Muhammad) the ability to recite it (the Qur’aan).And when We have recited it to you [O Muhammad through Jibreel (Gabriel)], then follow its (the Qur’an’s) recitation”
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (rahimahullāh) said:
The verses which point to the Prophethood of the Prophets indicate that they are infallible with regard to the message that they convey from Allāh, so what they convey from their Lord can only be true. This is the meaning of Prophethood and this implies [?] that Allāh tells [the Prophet] of the unseen and he tells the people of the unseen. So the Messenger is commanded to call people and to convey the message to them.
[Majmū’ al-Fatāwa, 18/7]
Secondly: With regard to the Prophets as people, they may make mistakes.
This may be discussed as follows:
1 . They do not commit major sins
With regard to major sins, the Prophets do not commit major sins at all, and they are protected from such major sins both before their missions began or afterwards.
Ibn Taymiyah (rahimahullāh) said:
The view that the Prophets are infallible and protected against committing major sins, as opposed to minor sins, is the view of the majority of Muslim scholars and of all groups. It is also the view of the scholars of Tafsir and hadith and fuqahā’. Indeed, nothing has been narrated from any of the salaf, imams, Sahābah, Tābi’ēn and those who followed them except that which is in accordance with this view.
[Majmū’ al-Fatāwa, 4/319]
2. Matters that have nothing to do with conveying the message and the revelation.
With regard to minor sins, these may be committed by them, or by some of them. Hence the majority of scholars are of the view that they are not infallible when it comes to minor sins. But if they committed such actions they were not left to persist therein, rather Allāh pointed that out to them and they hastened to repent there from.
The evidence that they might commit minor sins and that they were not left to persist therein is the verses in which Allāh says of Ādam:
“Thus did Ādam disobey his Lord, so he went astray? Then his Lord chose him, and turned to him with forgiveness, and gave him guidance”
This indicates that Ādam committed sin, but he was not left to persist therein, and he repented to Allāh from that.
And Allāh says:
“He said: ‘This is of Shaytān’s (Satan’s) doing, verily, he is a plain misleading enemy.’ He said: ‘My Lord! Verily, I have wronged myself, so forgive me.’ Then He forgave him. Verily, He is the Oft-Forgiving, the Most Merciful”
So Musa (`Alaihis-Salām) confessed his sin and sought forgiveness from Allāh after he killed the Egyptian, and Allāh forgave him his sin.
And Allāh says:
“And he [Dawud] sought forgiveness of his Lord, and he fell down prostrate and turned (to Allāh) in repentance. So We forgave him that, and verily, for him is a near access to Us, and a good place of (final) return (Paradise)”
Dawud’s sin was hastening to pass judgement before hearing the case of the second disputant.
And our Prophet Muhammad (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam) was rebuked by his Lord for several things that are mentioned in the Qur’an, such as the following:
“O Prophet! Why do you forbid (for yourself) that which Allāh has allowed to you, seeking to please your wives? And Allāh is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful”
This refers to the well-known story with some of his wives.
Allāh also rebuked His Prophet (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam) concerning the prisoners of war at Badar:
Ibn ‘Abbas (radiallāhu`anhu): said: When the prisoners were taken captive, the Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam) said to Abu Bakar As-Siddiq (radiallāhu`anhu) and ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab (radiallāhu`anhu): “What do you think about these prisoners?”
Abu Bakar said: “O Prophet of Allāh, they are our cousins and kinsmen. I think that we should accept a ransom from them which will give us some support against the kuffār, and perhaps Allāh will guide them to Islam.”
The Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam) said: “What do you think O Ibn al-Khattab?” Umar said: “I say, no, by Allāh, O Messenger of Allāh. I do not agree with Abu Bakar. I think that you should hand them over to us so that we may strike their necks (execute them). Hand over ‘Aqīl to ‘Ali so that he may strike his neck, and hand over so and so – a relative of ‘Umar – to me, for these are the leaders and veterans of kufr.”
The Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam) liked what Abu Bakar said and he did not like what I [‘Umar] said.
The next day I came and found the Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam) and Abu Bakar weeping. I said: “O Messenger of Allāh, tell me, what has made you and your companion weeps? If there is a reason to weep, I will weep with you, and there is no reason, I will pretend to weep in sympathy with you because you are weeping.”
The Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam) said: “I am weeping because I was shown the torture to which they were subjected. It was brought as close to me as this tree” – a tree which was near the Prophet of Allāh (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam) – then Allāh revealed the words:
“It is not for a Prophet that he should have prisoners of war (and free them with ransom) until he had made a great slaughter (among his enemies) in the land. You desire the good of this world (i.e. the money of ransom for freeing the captives), but Allāh desires (for you) the Hereafter. And Allāh is All-Mighty, All-Wise. Were it not a previous ordainment from Allāh, a severe torment would have touched you for what you took. So enjoy what you have gotten of booty in war, lawful and good”
So Allāh permitted booty to them.
From this hadith it is clear that when the Prophet (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam) chose to ransom the prisoners, this was a decision that he made by ijtihad after consulting his companions, and he had no revelation from Allāh concerning it.
The words of Allāh:
“(The Prophet) frowned and turned away. Because there came to him the blind man (i.e. ‘Abdullah bin Umm Maktum, who came to the Prophet while he was preaching to one or some of the Quraysh chiefs)”
This is the famous story of the great companion ‘Abdallah ibn Umm Maktum and the Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam) when Allāh rebuked him.
Ibn Taymiyah (rahimahullah) said:
“What has been narrated from the majority of scholars is that they (the Prophets) are not infallible with regard to minor sins, but they are not left to persist therein. They do not say that this does not happen under any circumstances. The first group from whom it was narrated that they are infallible in all cases, says by the Rafidis (Shi’ah), who say that they are not only infallible but protected even against forgetfulness and misunderstanding.”
[Majmū’ al-Fatāwa, 4/320]
Some people think this is too much to suggest that Prophets may commit sin, and misinterpret some of the texts of the Qur’ān and Sunnah which indicate that. Two specious arguments lead them to do that:
(i) – The fact that Allāh has commanded us to follow the Messengers and take them as our example. The command to follow them is taken as meaning that everything they did is an example for us to follow, and that every action and belief of theirs is an act of worship. If we suggest that that the Messenger (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam) committed a sin, there will be a dilemma, because that implies that we are commanded to imitate this sin which was committed by the Prophet because we are commanded to follow his example, but at the same time we should not agree with it or do it, because it is a sin.
This argument is valid and is appropriate if the sin is hidden and not obvious in such a way that it could be confused with acts of obedience. But Allāh has explained to His Messengers where they went wrong and enabled them to repent without delay.
(ii) – Sins contradict perfection and are a shortcoming. This is true if they are not accompanied by repentance, for repentance brings forgiveness of sin, and does not contradict perfection or bring blame upon a person. Rather in many cases a person may be better after repenting than he was before he fell into sin. It is well known that no Prophet committed sin but he hastened to repent and seek forgiveness. The Prophets did not persist in sin or delay repentance, for Allāh protected them from that, and after repenting they became more perfect than they were before.
3 . Unintentional mistakes with regard to some worldly matters
With regard to mistakes in some worldly matters, it is permissible for them to make such mistakes although their reason is sound and their insight is strong. This happened to several of the Prophets including our Prophet Muhammad (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam). This happened with regard to various spheres of life such as medicine, agriculture, etc.
It was narrated from Raafi’ ibn Khadij (radiallāhu`anhu) said: The Prophet of Allāh (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam) came to Madinah and found them pollinating the palm trees. He said: “What are you doing?” They said: “We always do this.” He said: “Perhaps if you do not do it that will be better.” So they did not do it, and the harvest failed. They told him about that and he said: “I am only human. If I tell you to do something with regard to your religion, and then do it, but if I tell you to do something based on my own opinion, then I am only human.”
Hence it is known that the Prophets are infallible and protected from error with regard to the Revelation, so we should beware of those who cast aspersions upon the Messenger’s conveying of the Message and his laws, and say that it is his own personal opinion. The Prophet (Sallallāhu `Alayhi Wa Sallam) could never do such a thing. Allāh says:
“Nor does he speak of (his own) desire. It is only a Revelation revealed”
The Prophets and Messengers make mistakes but Allāh does not let them persist in their mistakes, rather he points out their mistakes to them as a mercy to them and their nations, and He forgives them for their mistakes, and accepts their repentance by His Grace and Mercy, for Allāh is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful, as will be clear to anyone who studies the verses of the Qur’an which speak of that.
[Fataawa al-Lajnah al-Daa’imah, 3/194]
And Allāh knows best.
[Excerpted with minor modification from Fatwa No: 42216 Islam QA ]