Are the Prophets Sinless? Should a Muslim Believe in the Israíliyat?

01 July, 2020
Q Assalamu'alaikum, dear brother/sister. I have heard many syekhs and da'ees say that all of Allah's apostles were sinless. Some preachers say they were capable of sinning but chose not to. Some say they didn't have the capability of sinning at all. Others say that there was a possibility of them committing minor sins (but Allah would remind them, and they would repent straight away out of fear of Allah), and that they were incapable of doing major sins like shirk, adultery, fornication, murder without good cause, etc. Which view is correct? What is the strongest opinion among the scholars?Furthermore, I've many scholars of tafseer sometimes input stories from the People of the Book and say that such and such is what this verse is talking about here, or such and such is what Allah is trying to say there. For example, the accusation that Dawood AS sent one of his generals to die in war so that the general's wife would be his (which is a biblical story). I felt angry when I saw this story, because I knew that Dawood AS would never have done such a thing. But how did these stories find their way to Islamic books in the first place? Thank you.

Answer

Short Answer:

  • The Prophets of Allah were all infallible. That is, they did not, and could not, commit major sins. Allah prevented them from this.
  • Second, they only, rarely, committed minor sins, or human errors. This was followed by immediate repentance to Allah. 
  • Muslims follow a 3-pronged strategy when it comes to all “Israiliyat.”
  • (i) First, they accept (to be true) any historical narrative that corroborates the Quran and hadith of Prophet Muhammad.
  • (ii) Second, they reject any historical narrative, about any Prophet of Allah, which contradicts the Quran and hadith.
  • (iii) Third, regarding those narratives that neither contradict, nor corroborate, Islamic scripture. Muslims take them with a pinch of salt. But they are not required to believe in them. 

………….

Asalaamu alaykum, and thank you for the question.


Sister, you have done well to seek answers to your questions. I ask Allah to grant you high ranks of knowledge of His religion. Ameen. I will try to address your queries, one by one.

The infallibility of the Prophets

What you have heard from Islamic teachers and speakers, is mostly correct. Yes, the Prophets of Allah never committed any major sins. Yes, since they were human, they only committed some mistakes and minor sins. But this was a rare occurrence. And yes, they repented and turned to Allah immediately afterwards.

Some of the Prophets’ human shortcomings have been mentioned in the Quran and Prophetic sayings. For example, when Prophet Musa (Moses) accidentally killed a Copt, without intending to. When Prophet Yunus (Jonah) fled from his land in a boat, before Allah ordered him to. When Prophet Daud (David) judged between two disputants in his private chamber. And when Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them all) was afflicted with sihr (a witchcraft spell) due to which he experienced some forgetfulness [Sahih Al-Bukhari].

Our reaction towards the Prophets’ mistakes

There is no contradiction between the following two claims. First, that the Prophets of Allah were all infallible. That is, they did not, and could not, commit major sins. Allah prevented them from this.

Second, that they only, rarely, committed minor sins, or human errors. This was followed by immediate repentance to Allah. 

The collation between these 2 claims is simple to understand. Allah raised all of His Prophets from among humankind, which is an inherently imperfect creation. No human being is free from certain limitations. The Prophets, being flesh and blood, also had these human limitations. Yet, the Prophets never committed major sins, because Allah Himself prevented them.


He chose them for His work, hence, they were the best of mankind. They were the role models of lofty piety and moral character. Allah wanted all of mankind to look up to them in terms of conduct. Therefore, some of them were able to perform miracles with the will of Allah. And they were protected from harms, by the will of Allah. Allah sent special help to them, through His angels. Yet, they all eventually died, because of their human nature.

Ibn Taimiyyah said,

The belief that the Prophets are free of major sins, but not of minor sins, is the opinion of the majority of Islamic scholars and of all (Muslim) groups. It is the opinion of most commentators on the Qur’an, scholars of hadith and jurists.” [Al-Fatawa, 4:319]


This is the answer to your question. The stronger view among the scholars is that the Prophets were unable to commit any major sins. However, at times, they did what was less than the best action. For these shortfalls, they immediately repented to Allah, who forgave them.

Ibn Hamdan said in Nihayat Al-Mubtadeen,

They are infallible in conveying the commands and message of Allah, but they are not infallible in any other regard. They may make mistakes, forget things, or commit minor sins, according to the most well-known opinion (of the scholars) but they will not be approved for these mistakes.” [Al-Safarini in Lawaami Al-Anwar Al-Bahiyyah, 2:214]

Our attitude towards the Israíliyat (historical narratives)

Lastly, sister, you are right about one thing. That some Muslim scholars sometimes quote incidents from biblical narratives and Jewish sources (“Israíliyyat“). Some Islamic jurists and writers have quoted, in their works, Prophetic incidents taken from these sources.


However, it is clear that they did so for specific reasons:
(i) to corroborate what the Quran and sunnah already stated.
(ii) to refute the lies and exaggerations found in these narratives.

A Muslim should be guarded about what they say about the Prophets of Allah. To reiterate, we believe that Allah always protected all of His Prophets, from 2 main things. The first, from committing major sins. The second, from any undignified behavior or actions that negated lofty moral conduct.


Therefore, Muslims follow a 3-pronged strategy when it comes to all “Israiliyat.”

(i) First, they accept (to be true) any historical narrative that corroborates the Quran and hadith of Prophet Muhammad.
(ii) Second, they reject any historical narrative, about any Prophet of Allah, which contradicts the Quran and hadith.
(iii) Third, regarding those narratives that neither contradict, nor corroborate, Islamic scripture. Muslims take them with a pinch of salt. But they are not required to believe in them. [Introduction to Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Introduction to Al-Bidayah wal-Nihayah and Muqaddimatun fi Usulul il Tafsir, by Ibn Taimiyyah:

Therefore, any narrative that shows the Prophets of Allah in a derisive light, is rejected by Muslims. Even if it appears in the exegeses penned by Muslim scholars.

Sister, please bear one thing in mind. Even though Muslim scholars quote from the Israiliyyat, they do so mostly to refute their fabrications. And Allah knows best.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “Do not testify or deny the [narrations of] the People of the book. Rather, say, ‘We believe in whatever Allah has revealed’.”  [Sahih Al-Bukhari]

I hope that I have clarified the issues that you mentioned in your question. You seem to have a good level of knowledge of Islam, sister. May Allah grant you even higher ranks. Amen.

And Allah knows best.

I hope that this answers your question.  

Salam. Please stay in touch.

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About Sadaf Farooqi
Sadaf Farooqi is an author, blogger and freelance writer based in Karachi, Pakistan. To date, Sadaf has authored over 300 original articles, most of which can be accessed on her blog, "Sadaf's Space" (sadaffarooqi.wordpress.com). She has recently started self-publishing her past articles as non-fiction Islamic books, which are available on Amazon and Kindle (www.amazon.com/author/sadaffarooqi)