Short answer: If it’s a sin that endangers or harms other people in some way, we must absolutely expose it, but in a dignified manner, with the intention to protect others from that person, while also protecting the victims. Don’t forget: none of us is sinless. After exposing their sin in a dignified manner and working to protect others from it, we should ask Allah to guide the perpetrator and show mercy to them, just as we want Allah to show mercy to us.
Salaam alaikum, Mario, and thank you for your important question.
It is no secret that every human sins; that is just our nature since we are imperfect creatures.
Indeed, a hadith of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) says,
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 Allah would have granted them pardon. (Narrated in Sahih Muslim)
Two Categories of Sins
Since there are so many different humans, all with unique personalities and life situations, there are naturally many ways to sin.
All sins involve disobeying Allah’s commands in some way, but there are two main categories that they fall into:
- sins that are personal (i.e. they only affect the one who commits the sin)
- sins that affect others
Skipping one’s daily prayers, for example, is a personal sin since it doesn’t negatively affect anyone except the one who doesn’t pray.
Committing murder, on the other hand, affects the murderer, the victim, the victim’s loved ones, and the entire community that has to deal with the aftermath.
This distinction is important for the process of repentance.
Both types of sins necessitate asking Allah for forgiveness and resolving never to return to that sin, but the repentance for sins that affect others has an additional requirement of “making it up” to the victims (e.g. returning stolen goods, paying restitution, offering some kind of service, etc.).
Conceal or Reveal?
This distinction is also important for determining whether to conceal or reveal the sin to others.
There is a hadith of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) where he says,
Whoever covers [i.e. hides the sins of] a Muslim, Allah will cover on the Day of Judgment. (Narrated in Sahih Bukhari)
Because of this hadith, as well as the prohibition of backbiting others, Muslims may be hesitant to reveal any wrongdoings of others.
However, if someone is committing a sin that is harming others or infringing on the rights of others, it is in fact our duty to inform people about this.
Allah shares this important verse in the Qur’an:
O you who believe, uphold justice and bear witness to Allah, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives. Whether the person is rich or poor, Allah can best take care of both. Refrain from following your own desire, so that you can act justly. If you distort or neglect justice, Allah is fully aware of what you do. (Qur’an 4:135)
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said,
‘Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is an oppressed one.’
People asked, ‘O Allah’s Messenger! It is alright to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?’
The Prophet said, ‘By preventing him from oppressing others.’ (Narrated in Sahih Bukhari)
Commitment to Justice
Islam is a religion that is committed to justice.
People have rights that must not be trespassed, and if they are, it is imperative that we demand justice and fairness.
Oftentimes, the person or group who is being unjust is one that we would normally love and trust (for example, someone in our family, or perhaps a beloved community leader).
Even, and especially, in this case, justice must be upheld, as difficult and painful as it may be.
People must be made aware of this person’s behavior to prevent others from being harmed, the victim(s) must be made the top priority, and the wrongdoer must take action to correct what they have done (in addition to repenting sincerely to Allah).
Etiquette of Revealing Sins
Despite the fact that it is incumbent to reveal when someone is committing a sin that harms others, this must be done with compassion and good intentions.
We want what is best for our fellow Muslims, and part of loving someone is helping them when they have done wrong so that they can become better in the future.
When informing others of someone’s sins that harm others, this should be done fully with the intention of protecting other people from these sins.
We should ask Allah to show mercy to them just as we want Allah to show mercy to us.