Does forgiveness require atonement? (Q 5:95, 89)

Muslims sometimes say that forgiveness that requires atonement or some form of penalty or payment isn’t truly forgiveness. The idea that Christ died for our sins thus is not an act of forgiveness from God, because someone still paid the price.

In this article I consider a couple of Qur’an verses that suggest sometimes, even if rarely, repentance alone is not all that is required.

Happy to discuss in the comments either here or there ๐Ÿ™‚

Categories: Islam

14 replies

  1. Hi Richard,

    Thanks for your post.

    Simply put, from my understanding of Islam, what we believe is-

    1. Every person has to pay for his own sins. No one pays for someone elseโ€™s sin. Similar to Ez 18:20.

    2. No one will enter the kingdom of heaven except for Godโ€™s mercy. Similar concept as Mt 9:13. (Add for repentance at the end of the verse, which was taken out from many translations.)

    In Islam, there are punishment for sins, and accepting the punishment is AN ESSENTIAL part of repentance (i.e. the payment). This is what our Christian brothers and sisters usually miss.

    When you put the two I mentioned above together, you can see that we must repent before Lord for our sins, accept the punishment, and then it is up to Him if we are to enter His Kingdom or not (i.e. Only He decides if our repentance was sincere or bogus).

    In my journey I have found that a Christian personโ€™s heart is looking for a scapegoat for his sins, he wants a sure shot measure of salvation. A Muslimโ€™s heart surrenders and accepts the punishment and seeks for the mercy of God, and is scared of Him- because thereโ€™s no such sure shot concept as somebody has paid for their sins.

    Hope it makes sense! Again, this is my understanding.

    Have a fantastic day!!

  2. Hi Sami,

    Thank you very much for your thoughtful reply ๐Ÿ™‚ I think you touch on a lot of the key issues.

    1) How does this fit with the idea of Sahih Muslim 2767b

    ‘No Muslim would die but Allah would admit in his stead a Jew or a Christian in Hell-Fire. ‘Umar b. Abd al-‘Aziz took an oath: By One besides Whom there is no god but He, thrice that his father had narrated that to him from Allah’s Messenger (๏ทบ).’ –

    I presume you would say there’s no transferral of sin, but that there are a pre-set number of places in hell, and for every one that a Jew or Christian fills, that’s one less place for a Muslim?

    Also, do you believe in the intercession of Muhammad? If so, while that’s not paying for someone elses sins, it is the forgiveness of sin based upon another.

    2) Agreed, Muslims absolutely believe in the mercy of God.

    3) That’s fair enough, you can say accepting the punishment is an essential part of repentance. But the point still remains I think that according to the Qur’an, there are a couple of particular sins for which God does actually ask for more than just a change of heart, but specifically requires the actions that go along with that. Which in at least one case (Q 5:95) requires animal sacrifice, where this can be afforded.

    This is still distinct from Christian theology of course. A Muslim can say there is no intrinsic necessity for him to forgive only once a sacrifice or atonement has been made – God can forgive anything. But he has simply chosen to decree these as being required. By contrast, Christians say that God cannot simply forgive anything without atonement being made – this would violate his standards of justice.

    I think my warning to Muslim apologists still stand. They cannot object that, by definition, a forgiveness that requires some form of atonement isn’t really forgiveness. However they are right to highlight that Christians and Muslims have fundamentally different standards of what God MUST do according to God’s justice, even if they might agree that at certain times and for certain things God actually HAS chosen to require atonement.

    4) Absolutely Christians want ‘a sure shot measure of salvation.’ Which isn’t to say Christianity doesn’t have other seperate reasons to believe in it, and that it’s all just ‘wish-fulfilment’. But a live lived in fear of the hell described in the Qur’an, sounds pretty horrific (e.g. Q 4:56) unless you can have some degree of certainty that you’re one of the true believers. But will even they escape the fire? (Q 19:71

    • If that is what the Hadith says, throw that Hadith away and follow what the Quran says. Your use the Quran as yardstick to measure everything, if it conforms with the Quran, you keep it. If it goes contrary to the Quran, throw it away and hold on to the Quran. So that Hadith is duaif as long as it doesnโ€™t conform with Al Quran.

      • This is for Richard and Ibrahim and Paul if you are reading,

        First and foremost Sami, never reject an authentic hadith because that hadith came from the Prophet, just because you can not understand the hadith or are unable to reconcile it with the Quran due to your lack of knowledge and comprehension that does not mean it should be thrown away, the only time a so called ‘hadith’ is thrown away is if it is mukar or daif not if it is hassan, sahih or mutawatir even if it is ahad and authentic you must still take it.

        The Quran and the sunnah are completely compatible and that is because they are both revelation, the speech of Allah is revelation and the speech of the Prophet in regards to religious affairs is also a revocation, that is why Allaah said:

        ูˆูŽู…ูŽุง ูŠูŽู†ุทูู‚ู ุนูŽู†ู ุงู„ู’ู‡ูŽูˆูŽู‰ ุฅูู†ู’ ู‡ููˆูŽ ุฅูู„ู‘ูŽุง ูˆูŽุญู’ูŠูŒ ูŠููˆุญูŽู‰

        (And he does not speak out of his own vain desire, (What he says is) only the Revelation that is revealed to him)
        surah Najam ayah 3

        Allaah also said:

        ู‡ููˆูŽ ุงู„ู‘ูŽุฐููŠ ุจูŽุนูŽุซูŽ ูููŠ ุงู„ู’ุฃูู…ู‘ููŠู‘ููŠู†ูŽ ุฑูŽุณููˆู„ู‹ุง ู…ู‘ูู†ู’ู‡ูู…ู’ ูŠูŽุชู’ู„ููˆ ุนูŽู„ูŽูŠู’ู‡ูู…ู’ ุขูŠูŽุงุชูู‡ู ูˆูŽูŠูุฒูŽูƒู‘ููŠู‡ูู…ู’ ูˆูŽูŠูุนูŽู„ู‘ูู…ูู‡ูู…ู ุงู„ู’ูƒูุชูŽุงุจูŽ ูˆูŽุงู„ู’ุญููƒู’ู…ูŽุฉูŽ ูˆูŽุฅูู† ูƒูŽุงู†ููˆุง ู…ูู† ู‚ูŽุจู’ู„ู ู„ูŽูููŠ ุถูŽู„ูŽุงู„ู ู…ู‘ูุจููŠู†ู

        He it is Who raises among the unlettered a Messenger of their own. He recites to them His Ayaat and cleanses them, teaches them the Book and the Wisdom. And verily, they had been before (wishing to reach Allah) in manifest Misguidance.

        surah Jumuah ayah 2

        in this Ayah the book is the Quran and the hikmah is the sunnah/hadith/prophetic tradition. This was also given to Musa and Isa if you read the quran.

        So it is not permissible for any muslim to claim islam whilst rejecting an authentic hadith, it is on par with rejection the an ayah quran because they are both revelation from Allaah but just in different forms.

        Allaah also commands us to follow the Prophet because Allaah knows that his speech is a from or revelation from Him, that is why Allaah says:

        ูˆูŽู…ูŽุง ุขุชูŽุงูƒูู…ู ุงู„ุฑู‘ูŽุณููˆู„ู ููŽุฎูุฐููˆู‡ู ูˆูŽู…ูŽุง ู†ูŽู‡ูŽุงูƒูู…ู’ ุนูŽู†ู’ู‡ู ููŽุงู†ุชูŽู‡ููˆุง
        And whatever the Messenger gave you, then take it. And from whatever he forbids you, abstain from it
        surah Hashr

        However the Quran has more virtue due to it being the direct speech of Allaah however when it comes to legislation, law, belief they are as equal as still water because the hadith is also a type of revelation from Allaah, this is a principle so remember.

        If you are unable to answer Richard’s questions Ibrahim because you have not studied islam with the scholars then just keep quite in your lane because Allaah did not obligated you to speak or defend islam especially if you have no knowledge.

        Islam is only deafened with knowledge and truth not with ignorance, falsehood, lies, hook or crook ext….

    • And to Richard and Paul, if a muslim ever tells you to reject an authentic statement of the Prophet even in a ‘small’ matter then just walk away because this person can not even tell you the least about islam, their rejection and acceptance is based on their lack of knowledge and desires so they wont be able to help you except in misguidance.

      sorry if that sounds rude but this is the Religion of Allaah we are talking about it can not be made in to an arena for everyone to speak what they want

      • Thank you for your thoughts Madeedah, yes I agree that your approach is more in line with the classical Sunni perspective. The traditional Muslim approach has been to adhere to a sahih Hadith as far as possible, and to reconcile this with the Qur’an.

    • Richard if you would like to Know the answer to you questions and Ayaat then i do have an idea but it’s best not to speculate, it would be better to pass you on to a scholar.

      if you would like i can connect you with scholar who have been studying Islam for 20+ years in Saudi, He has a masters in Hadith which is useful for this topic and he studies and lived in saudi Arabia and is a teacher at Madinah university. He has actually studied with the scholars and he has studied sahih Bukhari from beginning to end and has memorized all of it i believe.

      if not him can can pass you over to some students of Shaykh Muqbil who died in the 1990’s he was the leading scholar of hadith of this generation and has memorized i believe almost if not all of the six books of hadith from back to front with it’s explanation.

      There are some English and American students who have taken his place as teachers in Yemen after studying with him for more than 20 years and they will me more than willing to answer your questions and if they don’t know they will refer you to someone who does and they wont speak out of ignorance or arrogance.

      if you would like your questions answered you can go to them, they who have studied for 20 years leaving their family behind, some of these people have not seen their mothers in 20 years because they went to study islam, they are more worthy of being asked these questions because they know what they are talking about no us random muslims here or the showmen is speakers corner who don’t know Arabic or have not even memorized the quran but will tell muslims and non muslims what islam is about…no offence to them again but it’s the truth.

      as the prophet said, the scholars are the inheritors of the prophet, during the time of the prophet if people wanted to learn islam they would go to him but now he has passed we go to the scholars not laymen.

      I hope this will help

      • Hi Madeenah,

        Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment. I appreciate your kind offer to put me in touch with others, and I respect your intellectual humility, and agree that it’s always good to talk to those who know more.

        To be honest, on this issue I think they and I will agree! We all agree that atonement is not central to forgiveness in the Qur’an, that the normal position is that sins can be repented off and then forgiven by God. My issue is not with Muslims who recognise this; this post was only aimed at Muslim apologists who make statements that I don’t think line up with the Qur’an.

        So thank you very much, but on this issue I don’t think there’s any need to trouble them!

    • No problem Richard

  3. Hadith 2767b is from the section titled:-
    Chapter: The Acceptance Of The Repentance Of The One Who Kills, Even If He Has Killed A Great Deal
    …perhaps this pertains to war/battle specifically and not to repentence in general?

    I would doubt such a thing as predestiny to hell. The Islamic/Quranic conception of human nature (Fitra) is that all humanity is born “muslim” as one in tune with God’s will/laws (of nature). Without “original sin”, human nature is not predetermined as sinful. A human being chooses to err/sin when he gains his majority and his free-will is fully functioning. (a minor/child does not yet have a fully functioning free-will).

    To err/sin is an act against human nature and thus “hardens the heart” causing a moral injury. Repentance (remorse/ask for forgiveness) is the process where a person can heal ones injury and thereby soften the heart. Repentance is a choice.

    Though each person is a work-in-progress, it is not difficult to be good, it is not difficult to regret when one has erred/sinned. Therefore God, most compassionate, most merciful, has made our path to heaven clear and straight. This does not mean there are no tests or trials on the way….but the path is straight.

    Islamic paradigm is essentially different from the Christian paradigm so a comparison may be difficult?

    • Hi Anon,

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply ๐Ÿ™‚

      I don’t see anything in that section about war or battle. You’re right that the section heading is about the forgiveness of even one who has killed, but it seems to me from the first couple of hadith listed that we’re talking about an outright murderer (e.g. he even kills the monk), not someone who fights in battle. What do you think?

      My understanding is that predestination has a long pedigree in Islamic thought, and that there is basis for this in both the Qur’an (e.g. Q 14:4; 4:88) and the hadith (e.g. the classic Bukhari hadith I also think the Qur’an is actually more pessimistic about human nature than Islamic teaching (e.g. Q 16:61; 4:28).

  4. ahadith science is complicated, and I am speculating…but the wording seems similar to verse 5:51—
    O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you โ€“ then indeed, he is of them. Indeed, Allah guides not the wrongdoing people.

    the context of this verse are the battles…and it may be possible that this topic/subject may have led to various discussions among the audience of the time? From the Quranic perspective—the battles the Muslims fought were against oppression (persecution) and for freedom (to freely practice their “way of life”/deen)….The hadith might make sense under such a (limited) context?

    Predistination–True, Islamic thought/philosophy has had discussions about the balance of choice vs determinism.
    My interpretation of 14:4 and 4:88 is based on the explanation given in 2:2–2:7. The sequence of the verses indicates that guidance is given first, rejection of guidance then creates the consequences (God’s action). A careful look at other similar verses also points to such a sequence in context.
    However, God is most compassionate, most merciful and repentance heals the moral injury caused by rejection of guidance (hardening the heart).
    My interpretation of 16:61 is that since our time on earth is a test and humans (collectively and individually) are a work-in-progress, it is inevitable that mistakes will occur in our journey/path. Therefore if God were to punish “sinners”….all of humanity would end up punished. —the same problem occurs with original sin concept—if all humanity are born sinners then all are destined to get punished—thus, a representative sacrifice is made which spares all of humanity?—-or something? In Islamic paradigm, all humanity are not born sinners. Humanity is given the responsibility(burden?) of “choice” (limited free-will) for a determined amount of time (life on earth). This “time” gives human beings many opportunities to repent if their choice was incorrect—and when they do so, God most compassionate, most merciful, forgives.

    When Quranic verses are read in the context of the Islamic paradigm (fitra/human nature)—is it possible that a more optimistic vision of both man and God might be perceived?

  5. I’m afraid other than reference to Jews and Christians, I see no other verbal parallels between those hadiths. Am I missing something?

    I agree actually, I think some Qur’anic verses could soften others when it comes to the issue of predestination. Perhaps God ‘confirms in sin’ those who are already in sin. I need to look into this more, and I appreciate you highlighting this.

    But I think even if you want to say humans are not born sinners, Q 16:61 suggests that all humans do in fact end up sinning, right? So humans are by nature sinners?

    I agree that ideas of atonement and representative sacrifice are quire different.

    Perhaps man has more choice in Islam between good and evil, but the fact that man sometimes does in fact choose evil suggests there is something wrong in human nature. Something imperfect, something flawed. But I agree that in Islam this is seen as much less of a big deal than in the Bible and in Christianity. And yes there is a fundamental difference in how this can be forgiven – the OT talks about sacrifices for sin, and the NT says the ultimate sacrifice is Jesus. The Qur’an says far less about sacrifice for sin.

  6. God confirms in sin those who are already in sin—interesting statement. Indeed, it requires further reflection.
    From the Islamic/Quranic perspective—such “confirmation” would not necessarily close the doors on God’s forgiveness/mercy. Perhaps this is because there seems to be more emphasis on “intent” rather than action?
    (IMO) Since human beings live “in” time—an action taken cannot be undone…but perhaps repentance might change “intent” (as these things are abstract)…?…what is your opinion?

    16:61 and human nature—The assumption is that human “nature” (natural disposition/inclination) is towards good. This is because “nature” is “muslim”—that is, it obeys God’s will/God’s laws. This then leads to the next assumption that, therefore, “bad” goes against (human) “nature”. Therefore, while the use of choice may not appear to be a big deal—perhaps the burden/responsibility of that choice may be heavier in Islam?
    Because of this heavy responsibility, God most compassionate, most merciful, has so graphically described hell—to help serve as deterrent?. If “nature” inclines towards good—then bad requires effort in both intent and action.

    Yes, IMO, in Islam, human beings are a work-in-progress. There would be no necessity for limited free-will/choice (nor any Guidance) if humanity were perfect. (Surah 90 and 91:7-10.) The circumstances that we live on earth requires us (humans) to have “desires”—it is what helps us survive. To be able to adapt to the circumstances on earth requires the ability to make decisions/choices. That is why God (most compassionate, most merciful) gave guidance to all humanity—so that we can make the correct choices. And in case humans forget that guidance and give in to excess “desires”, go “beyond limits”/transgress, God gives opportunities (time) for repentance/remorse.

    If, despite all this, a human chooses evil/bad and refuses to repent until the end of his life—then the harsh consequences of such a (heavy) choice could be understood?

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