Adam & Eve Stumble But Don't Fall
What happened in the garden was a “fall,” but not “The “Fall.” It was merely a mistake, and unlike Christianity, did not have serious consequences. Adam was created as God’s kalifa (vice-regent) on earth but it is blasphemous to say humans were made in God’s image. Satan deceived Adam into eating from the forbidden tree (Qur’an 2:24-36), however this did not alienate him from God. When he repented, God “turned toward him,” because he is merciful and forgiving (2:37). Moreover, Muslims claim it was God’s plan from the beginning to put Adam and Eve on earth; it was never to leave them in the garden. The garden was only a training ground to reveal his continual need for the guidance provided through divine revelation.
No Original Sin
Muslims reject the doctrine of original sin and cannot accept that death ensured; it was a natural process built into creation (23:14-16). They may even quote the Bible that people are responsible for their own deeds: “The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness the wicked will be upon himself” (Ezekiel 18:20). They reason it would be unjust for God to punish all humanity because of Adam’s deed. Sin is not hereditary and no one born a sinner. It is worth noting, however, that humanity is prone to sin.
Everyone Is Born Pure
Muslim theologians explain man’s nature at birth as fitrah: a state of intrinsic goodness. Like Adam, people are born pure and sinless. They are Muslims by birth, and salvation is intact, but they must do all in their power to maintain this status. Everyone is accountable for the voices they make and the good and bad deeds they perform. These deeds will be weighed on the day of judgment with the hope that Allah’s mercy will be obtained.
All Have Sinned
Muslims admit that maintaining a sinless life, in the long run, is impossible. In other words, the state of fitrah does not last (except for Jesus, Muslims believe that Jesus did live a sinless life). Humans become polluted due to outside evil influences. This is why we sin, or as one Islamic scholar explains, “Every child is born in a state of fitrah, and social environment causes the individual to deviate from this state.”¹ The Qur’an seems to agree that people are sinful and blameworthy: “If Allah were to punish men for their wrong-doing, He would not leave, on the (earth), a single living creature” (16:61).
¹Yasien Mohamed, The Islamic Concept of Human Nature, 41.
God's Law is Somewhat Arbitrary
In Islam it’s difficult to know what is lawful, and even discerning between right and wrong is sometimes difficult. As Samuel Zwemer states, “Nothing is right or wrong by nature, but becomes such by the fiat of the Almighty. What Allah forbids is sin, even should He forbid what seems to the human conscious right and lawful. What Allah allows is not sin and cannot be sin at the time he allows it, though it may have been before or after.”¹ Most Muslims feel no need to try and explain or define God’s holiness or justify His actions in accordance with His nature.
¹Samuel Zwemer, The Moslem Doctrine of God, 51.
God May Overlook Some Sins
God may overlook small sins, and the traditions state they can be forgiven by performing salat (prayers) and wadu (ritual washing) (al-Bukhari 10:504; al-Muslim 2:437). God may even decide to hide one’s sin: “The Messenger of Allah said, “All my followers’ sins will be forgiven except those made public. That is, when a man commits a sin at night and then makes known during the day, even though Allah has screened him at night…” (Bukhari 73:95). Christians may have a hard time starting their evangelism with, “Do you agree you are a sinner.” Muslims are far more interested in talking about their standing before God in terms of purity and defilement than righteousness and guilty.
Seven Grave Sins
Islam refers to grave sins and lesser sins. Of course, such distinctions have some truth, but according to the Bible, anyone who breaks one of God’s laws–no matter how small–is guilty of breaking all the laws (James 2:10). Most Muslim theologians agree that the following list constitutes grave sins:
- Shirk (adding partners to God)
- Despoiling orphans
- Fleeing from a battle
- False charges of adultery
Man's Chief Problem: Forgetfulness
Disobedience is not rebellion against God but rather a failure to remember His instructions. Satan’s goal is to make us forget his guidance (58:19; 20:115). Since we are weak and forgetful, God sent prophets and messengers to remind us of the true path. “The primary task of the prophets is to awaken man’s conscience so that he can decipher the primordial writing on his heart more clearly and with greater conviction.”¹ Within each person is “an inborn inclination to believe and worship Allah.”² “It follows, then, that the greatest tragedy that can happen in a man’s life is that he turn away from the remembrance of God. For, when he forgets Allah, he degenerates into a slave of his own base desires whose life becomes characterized by evil and corruption.”³ “God remembrance,” is key to overcoming temptation and producing taqwa (piety). Whoever turns from such guidance will face judgment in the last days due to ignorance and disregard of God (20:124).
¹Rahman, Major Themes of the Qur’an, 24.
²Yasien Mohamed, The Islamic Concept of Human Nature, 87.
³Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, Salvation Through Repentance (An Islamic View), 23.
Man's Sins Against Himself
Adam’s response in the garden is, “Our Lord! We have wronged our own souls.” (7:23), so sin is mostly against oneself–not against God. Phil Parshall, a veteran missionary among Muslims, said this: “It is difficult to communicate the biblical meaning of sin to a Muslim. His outlook is horizontal rather than vertical. Often the key criterion of a definition of sin is whether or not a person is caught.”¹ Zwemer adds that God’s holiness is “completely ignored in the Qur’an.”¹ “If anyone does evil or wrongs his own soul… And if anyone earns sin, He earns it against His own soul: for Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom” (4:110-111).
¹Samuel Zwemer, The Moslem Doctrine of God, 49.
No Mediator For Sin
A few Muslims have argued that through Muhammad’s intercession grave sins can be forgiven, but citing the Qur’an, most deny any such mediatory role: “O ye who believe! Spend out of (the bounties) We have provided for you, before the Day comes when no bargaining (Will avail), nor friendship nor intercession” (2:254). Then they read in the Hadith that Muhammad worried about future judgment on his own family: “O Safiyah, the Aunt of Allah’s Apostle! I cannot save you from Allah’s Punishment; O Fatima bint Muhammad [his daughter]! Ask me anything from my wealth, but I cannot save you from Allah’s Punishment” (al-Bukhari 51:16).
From the Qur’an, Muslims are left with little assurance of salvation, but it was because of those final words in the Traditions from the Arabian prophet that certain Pakistani friends despaired of finding salvation in Islam. They said: “If Muhammad couldn’t save his own relatives, how can he save us?” Then, after reading more of the Bible, they said their favorite verse was, “Come unto me all you that are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28-30).