Prophets are good examples for their people. Allah chose them to guide people and lead them to the best way of life. However, you may ask, were the prophets angels? Why did they not sin? Did the prophets have any option to sin? Were they forced to obey Allah, or they had the choice not to? What is the reality of infallibility? If they did not have the option to sin, how could they be good examples for human beings? In this article, the following topics will be discussed:
The Infallibility of Prophets
We should first come to know what the meaning of infallibility or ‘ismah (عِصمَة) is to understand whether the prophets were infallible or not. In Islamic culture, infallibility means that the infallible person does not disobey Allah or break His law. Hence, when Allah commands a prophet to do something, he obeys Him without hesitation and never disobeys His command. This is why Allah, the All-Knowing, commands the believers to follow the prophets:
قُلْ أَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ ۖ فَإِن تَوَلَّوْا فَإِنَّمَا عَلَيْهِ مَا حُمِّلَ وَعَلَيْكُم مَّا حُمِّلْتُمْ ۖ وَإِن تُطِيعُوهُ تَهْتَدُوا ۚ وَمَا عَلَى الرَّسُولِ إِلَّا الْبَلَاغُ الْمُبِينُ
Say [to them], “Obey God and His messenger, but if you turn your back [and ignore him, you should know that] he is only accountable for his duty and you will be accountable for your duty and if you obey him, you will be guided, and the duty of the messenger is only to deliver [God’s message] clearly.”1
In the abovementioned verse of the Quran, Allah, the All-Knowing, commands the believers to obey Allah and the Prophet (s).
You may ask why Allah asks people to obey Him and commands the believers to follow the Prophet to the same degree?! The response to this question is straightforward because the Prophet only commands to what Allah is pleased with and never commits a sin or error. This holds concerning all the prophets of Allah; all of them are infallible. Therefore, Allah commands believers to obey them, and they are not allowed to disobey them.
Why Are the Messengers Infallible?
There are three reasons why the prophets were infallible and did not commit any sins. They are as follows:
- They loved Allah very deeply: the prophets had a deep love for God. Because of this, they never disobeyed God. They enjoyed following God’s commands; therefore, they tried their best to bring God’s pleasure. It is said Prophet Shuaib cried very much for the love of God. As a result, he lost his sight, and after a while, God cured him, but once again, He cried very much and lost his sight, and God cured him. He lost his sight three times, after which God asked Shuaib, “Why did you cry so much to lose your sight?” He replied, “O my Lord, I love you so deeply, and I am eager to meet you.”
- The prophets had an iron will. They resisted pressures, hardships, satanic temptations, and worldly desires. They were ready to sacrifice themselves for God and His religion, and nothing could prevent them from treading the path of God.
- They had profound knowledge about the consequences of sinning. They knew that sin is like poison. They believed that just as consuming poison causes them to die, sinning would also defile their spirit, and their life in the Hereafter would be annihilated. Consequently, they would distance themselves from God’s mercy. Therefore, they did not commit sins under any circumstance.
Do Prophets Sin?
Divine messengers never sinned. However, in some Islamic texts such as the Quran, we can see that some messengers apparently sinned. However, sin in such cases does not mean disobedience to God. For instance, the Quran quotes Prophet Moses has having said:
وَ لَهُمْ عَلَيَّ ذَنْبٌ فَأَخافُ أَنْ يَقْتُلُون
And they have a crime against me, so I fear that they will kill me.”2
In the verse mentioned above, the followers of Pharaoh believed that Moses was sinful because he had killed a wrongdoer among them. Nevertheless, Moses was not sinful, and it was actually the followers of Pharoah who attributed sin to him.
Did Our Noble Prophet Sin?
In another verse of the Quran, God addresses the Prophet in the following way:
عَفَا اللَّهُ عَنْكَ لِمَ أَذِنْتَ لَهُمْ حَتَّى يَتَبَيَّنَ لَكَ الَّذينَ صَدَقُوا وَ تَعْلَمَ الْكاذِبين
May God forgive you! Why did you let them [sit back? Before] you discover the truthful and know the liars.3
Prophet Muhammad was very kind and merciful. He had permission from God to exempt certain people from partaking in jihad. Meanwhile, the Prophet permitted a group of people, later revealed to have been hypocrites, to be exempt from participating in jihad because they swore by God that they could not do jihad. Therefore, God kindly said to him that he should not have shown mercy to them until it became clear that they were munafiq (hypocrites). This verse of the Quran praises the Prophet’s kindness even though it appears to be a criticism.
Prophet Muhammad (s) used to put himself under considerable pressure, ignoring his rights, to please his wives. The Quran defends the Prophet and tells him that he should not have neglected his rights4 because his wives were wrongfully displeased with him.
The Prophet’s Past and Future Sins?
In the second verse of Surah Fath, God says:
لِّيَغْفِرَ لَكَ اللَّهُ مَا تَقَدَّمَ مِن ذَنبِكَ وَمَا تَأَخَّرَ وَيُتِمَّ نِعْمَتَهُ عَلَيْكَ وَيَهْدِيَكَ صِرَاطًا مُّسْتَقِيمًا ﴿٢﴾
That God may forgive your former and following sins and may complete His blessing on you and guide you on a straight path.5
It is worth noting that by the Prophet’s past and future sins, God means the sins that others attributed to the Prophet, not that he committed sins in reality. By saying He forgives them, God means to say that he will make people know that the Prophet did not commit any wrong and is free from committing any sins.
The Prophet’s Position of Infallibility
When we analyze such verses, we should seriously consider the exalted position of the messengers. We should not compare them with ordinary people, nor are we allowed to degrade their holy position narrow-mindedly. Their physical body was like the rest of us, but they and their deeds are our criteria. God says Prophet Muhammad (s) is an excellent example for mankind; therefore, such a good example cannot be a person who sins because God chose a perfect example with whom He is entirely pleased.
Did Satan Deceive the Prophets of God?
We mentioned that, on the one hand, prophets of God had very profound insight and knowledge. Therefore, they could see the realities of the grave and the fatal and harmful consequences of divine disobedience. On the other hand, they had an iron will and felt an intense and sincere love for God. Therefore, they did not even think about disobedience and never disobeyed God, even though they had the free will to do so. God knew this fact and was fully aware of them, so He chose them as His messengers:
وَ إِنَّهُمْ عِنْدَنا لَمِنَ الْمُصْطَفَيْنَ الْأَخْيار
“Indeed, they are definitely among the elect of the best in Our sight.”6
Thus, Satan understood that this group of servants, the sincere, among which are the prophets, will not follow him, so he confessed that he would not be able to deceive them.7
قالَ فَبِعِزَّتِكَ لَأُغْوِيَنَّهُمْ أَجْمَعينَ إِلاَّ عِبادَكَ مِنْهُمُ الْمُخْلَصينَ
Satan said, “I swear by Your Power that I will lead them all astray, except for Your purified servants among them.”8
We understand from the abovementioned verse that Satan cannot deceive the purified servants of God, which is why the purified servants have remained safe and sinless throughout history.
Another crucial point is that the prophets of God were examples and role models for mankind. So, they could not have been role models if they made mistakes or committed sins.
The prophets of God were infallible and did not commit sins because, on the one hand, they loved God and had an iron will. On the other hand, they knew the evil consequences of sins, which is why they never sinned. The prophets of God were examples for mankind, so if they had committed sins or made mistakes, they could not be a good examples for mankind. For this reason, all of the prophets of God were infallible.
- Quran 24:54 (Foroutan).
- Quran 26:14 (Foroutan).
- Quran 9:43 (Foroutan).
- Quran 66:1 (Foroutan).
- Quran 48:2 (Foroutan).
- Quran 38:47 (Foroutan).
- Quran 38:83 (Foroutan).
- Quran 38:82-83 (Foroutan).