Assalamualaikum ustaz. Can you explain the meaning of major sins? Thank you.
Waalaikumussalam wrt. wbt.,
Alhamdulillah, praise and gratitude to Allah SWT for His countless blessings for us all. Praise and salutations to our beloved Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his family, companions, and all those who follow his footsteps until the Final day.
Definition of sin
In general, there are several words that contain the meaning of sin in the Quran, among them are:
- Zanb (ذنب)
In the Quran this word is stated 39 times, where 21 of them are stated in Makkiyyah surah and 18 are mentioned in Madaniyyah surah. (See al-Mu’jam al-Mufahras li Alfaz al-Quran, pg. 339). It includes the meaning of sin, the end of something and is used to describe past sin.
- Khati’ah (خطيئة)
In the Quran, this word is stated 22 times. The word is used to state a mistake occurs regardless of whether it is intentionally or because one forgets. (See al-Mu’jam al-Mufahras li Alfaz al-Quran, pg. 288 and Lisan al-‘Arab, 5/134)
This is also one of the words in the Quran to describe sin.
The meaning of major sin
Allah SWT states:
وَالَّذِينَ يَجْتَنِبُونَ كَبَائِرَ الْإِثْمِ وَالْفَوَاحِشَ وَإِذَا مَا غَضِبُوا هُمْ يَغْفِرُونَ
“And those who avoid the major sins and immoralities, and when they are angry, they forgive,” 
Allah SWT also states:
إِن تَجْتَنِبُوا كَبَائِرَ مَا تُنْهَوْنَ عَنْهُ نُكَفِّرْ عَنكُمْ سَيِّئَاتِكُمْ وَنُدْخِلْكُم مُّدْخَلًا كَرِيمًا
“If you avoid the major sins which you are forbidden, We will remove from you your lesser sins and admit you to a noble entrance [into Paradise].” 
Ibnu Abbas R.Anhuma in explaining the above verse stated:
الكَبِيْرَةُ كُلُّ ذَنْبٍ خَتَمَهُ اللهُ بِنَارٍ، أَوْ غَضَبٍ، أَوْ لَعْنَةٍ، أَوْ عَذَابٍ
“Major sins are those Allah ends it with the threat of hell, wrath or curse or severe punishment.” 
Al-Hasan al-Basri said:
كُلّ ذَنْب نَسَبَهُ اللَّه تَعَالَى إِلَى النَّار فَهُوَ كَبِيرَةٌ
“Whatever Allah relates to the punishment of hell is a major sin.” 
In the hadith of the Prophet PBUH, the division of minor and major sin is also described. The Prophet PBUH said:
الصَّلاةُ الخمسُ والجمعةُ إلى الجمعةِ كفَّارةٌ لما بينَهنَّ ما لم تُغشَ الْكبائرُ
“Five prayers and from one Friday prayer to (the next) Friday prayer is an expiation (of the sins committed in between their intervals) if major sins are not committed.” 
The Prophet PBUH also said:
اجتنبوا السبعَ الموبقاتِ . قالوا : يا رسولَ اللهِ ، وما هن ؟ قال : الشركُ باللهِ ، والسحرُ ، وقتلُ النفسِ التي حرّم اللهُ إلا بالحقِّ ، وأكلُ الربا ، وأكلُ مالِ اليتيمِ ، والتولي يومَ الزحفِ ، وقذفُ المحصناتِ المؤمناتِ الغافلاتِ
“Avoid the seven great destructive sins.” They (the people!) asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! What are they?” He said, “To join partners in worship with Allah; to practice sorcery; to kill the life which Allah has forbidden except for a just cause (according to Islamic law); to eat up usury (Riba), to eat up the property of an orphan; to give one’s back to the enemy and fleeing from the battle-field at the time of fighting and to accuse chaste women who never even think of anything touching chastity and are good believers.” 
Al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar in Fath al-Bari cited several opinions related to the meaning of major sins. Among them are:
- Al-Rafi’e in al-Syarh al-Kabir stated: “Major sin is sins that obligates had punishment (a terminology describing hudud punishment based on the Quran and Sunnah). There is also an opinion that states it is a sin that is followed by grave punishment to its doer according to al-Quran or Sunnah.”
- Ibn Abd al-Salam said: “A sin that vilifies its doer. According to him, there is an opinion that states major sin is accompanied by severe punishment or curse.”
- Ibn al-Solah stated: “There are several signs that show a sin is categorized as major sin they are; obligate hudud punishment, promised hell described in Quranic and sunnah evidences, its doer is fasiq and cursed.”
He then included the definition of Imam al-Qurtubi in the book al-Mufhim that is the best explanation regarding major sin:
كُلّ ذَنْب أُطْلِقَ عَلَيْهِ بِنَصِّ كِتَاب أَوْ سُنَّة أَوْ إِجْمَاع أَنَّهُ كَبِيرَة أَوْ عَظِيم أَوْ أُخْبِرَ فِيهِ بِشِدَّةِ الْعِقَاب أَوْ عُلِّقَ عَلَيْهِ الْحَدّ أَوْ شُدِّدَ النَّكِير عَلَيْهِ فَهُوَ كَبِيرَة
“Every sin that is described in the Quran, sunnah or ijmak as major sin, promised severe punishment, hudud punishment, or gravely prohibited, then it is a major sin.” 
Hence, that is the meaning of major sin as explained by our scholars. We are encouraged to strive in distancing ourselves from major sins.
Scholars wrote specific books regarding major sins. Among them are Imam al-Zahabi in his book al-Kaba’ir and Imam Ibn Hajar al-Haitami in al-Zawajir ‘an Iqtiraf al-Kaba’ir. They explained one by one the major sins mentioned in al-Quran and hadith as well as included the consequence and punishments.
Let us all supplicate to Allah SWT for forgiveness for our sins and the sins of those who preceded us.
رَبَّنَا اغْفِرْ لَنَا وَلِإِخْوَانِنَا الَّذِينَ سَبَقُونَا بِالْإِيمَانِ وَلَا تَجْعَلْ فِي قُلُوبِنَا غِلًّا لِّلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا رَبَّنَا إِنَّكَ رَءُوفٌ رَّحِيمٌ
“Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers who preceded us in faith and put not in our hearts [any] resentment toward those who have believed. Our Lord, indeed You are Kind and Merciful.” 
May Allah SWT distance us from all major sins and grant us guidance and strength in fulfilling His commandments. Amin.
 Surah al-Syura: 37
 Surah al-Nisa’: 31
 See Jami’ al-Bayan ‘an Ta’wil Ay al-Quran, 5/59 dan Tafsir al-Quran al-‘Azim, 2/282
 See Tafsir al-Quran al-‘Azim, 2/285
 Narrated by Muslim (233)
 Narrated by al-Bukhari (2766) and Muslim (89)
 See Fath al-Bari, 15/709
 Surah al-Hasyr (10)