The Psychology of “Little Sins”

minor sins

Many around us often rationalise “it’s only a minor sin!” when it come to issues we see as less sinful. However Allah reminds us in the Quran that He is still keeping record of even these little sins:

 “And whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it” [Quran 99:8]

Some may wonder or question why even sins that are figuratively atomic are still recorded. Why is there still a possible penalty for the “little” sin?

To understand this, consider the following question: can a person commit murder, unprovoked and unmotivated, spontaneously overnight? Or rather, is there a build up that led to that point? Is there a selection of choices that the individual has made over his/her lifetime that slowly led them to the point they were able to drive the knife into someone’s heart?

The steps in their life that led them to the point capable of committing murder, these initial choices, were actually the so called “little sins”.

 

Initial Choices

Initial choices can become the footsteps towards greater sins such as murder and adultery. No toddler is capable of motivated and calculated murder: such criminals form after years of wrong turns and events. Wrongful initial choices leading up to greater sins should be just as frightening because we devalue their danger and perceive them only as a little sin, not realising that we are slowly creating a cage for ourselves where we eventually become trapped within Shaitaan’s grip.

These little sins vary in nature but are easily done by many of us. It could be the sin of disrespect and disobedience to parents. It could be failing to lower the gaze. It could be dating, flirting and intimate friendships with the opposite sex. It could be fostering jealousy, greed, rivalry, pride, laziness or backbiting. It could be keeping company with those who drink or do drugs.

All these examples of initial choices serve as the first steps walking away from sirat-al-mustakeem (the straight path to God), and instead walking towards the call of the devil. Before you know it, disobedience to parents evolves into greater sins committed whilst away from their watchful guidance. Before you know it dating and flirting leads to illicit relations. Before you know it jealousy and rivalry leads to revenge and abuse. Before you know it, keeping company with those who use intoxicants becomes normalised for you and you join in just to fit in. Before you know it, you are in a situation where you have lost control.

To err in loyalty to God when it comes to the smaller sins is wrong, and the dangers of doing so are depicted in both psychology and Islamic understandings. It boils down to this:  to obey Him is how you move from mere lip-service stating “I believe in God” to wholeheartedly following through and embracing your faith. Choosing God’s command even when it comes to the little things is to genuinely choose God as your Lord. However when you do the converse and engage in sinful choices, whether little or big, you disregard God and instead obey your desires, allowing Shaitaan to fool you into believing “it’s only a minor sin anyway…”

Have you seen the one who has chosen his desires as his lord? [Quran 45:23]

Whatever or whoever it is that you obey is your true Lord.

It is for this reason that Muslims refer to themselves as Slaves of Allah. Even when it comes to obeying our parents, we do so as we were commanded by Allah, always being aware that if our parent’s asked us to do something haram (forbidden) we would not follow through. It is Allah alone that we owe our ultimate obedience.

The alternative is to be a slave of the dunya (worldly life), which is a grievously easy trap to fall into. You could become a slave of your boss – overworking yourself to death, ignoring the needs of your body or your family in order to meet a deadline. You could become a slave of alcohol where you cannot function without giving into having a drink even when you wake up. You could become the slave of your partner, where their every action and word operates you as if they have a remote control for your emotions, all the while ignoring what Allah has asked of you.

choosing God’s command even when it comes to the little things is to genuinely choose God as your Lord.

Failing to choose Allah when it comes to initial choices will only mean a fast track to further disobedience in more serious matters. This however can be avoided if one was to pull the brakes whilst still at the level of “little sins” – indeed it is easier to stop a car when it first moves off at a lower speed than when it is racing down the motorway.

 

Prevention is Better than the Cure

Bearing all this in mind, it seems as if Allah’s mentioning of even the smaller sins being recorded is not for our detriment, but rather our benefit. In fact, elsewhere in the Quran, Allah indicates there is still relief for those who do slip up now and again:

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). [Quran: 4:31]

Indeed it is fascinating how Allah taps into our human psychology. By reminding people that smaller sins can still be punished, it acts as a deterrent, and enables people to stay on the straight path and not veer off track towards evil. But for those who have already started to make incorrect choices, Allah is quick to remind that he can still forgive if they return back to him and turn their back on the greater sins. Essentially Allah utilises the maxim prevention is better than the cure, but is still always reminding us that he also holds the cure as long as we choose Him over evil.

In short, refraining from smaller sins is the best course of action, and in doing so helps us develop a level of God consciousness (Taqwa) that will aid us when it comes to avoiding the greater sins. The more we exercise control over our actions, the more worthier we become of paradise.

However as evident above, in Islam, even if you do reach the greater sins,  there is still a chance to return to the straight path, (even when sins have reached the stage of murder and adultery!) if one were to ask for forgiveness with true repentance:

“O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you.” [Hadith]

The chance for such salvation always exists until one strays so far away that they reach a point where they abandon Allah, or even make partners to him. Nonetheless as long as you have not abandoned Allah, your soul remains attached to Him, even if it be by a single thread rather than the whole rope. It is this connection to Allah that assails you with guilt for your sins, until you repent.

And hold fast, all of you together, to the Rope of Allah {Quran: 3:103}

If you have sinned, and feel guilt, it is your indication that you are still connected to Allah, so rejoice and return to the straight path instead of driving yourself into a ditch mentally thinking that there is no return.

Incidentally however, the further you move away from Him through continued sins, the weaker your bond becomes and the less guilt you feel. Not to mention at the same time, Shaitaan, your open foe, will continue to take advantage of your weakened bond to God and manipulate you even still. He would convince you that no forgiveness awaits you. He would convince you that the only way to abate the burning thoughts of guilt is to drown them out by chasing what gives you (illusionary) happiness, and to continue to chase your desires and fall deeper into error since there is no longer any hope for you. He silences your soul’s ache for God, and dims your guiding light, and instead convinces you to chase bigger and grander sins to fill the empty chasm in your heart. Be it lust or be it bloodlust; you end up chasing the dunya for peace, for pleasure, frantically racing against time, running in a direction that just takes you further and further away from Allah.

And eventually as these greater and greater sins accumulate in number and extent, there reaches a point where the soul cannot justify its actions even by lying to itself. This is where it reaches the point of no return: the last thread snaps, and the door is shut. Once you reach such a stage of disbelief, you have abandoned Allah and then, and only then, after you rejected all his guidance, He misguides you so you can never find your way back, not even by chance.

Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing, and over their vision is a veil. And for them is a great punishment. {Quran 2:7}

To reach such a stage whereby you are suppressing your faith in Allah and have abandoned Him, is a one way door which you hold full responsibility for first opening as you used a key created from your sins. Sins that began as minor sins. There is now no way back, and what lays ahead if you carry on down this futile pathway is only hellfire.

At this point, your love to fulfill your desires has thus reached a level of worship: your brain trained, poised and ready, poisoned and steady, no longer harbouring guilt nor love for Allah, you bow in submission to your false lords, never finding satisfaction, left with a thirst that neither dunya nor akhirah can satisfy for Allah has only prescribed Zaqqum – the scalding water of hell.

But.

No one reaches this point overnight. No one. And this is why the God conscious believer treads with caution even when it comes to the minor sins.

About psychislam 12 Articles

PsychIslam aims to demonstrate how Islamic teachings taught 1400 years ago via Quran and Hadith hold truths that are being discovered by psychologists today. Read our articles to learn about fascinating parallels between Islam and Psychology that are scientifically supported. Explore a range of topics from miraculous advice about sleep to Prophetic wisdom about anger.

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