In his discussion on tajarrī (temerity to commit a crime, or false obedience)1 Shaykh Anṣārī (1781-1864) briefly deals with two sets of apparently contradictory narrations on the issue of someone who intended to commit a sin, but they did not. I have previously posted a treatment of one of these traditions by Sayyid Shubbar over here. Below is a translation of Shaykh Anṣārī’s text,2 followed by some explanatory notes.
Yes, if the temerity to commit a crime is accompanied by a specific intention of carrying out the crime, then what is explicitly mentioned in many reports is that such a person is overlooked. Even though as per other reports it is apparent that there is a punishment for intentions as well. For example:
1) The Prophet’s (p) tradition: The intention of a disbeliever is eviller than his actions.
2) And another of his (p) tradition: People will only be gathered (in the Hereafter) in accordance with their intentions.
And as well as what has been mentioned regarding the reason for why the people of hellfire will remain in hell forever and the people of heaven will remain in heaven forever, which says that this is due to the decisions of each group to remain on their decisions, be it to commit a sin or to obey, had they remained in this world.
And another tradition from him (p) as follows: When two Muslims meet each other with their swords, then both the killer and the killed are in the hellfire. It was said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, this is understandable for the killer, but why the killed?’ He (p) replied, ‘Because he had intended to kill his opponent.’
Furthermore, that what has been mentioned regarding the punishment of doing something as a preliminary of a prohibited act, such as collecting grapes for alcohol, or walking in order to commit a crime against a believer. As well as the prima-facie of the reports which indicate that satisfaction with an action is like the action itself. For example, what has been transmitted from Amīr al-Mu’minīn (a) who said: “He who agrees with the action of a group of persons is as though he joins them in that action. Everyone who joins in wrong commits two sins; one sin for committing the wrong and the other for agreeing with it.”
And what has been mentioned in the exegesis of this verse: [3:183] … So why did you kill them, if you should be truthful? – which says that the attribution of murder to the audience – despite their delay in accompanying the fighters – is because of their satisfaction with the killing.
This is further strengthened with the verse: [24:19] Indeed, those who like that immorality should be spread [or publicized] among those who have believed will have a painful punishment…, and as well as the verse [2:284] Whether you show what is within yourselves or conceal it, Allah will bring you to account for it. As well as a tradition that says, “One who is satisfied with an action, then he has stuck to it even if he has not carried it out,” and lastly the verse [28:83] That home of the Hereafter We assign to those who do not desire exaltedness upon the earth or corruption….
It is possible to predicate the first set of traditions on those individuals who change their intentions and the second set of traditions on those who remain fixated on their intention but are unable to actually carry out the action due to reasons outside their hands.
Or the first set can be predicated on those who simply have an intention, while the second on those who after having made an intention carry out some of the preliminaries. The prohibition of assisting someone in performing a prohibited act itself is a rule that testifies to this, given some have generalized this principle to include even assisting yourself in committing a prohibited act. Perhaps this was done due to tanqīḥ al-manāt (refinement of the cause) and not through textual significance.
In the discussion of tajarrī Shaykh Anṣārī approaches the subject from two perspectives: from the perspective of the act itself, and from the perspective of the individual who commits the act. The former discussion investigates whether the act – which in reality is presumed to not be against any Divine Legislation – is considered detestable or not and if it necessarily grants God the right to punish the individual.
The latter perspective investigates whether the individual is condemned and punished for merely intending to commit a sin, even if they do not commit the actual sin. In this brief discussion Shaykh Anṣārī says there are two sets of traditions addressing this scenario: (1) a set of traditions which apparently suggest that an individual who merely intended to commit a sin is not punished, and (2) another set of traditions which apparently suggest that a person who intended to commit a sin is also punished. In order to resolve this apparent contradiction, Shaykh Anṣārī alludes to two different ways these traditions have been reconciled. The above excerpt is a translation of this section.
In the excerpt, Shaykh Anṣārī only mentions traditions from the second set, but below are three traditions that belong to the first set, i.e. those indicating that a mere intention to sin is overlooked:
1) From Imam Bāqir (a) or Ṣādiq (a): Allah, the Most Blessed, the Most High, set for Adam in his offspring the following rules about their deeds: whoever intends to perform a good deed but does not do it, still (the reward for) one good deed will be written for him. Whoever intends to perform a good deed and actually performs it, (the reward for) ten good deeds will be written down for him. Whoever intends to commit an evil deed but does not do it, nothing will be written against him. Whoever intends to commit an evil deed and actually performs it, only one evil deed will be written against him.3
2) Imam Ṣādiq (a): A believer may intend to perform a good deed but does not do it, still (the reward for) one good deed will be written for him and if he actually completes it, (the reward for) ten good deeds will be written in his favour. A believer may intend to commit an evil deed but if he does not do it, nothing will be written against him.4
3) From Imam Bāqir (a) or Ṣādiq (a): Adam said, ‘O Lord, you have made Satan dominate me and made him flow in me like blood, so make something for me also.’ The Lord said, ‘O Adam, for your benefit, I have given your offspring the advantage of not writing down against them any sin if they only intend to commit an evil deed. If they actually commit an evil deed only one evil deed is written against them. If anyone of them intends to perform a good deed one good deed is written down for him even if he did not perform it. If, however, he actually performs it ten good deeds are written for him.’5
The first reconciliation
Traditions that say a person is punished for their intention to sin are referring to those individuals who were dedicated to their intent and were looking forward to sin, only to eventually be forced not to carry it out against their will. For example, a man who intended in engaging in a prohibited relationship with a woman was unable to engage in such a relationship because the woman migrated to a different country, out of his reach. As for the set of traditions that say such a person is forgiven and they are not tried based on their intentions, then those traditions are referring to an individual who intended to commit a sin, but eventually changed his or her decision and repented.
The second reconciliation
Traditions that say a person is punished for their intentions are referring to those individuals who made the intention to sin and also began to carry out some of its preliminaries. Whereas traditions that say a person is not punished are referring to those individuals who merely made the intention to sin but did not do begin doing anything about it.
A contextual indicator cited for this reconciliation is the verse of the Qurān: [5:2] …do not cooperate in sin and aggression…. There are two understandings of this verse, the famous opinion saying it is prohibited to assist anyone else in sinning, and a second opinion which was held by Shaykh Kāshif al-Ghiṭā’ is that it is inclusive of assisting others in sinning and as well as assisting yourself by engaging in some of the preliminaries that lead to sin. Shaykh Kāshif’s understanding is derived by applying tanqīh al-manāṭ – meaning the reason for the prohibition of assisting others in sinning is the subsequent manifestation of sin itself, and this reason is not exclusive to just assisting others, rather it is also inclusive of helping one’s self in preparing and engaging in the preliminaries required for a sin to manifest itself in the outside world.
A third reconciliation
Shaykh Āshtiyānī in his commentary on al-Farā’id offers another reconciliation which Shaykh Anṣārī does not mention.6 He says traditions that say a person who intended to sin, but is forgiven, are referring to the believers, whereas traditions that say an individual will be punished for his or her intention are referring to the disbelievers. Although he himself confesses that this reconciliation would still leave some traditions unanswered, such as the one where two Muslims meet each other with their swords and one of them kills the other.
Sayyid Ali Imran studied in the seminary of Qom from 2012 to 2021, while also concurrently obtaining a M.A in Islamic Studies from The Islamic College of London in the summer of 2018. He continued his seminary studies in legal theory, jurisprudence and philosophy, eventually attending the advanced kharij of Usul and Fiqh in 2018. He is also a regular instructor for Mizan Institute.
- Tajarrī is a discussion covered in legal theory – even though most aspects of the discussions should appropriately be discussed in jurisprudence – which is essentially a scenario where a person intends to commit a sin knowingly, yet after they commit the act, it is determined that they did not actually commit a sin in reality. As an example, if an individual sees a glass of liquid and believes it to be alcohol and drinks it knowing that alcohol is prohibited, yet in reality, the liquid happened to be water, has such a person committed a crime? Does Allah (swt) have the right to punish them or not? The scholars have differed in their opinion on this subject, some believing a person cannot be punished, while others believing Allah (swt) has the right to punish them, and yet some offering a more gradient explanation.
- Farā’id al-Uṣūl, v. 1, pgs. 46-48
- Uṣūl al-Kāfī, v. 2, pg. 313.
- Ibid. pg. 319.
- Baḥr al-Fawā’id fī Sharḥ al-Farā’id, v. 1, pg. 129.