There are different levels of sinfulness associated with different acts; there are minor sins (sagha'ir), major sins (kaba'ir), and destructive sins. I'm wondering whether there is some comparison to be made between them with regards to which is more sinful. Clearly, a minor sin is less than a major sin, and the major sins that aren't also destructive sins are probably less than destructive sins.

Then some sins are described as carrying the curse of Allah (e.g. producing/handling/ordering/serving/drinking alcohol or being involved in any of that as a messenger or carrier) or the angels (e.g. a wife not making herself sexually available to her husband when he wants it or someone selling defective goods without making the buyer aware), or that Allah declares war on the one who commits it (e.g. riba, see 2:278-2:279).

However, there may be situations in which it is relevant to know which of two minor sins is worse, or which of two major sins is worse, for example: if someone is stranded on a barren island with a box of food, and the only things the box contains that can be eaten are pork, lamb meat labeled as having been slaughtered according to Hindu ritual slaughter practice, and canned vegetables that were mixed with wine. Clearly the Muslim is allowed to eat enough to ensure he survives, but he would be expected to do the least evil in order to do so, so he would have to know which is worse: eating pork, eating that over which a name other than Allah's has been uttered, or consuming alcohol.

Thus the following questions:

  • is there a method to determine which of two sins is worse than another?
  • what does it mean for a sin to be worse than another? In particular: is it possible that the punishment (akhira or dunya) for the lesser of two sins is heavier than that for the worse sin?

Note: I'm looking for a way to compare sins as categories, i.e. what is generally worse, for example gambling or zina, as opposed to which of two sinful acts is worse, for example Ahmad having drunk wine or Abdullah having defrauded someone.

I'm looking for scholarly references to explicit scholarly opinions on these; recommendations of specialized treatises on these issues are also welcome.

  • 1
    I seem to remember that one group of sinners will be ordered to take up arms against Allah on the Day of Judgement, and other groups are described as being disfigured (in particular, people who masturbate are described as having pregnant hands). If someone could point out references for either of those, I would like to include them in the question.
    – G. Bach
    Dec 30, 2016 at 14:26
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    Possible duplicate of Haram scale of severity? Jul 12, 2017 at 5:50
  • @RebeccaJ.Stones It's pretty closely related, but the answer looks like guesswork; guesswork that I would expect is pretty much on the right track, but still guesswork.
    – G. Bach
    Jul 12, 2017 at 11:41
  • do you deny that it is duplicate? its answer is not accepted so the question is not corrupted in that way. how its answer affects whether it is duplicate?
    – qdinar
    Jul 13, 2017 at 5:59

1 Answer 1


It's obvious that some sins are greater than others. But for us, humans it's hard to categorize. We usually don't have sufficient information.

However some things come to mind:

  • Sins that are in direct relation to Allah
  • Sins that have massive effects
  • Is it a social sin or an individual sin?

In addition to that from a different perspective:

  • What is the intention of sinning?
  • Who is sinning?

I'll talk about each below

If something is revealed to a person and then he turns away from it, ie he completely conceals is knowingly the has has done کُفر for that one thing. Like you could be pious, read quran, do prayers, but then you say I won't fast, because I don't like to do. If such then you have done کفر for fasting. You're not a complete کافر.

But you have concealed something against Allah.
Or if you are arrogant and not humble before Allah and say I'll pray/worship him however I like, whenever I like, if I like.

In addition imagine if one person comes and is an Islamic leader of a country or like the leader of All Sunnis or Shias and then says you don't need to pray, you don't need fast, just be a good person. This person will create a bid'a that its effects will be lasting and extremely hard to undo. Or a person that begins war between 2 countries, etc.

Imagine if I go and backbite against my brother in din, and inform everyone that he slapped me in the face 2 years ago. After that everyone will start treating him differently. He loses his social status. His life is completely changed after that moment. [backbite is bad for many reasons, I'll just name 2: maybe he has repented and done توبه and also when I talk behind someone I never ever allow that person to defend himself and let others hear the other side of the story].

Compare backbiting to simply one prayer at morning. Both are grave. But the effect of backbiting is much much more. The person can do قضا for his prayer and God is likely to forgive. But God can't forgive the right of another.

Think of if someone that sins, like he steals money but he's doing it because his children are hungry at home, and then think of someone stealing only because he wants to buy a lexus. Someone commits zina because he wants to have sex with 100 people or someone commits zina because his always said no for sleeping with him for the past 6 months.

Is the person who is sinning knowledgeable? Is he an Imam but he also steals money from the Mosque's charity box? Is he a scholar of religion but then when it comes to buying a house he tricks the seller? Or he's never been taught about the right and wrong... FYI in Islam if a free man commits zina he is to lashed X times but if a slave commits zina he is to be lashed X/2 times.

So to answer your questions specifically:

Is there a method to determine which of two sins is worse than another?

  • The more it is directly against Allah, the more its effect is massive and social...The more the intention is for something unworthy and the more the person sinning is knowledgeable the greater the sin is considered.

What does it mean for a sin to be worse than another?

I think I already gave you an answer to taht

In particular: is it possible that the punishment (akhira or dunya) for the lesser of two sins is heavier than that for the worse sin?

Perhaps, imagine a very very very knowledgable person who comes from great parents, has been associated with the best of ulema, starts delaying his prayers his prayers for no good reason. This is likely frowned upon much more than a normal rural person who's actually skipping prayers but also never been educated Islamically, doesn't know the significance of prayer, didn't have religious parents.

  • Thank you for your efforts! The answer doesn't quite address the questions I asked. It does raise the interesting issue about intention and knowledge of the one committing the sin - I think in his ihya, al-Ghazali mentions something like the good deed of a common person is the bad deed of the wali, because the wali is better than the common man in understanding and intention - but it gives no measure by which to judge which of two sins committed by the same person is worse. In particular, it gives no recourse for someone who finds himself in the situation given as example in my question.
    – G. Bach
    Jan 14, 2017 at 1:53
  • I added a clarifying note to my question and upvoted your answer; I hadn't phrased what I was looking for quite clearly enough, I hope it is clearer now.
    – G. Bach
    Jan 14, 2017 at 1:56
  • @G.Bach to answer to your edit, I can't say much more than I have already said, the examples in your both have social ramifications, and as I mentioned in my first line, it's hard to categorize. I personally don't know any better...
    – Thaqalain
    Jan 21, 2017 at 13:57

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