Answered by Shaykh Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari
In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,
Let us first look at the translation of the verse towards which you have referred. Allah Most High says in Surah al-Najm:
“To Allah belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth, so that He rewards those who do evil, according to their deeds, and He rewards those who do good, with what is best. Those who avoid great sins and shameful deeds, only (falling into) small faults (lamam), verily your Lord is ample in forgiveness” (53: 31-32).
Allah Almighty mentions in the first verse that those who do good and follow His guidance will be rewarded, and in the second verse, He describes such people by stating: “Those who avoid great sins and shameful deeds, only falling into small faults”, meaning falling into small faults does not exempt them from the address of the first verse.
The commentators of the Qur’an (mufassirun) generally mention two views from the companions and their followers (Allah be pleased with them all) with regards to the interpretation on the word ‘lamam’.
1) It refers to minor sins that may be forgiven with many different acts of worship and good deeds, as mentioned in another verse: “If you refrain from the most heinous of the things which you are forbidden to do, we shall forgive your (minor) faults, and admit you to a gate of great honour” (al-Nisa, 31).
Then, the majority of the scholars agree on the fact that persistence on minor sins amounts to a major sin, thus one must also try his best to refrain from minor sins.
2) Lamam means to accidentally and inadvertently commit a sin, whether major or minor, instantly repent from the sin and never to commit it again. This has also been mentioned in another verse, Allah Most High says:
“And those who, having committed a major sin, or wronged their own souls, earnestly bring Allah to mind, and ask for forgiveness for their sins-and who can forgive sins except Allah- and are never obstinate in persisting knowingly in (the wrong) they have done. For such the reward is forgiveness from their lord, and gardens with rivers flowing underneath…” (Surah Ali Imran, 135-136).
Therefore, the meaning of the verses of Surah al-Najm is either to commit minor sins (infrequently) or commit a major sin accidentally, and then to abstain from it instantly and repent from Allah Almighty. Such people will not be exempted from the rewards Allah has promised for those who are considered good-doers (muhsinun). (See: Tafsir Ibn Kathir, 4/327-328 & Ma’arif al-Qur’an, 8/211-212).
As for fornication and whatever leads to it, such as touching, kissing, embracing, informal interaction are all considered to be major sins. Allah Most High states:
“Do not come (even) near to adultery, for it is a shameful (deed) and an evil, opening the road to other evils” (Surah al-Isra, 32).
Thus, any form of fornication is totally unlawful (haram) in Islam, and to say that it is only a minor sin is incorrect.
As mentioned previously, the only meaning of the verse of Surah al-Najm is that one is absolutely resolute on refraining from these sins but they accidentally occurred, and repentance is made at once. After this, it is hoped from the mercy of Allah that such a person will remain considered one of those do good (muhsinun).
However, the verse does not in any way mean that one may be casual about these things, and regard them to be minor sins, for that is a great error.
The brother should at once stop any informal interaction with the sister. If they fear falling into the unlawful, then they must talk to their parents about getting married. If the parents do not agree, then they should use the intermediary of someone their parents respect such as a religious scholar, to explain to them, and if all avenues fail, then they may get married, but for that they must consult a reliable scholar and discuss the matter with him.
And Allah knows best
Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari
Darul Iftaa, Leicester, UK
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