Answered by Shaykh Amjad Rasheed
Translated by Shaykh Hamza Karamali, SunniPath Academy Teacher
What should one do if one has sinned? Should he tell the ruler so that he may be punished for it or is it better to conceal it?
Confessing to the Ruler
Sins are of two kinds: (1) those that only violate the rights of Allah, and (2) those that violate the rights of other people as well.
Examples of sins that only violate the rights of Allah include having sex before marriage or drinking alcohol. It is obligatory to conceal such sins and not to tell anyone about them, not even the ruler. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, "Whoever commits one of these reprehensible sins must conceal himself with Allah's concealment, for verily, whoever exposes himself to us, we will punish." (Hakim, Bayhaqi)
Examples of sins that violate the rights of other people include, for example, murder and falsely accusing someone of adultery. Concealing such sins would constitute wrongdoing because the rights of other people will thereby continue to be violated. In order to ensure that the people one has wronged are able to get their rights, such sins need to be confessed to the ruler.
Talking about Sin
All of the above applies to confessing to the ruler. Outside of this context, talking about sins that one has committed in the past in jest or boldness (for example to one's family or friends) is absolutely unlawful because of rigorously authenticated hadiths that have come about the matter.
Source: al-Zawajir `an Iqtiraf al-Kaba'ir, Enormity #355
(Adapted translation based on Shaykh Amjad's answer)
السؤال: ما الأولى للشخص الذي وقع في معصية هل يذكرها ويقرُّ بها ليعاقبه الحاكم أم الأولى أن يستر على نفسه؟
الجواب : في الجواب عن هذا السؤال تفصيلٌ بيَّنه أئمتُنا، وهو : أن كلَّ مَن ارتكبَ معصيةً الحقُّ فيها لله تعالى كالزنى وشرب الخمر؛ الأولى له أن يسترَ على نفسه فلا يظهر ما كان منه ليحد أو ليعزر؛ وذلك لما روى الحاكم والبيهقي بإسناد جيد :" مَن أتى شيئاً من هذه القاذورات فليستترْ بستر الله تعالى؛ فإن من أبدى لنا صَفحتَهُ أقمنا عليه الحد ". بخلاف مَن ارتكبَ معصيةً الحقُّ فيها للآدمي كالقتل أو القذف؛ فإنه يلزمُه أن يُقِرَّ به ليُستوفى منه؛ لما في حقوق الآدمي من التضييق. أما التحدثُ بالمعصية تَفَكُّهاً أو مجاهرةً فإنه حرامٌ قطعاً للأخبار الصحيحة فيه، ذكر ذلك العلامةُ ابن حجر في "الزواجر" في الكبيرة الخامسة والخمسين بعد الثلاثمائة.
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