Mūsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) and the Secret Sinner
Ibn Qudāmah, a great Syrian scholar, narrates in his book Kitāb al-Tawwābīn that there was once a great drought which afflicted Mūsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) and his people.
It is said that when Mūsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) was wandering in the desert with Banī Isrā’īl, they were affected by a severe drought. They raised their hands to the heavens, asking Allāh to shower them with rain. To the immense surprise of Mūsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) and all those around him, the few scattered clouds in the sky vanished, the heat became severe, and the drought actually worsened. It was then revealed to Mūsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) that amongst the tribe there was a sinner who had defied Allāh for over forty years of his life. Allāh told His prophet:
“Let him remove himself from the congregation, and only then shall I shower you all with rain.”
So Mūsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) turned to the masses and informed them of what he had heard. He said:
“There is a person among us who has disobeyed Allāh for forty years. Let him leave the congregation, and only then shall we be rescued from the drought.”
The blameworthy man stood there, looking left and right. He was expecting someone else to come forward, but no one did. Sweat dripped from his brow when it dawned upon him that he was the one being warned against. The man was well aware that if he remained in the congregation, everyone would perish from thirst. At the same time, he knew that if he stepped forward, he would be disgraced for all of eternity. To escape this dilemma, he raised his hands with a type of sincerity that he had never felt before. All of this happened while tears streamed down from his cheeks.
He exclaimed: “O Allāh, have mercy on me!” He continued his invocation by saying, “Hide my faults, O Allāh! Please pardon me, O Allāh!” Suddenly, the clouds covered the sky, and rain poured down. All of this happened just as Mūsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) and the people of Banī Isrā’īl were waiting for the sinner to come forward. Then Mūsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) asked Allāh:
“O Allāh, You blessed us with rain, even though the sinner did not come forward!”
Allāh responded in a majestic manner, which was befitting of His might and wisdom:
“O Mūsā, I blessed all of Banī Isrā’īl with water for the repentance of that exact person.”
Mūsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) exclaimed, “Show him to me, O Allāh!” He made this request because he wanted to know the identity of this blessed man. Allāh replied:
“O Mūsā, I covered his faults for forty years. Do you think that after his repentance I shall expose him?”
This amazing story of repentance ends at this point. Let us now rewind and extract four lessons from this remarkable event.
1) Sins are an obstacle to the acceptance of duʿā’
Sins can lead to a deficit in both provisions and knowledge. Although there are a number of hindrances which prevent a person’s invocation from being accepted by Allāh, the addition of sins into a person’s life is perhaps one of the most serious causes.
Ibn al-Qayyim said:
“The acts of making duʿā’ and seeking refuge in Allāh function like a weapon. As is well-known, a weapon is only as good as the person who is using it. It is not merely the matter of how sharp it is. If the weapon is free of faults, the arm of its user is strong, and there are no other impediments, then one can effectively vanquish the enemy. But if any of these three features is lacking, then the effect will be deficient correspondingly.”
This ultimately means that the effect of one’s duʿā’ can be delayed, even if one persistently calls out to Allāh. When making duʿā’, a key principle that Allāh and His Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) have reminded us to uphold is to ensure our hearts are clean and purified.
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
“Call upon Allāh with the certainty that He will answer you. Know that Allāh will not answer the supplication of a heart that is negligent and distracted.”
However, when a person commits a sin, not only does it weaken their resolve, but it also breeds further sins. Ultimately, many sins leave dark marks on the heart of the one who commits them, rendering one to be devoid of serenity and strong faith.
Allāh reminds us of this matter when He states the following in the Qur’ān:
كَلَّا بَلْ رَانَ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِهِم مَّا كَانُوا يَكْسِبُونَ
“No! But that which they used to earn has covered their hearts with rust.”
The duʿā’ of Mūsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) and his people was rejected at first, simply because one member of the congregation had many sins. Because of his numerous demerits, religious virtue could not enter his heart. One person’s heart was letting the whole congregation down, since his duʿā’ was being rejected by Allāh.
2) Your sins affect others
Imagine that you are attending a charity dinner. The itinerary has everything that you would expect: food, entertainment, and a later segment intended to raise money for the selected charity in question. It is a standard procedure that during this concluding segment, images, videos, and first-person testimonies are shared from people living in war-torn countries or localities affected by famine. This is done to have the guests sympathise with the poor and destitute, and to ultimately have them generously donate to the cause.
Now, imagine that you were told that the real reason for why these needy people are without food, shelter, and basic life necessities is because of you. You would likely become shocked and say in response to such a claim: “This is impossible, this cannot be. I have never even met those people, and before this dinner I did not even know they existed!”
But the stark truth is that you are possibly the reason for their bad fortune. You could even be directly responsible for their suffering as a result of your sins. Your sins not only affect your heart, your duʿā’, and your provisions, but they can also impact other people, some of whom may be strangers to you. This surprising fact was indicated by Ibn al-Qayyim in an important section where he listed the effects of sins:
“The ill effects of the sinner fall upon those around him, as well as animals. As a result of this, they are touched by harm.”
A child in war-torn Syria may have lost a limb because of the pornography you watched behind closed doors. You may have thought that you were harming only yourself, but in reality your sin impacted another person. That father may have lost his daughter in the Gaza wreckage because of your inability to control your anger when you answered back to your parents. That family in Yemen may have lost their home because of those interest-filled investments you failed to abstain from.
The wife that you physically abuse behind closed doors could be a causative factor for why Muslim women are being mentally and physically tortured in Chinese concentration camps. The lies that roll off your tongue, the forbidden gaze that you do not wish to lower, and the missed prayers that you have no intention of making up are all sins that lead to the suffering of others. The ʿawrah that you knowingly expose, the narcotics that you smoke, the lies that you utter, and the oaths that you break are serious sins that affect the Ummah at large. These explicit and shocking sins do not harm us just at an individual level, but they also create disasters and crises which affect the entire globe.
ʿAbdullāh b. ʿUmar narrated that the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) once turned to his Companions and said:
“O Muhājirūn, there are five things which you will be tested with. And I seek refuge with Allāh that you live to see them. If immorality appears among people to the extent that they commit it openly, plagues and diseases that were never known by their predecessors will spread among them. Should they cheat in weights and measures, they will be stricken with famine, severe disasters, and the oppression of their rulers. If they withhold the Zakāh for their wealth, rain will be withheld from the sky. Were it not for the animals, they would not receive any rain at all. They do not break their covenant with Allāh and His Messenger, except that Allāh will enable their enemies to overpower them and take from that which is in their hands. Unless their leaders rule according to the Book of Allāh and seek success only from that which He has revealed, Allāh will cause them to fight with one another.”
Undoubtedly, this is a premise some will struggle to grasp, as it cannot be easily rationalised. Some may be asking at this point, “How can the personal choices in my own life affect someone else?”
Allāh tells us in the Qur’ān:
ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُم بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ
“Corruption has appeared on land and in the sea, due to what the hands of people have earned. This is so that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, and that they may possibly return.”
A further confirmation of this argument is the ḥadīth which states that the Ummah is one body. We may be divided by continents and borders, yet we are still united by the concept of tawḥīd. The actions of human beings are directly relational to the aggregate punishment and mercy that descends on earth. Allāh has communicated to us what we must do if we drown in sin, and how to find an escape route:
إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ
“Indeed, Allāh will not change the condition of a people until they change themselves.”
With events unfolding in the Middle East and other regions that are affecting us closer to home, the change we wish to see in the status of the Ummah all begins with us. The āyah instructs us to shift the responsibility from Allāh to ourselves, and to recognise that what we desire will come from Allāh if we meet the conditions outlined in the verse.
Where can we find this prescription in the story mentioned in the beginning? Allāh said that He withheld rain due to the actions of one person from among the many thousands. Innocent beings, including women, children, animals, and plants were made to suffer as a result of the actions of one man. Eventually he was forgiven, but he could have potentially aggravated the situation had he done one thing differently. This crucial matter is discussed in the next point.
3) Veil yourself
Mujāharah refers to when a person commits a sin and then makes it known to others. By doing so, they give the impression that they are satisfied with their non-compliant behaviour towards Allāh.
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
“My entire nation is safe, except al-Mujāhirīn (those who boast of their sins). Among the manifestations of al-Mujāharah is that a man commits an evil act in the night. He then wakes up in the morning – while Allāh has kept his sin a secret – and proclaims: ‘O so-and-so! Last night I did this and that.’ He goes to sleep while Allāh has kept his sin a secret. Yet he wakes up in the morning and uncovers what Allāh has kept a secret!”
Furthermore, ʿAbdullāh b. Masʿūd relates the following report:
“A man came to the Prophet and said: ‘O Messenger of Allāh! I mingled with a woman in the far side of al-Madinah. I fulfilled my desire with her, but it did not culminate in sexual intercourse. So, here I am! Judge me according to what you decide.’ ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb then said: ‘Allāh had kept your sin a secret. Why did you not keep your secret?’”
The name of the wrongdoer who was the reason for why Allāh withheld rain was not revealed. When asked by Prophet Mūsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) to reveal himself, the sinner refused. Instead, he veiled himself with the mercy of his Lord. He did not disclose his sins to Mūsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) – a Prophet of God – or anyone around him, but instead addressed his Lord, who is al-Khabīr (the All-Aware). To commit any sin is wrong, but to inform others of your wrongdoing, without any religious justification such as standing before a Qāḍī (judge), is even worse.
Be wary of disclosing your sin to people, as it can be considered unintentional mockery and pride of trespassing the laws of your Maker. Furthermore, beware of pushing a person to inform you of their sin. What they did last night or who they met is information that will not benefit you but will instead dishonour both you and them.
He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
“Part of the perfection of a person’s Islam is for them to leave that which is of no concern to them.”
4) Allāh loves to forgive, so long as you ask Him
One of the qualities that Allāh mentions frequently about Himself in the Qur’ān is His limitless maghfirah (forgiveness). Allāh has described Himself with three different divine names which are all lexical cognates of maghfirah:
Among His divine attributes, there are more conjugations of His forgiveness than any other attribute. Allāh describes his raḥmah (mercy) in two words (al-Raḥmān and al-Raḥīm), but His maghfirah is stressed in three words. What are the key differences between them? Al-Ghāfir refers to the fact that He can forgive you in any moment, regardless of whether you are in a state of sin or in a state of sujūd. No matter what situation we find ourselves in, Allāh has the capacity to forgive us at that very moment.
Al-Ghaffār refers to the fact that Allāh is perpetually forgiving. You can sin once, and Allāh will forgive you. You might even repeat that sin, and Allāh will forgive you again. Even if you further continue to sin and seek His forgiveness, He still is willing to forgive you and allow you to re-start with a clean slate. This is to the extent that the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
“A servant committed a sin and said: ‘O Allāh, forgive me for my sin.’ And He (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) said: ‘My servant has committed a sin and knows that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for them.’ Then he sinned again and said: ‘O Lord, forgive me for my sin.’ And He (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) said: ‘My servant has committed a sin and knows that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for them.’ Then he sinned again and said: ‘O Lord, forgive me for my sin.’ And He (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) said: ‘My servant has committed a sin and knows that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for sins. Do what you wish, for I have forgiven you.’”
Finally, He is al-Ghafūr, which means that His forgiveness encompasses almost every type of sin. However big the sin may be, He is al-Ghafūr. We learn how Allāh’s forgiveness manifests itself in different forms just by briefly inspecting His names. Each divine name captures a different dimension of His ability to forgive.
For those who have read about the names of Allāh, they will notice that some names follow a certain lexical pattern which correspond with the intensive form of faʿīl. The significance of this pattern is that it denotes permanence. When this form is used, it means that the attribute in question is always present, regardless of our input as humans. For example, He is al-Samīʿ (All-Hearing) and al-Baṣīr (All-Seeing). This means that He is always seeing and always hearing, regardless of whether we are conscious of it. Interestingly, Allāh does not name Himself as al-Ghafīr, which would effectively be translated as “the perpetually forgiving one”. But why not? Why does Allāh not proclaim that He permanently forgives sins by giving Himself this name?
If sins were forgiven simply like that, the slave would become lethargic. If a person sins and knows that Allāh is going to forgive him, they would never feel the need to seek forgiveness and turn back to Him. By not naming Himself al-Ghafīr, Allāh is implicitly indicating that we have to make an effort to have our records cleaned. Just like in the case of the secret sinner, we must turn back to Him and sincerely repent for our errors and misdeeds.
The sin of one person held back the blessing of rain from an entire nation. However, due to his willingness to repent, Allāh showered his people with rain. Sometimes we will come across scenarios in our lives which give us the ability to recognise our state of sinfulness and provide us the capacity to repent sincerely. We are in need of such reminders, because as fallible beings we are prone to ghaflah (heedlessness).
Allāh concealed the faults of the man out of His kindness. In our world a person’s reputation means everything. The moment even one of your imperfections appear in your resume, people will never look at you in the same way. Our Lord recognises this human condition better than anyone else. Subsequently, it was He who declined the request of His Prophet to provide the identity of this man.
These are four lessons that we can derive from this moving story, which occurred at the time of Prophet Mūsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām). It will certainly play a constructive role in furthering our development as upright and righteous Muslims. I hope that after some introspection, the lessons presented will help engineer a positive change within us today.
 I must state here as a qualification that the story in question is not rigorously authentic. It might be from historical Israelite narrations, which we are allowed to cite as long as they do not contradict our Shariah, as is the case here. Thus, we are allowed to cite it, and derive benefits and reminders from it.
 Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, al-Dā’ wa al-Dawā’, p. 35.
 Al-Qur’ān, 83:14.
 Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, al-Jawāb al-Kāfī.
 Ibn Mājah.
 Al-Qur’ān, 30:41.
 Al-Qur’ān, 13:11.
 Al-Bukhārī and Muslim.
 Al-Bukhārī and Muslim.