Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Does the Quran really deny

That a person can bear the sins of another? – Part 1

Sam Shamoun

One of the many reasons why Muslims reject the crucifixion of Christ (besides the fact that the Quran explicitly denies that he was crucified [Q. 4:157]) is that, according to the Islamic scripture, no person can bear the sins of another.

As one online Islamic website puts it:

Was this salvation from the “original sin” of Adam only, or does it include all of our sins?

But no one can bear the sin of anyone else, or redeem him with his own self, as Allaah tells us in His Holy Book (interpretation of the meaning):

“And no bearer of burdens shall bear another’s burden; and if one heavily laden calls another to (bear) his load, nothing of it will be lifted even though he be near of kin. You (O Muhammad) can warn only those who fear their Lord unseen and perform As‑Salaah (Iqaamat‑as‑Salaah). And he who purifies himself (from all kinds of sins), then he purifies only for the benefit of his ownself. And to Allaah is the (final) Return (of all)” [Faatir 35:18] (Islam Question and Answer, Fatwa No. 42573. Discussion with a Christian about the Christian doctrine of redemption: Why do Muslims persist in denying that the Messiah came to redeem us?)

Nor is this merely the opinion of a certain sect. The late Muslim translator and commentator, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, also used such texts to condemn the notion of vicarious or substitutionary atonement:

987. The doctrine of personal responsibility again. We are fully responsible for our acts ourselves: we cannot transfer the consequences to someone else. Nor can any one vicariously atone for our sins. (Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an: New Edition with Revised Translation, Commentary and newly Compiled Comprehension Index [Amanah Publications, Eleventh Edition, 2009], p. 343)

894. We must never forget our own personal responsibility for all we do, or deceive ourselves by the illusion of vicarious atonement. (Ibid., p. 312)

This is a point that Ali made sure to repeat often:

2191. The doctrine of vicarious atonement is condemned. Salvation for the wicked cannot be attained by the punishment of the innocent. One man cannot bear the burden of another: that would be unjust. Every man must bear his own personal responsibility. Cf. 6:164. But Allah never visits His wrath on anyone until due warning is conveyed to him through an accredited messenger. (Ibid., p. 678; bold emphasis ours)

3435. Besides the hypocrite there is another type of man who openly scoffs at Faith. 'Take life as we take it,' he says; 'we shall bear your sins.' As if they could! Each soul bears its own burdens, and no one else can bear them. The principle also applies to the type of man who preaches vicarious atonement, for, if followed to its logical conclusion, it means both injustice and irresponsibility, and puts quite a different complexion on the nature of sin. (Ibid., p. 989; bold emphasis ours)

5113. Here follows a series of eleven aphorisms of ancient wisdom apparently incorporated in current Semitic folklore. The first is that a man's spiritual burden – the responsibility for his sin – must be borne by himself and not by another: Cf. 6:164; 17:15; 35:18; 39:7. There can be no vicarious atonement. (Ibid., p. 1382)

However, is this really what the Quran is saying? Is it really denying the possibility of someone bearing the burdens, or sins, of another vicariously?

In reality, a careful reading of the verses, which are often cited by Muslims to prove this assertion, actually shows that this is NOT what the Quran is teaching. The fact is that the Muslim scripture never denies that a person can offer to bear the guilt of another.

What the Quran actually denies is the possibility of an individual who himself is burdened with sins carrying the transgressions of someone else.

Here are all the passages in question so that the readers can see this for themselves:

Say: Shall I seek another than Allah for Lord, when He is Lord of all things? Each soul earneth only on its own account, nor doth any laden bear another's load. Then unto your Lord is your return and He will tell you that wherein ye differed. S. 6:164

Whosoever goeth right, it is only for (the good of) his own soul that he goeth right, and whosoever erreth, erreth only to its hurt. No laden soul can bear another's load, We never punish until we have sent a messenger. S. 17:15

And no burdened soul can bear another's burden, and if one heavy laden crieth for (help with) his load, naught of it will be lifted even though he (unto whom he crieth) be of kin. Thou warnest only those who fear their Lord in secret, and have established worship. He who groweth (in goodness), groweth only for himself, (he cannot by his merit redeem others). Unto Allah is the journeying. S. 35:18

If ye are thankless, yet Allah is Independent of you, though He is not pleased with thanklessness for His bondmen; and if ye are thankful He is pleased therewith for you. No laden soul will bear another's load. Then unto your Lord is your return; and He will tell you what ye used to do. Lo! He knoweth what is in the breasts (of men). S. 39:7

Or hath he not had news of what is in the books of Moses And Abraham who paid his debt: That no laden one shall bear another's load, And that man hath only that for which he maketh effort, And that his effort will be seen. S. 53:36-40

The Quran even says that those disbelievers who claim to be able to bear other people’s sins are liars:

Those who disbelieve say unto those who believe: Follow our way (of religion) and we verily will bear your sins (for you). They cannot bear aught of their sins. Lo! they verily are liars. S. 29:12

This means that the Quran leaves open the possibility that a person who is absolutely sinless and holy can actually bear the sins of others. And a careful examination of the Islamic sources shows that there is only one such individual who is uniquely qualified to do so.

The true prophets and servants of God were sinners

The Quran not only amply testifies that mankind in general is sinful:

If Allah were to take mankind to task for their wrong-doing, he would not leave hereon a living creature, but He reprieveth them to an appointed term, and when their term cometh they cannot put (it) off an hour nor (yet) advance (it). S. 16:61

If Allah took mankind to task by that which they deserve, He would not leave a living creature on the surface of the earth; but He reprieveth them unto an appointed term, and when their term cometh - then verily (they will know that) Allah is ever Seer of His slaves. S. 35:45 – cf. 18:58

It even bears witness to the fact that the prophets themselves were sinners who needed the grace and mercy of God to be purified.


And (unto man): O Adam! Dwell thou and thy wife in the Garden and eat from whence ye will, but come not nigh this tree lest ye become wrong-doers. Then Satan whispered to them that he might manifest unto them that which was hidden from them of their shame, and he said: Your Lord forbade you from this tree only lest ye should become angels or become of the immortals. And he swore unto them (saying): Lo! I am a sincere adviser unto you. Thus did he lead them on with guile. And when they tasted of the tree their shame was manifest to them and they began to hide (by heaping) on themselves some of the leaves of the Garden. And their Lord called them, (saying): Did I not forbid you from that tree and tell you: Lo! Satan is an open enemy to you? They said: Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves. If thou forgive us not and have not mercy on us, surely we are of the lost! He said: Go down (from hence), one of you a foe unto the other. There will be for you on earth a habitation and provision for a while. He said: There shall ye live, and there shall ye die, and thence shall ye be brought forth. S. 7:19-25

But the devil whispered to him, saying: O Adam! Shall I show thee the tree of immortality and power that wasteth not away? Then they twain ate thereof, so that their shame became apparent unto them, and they began to hide by heaping on themselves some of the leaves of the Garden. And Adam disobeyed his Lord, so went astray. S. 20:120-121


And Noah cried unto his Lord and said: My Lord! Lo! my son is of my household! Surely Thy promise is the truth and Thou are the Most Just of Judges. He said: O Noah! Lo! he is not of thy household; lo! he is of evil conduct, so ask not of Me that whereof thou hast no knowledge. I admonish thee lest thou be among the ignorant. He said: My Lord! Lo! in Thee do I seek refuge (from the sin) that I should ask of Thee that whereof I have no knowledge. Unless Thou forgive me and have mercy on me I shall be among the lost. S. 11:45-47


Our Lord! Forgive me and my parents and believers on the day when the account is cast. S. 14:41

Lo! they are (all) an enemy unto me, save the Lord of the Worlds, Who created me, and He doth guide me, And Who feedeth me and watereth me. And when I sicken, then He healeth me, And Who causeth me to die, then giveth me life (again), And Who, I ardently hope, will forgive me my sin on the Day of Judgment. S. 26:78-82

Jacob’s Sons

They said: O our father! Ask forgiveness of our sins for us, for lo! we were sinful. He said: I shall ask forgiveness for you of my Lord. Lo! He is the Forgiving, the Merciful. S. 12:97-98


And he entered the city at a time of carelessness of its folk, and he found therein two men fighting, one of his own caste, and the other of his enemies; and he who was of his caste asked him for help against him who was of his enemies. So Moses struck him with his fist and killed him. He said: This is of the devil's doing. Lo! he is an enemy, a mere misleader. He said: My Lord! Lo! I have wronged my soul, so forgive me. Then He forgave him. Lo! He is the Forgiving, the Merciful. S. 28:15-16


And hath the story of the litigants come unto thee? How they climbed the wall into the royal chamber; How they burst in upon David, and he was afraid of them. They said: Be not afraid! (We are) two litigants, one of whom hath wronged the other, therefor judge aright between us; be not unjust; and show us the fair way. Lo! this my brother hath ninety and nine ewes while I had one ewe; and he said: Entrust it to me, and he conquered me in speech. (David) said: He hath wronged thee in demanding thine ewe in addition to his ewes, and lo! many partners oppress one another, save such as believe and do good works, and they are few. And David guessed that We had tried him, and he sought forgiveness of his Lord, and he bowed himself and fell down prostrate and repented. So We forgave him that; and lo! he had access to Our presence and a happy journey's end. S. 38:21-25


And verily We tried Solomon, and set upon his throne a (mere) body. Then did he repent. He said: My Lord! Forgive me and bestow on me sovereignty such as shall not belong to any after me. Lo! Thou art the Bestower. S. 38:34-35


And (mention) Dhu'n-Nun, when he went off in anger and deemed that We had no power over him, but he cried out in the darkness, saying: There is no God save Thee. Be Thou Glorified! Lo! I have been a wrong-doer. S. 21:87

And the fish swallowed him while he was blameworthy; And had he not been one of those who glorify (Allah) He would have tarried in its belly till the day when they are raised; S. 37:142-144

But wait thou for thy Lord's decree, and be not like him of the fish, who cried out in despair. Had it not been that favour from his Lord had reached him he surely had been cast into the wilderness while he was reprobate. But his Lord chose him and placed him among the righteous. S. 68:48-50

We even find the ahadith mentioning the prophets’ sins and their unworthiness to approach their Lord on behalf of others:

CCIII: "Descendants of those We carried with Nuh. He was a grateful slave." (17:3)

4435. It is related that Abu Hurayra said, "The Messenger of Allah was given some meat and was offered the leg, which he liked, and ate some of it. Then he said, 'I will be the master of people on the Day of Rising. Do you know what that will entail? Allah will gather people, the first and the last on the same plain so that an observer will be able to see them and a speaker make them hear. The sun will be brought near to them and people will experience such sorrow and distress that they will not be able to bear or endure it. The people will say, 'Do you not see what has come to you? Why do you not look for someone to intercede with your Lord on your behalf?' People will say to one another, 'You must have Adam!' They will come to Adam and say, 'You are the father of mankind. Allah created you with His hand and breathed some of His spirit into you and He ordered the angels to prostrate to you. He made you dwell in the Garden. Will you not intercede with your Lord on our behalf? Do you not see what we are suffering?' Adam will say, 'My Lord is angry today with such anger as has never existed before nor will again. He forbade me the Tree and I disobeyed. O my soul! My soul! My soul! Go to someone else. Go to Nuh.'

"They will go to Nuh and say, 'O Nuh! You are the first of the Messengers to be sent to the people of the earth and Allah called you a thankful slave. Intercede with your Lord on our behalf Do you not see what has happened to us?' He will say, 'My Lord is angry today with such anger as has never existed before nor will again. I made a supplication on behalf of my people. O my soul! My soul! My soul! Go to someone else! Go to Ibrahim.'

"They will go to Ibrahim and say, 'O Ibrahim! You are the Prophet of Allah and His close friend among the people of the earth. Intercede with your Lord on our behalf. Do you not see what we are suffering?' He will say to them, 'My Lord is angry today with such anger as has never existed before nor will again. I told three lies (And Abu Hayyan mentioned them in the hadith.) O my soul! My soul! My soul! Go to someone else. Go to Musa.'

"They will go to Musa and say, 'O Musa, you are the Messenger of Allah. Allah preferred you with His message and His Word above all other people. Intercede with your Lord for us. Do you not see what we are suffering?' He will say, 'My Lord is angry today with such anger as has never existed before nor will again. I killed a soul which I was not commanded to kill. Go to someone else. Go to 'Isa.' (Aisha Bewley, The Sahih Collection of al-Bukhari, Chapter 68. Book of Tafsir;*; bold emphasis ours)


6975. Qatada related from Anas that the Prophet said, "Allah will gather people on the Day of Rising like that and they will say, 'We should look for someone to intercede with our Lord to relieve us from this place where we are!' They will go to Adam and say, 'You are one whom Allah created with His hand, to whom His angels prostrates and He taught you the names of all things. Intercede on our behalf with your Lord to relieve us from this place where we are!' He will say, 'I am not worthy of this task,' and he will mention his error and say, 'Go to Nuh. He is the first Messenger that Allah sent to the people of the earth.' They will go to Nuh and he will say, 'I am not worthy of this task,' and he will mention his error and say, 'Go to Ibrahim, he friend of the All-Merciful.' They will go to Ibrahim and he will say, 'I am not worthy of this task,' and he will mention the errors he made. 'Go to Musa, a slave to whom Allah gave the Torah and to whom He spoke directly.' They will go to him and he will say, 'I am not worthy of this task,' and he will mention the error which he made and will say, 'Go to 'Isa, His slave and messenger, His word and spirit (ruh).' (Bewley, 100. Book of Tawhid (the belief that Allah is One in His Essence, Attributes and Actions); *; bold emphasis ours)

The prophets’ refusal to intercede for others makes absolute sense in light of the Quran’s repeated insistence that those who are burdened by their own sins cannot help others before God.

Muhammad was also a sinner

The Quran doesn’t stop there since it even goes on to mention that Muhammad himself was a sinner who needed to be purified from all his wickedness, and whose god often rebuked him for his transgressions:

Lo! We reveal unto thee the Scripture with the truth, that thou mayst judge between mankind by that which Allah showeth thee. And be not thou a pleader for the treacherous; And seek forgiveness of Allah. Lo! Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful. And plead not on behalf of (people) who deceive themselves. Lo! Allah loveth not one who is treacherous and sinful. S. 4:105-107

Allah forgive thee (O Muhammad)! Wherefor didst thou grant them leave ere those who told the truth were manifest to thee and thou didst know the liars? S. 9:43

Then have patience (O Muhammad). Lo! the promise of Allah is true. And ask forgiveness of thy sin, and hymn the praise of thy Lord at fall of night and in the early hours. S. 40:55

So know (O Muhammad) that there is no Allah save Allah, and ask forgiveness for thy sin and for believing men and believing women. S. 47:19

Lo! We have given thee (O Muhammad) a signal victory, That Allah may forgive thee of thy sin that which is past and that which is to come, and may perfect His favour unto thee, and may guide thee on a right path, S. 48:1-2

Then hymn the praises of thy Lord, and seek forgiveness of Him. Lo! He is ever ready to show mercy. S. 110:3

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. O thou enveloped in thy cloak, Arise and warn! Thy Lord magnify, Thy raiment purify, Pollution shun! And show not favour, seeking worldly gain! S. 74:1-6

And We raised from you your sin/load/burden. Which weighed heavily (on)/burdened your back. S. 94:2-3 Ahmed Ali

Here is a different translation:

And we unloaded your load (of sins). One that burdened your back. Khalifa

According to the sound hadiths, Muhammad would even pray for forgiveness up to one hundred times a day, begging his lord to pardon him for all his evil!

Al-Agharr al-Muzani, who was one amongst the Companions (of the Holy Prophet) reported that Allah's Messenger said: There is (at times) some sort of shade upon my heart, and I seek forgiveness from Allah a hundred times a day. (Sahih Muslim, Book 35, Number 6522


LXI. The words of the Prophet, "O Allah, forgive me past and future errors."

6035. Ibn Abi Musa related from his father that the Prophet, used to use this supplication, "O Lord, forgive me my errors and ignorance and my prodigality in all of my affair and what You know best of me in it. O Allah, forgive me my errors, what I do intentionally, my ignorance, and my jest. All of that is with me. O Allah, forgive my what I did in the past and what I may do in the future, what I conceal and what I make public, You are the One who advances matters and defers them. You have power over all things.'"

Another isnad from Abu Burda from Ibn Abi Musa from Abu Musa from the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace.

6036. Abu Bakr ibn Abi Musa and Abu Burda (I think) related from Abu Musa al-Ash'ari that the Prophet, used to invoke, "O Lord, forgive me my errors and ignorance and my prodigality in my affair and what You know best of me in it. O Allah, forgive me what I do in jest and what I do seriously my errors, and what I do intentionally. All of that is with me." (Bewley, Sahih al-Bukhari, Chapter 83. Book of Supplications; *)

Muhammad further admitted that he couldn’t help or benefit anyone, and that he himself was uncertain of his own salvation and standing before his god:

Say (O Muhammad): “I possess no power of benefit or hurt to myself except as Allah wills. If I had the knowledge of the Ghaib (unseen), I should have secured for myself an abundance of wealth, and no evil should have touched me. I am but a warner, and a bringer of glad tidings unto people who believe.” S. 7:188 Hilali-Khan

Is, then one against whom the Word of punishment justified (equal to the one who avoids evil). Will you (O Muhammad) rescue him who is in the Fire? S. 39:19 Hilali-Khan

Say (O Muhammad): “I am not a new thing among the Messengers (of Allah) (i.e. I am not the first Messenger) nor do I know what will be done with me or with you. I only follow that which is revealed to me, and I am but a plain warner.” S. 46:9

The hadiths further elaborate on and highlight Muhammad’s insecurities and inability to profit anyone:

Narrated 'Um al-'Ala:
An Ansari woman who gave the pledge of allegiance to the Prophet that the Ansar drew lots concerning the dwelling of the Emigrants. 'Uthman bin Maz'un was decided to dwell with them (i.e. Um al-'Ala's family), 'Uthman fell ill and I nursed him till he died, and we covered him with his clothes. Then the Prophet came to us and I (addressing the dead body) said, "O Abu As-Sa'ib, may Allah's Mercy be on you! I bear witness that Allah has honored you." On that the Prophet said, "How do you know that Allah has honored him?" I replied, "I do not know. May my father and my mother be sacrificed for you, O Allah's Apostle! But who else is worthy of it (if not 'Uthman)?" He said, "As to him, by Allah, death has overtaken him, and I hope the best for him. By Allah, though I am the Apostle of Allah, yet I do not know what Allah will do to me," By Allah, I will never assert the piety of anyone after him. That made me sad, and when I slept I saw in a dream a flowing stream for 'Uthman bin Maz'un. I went to Allah's Apostle and told him of it. He remarked, "That symbolizes his (good) deeds." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 58, Number 266; *)


Narrated Abu Huraira:
When Allah revealed the Verse: "Warn your nearest kinsmen," Allah's Apostle got up and said, "O people of Quraish (or said similar words)! Buy (i.e. save) yourselves (from the Hellfire) as I cannot save you from Allah's Punishment; O Bani Abd Manaf! I cannot save you from Allah's Punishment, O Safiya, the Aunt of Allah's Apostle! I cannot save you from Allah's Punishment; O Fatima bint Muhammad! Ask me anything from my wealth, but I cannot save you from Allah's Punishment." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 51, Number 16; *)

Yet despite all this, Muhammad still told his followers that Allah would grant him the right to intercede for his people!

“… They will go to Jesus who will say, ‘I am not fit for this undertaking but you'd better go to Muhammad the slave whose past and future sins have been forgiven by Allah.’ So they will come to me, and I will ask my Lord's permission to enter His House and then I will be permitted. When I see Him I will fall down in prostration before Him, and He will leave me (in prostration) as long as He will, and then He will say, 'O Muhammad, lift up your head and speak, for you will be listened to, and intercede, for your intercession will be accepted, and ask (for anything) for it will be granted…’” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 97, Number 532v; *)

However, in light of the Quran’s repeated assertion that a sinner cannot bear the load of another, Muhammad's transgressions disqualify him from helping or interceding for anyone.

This leaves us with one specific individual. Please continue with Part 2.