Question:

Muslim (2897) narrated from Abū Hurayrah (raḍiyallāhu ʿanhu) that the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) said: “The Hour will not begin until the Byzantines camp at al-Aʿmāq or Dābiq, and an army composed of the best people on earth at that time will go out from Madīnah to meet them. When they arrange themselves in ranks, the Byzantines will say, ‘Do not stand between us and those who took prisoners from us; let us fight them.’ The Muslims will say, ‘No by Allāh, we will never let you reach our brothers.’ Then they will fight them, and one third will flee, whose repentance will never be accepted by Allāh; one third will be killed, and they are the best of martyrs before Allāh; and one third will prevail and will never succumb to any fitnah, and they will conquer Constantinople.” In this ḥadīth, it says that one third of the army will flee and their repentance will not be forgiven.

I thought that Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) forgives all sins including shirk, so why here does it say that Allāh will not forgive them for the sin they committed? (Question edited for spelling, grammar, and style)

Answer:

Bismillāhi Taʿālā

As-salāmu ʿalaykum wa-raḥmatullāhi wa-barakātuh,

The ḥadīth (2897) has been mentioned in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim as follows:

صحيح مسلم (٤ / ٢٢٢١) حدثني زهير بن حرب، حدثنا معلى بن منصور، حدثنا سليمان بن بلال، حدثنا سهيل، عن أبيه، عن أبي هريرة، أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم، قال: " لا تقوم الساعة حتى ينزل الروم بالأعماق أو بدابق، فيخرج إليهم جيش من المدينة، من خيار أهل الأرض يومئذ، فإذا تصافوا، قالت الروم: خلوا بيننا وبين الذين سبوا منا نقاتلهم، فيقول المسلمون: لا، والله لا نخلي بينكم وبين إخواننا، فيقاتلونهم، فينهزم ثلث لا يتوب الله عليهم أبدا، ويقتل ثلثهم، أفضل الشهداء عند الله، ويفتتح الثلث، لا يفتنون أبدا فيفتتحون قسطنطينية، فبينما هم يقتسمون الغنائم، قد علقوا سيوفهم بالزيتون، إذ صاح فيهم الشيطان: إن المسيح قد خلفكم في أهليكم، فيخرجون، وذلك باطل، فإذا جاءوا الشأم خرج، فبينما هم يعدون للقتال، يسوون الصفوف، إذ أقيمت الصلاة، فينزل عيسى ابن مريم صلى الله عليه وسلم، فأمهم، فإذا رآه عدو الله، ذاب كما يذوب الملح في الماء، فلو تركه لانذاب حتى يهلك، ولكن يقتله الله بيده، فيريهم دمه في حربته
 

Your question is in regard to the wordings (فينهزم ثلث لا يتوب الله عليهم أبدا). Before expounding on what the shurrāḥ (exegetes) have said about these wordings of the ḥadīth, it must be borne in mind that the subject matter of rebuke is “turning one’s back on the battlefield”.

Once the battlefield has been established to be valid and fulfilling the necessary conditions, you engage in it with the sole purpose of fulfiling one’s loyalty towards the ḥaqq. To turn one’s face from the ḥaqq and run away from battlefield is one of the highest forms of disdain and insolence one can show to one’s faith. In contemporary terms, it could amount to treason against one’s nation, worthy of court-martial with highest form of disgrace.

This is why “running away from battlefield” has been counted as one of the major sins by the vast majority of scholars (al-Muḥīṭ al-Burhānī 8/312, al-Badāʾiʿ al-Ṣanāʾiʿ 6/268, al-Ikhtiyār 4/47).

So, from the ḥadīth quoted, we shall have no qualms in accepting that the third of the group which turns away from the battlefield are indeed perpetrators of a major sin worthy of admonishment. The question posed here has to do with the aspect of their repentance being accepted or not.

Imam al-Nawawī (raḥimahullāh) says while explaining this part of the ḥadīth that this text means that “they will not get a chance for repentance”.

Mullā ʿAlī al-Qārī (raḥimahullāh) says in al-Mirqāt that this statement in the ḥadīth is a kināyah (euphemism) expounding the death of this group upon kufr and perpetuity of their punishment (for their action).

This suggests that this group shall not get a chance to live long enough to seek repentance for this heinous crime, and it is therefore as though Allāh shall never forgive them.

Imam al-Qurṭubī (raḥimahullāh) says that since this group ran from the battlefield, despite this fleeing not being permissible for them, Allāh shall not forgive them. In other words, they will not attain the chance of seeking repentance, nor will they be assisted towards it. Instead, they will persist in their sin, unregretful as ever.

He thereafter continues to say that it is also possible to say that the meaning is that Allāh shall not accept their repentance even if they were to repent, and (in that case) these people shall hence be from those whom Allāh chooses not to accept their repentance due to their great crime.

It is at this last point I wish to make a further clarification. When we establish that Allāh Taʿālā shall forgive all sins except ascribing partners to Him, it shows Allāh’s grandeur that His mercy will shine upon even the most wretched of sinners. Yet, the wretchedness of shirk is such that it does not deserve Allāh’s mercy.

While this is the case, it does not inhibit Allāh in any way or incapacitate Him from His authority to accept or reject someone’s repentance. It is this authority and will of Allāh Taʿālā which has been echoed by Imam al-Qurṭubī (raḥimahullāh) here.

And Allāh Taʿālā Knows best,

Was-salāmu ʿalaykum,

Muftī Faisal al-Mahmudi