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There are some statements of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) that demonstrate that there are some special rewards and circumstances for the Muslim convert.
In general, an individual will enter Islam while his past will be filled with both good and evil deeds. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) has explained what will happen to the individual with respect to those previous deeds.
Al-Bukhari records in his collection of authentic hadith: Hakeem ibn Hizaam said, “O Messenger of Allah, what do you think about the acts of worship I used to perform in the pre-Islamic days of freeing slaves, keeping the ties of kinship and giving in charity? Will I receive any reward for that?” The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) told him, “You have embraced Islam upon what good you had in the past.”
One interpretation of this hadith is that the individual will be rewarded for the good that he did in the past and this reward is due to his embracing of Islam. It must be noted, though, that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) did not explicitly tell him that he will be rewarded for those actions that he did before becoming a Muslim. In order for a deed to be acceptable to Allah, it must be done with the proper intention of pleasing Allah and with the certainty that it is correct according to Allah’s laws. These two conditions, obviously, are generally missing when discussing the deeds of disbelievers. Hence, others interpret this hadith in different ways.
One explanation is that those good deeds have developed a good character in the person and demonstrates a leaning toward doing good that he will greatly benefit from by now being a Muslim. This tendency toward doing good may have been what led him to Islam. In fact, it may have been because of those deeds that Allah blessed him by guiding him to Islam. The hadith may also mean that the person will still be rewarded for those deeds but in this world. This is part of the great mercy and justice of Islam that He does not allow any good deed to go unrewarded. Although such good deeds done by non-Muslims may not meet the conditions of being rewarded by Allah in the Hereafter, Allah does not ignore them and gives to such unbelievers in this life. Hence,
the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said
The disbeliever is rewarded in this life by provisions for what he has done of good deeds
Recorded by Muslim
However, there is yet another statement of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) that clearly states that if a person converts to Islam and does his best to complete and perfect his faith, he will indeed be rewarded for the deeds that he performed before becoming a Muslim. This seems to be a special bounty that Allah has chosen to bestow upon such people and Allah bestows His bounty upon whom He wills. The text of this hadith reads:
If a servant accepts Islam and completes his Islam, Allah will record for him every good deed that he performed before [his Islam] and Allah will erase for him every evil deed that he did before [his Islam]. Then everything after that will be according to a retribution. For every good deed, he will be recorded ten-fold up to seven hundred fold. And for every evil deed he will be recorded similarly [one] for it, unless Allah overlooks that for him
Recorded by Malik and al-Nasaa’i. According to al-Albaani, it is sahih. Al-Albani, Saheeh al-Jaami, vol. 1, p. 122
This hadith shows that a person will be rewarded for the good deeds that he performed before becoming Muslim. His evil deeds will also be erased after becoming Muslim. However, this is conditional. This is conditional upon the fact that he perfects or completes his Islam. That is, it is conditional that he remain away from the evil deeds after he becomes a Muslim.
This understanding is further supported by a hadith in both Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim in which ibn Masood asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) if they were to be held accountable for the deeds that they performed in pre-Islamic times. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) told him, “As for the one of you who excels in Islam, he will not be held accountable for it. As for the one who does evil [with respect to his Islam], he shall be held accountable for what he did in pre-Islamic times as well as in Islam.”
There is also a hadith in Musnad Ahmad which states, while the Prophet (peace be upon him) was speaking to Amr ibn al-As,
O Amr, didn’t you know that Islam wipes away all of the sins that one performed before it
This narration is from Musnad Ahmad. Sahih Muslim has virtually the same with a slight change in the wording
This hadith must be understood in the light of the previously mentioned hadith: if a person completes his Islam and excels in Islam, then all of his previous sins will be erased and overlooked. Otherwise, if he continues to perform such evil acts in Islam, his previous acts will not be overlooked. However, this only applies to sins and evil deeds with respect to Allah. It does not include obligations that one still has to fulfill, such as debts or crimes that one may be punished for in this world.
Furthermore, there is even a stronger passage in the Quran.
And those who do not invoke any other god along with Allah, nor kill such life as Allah has forbidden, except for just cause, nor commit illegal sexual intercourse and whoever does this shall receive the punishment. The torment will be doubled to him on the Day of Resurrection, and he will abide therein in disgrace; Except those who repent and believe, and do righteous deeds, for those, Allah will change their sins into good deeds, and Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful
Some scholars feel that that verse implies that previous evil deeds will be turned into good deeds. However, some say that it means that the person will then do good deeds in this life. Yet others say that it means that in the Hereafter the evil deeds will be transformed and the person will be rewarded for them due to the worry and remorse that he suffered because of them after becoming a Muslim.
In sum, the new Muslim convert is facing a very great opportunity. He is being given the opportunity to have all of his previous ills and sins immediately cancelled while possibly still being rewarded for good that he did before embracing Islam. This is part of Allah’s grace and mercy. It is conditional though. The convert must take his Islam seriously, practice it properly and be a true Muslim while keeping himself from falling into the evils that he practiced before becoming a Muslim. If he somehow allows himself to fall back into his evil practices of old, he then loses a great opportunity that Allah has graciously offered him.
Finally, there is a verse in the Quran and another hadith that deals specifically with the members of the People of the Book who convert to Islam. These people believed in earlier books and earlier prophets and then took the further necessary step of also believing wholeheartedly in the final prophet and book that their own prophets and books alluded to. Allah says about them, “And indeed now We have conveyed the Word, in order that they may receive admonition. Those to whom We gave the Scripture before it, - they believe in it (the Quran). And when it is recited to them, they say:
We believe in it. Verily, it is the truth from our Lord. Indeed even before it we have been from those who submit themselves to Allah as Muslims.’ These will be given their reward twice over, because they are patient, and repel evil with good, and spend (in charity) out of what We have provided them
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) also said, “There are three who will receive their rewards twice. [One of them is] a believer from the People of the Book who believed in his prophet and then also believed in Muhammad. He will receive two rewards…”
- The comments to be presented concerning this hadith are based on Ahmad ibn Hajar, Fath al-Baari bi-Sharh Saheeh al-Bukhaari (Beirut: Daar al-Maridah), vol. 3, pp. 302-303; Badr al-Deen Al-Aini, Umdah al-Qaari (Beirut: Daar Ihyaa al-Turaath), vol. 8, p. 303.
- Ibn Rajab, Jaami, vol. 1, p. 296
- This is in reference to some Jews and Christians who embraced Islam.
- Recorded by al-Bukhari and Muslim. Some scholars argue that this hadith refers only to Christians who convert to Islam because the message of the Prophet Jesus had abrogated the message of the earlier prophets. In other words, the Jew who rejects Jesus (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) does not truly believe in his own prophets because Jesus was also sent to the Tribe of Israel. His rejecting of Jesus implies his rejection of what his own prophet has brought. Hence, he is not a true believer and the words of the hadith above do not apply to him. The Prophet’s words, though, are more general than that and should be understood in its general sense. Furthermore, it is confirmed that the verses quoted above applied equally to the Jews and Christians. See ibn Hajar, Fath, vol. 1, pp. 190-191.