God revealed in Surah Az-Zumar that His slaves who transgress against their souls should not despair of His Mercy, as He pardons every wrongdoing, because He is Oft-Forgiving, Most-Merciful. The story of the man who killed 99 people is an important one that relates to this lesson.
A believer in God should never despair of God’s mercy. The Prophet (PBUH) informed us that all the sons and daughters of Adam (PBUH) sin. But, the best of sinners are those who repent.
The man who killed 99 people
In a vivid and elaborate hadith in Sahih Muslim, the Prophet (PBUH) told us about the man who killed 99 people. He asked who the most knowledgeable person in the land was. After he was informed about a monk, he visited him and asked if he could repent for murdering 99 people. The monk replied that he cannot, so the man killed him, which meant he had now killed 100 people.
He again asked about the most knowledgeable person in the land and was this time told about a scholar. After going to him, he asked him if he could repent for 100 murders. The scholar said that he certainly can, asking him who could prevent him from doing so. He instructed him to go to a certain land where people worship Allah and join them in worshipping him. He also told him not to return to his land, as it was a bad land.
The man who killed 99 people then headed for the land the scholar had told him about. When he had completed half of his journey, he passed away. The angels of mercy and the angels of punishment proceeded to dispute over his fate. The angels of mercy pointed out his repentance, and the fact that he was turning to Allah with sincerity. On the other hand, the angels of punishment remarked that he didn’t do anything good in his life.
An angel then came in human form and they allowed him to mediate. He instructed them to measure the distance between his destination and the land he came from, saying that he belongs to the land that he is closer to. Upon measuring the distance, they discovered that he was closer to the land he was going to, so the angels of mercy took him.
Invaluable lessons that we can draw from the Hadith
God, who began every single chapter, save one, of His last and final book, the Noble Quran, with the words: “In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful” has to be an Oft-Returning and Oft-Forgiving God.
Forgiveness of all sins depends upon man’s earnest repentance
Allah mentioned in the Quran that he could forgive all sins except those of disbelief and the setting of partners unto Him should we experience the final pangs of death without having repented for them. This is very telling. If disbelief and Shirk can be forgiven upon repentance, then only an ingrate would despair of Allah’s mercy
We should only seek knowledge from learned scholars
The monk, though a devout worshipper of God, had no correct understanding of the Quran and Sunnah to know better. Instead of giving the repentant soul who approached him glad tidings of Allah’s mercy, he misguided and enraged the man who killed 99 people. His ignorance took the man back to his evil ways for a moment in which he murdered the monk.
The learned scholar’s knowledge was correct, and his advice to the questioner was sound. He gave him hope aplenty in accordance with the beautiful teachings of Islam and directed him towards goodness.
A man is influenced by the company he keeps
The wise scholar advised the man to leave his corrupt city full of evil people. This was, so that their wickedness may no longer affect him. He wanted the repentant man who killed 99 people to start his life afresh in the excellent company of righteous worshippers. This shows the importance of being mindful of whom we befriend, lest they are an evil influence on us. A noble companion and friend will always remind us of Allah.
Faith lies between hope and fear
When angels of punishment and mercy were deciding the man’s outcome, he remained in a state of hope and despair. Since Allah alone can penetrate hearts and is Omniscient, He knew that the man who killed 99 people was 100% sincere in his repentance. He genuinely wanted to mend his ways and return to his Lord’s pleasure.
A Muslim should always have hope in Allah’s mercy and fear His displeasure. This balanced state will keep him steadfast and optimistic. If a man who ultimately murdered one hundred people did not shy away from asking a learned scholar whether he could repent and be forgiven, then who are we to lose hope is securing Allah’s mercy and forgiveness when we sin?
In Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim, there’s a saying of the Prophet (PBUH) that tells us that believers would despair and not expect to enter Heaven if they knew about the punishment Allah has stored, while the disbelievers would not despair to make it to Paradise if they were aware of Allah’s abundant mercy.
A sinner’s repentance delights Allah
In a Hadith in Sahih Muslim, the Prophet (PBUH) said that Allah is more pleased with the regret of His repenting slave than anyone would be upon finding his camel in a barren desert after it had escaped, along with his food and drink. After he despaired, he lay down in the shade of a tree, then the camel arrived and stood beside him. Overjoyed, he grabbed its reins and exclaimed to Allah that He is his servant and the man is His lord. This error in wording was caused by his extreme delight.
When Allah affectionately sent a mediating angel to judge in favor of the repentant sinner, it was evidence of His inexhaustible Mercy. The fact that God wanted him to be from amongst the people of Paradise becomes more than evident to readers.