Sins are those actions done with intention
Islam is the way of compassion and Allah does not intend His laws and commandments to be a burden beyond which a person can bear.
"Our Lord! Punish us not if we forget or fall into error, our Lord! Lay not on us a burden like that which You did lay on those before us (Jews and Christians); our Lord! Put not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Pardon us and grant us forgiveness. Have mercy on us. You are our Mawlaa (Patron, Supporter and Protector) and give us victory over the disbelieving people"
If a person commits a sin either because:
- they did not know that it was wrong, or
- they genuinely forgot, or
- they were forced to
then they will not be held accountable for that sin. This is only fair since it is something a person has no control over themselves and it would be unjust to punish someone on this basis. Consequently, Allah says in the Qur'an:
"Allah will forgive my ummah (i.e. the Muslims) for their mistakes, and for what they forget, and for what they are forced to do."
"And there is no sin on you concerning that in which you made a mistake, except in regard to what your hearts deliberately intend. And Allah is Ever Oft‑Forgiving, Most Merciful"
So rather than being judged on deeds, Muslims are judged on intention, for a person's intention is a true reflection of whether they did something out of disobedience to Allah or whether it was because they could not help it.
Allah's Messenger (PBUH) said:
"Actions are judged according to their intentions, so everyone will be rewarded for what he intends."
Thus, all that is required of a Muslim is to do their best with regard to those things that they can control. If a Muslim does this then they will not be punished by Allah for any sins mistakenly committed. Therefore, if for example, a Muslim unknowingly eats pork, or is forced to lie, or misses a prayer because they lost track of the time or fell asleep, or unwittingly eats during the day in Ramadhan out of habit, then the person will not be held accountable for those things and no repentance is required providing:
- they tried their best to avoid that situation
- in the case of prayer, that as soon as they remember / wake up they pray the missed prayer
If a Muslim wishes, they may still ask for forgiveness from Allah, as in this case they are guaranteed to be pardoned, although it is not a requirement to offer repentance.
For a person who is not Muslim, if they have heard about Islam and do not become Muslim then will be judged as one who has disobeyed Allah, since that was their intention. If however, the message of Islam never reached a person for some reason, then as for everyone else, Allah will judge that person with justice and fairness on the Day of Judgement and then decide whether they will be punished, since that person's disobedience was unintentional.
It should also be added that a Muslim should not refrain from learning about his/her religion so as to remain ignorant and therefore be exempt from sins committed through ignorance. Firstly, Allah knows the intention of every person and may hold a person accountable for purposefully trying to remain ignorant. Secondly, seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim, male and female, as indicated by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who said:
"Seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim"
The knowledge referred to, is knowledge about Islam. A Muslim should therefore strive to find out how to please Allah by seeking knowledge. Not only is there great reward in the act of seeking knowledge itself, but the Muslim will learn to perfect his/her practising of Islam and therefore gain the benefit and reward of doing what Allah loves and avoiding what He has forbidden.Undoubtedly, this strengthens the faith of the Muslim and enables them to help others to do the same through passing on the knowledge.