When will a Muslim be excused?

Question: Will a Muslim be excused when doing acts of Shirk such as offering a sacrifice for or making a vow for anything other than Allah out of ignorance?

Answer: There are two categories of acts: First: Acts are excused when done ignorantly. Second: Acts not excused when done ignorantly.

If the doer lives among the Muslims and commits acts of Shirk, worshipping anything other than Allah, he will not be excused, for he is negligent in knowing and understanding his religion. His excuses for worshipping anything such as the dead, trees, stones, and idols other than Allah are not acceptable because of his negligence. Allah (may He be Praised) says:

But those who disbelieve turn away from that whereof they are warned. [Surah Al-Ahqaf, 46:3]

When the Prophet (peace be upon him) sought Allah’s permission to ask His forgiveness for his mother who died in Jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic time of ignorance), he was not permitted to do so as she died believing in her tribe’s faith (worship of idols). The Prophet (peace be upon him) said to someone asking about his father’s fate:

He is in the Hellfire. When he saw his face gloomy, he said: My father and yours are in Hellfire.

This is because he died as a Mushrik (one who associates others with Allah in His Divinity or worship). If this is the case of such Mushriks who lived during the times of ignorance, what about those who live among the Muslims and worship Al-Badawy , Al-Husayn , Shaykh `Abdul-Qadir Al-Jilany, , the Prophet (peace be upon him), or `Aly or any other person!

Such a person and his like are not to be excused because they commit major Shirk (associating others in worship with Allah) while they are living among the Muslims and read the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Messenger (peace be upon him). They turn away from these sources which point out the impermissibility of their acts.

As for the second category that are excused for ignorance, they are like those who live in a land far away from the Muslim world and Ahl-ul-Fatrah (those to whom Da`wah has not reached in an uncorrupted manner). Such people are excused and their case is left to Allah. The correct view is that they will be tested on the Day of Resurrection: if they respond and obey, they will be admitted to Paradise. However, if they disobey, they will enter Hell as Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) says:

And We never punish until We have sent a Messenger (to give warning). [Surah Al-Isra’, 17:15]

Other authentic Hadiths mentioned in this regard also.

The encyclopedic scholar Ibn Al-Qayyim (may Allah be merciful with him) explained this issue in the closing part of his book entitled [Tariq Al-Hijratayn] tackling the ranks of Mukallafs (persons meeting the conditions to be held legally accountable for their actions). You may refer to this useful book.

[Fataawaa Ibn Baaz, 4/26-27]