A slave of Allah s.w.t. in the Qur’an is called [‘abd] and it has 2 plurals: [‘Abeed – عَبِيدٌ] and [‘Ibaad – عِبَادٌ]. Both plurals in simple English translation mean “slaves (of Allah)”. However, they actually carry an altogether different meaning from one another!
The plural [‘Ibaad] refers to slaves of Allah s.w.t. who err, who are sinful, who make mistakes – but they always repent to Allah, they have a strong desire to always rectify themselves, and they continuously strive to be a better person than yesterday. If they are already pious, they will struggle to become even better – and all of these are done solely for the sake of Allah s.w.t.
The plural [‘Abeed] also refers to slaves of Allah s.w.t. who err, who are sinful, make mistakes – but these people refuse to repent, they refuse to rectify themselves, and they have no desire in becoming better Muslims and better slaves of their Rabb.
There is no word in the Qur’an that refers to slaves of Allah who are sinless. With the exception of the Anbiya (prophets), every single resident of Jannah was a former sinner in this Dunya. All of us make mistakes. It was narrated from Anas r.a. that Rasulallah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam said:
“Every son of Adam commits sin,
and the best of those who commit sin are those who repent.”
[Sunan Ibn Majah | Grade: Hasan]
Therefore, the best slaves of Allah s.w.t. are the [‘Ibaad] – those who do fall in error, but get back up quickly to make tawbah and rectify themselves. [‘Ibaad] is what we should strive to be, not [‘Abeed]. I loved how my ustadh drove this point home with the following ayat. Allah s.w.t. says:
“O (you) the one in (complete) rest and satisfaction!
Come back to your Rabb, Well-pleased and well-pleasing!
Enter you, then, among My slaves [‘Ibaadi],
and enter you My Paradise!”
[Al-Fajr 89: 27-30]
Notice that [‘Ibaad] is used, and notice its placement in the ayah:
“Enter you then among [‘Ibaadi],
and enter you My Paradise.”
There are many tafseer regarding this ayah, but the following is one of them: Before Allah s.w.t. allow us to enter His Jannah, we need to make sure we first enter, enroll, register ourselves – first and foremost – to be His [‘Ibaad]. Meaning, before we can ever dream to be invited to enter Jannah in the Akhirah, we need to rectify ourselves and persist in making tawbah while still in this Dunya. Subhanallah. It gives a whole different perspective!
Consider this hadith:
Rasulallah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam said:
“Verily, Allah is more pleased with the repentance of His slave than a person who has his camel in a waterless desert carrying his provision of food and drink and it is lost.
He, having lost all hopes, lies down in shade and is disappointed about his camel; when all of a sudden he finds that camel standing before him. He takes hold of its reins and then out of boundless joy blurts out:
‘O Allah, You are my slave and I am Your Rabb’.
He commits this mistake out of extreme joy”.
Allah s.w.t. is MORE PLEASED with the repentance of His slave than this man, who almost died out of hunger and thirst in a scorching desert! Indeed Allah s.w.t. loves to forgive, and loves those who make tawbah. Allah s.w.t. loves the [‘Ibaad] – who do make mistake, but who always return to Allah s.w.t. in humility and repentance.
May Allah s.w.t. help you and me become beloved slaves of our Rabb – Allahumma ameen.