Answered by: Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Question: How do I answer a question from someone who asks me that if the Prophet is sinless, than why did the Prophet seek forgiveness for his sins [sic.]? What about the mistakes mentioned in the Qur’an?
Answer: Waalaikum assalam,
A ‘sin’ can refer to a contravention of the Divine Command, and to anything one considers to be a non-fulfillment of what is truly due to the Divine.
When the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) looked back at his past tremendous spiritual works, from his ever-rising spiritual heights, he considered them to be a (relatively) imperfect fulfillment of what was truly due to the Divine–while, at the same time, being the very best of spiritual works ever performed by a human in worship of their Lord. Given this, he sought forgiveness (and was ‘forgiven) for all his works. In this is a reminder for us sinful followers of the Best of Creation (Allah bless him and give him peace), that we should remain humble, and to recognize our shortcomings in fulfilling what is due to our Lord and Sustainer.
What is a sin?
A sin is a contravention of the Divine Command.
As for the ‘errors’ mentioned from the Prophets, they none of them entailed deliberate contravention of the Divine Command. Rather, each and every case was an example of the given Prophet acting based on very sound human judgment, sincerely seeking to do what was best in the given situation.
It just happened to turn out that what they did was not ultimately the optimal action sought by Allah, in His Wisdom. Thus, what they did was in itself good and praiseworthy; it was merely an ‘error’ insofar as it was not in absolute accordance with that which was best in the eyes of Allah. It was called ma`siya–often translated as ‘sin’ but it simply means ‘contravention’–only in this way.
And Allah alone gives success.