If an individual holds a high position in society and commits a minor sin, can it be considered a major sin because of the devastating effects that it may have on society?
Yes. The sin of a person who holds a position in society is not equal to that of others. The minor sins of these individuals will be considered as major sins. This is because their sins occur in two dimensions: an individual dimension and a societal dimension.
The sins of people in leadership and positions of influence can lead to the misguidance of society and weakening of people’s faith. It is because of these devastating effects that Allah’s accounting of those in positions of leadership is different from that of the common people. In the Qurʾān, Allah addresses the people of knowledge who create innovation in religion: “Had he (Muḥammad) faked any sayings in Our name, We would have surely seized him by the right hand and then cut off his aorta, and none of you could have held Us off from him.”
Allah has addressed innovators of religion and those who perpetuate distortions in religion in several places in the Qurʾān, but He has never used such strong language in those places. However, because of the Noble Prophet’s purity, high level of knowledge, awareness, and influence, his sin would be considered major. Imām Jaʿfar aṣ-Ṣādiq (ʿa) has said, “70 sins of the ignorant will be forgiven, before one sin of the scholar is forgiven.”
The Noble Prophet (ṣ) has also said, “If the scholars of religion and heads of government become corrupt, then the people will also become corrupt.”