Some Serious Questions About a Serious Issue
Quite often questions are raised as to what will happen to the disbelievers (Kuffaar) in the Hereafter. Will they be punished in the Hell? Even the nice, friendly, charitable people? How about scientists and doctors who are benefiting humanity with their services? Is there any difference between the consequences for the people of the book (Jews / Christians) and those for the pagans? Why should they be punished if they are sincerely following their own religion? What if they do not know anything about Islam, Prophet Muĥammad Ŝall-Allaahu ‘Alayhi Wa Sallam (ŜA‘WS) or the Qur-aan? Especially, when their intention is only the service of humanity or the service of God? Why should they be punished, after all they are what they are because of the family and the society they were born in? Had they been born in a Muslim home, they would have been Muslims! The list of these questions can go on and on.
Responding to Disbelievers
When a disbeliever raises these questions, it is understandable. It may be difficult to tell them the truth, but that is what we have to do. It must, however, be done with the appropriate Da‘wah message with it. The following points have to be clarified to them along with an appropriate Da‘wah message that will depend on the audience and the circumstances:
True Faith is the Foremost Pre-requisite of Salvation
From the Islamic point of view, only those people can attain salvation and success in the Hereafter who fulfill two pre-requisites. The first pre-requisite is to have accurate beliefs about God, His messengers, His books and the life Hereafter. The second pre-requisite is acting righteously on an ongoing basis. Both requirements must be satisfied to attain salvation and to avoid the punishment in the Hereafter.
If the belief is incomplete, inaccurate, or faulty, the person cannot become a citizen of the Kingdom of God, irrespective of his/her deeds. The belief in God must be with the conviction that He is One and Unique Creator of everything and everyone that exists or has ever existed in this universe; Who is infinite in every respect, above and beyond any finite or human attributes; has never begotten anyone nor is He begotten; indivisible in His person or his roles; and there nothing is the universe in His image or like, resembling, similar, or equal to Him, in any sense, shape for form. The belief in the messengers of God and His books requires that not a single of them is denied and that the latest prophet or the messenger of the time and the latest edition of the book of God in force during one’s time must be accepted and followed. For example, if a person living in the years of Moses, peace be upon him (PBUH), regardless of how devoted to God that person was, accepted wholeheartedly Noah (PBUH) and Abraham (PBUH) but did not accept Moses (PBUH) and the Torah, he/she would not have been able to attain salvation. After Jesus (PBUH) arrived, even a God-fearing or a devout Jew could not have attained the salvation without accepting and following Jesus (PBUH) as the messenger of God. It is so because a believer in God must accept the latest messenger sent by God as His representative. God sends messengers to be accepted and followed. He does not tolerate rejection of His messengers. Rejection of any of His messengers is indirectly rejecting God Himself.
After Jesus (PBUH), Allaah SWT appointed Muĥammad ŜA‘WS as His messenger and revealed His Word, the Qur-aan, to him. Muhammad ŜA‘WS is the last messenger of Allaah SWT and the Qur-aan is the last book of Allaah. They both are currently the God’s Messenger and the Book in force and they both will remain in force until the Day of Judgment. Anyone not accepting Muhammad ŜA‘WS as the Messenger of God and Qur-aan as the book of God cannot be a believer, a person of God, or a citizen of the Kingdom of God. Both must be accepted and followed for anyone’s faith being acceptable to Allaah SWT; otherwise, Allaah considers him/her a disbeliever. Hence, even ‘good’ Christians, for example, cannot attain salvation by practising Christianity. They are failing on almost four counts. Their belief in God (because of the concept of trinity) is highly suspect, they reject Muhammad ŜA‘WS and the Glorious Qur-aan, and their belief in the Hereafter is also imprecise and clumsy. To remedy these flaws, they have to accept Islam if they want salvation, Similarly, the Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Pagans, Satanists, agnostics, atheists, etc. – any disbelievers, regardless of how good they are, cannot attain salvation in the Hereafter without adopting Islamic beliefs.
This what Allaah has taught; that is the admitting standard He has set and the law He had laid down. We have no option except to state, preach and warn people about this reality. That is precisely every believer’s duty for which they will be held responsible; however, while stating this fact is our duty, we are not the one who will judge people against his law, standard and criteria.
What if They Don’t Know?
The judgment is going to be carried out in the Hereafter by God who is All-Knowing, Most-Wise and Absolutely Just. He has perfect knowledge of everyone’s circumstances, attitudes, ideas and also of the opportunities available to everyone to know about the true faith of Islam. He has absolute knowledge of what a person could or could not have done. Because He knows all that is there to know and because He will not be unjust to anyone, He will obviously consider one’s peculiar circumstances before giving His Judgment. But before any disbeliever takes courage to put up ignorance about Islam, Muĥammad ŜA‘WS or the Glorious Qur-aan as a defence for themselves, they have to justify and prove to the satisfaction of the All-Knowing God if:
- They fulfilled their responsibility fully in finding the truth when they saw or heard about Islam, Muĥammad or the Qur-aan mentioned by people or in the newspapers or radio and TV programs.
- They, as they grew up, fulfilled their obligation to themselves by questioning rationally their beliefs vis-à-vis other faiths and ideologies.
- They tried to seek the truth when their mind questioned everything in their lives at the age of puberty and at the mid-life stage. After all, God did not put in vain these questioning stages of life in our nature.
So, if you have honestly and sincerely exhausted all avenues of finding the truth of the Islamic faith, and have availed all the opportunities given by God in seeking the true faith but you still remained ignorant about Islam, God will not be unjust to you. If that is not the case, what is your excuse?
What about their Good Deeds?
God being Just will not let anyone’s good deeds go in vain. Because there will be no reward for their good behaviour in the Hereafter, the good deeds of all the non-beleivers are rewarded right here in this world through prosperity, good fortune, fame, applause, recognition, acclaim, monetary gain and awards (the natural consequences for their good actions). For those good deeds for which they did not enjoy the rewards by way of natural consequences, Allaah SWT may reduce the severity of the Fire of the Hell for someone’s consistent good behaviour but eternal punishment in the Hell will not be taken away without one’s adopted the valid Islamic beliefs (1).
1 For more discussion on this topic, see appendix titled “Justice and Mercy of Allaah:”.
Responding to Muslims
When these questions are raised in Muslim circles, it is disconcerting. It is incomprehensible, both logically and Islamically, that a Muslim would raise such questions or argue about them! Why? Let us see:
A Muslim is a person who believes in the truth of Islam. In other words, a Muslim claims that Islam is the true religion and, by default, implies that other religions are wrong. Then, how can a Muslim logically question the punishment of the people of other faiths or resent the idea that non-Muslims will be punished, unless he is implying one of the following absurdities:
- That all religions are equally true and acceptable.
- That faith is a useless thing. Believing or not believing in Islam really does not matter. It has no impact on the consequences in the Hereafter.
Perhaps they think that being a “good” person is the only thing that matters. Disregarding the perception or definition of “good”, let us take their way of thinking to its logical conclusion. If faith is not important and only being “good” is all that is needed for salvation, then why to believe in Islam at all? If faith in Islam is not a requirement for salvation, why did Allaah Subĥaanahu Wa Ta‘aalaa (SWT) send Prophet Muĥammad ŜA‘WS and make him go through all the difficulties he went through? And why would He make Muslims go through all the persecutions they have faced for the sake of Islam and are still facing? If all that is needed to attain success in the Hereafter is to become a “good” person irrespective of faith, then, why not let all those who are being persecuted all over the world just because they are Muslims become good Jews in Palestine, good Christians in Bosnia and good Hindus in Kashmir?
If Islam is not a real factor in attaining the salvation, why is Allaah SWT putting people through unnecessary troubles? Is He stupid or is He a masochist Who enjoys seeing people go through useless hardships and seeing people persecuted for their faith unnecessarily?
Any sensible person can see that the consequences of being a Muslim (a true Muslim who follows Islam properly in actions and behaviour) and a non-Muslim cannot be the same. And if they are not the same, why all those aforementioned questions?
Usually, for the Muslims who raise these kinds of questions it is hard to accept that some people who do nice things in the life of this world will be punished in the Hell. Not realizing the criticality of these issues from an Islamic perspective and not knowing the Qur-aanic verdict in this regard, they assume that the punishment of all the nice non-Muslims friends and neighbours in the Hell must be the product of unstable thinking of some narrow-minded religious fanatics. Instead of accepting the reality, they try to justify what they think should be the reality. Sometimes, these questions are also raised by the Muslims who have been confronted with these questions by a non-Muslim friend whom they could not answer because of the lack of their knowledge. For the benefit of these people, let us see, then, what the Glorious Qur-aan has to say in answer to these questions:
Is any religion other than Islam acceptable to Allaah SWT?
That there is no god except Allaah is testified by Allaah Himself and the angels and all those endowed with knowledge, standing firm on truth and justice. There is no god except Him and He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise. Indeed, Islam is the only true religion in the sight of Allaah. (Aali ‘Imraan 3:18-19)
A religion other than Islam will not be acceptable from anyone, whoever follows another religion will be a loser in the Hereafter. (Aali ‘Imraan 3:85)
What does the Qur-aan say about the treatment of Kuffaar or Disbelievers in the Hereafter?
There are about 170 places in the Glorious Qur-aan that describe unequivocally that the people who do not follow the Islamic way of life will be punished in the Hell. At a majority of those places, Jannah (Garden, Heaven) is also mentioned in parallel as the reward for the believers. Here are a few examples:
Allaah has promised that those who believe (in Islam) and do good deeds will enjoy pardon (forgiveness) and rich rewards from Him. As for those who disbelieve and treat the revelations of Allaah (the Qur-aan) as false shall be the companions of fire (Hell). (Al-Maaidah 5:9)
Truly, if anyone of those who adopted disbelief and died as Kuffaar (disbelievers) were to fill the whole Earth with gold and offer it as ransom for redemption, that will not be accepted. There is a painful punishment in store for such people and they will not find any helpers. (Aali ‘Imraan 3:91)
As for those who disbelieved, for them is destruction and Allaah has rendered their deeds astray, because they have disapproved of what Allaah has sent down (the Qur-aan). (Muĥammad 47:8-9)
Those who have believed and done good works, will be kept in a Garden, happy and rejoicing; and those who have disbelieved and rejected Our Revelations and the meeting of the Hereafter, will be presented for punishment. (Ar-Room 30:15-16)
Also consider the following verses:
“Surely for the God-fearing there are blissful Gardens with their Lord. Shall We then treat the Muslims as We treat the culprits? What has happened to you: How ill you judge? (Al-Qalam 68:34-36)
These are the two parties who dispute about their Lord: As regards the disbelievers, garments of fire have been cut out for them; boiling water that will not only scald their skin but also their innards shall be poured over their heads; and, there will be maces of iron to lash them. Whenever they will try to come out of the Hell, they shall be forced back therein with the rebuke, ‘Taste the torment of burning’. As regards the believers who perform good deeds, Allaah will admit them into the gardens beneath which rivers flow; there they will be adorned with the bracelets of gold and pearls; and, their garments will be of silk. (Al-Ĥajj 22:19-23)
As the preceding verses indicate, there are basically two requirements that must be fulfilled by those who wish to avoid the torments of the Hell and enter into the Jannah (the Garden). First requirement is faith (Eemaan) in all the articles of faith including the Glorious Qur-aan and Muĥammad ŜA‘WS. The second requirement is performance of good deeds. Both must be satisfied. Just one requirement is not enough. If the faith in Islam is missing, the best actions are not going to help. If the actions are not in line, the faith is questionable. Wherever in the Glorious Qur-aan Allaah SWT has mentioned the reward of Jannah, both faith and good deeds have been mentioned as the qualifying criteria. Here are two more examples:
Do those who committed evil think that We shall treat them in their life and death alike to those who believed and performed good deeds? What a bad judgment they pass! Allaah has created the heavens and the earth rightfully in order that everyone is compensated for one’s deeds without being wronged at all. (Al-Jaathiyah 45:21-22)
The Kuffaar who hinder (others) from Allaah’s Way, Allaah will render their deeds fruitless. As for those who believe, and do good works, and accept that which has been revealed to Muĥammad - and it is the very truth from their Lord - Allaah will remove their evils from them and set their condition right. This is because the disbelievers followed falsehood and the believers followed the Truth which had come from their Lord. Thus does Allaah make the people aware of their true state. (Muĥammad 47:1-3)
Does the Punishment Apply to Ahlul Kitaab (Believers of the Book, i.e. Jews and Christians)?
It certainly does! As the following verses indicate, it applies to all Kuffaar (Disbelievers) whether they are Ahllul Kitaab or any other kind of disbelievers.
The Kuffaar from Ahlul-Kitaab and idolaters (mushrikeen), shall certainly enter Hell, and remain in it forever. They are the worst of all creatures. (Al-Bayyinah 96:8)
O you, to whom the book has been given! Believe in the Book we have sent down now, confirming the book you already have with you; believe in it before We distort faces and set them backwards, or curse them as we cursed the Sabbath breakers. (An-Nisaa 4:47)
Verily, those who disbelieve in Allaah and his messengers; and wish to discriminate between Allaah and his messengers; and say, ‘We believe in some but not in others’; and wish to devise a path in between, they are the real Kuffaar (disbelievers). And we have prepared for the Kuffaar a humiliating torment. (An-Nisaa 4:150-151)
Most certainly, they committed Kufr who said, ‘Christ, the son of Mary, is certainly God’; whereas the Christ has said, ‘O Children of Israel, worship Allaah alone, who is my Lord and your Lord as well. Whoever ascribes other gods to Allaah, Allaah shall forbid him the Jannah, and his abode shall be the Hell. There will be no helpers for such unjust people. Most certainly, they committed Kufr who said, ‘God is one of the three’; whereas there is no god other than the One True God. And if these people do not desist from making such statements, a painful punishment shall be inflicted on such disbelievers. (Al-Maaidah 5:72-73)
If they want to attain salvation and enter Paradise, they have to believe in Muĥammad ŜA‘WS:
(The Jews prayed): Ordain for us good in this world and in the Hereafter…He (Allaah) said:… As for My Mercy, I shall ordain it for those who practise Taqwa, pay Zakaah, believe in our revelations (Aayaat) and follow the messenger, the Gentile Prophet, whom they find mentioned in the Torah and the Gospels, … it is they who will be successful. (Al-A‘raaf 7:156-157)
And as it is reported in the Aĥaadeeth:
The Prophet ŜA‘WS explained to ‘Umar, “Had Moosa been alive, he would have no choice but to follow me.” (Jaabir reported in Al-Muslim).
When ‘Eesa returns to earth to spend his remaining life, he will follow the Prophet ŜA‘WS and Islamic Sharee‘ah. (Reported in Bukhari).
What about the verse 62 of Al-Baqarah?
Many people being unfamiliar with the style of the Glorious Qur-aan are confused when they read the literal translation of the verse 62 of Al-Baqarah (2:62) out of its context. Taken in isolation, the verse appears to suggest that one does not have to be a Muslim to attain Salvation. Regardless of the religion, any person who believes in God and the Day of Judgment and performs good deeds will have no problem attaining the Salvation. But that is not the correct message of the said verse. Before embarking on the detailed discussion on this verse, it will be useful to review a few points about the style and understanding of the Glorious Qur-aan.
Three features of the literary style of the Glorious Qur-aan must be kept in view in order to understand the proper meaning of this verse and the Glorious Qur-aan in general:
- The Glorious Qur-aan uses as few words as possible to make a statement, give an order or narrate an incident. A lot is left unsaid that can be determined by other means within the Glorious Qur-aan. This brevity is one of the most outstanding beauties and miracles of the Glorious Qur-aan.
- The Glorious Qur-aan puts significant reliance on the context of the words, phrases and sentences to determine their specific meaning. To understand the Glorious Qur-aan properly, its phrases and sentences should never be taken in isolation of its context.
- If something is alluded to briefly or partially in one place because the context did not require the rest of the details, it is always given fully and completely at some other place (or places) in the Glorious Qur-aan. Hence, the meaning of any Qur-aanic term, phrase or verse must be determined in conjunctions with all its occurrences in the Glorious Qur-aan and the contexts where they appear. That is why the first and foremost principle of the exegesis (Tafseer) or explanation of the Glorious Qur-aan is that the Qur-aan explains itself and determines the meanings of its own contents. It is also the reason that anyone who does not have expert knowledge of the whole Qur-aan should not try to determine the meanings of its words, phrases or verses on one’s own.
If these fundamental features of the text of the Glorious Qur-aan are not kept in view, a person may have difficulty in understanding the meaning of many other verses in the Qur-aan, not only this verse 2:62.
So, what is the context of the verse 2:62?
The Jews of Arabia were renowned for their scholarship, knowledge and religious leadership. Their animosity to Islam and their anti-Islamic activities were keeping some people who were much impressed with the Jewish scholarship away from Islam. The reality of the Jews needed to be brought to light so that they could be seen as they were. Also, there are always some good elements in all people. To bring sensible, good natured Jews towards Islam, it was necessary to make them realize the crimes of the Jewish people and show them directly the proper behaviour that should be adopted. Moreover, the Jews were, in fact, the Muslims of the past. It was also necessary to warn the Muslims of the Jewish follies, so that the Muslims do not fall into the same trap. For all these reasons and more, Soorat-ul-Baqarah (Chapter 2) addresses the Jews and presents a summary of the Jewish history starting from verse 40.
In this regard, a lot of Jewish crimes were exposed and their misconceptions dispelled. One of their greatest misconceptions was that they, being the descendants of the prophets, were the chosen people, blessed by God forever, not to end up in the Fire except maybe for a short while. To them, regardless of what they did, salvation was theirs. No one else could get it. Because of their misconception and their pride in their heritage, they were very condescending to the Muslims as well as to Gentiles in general. The questions 2:61-62 are answering is: Do their claims have any merit? Are they so dear to Allaah SWT that they are not going to be punished regardless of their behaviour? Will Allaah not favour anyone except them? Is salvation dependent on the family, tribe, genealogy or ethnicity of a person, or is it dependent on one’s personal faith and good deeds?
Firstly, Allaah SWT bluntly dispelled their notion that they were the ‘chosen’ people loved dearly by Allaah SWT, and informed them that rather than being Allaah’s favourites, they have in fact earned Allaah’s curse due to their repeated transgression:
And they were inflicted with humiliation and misery and they drew on themselves the Wrath of Allaah. That was because they used to disbelieve the revelations of Allaah, killed the prophets wrongfully. They did so because they had become disobedient and habitual transgressors. (Al-Baqarah 2:61)
Then, Allaah SWT continued further by telling them that Allaah rewards the true belief and sincere practice of any individual, whether a Jew or a Gentile:
Indeed, whoever from the Muslims, the Jews, the Christians, and the Sabians believes in Allaah and the Last Day and performs good deeds will find his reward with Allaah and will not suffer fear or grief (in the Hereafter). (Al-Baqarah 2:62)
The same comment is repeated in Chapter 5:
Certainly, whoever from the Muslims, the Jews, the Sabians and the Christians believes in Allaah and the Last Day and performs good deeds will find his reward with Allaah and will not suffer fear or grief (in the Hereafter). (Al-Maaidah 5:69)
Both of these verses negate the misconceptions and wishful thinking of the Jews by saying: NO! Allaah SWT is not racist. Allaah SWT does not and will not reject anyone’s faith and actions just because the person did not belong to a certain race or ethnic group. The real determinant of success and salvation in the Hereafter is one’s personal faith and good deeds. Nothing else! If a person believes and practices accordingly, he/she will be appropriately rewarded regardless of ethnicity. Conversely, if a person is devoid of faith and does not perform good deeds, he/she will not attain salvation regardless of which category of the census data one’s name used to be counted in the world or which family one was born in. When it come to the Hereafter, it is all an individual affair. Indirectly, it was encouraging the good-hearted people from the Jews, Christians and others that they should step forward and adopt the proper faith and practice in order to attain salvation. At the same time warning the Muslims, that if they do not have true faith and appropriate actions, even they would not get the salvation.
As to what constitutes faith and good deeds acceptable to Allaah SWT is not the subject matter of these verses. Those details had been well explained throughout the earlier revelations. It is against the style of the Qur-aan to repeat the full list of things that are not the topic of the discussion and have already been appropriately dealt with in the past. The objective here is just to allude to the faith and good deeds, not to expound on them. Thus, neither the details of the good deeds have been given here, nor all the articles of faith mentioned. The verse briefly mentions only the faith in Allaah and the Day of Judgment as the representative of all other articles of faith. All other articles of faith are automatically covered by these two basic beliefs. A person who believes in Allaah SWT as his Lord and believes in the accountability on the Day of Judgment has to automatically believe in the messengers and books as they explain what Allaah wants us to be accountable for. And the belief in the messengers and books is not acceptable without the belief in the last of them. So the faith in Allaah and the Last Day fully represents the Islamic Faith as we know it.
In fact, at the beginning of the discourse in verse 40, Allaah SWT had invited the Jews:
O Israelites! Remember the favours Allaah bestowed on you and fulfill your promise to me (to believe in and support the last messenger, Muĥammad). (In return) I will fulfill my promise to you (continuing to bestow My favours and blessings).And fear me only. And believe in what I have revealed (the Qur-aan) confirming that what you have with you (Torah) and do not be its prime rejecters; and do not barter My Revelations for paltry gains; and fear Me only. (Al-Baqarah 2:40-41)
If a few verses later He was going to tell them, “You will certainly be successful if you remain a good believing Jew”, why would Allaah SWT remind them about the covenant of believing in the Prophet ŜA‘WS, command them to believe in the Qur-aan, and warn them against rejecting it?
Similarly, the verse immediately preceding the verse 5:69 of Al-Maaidah has the following to say:
Say: O People of the Book! You have no base unless you practice the Torah, the Gospel and what has been revealed for you (the Qur-aan) from your Lord. Unfortunately, most of them increase in the rebellion and disbelief in response to the revelations (Qur-aan) sent down to you (O Muĥammad) from your Lord. So, do not worry about these Kuffaar (the Unbelievers). (Al-Maaidah 5:68)
Also consider the following verse:
Shall he then who knows that whatever has been revealed to you from your Lord is the truth be like him who is blind (to this truth)? Ar-Ra‘d 13:19)
Hence, it is clear that the purpose of the subject verses is not to give a license to the people to disbelieve in the last Messenger of Allaah and His last Book and still attain Salvation. Anyone who wishes to attain Salvation must believe in Islam, as has been described earlier, including sincere belief in Muĥammad ŜA‘WS and the Glorious Qur-aan. Without sincere Islamic belief and full practice of Islamic lifestyle no one will be able to attain success in the Hereafter.
As the Glorious Qur-aan says:
And indeed, from among the People of the Book there are those who believe in Allaah, and in that which has been revealed to you (the Qur-aan) and which was revealed to them, … It is they who will have their rewards with their Lord. (Aali ‘Imraan 3:199)
The real message of both of the verses from chapters 2 and 5 is that:
- The Jews do not have special status with Allaah SWT;
- The people who believe in Islam and practice accordingly will succeed in the Hereafter and attain salvation, regardless of what kind of society they were born in;
Moreover, these verses also serve the following other purposes for the future Muslims (like us) through the example of the Jews (the Muslims of the past):
- To frankly explain to the Muslims that Allaah’s favours and blessings are endowed to people on the basis of their personal faith, commitment, dedication, actions and righteousness, not on the basis of being born in a certain group of people. Having a Muslim name or being born to a Muslim family has absolutely no value in the eyes of Allaah SWT, unless it is backed by sincere, passionate faith as well as devoted, total obedience to Allaah SWT.
- To warn the Muslims that they will be cursed and humiliated like the Jews if they do adopt the same kind of attitude to Islam.
- To remove the misconceived notion of superiority the ‘born’ Muslims may sometimes feel over ‘converted’ Muslims. Some ignorant Muslims have been observed to have this kind of feeling towards converts, just as the Jews had this kind of feeling towards the Muslims.
- To encourage the people contemplating conversion to Islam that they should not feel held back by their roots and origins. Islam values individual faith, conviction and actions of a person, regardless of one’s past. Islam is for the whole humanity. It does not reject anyone coming forward to believe, unlike a situation reported in the Gospels and (perhaps wrongfully) attributed to Jesus that he refused to help a Canaanite woman on the premise, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” (Mt. 15:26)
What happens to the Good Deeds of Disbelievers?
Regardless of the nature of their actions, the disbelievers do not get any reward in the Hereafter.
Say: Should We tell you who are the most miserable losers in regard to their deeds? They are those all whose endeavours in the worldly life had gone astray from the Right way, while they thought that everything they were doing was rightly directed. They are the people who rejected the revelations from their Lord and denied having to meet Him. Therefore, all their deeds will be lost, for We shall assign no weight to them on the Day of Resurrection. Their compensation is the Hell because of their disbelief and their mocking My Aayaat and My Messengers. (Al-Kahf 18:103-106)
“The deeds of those who disbelieved are like a mirage in a waterless desert, which the thirsty person takes for water; until he reaches there, he finds it to be nothing; but there he finds Allaah who settles his full account, and Allaah is swift at reckoning. (An-Noor 24:39)
And we shall turn to whatever deeds they did and render their deeds vain like scattered dust. (Al-Furqaan 25:23)
And the deeds of those who deny Our Aayaat and the meeting in the Hereafter are vain. Can they expect to be rewarded except according to what they have wrought. (Al-A‘raaf 7:147)
Allaah SWT is not only Just but also Merciful to people. Although He has every right and justification to punish, irrespective of their good deeds, those who do not follow His straight path and His religion, He rewards such disbelievers for their good deeds in this world in the form of wealth, fame, prestige, recognition, etc (2):
Those who prefer this worldly life and its splendours are given the full reward of their works here without diminution. There will, however, be nothing for them in the Hereafter except fire. There, they will come to know that all their performance in this world was vain and whatever they did was worthless. (Hoode 11:15-16)
Verily, Allaah shall admit those who have believed and done good deeds into Gardens beneath which rivers flow. As for the disbelievers, they are only enjoying the temporary life of this world, and eating as the animals eat, and the Hell will be their final abode. (Muĥammad 47:12)
2 For more discussion on this topic, see appendix titled “Justice and Mercy of Allaah:”.
Also, as the Hell has various levels differing in the intensity of the punishment, naturally, the non-Muslims will be punished in various levels of the Hell in accordance with their overall good / bad behaviour and lifestyles. According to the reports in Aĥaadeeth, the lightest punishment of the non-Muslims will be given to Aboo Ŧaalib because of his untiring and unrelenting support and sacrifices for the sake of the Prophet SA‘WS. Even in that case of lightest punishment, his brain will boil with the heat of the Fire in which he will be kept in. And the punishment will be never-ending, eternal.
None can attain salvation, be successful in the Hereafter, enter Paradise or avoid the Fire of Hell without accepting Allaah SWT as the Lord, Muhammad SA‘WS as the messenger, the Qur-aan as the ultimate guidance and Islam as the way of life - unless and until the person had never heard about Muhammad SA‘WS and had no way of knowing about the existence of the religion of Islam. The Glorious Qur-aan invites the whole mankind:
Proclaim, (O Muĥammad)! ‘O people! I am the messenger of Allaah towards all of you’. (Al-A‘raaf 7:158)
And this (Islam) is my straight way. So Follow it! And Do not follow other paths because the other paths take you astray from His (Allaah’s) path. You are being counselled so that you have a chance to be righteous. (Al-An‘aam 6:153)
And the Prophet SA‘WS himself said:
“By God in whose hands is Muhammad’s life, every one of the people, including the Jews and the Christians, who happens to live anytime after my appointment as the Prophet, who hears about me but dies without believing in my message will but end up among the people of the Fire.” Narrated in the Saĥeeĥ Muslim.
What about the People Who are Unaware of Islam?
The questions dealt with so far have been in the territory of our control and our understanding. They are in the area of our control because a person who finds his or her behaviour deviant from the guidance mentioned here has full control to change himself or herself accordingly. These questions are in the human realm of understanding because people can understand the points made. Moreover, the people need these questions answered for their guidance. They need to know what way of life is rewarded by Allaah SWT and what incurs his wrath and punishment. They need to understand the consequences of various modes of actions and behaviours so that they can adopt the appropriate models. Hence, the Glorious Qur-aan has gone to great lengths to explain this kind of issues, and has repeated them in various styles so that they become ingrained in our minds, our psyches and our souls.
This last question (about the treatment of non-Muslims who are unaware of Islam) does not pertain to our area of control. This is beyond our territory. This is the territory of Judgment and the Judgment belongs to Allaah SWT alone. That is why Allaah SWT has not even alluded to it in the Glorious Qur-aan. The Glorious Qur-aan provides the information only on the ‘need to know’ basis. It addresses only those issues that are essential for our guidance and it talks about them only as much as is essential - no more, no less.
As far as Allaah SWT is concerned, He knows how to handle such issues and He has told us clearly:
Allaah will judge between the Muslims, the Jews, the Sabians, the Christians, the Magians and the Polytheists on the day of Judgment, for everything is in the sight of Allaah. (Al-Ĥajj 22:17)
For the ordinary Muslims, any indulgence in this issue is extremely hazardous for four reasons:
- A blanket statement cannot be made because each person’s circumstances are different as to what chances a person had to know about Islam and Muhammad SA‘WS and how had he or she availed those chances.
- We cannot comment on any individual regardless of how much we know about that individual. Our knowledge is neither complete nor perfect and we do not know the motives, the intentions, the agendas, the considerations and the emotions behind the actions of individuals.
- If someone concludes an opinion about a specific case and presents it to others as a valid opinion, the person is committing a blasphemy of second-guessing Allaah SWT. If that opinion in fact happens to be different from Allaah’s judgment, the person is incurring the wrath of Allaah SWT.
- In addition to being dangerous for our own salvation, it is a sheer waste of our time and energy because we cannot do anything about it anyway. Whatever we say is irrelevant. None of our discussion is going to affect the outcome which Allaah SWT decides is the Just outcome.
For those who insist to delve into such hazardous area, one just need to ask them some basic questions:
Do we need this issue answered to live an Islamic life? Do we need it for da‘wah purpose?
No, certainly not for any of these two purposes. The Glorious Qur-aan would not have left it out, were it going to be useful for us to know. And had it been necessary at all, the Glorious Prophet ŜA‘WS and all the believers since his day would not have been able to succeed without an answer to this question. Then, if this issue is useless for our performance of duties, why do we indulge in it?
Do we think Allaah needs a helping hand from us? Do we doubt His being able to do justice? Do we want to make up a deficiency in the Qur-aan? Or, do we feel ashamed of the harsh punishments Allaah SWT has promised to give to our non-Muslim friends, bosses, colleagues and masters?
Our Responsibility to Non-Muslims
There is, however, one aspect of this issue that must concern us the most. In reality, that must make us shudder and shiver for the enornous responsibility that we have on our shoulders. As long as there are any people in this world who have not heard about the truth of Islam, it is our job and our duty to make the message of Islam known to them. And if we do not perform our duty, we might ourselves end up in the Hell. So, the issue is serious for us but in a totally different context. It is serious not because we do not know what will happen to them; it is serious because we will be held accountable for their lack of knowing about the truth of Islam.
And we owe this duty to non-Muslims not only because Allaah has made it our obligation but also because of the compassion we must have for the people of the world. We must try to save everyone we can reach from the punishment of the Hereafter.
Hence, the topic of the discussion among the Muslims should not be “What will happen to the people who have no idea about Islam”, but rather “How can we fulfill our responsibility to the people who do not know anything about Islam”. If we do our job properly, we will have no people in this category to worry about. Either people will be Muslim or they would have been fully informed by the Muslims about Islam. If we have not done our job, our worry should be about doing the job which is in our control and capacity rather than worrying about the Judgment that is beyond our control and capacity.
Why is this an Issue?
Given the above analysis, you can see that the questions this article was started with should never be an issue among the Muslims. Granted that living in a predominantly non-Muslim society, it is natural for these questions to come up. It, however, should never become a hot topic of discussion. It usually happens, as I have mentioned earlier, only because of the lack of awareness of the Qur-aanic teachings among the Muslims. But there is more to it.
The Muslim community nowadays is made up of people of different psyche, attitude and commitment to Islam. Some people are sincere in their belief and they really want to understand. They are the people who listen without arguing to the response from the individuals who have the knowledge of the issue. Once the facts have been explained to them, they accept the Islamic position wholeheartedly and do not keep revisiting the issue.
Then there are those who do not have any concept of the value of time. They have some leisure time to kill and they don’t care how it happens. Perhaps they have nothing better to do in life except for wasting time arguing about meaningless, purposeless and irrelevant issues. These are the people who need a reminder about the fact they will have to account for the use of the time Allaah SWT has bestowed on them. They need to understand Soorat-ul-‘Aŝr.
Others just want to have a good time, even if it is by laughing and joking about the issues that the Glorious Qur-aan considers extremely sensitive. Still others may get into these discussions because it may be considered fashionable in their circle to challenge whatever the religious persons say and to side with the Western way of thinking. And then there are highly unfortunate souls who have a disease of heart. They claim to be Muslims but they really are not sure in their hearts if they want to be. Especially when it comes to the issues that are not popular with the West like the subject being discussed right now. They really want to find a way out of Islamic teachings to appease their Western masters.
Let all of these groups of people reflect upon the following verses:
It is He who has sent down the Book to you. There are two kinds of verses in this Book: Specific, categorical commandments that are the essence of the Book; and, unspecific / allegorical statements. Those, who are perverse of heart, follow the unspecific/allegorical statements in pursuit of mischief and searching for arbitrary interpretations. Whereas their real meanings are known to Allaah only. In contrast to them, those who possess sound knowledge say, ‘We believe in them because all of them are from our Lord.’ And none will learn lessons from such things except the people who have the insight. (Aali ‘Imraan 3:7)
And give the news of a painful torment to the hypocrites who make friends with the disbelievers instead of the believers. Do they go to the disbelievers to seek honour? Whereas, in fact, all honour belongs to Allaah alone. Allaah has already sent down to you in this book the commandment: You should not sit in a company wherein you hear things of unbelief concerning the revelations of Allaah, wherein the revelations of Allaah are being ridiculed, until those people are engaged in some other talk. Now if you remain there, you shall be guilty like them. Rest assured that Allaah is going to gather the hypocrites and disbelievers all together in the Hell. (An-Nisaa 4:138-140)
The fact is that those who turned their backs after guidance had become clear to them, have been influenced by Satan who made this serious crime seem easy to them and who prolonged for them the prospects of false hopes. That is why they said to those who dislike Allaah’s revelation, “We shall follow you in some matters.” Allaah knows their inner secrets. Then, how shall it be when the angels take their souls at death, smiting their faces and their backs? This would be because they followed the way that angered Allaah, and they disliked the ways which pleased Him. So, He rendered all their deeds fruitless (non-rewarding in the Hereafter). (Muĥammad 47:25-30)
All of these verses are about the people who claim to be the Muslims. Just consider the strong language used by Allaah SWT. The religious issues are not insignificant matters to laugh and joke about. It is serious business. And proper attitude in matters of faith is extremely critical to keep oneself within the Islamic fold.
November 8, 1997