Heaven and Hell, Purgatory and Resurrection in Islam
Although some may wonder at the phrasing of the topic and consider that anything relating to death and what comes after it is of little importance to their current life, this topic is fundamental to understanding how to lead a good life, what qualities and actions are desirable, also what the impact is on our hereafter of our intentions, deeds and words in this life. Islam, being such a complete faith, of course guides us on the right path.
For those who are not so familiar with the concept of servitude, or submission to Allah, to God, this article explains a little what this concept means, and how it relates to our well-being in the current life, and in the hereafter.
There is a wealth of material available on this topic and I have selected only a few of these, in the hope that I can communicate with sufficient clarity to a layperson some fundamental concepts.
However much you live, the end is death. Everything you love, will be separated from you one day. Anything you wish to do, do it [but] don’t doubt – you shall [indeed] meet this deed! You shall see this deed! (Jibra’eel (Gabriel) to the Holy Prophet (PBUH), in al-Kafi, from al-Sadiq (PBUH))
The main principle to bear in mind is that here, in this current life, we can still change ourselves, our intentions, our words, our deeds, and thus change what befalls us upon death, and indeed how we will be resurrected. This article will explain exactly how we need to live, who to associate with, and what heaven and hell, purgatory and resurrection could mean for us, depending on the kind of person we are in this life. It will also show why it is imperative to follow one’s religion properly, also if that religion is one of the other Abrahamic religions, i.e. Judaism or Christianity.
The life of man has three stages: the World, Purgatory, and Resurrection (Resurrection, Ma’ad)
- Stage 1
The World. There is a tradition which says that people are asleep. As soon as they die, they wake up. (Mutahhari, Shia Scholar)
So we will first discuss the stage where we are “asleep”. This is the only stage in which we can be proactive and make changes. “The seed of the life after death, is sown in this world by man himself, who determines in this life what is going to happen to him in the next life. (Mutahhari, Shia Scholar)
“Whoever does an atom’s weight of good shall see it.” (Quran 99:7) “Whoever does an atom’s weight of evil shall see it.” (Quran 99:8)
There follows a list of groups who will go straight to heaven or hell, as well as a list of attributes that are capable of again sending the person straight to heaven or hell, without accounting.
The faith of a person in their lifetime matters with regard to whether they deserve punishment in Hell; after all, “inside the individual’s grave, he shall be questioned about his belief [i.e. faith] or his disbelief, and no other question shall be asked from him.” (Resurrection, Ma’ad)
There are two particular groups of non-Muslims that are significant; (1) the first group are referred to as the “Jahil-e-Muqassir” (the “culpable ignorant”), these people have been shown the message of Islam, they have understood its truthfulness, yet they are too stubborn to accept Islam. It is said that this group deserves to be punished in Hell. (Faith and Reason)
Some of these people may be quite learned, and it is incumbent to communicate to them that once they have received the message of Islam and understood its truth, they should choose to accept it.
(2) The second group are called the “Jahil-e-Qasir” (the “inculpable ignorant”), these are the non-Muslims who have not received the message of Islam properly, or only incompletely. They are capable of reaching salvation, but only if they are truthful to their own religions. (Faith and Reason) This means that non-Muslims who in the current world only half-heartedly follow the tenets of their own faith, will have to change the manner of their practice and become much more committed.
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) also said that certain groups of people will enter the (hell) fire before they have given an account: (1) tyrannical Rulers, (2) the prejudiced (Racists), (3) Arrogant capitalists or chiefs, (4) treacherous traders, (5) ignorants, (6) jealous Scholars. (Mizan al-Hikmah)
The other groups that find favour with Allah, so enter Paradise without punishment or account, are those who fight for Allah’s sake, who are killed and hurt for His sake, who struggle for His sake. (Mizan al-Hikmah) Also those people who are patient “with acts of obedience to Allah”, and are “patient in keeping away from acts of disobedience to Allah.” (Mizan al-Hikmah) “Those who love each other for Allah’s sake”, as well as the poor, will be told to enter Paradise without accounting.
Talking about sins
“Seventy sins of an ignorant man will be forgiven before one sin of a scholar is forgiven.” (Bihar al-Anwar, p. 27). The assumption presumably is that the more learned person has ample opportunity and capacity to reflect upon his deeds, so the bar is set higher for the behaviour that is expected of him. A learned person, or scholar (possibly anyone having a higher rank in our society?) is also a model to others, so it is vital that they model good actions and words.
Something that will facilitate us in avoiding sin is to choose our friends wisely; if we associate with persons who worry not about their sins that could lead us to view our sins lightly. “Companionship with an impious friend makes man perceive sin as light and as a result of which he earns eternal perdition and loss.” (Provisions for the Journey)
There is in fact an easy way for man to assess whether he is/will be an object of Allah’s mercy and grace or not; if he has not forgotten his past sins, and sin is heavy and unbearable for him, he ought to know he is an object of Allah’s mercy. (Provisions for the Journey) One should bear in mind that what matters is not the smallness of a particular sin, but the greatness of who is being disobeyed, i.e. God.
Good deeds require a certain intention
God only accepts a good deed, when this good deed had been accomplished with certain inner intentions inside the seeker’s soul; good deeds by a person who does not know God and does not intend to seek Him, will certainly be rejected. The religion also needs to be of self-surrender unto God, otherwise the deeds will not be accepted. (Resurrection, Ma’ad)
The grave is either a Garden of Paradise, or a Pit, filled with Hell-Fire…”. (Ali (PBUH), Nah’djul Balaghah) It has been reported in a hadith from Imam Ali (PBUH); “To any faithful person, who is deceased wherever in the world, it will be told that his soul has to head into the Wadi As-Salam, where there is a proper dwelling-place inside the everlasting Paradise.” (Al-Kafi, Vol. 3, p. 243)
- Stage 2
Purgatory is where we all go to after death. It consists of Heaven, and Hell, and there is no definite time frame for its exact duration, upon which the Day of Resurrection follows, which changes all existence. The one question as to one’s faith/belief is asked in Purgatory, to which the answer determines whether the person is admitted to Paradise, or must instead suffer in Hell. As already discussed, certain persons will automatically gain admission to Heaven on account of their level and rank of piety and their actions in the way of Allah.
Every human being who deserves the hell has to pass by hell and cross it inevitably; “There is not one of you but will pass over it [Hell]: this is with your Lord; a Decree which must be accomplished.” (Qur’an 19:71) However, for those persons who are automatically gaining admission to Heaven, no harm will come to them.
In this community of cruel disbelievers, it is hatred, disgust and repugnance towards each other, which prevails. (Resurrection, Ma’ad)
Hell is described as the vilest, most atrocious, and most oppressive place in the whole universe, where the divine torment and punishment are executed for those who have sinned. What is striking about the description of the fire in Hell is that “the fire, which awaits the damned and the damned himself are one and the same; this is because that fire comes from his own misdeeds and the material, which is thrown in that pile, is the damned himself, with the heavy, atrocious burden of his wrongdoings and his wicked sins.” (Resurrection, Ma’ad)
Heaven is described as having eight doors or gates; according to the level of spiritual evolution of a person, a certain Gate of Heaven will be opened to them. Righteous parents and their offspring will be allowed to join each other, as will be close and intimate relatives. (Quran 15:21)
There will exist in the afterlife within this community of kind believers, intimacy, affection, and sincerity. (Resurrection, Ma’ad) Heaven is described, “Allah has promised the believers – men and women, – Gardens under which rivers flow to dwell therein forever, and beautiful mansions in Gardens of Adn [i.e. Eden – Paradise] But the greatest Bliss is the Good Pleasure of Allah. That is the supreme Success!” (Quran 9:72)
- Stage 3
The Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) once said, “Whenever you witness spring, remind yourselves of the Day of Resurrection.” ( Resurrection/Ma’ad) Resurrection also begins the second phase of life in the hereafter, also known as the “great” or “principal.” (Resurrection/Ma’ad)
The Day of Resurrection is also called Judgment Day, compared to Purgatory, which affects each person individually, this day is a universal or general event that affects the entire universe. It eventually transforms the entire world into a new form of existence. The Holy Quran speaks of the extinction of the stars and their dispersion in the sky. (Resurrection/Ma’ad)
On this day, the ta’wil (interpretation) of the Quran will be revealed to everyone. (Shi’ah)
On the Day of Resurrection, only those people will be resurrected as human beings who possess the best of the human moral qualities and finest ethics. (Resurrection, Ma’ad) Compared to the one question he is asked in his grave as to his faith/belief, it is narrated from the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), “on this Day he will not move one step from his place till he is questioned about four things: 1. The way how he spent his life? 2. As to how did he wear out his youth? 3. About the wealth, as to where he got it from & in what way he spent it? 4. And about the love of us the Household of Prophet. (Fascinating Discourses)
The call to action
Any person with a belief in the hereafter now hopefully realises that this article is really a call to action for them. If they follow one of the monotheistic religions, but not properly, they need to commit to the principles of their faith more fully. Polytheists face the much bigger task of re-assessing their entire set of beliefs, as God is to be worshipped with no other. Atheists obviously fall into the “stubborn, rebellious” category, and only have themselves to blame for what happens in their hereafter (!) Agnostics will be well advised to seek out knowledge, so that they can commit to a monotheistic faith.
Yet the greatest call to action is to all the practising Muslims (Christians and Jews too) to help their fellow believers to become more pious, to communicate to Muslims and non-Muslims alike the importance of our deeds, our words in this world. It is the responsibility of believers to model this kind of behaviour, especially as the hadiths say “that forbidding the evil and enjoining the right is higher than the holy Jihad, or is in the form of teaching and educating others; because guiding an ignorant man towards right is higher than any other spiritual striving.” (Provisions for the Journey)
Hopefully this article in itself contributes in a modest manner towards “forbidding the evil, enjoining the right”; having read the article, you will hopefully take stock of your own words and deeds and remember that whatever they are, you will “meet them” in your hereafter.
Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 2
Fascinating Discourses of (Fourteen Infallibles (PBUH))
Ayatullah Mahdi Hadavi Tehrani, Faith and Reason
Sayyid Madjid Ali Da’ee Nejad, Resurrection, Ma’ad
Nah’djul Balaghah, Vol. 6
Ayatullah Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi, Provisions for the Journey (Mishkat), Vol. 1
Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Baqir As-Sadr, Trends of History in Quran
Ayatullah Muhammadi Rayshari, Mizan al-Hikmah (Scale of Wisdom)
Ayatullah Murtadha Mutahhari, Man and Universe
Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai, Shi’ah