Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Ashley George: Paradise or Hellfire; It’s Your Choice

Al-Ghazali theorizes that Paradise is like a piece of land. Whatever you do in this life will determine what that piece of land looks like once you’ve reached the afterlife.[1] If you do mostly good deeds in this life and strive for peace and harmony amongst your neighbors, your piece of land could be something beautiful like a garden or a beautiful park. If you are mostly selfish and hurtful in this life, however, you likely won’t find a garden in the afterlife, but perhaps an entrapment of loneliness or your worst fears.

The Qur’an itself directly states the impact of one’s actions on their judgment. The sura titled “The Hurricane” states, “So whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it, and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it.”[2] The Qur’an also stresses the significance of transparency in the afterlife in comparison to transparency in this life. The sacred text assures Muslims that while people care much about their image in their lives on Earth, there will be nothing to hide their flaws or negative actions once they reach Paradise.[3] Fazlur Rahman backs up this transparency theme when he says, “Each individual will be alone that day, without relatives, friends, clans, tribes, or nations, to support them: ‘We shall inherit from him [man] whatever he says and he shall come to Us alone’(19:80).”[4]

While this concept is a bit scary for those who work very hard on their reputation, the Qur’an also wishes to assure people that in Paradise, their flaws are apparent but they also have nothing to fear, and therefore hope is not necessary either. In this life, an importance is placed on family and community in the Qur’an and in Muslim communities, but in the next life, there is a greater emphasis on individuality and accountability because when Judgment Day comes, you are left with yourself and what you chose to do with your life. If you are responsible for good deeds overall, then you can expect to find yourself in Paradise but evil deeds will earn you residence in Hellfire.

The Qur’an is unique in that it gives lots of detail about what is to come after this life, as well as its depth on other topics like inheritance and contracts. In al-Ghazali’s words, there is no excess fire in Hellfire because “everyone burns from within,” which is probably worse![5] Al-Ghazali views Hellfire as more of a emotional Hell than a physical one. In other words, you are tormented by physical pain and torture, but you are instead punished by loneliness and the guilt of pain you have brought on others. Sura 81 invokes a feeling of urgency and reflection in its description of Judgment Day, when the world transforms and the individual is asked why they acted in a sinful manner. Specifically, verses 8 and 9 pose the thought, “and when the female infant is buried alive is asked for what sin she was slain…”[6]

In scholar John Taylor’s words, “As the Judgment itself, and surely thereafter in the memories of the blessed and damned, is the confrontation which is the spiritual climax of the pilgrimage of each soul…”[7] Judgment Day is the culmination of all of one’s earthly deeds and it is the peak of their life, or the “pilgrimage of each soul,” as Taylor puts it. This is the day that everyone is meant to think of when they are dancing with sinful thoughts. Not only will our bad deeds hurt other people, but they will only doom us in the end. Though the thought of spending eternity in Hell is pretty disheartening, the concept of earning a spot in eternal Paradise is supposed to be the comforting and reassuring thought to keep people on the right path and to not fear death or Judgment Day. In the spirit of Taylor, let us not look upon Judgment Day with fear, but rather look forward to the day we can remember the good things we did for others and the peace of paradise awaiting us, the end of our pilgrimage.

[1] Mahallati, 3-27-18

[2] Q. 99: 7-8

[3] Mahallati, 3-27-18

[4] Rahman, 107

[5] Mahallati, 3-27-18

[6] Q. 81: 8-9

[7] Taylor


Works Cited:

Mahallati, Jafar. Class lecture. March 27, 2018.

Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. The Study Qur’an: A New Translation and Commentary. HarperOne, 2016.

Rahman, Fazlur, and Ebrahim Moosa. Major Themes of the Qur’an. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Taylor, John B. “Some Aspects of Islamic Eschatology.” Religious Studies 4, no. 1 (1968): 57-76.

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