The Islamic concept of Hell

By Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as)

There are some critics of Islam who state that the God of Islam is a very “harsh” and “mean” being who promises eternal torture to those who do not follow his way. The following extracts are taken from the writings of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), the Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdi which explain the true concept of Hell as per the Quran and Hadith.

Hell Is Not Everlasting

 It is unreasonable and is contrary to the perfect attributes of God, the Glorious, that once a person has been condemned to hell, only the Divine attributes of chastisement should be manifested in his case and the attributes of mercy and forgiveness should be suspended for ever and should not come into operation. From what God Almighty has said in His Book, it appears that those condemned to hell shall dwell therein for a long period which is metaphorically described as for ever, but then the attribute of mercy will be manifested and, as is mentioned in a hadeeth, God will stretch forth His hand into hell and all those who fall into His grip will be taken out of hell. This hadeeth indicates that in the end all will attain salvation as the hand of God is unlimited and no one can be left out of it (Chashma Masihi pp. 47- 48).

The Philosophy Of Punishment In The Hereafter

 There is a philosophy about punishment in the hereafter which is not set forth perfectly by any religion except Islam. God Almighty says in the Holy Quran: He who is blind in this world shall be blind in the hereafter and even more astray (I7:73). This shows that a person takes with him from this world the eyes with which to behold God Almighty and the senses with which to perceive Him. He who does not acquire these senses in this life will not enjoy them in the hereafter. This is a mystery which is not understood by the common people. If its meaning is not that which we have set forth, then it is entirely wrong that those who are blind in this world shall be blind in the hereafter. The truth is that to recognize God Almighty without any error and to acquire a true understanding of His attributes in this world is the key to all comforts and delights of the future. This verse clearly indicates that we carry a torment with us from this world and that the blind existence and foul actions of this world will appear in the form of the torment of hell in the other world and they will not be anything new. As by shutting the doors of a room a person deprives himself of light and of fresh life-giving air, or by swallowing a poison he puts an end to his life, in the same way, when he moves away from God and commits sin, he falls into a darkness and is involved in torment.

The meaning of the Arabic word for sin is to incline and to move away from the true centre. When a person moves away from God and withdraws from the light which descends upon the hearts from God, he is involved in a darkness which becomes a source of torment for him. Then he suffers the same type of torment of which type is his turning away. If he wishes to revert to the centre and transports himself to the spot where that light falls, he regains the light. As we observe in the world that we enjoy light in a room when we open its windows, in the same way, in the spiritual system to return to the true centre becomes the source of comfort and rescues from the suffering which had resulted from departing from the centre. This is called repentance. The darkness that is produced in this manner is called the misguidance of hell and to revert to the true centre which bestows comfort is called heaven. To move away from sin and to revert to virtue that would please God Almighty, becomes the atonement of the sin and wipes out its consequences. That is why God Almighty has said: Good does away with evil (11:115). As vice contains the poison of destruction and good contains the antidote of life, good alone is the means of overcoming the poison of vice. In other words, torment means the absence of comfort and salvation means the achievement of comfort and Joy.

Torment Is The Result Of Man’s Actions

 Illness means the condition when the body does not function normally and health is the condition when all natural matters function in the proper way. The moving away of a hand or foot or any other limb from its proper position causes pain and if this condition persists for a time not only the affected limb becomes useless, but it begins to affect other limbs also. The same is the case with the soul. When a person moves away from God, Who is the true source of his life, and departs from the religion of nature, he is involved in suffering and if his heart is not dead and retains its feeling, he feels the torment keenly. If this condition is not reformed, there is an apprehension that all spiritual faculties might gradually become useless and a severe torment might ensue. Thus no suffering comes from outside; all suffering is generated within a person. We do not deny that torment is God’s action, but it is the consequence of man’s actions as when a person swallows poison, God kills him. This is indicated by God, the Glorious, in the verses: It is Allah’s kindled fire which rises over the hearts (104:8). This means that the torment of God is the fire that God kindles and its flame rises from the heart of man. It is thus clear that the real seed of torment is the foulness of one’s being which assumes the form of torment.

In the same way, the source of the comfort of heaven are a person’s own actions. If he does not depart from the religion of nature and does not move away from the centre and, as a servant, he lies at the threshold of God and partakes of the lights of Godhead, then he is like the healthy limb which has not moved from its position and is performing the function for which God has created it and he suffers no pain and all is comfort.

A Person’s Heaven Is Generated Within Him

 The Holy Quran says: Convey to those who believe and act righteously the good news that for them are gardens beneath which rivers flow (2:26). In this verse God Almighty has called faith a garden and righteous actions streams of water. This is the relationship between righteous actions and faith. As no garden can flourish and bring forth fruit without water, in the same way, no faith is helpful which is not accompanied by righteous action. Thus heaven is the personification of faith and righteous action. Like hell it is nothing external. A person’s heaven is generated within him.

The comforts of heaven are the pure spirit which is developed in the world. Faith is a plant and righteous actions are like streams which irrigate that plant and maintain its greenness and glory. In this world they are perceived as if in a dream, but in the other world they will be felt and observed as realities. That is why it is said that when the dwellers of heaven are bestowed these bounties, they will say: This is what was given us before; and similar gifts will be bestowed upon them (2:26). This does not mean that we will be bestowed in heaven the milk, or honey, or grapes, or pomegranates, etc., that we consume here. They will be entirely different except in name. They are described physically but we are informed that they illumine the soul and create understanding of God. Their source is the soul and righteousness. By what was given us before is not meant that they will be physical bounties of the world. The meaning is that the believers who act righteously make with their own hands a heaven the fruit of which they will enjoy in the other world also. As they will have tasted that fruit spiritually in this world, they will recognize it in the other world and will exclaim: These appear to be the same fruits and spiritual exaltations that we had enjoyed in the world. In this manner they will recognize them. There is a philosophy about heaven and hell which is as I have just set out. It should, however, not be forgotten that the punishments of this world are meant as a warning and a lesson and are part of a system of discipline. There is a relationship between statesmanship and mercy and these punishments are the reflection of that relationship. Human actions are preserved and recorded as sound is recorded in a gramophone. It is only a person who possesses insight who can draw pleasure and benefit from the contemplation of this system (Malfoozat, Vol. III, pp. 25- 30).

Source: The Essence of Islam, Vol 2, Chapter 17


One thought on “The Islamic concept of Hell

  1. I like that the Ahmadiyya community interprets Hell this way. My primary problem with orthodox Islam was its insistance on their doctrine of literal and eternal torture. Personally I favor the Dharma when it teaches that Hell is not a punishment but a soul building method.

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