Islam's Understanding Of Hell

Southern Baptists should be commended for their actions on June 15.

No, not for passing a resolution to support their belief in an "eternal, conscious punishment" (or hell) for non-Christians; they were dead wrong in understanding Jesus' teachings there. But for their ability to develop consensus around such an ambiguous notion. It is a hell of a success.

Seriously, there is no dearth of theories when it comes to the big fire pit. Experts love to debate whether hell is time-bound or eternal, literal or symbolic, and exclusive to non-members or open to mankind.

Add to these theories the premise of hell by Prophet Muhammad: a place largely symbolic, extremely inclusive but not eternal.

Think of hell as a hospital where sick souls belonging to any religion will be admitted for, not punishment, but treatment, albeit a painful one. And since there is no health insurance company known to man that would be willing to pay for an eternal hospitalization...

No, seriously. When it comes to duration, Prophet Muhammad clearly agrees with Pastor Rob Bell's hell: Not eternal.

Whenever the scope of faith brigades expanded in history, the path to human salvation shrunk. Following the same trend, the influential Southern Baptist Church condemned more than 60 million non-Christian Americans to an eternal hell on June 15. And in all fairness, there are some Muslim clerics who would argue a similar fate for non-Muslims.

So before all hell breaks loose in the conservative blogosphere, let me explain.

Prophet Muhammad taught us, "But as for him whose scales (of good deeds) are light. Hell will be his mother (Quran 101:9-10)." Like a fetus goes through the stages of physical maturation in a mother's womb, a guilty soul passes through the stages of spiritual maturation in hell, according to many Muslims, until they are cleansed. Hell in Islam is therefore a penitentiary.

A penitentiary designed to be vacant one day. Prophet Muhammad said, "Verily a day would come over hell when there shall not be a single human being in it" (Kanzul Ummal Vol. VII, page 245). Another tradition goes as far as, "A time will come when no one will be left in Hell; winds will blow and the windows and doors of Hell will make a rattling noise on account of the blowing winds." (Tafsir-ul-Maalam-ul-Tanzil under verse Hud:107)

"No one" includes not only Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus or members of other faiths but even those who make life hell on earth for some believers by mocking God. Now that's inclusive.

In comparison, a group of Christians dispatching billions of people worldwide to an eternal hell from their climate controlled meeting hall comes across as self-serving.

Don't take this reformation theory too lightly though. Prophet Muhammad conveyed a long list of acts which could lead one to the torment of hell, such as, dying in the state of disbelief (2:218), killing a believer (4:94) arrogance (7:49), pride (39:61) hypocrisy (4:144), sinfulness (71:26), wickedness (80:39-43), rejecting the truth (76:5) and others.

Granted, some Muslims argue that such transgressors don't have a cat in hell's chance of being forgiven. But God leaves a ray of hope for them in Quran, "I will inflict my punishment on whom I will. But My mercy encompasses all things (9:157).

On one hand the Prophet acts like a preventive medicine doctor, prescribing people to visit their sick brothers as a vaccine against hell (Abu-Dawood, Book 20:3091). On the other, he mimics a firefighter by reassuring that "God will stretch forth His hand into hell and all those who fall into His grip will be taken out of hell."

My friends at Baptist Church, I get the hint. You are trying to say that as a Muslim I am headed towards an eternal hell for accepting Jesus as a true Prophet of God while your ex-Presidents like Jerry Vines are all heaven bound despite abusing and mocking my Prophet.

I am not moved by the declaration. Because according to Prophet Muhammad, my belief in Jesus as a true apostle of God actually opens up the possibility of salvation for me. "If anyone testifies that None has the right to be worshipped but Allah Alone Who has no partners, and that Muhammad is His Slave and His Apostle, and that Jesus is Allah's Slave and His Apostle and His Word which He bestowed on Mary and a Spirit created by Him, and that Paradise is true, and Hell is true, Allah will admit him into Paradise with the deeds which he had done even if those deeds were few." (Bukhari. Volume 4, Book 45, No. 644)

The theory of an eternal hell is bound to die today or tomorrow. Trust me; it will not be a cold day in hell before that happens.

Faheem Younus is an adjunct faculty member for religion/history at the Community Colleges of Baltimore County and a clinical associate professor at the University of Maryland. He can be reached at