SOME ATHEISTS OFTEN mock the faithful—the ones who claim that merely by believing in a concept, or inheriting the “correct” label, they are automatically saved. This idea of self-righteous exclusivity, people who are sure that they alone are entitled to Paradise, while everyone else is doomed to everlasting punishment, is one of atheists’ leading contentions with religion.
However, there is no such entitlement in Islam. In fact, the Quran levies a challenge to those who make this claim:
Say, “If the home of the Hereafter with God is for you alone and not the [other] people, then wish for death, if you are truthful. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:94]
It’s a logical argument, and implies that this concept of exclusivity by entitlement is antithetical to the nature of salvation in Islam. Surely, if any given person or group was certain that they were exclusively eligible and guaranteed to “go to heaven” or to “a better place” upon death, what interest would they have in hanging around on Earth? Why toil away in an existence laced with disease, struggle, loss, pain and fatigue if they could be somewhere superior?
Muslims Can Go to Hell?!
Muslims will go to hell – to the extent that none of us can afford to sit idly by, expecting success on the other side of death’s door. In one example, the Prophet ﷺ said:
When God has finished judging mankind, and wants to bring whomever He wills out of Hell by His Mercy, He will order angels to bring forth those upon whom He wishes to bestow His mercy of the people who never associated anything in worship with God, and who said, “Lâ ilâha illa Allah.” The angels will recognize them in Hell, and will know them by the mark of sujûd on their foreheads. (Muslim)
Those marks of sujûd signify salah – they were Muslims whose practice of prayer left marks on their foreheads. With this in mind, instead of feeling smug and secure, we are alert to the catastrophe of Hell-fire.
Beyond Wishful Thinking
In fact, whoever surrenders himself entirely to God while being a doer of good will have his reward with his Lord. There will be no fear over them, nor will they grieve. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:112]
If you want to be “saved” according to Islam, you have to actually have a record of doing good. You’ve got to walk the walk: prove your faith through actions.
Good deeds are not defined by one’s personal opinion, but by what the Creator has outlined as good. Evils have also been delineated for our convenience, by virtue of God’s Mercy, so that we may abstain from them. The alarm prompted by knowing that we could wind up in Hell propels us to do more good, avoid evil and to constantly check the status of our hearts.
For God’s Sake!
Islam goes a step beyond outward actions. The Muslim must be a good person inside and out. Good deeds that are not backed up by sincerity are useless before Allah. For example, the Quran describes charity given disingenuously:
O you who believe, do not nullify your charities with insult and harm; like the one who spends his money in vanity to show the people, and he does not believe in God and the Last Day. His example is like that of a smooth stone upon which is dust and is hit by a downpour that leaves it bare. They are unable [to keep] anything of what they have earned. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:264]
Worse than our deeds being washed away like dust, wrong intentions can lead even the most pious-looking person straight to Hell. In a qudsi ḥadîth, it is explained that their artificiality will be revealed, and they will be the first to be punished. Abû Hurairah heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ say about one of them:
He will be brought and God will make known to him His favors and he will recognize them. [The Almighty] will say: ‘And what did you do about them?’ He will say: ‘I studied [religious] knowledge and I taught it and I recited the Quran for Your sake.’ He will say: ‘You have lied – you did but study [religious] knowledge that it might be said: ‘He is learned.’ And you recited the Quran that it might be said: ‘He is a reciter.’ And so it was said. Then, he will be ordered to be dragged along on his face until he is cast into Hell-fire. (Muslim)
We’re not talking about people who call themselves Muslim but fail to practice. No, we’re talking about seemingly devout Muslims who will be the first to be thrown into Hell. It’s not enough to do good deeds; we’ve got to be sure we do them with sincere intent, to please God.
Suicide Missions and the Promise of Paradise
Richard Dawkins, famous atheist and author of several books including The God Delusion, often conflates all religions, and was reassured of his accuracy in so doing on 9/11. He went beyond rejecting the notion of an exclusive afterlife and calling it vain and presumptuous. Based on his understanding of terrorist attacks—especially those involving suicide missions carried out by so-called Muslims, he said:
Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense… September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous, because it gives people unshakable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labeled only by a difference of inherited tradition.” (Richard Dawkins in The Guardian)
Is Dawkins correct about the existence of Muslim terrorists eager to die, that their bad intent is an indictment of Islam? Their willingness to blow themselves up must be linked to what we discussed at the outset: believing that they are guaranteed paradise and therefore wishing for death. Is Dawkins correct in his analysis?
On the contrary, the question should be: Are the suicide bombers justified in their certainty according to the sources of Islam? Dawkins’ statement feigns knowledge of Islam. Unfortunately, both Dawkins and the so-called “Islamic” suicide bombers are ignorant of the facts.
1- Civilian Casualties
The Quran states:
Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits. Surely, Allah loves not aggressors. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:190]
Ibn ʿAbbâs explained the above verse further, saying:
Do not kill women, children, old men, or whoever comes to you with peace and restrains his hand from fighting, for if you did so you would have certainly transgressed. (Ṭabari)
Muslims who commit suicide will reside in Hell. This is true even for someone fighting in a just war: Abû Hurairah said:
We were in the company of Allah’s Apostle in a battle, and he remarked about a man, saying, “He is from the people of the Fire.” When the battle started, the man fought violently till he got wounded. Somebody said, “O Allah’s Apostle! The man whom you described as being from the people of the Fire fought violently today and died.” The Prophet said, “He will go to the Fire.” Some people were on the point of doubting. Meanwhile, someone said that he was still alive but severely wounded. When night fell, he lost patience and committed suicide. (Bukhâri)
A valiant fighter, wounded supporting the Muslim nation, wound up in Hell because he committed suicide – against the limits allowed by Allah. No doubt, then, committing suicide to kill innocent people is doubly reprehensible.
3- Stating the fate of an individual
So do not claim yourselves to be pure; He is most knowing of who fears Him. [Sûrat Al-Najm, 53:32]
God promised paradise to war heroes who fight in His cause and die. But here’s the thing; no one can say that any particular individual will receive this honor, because we cannot see into anyone’s heart.
During a just war, under the guidance of the Prophet ﷺ himself, a man was killed. The Companions assumed he was a martyr. However, the Prophet ﷺ said:
Nay, not so. Verily I have seen him in the Fire for the garment that he stole… (Muslim)
Despite this man’s participation in a just cause, he was denied the reward of martyrdom because he unlawfully took something that was not his – again, transgressing the limits allowed by Allow.
The Sober Morality of Islam
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said:
No one of you should wish for death or pray for it before it comes, for when one of you dies, his good deeds come to an end and for the believer a long life will not increase him in anything but good. (Muslim)
In stark contrast to the assumptions made about all religions by atheists like Dawkins, Islam promotes life. It stimulates the individual to genuinely try to be a good person, a force for good in the world; not only in how we pray, but also in the way we treat our families, neighbors and humanity at large.
The sobering knowledge that any of us could very well land in Hell—should inspire caution and humility in us. Rather than wishing for death, we acknowledge its reality and walk a fine line, balanced by fear (khawf) of failure (i.e. Hell-fire), and hope for God’s Mercy and forgiveness.
We are taught to supplicate:
Our Lord, Give us the good of this world and the good of the next, and save us from the punishment of the fire. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah 2:201]
Though Islam includes the belief and aspiration to enter Paradise, we do not feel entitled to it. In fact, we greatly fear missing the mark. Our lives are spent aspiring to and working for the best outcome while taking every precaution to avoid Hell.
It is unfortunate that Atheists ignorantly propagate the fallacy that all religions possess the same concept of Paradise, or that the Islamic concept of salvation could be a dangerous one. No, Paradise is not guaranteed to the individual Muslim, because Islam is devoid of the concept of entitlement—to the point that there are great scholarly debates about whether or not a Muslim can claim that he is a believer, in the sense that he has perfect faith.