The question of why disbelief in Truth is punished by God in an afterlife is hard to grapple for some, because most of us have made some incorrect assumptions and unfortunately some Christian conceptions of theology have slipped in through the cracks in our knowledge.
One of the most famous ones you might recognise is Iblis being a fallen angel. Some Muslims are generally confused on this. It seems that it is a common error and assumption.
So before we ask why people are in hell, let us ask the question as to the nature of those who will reside in hell. This article will consider the basic psychological disposition behind a phenomena mentioned within the Islamic worldview.
The Quran informs us that hell will be furnished will unrepentant sinners (who did not repent of their sin before they died – nor were forgiven) and Kaffirs (rejecters of truth). But, sinners who were unrepentant, are only in hell for a temporary amount of time if Allah (swt) wills. And the amount of time they are in hell, and punishment they receive, will be proportionate to their crimes.
So our discussion will not concern unrepentant sinners, but rather those who have consciously decided to reject the truth – kaffireen.
WHAT IS A KAFFIR?
First of all, Kaffir does not mean ‘non-Muslim’. A Kaffir means someone who has rejected the truth. It comes from the linguistic root ‘to cover the truth’. The kaffir is someone who has consciously chosen to forget/deny/turn away from the reality of their existence and instead focus on purely satisfying their arbitrary desires, regardless of their legitimacy or not. This does not mean that they are necessarily materialists – it just means they judge the legitimacy of an action by its accordance to other than their conscience or intellect, e.g. like their arbitrary tastes (e.g. how it ‘feels’). They do this rather than asking the question as to what they should be doing (e.g. consulting their consciences). Thus, a person who feels good when worshipping an animal spirit-totem and living as an ascetic- can also be a kaffir, even though their desires are directed towards ‘spirituality’, and are not materialistic per-se.
A Kafir has chosen to deny the truth behind the reality of their existence, so that they may enjoy themselves by fulfilling their arbitrary desires – which were probably a product of their environment, genes and life experience – hence not even chosen by them. The rejector of truth is ultimately a servant of causality, not a servant of the ultimate cause.
HOW DOES A THINKING CREATION WITH FREE WILL, BECOME A KAFFIR?
A person only becomes Kaffir (rejecter of truth) – only in two circumstances:
A) The truth has been presented to them by someone, and they became convinced that it is the truth or could be the truth but they have chosen to reject it or not entertain/research it further (so as to confirm it’s veracity), due to its unpalatable implications or socially inconvenient nature.
B) They have encountered some glimmers of truth by themselves, but due to its unpalatable implications or socially inconvenient nature; they have chosen to not pursue it further.
The Kaffir must invent an excuse of course, as to why they have chosen to deny a reality their intellect has uncovered. This is so that the truth can be covered by it, otherwise it would constantly plague him/her as doubt. The intellect’s nature is to abhor a vacuum in one’s understanding of reality. It will keep asking for an answer for something it has detected; hence the root meaning of the word ‘Kaffir’ (to cover the truth) is so very apt – for no Kaffir lives their life permitting the truth to be openly uncovered to them in their own minds.
The psychological principle can be demonstrated when we consider the example of someone who encounters a crisis of faith. Lets take a person who believes that God exists has 3 entities, all are distinct with their own Will and personality, but he is told they are somehow all ‘One’ as well. Once this person percieves that his belief has such a contradictory nature, his/her intellect will naturally make conclusions: ‘How can God be self-contradicting? Surely only falsehood is self-contradicting?’ However, that individual cannot bare to leave their community and give up their life as they know it, and so chooses to ignore it and replace the indentified problem with an excuse like: ‘I should just have faith’ or ‘God is a mystery we cannot understand’ or my own personal ‘favourite’: ‘This thought is from the devil!!’
Unfortunately, the Aql (intellect) just requires an answer, any answer – no matter how absurd – just as long as it’s an answer that has some logic to it (all falsehood is built upon some justifying logic – no one argues but to put logic to their unprovable and arbitrary ideas). Consequently, people will produce any answer they can get away with to avoid coming to terms with the reality of their situation.
WHY DOES A KAFFIR DENY TRUTH?
You may ask “surely if someone knows the truth, they would never reject it!” – but If only that was the case.
Sadly, there are those individuals who are so stuck in their ways, so addicted to their life as it is; and so scared of losing their various gratuitous pleasures; that they choose to live a life ‘free’ from the truth except the one they construct themselves- a fantasy world.
You could call it the ultimate escapism, but as you have probably seen yourself – escapism is not uncommon feature of human beings:
1) People drink and party to forget their life’s problems
2) People in love overlook seriously grave character flaws in their partner
3) People who love their nation to such an extent, overlook their country’s severely unjust tendencies
Perhaps you find it hard to believe that people would deny the truth, but you see, not all truths are palatable – ‘the truth hurts’ as the saying goes. Just to further make you understand the mentality of the truth denier, consider this as an illustrative analogy:
A woman who really loves her husband, has a great marriage with him, kids, nice house – everything. Then one day, she finds lipstick on one of his shirts. What will she think? The thought of him cheating on her is so horrific for her to consider, she MUST find an alternative explanation! Even if she saw explicit text messages on his phone she would find any explanation other than the most obvious. Of course not everyone will act like that, but most people would (if put in that situation). You see, for the woman in the example, a nice husband, great marriage, nice house and kids is PARADISE for her. She could never face the fact, that everything she always dreamed of, is false. Thus she becomes a ‘kaffir’ (denies the truth) towards her husband’s infidelity (no pun intended).
The psychological mechanism of this is called ‘denial’, it is common to all humans, and is natural for it to manifest in small situations. But that doesn’t make someone a kaffir, for someone to become a kaffir they must be a person who loves their current life like that woman loves her marriage, to the point of actively excluding the truth. To be told that this life is deceptive, temporary and comes with a price tag (of accountability), how would that person react? Would they embrace the greater truth? Or would they let their selfishness and self-centredness overcome their sincerity? Unfortunately, most people would prefer to take the ‘blue pill’ (i.e. the latter).
‘Ignorance is bliss’
Thomas Gray, 18th century English Poet and Historian
KUFFAR RELATIONS WITH BELIEVERS/SINCERE PEOPLE
Kuffar, by nature, must hate those who have taken the courageous step to embrace the truth, i.e. believers. They do so because believers are the reminders of the reality they so desperately seek to deny/forget about. Hence they show nothing but contempt and disgust for believers in the ultimate truth.
Classical Islamic scholars were careful to explain that there are two types of non-believer, One is unknowing of the truth and is not a kaffir, and the other knows the truth or is aware of it, but has chosen to reject it after being convinced it is the truth. Such a person is a Kaffir.
In Islam, God does not punish people just because they did not have access to revelation, or that they may be genuinely unconvinced or confused by the truth when it was presented to them. Rather, according to the narrations of the Prophet (saaw), such unknowing people will be judged according to whatever truth they were aware of and whether they acted upon it.
All humans who use thought, can come to the conclusion that there exists a single higher power than themselves, which is not finite, limited, or created – but is the ultimate cause of all things. People who engage their intellects to come to such a conclusion, are called ‘hanif’ in Islam.
As for morality, most of the morals on earth are the remnants of pre-existing commandments that were revealed to the first prophets sent to the nations. As such, most civilisations will have a similar morality – to a degree (e.g. do not murder, do not steal etc).
Although you might think it unfair for unguided people to live without being guided by the truth, they do not have as much responsibilities to account for as compared with those who have been given knowledge and are believers in the truth. Believers have more obligations expected of them – but also possess more opportunity for reward (for choosing to be courageous with the truth) – thus with every blessing comes a burden, and with every burden comes a blessing.
As for those who have chosen to consciously reject the truth, the analogy for them is, like a sleeper being woken up by a loud noice- they (the kuffar) wish to go back to sleep – and it doesn’t help when believers actively strive to call over all humanity in accordance with its purpose in life – which the kuffar have rejected. It is therefore natural to find that Kuffar have declared war on the believers due to the very nature of what the believers represent.
Of those who God will judge and hold fully accountable, they have been given time to manifest who they truly are:
‘Therein they will cry-out, “Lord, take us out of here. We shall act righteously and behave different to what we did before.” They will be told, “Did We not allow you to live long enough for you to seek guidance? Did We not send a warner to you? Suffer (the torment). There is no one to help the unjust.”‘
This clearly shows that those who lost their life very young, or did not receive a warner or messenger baring the truth, will not be judged a disbeliever merely for being ignorant of it, or too young to understand it.
The state of a kaffir, is one of being a perpetual rejector of truth and God. While a sinner is merely a fallible human being who at leasts aknowledges the truth, a kaffir has chosen to become a perpetual rejector of truth, such that it has become their nature.
27. If you could but see when they will be held over the (Hell) Fire! They will say: “Would that we were but sent back (to the world)! Then we would not deny the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, revelations, etc.) of our Lord, and we would be of the believers!”
28. No [it will be said to them], it has become manifest to them what they had been concealing before [in their hearts]. But if they were returned (to the world), they would certainly revert to that which they were forbidden. And indeed they are liars.
WHY ARE KAFFIRS REWARDED WITH PUNISHMENT IN HELL?
The natural result of following ones purpose is success and fulfilment (Peace). The result of rebelling against ones purpose is failure and the opposite of fulfilment (frustration).
The hereafter offers the ultimate excitements followed by climatic fulfilment of ones desires, perpetually. Likewise it offers those who have rebelled against their created nature and purpose- extreme agitations followed by a denial of fulfilment or escape.
It was because Kuffaar sought to worship their fulfilments, and make gods from their desires and deny the One who made them, blessed them, and gave them every opportunity to turn to Him – that they shall be punished with the ultimate ironic punishment: complete frustration of the desires they so worshipped.
Quranic descriptions of Hell mention that every human sense will be afflicted, be it drinking to be a water that boils, food that will rip the insides and of course, the ultimate extreme agitation: fire. This is because every ability to sense, ability to seek fulfilment, will purposely face frustration in the hereafter.
From another perspective, you could say that all that God really burns, is idols. He destroys false partners. If someone has made his desires their God (i.e. by rejecting truth in the name of pleasure seeking), then it is their desires that shall face the justice of God. They will burn along with their god, whether they are stone idols or the idols within their hearts – their whims and desires.
“Beware of the fire, whose fuel is men and stones (Idols)” [Quran 2:24]
This is what it boils down to, Justice. Yes, the idea of an eternal Hell is a horrific prospect and yes, God is called ‘The merciful’, but how can he reward even one iota of those that spent their ENTIRE existence REJECTING God, and have transformed themselves into the rejection of God incarnate. This is because God is also JUST. His justice must be meted out to those who threw back in His face everything He did for them.
In a video by the infamous bigoted atheist comedian, Pat Condell, he blatantly expresses his hated for God, such that he annoced, that if were to believe God actually exists (which I think he already does)- he would still defy him! This is because, he explains, he wants to enjoy life but feels God insists he should be miserable or suffer the consequences (which is untrue).
We humans chose to enter existence in the universe (God asked all humans together if we want to face this trial- and we all answered yes- with the promise to worship Him).
Furthermore, the hadith where the Angel Jibra’il (Gabriel) visited paradise and hell, explained that no one who saw them would want to enter hell or not enter heaven, and it was told to Jibra’il “verily no one will enter paradise except those who chose to, and no one will enter hell except those who choose to”. Surely this is justice – since every human being who will be held accountable, will have been given the choice, and had chosen their destination – and will be rendered to it.
And finally, God made us to worship him, love him, and then be given a perpetual reward (which if you come to think of it, He never really has to do). It is because of God’s mercy and generosity that we can receive this. But what of those who do the opposite of this, shouldn’t justice dictate they receive also the opposite?
So what type of punishments are there available?:
2) Punishment then destruction
3) Perpetual punishment
Which one would fit the crime of the perpetual rejection of God?
No, because if the Kaffir was destroyed, then the Kaffir would have gotten away with their crimes. This is the hereafter equivalent of released as an unreformed criminal.
Punishment then destruction?
No, because though the Kaffir will suffer before being destroyed, they would be ‘released’ eventually. This is the hereafter equivalent of serving some time, then being released. As you know, most criminals do crimes and are prepared to face time in jail for it. The kaffir wouldn’t mind serving out some punishment, just as long as they get the life of this world. This is not real justice. This would only be an appropriate punishment for a sinners who never sought forgiveness, since they will be rewarded in paradise after they have ‘burnt off’ their sins.
Yes, because this is the punishment they can’t escape from. There will be no jail breaks or parole- they rejected God, and so God has rejected them. This is the hereafter equivalent of life in jail for the crime of murder. Even if the murder only took a minute to do – since the effect is permanent, so must the punishment. Likewise, choosing to eternally reject God deserves the same.
Furthermore, a Kaffir being punished in hell forever is the destination they chose and merit. The Kafir is a kaffir heart, body, mind and soul – they will never cease being a kaffir and thus how can Allah (swt) ever release them?
It is in the nature of the insincere, that if they were put back on earth, they would only go on rejecting and denying their creator (swt) if they were given freedom once again. The mind might think kufr, but this is just passing thought. The body might do an action of kufr, but this is just a transient (temporary) action. The heart might possess kufr (i.e. opposite to human created purpose) habits, tastes, likes and dislikes – but these can be changed or at least reduced over time. But when the soul itself is kufr, than that is what it is (i.e. its essence, and its unchanging nature)- and it has chosen its path, and its eventual destination. This is a place where all kufr will be brought back into obedience – including those who have chosen to never be obedient, and thus they will never leave the place of purification – hell. This is why in the Quran, the only time a kaffir will be obedient is when they are facing punishment. Therefore, it would be reasonable to conclude that hell is the only thing that guarantees their perpetual obedience.
Hypocrites (called Munafiq in Arabic) are a ‘special’ type of Kaffir. They are a kaffir that grew up and was raised in a community of believers of the truth. They may even call themselves believers, but there adherence to the truth is purely incidental. As you know, kafirs follow whichever society they exist in- they are characterised with being pragmatic (ends justify the means) and so they will adapt to any social situation in order to get ahead.
There were no munafiqs in Makkah (before the migration of the Prophet [saw]), but there were many Munafiqs in Madinah (where Muhammed established the first Islamic state). Why do you think that was?
Today you might are people who are called ‘sellouts’, ‘collaborators’, ‘traitors’ or ‘unprincipled pragmatists’. These people only manifest their hypocrise only if the circumstances did not benefit them to continued to hold ranks with their ‘fellow’ believers when push came to shove, and therefore they switched sides. However, most hypocrites will adopt the style and idiosyncrises of their own community if their aspirations are limited only to them.
Motto of the munafiq: ‘When in Rome, do as the romans”
The hypocrite is proof that you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Humans have free will and whether they grow up in a muslim society or you have tortured them to be a Muslim, they will never truly accept it unless they choose it themselves. As we know, God will punish Muslims who believe in Islam without questioning. Paradise are for the sincere ones who believe and questioned. Though a Muslim who is sincere but has just blindly followed Islam (like a culture), will also end up in paradise (sooner or later).
The key to entering paradise is sincerity to the truth once it becomes known to oneself, and choosing to follow it.
To be saved, one must free oneself from being a slave to causality, and submit oneself to serving the ultimate cause.
And Allah knows best.