In today’s world the main objectors and doubters to the concept of hell and God’s justice are Secular Liberals. This is because of their belief in Liberalism, which ultimately leads and requires its devotees to doubt God’s justice as revealed in revelation in the first place. They like to call these doubts ‘rational’, and proudly croon that they are simply ‘rationalists’ against the ‘irrationalists’ of religion – but the reality is that they are the most irrational of all, yet they perceive it not. Doubting the justice of God, is unfortunately the inevitable conclusion of Liberalism’s assumptions about the world, and the reason many people who are influenced by its ideas begin to doubt and reject God, or any religion about God.
This is because, although Liberalism is defined as the political ideology, it is based upon a creed (Aqeedah) of Individualism. The creed posits that the natural state of the ‘individual human’ is sovereign over themselves, and therefore nothing can be higher than individuals, whether society, culture or religion/belief [read: God].
Since Individualism believes that each human is a self-sovereign of themselves, it posits that they have “freedom” to do as they desire, with the only limitation being the equal freedom of another “individual” to do as they desire also. Of course, this (over) simplistic understanding of humans, doesn’t agree with nature or the reality of human beings. Humans depend on each other for nourishment, help, knowledge (both theoretical and practical), emotional comfort, reproduction and protection. Humans can also affect each other beyond physical violence. All these phenomena have caused a lot of problems for Liberal theorists, policy/law makers who desperately try to make more and more laws to rectify Liberalism’s inadequacies, in a Sisyphean attempt to turn a square into a circle – but without wanting to eliminating any sides.
If people wish to believe that Liberalism is limited only to a political ideology [i.e. a principle for ordering government of societies], they are quite mistaken. This is because a political ideology needs principles and a basis to make laws. Laws are rules based upon judgements of ‘right’ and wrong’ (e.g. morals). This then requires the creed of Liberalism, Individualism, to come up with an understanding of right and wrong – a Liberal moral system; which it has. In Individualism, humans are “free”, which is defined as “sovereign” or “owners” over themselves and therefore “independent” of any obligations to others, and only their desires are the arbiters or right and wrong. Therefore the only “sin” in Individualism, is for one individual to perform an action upon another individual (or their property) without their agreement.
This belief seems purely of political implication at first, but not if you take it to its logical conclusion: if humans are “free”, independent, and owners of themselves:
1) What ‘right’ does God have upon humans to ask them do anything for Him (swt), or punish them when they don’t?
2) If humans desire to reject God, or associate partners to Him (swt), without physically harming any other humans (and because it cannot harm God), how is it morally ‘wrong’? And if not morally wrong, how can they be punished for it?
3) The punishment for humans who have harmed other humans should only be incarceration in prison for the purpose of removing their interaction with non-harmful humans (i.e. “protecting society”), not punishing with pain – which is wrong because (even if they are criminal) it is a violation of the owner of the body, the individual himself.
4) If humans live a finite life, and can only harm each other by a finite amount of action, how can ANY of them deserve an infinite punishment in hell?
Liberals argue that for God to put people in an eternal hell is unjust because people’s lives are finite, and putting someone in hell is, according to them “an infinite punishment for finite crimes”.
This last argument is not specifically only used by Liberals, but as the belief in an eternal hell is so fundamental to many religions, that to knock down this pillar helps them weaken the others pillars too, causing doubt in the rest.
These arguments against God’s justice have led to three schools of thought amongst Liberals about how to confront revelations of God that go against Liberal morality. One school simply rejects or doubts God exists (this category are the Liberal Atheists or Agnostics). The second school are the Deists, who believe God exists, but doubt any theology (i.e. religion) about Him (swt). The third school are those who want to maintain their public identification as “believers” in a particular religion, but have changed their understanding of God’s nature [i.e. theology] to be consistent with Liberal morality (this category are people who believe in what’s know as Liberal Theology (theology which is consistent with Liberal morality). Muslims better know them as ‘modernists’).
Up to now the discussion here has been on the context of Liberalism’s doubts against hell and God’s justice. Now lets move on to why the Liberal arguments against hell and God’s justice, are irrational (i.e. unjustified and inconsistent) and therefore wrong – followed by a demonstration of how the Islamic understanding God’s justice and hell is consistent, justified, and – importantly – just.
What is Justice? The Underlying Problem with Liberal Contentions Against Hell
If we subject the arguments of Liberals against God’s justice and hell to closer examination, we find that the first problem with such contentions is that Liberals simply cannot produce a definition of justice that has any meaning or basis, other than simply making assertions of their tastes. For example, to base justice on equality seems fine enough, until we ask the question “equality of what?”. If Liberals were to argue that “all humans are equal”, we must then ask them upon whose authority? or what basis? Humans are different from each other, in temperament, personality, intelligence, health, life experience and ability – how can we ever have any basis to claim equality exists, when ‘nature’ clearly doesn’t make everyone the same?
The only definition of justice that could make any sense is, 1) to give what is deserved, and 2) to be consistent in applying what is deserved. But this still leaves us with the question “What is deserved”, and “who decides what everyone, or everything, deserves?”
So any contentions or questioning of whether God’s creation of hell is just is meaningless to a Theist. However, what can be discussed is whether God is consistent with His (swt) actions towards his creation i.e. in His judgement and punishment. So when God has declared in His revelations that He will not be unjust, then this means that no one will be dealt with in an unjust manner.
In response to these objections, I will demonstrate four things:
- God indeed has the right to hold humans to account
- God is always just (and additionally merciful where He wills) in His judgement
- God is just in punishing by pain or torment
- God is just in punishing a specific group of humans for eternity
The Right of God to hold Mankind to Account
Before we expound upon God’s justice, we first need to expose the underlying bias behind this discussion; this bias comes from the irrational ideology of Liberalism. Liberalism’s bias originates from the following ideas:
- Man is totally free [by right] of any control
- Man exists to seek happiness (pleasure)
- Man is the best arbiter [judge] of his own pleasure
- [Therefore] man is the decider of his own purpose and destiny
We need to challenge this underlying concept because it portrays God as an interfering interloper that we have no need of. Therefore, His judgement and punishment of us would be deemed to be unjust according to do the ideas derived from Liberalism, since man would be according to Liberal theology, in effect, a separate god, who exists as equals with God!
Because Liberalism believes that man is deserving of pleasure, it abhors the concept of hell. This is why you’ll probably never hear of any public debates discussing whether paradise is just only hell.
The reality is God is not an interloper who exists on equal terms with us – he’s an infinite creator and maintainer of everything that exists.
When we look at teality as we observe it, the universe and even the animal world are certainly not liberal – there is endless change, involving destruction, death, pain and suffering. This causes some Liberals to doubt God’s existence, because they refuse to question the assumptions of Liberalism]. Perhaps the universe get didn’t get the memo?
Liberalism is philosophically contradictory, irrational and unwarranted by the evidence of creation itself.
The purpose of the creation of man and free will, is responsibility and duty – not autonomy i.e. to do what they wish] and hedonism i.e. to focus only on whatever pleases them.
God has a right to define our purpose – just like he defined our existence. If something creates other things for no reason, then this creator has no will, and is just random. But if a creator possesses intentionality (i.e Will), then that which he creates possesses purpose (i.e. intention behind it).
This purpose constitutes the establishment of the relationship between us and our creator. This constitutes what is “good” or “bad”, since a car is created with the purpose for transporting people. A car that breaks down a lot, or has no engine, is a “bad car”, because it cannot fulfil its purpose. Whereas a car that works just fine, is a “good car”. Therefore “good” and “bad” can only be defined by either following or resisting our purpose, and nothing else.
We, therefore, are God’s own creation and his property (of which he exercises the right of disposal – i.e. the right to do with as He pleases).
God has defined (our “good”) that He should be worshipped by us – and as a minimum, this takes the form of [us] recognising Him as the infinite and unlimited being that initiated the heavens and the earth. He is thus the sole reference point for our belief and action.
“Did you think that We had created you in play (without any purpose), and that you would not be brought back to Us?” S. 23:101-115
Therefore, it is just that God possesses the right to hold humans to account for the fulfilment, or non-fulfilment of our purpose.
God Is Just In His Accounting of Humans
God not only has the right to hold humans to account, but is fair to humans by holding them to account also. God has revealed:
- The presence or ‘Mens Rea’ – humans held accountable will be aware (to some extent) of the gravity of the actions they under take
- Breach of Covenant – all humans agreed to undertake the trial of fulfilling their purpose autonomously (i.e. fulfils criteria of contractual justice by consent)
- The Right of Disposal – Humans are the Property of God – Not ourselves
- Merciful Mitigation – God mitigates His accounting of humans with consideration of human tendency to be ignorant, make mistakes and relapse into behaviour influenced by strong conditions in our environment
The Presence of ‘Mens Rea’ – All Humans held accountable were aware of the gravity of the actions they under took
We know that for judgement to be fair, all humans held accountable must be aware (to some extent) of the gravity of the actions they take (In Western legal systems, this is called ‘Mens Rea’, which means ‘guilty mind’, and is needed to establish that a criminal had bad intention, before they can be prosecuted (although not for all crimes in the West)). Therefore, no one should be punished without being reminded, and forewarned (or having access to forewarning), and given chances with the truth. The people being sent to hell will be asked:
‘And those who disbelieved will be driven to Hell in groups until, when they reach it, its gates are opened and its keepers will say, “Did there not come to you messengers from yourselves, reciting to you the verses of your Lord and warning you of the meeting of this Day of yours?” They will say, “Yes, but the word of punishment has come into effect upon the disbelievers. [To them] it will be said, ‘Enter the gates of Hell to abide eternally therein, and wretched is the residence of the arrogant’ [Quran 39:71-72]
As for humans who had no Messengers come directly to them, they would’ve needed to have searched out the purpose of life and have some awareness of morals (that were inherited or influenced from a past prophet) within their society, upon which to be judged by. Liberals cannot argue that wilfully ignorant people should be excused judgement, because even in Western legal systems, they have the principle ‘Ignorantia juris non excusat’ [ignorance of the law does not excuse].
‘Then did you think that We created you uselessly and that to Us you would not be returned?’ [Quran 25:115]
Breach of Covenant – Humans agreed to undertake the trial of fulfilling their purpose autonomously
It seems that God has anticipated the argument that some humans would make by claiming “it is not fair for us to have such a weighty responsibility this responsibility to worship you of our own free will, which we didn’t consent to ”, by giving all of mankind a chance to accept or reject the responsibility of worshipping God out of our own free will.
‘Truly, We did offer Amanah (the trust or moral responsibility) to the heavens and the earth, and the mountains, but they declined to bear it and were afraid of it (i.e. afraid of Allah’s Torment). But man bore it. Verily, he was unjust (to himself) and ignorant’. (Quran 33:72)
In another verse of the Quran, God mentions specifically all the descendants of mankind:
‘And [mention] when your Lord took from the children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants and made them testify of themselves, [saying to them], “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Yes, we have testified.” [This] – lest you should say on the day of Resurrection, “Indeed, we were of this unaware.”‘ (Quran 7:172)
If anything, it is not God’s judgement that is unjust, but we humans who have been unjust to ourselves.
The Right of Disposal – Humans are the Property of God – Not ourselves
Now God doesn’t need us to consent to anything, because He (swt) created us, and we are His property – of which He (swt) has the right of disposal over. In Arabic He is Al-Malik (the sovereign and possessor), and we are His possession.
Additionally, He didn’t create us independent from himself, he activiely sustains our existence – because we are not (and cannot be) self-sustaining beings, and therefore we cannot argue that we should be let alone to “live our own lives” like children who have grown up and leave the parents house (in Liberal culture).
Therefore, God didn’t only create us, He (swt) is sustaining us. If God “cut us off” from Himself (i.e. stopped sustaining us), we’d cease to exist. To use the phrase that even Liberals have to accept, if you’re living under someone’s roof, eating their food, drinking their water, warming yourself from their hearth, using their bathroom, you have to follow their rules. And we are not only living in God’s property, and living off His (swt) property, we ARE God’s property. However, as the case is, God did ask us, and we readily took it.
If God desires us to do something He made us for, and we refuse, He is well within His (Swt) rights to dispose of us as He wills, whether it is punishment, or forgiveness.
‘If You should punish them – indeed they are Your servants; but if You forgive them – indeed it is You who is the Exalted in Might, the Wise’ (Quran 5:118)
Merciful Mitigation – God mitigates His accounting of humans with consideration of human tendency to be ignorant, make mistakes and relapse into behaviour influenced by strong conditions in our environment
Humans are affected by their environment, and many do make regrettably repeated mistakes (even with fore-knowledge). It could be asked: If the human condition is heavily slanted towards our environment, is the afterlife fair?
Well firstly, God assures us that no human will be tested beyond the capacity He (swt) knows is within us:
‘Allah does not charge a soul beyond its capacity’ (Quran 2:286)
That being said, God does understand the human propensity to be swayed by our environment and social conditioning, and takes it into mitigation in his judgement, by His mercy, in that our Good deeds are weighted in multiples, while bad deeds being weighted by one.
‘He that does a good deed shall be rewarded ten times the like of it, and he that does evil shall only be rewarded the like of it, and they shall not be wronged’ (Quran 6:160)
All the mercy we have every observed, in every facet of creation, is only 1% of God’s mercy He (swt) has apportioned, and He (swt) will show the remaining 99% of His mercy on day of judgement.
Salman Al-Farisi reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Verily, Allah has one hundred portions of mercy. From one portion the creation has been given mercy between themselves and ninety nine portions are reserved for the Day of Resurrection.” (Sahih Muslim 2753)
In addition, God has promised that He (swt) will forgive whole swathes of sins for the ransom of just some good deeds, or a small but consistent deed.
‘Those who believe and work righteous deeds, from them shall We blot out all evil (that may be) in them and We shall reward them according to the best of their deeds’ (Quran 29:7)
Furthermore, God helps humans by guiding humans on earth by means of a revealed law system – to create environments that limit public temptations to commit evil, and establish socially reinforced values and ethics to aid psychological maturity. This is why Muhammed (saaw), who brought the revealed guidance, is called a mercy to all mankind.
“Indeed, in this [Quran] is notification for a worshipping people. And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds.” (Quran 21:106-107)
The Right of God to Punish with Pain or Torment
Why is there pleasure or pain in the afterlife? This is for the same reason there is pleasure and pain in this life. Pleasure and pain are experienced by living (created) beings as motivations and consequences. We need ‘feelings’ to move us, and we need feelings to reward us for fulfilling a motivation that was part of how we live our purpose (like contentment after sexual reproduction), and to castigate us when we don’t (like guilt), or warn us of danger (like feeling heat when putting your hand too close to a fire). The necessity of their existence emanates from our created purpose.
Thus, in the afterlife we will be accounted for our adherence to our purpose, by recompense using these same two types of sensations. Pleasure for those who have fulfilled their motivations according to their purpose, and pain for those have have fulfilled their motivations contrary to their purpose. Pleasure and pain are tools God willed to exist for His creatures as part of their purpose during their lives, why should the afterlife be any different?
The Justice of God in Punishing Some for Eternity
Let us first ask the question, what do we mean by justice?
Justice is giving to someone what they deserve based upon what they are, or what they have done, i.e. their intrinsic value, or the value of the actions they have done. E.g. In the human world, a person works hard in a job, so they deserve payment. A baby is a vulnerable human being that intrinsically deserves care and sustenance. So justice must involve giving what is deserved.
This leads us to two possible just uses for God’s creation of Hell.
1) Hell as a recompense for Sins
A sin is an action done by a created being, which is contrary to the commanded purpose of that being. As stated earlier, God has the right to define the purpose of created beings, and hold them to account for choosing to fulfil or not fulfil that purpose.
Hell will be used to settle the balance of sins for unrepentant sinners who have not been recompensed with sufficient punishment during their lives – who will then be granted Paradise after their unforgiven sins are punished with a commensurate term and/or degree in hell. The term ‘unrepentant’ is used, because a person who repents by feeling guilty, making a commitment not to repeat the sin, and asking God to forgive it – is a deed that worships God, and the person – in effect – does not become the same person who willingly undertook the sin in the first place. If God chooses to forgive the person, it would be just (because it would, in a way, no longer be the same person who committed the sin).
The Messenger of Allah (saaw) is narrated to have said: “The one who repents from sin is like one who did not sin.”
[Ibn Majah, at-Tabarani in al-Mu‘jam al-Kabeer, Abu Nu‘aym, al-Bayhaqi]
God’s forgiveness is – at the same time as well – merciful, for God could always choose not to balance the sin with the good deed of a person’s repentance and punish the person instead. God could’ve chosen to keep the repentance as a good deed to be rewarded separately, but still punish the person anyways. This is like human/earthly courts who do not pardon convicted criminals even if the person has made up for a crime with a good deed later. Therefore, if God punishes, He is just. And if God forgives, He is merciful, but still just at the same time.
People do not have a problem, generally, with a finite punishment in hell. However, they claim hell produces an infinite punishment for finite Sin. This has been typically raised as a philosophical argument against hell’s Justice for having permanent inmates.
But hell is not Infinite, as only God is infinite, nor does it punish to an Infinite degree of pain, even at it’s lowest levels i.e. the inmates of Hell are not punished with infinite pain.
Hell is everlasting (by God’s Will), not infinite. What this means is, that it simply continues to exist, yet it does not exist for infinite time – as the passing of an infinite time could never be reached.
What is generally argued, is that the eternal dwelling of some people in hell is disproportionate to the limited time they lived committing sin. The fallacy of this argument will be demonstrated as follows.
Now let us appreciate the difference between an action and a sin. An action does not equal sin, because sin is the VALUE of an intentional action, not the action itself e.g. Using a knife to cut skin is an action, but depending on whether it was used by a surgeon to help a patient, or used by a serial killer to murder their victims – the action would carry completely different values.
A bad action can cause a greater length of evil than the time or effort it took to commit it. e.g. taking 10 seconds to take someone’s life away by murdering them – clearly does not deserve only 10 seconds of punishment in jail.
So the moral value of an action determines the magnitude and significance of the action and consequently, the magnitude of the punishment required.
Rejecting the rights of someone has a negative value equal to the degree the right has been denied. If I denied someone’s right to peace and security by physically bullying him, this is greater in degree than if I denied his right to peace and security by verbally harassing him.
Equally, the object we commit the offence (crime) against also plays a part in the moral value of the action. To show ingratitude to one’s grandmother by insulting her, would be far worse than to show ingratitude to one’s best-friend by insulting them, even if the best-friend had seen more of you – and done more for you – than your grandmother.
As I have shown, God being ultimately our sole creator and sustainer, has the right to be worshipped alone i.e. be exclusively recognised by us as our creator, and His commands made the sole criteria for all moral values of our actions.
To reject God, or associate partners to Him, is to claim a limitation against His power and being – as the existence of equals to Him would constitute a limit to His power and existence i.e. it would be a rejection of God Himself.
So tell me, what do you think is the gravity or magnitude of denying the infinite being of God and defaming his infinitude by associating partners equal to him that share His power,or denying him completely?
The gravity of that action would be tremendous in the extreme.
In fact, this crime is so severe, that it merits from God an inexhaustible punishment – for how much time, or to what degree of punishment could ever be counted out that exhausts the cost of the crime of denying an infinitude of the creator – using the very things He created by His infinite power to turn against Him? In essence, How much is God’s rights worth? Anything less than perpetual punishment, is an injustice to God’s Right over us.
God used the same word for the magnitude of the crime of those associating partners with/rejecting Himself, as the word He uses to describe one of His names.
‘Allah forgives not that partners should be set up with Him; less than that He forgives to whomsoever He will. Whoso associates with Allah anything has indeed forged a mighty (Adheem) sin’ (Quran 4:48).
God describes himself in the Quran as ‘Al-‘Adheem’, the Most Great (2:105) (2:255) (42:4) (56:96).
Thus the Quran confirms the gravity of the sin of Shirk.
They ask ‘how can God punish Associators and Rejectors forever?’ – I ask: ‘why should he not?’
Now for the second use of hell.
2. Hell as a residence for people who intrinsically deserve it
‘Purpose’ is the measure not just of our actions, but also of the intrinsic worth of humans. If humans not only commit sin, but they become in their very being, intrinsically against their purpose by becoming a rejector of the ultimate truth, such that it becomes the very nature of who they are – then these humans can be called intrinsically evil humans.
The words “Good” and “evil” only make sense when used to describe whether a human submits to their purpose, or instead actively choose to resist it. A person who not only does actions against their purpose, but chooses to reject their purpose, is called a ‘Kafir’ (a rejector of truth, Arabic lit. “One who buries”) on the Day of Judgment. Such humans will be judged to deserve to have their rights to fulfilment permanently rejected [as they permanently rejected/made associates with God in their lives], by means of permanent frustration in hell.
The rejection of God, by these people, is perpetual and without end – it’s who they are, their ‘true colours’ – so why shouldn’t their deserved residence also be without end?
It is because rejecting truth is part of who they are, if these same rejectors were given freedom again, they would revert back to themselves and turn back to rejecting God:
‘If you could but see when they will be held over the (Hell) Fire! They will say: “Would that we were sent back (to the world)! Then we would not deny the Ayat [signs] of our Lord, and we would be of the believers!” No, it has become manifest to them what they had been concealing before. But if they were returned, they would certainly revert to that which they were forbidden. And indeed they are liars.’ (Quran 6:27-28).
In the afterlife, those who recognised God in their lives (showing their true colours), would be given eternal paradise (as a reward) and also because they would continue to be grateful in paradise, as they were in their life. But those in hell, because they only turn to God when it suits them, they will therefore be kept perpetually in Hell begging God to leave it – because that is the only place they would ever turn to Him. The Quran reports the rejectors confessing their faults and sins because they are in Hell:
‘We confess our sins, then is there any way to get out (of the Fire)?” (It will be said): “This is because, when Allah Alone was invoked (in worship, etc.) you disbelieved, but when partners were joined to Him, you believed! So the judgement is only with Allah, the Most High, the Most Great!” (Quran 40:10-12)
The Quran also reports that the rejectors will ask God’s angels who guard Hell, to intercede with God to destroy them (instead of perpetual punishment):
‘And they will call, “O Malik (keeper of hell), let your Lord put an end to us!” He will say, “Indeed, you will remain.'” (Quran 43:77)
You may ask, why doesn’t God just destroy them? But if they were destroyed, this would allow them to escape their sentence. Many people even justify their criminality by sayng “I don’t care if I get punished for this, it won’t last forever”. Therefore, how could God let a rejecter leave Hell? Since how many rejectors of God would gladly spend millions of years in hell, if it allowed them the chance to do what they wanted in this life?
Therefore, Hell is the only place in existence where a rejector of truth would perpetually willingly accept to recognise God, and willingly regret what they did – even if it is only because the circumstances provide an overwhelming desire in them to do so.
In the end, everyone serves God – His plan in this life, willingly or unwillingly, and in the next life, all will turn to Him willingly. There is no escape for those who reject Him.
God’s Justice, and the Justice of His Creation of Hell
As can be seen, the Liberal contentions against God’s justice is baseless and contradictory (i.e. irrational), and they fail to show that God’s justice is in any way inconsistent in His (swt) accounting of humans, punishing them as He (swt) Wills, and putting those who reject Him (swt) into hell for eternity. In Summary,
- God indeed has the right to hold humans to account
- God is always just (and additionally merciful where He wills) in His judgement
- God is just in punishing by pain or torment
- God is just in punishing a specific group of humans for eternity
As God reminds us:
“And fear the Day when ye shall be brought back to God. Then shall every soul be paid what it earned, and none shall be dealt with unjustly” (Quran, 2:281)”