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Heaven and Hell: Permanent or Temporary?

Question and answer details
Nadia Asikin
2012/03/15
  As-salaamu alaikum.I need to ask you about this theory: We Muslims will definitely go to Heaven, although many of us will have to be "cleansed" in Hell first before entering Heaven.Interestingly, a good Christian friend of mine has exactly the same idea (only with the word "Muslims" substituted with "Christians," of course).From that concept, it is saying that Hell can be temporary (i.e. Some people enter it just to get rid of their sins, but they do not stay there forever and they will get out at some point).However, as far as I know, the Qur'an always portrays Heaven and Hell as permanent destinations (e.g. An-Nisaa' 4:14; Al-Baqarah 2:80).So, my question is: Where does this idea of temporary Hell come from? Is it from the Qur'an, Hadith, or neither?Salaam.
Idris Tawfiq
Answer

Salam, Nadia.

Thank you for this interesting question. In answering it, we should mention Christian teaching first, since this is relevant to what you ask, and then move on to Muslim belief. It could be that because of talking to your Christian friends, you have got things a bit mixed up with what they believe.

Purgatory in Roman Catholic Teachings

It is a standard Roman Catholic teaching that before a person goes to Heaven, he or she must be purified in Purgatory. According to this teaching, Purgatory is a separate place than Heaven.

Even though Roman Catholics believe that their sins can be forgiven in this life by a priest when they go to Confession, the effects of their sins still remain, which cannot be erased by anyone. Purgatory, then, is a place where people make up for all the wrong they have done in this life, since no one can enter Heaven in anything less than a pure state.

Purgatory is the kind of "temporary Hell," you talk about.

You are right when you mention Christian teaching regarding who will go to Heaven. Basing their teaching on Saint John's Gospel, Christians have always taught that "unless a man be born again by water and the Spirit (i.e. Baptism), he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." In other words, for centuries the Church taught that only the baptized could enter Heaven.

The supposed death and resurrection of Jesus, according to Christian tradition, makes it possible for people to enter Heaven. This doctrine was reevaluated in the last century to suggest that some of the un-baptized could go to Heaven, but only because of the action of Jesus on the Cross.

These "anonymous" Christians, although not baptized, might enter Heaven because of their good lives and because Jesus has chosen to redeem them. Islam or Buddhism or Judaism, then, according to this doctrine, cannot save a man, but some Muslims or Buddhists or Jews might be saved because Jesus chooses to save them because of their good lives.

Heaven and Hell in Islam

I hope that this hasn't confused you! Turning now directly to your question, Muslims are quite clear that Heaven and Hell have existed even before the creation of the world. They are both permanent places.

A translation of what we read in the Qur'an tells us this:

*{"Surely, We [Allah] have prepared for the evildoers a fire, whose pavilion encompasses them. If they call for help, they will be helped with water like molten copper that will scald their faces. How dreadful a drink and how evil a resting place.}* (Al-Kahf 18: 29)

In another part of the Qur'an, we read:

*{Certainly, Allah has cursed the unbelievers and prepared for them a blazing fire to dwell therein forever, they shall find neither protector nor helper. On the day when their faces are turned about in the fire, they shall say, "Would that we had obeyed Allah and obeyed the Messenger!"}* (Al-Ahzab 33: 64-66)

There are other descriptions of Hell that are graphically horrific. Muslims believe that some people will be sent to Hell for all eternity, because we are told so in either the Qur'an or in the sayings of the Prophet (peace be upon him). They will never leave. Some of these people are actually mentioned by name.

According to authorities in Hadith like Al-Bukhari and Muslim, such people include Abu Lahab, `Amr ibn Luhai Al-Khuza`i, and others. Those who aren't identified by name are identified by description: every unbeliever, polytheist, or hypocrite (those who pretend they are Muslims but are not.)

All Muslims in Heaven?

As for your assertion that all Muslims will go to Heaven, we must, of course, add the words, in sha' Allah. We can never presume Allah's actions towards us. Only He knows the true intentions of our hearts.

Given this proviso, however, we do believe that Muslims will go to Heaven, even though they may have committed terrible crimes while they were alive. Muslim belief about this is as follows:

When a person dies, he or she will be laid in the grave. The Prophet told us that in the grave, all people will be questioned about their belief. They will sit up and answer the angels' questions. The believers will answer, "Allah is my Lord, Islam is my religion, and Muhammad is my prophet." The unbelievers will say, "I do not know. I heard the people saying something and I said it."

Once again, Prophet Muhammad is recorded to have said many things about this. Those Muslims who led good lives, obedient to the will of Allah, will rest in comfort in the grave, awaiting the Day of Judgment. Those Muslims who led bad lives, or who were Muslim in name only, will be punished severely in the grave.

In the Qur'an, we read:

*{If you could only see when the evildoers are in the agonies of death and the angels are stretching out their hands, saying, "Give up your souls! Today you shall be rewarded with the punishment of humiliation for what you used to say untrue about Allah, and for scornfully rejecting His signs."}* (Al-An`am 6 :93)

On the Day of Judgment, all people will be raised from their graves and their lives will be placed before them. They will have to give an account of how they lived. Good deeds will be weighed against bad deeds.

Once people's deeds have been weighed up and the remaining balance is in their favor, they will then have to give justice to those they offended in this life. If they offended someone, some of their remaining good deeds will be transferred to the offended.

If, after all this, their good deeds weigh as much as even just an atom, they will, in sha' Allah, enter Paradise. If, on the other hand, their good deeds have been exhausted in making up for wrongs they did to others, the offended will transfer some of their bad deeds, so that they go to Hell and suffer not only for their own bad deeds but also for the bad deeds of those they offended.

Allah knows what is best. As Muslims we believe that some Muslims will enter Hell and will remain there being punished until such time as Allah allows them to be released.

Not Temporary, But Relief Is Possible

This is not a temporary Hell. Hell is a fixed, permanent place, but Allah may allow some Muslims to be released from it because of His mercy.

We believe that the Prophet will be allowed by Allah to intercede on behalf of some believers who are in Hell, and by Allah's will they will be taken out of Hell.

Allah will also take out of the Hell some believers, not because someone has interceded on their behalf, but simply because He chooses to.

Your simple question, then, required quite a complicated answer! In summary, as Muslims we believe some wicked Muslims will be sent to Hell for a limited time but ultimately will be granted Paradise because of the mercy of Allah.

I hope that this answers your question. Please keep in touch.

Salam.

Useful Links:

Who Will Go to Heaven?

Is There Hell for Muslims?

Destiny of People of the Book

The Justice of Divine Judgment

The Road to Heaven

Defining Heaven

Is Paradise Just Spiritual Pleasure?

The Description of Paradise

Questions About Paradise

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