Life After Death: Who Passes and Who Doesn't?

Question and answer details
Assalam Alaikum... It is said that after death a person lives forever either in jannah (Paradise) or jahannum (Hellfire)... My question is for how long will the person who enters jahannum suffer in it? Will he be sent to paradise once he completes his punishment for his sins?
AAI Editorial Staff

This answer was kindly provided by Brother Maan Khalife, a member of Ask About Islam Editorial Staff.

Salam (Peace) Dear Sister,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

To begin with, there is no way for us to know how long a person will remain in hell before entering Paradise, if he or she happens to be one.  This is knowledge of the unseen which is only known to Allah. 

We need to focus on knowing those human qualities which make people enter into Hell or into Paradise; or possibly both. To do this, we must define categories of believing and unbelieving people and places where punishment or reward could possibly be granted.

We must keep in mind that there is no way defining this subject accurately since this is Allah's domain; He is the ultimate Judge. 

For us, we may speak in general, but cannot specifically say that someone is destined to the Hellfire for example, since we may not know if Allah wishes to admit that person into Paradise.  After all, ultimately we only enter the Paradise by Allah's mercy not by our extremely limited worldly judgment of people.

Also the reward for good deeds is multiplied at least ten folds, while a bad deed is only recorded once; and good deeds wipe away bad ones. Allah is always giving us the chance to excel; so it all depends on us.

I will begin defining places of reward and punishment, these are:

1. On earth during our humanly lives.
2. In the grave which is the period from our death until the Day of Judgment.
3. On the Day of Judgment which will seize when Allah judges the last human being.
4. The hereafter which starts after the Day of Judgment and goes on forever.

In general, all of us experience some type of reward or punishment during our lives.  If we do something in this world whether good or bad and we don't get rewarded or punished for it, Allah will reward or punish us for it in one of the subsequent stations in our lives.

As for punishment, it is easier to receive it in this world since as we move to each station, the punishment increases which make the punishment in the hereafter the worst, since it is repetitive and eternal, unless the person is eventually destined to Paradise. 

In this life, punishment is applied once, avoiding further punishment for that specific deed. So if we commit a crime, it is better to receive its punishment in this world, in order to avoid Allah's punishment.

Reward is completely different; one could be rewarded in this world as well all the subsequent stations.  Its effects could become exponential as was explained earlier. Obviously, the most rewarding is Paradise.

Also Allah by His ultimate mercy, grants people the chance to learn about His religion; those who deny the truth we call disbelievers while those who accept the truth we call believers.  Now we may define categories of people related to the subject matter:

1. People completely unaware of Islam
2. Disbelievers who are aware of Islam but are kind
3. Disbelievers who are aware of Islam but are evil
4. Believers who are evil
5. Believers who are kind

Beginning with the first and moving to the last, people completely unaware of Islam will not be punished since Allah says so in Quran what is translated as:

{Whosoever does right, it is only for (the good of) his own soul that he does right, and whosoever errors, errors only to its hurt. No laden soul can bear another's load, We never punish until we have sent a messenger} (Al-Israa, Chapter 17, Verse 15)

Disbelievers who are kind will be rewarded in this world but not in the hereafter, since the key to Paradise is worshiping the creator alone without associating anyone or thing with Him.  The destiny for evil disbelievers is obvious; the Hellfire.

All believers are destined to the Paradise; however, the ones who committed too many bad deeds in this world will be punished in the Hellfire first; this is the category you are talking about.

So to go back to your question, the period that an evil believer spends in Hellfire depends on how many bad deeds he or she has committed and the severity of those deeds.

Also keep in mind that time in the hereafter seizes to exist as we know it.  It will be all relevant to rewards and punishments since forever is not constrained with time.

I hope this helps answer your question.

Salam and please keep in touch.

Useful Links:

Sin and Punishment: A Comparative Look

Life After Death… What’s the Proof?

How to Find Contentment & Happiness

Heaven and Hell: Permanent or Temporary

Paradise… Not My Cup of Tea

How Does Islam View the Nature of Good and Bad?

Happiness and Misery in the Grave

Human Accountability and the Concept of Sin

The True Concept of Kufr

Judgment Day: No Second Chance

God Is Merciful: Why Hell?

Repenting Grave Sins

Is There Hell for Muslims?