The Quran: Is It All Fire and Brimstone?

Question and answer details
Why is there so much reference to Hell and punishment in the Quran? How can our actions be sincere if we are in essence doing them to seek a reward (Jannah) in the end, rather than doing them for the love of God? Thank you for your time.
Ahmad Saad
Salam Dear Florida,

Thank you very much for the question which really resonates with rationality but needs some clarification.

When Almighty Allah created Prophet Adam (peace be upon him), He placed him in Paradise and told him, as the Quran mentions:

{(Surely it is (ordained) for you that you shall not be hungry therein nor bare of clothing; And that you shall not be thirsty therein nor shall you feel the heat of the sun.} (Ta-Ha 20:118-119)

Adam was commanded to obey Allah and eat from any where in Paradise but never to approach the forbidden tree. Seduced by Satan, Adam and Eve both ate from the forbidden tree and therefore, they were sent down to earth to toil and live a test.

This life-long test was ordained on Adam and his offspring who will have to go through the test throughout their life and then end up in one of two destinies; either Paradise or Hellfire. To qualify for the test, human beings have been endowed with the gift of free choice to be responsible for their choices.

Of course, not everyone will be obedient enough to comply with the commands of Allah and not everyone will be rebellious. Since no gain is without pain, people need to spend some effort to obtain Paradise. Being a composite of earthly factors and heavenly ones, we, human beings, will be torn between both in that life-long struggle.

Almighty Allah is the Merciful as well as the Just. Because of this, He told those who plan to disobey them of the destiny awaiting the disobedient, and told those who are obedient of the destiny He has prepared for them.

It stands to reason that the number of those who are bewildered by Satan, and therefore go in the wrong direction, exceeds the number of those who will disobey Satan and hold fast to the straight path.

Because of this discrepancy in ratio, the most suitable thing was to mention punishment so frequently, and in numbers that exceed the mentioning of Paradise.

Paradise has been mentioned 66 times in the Quran, while Hellfire was mentioned 126 times. If you look at the world today, or at any juncture of history, you will find that the amount of disobedience really exceeds the amount of obedience.

The Quran itself tells us so many stories from previous nations who rejected their messengers and tortured them. The Quran mentions that only a few responded positively to these messages and chose to be believers. Allah refers to those who believed in Prophet Noah and says:

{And there believed not with him but a few.} (Hud 11:40)

In reference to those who accepted Moses, the Quran says:

{But none believed in Moses except some children of his people.} (Yunus 10:83)

Even today, the number of those who swerve from the way of Allah and reject the existence of God in the world, far exceeds the number of those who believe. Even amongst those who believe, the number of those who practice is far less than the number of those who just claim to be believers by tongue only.

All this makes it understandable and completely reasonable to mention Hellfire and punishment in numbers that exceed the number of times Paradise is mentioned.

Moreover, it has always been the case that people who are blinded by ignorance and desire will be awakened by the punishment, or when they are told about it. And this is exactly what the Quran is doing. It is reminding these people many times, here and there, that they should wake up and bear in mind that punishment is waiting for those who rebel.

As for the role of punishment and reward in encouraging people to be good and discouraging them from disobedience, let me explain to you that this is necessary for a certain level of worship — until people realize the sweetness of worship and recognize that they worship Allah because they love Him.

To exemplify this, if there is a child who does not like studying or doing his homework and is unable to realize that studying is very beneficial for him, then the best way of dealing with him would be telling him that there will be a punishment if he fails to do his homework, and a reward if he finishes it.

Later on, when this same student grows up a bit and cherishes love for his study and realizes its benefits, the whole idea of reward and punishment will not be his motivation. Rather, he will be motivated by love, and this is what is really needed from him.

Similarly, when people do not realize the importance of worshipping Allah and obeying Him, the address of punishment and reward will be much more suitable for them until they realize that they love Almighty Allah. And this love should be the main motive for obeying Him.

Until they develop this kind of motive, I believe they will still be in need of a word here and there reminding them and pressing the buttons of fear and hope in their hearts and minds. Let's all pray Allah to grant us His love and to enshroud us in His mercy and pleasure.

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


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