Man's True Abode: Hereafter
Many people assume that it is possible to lead a perfect life in this world. According to this view, a happy and satisfactory life is attainable through material prosperity, which along with a fulfilling home life and recognition of one's social status are generally regarded as the fundamentals of a perfect life.
Yet according to the Qur'anic point of view, a "perfect life" – that is, one without any problems – is never possible in this world. That is simply because life in the world is deliberately designed to be imperfect.
The origin of the Arabic word for 'world' – dunya – has a significant meaning. Etymologically, it is derived from the root daniy, which means "simple", "inferior", "low" and "worthless". Hence, the word 'world' in Arabic inherently comprises these qualities.
The insignificance of this life is emphasised many times earlier in this book. Indeed, all factors believed to make life wonderful – wealth, personal and business success, marriage, children, and so on – are nothing but vain deceptions. The related verse follows:
Know you (all), that the life of this world is but play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting and multiplying (in rivalry) among yourselves, riches and children. Here is a similitude: How rain and the growth which it brings forth, delight (the hearts of) the tillers; soon it withers; you will see it grow yellow; then it becomes dry and crumbles away. But in the Hereafter is a penalty severe (for the devotees of wrong). And forgiveness from Allah and (His) good pleasure (for the devotees of Allah). And what is the life of this world, but goods and chattels of deception? (Surat al-Hadid: 20)
In another verse, Allah gives an account of the inclination felt by man for the world rather than the hereafter:
Nay (behold), you prefer the life of this world, but the hereafter is better and more enduring. (Surat al-A'la: 16-17)
Problems arise only because, rather than the hereafter, people value this life too highly. They are pleased and content with what they have here in this world. Such an attitude means nothing more than turning one's face away from the promise of Allah and consequently from the reality of His mighty existence. Allah proclaims that a grievous end awaits them:
Those who expect not the meeting with Us but desire the life of the world and feel secure therein, and those who are neglectful of Our revelations… (Surah Yunus: 7)
Of course, the imperfection of this life does not gainsay the fact that there are also good and beautiful things on earth. But here on earth, what is regarded as beautiful, delightful, pleasing and attractive stands cheek-by-jowl with the imperfect, flawed and ugly. In this world, good and evil are commingled. This is but a reminder of paradise and hell. Indeed, if observed with a sound and conscientious mind, these facts would make a person realise the truth of the hereafter. With Allah, that life which is deemed good and beneficial for man is actually that of the hereafter.
Allah commands His faithful servants to make serious efforts to attain paradise in the verse below:
Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and for Paradise whose width is that (of the whole) of the heavens and of the earth, prepared for the righteous. (Surat Ali-'Imran: 133)
Those who Hasten for Paradise
In the Qur'an, believers are given the glad tidings of an eternal reward and happiness. Yet, what is commonly disregarded is the fact that this happiness and eternal pleasure start when we are still in this life. That is because, in this world too, believers are not deprived of the favours and benevolence of Allah.
In the Qur'an, Allah states that true believers who engage in good deeds in this world will find an excellent dwelling in the Hereafter:
Whoever does right actions, man or woman, and has faith, verily, to him will We give a new life, a life that is good and pure and We will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions. (Surah an-Nahl: 97)
As a reward and source of bliss, in this world Allah bestows many favours as well as unprecedented opportunities for personally and socially fulfilling lives to His true servants. This is the immutable law of Allah. Since wealth, splendour and beauty are the fundamental characteristics of paradise, Allah opens His fortunes to His sincere believers also in this world. This is certainly the beginning of a comfortable and honourable life that will never end.
Beautiful places and ornaments in this world are but imperfect echoes of the real ones in paradise. Their existence makes true believers think of paradise and feel a deeper longing for it. On the other hand, all through his life, it is entirely possible that a believer may suffer serious trouble and grief; yet true believers put their trust in Allah and patiently bear up under any sorrows befalling them. Furthermore, being aware that this is a way to attain the good pleasure of Allah, such an attitude affords a special relief to their hearts.
A believer is someone who is constantly aware of the existence of his Creator. He complies with His commands and is careful to lead the kind of life described in the Qur'an. He has realistic expectations and hopes for his life after death. Since a believer puts his trust in his Creator, Allah relieves his heart of all misery and suffering.
What is more important, a believer, at every moment, feels the guidance and support of his Creator. This is actually a peaceful state of mind and heart that is a consequence of knowing that Allah is with him every time he prays, engages in good deeds, or does something – important or insignificant – solely to attain His good pleasure.
This is certainly a feeling of security inspiring the heart of a believer who comprehends that "for him are angels ranged before him and behind him who guard him by Allah's command" (Surat ar-Ra'd: 11), and that he will be victorious in his struggle in the name of Allah, and that he will receive the good news of an eternal reward: paradise. Hence, true believers never fear or grieve, in accordance with the inspiration of Allah to angels "I am with you: give firmness to the Believers." (Surat al-Anfal: 12)
Believers are those who say "Our Lord is Allah and, further, stand straight and steadfast. " (Surah Fussilat: 30). They are also "those upon whom the angels descend" and to whom the angels say "fear not nor grieve, but hear good tidings of the paradise which you are promised. " (Surah Fussilat: 30). Believers are also aware that their Creator "places no burden on any soul but that which it can bear." (Surat al-A'raf: 42). They are well aware that "Allah is the One who has created all in proportion and measure. " (Surat al-Qamar: 49). Hence, they are the ones who say "Nothing will happen to us except what Allah has decreed for us: He is our protector." (Surat at-Tawbah: 51) and put their trust in Allah. "No harm touched them" since they say "Allah is sufficient for us and most excellent is the Protector." (Surat Ali-'Imran: 173-174). Yet, since the world is a place of testing for all human beings, believers will necessarily be confronted by some difficulties. Hunger, thirst, loss of property, disease, accidents and so on may also strike them at any time. Poverty as well as many other kinds of trouble or affliction may also befall them. The kind of test a believer may go through is described as follows in the Qur'an:
Or do you think that you shall enter Paradise without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? They encountered suffering and adversity, and were so shaken in spirit that even the Messenger and those of faith who were with him cried: "When (will come) the help of Allah?" Ah! Verily, the help of Allah is (always) near! (Surat al-Baqarah: 214)
Of course adversities never altered the respect and fear the Prophet, and his Companions had for Allah. No alteration in their attitude ever occurred when they faced trouble. Allah, also, gives the glad tidings of His support to believers in the verse: "Ah! Verily, the help of Allah is (always) near." In consequence, "but Allah will deliver the right acting to their place of salvation: no evil shall touch them, nor shall they grieve." (Surat az-Zumar: 61)
Believers are aware that difficult times are specially created and that their responsibility is to respond to them with patience and constancy. Furthermore these are great opportunities to show one's perseverance and commitment to Allah and are a means to attain personal maturity in His sight. Thus, a believer becomes happier, excited and more committed on such occasions.
However, the attitude of disbelievers is totally different. Difficult times make them fall into despair. Apart from physical pain, a disbeliever also suffers from great mental distress.
The fear, hopelessness, pessimism, grief, worry, anxiety and agitation that are the characteristic traits of disbelievers in this world are but pale versions of the real pain from which they will suffer in the Hereafter. Allah "makes their breast close and constricted, as if they had to climb up to the skies and thus Allah (heaps) the penalty on those who refuse to believe." (Surah al-An'am: 125)
On the other hand, those true believers that seek forgiveness and repent to Allah are the recipients of the benevolence and favours of Allah in this world as related in the following verse:
(And to preach thus), "Seek you the forgiveness of your Lord, and turn to Him in repentance; that He may grant you enjoyment, good (and true), for a term appointed, and bestow His abounding grace on all who abound in merit! But if you turn away, then I fear for you the penalty of a great day." (Surah Hud: 3)
In another verse, the life of believers is described as follows:
To the righteous (when) it is said, "What is it that your Lord has revealed?" They say "All that is good." To those who do good, there is good in this world, and the Home of the Hereafter is even better and excellent indeed is the Home of the righteous. (Surat an-Nahl: 30)
The Hereafter is surely superior to and better than this world. Compared to the Hereafter, this world is but a mean and entirely worthless place. Hence, if a person wants to set a goal for himself, that goal should be paradise in the Hereafter. It should also be remembered that those who seek paradise receive the benevolence of their Creator in this world as well. But those who seek this world in rebellion against Allah often attain nothing of worth from it and then their abode in the next life is hell.
Allah promises paradise to those who come to His presence as believers. Surely, Allah does not fail to keep His promise. People whose faith is assured, know that their Creator will keep His promise and that they will be accepted in paradise provided that they live as true believers in this world:
Paradise of Eternity, those which (Allah) Most Gracious has promised to His slaves in the Unseen: for His promise must (necessarily) come to pass. (Surah Maryam: 61)
The moment of entering paradise is the most important time for the faithful who believe and do good deeds. All through their lives, they strove for it, prayed for it and performed right actions to obtain it. In the presence of Allah, it is surely the best place to stay and the real place to attain: paradise, the place specially prepared for believers. Allah describes this unique moment in the following verse:
Gardens of perpetual bliss: they shall enter there, as well as the righteous among their fathers, their spouses, and their offspring. And angels shall enter unto them from every gate (with the salutation): "Peace unto you for that you persevered in patience! Now how excellent is the final home!" (Surat ar-Rad: 23-24)
The Beauty of Paradise
The parable of Paradise which the righteous are promised! Beneath it flow rivers: perpetual is the enjoyment thereof and the shade therein. Such is the end of the righteous; and the end of disbelievers is hell. (Surat ar-Ra'd: 35)
An excellent vista of lakes, rivers, and lush greenery is the sort of paradise imagined by the ordinary person. However this image of paradise needs to be clarified because it does not accurately reflect the Qur'anic point of view. It is certainly true that paradise has significant natural beauty; which is one of its perfect blessings. It is yet another beautiful aspect that splendid mansions are built in shady gardens, by flowing rivers. However such accounts will definitely prove to be inadequate to the magnificence of paradise.
The beauty and glory of paradise are beyond one's imagination. The Qur'anic words "containing all kinds (of delights)" (Surat ar-Rahman: 48) surely illustrate a vivid picture of the real nature of paradise. What is meant by "delights" are things specially created by Allah the All-Knowing. These delights may well be surprising rewards or things in which to take such pleasure as human beings have never imagined. The promise of Allah "they shall have, before their Lord, all that they wish for. That will indeed be the magnificent bounty (of Allah)" (Surat ash-Shura: 22) makes it explicit that, as a favour of Allah, the imagination of believers will shape a Paradise according to their own tastes and wishes.
The Eternal Residence of Believers
Allah has promised to believers, men and women, gardens under which rivers flow, to dwell therein, and beautiful mansions in gardens of everlasting bliss. But the greatest bliss is the good pleasure of Allah: that is the supreme felicity. (Surat at-Tawbah: 72)
In this world, believers live "in houses, which Allah has permitted to be raised to honour; for the celebration, in them, of His name." (Surat an-Nur: 36) By Allah's command, these residences are kept clean and especially cared for.
Similar to them are the residences in paradise; they are places where Allah is glorified and His name is constantly remembered.
As well as grand mansions in beautiful spots, believers' residences in the world can be works of ultra-modern design and architecture, built in beautiful cities.
The residences in paradise described in the Qur'an, are usually located in natural beauties:
But it is for those who fear their Lord that lofty mansions, one above another, have been built: beneath them flow rivers (of delight). (Such is) the Promise of Allah. Never does Allah fail in (His) promise. (Surat az-Zumar: 20)
The mansions, mentioned in the verse, below which rivers flow, may have wide windows or halls surrounded with glass walls making it possible to watch this beautiful scene. These are beautifully decorated houses with thrones specially designed for the comfort of the believers. They will rest on these thrones set in lines and enjoy an abundance of luscious fruits and various kinds of drinks. The design and decoration of the mansions are of the best quality of textiles and materials. Comfortable couches lined with silk brocade and thrones are specially emphasised in many verses:
They will be on thrones encrusted with gold and precious stones, reclining on them, facing each other. (Surat al-Waqi'ah: 15-16)
They will recline with ease on thrones of dignity arranged in ranks... (Surat at-Tur: 20)
As the verses also suggest, thrones are the symbols of dignity, splendour and wealth. Allah wants His servants to reside in such glorious places in paradise. In such magnificent surroundings, believers constantly keep remembering Allah and repeat His word:
They will enter Gardens of Eden where they will be adorned with gold bracelets and pearls, and where their clothing will be of silk. They will say, 'Praise be to Allah, Who has removed from us (all) sorrow: for our Lord is indeed Oft-Forgiving, Ready to appreciate (service), Who has, out of His bounty, settled us in a Home that will last: no toil nor sense of weariness shall touch us therein.' (Surat al-Fatir: 33-35)
The basic material of paradise is "works of great delicacy" and "remarkable beauties". These are all the reflections of the ultimate intelligence and art of Allah. For instance, thrones are encrusted with gold and precious stones. The thrones are not ordinary but exalted ones. Clothes are of silk and precious textile. Moreover, the silver and golden jewellery will be complementary to these precious garments. In the Qur'an, Allah gives many details of paradise, yet from those expressions it is clear that every believer will enjoy a Garden designed according to his own imagination. No doubt, Allah will bestow many other astonishing gifts on His beloved servants.
A Garden Beyond Imagination
To them will be passed round, dishes and goblets of gold: there will be there all that the souls could desire, all that their eyes could delight in: and you shall abide therein timelessly, for ever. (Surat az-Zukhruf: 71)
From the descriptions and illustrations existing in the Qur'an, we can get a general understanding of what paradise is like. In the verse "Whenever they shall be given a portion of the fruit thereof, they shall say: 'This is what was given to us before,'" (Surat al-Baqarah: 25) Allah states that the favours in paradise will be fundamentally similar to those in this world. In accordance with the description of the verse "And admit them to the Paradise which He has announced for them," (Surah Muhammad: 6), we can arrive at the conclusion that Allah will let believers reside in a Paradise with which they were familiar before.
Nevertheless, any information that we may gather about paradise in this world must necessarily be inadequate; it can only give some hints with which to paint a general picture. "Here is a parable of the Paradise which the righteous are promised: in it are rivers of water incorruptible; rivers of milk of which the taste never changes; rivers of wine, a joy to those who drink; and rivers of honey pure and clear." (Surah Muhammad: 15). This verse makes it clear that paradise is a place beyond our imagination. In the human soul, this verse evokes the feeling that it is a place of unexpected sights.
On the other hand, Allah describes paradise as "an entertainment" or a "feast":
But as to those who are careful of (their duty to) their Lord, they shall have gardens beneath which rivers flow, abiding in them; an entertainment from their Lord, and that which is with Allah is best for the righteous. (Surat Ali-'Imran: 198)
In this verse, Allah introduces paradise as a place of entertainment and joy. The "end" of this life, the joy of passing the "test" and attaining the best of places to reside for all eternity, are surely causes for believers to rejoice. This celebration will be a splendid one: one that bears no similarity whatsoever to any kind of feast or joy in this world.
In the eternal life, the fact that believers will enjoy various kinds of unceasing entertainment brings to mind another significant characteristic of believers in paradise: never feeling weariness. In the Qur'an, this condition is expressed as follows in words spoken by believers: "...Who has, out of His Bounty, settled us in a Home that will last: neither toil nor sense of weariness shall touch us therein. " (Surat al-Fatir: 35).
No doubt, believers will also not suffer from mental fatigue there. In contrast to paradise where "there no sense of fatigue shall touch them" (Surat al-Hijr 48), man in this world feels fatigue since his body has not been created strong. When one feels tired, it becomes difficult to concentrate and to make sound decisions. Due to weariness, one's perceptions alter. Yet, such a state of mind never exists in paradise. All senses remain keen perceiving the creation of Allah in the best manner. Believers are completely unaware of any feelings of fatigue and, hence, they taste the gifts of Allah without interruption. The pleasure and joy felt are boundless and eternal.
In an environment where fatigue and boredom do not exist, Allah rewards believers by creating "whatever they wish". Indeed, Allah gives the good news that He will create more than believers can imagine or wish: "There will be for them therein all that they wish – and more besides – in Our Presence." (Surah Qaf: 35)
It should be kept in mind that one of the most important favours of paradise is that "Allah will preserve believers from the Penalty of the Blazing Fire" (Surat ad-Dukhan: 56) and "not the slightest sound will they hear of Hell. " (Surat al-Anbiya: 102)
Whenever they wish, on the other hand, believers have the opportunity to see and talk to the people of hell. They feel grateful for this favour also:
Saying: "Surely we feared before on account of our families but Allah has been gracious to us and He has saved us from the punishment of the hot wind. Surely, we called upon Him before. Surely He is the Benign, the Merciful." (Surat at-Tur: 26-28)
Paradise is described in the Qur'an as follows: "And when you look, it is there you will see a Bliss and a Realm Magnificent." (Surat al-Insan: 20) Here, eyes savour and enjoy a different prospect, a different magnificence. Every corner and spot is decorated with precious ornaments. Such magnificence is only for those believers upon whom Allah bestows His mercy and to whom He grants His Garden. And We shall remove from their hearts any lurking sense of injury: (they will be) brothers joyfully facing each other on thrones of dignity. (Surat al-Hijr: 47) Abiding therein; they shall not desire removal from them. (Surat al-Kahf: 108)
The Most Important Favour of Allah: His Good Pleasure
Allah has promised to believers, men and women, gardens under which rivers flow, to dwell therein, and beautiful mansions in gardens of everlasting bliss. But the greatest bliss is the good pleasure of Allah: that is the supreme felicity. (Surat at-Tawbah: 72)
In the preceding pages, we mentioned the glorious favours that Allah bestows upon man in paradise. It is evident that paradise is a place containing all the joys man can experience through his five senses. However, the superior quality of paradise is the good pleasure of Allah. For believers, attaining the good pleasure of Allah becomes a major source of peace and joy in the hereafter. Furthermore, seeing the favours of Allah and being grateful to Allah for His benevolence makes them happy. In the Qur'an, the believers in paradise are described as follows:
...Allah is well pleased with them and they with Allah. That is the great salvation, (the fulfilment of all desires). (Surat al-Ma'idah: 119)
What makes the favours of paradise so precious is the good pleasure of Allah. The same types of favours may also exist in this world, yet if the good pleasure of Allah is not involved, believers do not enjoy these favours. This is a very important issue on which one needs to ponder. What actually makes a favour precious is something beyond the savour and pleasure it gives. What really matters, is the fact that Allah has bestowed that favour.
A believer who has the benefit of such a favour and is grateful to his Creator derives his main pleasure from knowing that it is the benevolence of Allah. The satisfaction can be found only from the fact that Allah protects him, loves him and that his Creator shows His Mercy to him. Therefore, one's heart only takes pleasure from paradise. He is created to be a servant of Allah and therefore he takes only pleasure from His benevolence.
In brief, paradise is a gift of Allah to His true servants and that is why it is important to them.Since "they are (but) slaves raised to honour," (Surat al-Anbiya: 26) they attain eternal happiness and joy. The words of the believers in paradise are "Blessed be the name of your Lord, full of Majesty, Bounty and Honour." (Surat ar-Rahman: 78)
The place, where disbelievers will remain for all eternity is specially created to give pain to the human body and soul. That is solely because the disbelievers are guilty of great wrong.
Being ungrateful and rebellious to the Creator, the One who gives man a soul, is the greatest wrong action that can be committed in the whole universe. Hell is where Allah's justice will be meted out for this wrong. Man is created to be a servant of Allah. If he denies the main purpose of his creation, then he surely receives what he deserves. Allah states the following in one of the verses:
...those who are too arrogant to serve Me will surely find themselves in Hell – in humiliation! (Surat al-Ghafir: 60)
Since the majority of people will be sent to hell at the end and punishment in it is timeless and eternal, then the main aim, the basic goal of humanity should be to avoid hell. The biggest threat to man is hell and nothing can be more important than saving one's soul from it.
Despite this, almost all people on earth live in a state of unconsciousness. They occupy themselves with other troubles in their daily lives. They work for months, years, even decades for insignificant issues, yet never think of the biggest threat, the gravest danger to their eternal existence. Hell is right next to them; yet, they are too blind to see it:
Closer and closer to mankind comes their Reckoning: yet they heed not and they turn away. Never comes (aught) to them of a renewed Message from their Lord, but they listen to it as in jest, their hearts toying as with trifles. (Surat al-Anbiya: 1-3)
Such people engage in vain effort. They spend all their lives chasing after chimerical goals. Most of the time, their goals are being promoted in the company, marrying, having a "happy family life", earning a lot of money or being an advocate of an ideology. These are deeds that one may hope to benefit from both in this world and in the next as long as they are performed for Allah's good pleasure. What is wrong, however, is to take them as one's sole purpose in life. People with this mindset are unaware of the big threat ahead of them.
In fact, hell is more real than this world. The world will cease to exist after some time, but hell will remain for all eternity. Allah, the Creator of the universe and the world and all the delicate balances in nature, has likewise created the hereafter, paradise and hell. A grievous punishment is promised to all disbelievers and hypocrites:
Enough for them is Hell: In it they will burn, and evil is that destination. (Surat al-Mujadilah: 8)
Hell, the worst place that can ever be imagined, is a source of the sheerest torture. This torture and pain is not similar to any kind of pain in this world. It is much more intense than any pain or misery one can ever face in this world. It is surely the work of Allah, the Exalted in Wisdom.
This torture will be timeless and eternal for unbelievers. The majority of people in this ignorant society assume that they will "serve their sentence" in hell for a certain period and that then they will be forgiven. They assume that they can indulge in worldly pleasures as much as possible. According to the same belief, they will attain paradise after receiving punishment in hell for a while. However, Allah informs us in the Qur'an that hell is surely a place of everlasting torment. The following verse makes this fact explicit: "They will dwell therein for ages. " (Surat an-Naba: 23)
Being ungrateful and rebellious to the Creator who "gave hearing and sight and intelligence and affections" (Surat an-Nahl 78) certainly deserves unceasing suffering, except as Allah wills. The excuses one puts forth will not save one from hell. The verdict given for those who display indifference – or worse, animosity – to the religion of his Creator is certain and invariable. In the world, they were arrogant and avoided submitting to Almighty Allah. They were also bitter enemies of true believers. On the day of judgement, they will hear the following:
So enter the gates of Hell, to dwell therein. Thus evil indeed is the abode of the arrogant. (Surat an-Nahl: 29)
The most fearsome characteristic of hell is its eternal nature. Once in hell, there will be no return. The only reality is hell together with many other kinds of torture. Encountering such an eternal torture, a person falls into desperate hopelessness. He has no further expectations. This state is described as follows in the Qur'an:
As to those who are rebellious and wicked, their abode will be the Fire. Every time they wish to get away therefrom, they will be forced thereinto, and it will be said to them: "Taste you the Penalty of the Fire, which you were wont to reject as false." (Surat as-Sajdah: 20)
The Torments of Hell
And (as for) those who disbelieve in Our signs, they are the people of the left hand. On them is fire closed over. (Surat al-Balad: 19-20)
On the day of judgement, there will be billions of people, yet this huge crowd will not give the disbelievers an opportunity to escape from the judgement. After the judgement of the disbelievers takes place in the presence of Allah, they will be labelled "the people of the left hand" . This is the time when they will be sent to hell. From then on, they will bitterly comprehend that hell will be their permanent residence. Those sent to hell come with a witness and a driver:
And the trumpet is blown; that is the day of the threatening. And every soul has come, with it a driver and a witness. Certainly you were heedless of it, but now We have removed from you your veil, so your sight today is sharp. And his companions shall say: "This is what is ready with me." Do cast into Hell every ungrateful, rebellious one, forbidder of good, exceeder of limits, doubter, who sets up another god with Allah, so do cast him into severe chastisement. (Surah Qaf: 20-26)
Disbelievers are driven to this terrible place "in divisions". Yet, on the way to hell, the fear of it is inspired in the hearts of disbelievers. The horrible noise and roar of fire is heard from a distance:
When they are cast therein, they will hear the terrible drawing in of its breath even as it blazes forth almost bursting with fury. (Surat al-Mulk: 7-8)
From the verses, it is obvious that when they are recreated, all disbelievers will understand what will befall them. They remain alone; no friends, relatives, or supporters will be there to help. Disbelievers will not have the strength to be arrogant and they will lose all their self-confidence. They will look with averted eyes. One of the verses describes this moment as follows:
And you will see them brought forward to the (penalty), in a humble frame of mind because of (their) disgrace, (and) looking with a stealthy glance. And the believers will say: "Those are indeed in loss, who have given to perdition their own selves and those belonging to them on the day of judgement. Behold! Truly the wrongdoers are in a lasting penalty!" (Surat ash-Shura: 45)
Hell is created to inflict pain. Despite an abundance of disbelievers, it still asks for more:
One day We will ask Hell, "Are you filled to the full?" It will say, "Are there any more (to come)?" (Surah Qaf: 30)
Allah describes the Hell in the Qur'an as follows:
Soon will I cast him into Saqar! And what will explain to you what Saqar is? Naught does it permit to endure, and naught does it leave alone, darkening and changing the colour of man! (Surat al-Muddaththir: 26-29)
An Endless Life Behind Locked Doors
As soon as disbelievers arrive in hell, the doors are locked behind them. Here, they see the most fearsome sights. They immediately understand that they will be "presented" to hell, the place where they will remain for eternity. The closed doors indicate that there will be no salvation. Allah describes the state of disbelievers as follows:
And (as for) those who disbelieve in Our signs, they are the people of the left hand. On them is fire closed over. (Surat al-Balad: 19-20)
The torment in the Qur'an is described as "a severe punishment" (Surah Ali-'Imran: 176), "a heavy doom" (Surah Ali-'Imran: 4), and "a painful chastisement" (Surah Ali-'Imran: 21). The descriptions of it are inadequate to give a full understanding of the punishment in hell. Being unable to resist even minor burns in the world, man cannot grasp being exposed to fire for all eternity. What is more, the pain that a fire gives in the world is incomparable to the severe torture of hell. No pain can be similar to that of hell:
None punishes as He will punish on that day! None binds as He then will bind. (Surat al-Fajr: 25-26)
There is life in hell. Yet it is a life in which every moment is full of torture and anguish. Every type of physical, mental and psychological torment, various types of torture and disgrace rage in that life. To compare it to any distress in the world is impossible.
People in hell perceive pain through all five senses. Their eyes see disgusting and terrible images; their ears hear frightening screams, roars and cries; their noses fill with terrible and acrid smells; their tongues taste the most unbearable, vile tastes. They feel hell deep in their cells; this is a maddeningly severe pain that is difficult to imagine in this world. Their skin, their internal organs and their whole body are wracked and they writhe in pain.
The people of hell are very resistant to pain and they can never die. Hence, they can never save themselves from torture. In the Qur'an, this pain is described as follows: "What boldness (they show) for hell!" (Surat al-Baqarah: 175) Their skins are mended as they burn; the same torture continues for all eternity; the intensity of torture never decreases. Allah says in the Qur'an: "Burn you therein. The same is it to you whether you bear it with patience, or not." (Surat at-Tur: 16)
No less than physical pain, mental pain is also severe in hell. People in hell regret deeply, fall into hopelessness, feel desperate and spend ages in despair. Every corner, every place in hell is designed to give mental suffering. The suffering is eternal; if it were to end after millions or billions years, even such a long-term possibility could arouse fervent hopes and remain a strong reason for happiness and joy. Yet, the eternity of torture will inspire a kind of hopelessness that cannot be compared to any similar feeling in this world.
According to the description of the Qur'an, hell is a place where extreme pain is experienced: disgusting smells; it is narrow, noisy, smoky and gloomy, injecting feelings of insecurity into human soul; fires burning deep in the heart; nasty food and drink; garments of fire and liquid pitch.
These are the basic characteristics of hell. There is a life going on in this terrible environment, however. The people of hell have sharp senses. They hear, talk and argue, and they try to escape from suffering. They burn in fire, become thirsty and hungry, and feel regret. They are tormented by feelings of guilt. What is more important, they want the pain to be relieved.
The people of hell live a life infinitely lower than the animals in this dirty and disgusting environment. The only nourishment they have is the fruits of the bitter thorn and the tree of zaqqum. Their drink, on the other hand, is blood and pus. Meanwhile, fire engulfs them everywhere. The anguish in hell is depicted as follows:
Those who reject our Signs, We shall soon cast into hell. As often as their skins are roasted through, We shall change them for fresh skins that they may taste the penalty. For Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise. (Surat an-Nisa: 56)
With skin rent, flesh burned, and blood splattering all over, they are chained and whipped. Hands tied to their necks, they are cast into the core of hell. Angels of punishment, in the meantime, place those who are guilty in beds of fire, their covers also of fire. The coffins they are placed in are covered with fire.
Disbelievers constantly scream to be saved from such torments. And they often receive in reply only more humiliation and torture. They are left all alone in their anguish. Those who were known for their arrogance in the world now beg humbly for mercy.
These scenes will all come true. They are real. They are more real than our daily lives.
Those "who among men serve Allah, as it were, on the verge" (Surat al-Hajj: 11); those who say "the Fire shall not touch us but for a few numbered days" (Surah Ali-'Imran: 24); those who make notions such as money, status, and careers the main goals of their lives and accordingly neglect the good pleasure of Allah; those who alter the commands of Allah in accordance with their own wishes and desires; those who interpret the Qur'an according to their own interests; those who go astray from the right path – in brief – all disbelievers and hypocrites will abide in hell, except those whom Allah in His mercy forgives and rescues. This is the conclusive word of Allah and will certainly happen:
If We had so willed, We could certainly have brought every soul its true guidance: but the word from Me will come true, "I will fill Hell with jinn and men all together." (Surat as-Sajdah: 13)
There is another fact about hell; these people are all specially created for hell, as the following verse suggests:
Many are the jinn and men we have made for Hell: They have hearts wherewith they understand not, eyes wherewith they see not, and ears wherewith they hear not. They are like cattle – nay more misguided: for they are heedless (of warning). (Surat al-A'raf: 179)
Despite all the suffering they go through, there will not even be a single soul providing aid to the people of hell. No soul will be able to save them from it. Being abandoned will give them a bitter feeling of loneliness. "Therefore, he has not here today a true friend." (Surat al-Haqqah: 35) Around them, there will be only "the Angels of Punishment" who receive orders from Allah. These are extremely stern, merciless, and terrifying guards, bearing the sole responsibility of inflicting severe torture on the people of hell. The feeling of mercy is completely eradicated from the souls of these angels. Apart from their torments, they also have terrifying appearances, voices and gestures. The purpose of their existence is to take revenge upon those who rebel against Allah, and they exercise their responsibility with due care and attention. It is unlikely that they will provide "preferential treatment" to anybody.
This is, actually the real danger awaiting every soul on earth. Man, being rebellious and ungrateful to his Creator, and therefore committing the greatest wrong action, no doubt deserves such a recompense. Allah, therefore, warns man against it:
O you who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is men and stones, over which are (appointed) angels stern (and) severe, who flinch not (from executing) the commands they receive from Allah, but do (precisely) what they are commanded. (Surat at-Tahrim: 6)
Let him beware! If he desist not, We will drag him by the forelock – a lying, sinful forelock! Then, let him call (for help) to his council (of comrades). We will call on the angels of punishment (to deal with him)! (Surat al-'Alaq: 15-18)
Pleas of Desperation and Hopelessness
The people of hell are in a hopeless state. The torture they undergo is extremely cruel and never-ending. Their only hope is to cry and beg for salvation. They see the People of paradise and beg for water and food. They try to repent and ask forgiveness of Allah. Yet, these are all in vain.
They beg the keepers of hell. They even want them be an intermediate between them and Allah and ask for mercy. Their pain is so unbearable that they want to be saved from it for even a single day:
Those in the Fire will say to the keepers of hell: "Pray to your Lord to lighten us the penalty for a day (at least)!" They will say: "Did there not come to you your messengers with clear signs?" They will say, "Yes". They will reply, "Then pray (as you like)! But the prayer of those without faith is nothing but (futile wandering) in (mazes of) error!" (Surat al-Ghafir: 49-50)
Disbelievers further try to seek forgiveness, but they are strictly turned down:
They will say:"Our Lord! Our misfortune overwhelmed us, and we became a people astray! Our Lord! Bring us out of this: if ever we return (to evil), then shall we be wrongdoers indeed!" He will say: "A part of My slaves there was, who used to pray 'our Lord! We believe; then forgive us, and have mercy upon us: for You are the Best of those who show mercy!' But you treated them with ridicule, so much so that (ridicule of) them made you forget My Message while you were laughing at them! I have rewarded them this Day for their patience and constancy: they are indeed the ones that have achieved bliss." (Surat al-Muminun: 106-111)
This is actually the last address of Allah to the people of hell. (Allah knows best) His words "Be you driven into it (with ignominy)! And speak not to Me!" are conclusive. One would not even like to think about this situation.
While the people of hell burn in it, those who attain "happiness and salvation", in other words the believers, remain in paradise enjoying the benefit of endless favours. The suffering of the people of hell becomes more intense when they see and observe the life of believers in paradise. Indeed, while being subject to unbearable torture, they can "watch" the magnificent favours of paradise.
Believers, of whom disbelievers made fun in the world, now lead a full and happy life, living in glorious locations, magnificent houses with beautiful women, and tasting delicious food and drinks. The sight of the believers in peace and abundance further reinforces the humiliation of being in hell. These scenes add more pain and suffering to their grief.
The regret becomes deeper and deeper. Not having followed the commands of Allah in the world makes them feel profound remorse. They turn to the believers in paradise and try to speak to them. They beg for help and sympathy from them. Yet, these are vain efforts. The people of paradise also see them. Their glorious appearance and life make them feel more grateful to Allah. The exchange between the peoples of hell and paradise is as follows:
(They will be) in gardens (of Delight): they will question each other, and (ask) of the wrongdoers: "What led you into Hell Fire?"They will say: "We were not of those who prayed; Nor were we of those who fed the indigent; But we used to talk vanities with vain talkers; And we used to deny the day of judgement, until there came to us (the Hour) that is certain."Then will no intercession of (any) intercessors profit them. (Surat al-Muddaththir: 40-48)
An Important Reminder to Avoid Torment
In this chapter, we talked about two groups of people; those who have faith in Allah and those who reject His existence. We have also provided a general picture of hell, and one of paradise, based entirely on Qur'anic descriptions. Our purpose here is to remind and warn disbelievers that the Hereafter will be a horrible place for them and theirs will be an awful doom.
After all that has been said, it is necessary to emphasise that man is, no doubt, free to make his choice. He can lead his life as he desires. No man has the right to force others to believe. However, as people who have faith in the existence of Allah and in His ultimate justice, we bear the responsibility of warning people against such a fearsome day. These people are surely unaware of the situation they are in and the kind of end awaiting them. Therefore, we feel a responsibility to warn them. Allah informs us about the state of these people:
Which then is best? He that laid his foundation on fear of Allah and His good pleasure? Or he that laid his foundation on an undermined sand-cliff ready to crumble to pieces? And it crumbles to pieces with him, into the fire of Hell. And Allah guides not people that do wrong. (Surat at-Tawbah: 109)
Those who reject the commands of Allah in this world and, consciously or unconsciously, deny the existence of their Creator will have no salvation in the hereafter. Therefore, before losing any time, each one has to realise his situation in the presence of Allah and surrender to Him. Otherwise, he will regret it and face a fearsome end:
Again and again will those who disbelieve wish that they had bowed (to Allah's will) in Islam. Leave them alone to enjoy (the good things of this life) and to please themselves: let (false) hope amuse them: soon will knowledge (undeceive them). (Surat al-Hijr: 2-3)
The way to avoid eternal punishment, win eternal bliss and attain the good pleasure of Allah is apparent:
Before it is too late, have true faith in Allah,
Spend your life doing good deeds to attain His good pleasure…
(They will be) in gardens (of Delight): they will question each other, and (ask) of the wrongdoers: "What led you into Hell Fire?"They will say: "We were not of those who prayed; Nor were we of those who fed the indigent; But we used to talk vanities with vain talkers; And we used to deny the Day of Judgement, until there came to us (the Hour) that is certain."Then will no intercession of (any) intercessors profit them. (Surat al-Muddaththir: 40-48)