in category Day of Judgement

Is the punishment of hellfire eternal?

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The majority of Muslim scholars argued Paradise and Hell will be eternal and disbelievers will be eternally in hell. A minority believed Hell would be emptied of its inhabitants at some point despite remaining eternally.    Both of these views are evidenced by Islamic texts, the Prophet's companions and early generations of Muslims.      A number of verses state the inhabitants of Hellfire would be "remaining therein" as "forever" (abada). These verses seem to describe an eternal punishment. Allah said:      وَمَن يَعْصِ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ فَإِنَّ لَهُ نَارَ جَهَنَّمَ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا أَبَدًا      Whoever disobeys Allah and his messenger, then for him is the fire of Hell. They will abide therein forever. al-Jinn 72:23      إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَعَنَ الْكَافِرِينَ وَأَعَدَّ لَهُمْ سَعِيرًا خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا أَبَدًا      Verily, Allah has cursed the unbelievers and prepared for them a blaze, abiding therein forever. al-Ahzab 33:64-65      The Prophet (saw) said there will be no death in the Hereafter. The existence of death, coming in symbolic form of ram, will be slaughtered on the Day of Resurrection so that everyone will know that the Hereafter will never end.      Death will be brought on the Day of Resurrection in the form of a white ram and it will be made to stand between Paradise and Hellfire. It will be said to the people of Paradise: Do you recognize this? They will raise their heads looking towards it and they will say: Yes, it is death. Then it will be said to the people of Hellfire: Do you recognize this? They will raise their heads looking towards it and they will say: Yes, it is death. Then the command will be given to slaughter the ram and it will be said: O people of Paradise, there is everlasting life for you and no death! And it will be said: O people of Hellfire, there is everlasting life for you and no death! (Bukhari 4453)      Even so, the absence of death does not necessarily mean that people will remain in Hellfire forever. Even the scholars who believe in the eternity of hellfire punishment acknowledge the evidence for Muslims and monotheists with major sins will be punished for a long time for atonement eventually leaving Hell for Paradise.      Gabriel, upon him be peace, came to me to give the good news that anyone from my nation who dies without associating partners with Allah will enter Paradise. I said, "Even if he commits adultery and theft?" The Prophet said: Even if he commits adultery and theft. (Bukhari 1180)      Jabir reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:      People among those who worshiped Allah alone (ahl al-tawḥīd) will be punished in the Hellfire until they are coals. Then the mercy of Allah will reach them and they will be taken out and presented at the gates of Paradise. The people of Paradise will pour water over them and they will grow just as the stubble carried by the stream grows, then they will enter Paradise. (Tirmidhī 2597)      Nawawi commented on these traditions, saying:      فَهُوَ حُجَّةٌ لِمَذْهَبِ أَهْلِ السَّنَةِ أَنَّ أَصْحَابَ الْكَبَائِرِ لَا يُقْطَعُ لَهُمْ بِالنَّارِ وَأَنَّهُمْ إِنْ دَخَلُوهَا أُخْرِجُوا مِنْهَا وَخُتِمَ لَهُمْ بِالْخُلُودِ فِي الْجَنَّةِ      It is a proof for the people of the prophetic tradition (sunnah), that those who commit major sins will not remain in the Hellfire forever. If they enter it, they will be taken out and eventually admitted into Paradise. (Sharh Ṣahīh Muslim 94)      Anas ibn Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:      يُؤْتَى بِأَنْعَمِ أَهْلِ الدُّنْيَا مِنْ أَهْلِ النَّارِ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ فَيُصْبَغُ فِي النَّارِ صَبْغَةً ثُمَّ يُقَالُ يَا ابْنَ آدَمَ هَلْ رَأَيْتَ خَيْرًا قَطُّ هَلْ مَرَّ بِكَ نَعِيمٌ قَطُّ فَيَقُولُ لَا وَاللَّهِ يَا رَبِّ      The most privileged people in the world among the people of the Hellfire will come on the Day of Resurrection to be dipped in the Hellfire, then it will be said: O son of Adam, did you see any good? Did you get any blessing? He will say: No, by Allah, my Lord! (Muslim 2807)      If someone cannot stand even a single moment in Hellfire, then what would it be worth to stay there for one year? Or a hundred years? Or a thousand years? How can a thousand years in Hellfire be described as anything other than an eternity, even if it eventually comes to an end?      Scholars who believe in the eternity of punishment in Hellfire are understandably cautious about overemphasizing the mercy of Allah, since some people will abuse this mercy to commit evil.      However, other scholars cite evidence that everyone will eventually leave Hell basing this on a number of verses that seem to limit the duration in Hell according to Allah's discretion:      قَالَ النَّارُ مَثْوَاكُمْ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا إِلَّا مَا شَاءَ اللَّهُ ۗ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ حَكِيمٌ عَلِيمٌ      The Hellfire is your residence, wherein you will remain except as Allah wills. Verily, your Lord is wise and knowing. al-An'am 6:128      فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ شَقُوا فَفِي النَّارِ لَهُمْ فِيهَا زَفِيرٌ وَشَهِيقٌ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا مَا دَامَتِ السَّمَاوَاتُ وَالْأَرْضُ إِلَّا مَا شَاءَ رَبُّكَ ۚ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ فَعَّالٌ لِّمَا يُرِيدُ      As for those who were wretched, they will be in the Hellfire. For them therein is violent exhaling and inhaling, abiding therein as long as the heavens and the earth endure, except as your Lord wills. Hud 11:106-107      إِنَّ جَهَنَّمَ كَانَتْ مِرْصَادًا لِّلطَّاغِينَ مَآبًا لَّابِثِينَ فِيهَا أَحْقَابًا      Verily, Hell has been lying in wait for the transgressors, a place of return, in which they will remain for ages. al-Naba 78:21-23      Tabari argues these verses were interpreted by some of the early Muslims to include everyone in Hell, not only Muslims or monotheists.      Abdullah ibn Mas'ud, may Allah be pleased with him, said:      لَيَأْتِيَنَّ عَلَى جَهَنَّمَ زَمَانٌ تُخْفِقُ أَبْوَابُهَا لَيْسَ فِيهَا أَحَدٌ وَذَلِكَ بَعْدَ مَا يَلْبَثُونَ فِيهَا أَحْقَابًا      There will come a time when the doors of Hell are blown open and there will be no one left in it. That is after they remain therein for ages. (Tafsir al-Ṭabari 11:107)      Those who agreed with this opinion noted Allah frequently mentions the uninterrupted reward of those of Paradise, but not that in Hell confirming Paradise is eternal whilst but not Hell. Ibn Zaid, may Allah be pleased with him, said:      Allah informed us of what he wills for the people of Paradise, so he said: A gift without end. (11:108) And he did not tell us of what he wills for the people of Hellfire. (Tafsir al-Ṭabari 11:107)      Hence, whenever the Qur'an says "they will abide therein" (khalideen fiha), it is implicitly limited to however long Allah wills it to be. Their remaining in Hellfire "forever" is a rhetorical device, meaning they will be in it for ages and ages and it does not literally mean for all of eternity. Tabari records that some companions of the Prophet said:      In his saying: Except as your Lord wills (11:107), this verse covers the entire Qur'an. Wherever it says in the Qur'an that they will abide therein, it has this meaning. (Tafsir al-Ṭabari 11:107)      Ibn Al-Qayyim writes, "Rather, the mention of eternity (al-khulūd) and forever (al-ta'bid) by itself does not necessitate that it is without end, as eternity can mean to remain for a long time. (Shifa al-Alil 1/257)"      The Prophet also informed us that there will be some people for whom Allah himself will intercede and take them out of the Hellfire. They will eventually be admitted into Paradise for eternity even though they did no good deeds.      فَيَقُولُ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ شَفَعَتْ الْمَلَائِكَةُ وَشَفَعَ النَّبِيُّونَ وَشَفَعَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَلَمْ يَبْقَ إِلَّا أَرْحَمُ الرَّاحِمِينَ فَيَقْبِضُ قَبْضَةً مِنْ النَّارِ فَيُخْرِجُ مِنْهَا قَوْمًا لَمْ يَعْمَلُوا خَيْرًا قَطُّ قَدْ عَادُوا حُمَمًا فَيُلْقِيهِمْ فِي نَهَرٍ فِي أَفْوَاهِ الْجَنَّةِ يُقَالُ لَهُ نَهَرُ الْحَيَاةِ فَيَخْرُجُونَ كَمَا تَخْرُجُ الْحِبَّةُ فِي حَمِيلِ السَّيْلِ أَلَا تَرَوْنَهَا تَكُونُ إِلَى الْحَجَرِ أَوْ إِلَى الشَّجَرِ مَا يَكُونُ إِلَى الشَّمْسِ أُصَيْفِرُ وَأُخَيْضِرُ وَمَا يَكُونُ مِنْهَا إِلَى الظِّلِّ يَكُونُ أَبْيَضَ      Allah the Exalted will say: The angels have interceded, the prophets have interceded, the believers have interceded and none remains to intercede but the Most Merciful of the merciful. He will take a handful from the Hellfire and bring people out of it who never did any good and who had been turned into charcoal. He will cast them into a river named the River of Life on the outskirts of Paradise. They will come out as a seed comes cut from the silt carried by the flood. You see it near a stone or tree. Whatever is exposed to the sun is yellow or green and whatever is under the shade is white.      They said, "O Messenger of Allah, it seems as if you have been tending a flock in the jungle." The Prophet continued:      فَيَخْرُجُونَ كَاللُّؤْلُؤِ فِي رِقَابِهِمْ الْخَوَاتِمُ يَعْرِفُهُمْ أَهْلُ الْجَنَّةِ هَؤُلَاءِ عُتَقَاءُ اللَّهِ الَّذِينَ أَدْخَلَهُمْ اللَّهُ الْجَنَّةَ بِغَيْرِ عَمَلٍ عَمِلُوهُ وَلَا خَيْرٍ قَدَّمُوهُ ثُمَّ يَقُولُ ادْخُلُوا الْجَنَّةَ فَمَا رَأَيْتُمُوهُ فَهُوَ لَكُمْ فَيَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَا أَعْطَيْتَنَا مَا لَمْ تُعْطِ أَحَدًا مِنْ الْعَالَمِينَ فَيَقُولُ لَكُمْ عِنْدِي أَفْضَلُ مِنْ هَذَا فَيَقُولُونَ يَا رَبَّنَا أَيُّ شَيْءٍ أَفْضَلُ مِنْ هَذَا فَيَقُولُ رِضَايَ فَلَا أَسْخَطُ عَلَيْكُمْ بَعْدَهُ أَبَدًا      They will come out like pearls with seals on their necks. The people of Paradise will recognize them and say: They are those who have been freed by Allah, whom Allah has admitted into Paradise without any good deeds they have done nor any good they put forward. Then Allah will say: Enter Paradise and whatever you see therein is yours. They will say: O Lord, you have given us favors that you have not given anyone else among the worlds. Allah will say: I have a favor better than this. They will say: O Lord, what thing could be better than this? Allah will say: It is my satisfaction, for I will never be angry with you after this. (Muslim 183)      We can understand from this tradition that the purpose of Hellfire is to cleanse people of their sins and prepare them for a life of purity in Paradise. It is not simply punishment for the sake of punishment. If there is such hope that even the worst of the worst will eventually enter Paradise, then how about those who have done at least some good deeds in their lives?      Ibn Al-Qayyim mentions the arguments of scholars who believe the punishment of Hellfire will come to an end. In a long chapter, he details twenty-five points and pieces of evidence they used to support this interpretation, among them an emphasis on the mercy of Allah and his wisdom:    النَّارُ خُلِقَتْ تَخْوِيفًا لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَتَطْهِيرًا لِلْخَاطِئِينَ وَالْمُجْرِمِينَ فَهِيَ طُهْرَةٌ مِنَ الْخُبْثِ الَّذِي اُِكْتَسَبَتْهُ النَّفْسُ فِي هَذَا الْعَالَمِ فَاِنْ تَطَهَّرَتْ هَاهُنَا بِالتَّوْبَةِ النَّصُوحِ وَالْحَسَنَاتِ الْماحِيَّةِ وَالْمَصَائِبِ الْمُكَفِّرَةِ    The Hellfire was created to intimidate the believers and to purify the sinners and criminals. It is a means of purity from filth earned by souls in this world. It is purified in this world by means of repentance, sincerity, good deeds, atonement, calamities and expiations. (Hadi al-Arwah 1/367)      أَنَّه لَيْسَ فِي حِكْمَةِ اَُحْكَمِ الْحَاكِمِينَ إَنْ يَخْلُقَ خَلْقًا يُعَذِّبُهُمْ اُبَدَ الْآبَادِ عَذَابًا سَرْمَدًا لَا نِهَايَةَ لَهُ وَلَا اِنْقِطاعَ أَبَدًا      It is not befitting the wisdom of the Most Wise of judges he would create someone to punish forever and ever in eternal punishment without any end or disruption. (Hadi al-Arwah 1/378)      Ibn Al-Qayyim seemed to be sympathetic to this view, although he never fully endorses it. This view has always been a minority position in Islamic theology although, as he has definitively shown, it is not without a valid basis.      In the end, only Allah knows what will really happen on the Day of Resurrection and how he will deal with the sinners among his creation.  

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