Islamic Concepts of Heaven and Hell

Muhammad Iqbal

Heaven and Hell are states, not localities. Their descriptions in the Quran are visual representations of an inner fact, i.e. character.

Hell, in the words of the Quran, is ‘God’s kindled fire which mounts above the hearts’ (104:6-7)—the painful realization of one’s failure as a human being. Heaven is the joy of triumph over the forces of disintegration.

There is no such thing as eternal damnation in Islam. The word ‘eternity’ used in certain verses, relating to Hell, are explained by the Quran itself to mean only a period of time (78:23). Time cannot be wholly irrelevant to the development of personality. Character tends to become permanent; its reshaping must require time. Hell, therefore, as conceived by the Quran, is not a pit of everlasting torture inflicted by a revengeful God; it is a corrective experience which may make a hardened ego once more sensitive to the living breeze of Divine Grace.

Nor is Heaven a holiday. Life is one and continuous. Man marches always onward to receive ever fresh illuminations from an Infinite Reality which ‘every moment appears in a new glory’ (55:29). And the recipient of Divine illumination is not merely a passive recipient. Every act of a free self creates a new situation, and thus offers further opportunities of creative unfolding.

The above is from Chapter 4 of “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam” published in 1930 by Muhammad Iqbal, the well known philosopher, poet and reformer. To be consistent with modern usage we have replaced the word ‘man’ by ‘human being’ at one place and ‘ego’ by ‘self ’at another place in the text.

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