Afterlife and Salvation
Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka
Muslims believe in the Day of Judgment and heaven and hell. A person's ultimate destiny, whether it is heaven or hell, depends on the degree to which that person intended and acted as God desires, with justice and mercy toward others. While it is impossible to know with certainty who will go to heaven and hell, believers, who had faith in the revelations that God sent through his prophets and lived according to those revelations, may hope for heaven. There is some evidence that nonbelievers can attain paradise, and even those who do evil but who are met at the end with God's grace and mercy may attain paradise.
All of creation is journeying toward God, and the world will end on some unknown day. The Last Day has many names in the Quran, including the Day of Reckoning, the Day of Distress, the Day of the Gathering, the Great Announcement, and quite simply, The Hour. At the end of time, all people will be rewarded or punished according to how well they followed the instructions contained in God's revelations to his prophets. God will resurrect the dead, and each person will be judged directly by Allah according to his or her intentions and deeds. Islam teaches that God is more merciful than he is wrathful. Each person's deeds will be weighed in a balance, and if the evil deeds outweigh the good deeds, the person will be condemned to the eternal flame. If the good deeds outweigh the evil deeds, then the person will be rewarded with paradise. The Quran says that each person receives a book that contains an account of all of his or her deeds. If the book is placed in the right hand, the person is destined for eternal bliss. If the book is placed in the left hand, that person is destined for eternal flame.
Islam does not teach that humans need intercession, although some traditions have allowed that Muhammad might intercede with God on humanity's behalf. No one can know God, but at the same time, no one stands between the individual Muslim and God. If individuals find that they have sinned, they may sincerely apologize, and through remorse, receive forgiveness. The slate is clean, and they may begin again. This will likely happen many times in a life, because humans are not perfect. But on the Last Day, there are no excuses. God has sent many prophets to remind humans of their duty and to wake them up when they forget their dependence on God. As a result, the punishment on the Last Day is just.
The Quran says that terrible events will proclaim that the end is near. The people will gather at the bridge called Sirat. Sirat spans the fires of hell. Those bound for paradise will find the crossing easy. But for those bound for hell, the bridge will be as thin as a razor, and the condemned will fall into the flames. Hell, called Jahannam, is a horrifying inferno. The flames roar, scorching hot winds blow, and black smoke chokes the air. The skin of the suffering sinners is continually refreshed so that they will feel the pain of burning, with no relief. Their thirst is unquenchable, and yet they drink disgusting fluids in an effort to alleviate their suffering. Boiling water is poured over their heads. If they try to flee, iron hooks drag them back.