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Religion Library: Sunni Islam

Afterlife and Salvation

Written by: Nancy Khalek

Like Judaism, but unlike Christianity, Islamic belief does not include a concept of original sin. According to the Quranic version of the story of Adam and Eve and their fall from the garden, both disobeyed God at the behest of Iblis, an evil jinn who convinced them to disobey God. Subsequently, according to the text, Adam repented and was forgiven, but he and Eve were nevertheless cast out of Eden. The idea of Eve's sin remaining an essential aspect of human character, awaiting a redemptive savior, does not exist in Islam. According to Muslim belief, each individual person who is mentally sound and has reached the age of maturity will ultimately be held accountable for his or her own behavior.

Six core beliefs of Islam
  1. Reality of one God
  2. Existence of angels of God
  3. Authority of the books of God
  4. Following the prophets of God
  5. Preparation for the Day of Judgment
  6. Supremacy of God’s will

Accountability, reward, and judgment are essential elements of Sunni belief. One of the six articles of faith that characterize the Sunni creed is a belief in the Day of Judgment (yawm al-qiyama). The afterlife and the Day of Judgment (which affects all people) are both central tenets of the faith. As such, Sunni eschatology has both an individual and a collective component.

With the exception of martyrs, each individual is subjected to a period of reckoning after death. The time between an individual's death and the Day of Judgment that occurs at the end of time is called the barsakh, or interval. There is no clear or exact order of events, but in general, it begins with angels questioning a soul about its belief and faith.  There are also scriptural allusions to a bodily resurrection, but again, there is no single interpretation of these verses. In general, Sunni belief countenances the notion of a new reality during and after the Day of Judgment, when the world as it is currently known will end and individuals will be sent to Heaven or Hell, each of which is eternal.

Heaven is envisioned as a paradise, whereas hell is full or torment and suffering. The Quran emphasizes God's clemency and acceptance of repentance, and scripture tends to balance out images of heaven and hell, often having one set of verses immediately follow the other to contrast the reward and punishment meted out by God at the end of time.  For example, Sura 88 gives elaborate descriptions of those in hell, who have no relief from unrelenting suffering, and it is immediately followed by a description of people in heaven who are in luxurious surroundings.


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