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What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam What is This? A guide to a wide variety of general questions asked by those looking to learn more about Muslim culture and the Islamic world.

Faith >
Do Muslims believe in heaven and hell?

Muslims believe that heaven or hell, eternal reward or punishment, depends on whether human beings follow the will of God and act with justice and mercy toward others during their lifetime. The Quran frequently emphasizes the ultimate moral responsibility and accountability of each believer.

God will judge each person by the standards brought by the person's community's prophets and scripture, using the record of each person's actions throughout his or her life that are recorded in the Book of Deeds: “Then those whose balance of good deeds is heavy will attain salvation, but those whose balance is light will have lost their souls and abide in Hell forever” (Quran 23:102–3).

The Quran's vision of the afterlife is both spiritual and physical. Bodies and souls will be joined, and the pleasures of heavenly gardens of bliss and the pain of hellfire will be experienced fully. The Garden of Paradise is a heavenly mansion of peace and bliss with flowing rivers, beautiful gardens, and cool drink from a shining stream. Quranic descriptions of heavenly bliss are life-affirming, emphasizing the beauty of creation and enjoyment of its pleasures within the limits set by God:

Those who believe and do righteous deeds, they are the best of creatures. Their reward is with their Lord: Gardens of Paradise beneath which rivers flow. They will dwell therein forever, God well-pleased with them and they with Him. This is for those who hold their Lord in awe. (98:7–8)

Later traditions elaborated on the joys of paradise and the role of houris, or beautiful companions. The Quran makes no reference to a sexual role for the houris, a word sometimes translated as “virgins.” Many Quranic commentators and most Muslims understand houris as virgins but only in the sense of pure or purified souls.

Hell is a place of endless pain, suffering, torment, and despair, with roaring flames, fierce boiling waters, and scorching wind. The destiny of the damned, their punishment, is a just punishment, the result of human choice:

Verily, the sinners will be in the punishment of Hell, to remain therein. It will not be lightened for them and they will be overwhelmed in despair. And we shall not be unjust to them, but it is they who have been unjust to themselves. (43:74–76)

The Quran's comprehensive and integrated view of life contrasts with Christianity's tendency to compartmentalize life into the sacred and profane, body and soul, sensual and spiritual. In contrast to the “spiritual” images of a more sedate, celibate, and blissful paradise that predominate in Christian visions of heaven, the Quran does not draw a distinction between enjoying the joys of beatific vision and those of the fruits of creation.

In modern times, conservative and fundamentalist writers and religious leaders continue to appeal to literalist interpretations of the afterlife. But most contemporary Muslim commentary emphasizes the importance of moral responsibility and accountability in this life and its direct connection to divine justice with eternal reward and punishment without getting into explicit, concrete descriptions of the afterlife.

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