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17. Understanding Islam

3.5. AXIOM 5: Belief in the Day of Judgement

The fifth axiom of belief is belief in a judgement day. On that day, humanity will be divided into three groups: one will go to paradise, another to hell, and the third to a place in-between called al-’A‘rāf (elevations – a concept similar to purgatory in Catholicism). There is going to be a partition (barrier) between paradise and hell and the place in between it comes in a lengthy description of paradise and hell in the Qur’an. This is what the Qur’an says:

“[Allah] will say, ‘Enter among nations which had passed on before you of jinn and mankind into the Fire.’ Every time a nation enters, it will curse its sister until, when they have all overtaken one another therein, the last of them will say about the first of them ‘Our Lord, these had misled us, so give them a double punishment of the Fire'. He will say, ‘For each is double, but you do not know'. And the first of them will say to the last of them, ‘Then you had not any favour over us, so taste the punishment for what you used to earn.’ Indeed, those who deny Our verses and are arrogant toward them ‒ the gates of Heaven will not be opened for them, nor will they enter Paradise until a camel enters into the eye of a needle. And thus do We recompense the criminals. They will have from Hell a bed and over them coverings [of fire]. And thus do We recompense the wrongdoers. But those who believed and did righteous deeds ‒ We charge no soul except [within] its capacity. Those are the companions of Paradise; they will abide therein eternally. And We will have removed whatever is within their breasts of resentment, [while] flowing beneath them are rivers. And they will say, ‘Praise to Allah, who has guided us to this; and we would never have been guided if Allah had not guided us. Certainly the messengers of our Lord had come with the truth.’ And they will be called, ‘This is Paradise, which you have been made to inherit for what you used to do.’ And the companions of Paradise will call out to the companions of the Fire, ‘We have already found what our Lord promised us to be true. Have you found what your Lord promised to be true?’ They will say, ‘Yes.’ Then an announcer will announce among them, ‘The curse of Allah shall be upon the wrongdoers. Who averted [people] from the way of Allah and sought to make it [seem] deviant while they were, concerning the Hereafter, disbelievers'. And between them will be a partition, and on [its] elevations are men who recognize all by their mark. And they call out to the companions of Paradise, ‘Peace be upon you.’ They have not [yet] entered it, but they long intensely. And when their eyes are turned toward the companions of the Fire, they say, ‘Our Lord, do not place us with the wrongdoing people'. And the companions of the Elevations will call to men [within Hell] whom they recognise by their mark, saying, ‘Of no avail to you was your gathering and [the fact] that you were arrogant'. [Allah will say], ‘Are these the ones whom you [inhabitants of Hell] swore that Allah would never offer them mercy? Enter Paradise, [O People of the Elevations]. No fear will there be concerning you, nor will you grieve'. And the companions of the Fire will call to the companions of Paradise, ‘Pour upon us some water or from whatever Allah has provided you.’ They will say, ‘Indeed, Allah has forbidden them both to the disbelievers.’ ”(Qur'an 7:36-50)

To explain this cryptic picture, Muslims have hundreds of stories attributed to Mohammed about every detail of paradise, hell, and the in-between. Mohammed said:

“Allah, Glorified and Exalted is He, said: ‘I have prepared for My righteous slaves that which no eye has seen, no ear has heard, nor has it ever crossed the mind of man,’ apart from that of which Allah has informed you.” (Sahih Muslim) – and yes that is taken from 1 Corinthians 2:9 and Isaiah 64:4 – and Mohammed gave many details about how the last day will start. People “… will meet Allah (while you will be) barefooted, naked, walking on feet, and uncircumcised.” (Sahih Bukhari).

So after the blowing of the horn, a scale will be set up according to the Qur'an:

“So when the Horn is blown, no relationship will there be among them that Day, nor will they ask about one another. And those whose scales are heavy [with good deeds] ‒ it is they who are the successful. But those whose scales are light ‒ those are the ones who have lost their souls, [being] in Hell, abiding eternally.” (Qur’an 23:101-103)

Muslims don’t agree if the scales are actual scales or metaphorical.

After that, there will appear a bridge between paradise and hell. Mohammed describes the building of the bridge like this:

“Then the All-Mighty will come to them in a shape other than the one which they saw the first time, and He will say, ‘I am your Lord,’ and they will say, ‘You are our Lord.’ And none will speak to Him then but the Prophets, and then it will be said to them, ‘Do you know any sign by which you can recognise Him?’ They will say, ‘The Shin,’ and so Allah will then uncover His Shin, whereupon, every believer will prostrate before Him and there will remain those who used to prostrate before Him just for showing off and for gaining good reputation. One of such will try to prostrate but his back (bones) will become a single (vertebra) bone (like one piece of a wood and they will not be able to prostrate). Then the bridge will be brought and laid across Hell.”

When asked to elaborate on what the bridge was, Mohammed said:

“It is a slippery (bridge) on which there are clamps and (hooks like) a thorny seed that is wide at one side and narrow at the other and has thorns with bent ends. Such a thorny seed is found in Najd and is called as-Sa‘dan. Some of the believers will cross the bridge as quickly as the wink of an eye, some others as quick as lightning, or a strong wind, or fast horses or she-camels. So, some will be safe without any harm; some will be safe after receiving some scratches, and some will fall down into Hell (Fire). The last person will cross as if being dragged (over the bridge).” (Sahih Bukhari)

The next event is:

“When the people of Paradise go to Paradise, and the people of the Fire go to the Fire, death will be brought and placed between Paradise and the Fire. Then it will be slaughtered, and a caller will call out: ‘O people of Paradise, there is no death; O people of the Fire, there is no death.’ Then the joy of the people of Paradise will increase, and the sorrow of the people of the Fire will increase.” (Sahih Muslim).

It is nearly impossible to establish a chronological coherent order to the last day in Islam, as the “authentic” collections of Hadith (i.e. those considered reliable by the majority of Sunni Muslims) don’t agree, and nor do Muslim scholars.

There are also many things Muslims believe must happen before the last day. Some Muslims say there are ten things, as according to one Hadith Mohammed said: “It will never come until you see ten signs.” (Sahih Muslim). He went on to mention the signs:

  1. smoke,
  2. al-Dajjâl (the anti-Christ),
  3. a talking beast,
  4. the rising of the sun from its place of setting,
  5. the descent of 'Isa bin Maryam (i.e. the return of Jesus, who will get married before dying),
  6. Ya’juj and Ma’juj (Gog and Magog),
  7. three landslides: one in the east, one in the west and one in the Arabian Peninsula, and
  8. a fire which will emerge from Yemen and drive the people to their place of gathering (Sahih Muslim).

More details about each one of these ten things are given in the various Hadith collections and in Qur’an commentaries, but it makes for confusing reading. A lot of it has to do with the second coming of Christ which must happen before the day of judgement; according to Islam he will come to break the cross, kill the pig, marry and die, and he will be buried next to Mohammed.

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