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Is heaven and hell real or a state of mind?

Is heaven and hell real or a state of mind?


Salam, do you think Hell and Heaven is a state of mind rather than a place? I’m just so confused in the sense that if Allah is the Most Merciful, how could He place someone in Hell? But then again, there are those who do horrendous actions (ex: genocide) and in order to give the innocent justice, they go to Hell? I’m sorry, I’m just really bewildered a bit.

Wa alykum as-salaam,

I try to keep myself from speculating as to what heaven and hell will be like. I think about it sometimes, but there is an ayah from The Qur’an that always sticks out to me:

“(60) We have [indeed] decreed that death shall be [ever-present] among you: but there is nothing  to prevent Us (61) from changing the nature of your existence and bringing you into being [anew] in a manner [as yet] unknown to you.” [56:60-61] Muhammad Asad

So what heaven and hell will look like, to me, is beyond my understanding and perception, and while I believe that there is a place of reward and one of punishment, how those exactly work, logistically, I try not to speculate, because God underlines in The Qur’an the limitlessness of what is beyond our simple perceptions.

As far as how could God place someone in hell, I have always found it curious that people limit sins to the blatantly horrendous. especially on this website.

Someone has to commit genocide or rape in order to be sent to hell is a rather curious bar, and I say this not to denigrate you, but to observe the “bar” that is set by many people who ask me this question. Do we not see how damaging our words can be? How horrible the disregard for a people’s oppression can have on entire populations? Even more, what about the impact of apathy on our society?

The reality is that Almighty God doesn’t start every Surah (except the 9th) underlining His Mercy and His Grace for fun. God is indeed Merciful and Gracious, and we are constantly given opportunities to rectify our mistakes, it is up to us to take them or not.

Yet, the more I look at my actions, the more I learn about human interactions, the more you can see where you can improve. We live in a society that destroys our self-esteem in order to plunge ourselves into destructive behavior, and as we identify our worth with these behaviors and associated material items, and it is only once we accept these terms, that we then create this swirling world of dichotomies, where we talk about how we are a “good person” but exclude the possibility of those we disagree with from being better than ourselves, thus allowing us to rationalize us removing them from factoring them into our minds. We whip ourselves into this frenzy in which our only actions that matter are our apparent and public acts, and the only groups who deserve proper actions are those who fall into our “acceptable group,” and we fail to realize that we must incline ourselves towards proper actions to all, even those who we disagree with vehemently, because it is the only way that progress can be achieved.

The point is, when our ideas and perceptions of things impact others negatively, we have sinned. The moment I allow someone’s politics to determine whether I help them at work to the best of my abilities, or because someone looks different than I do and so I don’t hold the door as I’m walking out, or if I allow someone’s religious perceptions to give me the rationale to mistreat them, I have sinned.

I’m not talking about something as blatant as cursing someone out, even though it seems we have made that acceptable, but that we say “we follow The Qur’an and the example of The Prophet,” and yet we continue to try to justify and rationalize our mistreatment of others, which to me, makes absolutely no sense.

I am tired of this, and most importantly, I need to stop doing this myself, but we need to reflect upon things beyond Ibadah. We have allowed our Ibadah to circumvent our actions, and that people ask “Is X,Y,Z haram?” but they don’t ask “how do I apply Islam to myself and to others?”

We are a Muslim Ummah which sees no flexibility in our worship to God, but we are very good at finding exceptions for our conduct towards others, and this breaks my heart.

A Hadith in particular has moved me more than any other, it is found in Bukhari and is narrated by Osama ibn Zaid:

“God’s Apostle sent us towards Al-Huruqa, and in the morning we attacked them and defeated them. I and an Ansari man followed a man from among them and when we took him over, he said, ‘La ilaha illal-Lah.’

On hearing that, the Ansari man stopped, but I killed him by stabbing him with my spear.

When we returned, The Prophet came to know about that and he said, ‘O Osama! Did you kill him after he had said “La ilaha ilal-Lah?”’

I said, ‘But he said so only to save himself.’

The Prophet kept on repeating that so often that I wished I had not embraced Islam before that day.“

Look at that. This is wartime. This is people fighting for their survival, and in the middle of battle, we do not stop being Muslim. How dare we make the mistake of thinking there is ever an instance where we stop upholding Islamic values.

That we restrict what would warrant condemnation to the extreme is the problem, not because I want to foster this sense that people making mistakes sends them to hell, but because by limiting what is “bad” opens the door for us to rationalize things that are horrible for us as individuals and as a society. We should also know that God, and God alone, determines the fate of every individual:

“(128) [And] it is in no wise for thee [O Prophet] to decide whether He shall accept their repentance or chastise them — for, behold, they are but wrongdoers, (129) whereas unto God belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth: He forgives whom He wills, and He chastises whom He wills; and God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.” [3:128-9] Muhammad Asad

God is The Ultimate Arbiter of Justice, and no one will be wronged: “Now every community has had an apostle; and only after their apostle has appeared [and delivered his message] is judgment passed on them, in all equity; and never are they wronged.” [10:47]

Thus if you limit what deserves the ultimate punishment to the most horrendous of acts or if you attempt to limit God’s Mercy, you will undoubtedly be confused, because you have placed limits upon The Almighty, as God knows what we do not and we should appreciate that and reflect that in our perceptions.

I hope this helps, and if not, please do not hesitate to ask me more questions, insha Allah.

I pray this reaches you and your families in the best of health and Iman, insha Allah.

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