It is emphasized in some verses that what unbelievers do are of no use. However, the following is stated in verse 7 of the chapter of az-Zilzal: "Then shall anyone who has done an atom´s weight of good, see it…". How will you explain it?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Let us deal with the verse in the chapter of al-Baqara first as an example of the verses regarding the issue:

“…And if any of you Turn back from their faith and die in unbelief, their works will bear no fruit in this life and in the Hereafter; they will be companions of the Fire and will abide therein.” (al-Baqara, 2/217).

Their works bearing no fruit in this life means they will not obtain the benefits that are normally expected from them according to the criteria of the religion of Islam.

Accordingly, those who exit the religion of Islam and die as unbelievers lose their rights in the world. For instance, they are deprived of the friendship, brotherhood and assistance of Muslims and booties; their wives are regarded to have been divorced automatically; they cannot get their shares from the inheritance of their relatives. 

Those who exit the religion of Islam and die as unbelievers will not have any deeds that they will benefit from in the hereafter. The good works that they did will be erased by the acid of unbelief. That is, even their good deeds, which are normally valuable in Islam, will be of no use. (cf. Razi, Ibn Ashur, the interpretation of the relevant verse)

“Then shall anyone who has done an atom´s weight of good, see it! And anyone who has done an atom´s weight of evil, shall see it.” (az-Zilzal, 99/7-8).

- The word “khayr” mentioned as “good (good deed)” in the first verse indicates that this verse is related to believers. The deeds done by those who die as unbelievers are not called “good deeds”. For, all of their deeds are worthless since they are rusted by unbelief. No work is good where belief does not exist in the eye of Allah.

“But the Unbelievers,- their deeds are like a mirage in sandy deserts, which the man parched with thirst mistakes for water; until when he comes up to it, he finds it to be nothing: But he finds Allah (ever) with him, and Allah will pay him his account: and Allah is swift in taking account.(an-Nur, 24/39)

This fact is emphasized in the verse above. (cf. Razi, Ibn Ashur, the interpretation of the relevant verse)

It is possible to summarize the issue as follows based on the explanations above:

The works of unbelievers bearing no fruit means they are not regarded as valuable. What is meant by works in the verse is good deeds. For, bad deeds bearing no fruit are meaningless.

What is meant by “good/good deeds” in the verse “Then shall anyone who has done an atom´s weight of good, see it” in the chapter of az-Zilzal is the good deeds done by believers. For, the deeds of unbelievers may seem to be good in terms of the world but they are not called “nice and good” in the eye of Allah. Accordingly, there is no contradiction between the verses.

It will be useful to mention a few points that will help the issue to be understood better and that will show some different views:

a. According to Ahmad b. Kab al-Qurazi, what is meant by the verse “Then shall anyone who has done an atom´s weight of good, see it” is that unbelievers obtain the rewards of their good deeds in this world but when they go to the hereafter, they will see that their works bear no fruit. This view is also reported from Abdullah b. Abbas.

The following hadith also supports this interpretation. The Prophet (pbuh) addressed Hz. Abu Bakr as follows:

“O Abu Bakr! The hardships you encounter in the world are the bad things that can be weighed with an atom’s weight. Allah keeps the good deeds that you do and He will give them back to you fully in the hereafter.” (see Razi, the interpretation of the relevant verse)

It is also possible to understand this meaning from the following hadith: “The world is a prison for the unbeliever and Paradise for the unbeliever.”(For this hadith, which was reported by Imam Malik, Muslim and Tirmidhi, see Ajluni, 410) Since believers are generally punished by their sins in the world with the hardships and misfortunes they encounter, the world is a kind of prison and dungeon for them. Since unbelievers are rewarded for their good deeds in this world partly as health and boons, the world is like Paradise, which is a place of reward, for them. Besides, the world is a dungeon for believers compared to Paradise; it is Paradise for unbelievers compared to Hell. (see Badiuzzaman Said Nursi, Lemalar, 10./Lemanın sonu)

b. Another view reported from Abdullah b. Abbas is as follows:

"Allah will definitely show a person his good and bad deeds whether he is a believer or an unbeliever. However, He forgives the sins of believers and evaluates his good deeds. The good deeds of believers bear no fruit; they are not evaluated; they are punished due to their bad deeds.” (Razi, ibid)

c. According to another view, the good deeds of unbelievers bear no fruit due to their unbelief but they are evaluated; however, they become worthless due to their unbelief.

d. According to another view, the doers of good and bad deeds here are different groups. As it is stated above, believers/people of Paradise will see their good deeds even if they are very little; unbelievers/people of Hell will see their bad deeds even if they are very little. (Razi, ibid)

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