Is it possible to exit Hell?

Details of the Question

- Will the believers who commit sins stay in Hell forever or will they be able to go to Paradise after their penalties are over?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

There are hadiths stating that everybody who has belief in their hearts and who die with that belief will go to Paradise in the end even if they go to Hell first. (Bukhari, Tawhid 19, 31, 36, 37; Muslim, Iman 322, 334; Muwatta, 1/212; see also Kütüb-i Sitte Tercüme ve Şerhi, İbrahim Canan)

The prerequisite of going to Paradise is to have belief. If a person who has belief is a sinner, he will go to Paradise after he pays his penalty. All kinds of problems, illnesses and misfortunes that man faces are reasons for the reduction of his sins. 

The ones who are stated in the verses of the Quran to remain eternally in Hell are unbelievers. However, it is known that the believers who lack righteous deeds will be punished for them.

It is clearly stated in verse 82 of the chapter of al-Baqara that the ones who will remain eternally in Hell are unbelievers with the phrase "but those who have faith and work righteousness".

"Nay, those who seek gain in evil, and are girt round by their sins,- they are companions of the Fire: Therein shall they abide (For ever). But those who have faith and work righteousness, they are companions of the Garden: Therein shall they abide (For ever)." (al-Baqara, 2/81- 82)

The verse in the chapter of Yunus is similar to it:

"But those who have earned evil will have a reward of like evil: ignominy will cover their (faces): No defender will they have from (the wrath of) Allah: Their faces will be covered, as it were, with pieces from the depth of the darkness of night: they are companions of the Fire: they will abide therein (for aye)!

"One day shall We gather them all together. Then shall We say to those who joined gods (with Us): 'To your place! Ye and those ye joined as ´partners'. We shall separate them, and their "Partners" shall say: ' It was not us that ye worshipped! Enough is Allah for a witness between us and you: we certainly knew nothing of your worship of us.'" (Yunus, 10/27 - 29)

The explanations after the verse in the chapter of al-Muminun state that they are those who deny the verses of Allah and who make fun of Muslims. It becomes clear that those who will remain eternally in Hell are unbelievers.

Therefore, there is no contradiction in Ahl as-Sunnah understanding. Those who die as believers may go to Hell but they will not remain there after they pay their penalties; they will go to Paradise then.

- Does a person who commits major sins become an unbeliever?

We should say that those who boasts of the sins they commit and do not regret them are out of the scope of the answer to this question. Our real topic is those who believe but commit such sins and regret them.

Mutazila madhhab and some of Kharijites, which are outside Ahl as-Sunnah, say, “Those who commit major sins will be unbelievers or will be in a point between belief and unbelief.” They try to explain this decree as follows:

“A believer who commits a major sin becomes an unbeliever because it is not possible for a person who believes in God Almighty and Hell to commit a major sin. If a person who protects himself from illegal ways due to the fear of going to prison commits major sins without thinking of eternal penalty in Hell and the wrath of God Almighty, this shows his unbelief.”

This decree, which seems to be true at first, is a product of a wrong thought that does not know human nature. Badiuzzaman Said Nursi gives the answer to that question as follows in his work called Lem'alar:  

“...If the emotions dominate a person, they do not heed the reason and mind. Desires and delusions govern in him, and he prefers the slightest, most trivial present pleasure to huge reward in the future, and he shrinks from some minor present distress more than from some terrible postponed torment. For desire, illusions, and emotions do not see the future, indeed, they deny it. And if the soul assists them, the heart, which is the seat of belief, and the mind, fall silent and are defeated.

In which case, committing grievous sins does not arise from lack of belief, but from the defeat of the heart and mind by the predominant emotions, desires, and illusions."

Yes, as Badiuzzaman Said Nursi states, man’s nature has a feature that regards the unbelievable pleasures of Paradise very distant and pushes them into the background and that tends to the pleasures of sins, which are close to him. When a man goes to the nearest restaurant due to hunger and orders double doner kebab, he starts to eat bread on the table while waiting since it will take 10-15 minutes for doner kebab to be ready and fills half of his stomach with bread due to this feature in his nature. 

As Nursi also states, man fears a slap he is about to receive now more than the penalty of solitary confinement he will suffer a month later. That is, according to this feature, penalty in Hell is far away in his opinion and, besides, Allah is the forgiver.   

Due to those thoughts, man can tend to commit sins and fall into sins with the push of his soul - though he is a believer. Yes, committing major sins does not originate from lack of belief. However, if those sins are not eliminated by repentance, they may lead man to unbelief. Let us read what Nursi says regarding the issue:

“Sin, penetrating to the heart, will blacken and darken it until it extinguishes the light of belief. Within each sin is a path leading to unbelief. Unless that sin is swiftly obliterated by seeking God’s pardon, it will grow from a worm into a snake that gnaws on the heart...” (Lem'alar, İkinci Lem'a)

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