What is the situation of non-Muslim inventors in the Hereafter? Will they enter Heaven because they were useful to humanity?

Details of the Question
What is the situation of non-Muslim inventors in the Hereafter? Will they enter Heaven because they were useful to humanity?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Heaven is a destination in the Hereafter. Believing in its existence means to believe in the Hereafter. That is to say, there is no Heaven without belief. On what grounds can one enter or want to enter a place in which he does not believe and does not accept its existence? This is the situation of scientists who do not have belief. It is necessary to believe in Heaven and its Creator firstly in order to be able to enter Heaven.

The Prophet points out to this fact in one of his hadiths by saying “You cannot enter Heaven unless you believe.” (1) In another hadith, he says, “Whoever has got an atom’s weight of belief in his heart will exit Hell.” (2) 

So, what is belief? The Prophet answers this question, upon Angel Gabriel’s question, saying: “It is to believe in Allah, Allah’s angels, Holy books, prophets, the Day of Judgment, Destiny, the good and evil.” (3) 

By belief, the Prophet means confirmation. Confirmation is done with the heart. Even though it is not pronounced, belief is belief. Therefore, it is impossible for us to decide who passed away as a believer and who passed away as an unbeliever except for those who committed sins publicly and denied Allah. And for this reason, this should be the wisdom behind believers’ praying for a nice ending. That is, hoping for a believer to pass away as a believer, which is the greatest prayer which can be uttered for a believer. 

Imam Ghazali says the following about the period of belief,: “the period of a one-day-fast covers between imsak and iftar, the period of belief covers a lifetime.” (4) That is to say, a person who breaks his fast in the middle of the day or before iftar cannot be considered to have fasted; similarly, a person who loses his belief even in the last moment of his life cannot be considered to be a believer. However, a person who believes in the last moment of his life is considered to be a believer because if that person lived, he would continue the rest of his life as a believer. 

For this reason, it is impossible to say something certain about whether Western scientists died as believers or not if they had not said they had not believed in Allah in a certain way or if they had not said that they had believed. It is possible that they had faith in their hearts but did not pronounce it and it is also possible that they really died as unbelievers. Only Allah, the Glorious, knows the truth about it. And again it is Him to judge them. 

However, people who bequeathed mischief and anarchy to the humanity such as Darwin and scientists who bequeathed scientific discoveries, inventions and useful techniques to the humanity such as Edison are not the same. The Prophet’s enemy Abu Jahl was an unbeliever and the Prophet’s uncle Abu Talib, who protected him, was not a believer, either. Even though they both would enter Hell because they were unbelievers, the level of their punishment would be different as a requirement of Divine wisdom and justice.

Badiuzzaman’s answer to the question “So it is consistent with divine wisdom also, but how does compassion permit it?” sheds light upon the topic in question. 

            “The unbelievers can be thought of only in terms of non-existence or existence in torment. If you think it over in your conscience [you will understand that] existence, even if in Hell, is a mercy and better than non-existence. For if you analyze it carefully [you will see that] non-existence is pure evil; indeed, non-existence is the source of all misfortunes and sins. Whereas, existence is pure good, even if it is in Hell. Furthermore, it is in the nature of man's spirit, if it knows that the torment eliminates its crimes and sins, to be content with it, to alleviate the burden of shame. It will then acknowledge that the punishment is fair and that it deserves it. Out of its love of justice, it receives pleasure from it even. There are many honorable people in this world who long for the execution of justice on themselves so as to be saved from the shame of their crimes.

            The unbelievers go to Hell and abide there forever as their perpetual abode, but after some time paying the penalty for their actions they grow accustomed to it in a way, even if they do not deserve this, and adapt to it. Also, their punishments are reduced and mitigated in many ways in recompense for their good deeds in this world, as is indicated in some Hadiths. These are instances of mercy for them, although they are not worthy of them. (5)

In short, non-Muslim inventors and discoverers who were unbelievers and helped the humanity in a positive way can have “a sort of Heavenly life” in Hell as a reward for their useful works in the worldly life. Allah, the Glorious, will not leave their useful works unreturned. 

1. Muslim, Faith: 93.

2. Muslim, Faith: 304.

3. Muslim, Faith: 1.

4. Ihya Ulum ad-Din, 1:135.

5. Isârâtü'1-Icâz (Signs of Miraculousness), p.89 

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