Will you explain the eternity of life in the hereafter, Paradise and Hell with verses of the Quran and hadiths?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

When Paradise and Hell are mentioned in many verses in the Quran, it is expressed with the phrase khalidina fiha abada “they will dwell therein for ever” (an-Nisa, 57; al-Maida, 119; al-Ahzab, 65; al-Jinn, 23 ...) that life in Paradise and Hell is eternal. It is stated in the following verses and similar ones that there is no death in Paradise and Hell, and that both the people of Paradise and the people of Hell will remain in their abodes eternally: “In gulps will he sip it (boiling fetid water), but never will he be near swallowing it down his throat: death will come to him from every quarter, yet will he not die.” (Ibrahim, 17), “But those who reject ((Allah)) - for them will be the Fire of Hell: No term shall be determined for them, so they should die, nor shall its Penalty be lightened for them...” (Fatir, 36), “Nor will they there taste Death, except the first death; and He will preserve them from the Penalty of the Blazing Fire “ (ad-Dukhan, 56) The issue is clear and certain in a way that does not give rise to objection[1].

However, acting upon the expressions in some verses (al-An’am, 128; Hud, 106-108; an-Naba, 23), some scholars state that life in Paradise and Hell, especially life in Hell will end[2].

We will try to explain the issue by mentioning those verses:

1. “... He (Allah) will say: “The Fire be your dwelling-place: you will dwell therein for ever, except as Allah willeth. For thy Lord is full of wisdom and knowledge” (al-An’am,6/128).

2. “Those who are wretched shall be in the Fire: There will be for them therein (nothing but) the heaving of sighs and sobs: They will dwell therein for all the time that the heavens and the earth endure, except as thy Lord willeth: for thy Lord is the (sure) accomplisher of what He planneth. And those who are blessed shall be in the Garden: They will dwell therein for all the time that the heavens and the earth endure, except as thy Lord willeth: a gift without break...” (Hud, 11/106-108)

3. “Truly Hell is as a place of ambush, For the transgressors a place of destination: They will dwell therein for ages...” (an-Naba, 78/21-23)

The phrases in the verses above that some scholars try to show as evidence that life in Paradise and Hell will end and the people of Hell will be taken out of Hell after a while are the phrases “except as Allah willeth, except as thy Lord willeth” in the chapter of al-Anam and Hud, “for all the time that the heavens and the earth endure” in the chapter of Hud and “they will dwell therein for ages” in the chapter of an-Naba.

Acting upon those statements, they say, the phrase “for all the time that the heavens and the earth endure” informs us that the period of penalty for the people of Hell is equal to the period of the heavens and the earth. Since the heavens and the earth will end one day, the penalty of the unbelievers will end too. The phrase “except as thy Lord willeth” is an exception from the period of penalty. It shows that the penalty will end at the time of that exception. The phrase “they will dwell therein for ages” shows that the penalty will continue for a certain number of ages[3].

The majority of the scholars who agree that life in Paradise and Hell is eternal[4] explain in various aspects that the phrases in those verses do not indicate that life in Paradise and Hell will end after a while.

They state the following about the phrase “for all the time that the heavens and the earth endure”: What is meant by the phrase the heavens and the earth in that verse is the heavens and the earth in the hereafter. They show the following verses as evidence for it: “One day the earth will be changed to a different earth, and so will be the heavens” (Ibrahim, 48), “has given us (this) land (Paradise) in heritage...” (az-Zumar, 74). In addition, they state that Arabs mean continuity and eternity with such phrases and give the following phrases as examples: as the night and the day follow each other; as mountains remain in their places.

After quoting the answers above, Razi states that the real answer, according to his opinion, will be given by understanding the verse as follows: As long as the heavens and the earth endure, the unbelievers will suffer their penalty; however, their penalty does not have to end when the heavens and the earth perish. Penalty can still continue because as a condition continues to exist, the thing based on it will continue to exist too but it does not necessitate the opposite; that is, when the condition does not exist; the thing based on it does not have to disappear. He gives the following example to express that fact: When we say if this is a human being, it is a living being, if it is understood that it is a human being, it is also understood that it is a living being.  However, if it is seen that it is not a human being, it does not mean that it is not a living being; it can be another living being...[5]

Another thing the supports Razi’s answer is that the phrase “for all the time that the heavens and the earth endure” comes immediately after the phrase “they will dwell therein” in the verse. It sounds as if the latter is used in order to confirm the former, that is, eternity, and to enable man to imagine how long eternity is. For, man cannot imagine eternity with his limited mind. That phrase and the phrase “for ages” in the chapter of an-Naba are more effective in terms of imagining eternity. Thus, the aim is to enable man to understand eternity by dividing it into pieces in a sense. As a matter of fact, when man encounters something that he does not like and that continues for a long time, he divides that length of time into pieces and calculates it as months, weeks and days in order to imagine the difficulty he faces.

In fact, that those phrases are used after Doomsday shows that they are metaphorical, not literal. Or, what is meant by the endurance of the heavens and the earth is the endurance of the heavens and the earth in the realm of the hereafter. Those expressions are included in the context of khulud. They are expressed according to the understanding of man.

The phrase except as thy Lord willeth is explained in various ways like the following: the addition Allah will make to the continuation of the heavens and the earth; the people of oneness will not remain in Hell forever; they will be taken out afterwards or they will not be thrown into Hell; Allah can take anyone He wishes out of Hell[6].

In conclusion, we can say that it is a mistake to hold on to the phrases that are not definite when there are evidences that are definite about the eternity of life in the hereafter.  

The view that Hell is not eternal was defended by Ibn Qayyim and Muhyiddin b. Arabi in the past; its most ardent defender in the last century was Musa Jarullah.

After mentioning the three views about the eternity of Paradise and Hell in his book about Paradise titled Hadil-Arwah ila Biladil-Afrah, Ibn Qayyim supports the third view, which is Paradise is eternal, Hell is ephemeral[7] and tries to prove it[8]. Sha’rani states that Ibn Arabi’s views in Futuhatul-Makkiyya and Fususul-Hikam do not belong him, that they were added to his books afterwards and he opposes attributing those views to Ibn Arabi[9].

Musa Jarullah bases his views generally on the statements attributed to Ibn Arabi and on Ibn Jawzi. Jarullah expresses his views regarding the issue in his books titled Rahmet-i İlâhiye Bürhanları and İnsanların Akide-i İlâhiyelerine Bir Nazar[10].

Mustafa Sabri answers those claims, primarily the claims of Musa Jarullah, in detail in his book titled İlahî Adalet. Therefore, we refer those who want details to that book.

Lastly, we will mention an answer given to those who defend that life in Hell cannot be eternal claiming that it does not fit Allah’s justice if a person is exposed to eternal punishment in return for the limited sins he commits in his limited lifespan[11]:

Nursi answers that claim in six items:

1. The person who dies an unbeliever will remain as such even if he lives to all eternity, for he has corrupted the very substance of his spirit. And his corrupted heart has the propensity to commit infinite crimes. Therefore, he deserves eternal penalty.

2. Even if unbelief occurs in finite time, it is an infinite crime and gives the lie to infinity, that is, it denies the whole universe, which testifies to divine unity.

3. Unbelief is ingratitude for infinite bounties.

4. Unbelief is a crime against infinity; that is, the divine essence and attributes. The penalty of a person who denies eternity is eternal.

5. The human conscience is, in regard to its outer face, limited and finite, but by virtue of its reality the roots of its inner face spread and extend to eternity. In this respect therefore it is infinite. Unbelief however sullies it and it dwindles away.

6. Although opposites stubbornly resist each other, they are similar in many instances. Thus, on the one hand, belief yields the fruits of the delights of Paradise, and on the other, unbelief produces everlasting suffering and pain.

It may be concluded therefore if one puts these six aspects together that infinite punishment fits the infinite crime and is pure justice[12].


[1]. For, the other verses regarding the issue and their explanations, see Mustafa Sabri, İlahî Adalet (Hulûd, Cehennemde Kalışın and Azabın Ebediyetiyle İlgili Ayetler Bahsi), simplified by: Ömer H. Özalp, Pınar yay. Istanbul, 1996, p. 205-240.
[2]. see Bekir Topaloğlu, “Cehennem”, D.İ.A. VII, 232 .

[3]. Razi, XVIII, 51.
[4]. Razi, XVIII, 51.
[5]. Razi, XVIII, 52.
[6]. see Mawardi, II, 505-506; Razi, XVIII,52-53; Alusi, XII,142-144.
[7]. The other two views are as follows: Paradise and Hell are ephemeral, Paradise and Hell are eternal and everlasting.
[8]. see Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, Hadil-Arwah ila Biladil-Afrah (Wasful-Jannah), thq., Y. Ali Badiwi, 3rd imp., Daru Ibn Kathir, Beirut, 1993, p. 503-528.
[9]. see Sha’rani, al-Yawaqit wal-Jawahir, II, 165.
[10]. see Musa Jarullah, Rahmet-i İlahiyye Bürhanları, p. 253-341; İnsanların Akide-i İlahiyelerine Bir Nazar, p. 345-362 (both books are included in Mustafa Sabri’s book titled İlâhî Adalet)
It will be appropriate to make a correction here: S. Ateş, states acting upon S. Qutb’s expressions about the verse “nor will they (unbelievers) enter the garden, until the camel can pass through the eye of the needle...” (al-A’raf, 40), which he mentions as an example of emotional imagination (tahyil) and embodiment (tajsim) in the Quran, that Qutb indicates that the people of Hell will go to Paradise after a long life and criticizes Qutb’s view (see Kutub, Kur’ân’da Edebî Tasvîr, transl., Süleyman Ateş, 2nd imp., Hilâl yay., Ankara 1978, p. 109). However, in my opinion, Qutub does not mean it. We can understand Qutb’s phrase ‘al-madrubu li-dukhulil-kafirinal-jannata ba’da umrin tawil’, which Ateş translated as “about the unbelievers’ entering Paradise after a long life” also as “...about whether the unbelievers will enter Paradise or not”. The sentence that comes immediately after it supports our view: Fal-hayalu yazallu akifan ala tamaththuli hadhihil-harakatil-ajibatil-lati la tatimmu and-la takifu ma tabaahal-hayal. (As imagination follows, it stands aghast in the face of the tamaththul (image/similitude) of the strange act that never ends.) (see Qutb, at-Taswirul-Fanniyyu fil-Quran, 9th imp., Darul-Maarif, Cairo, n.d., p. 66). As it is seen, the phrase “that never ends” expresses eternity. Therefore, it would be more appropriate to translate that phrase in the way we suggest. That Qutb does not make such a claim in fi Zilalil-Quran when he interprets that verse (see Qutb, fi Zilal, III, 1291) supports our explanation.
[11]. see Razi, XVIII, 51.
[12]. Nursî, İşârâtu’l-İ’câz, pp. 109-110.

I find it useful to state here that we are thinking of dealing with those three features in a more detailed way in the future by starting with the issue of reincarnation and by including mutual claims and answers.

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