Mercy and Might on Judgment Day: Allah’s Name Maliki Yawm al-Din
Published: March 29, 2022 • Updated: March 22, 2023
In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Grantor of Mercy
Living for the self and the absence of moral accountability
Of all the things that occupy our thoughts on a daily basis, life after death is not one of them—at least not for most people. People deal with the temporary nature of this world in a multitude of ways, from nihilism and hedonism to more moral and humanistic philosophies. Because of the spread of scientism and materialism, even religious people de-emphasize the idea of a Day of Judgment.1 Due to global shifts towards materialism, and the supposed irreconcilability between a belief in the hereafter and modern understandings of science, the notion of a final reckoning has been largely abandoned as an almost embarrassing relic of old-fashioned belief systems.
Yet materialists doubting the Day of Judgment is nothing new. Allah tells us in the Qur’an,
Yet [some] people ask [mockingly], “After I die, will I really be raised to life again?” Do [such] people not remember that We created them before, when they were nothing?2
Even for those who believe in God or a higher power, God’s role is reduced to assisting us in this world without judgment, and without much thought given to accountability to Him.3 In fact, for the spiritually inclined, the idea that a “Universe” acts for us to fulfill our desires is becoming more pervasive. Indeed, spirituality itself becomes but a means to worldly enjoyment, or at the very least an arsenal of coping mechanisms for this transient life’s inevitable letdowns. And for the vast majority of people, day-to-day concerns are much more pressing than an abstract Day of Judgment.
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Even for some Muslims, and despite the Qur’an’s constant reminders, thinking about the Day of Judgment is uncomfortable. After all, considering a day in which mountains dissipate like clouds, flames engulf the oceans, the skies fold like the pages of a book, and all the humans, jinn, and animals that ever lived are in a single moment recreated and assembled in incomprehensibly massive crowds can, for some, be paralyzing. It may even cause despair.
Yet this thought only has such an effect when one does not know who Allah is. Being acquainted with Māliki Yawm al-Dīn—Owner of the Day of Retribution—who is the Most Merciful, the Most Just, and the Most Wise, can completely change the way we relate to the Day of Judgment. Our understanding of His beautiful names and attributes ultimately determines how we relate to the Day we will meet Him.
This paper aims to help readers internalize the reality of the Day of Judgment in a way that aligns our purpose in life, heightens our awareness of our actions and hearts, grants us solace through life’s traumas, makes us long for meeting Allah, and provides us comfort—yes, comfort—in knowing that only Allah will be in control throughout that incredible Day.
Māliki Yawm al-Dīn: Knowing the Owner of the Day of Retribution
When someone tells you who they are, it is usually for a purpose. Allah reveals to us many of His Names, which means that each name teaches us something foundational about our relationship with Him and helps us connect with Him at different levels throughout our lives. By telling us that He is al-Raḥmān al-Raḥīm (the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful), for example, Allah assures us that we are recipients of His mercy, and that during our darkest times we can turn to Him, knowing He will receive us with His divine kindness and love.
He is also Māliki Yawm al-Dīn (Owner of the Day of Retribution). As Muslims, we have six foundational beliefs, and one of them is belief in the Last Day when “each person will come to Him individually.”4 Many of us may have learned about the Last Day as a purely horrific event, and a major reason for this is that the narrative we were taught is often divorced from “who” the Master of that Day is. Our pious predecessors largely did not suffer from this imbalanced oversimplification about the hereafter. In fact, we find reports of them perceiving resurrection after death as awakening from sleep to don festive attire for the Eid festival,5 after having observed virtuous restraint (fasting, in the wider sense) in this worldly life.6 Having been much closer to the Qur’an than those after them, early Muslims needed less refinement of their internal “God image” than many Muslims today. These next few pages attempt to recalibrate that image, for a fuller picture of what is entailed by Allah being Māliki Yawm al-Dīn.
The opening chapter (al-Fātiḥah) of the Qur’an begins with Allah introducing Himself. The reader immediately encounters the lofty yet intimate descriptions of the Divine Reality as it relates to the human condition, beginning from our creation to the fateful moment that will determine our eternal destiny:
All praise is for Allah, Lord of all worlds. The Most Compassionate, Most Merciful. Master of the Day of Judgment.7
In these earliest brief āyāt (verses), Allah first declares His absolute ḥamd (praiseworthiness) that permeates all of His beautiful Names and Attributes. He is the pinnacle of perfection, and therefore most worthy of absolute and unconditional praise. This axiom, established so early in Revelation, makes it the fundamental cognitive lens through which we understand every description we encounter thereafter about Him, including His dominion and sovereignty over the Day of Judgment. In fact, this assertion that He is eternally praiseworthy is not just echoed around the throne of Allah perpetually,8 but will be particularly emphasized once the final verdicts on the Last Day have been passed.
You will see the angels all around the Throne, glorifying the praises of their Lord, for judgment will have been passed on all with fairness. And it will be said, “Praise be to Allah—Lord of all worlds!”9
As Ibn al-Qayyim10 (d. 751 AH) astutely observes regarding the opening of al-Fātiḥah, the five Divine Names we find in these first three verses are far from random qualities of His perfection. Rather, they are particularly distinguished from all the other Names we find in the Qur’an and Sunnah, for they best introduce the reader to the comprehensive Divine Reality.11 He illustrates how from the word Allah itself every quality related to His glory (jalāl) and beauty (jamāl) is derived. Then, the attributes of omnipotence (unlimited power) are extensions of His being the Rabb of all, which is mentioned second in al-Fātiḥah. Thereafter, we are introduced to His matchless grace, generosity, affection, and love through the Names al-Raḥmān and al-Raḥīm. Finally, the phrase Māliki Yawm al-Dīn describes His sublime justice and authority, which most perfectly manifests on the Day of Recompense, when none but Allah will claim supremacy, avenge the oppressed, and realize flawless retribution.
Since the Qur’an first introduces the hereafter as part of a comprehensive introduction to Allah Himself, we can never fully realize our “belief in the Last Day” without understanding who He is. Until we recognize this day as a pure and perfect expression of Allah’s ownership, mercy, and justice, we have overlooked a profound wisdom in why Allah revealed Himself as Allāh, al-Rabb, al-Raḥmān, al-Raḥīm, and al-Mālik before making mention of the indeed daunting Yawm al-Dīn. In that very sequence is a powerful catalyst for not just hope, but the love that should exist between the creatures and the only One worthy of their submission and ultimate adoration.
Allah is the Owner, and also the King
One may notice that reciters sometimes invoke a variant qirāʾah (mode of recitation), pronouncing Mālik (long “ā”) as Malik (short “a”) when reading that verse of al-Fātiḥah. While they sound quite similar, and their linguistic roots are certainly related, differentiating between these two articulations gives rise to a beautiful complementarity in meaning. Mālik means owner, but unlike every other owner imaginable, who is “entitled” to only “some things” and without full authority to utilize them as they please. Consider the orphan child who has yet to acquire the fortunes they now “own” but are locked away in their parents’ estate until they reach the authorized age. Every created being is analogous to that orphan, incapable of vindicating their “right” to their finite “possessions” indefinitely, irrespective of their lifespans, mental stability, and monetary laws. As for the ownership of God, it is all-inclusive and perpetually unhindered. This brings us to the complementary name Malik, which means king, for His dominance and control is in perfect harmony with His ownership and entitlement. In other words, just as every last thing is owned by Allah by virtue of His power, every last individual and their deeds will be subject to His just verdict by virtue of Him “owning” every breath of the life He granted us. As Allah says,
And what can make you realize what Yawm al-Dīn truly is? Again, what can make you realize what Yawm al-Dīn truly is? It is the Day no soul will be of any benefit to another whatsoever, for all authority on that Day belongs entirely to Allah.12
This rhetorical question, repeated for emotive effect and then answered by underscoring the sovereignty of the Almighty on that Day, reflects the Qur’an’s incredible thematic consistency. Here, at the end of the Qur’an, we find a direct parallel to its first chapter, al-Fātiḥah.
Another subtlety that Qur’anic exegetes highlight regarding this distinction is that kings are usually far removed from “all things little” whereas one should never infer from the greatness of God and His capacity as the Ultimate King that anything is too small for Him. Most people will only realize that on Yawm al-Dīn:
And the record [of deeds] will be laid [open], and you will see the wicked in fear of what is [written] in it. They will cry, “Woe to us! What kind of record is this that does not leave any sin, small or large, unlisted?” They will find whatever they did present [before them]. And your Lord will never wrong anyone.13
Similarly, an owner has direct access to his property, while kings are typically remote sovereigns dependent on their deputies. As for Allah, it will become evident to all on the Day of Judgment that His influence was never contingent on anyone’s compliance or assistance. Everyone will discover that none other than Allah will judge His servants that day, not the angels nor any other delegates. That realization can inspire us to avoid sin. As Bilāl ibn Saʿd (d. 116 AH)14 would say, “Do not look at the smallness of the sin, but look at [the greatness of] the One whom you have sinned against.”15 However, it can also inspire great hope, as Ḥammād ibn Salamah16 (d. 167 AH) would say, “I swear by Allah, were I given the choice between Allah conducting my reckoning or my parents conducting my reckoning, I would choose the reckoning of Allah—for Allah is more merciful with me than my parents.”17
The believer should expect graciousness from Māliki Yawm al-Dīn, because while He will not break His promises (such as granting paradise to those who believe and do righteous deeds), He is not obligated to execute His threats (such as punishing us for our sins). This is a fundamental characteristic of ownership and sovereignty, because while it would be unjust to forgive someone for something that is not yours to forgive, it would be generous to forgive someone for infringing upon your rights. In this vein, al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī18 (d. 110 AH) said, “Allah will call the believers to account in light of His favor and grace on the Day of Judgment, just as He will punish the disbelievers in light of His justice and proofs [against them].”
Expect Allah’s Mercy and Justice on that Day
Allah’s mercy and justice do not compete with each other, but instead perfect each other. Consider a human judge who lightens the sentencing of a thief due to life conditions that “incentivized” stealing. Most people would consider this a just verdict. The Revelation regularly considers similar factors—for instance, granting those with less life experience greater leeway for their myopic decisions. We find this hinted at in the Qur’an, which sets “forty years of age” as a major milestone for introspection and making amends.19 We find it even clearer in the Sunnah, wherein it is authentically reported that the Prophet ﷺ said, “Allah has given enough excuses [to be forgiven] to every person whose death He has delayed until allowing him to reach sixty years of age.”20
Allah’s mercy and justice operating in perfect tandem is also evident in the fact He will ultimately punish some people on the Day of Judgment. This will only happen to those deserving punishment, making the justice obvious, so where then is the mercy in this equation? It is multidimensional, but keep in mind that many of those deserving punishment will be unconditionally pardoned without penalty. In addition to many being absolved, many others will be consoled by seeing their oppressors face retribution from Māliki Yawm al-Dīn. Just as Allah reminded the Israelites of His favor upon them in drowning Pharaoh “while you watched,” He will also allow windows through which the people of Paradise can gaze upon the torment of their abusers in the Hellfire.21 They will observe firsthand how Allah exacted the justice that nobody else could offer these victims, and avenged them against those they were once powerless against as they pillaged their wealth, killed their loved ones, assassinated their character, and scorched their hearts beyond measure. In that will be incredible solace and mercy from Allah, afforded through the manifestation of His justice.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Revelation is clear that mercy and justice are not symmetrical. They complement each other, but mercy reigns supreme. As Allah (swt) says, “And My mercy encompassess all.”22 In an authentic hadith, the Prophet ﷺ said, “When Allah finished the creation, He inscribed in His book that is with Him above His throne: My mercy prevails over My anger.”23
After Allah’s unique and perfect Oneness, there is no clearer nor more recurring theological fact in Islam than that Allah is unimaginably merciful and compassionate. Islam’s sacred texts remind us that He is more compassionate with His creation than their own mothers are with them, and we find throughout the Qur’an that one of His lofty attributes is Arḥam al-Rāḥimīn (the most merciful of those who show mercy). This remains true even on the Day of Retribution, as Ibn al-Qayyim argues, because His forgiveness is more beloved to Him than His punishment, and His kindness is more beloved to Him than His justice.24 This fascinating point reminds us that Allah’s qualities are timeless, which means that even when His anger manifests on the Day of Judgment, it will not be like the wrath of human beings that trumps their sense of justice and drives them into transgression. Māliki Yawm al-Dīn will never exceed the bounds of justice in the least, and the oceans of His generosity on the Last Day will seem boundless.
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We are informed that even the animal kingdom will find just requital on the Day of Judgment. The Prophet ﷺ apprised us that Māliki Yawm al-Dīn will ensure that “all will be given their due rights, to the degree that the hornless sheep will be recompensed by the horned ram [that struck it].”25 Dwelling on this single hadith should suffice to melt a believer’s heart. If Allah is this protective of subhuman victims, what then of the believer who was targeted for a lifetime by Satan, who happily embraced the fact that “this world is a prison for the believer and a paradise for the disbeliever”?26 This is precisely what the Prophet ﷺ assured us, namely that Allah has divided a single dose of His mercy among the entire world, by which all of its inhabitants show empathy for one another, and reserved 99 times as much for His believing servants on the Day of Resurrection.27 Witness the mercy all around us: the way nature is designed to ensure our survival and livelihood. The rain that pours from the heavens to provide life-sustaining substance. The perfect ecosystems that sustain plant and animal life without any need for human intervention and yet are used on a daily basis for our nourishment. The compassion mothers show their children, friends their companions, and the wealthy the poor. Behold the mercy that Allah directly shows all of creation, even those who profess disbelief in Him, antagonize His religion, and mock His prophets. All of this immense mercy we witness in the world is only one share of a hundred. The remaining 99 shares await the believers in the hands of Māliki Yawm al-Dīn.
For this reason, we find reports such as that of ʿAbdullāh ibn Masʿūd (rA) when he said, “People will continue receiving mercy on the Day of Resurrection, to the point that even the heart of Iblīs (Satan) will quiver [in hope], due to what he sees of Allah’s mercy and the intercession of the intercessors.”28 For many (may Allah make us among them), it will be an overwhelming torrent of seemingly endless grace on that Day, from a man being forgiven for all his sins due to removing a dangerous thorn from the road,29 to a woman being forgiven for her prostitution due to retrieving water from a well for a parched dog.30 In fact, when a person who has undergone nothing but hardship in this world is dipped into Paradise for a moment, they will completely and instantly forget their trauma.31
All in all, though Allah is not limited by His mercy from upholding justice, He is also not limited by His justice from being more merciful than anything else, in this life and the next.
The hustle and bustle that characterizes modern living often distracts us from the fact that the transient pleasures of this world may be sabotaging our chances at what truly grants our hearts felicity. In the Paradise of the next life are not just the joys of its palaces, spouses, and gardens, but the utmost ecstasy in meeting with one’s greatest love, Allah (the Mighty and Majestic). As al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī once said, “When the people of Paradise finally set their gaze upon Allah, they will forget every other pleasure of Paradise.”32 This assertion is rooted in an authentically transmitted statement of the Prophet ﷺ himself:
When the people of Paradise enter Paradise, a caller will call out, “O people of Paradise, you all have a promise with Allah that He wishes to fulfill.” They will ask, “What could that be? Hasn’t He already brightened our faces, made our scales heavy, admitted us into Paradise, and saved us from the Hellfire?” Then, the veil will be removed, and they will gaze at Him. I swear by Allah, they will not be given anything more beloved to them than gazing upon Him, and nothing will bring greater delight to their eyes.33
Imagine your decades of toil and struggle in this world. You resisted the passions of your lower appetites, believing with conviction that Allah saw you, even if you could not see Him. You continued to pray five times a day no matter the circumstances. Whether it was in public or in private, on land or at sea or 31,000 feet above in an airplane, out in the blazing heat or blistering cold, in times of sickness or health, you answered the call and turned to the One you believed was always there for you. You persevered through the offenses hurled at your ears and heart by the unfaithful. You hovered over the flame of your faith, never allowing the raging winds of doubt to extinguish it. You fought to recall the One who gave your very existence meaning and purpose. You sacrificed your wealth, your time, your desires, your sweat, and your tears for this moment where you could finally meet the One you sought your entire life. He is the One you worshiped alongside no one else, the One who set tranquility in your heart in your most difficult times, the One who always protected you, the One who never let you down when you placed your trust in Him, the One that was too shy to leave you empty-handed when you raised your hands to Him, the One who was always there even when your faith in Him nearly crumbled. You turned away from Him and each time He rekindled in your heart the desire to change course. You took one step towards Him and He sped towards you. This is Allah, and there is nothing that can be greater in reward, nor generate purer joy, than finally meeting Him in Paradise and gazing upon His Magnificent Face.
Should we not then long to meet Allah, and plead with Him to improve our longing for Him? Should we not realize that every time we stand for prayer, it is in anticipation of the Day when we will stand before Allah and actually see Him? Should we not pick up the pace in this marathon of life as we were instructed, racing to the forgiveness of our Lord and His gardens? All this stems from an increased love for Him, appreciation for His innumerable bounties, and recognition of His absolute greatness and most delicate grace. But before all, it stems from being invited into the blissful state of living in earnest for Him. As the Prophet ﷺ would often ask in his supplications, “I ask You the delight of gazing upon your Face and longing to meet You.”34
A flame of intense passion burned within the early Muslims for that moment when they would finally meet their most tender and forgiving Lord, who out of His mercy and love will smile at them, knowing all they had endured to reach this moment, and all the emotional pain they suppressed and physical burdens they carried en route to Him. It was such an acute longing that a man once came to al-Shiblī35 (d. 334 AH) and said:
“Which type of patience is the hardest for the patient to observe?” He replied, “Persevering [in combat] in the path to Allah.” The questioner said, “No.” He replied, “Then patience [in living] for the sake of Allah.” The questioner said, “No.” He replied, “Then patience in [maintaining] nearness to Allah.” The questioner said, “No.” He said, “Then what is it?!” The questioner said, “Patiently bearing to be away from Allah.” Upon hearing that, al-Shiblī wept so intensely that it was as if his soul was being shredded.36
Fruits of belief in the next life
Purpose, meaning, and self-worth
Did you think that We had created you in vain, and that to Us you would not be returned?37
We are by definition lost if we do not have a destination towards which we are moving, or if the destination we are moving towards is incorrect. In that vein, imagine a world with no afterlife. The moment we took our last breath, all the suffering, pain, and toil in this world would have been for nothing. Our lives would have no consequence in the grand scheme of the universe. What then is the point of continuing to struggle, of striving for anything? The rational answer in this bleak worldview would be none at all. Belief in the next life is therefore a necessary ingredient, among others, for the notion of purpose in life to have any real meaning. Belief in the next life endows every moment in your life with metaphysical weight as you realize the eternal consequences of your transient choices. This inspires people to the loftiest ambitions, and deters them from settling for a shallow moment’s thrill. It gives strength to those confronting hardship and trauma in their lives, and threatens the oppressors and tyrants of this world with the Day of Reckoning when they cannot escape the grip of Māliki Yawm al-Dīn.
Belief in the afterlife is therefore necessary for a life worth living. Our esteem as human beings should come primarily from our belief that Allah created us for a higher purpose. In a beautiful reflection on the worth of a believer’s life, Ibn al-Qayyim writes,
When Allah said He “purchased our souls,” we have to realize that the value of the commodity is correlated to both the status of the buyer and the price. You are the commodity, and you are so valuable that Allah Himself is the buyer, and the price is Jannah, which you receive along with seeing Allah and hearing His speech in the abode of complete peace and tranquility. Allah distinguished you—and He only distinguishes that which is honored and blessed—then built for you a dwelling place close to Him, then made the angels your personal servants, ensuring that you are taken care of in this world when you are awake and when you are sleeping, throughout your life and as you die.38
Of the fruits of belief in the next life is love for Allah. Interestingly, Saʿīd Nursī (d. 1960 CE), the Muslim Turkish Revivalist writes, “The Love of an admirer condemned to permanent separation will turn to hatred once the thought of separation takes hold. Admiration yields to an ill opinion and respect yields to contempt… This is a profound reason why unbelievers hate God.”39 The fulfillment of loving God in this world can only be realized in the next one. Without belief in the afterlife, a person is left with a disfigured image of God, which turns from contempt, as Nursī puts it, to disbelief. As Allah Himself tells us, “For those who don’t believe in the next life is an evil example, but to Allah belongs the highest example and He is the Almighty, the Wise.”40 Without the next life, it would appear that evil goes unpunished in this world, suffering unredeemed, and striving unrewarded. These are the very allegations leveled by atheists against God, but all these contentions are sufficiently addressed by factoring in the otherworldly dimension of our existence.41
Conversely, love for Allah (and subsequently His Messenger ﷺ) naturally blooms in every heart that is guided to proper beliefs about Allah and the meeting with Him in the next life. This love does not only blossom from the awe that stirs in us when the revelation acquaints us with the Almighty. It also crystallizes when our sacred knowledge of the Divine is complemented by our gradual discovery of the imperfection of everything else.
Relationships form in our lives that turn out to be temporary, interrupted by separation. Every phase of our development arouses new appetites, and they too offer only a momentary fulfillment. For the rightly guided believers, these “passing positives” arouse their gratitude, sharpen their existential wisdom, and ultimately encourage them to love the Source of every favor more than the favor itself, and the Eternal more than his or her fellow creatures who rose from dust and will soon return to it. This blissful epiphany is not only a profound fruit of believing in the hereafter, but also functions as the greatest asset in preparation for the Day of Judgment:
A man once came to the Prophet ﷺ and said, “O Messenger of Allah, when will the Hour commence?” He said, “What have you prepared for it?” The man said, “O Messenger of Allah, I have not prepared much prayer or fasting for it, but I truly love Allah and His Messenger.” So the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “A person will be with those he loves, and you will be with whomever you love.” Anas (rA; the narrator) said, “Since the advent of Islam, I did not see that anything brought the Muslims greater joy than this [hadith].” In another narration, Anas (rA) said, “For I love the Prophet ﷺ and Abū Bakr (rA) and ʿUmar (rA), and I am hopeful to be with them due to my love for them, even if I have not performed the likes of their deeds.”42
Loving His Messenger
Of the fruits of belief in the next life is love for the Messenger as we learn of the expansive love he had for all of us despite never meeting us. It is reported that the Prophet once went out to the graveyard. After greeting its inhabitants, he remarked,
“I would have loved to have met our brothers.” They said, “O Messenger of Allah, are we not your brothers?” He said, “Rather, you are my Companions. My brothers are those who have not yet come.” In another narration, “Those who will believe in me without having seen me.” They asked, “O Messenger of Allah, how will you know those of your ummah (nation) who come after you?” He said, “If a man had a horse with a white blaze and white feet, situated among horses that are all solid black, do you think he would be able to tell it apart?” They said, “Of course.” He said, “Likewise, they will come on the Day of Resurrection with radiant faces, and with radiant white hands and feet, from the traces of their wuḍūʾ (ablution). And I will reach the ḥawḍ (drinking basin) before them.”43
The Prophet ﷺ was the greatest human to walk on this earth, attaining moral, spiritual, and intellectual heights that no one could ever approach. His love for humanity was so intensely powerful it would consume his thoughts and prayers. It was a love not limited to those he knew nor the time in which he lived, but rather extended to the end of time. He called us his brothers and sisters, and thereby gave us a status distinct from that of his companions. For indeed we exist at a time so distant from his, in a land so far from his, brought up with a language and in a culture so foreign to his, yet we still unwaveringly profess our belief in his prophethood and follow his way. We rush to dispel misconceptions about him, defending his honor, teaching the world about his blessed example and loving him more intensely than anyone else in this world as our eyes swell with tears at the mention of these blessed words. Such love is reciprocated by an even greater love from the Prophet ﷺ toward us, as he will not take his place in Paradise until all of us make it there with him, even those believers who may have found their fate in Hellfire. He ﷺ said, “My intercession is for the people who committed the major sins in my ummah.”44
For most of humanity, the Day of Judgment will be a profoundly lonely nightmare in which every soul fends for its salvation alone. Yet for the believers, the reality of that fateful day strengthens their bonds to each other and to humanity in general.
This happens in various ways. Firstly, the fact of the Final Judgment nullifies any conflicts caused by envy of wealth, wisdom, beauty, status, or anything else. When an eternity of opportunity awaits, it’s easy to transcend avarice and the dog-eat-dog mentality that abounds whenever we focus on this finite world.
Secondly, the chance at being forgiven by Allah for our crimes provides an incredible incentive for forgiving those we may not otherwise want to forgive. As Allah, the Most Generous and Merciful, says,
…and let them pardon and overlook. Would you not like that Allah should forgive you? And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.45
When a person dwells on the day they will stand before Allah and realizes that they are actually not entitled to His forgiveness, and that Māliki Yawm al-Dīn is the only One who “owns” the ability to forgive them, the emotional challenge involved in forgiving those who hurt them in this temporary life greatly diminishes.
Thirdly, the Day of Reckoning rewards those who observe the “golden rule.” The Prophet ﷺ expressly linked these two factors in the famous hadith: “Whoever wishes to be distanced from the Hellfire and admitted into Paradise must encounter death while firmly believing in Allah and the Last Day, and while extending to people that which he would love to find extended towards him.”46
Finally, the looming approach of the Hour unites humanity through a common purpose. While the dunya may temporarily bring a few people together based on circumstantial variables (common relations, locations, or ideas), belief in being a single human family that shares an everlasting goal, and a universal duty to help each other towards reaching that goal, transforms the fraternity of humanity into an eternal relationship that only begins in this temporary world. How then could people not love one another, when we are each other’s spiritual remedies?
Knowing that there is a Day of Judgment helps us better deal with the hardships that we all face in life. When we see unthinkable oppression and atrocities committed by human beings, for instance, we are able to make sense of them through the matchless justice of Allah that will leave no transgression unaccounted for. When we ourselves are enduring some personal trauma at the hands of abusers, we recall that on that day, Māliki Yawm al-Dīn will mend our broken hearts and exhilarate our fatigued souls in such a way that will cause others to wish they faced our adversity. The Prophet ﷺ said, “When the people who faced great tribulations are given their reward on the Day of Judgment, the people who were spared [of these hardships] will wish that their skins had been sliced with shears during this worldly life.”47
One can understand why the condition of the world globally, and our troubles individually, would cause a person to despair if this world is all there is. It should be expected that people would give up, tune out, or become bitter and resentful if this existence is simply some corridor that they are passing through. Thus, the Prophet ﷺ advised, “Be in this world as if you were a stranger, or better yet, a traveler along a path.”48 A stranger is initially vigilant, aware of his inability to discern the dangers that surround him. However, he is susceptible to eventually developing an intimacy with this foreign land and considering it home. For this reason, he ﷺ said, “...or better yet, a traveler,” for the traveler en route is intentional about reaching his destination, and thus keeps a light load in order to maintain his swift pace and avoid ambush in the open wilderness. Thus is the believer: driven forward in his journey by faith in the Day of Judgment, and undeterred by the glitter or thorns on the path towards his actual destination. In this vein, Sufyān al-Thawrī49 (d. 161 AH) said, “Once certainty takes root in the heart as it should, then [nearly all] merriment and grief fly away due to one’s longing for Paradise and fear from the Hellfire.”50
It is always marvelous and awe-inducing to recount the psychological resilience of the Prophet ﷺ despite his unparalleled pains and hardships. In one incident, the Companions noticed the Prophet ﷺ shedding tears due to the passing of his son, Ibrāhīm (rA). In this devastating moment, the death of the last of his three sons, he ﷺ watched this fragile toddler breathe his last before his very eyes. A Companion wondered about the appropriateness of weeping, saying, “Even you [cry], O Messenger of Allah?” The Prophet ﷺ said, “O Ibn ʿAwf, this is an expression of mercy.” The Prophet ﷺ continued to weep, then added, “Indeed, the eyes shed tears and the heart grieves, but we do not say anything except that which pleases our Lord. Though we are certainly saddened by your departure, O Ibrāhīm!”51 In that prophetic balance is an indication that being moved by empathy for those who suffer is praiseworthy, but so is finding solace in conviction that the hereafter is a world of reunions. In another hadith, Abū Ḥassān asked Abū Hurayrah (rA), “I have two sons who have both died. Can you share with us something from the Messenger of Allah ﷺ to uplift our spirits after experiencing their death?” Abū Hurayrah responded, “Indeed, the Prophet ﷺ told us that their young (i.e., children of bereaved parents) are roaming about in Paradise.” Nothing can soothe the wound of a parent who lost a child like certainty that they will be reunited with them in Paradise, and that their child will refuse to enter Paradise until their parents enter with them, and that Allah will grant them that.52
Everyone who chases happiness in life will forever find it eluding them, while those who accept Māliki Yawm al-Dīn as their Lord, and their meeting with Him as sufficient consolation, stumble on happiness in the form of contentment with life.
As the great scholar Ibn al-Jawzī53 (d. 597) explains,
There is nothing pleasurable in this world that is lasting except for the ʿārif (the person deeply acquainted with God) who busies himself with pleasing his Beloved, and gathering ample provisions for the journey toward Him. It is only this person who finds relief in this world due to his usage of it all as a means towards the hereafter.54
And as the Prophet ﷺ promised and cautioned,
Whoever makes this world his primary concern, Allah will confound his affairs and cause him to constantly fear poverty, and yet he will still not gain anything extra from this world other than that which was already decreed for him. And whoever makes the hereafter his primary concern, Allah will consolidate his affairs for him and keep him content at heart, and his worldly provisions will still reach him.55
Our moral integrity depends on our certainty about the Day of Judgment. One cannot believe that one will face God and still live heedlessly, selfishly, or unjustly—at least not regularly. Cognizance of Allah will necessitate holding oneself to the ethical standards He set in anticipation of meeting Him. This will keep us from entertaining the myriad of “justifications” for pursuing this world in deplorable ways. Therefore, belief in the Day of Judgment is a safety net that prevents us from falling into immorality, and emboldens us when living “by the Book” subjects us to great inconveniences. How not, when revelation has carved within us that the persevering will be given “a reward without measure”56 upon meeting Māliki Yawm al-Dīn?
We currently live in a world that emphasizes being accountable to yourself first and foremost, although we are in actuality holding ourselves accountable to the ever-fluctuating norms that society has impressed upon us. However, even when overlooking the epistemological layer of morality, which identifies what is morally acceptable and objectionable to begin with, morality (however defined) is doomed to being forever negotiable due to its dependence on the buy-in of the self. When no responsibility to a Divine Lawgiver and Judge exists, and no consequence to the individual for their moral failings is feared, then imbibing any moral framework is contingent on convenience. It is famously reported that ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb (rA) would exhort people to align themselves with the laws of God, and to employ introspection and self-accountability to ensure that this is a embodied and not merely a theoretical alignment. He (rA) would say,
Hold yourself accountable before you are held to account [by Allah], and weigh your deeds before they are weighed against you—for the reckoning will be easier upon you tomorrow if you hold yourself accountable today. And adorn yourselves for the Great Presentation; “On that day, you will be presented, and no hidden matter of yours will remain hidden.”57, 58
The Qur’an often reminds us that those who fail to be granted God’s grace will explain why from within the Hellfire.59 In other words, they were not oblivious to the corruption of their deeds and beliefs. All this reminds us that we have to guard ourselves against heedlessness. It is tempting to minimize our responsibilities, but understanding that the Day of Judgment is a reality should cause us to take everything we learn about this grave day seriously. In the biographies of the Prophet’s Companions and early Muslims is sufficient inspiration for this. Abū al-Dardāʾ (rA), for instance, would say, “What I fear most on the Day of Judgment is that it will be said to me, ‘O Abū al-Dardāʾ, you knew, so how did you act with the knowledge you had?’” This does not mean that they lived in a state of chronic anxiety and despair due to fear—far from it. It simply means that they gave the Day of Judgment the weight it demands, and did not think their righteousness exempted them from accountability. Indeed, ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb stated, “If a lost sheep under my care were to die on the banks of the Euphrates, I would expect Allah the Exalted to question me about it on the Day of Resurrection.”60 He felt the great responsibility he had as leader, and that sense of responsibility compelled his vigilance.
In order to avoid a type of fear that results in despair, consider a person born with a genetic predisposition to serious heart problems, such that engaging in certain unhealthy behaviors would mean undergoing a dangerous and potentially life-threatening heart procedure. However, if they live in an overall healthy way, they can more or less guarantee that they will avoid any major heart issues. This person would do their best to be conscious of what they eat and how much they exercise. They would seek advice and knowledge regarding their condition. They would put in the necessary effort to follow the guidelines, and be aware of when they slip. And when they do slip—they are human, after all—they might feel worried about the consequences, and follow up with actions to counteract the effects of the unhealthy ones. The knowledge of their condition helps them to act in the best way. This is the type of accountability that we speak of—one that enables us to live with awareness and deliberation. Our heart should be in a balanced state, such that if fear overwhelms us, we remind ourselves of the mercy and grace of Allah, and if we find ourselves absorbed in this world and belittling the Hereafter, we recall its reality and graveness.
Holding oneself accountable is therefore not about paralyzing fear or aimless self-flagellation. It is more about prosperity on a day when regret will be futile; a day when “they say, ‘If only I had taken the same path as the Messenger… Woe to me, I wish I had not taken so-and-so for a close friend!’”61 But while pursuing that prosperity, one can and should intentionally enjoy some of what has been permitted in this world, as this enables us to strike the right balance and avoid burn-out. We can and should spend time with friends and family, exercise, have hobbies, and enjoy going out. Our Prophet ﷺ once comforted one of the Companions, Ḥanẓalah (rA), when he expressed his anxiety over what he thought was “neglecting the hereafter.” He complained:
“O Messenger of Allah, when we are in your presence and you remind us of Hellfire and Paradise, it is as if we are seeing them with our own eyes. But when we leave you and attend to our wives, our children, and our properties, we forget many things.” The Prophet ﷺ said, “By Him in whose hand is my soul, if you could always remain as mindful as you are in my presence, the angels would shake your hands on your couches and on your roads. Rather, there is a time for this and a time for that.” The Prophet ﷺ said it three times.62
It should go without saying that the first step necessary for holding ourselves to account is to seek beneficial Islamic knowledge, which educates us on the standards to which we will be held. Otherwise, we are impressionable creatures that will easily be manipulated by our feelings, cultural tastes, and personal inclinations. Many times, even with good intentions, we are kept from a greater good by an inferior one, and an individual obligation by a voluntary deed. Muslims who are consistent in their observance of good works, but negligent of their five time-sensitive daily prayers, are the clearest examples of this. Had they but known, or remembered, that the Prophet ﷺ said,
The first action for which a servant of Allah will be held accountable on the Day of Resurrection will be his prayers. If they are in order, he will have prospered and succeeded. If they are lacking, he will have failed and lost. If there is something defective in his obligatory prayers, then the Almighty Lord will say: See if My servant has any voluntary prayers that can complete what is insufficient in his obligatory prayers. The rest of his deeds will be judged the same way.63
Accountability for the Muslim begins there, then extends further to evaluate their observance of the other obligations, their avoidance of misusing their limbs and tongue in ways that displease Allah, and even reaching the point where a person’s mind and heart are guarded by introspection against polluted thoughts settling therein. But none of that is possible without seeing oneself as a life-long student of sacred knowledge and spiritual refinement.
This knowledge should also orient us as to how wide the spectrum of “good” in Islam actually is. We should therefore always be scoping out opportunities, and never belittle any small deed. In fact, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Even if the Resurrection were about to commence upon one of you while he holds a sapling in his hand, he should certainly plant it if he can manage to plant it.”64 Sometimes we assume that it is too late or cumbersome to begin on the path towards something good, especially a long-term project, such as memorizing the Qur’an, starting a charity organization, or resolving a complex dispute between people. But this hadith teaches us to simply start, and that our sincere intention materializes on the Day of Judgment as a completed deed! It also teaches us that our most gracious Lord wishes for us to become “creative” through these “ideas” and never underestimate any breath we take in this world, realizing that it could afford us fortunes in our true lives in Paradise.
The necessary effect of avoiding the thought of the Day of Judgment is that we become estranged from our true purpose in this world. We forget that we are not in the world for its own sake, but rather to know and worship God sincerely, enter into His Paradise, and avoid the Hellfire. The time we have on this earth, even if our lifespan exceeds 100 years old, is extremely short; the hereafter is literally forever. But when we forget that there is a Day of Judgment and that we will stand before God individually, we end up living for this world and abiding by the values and mantras of the time. We assign imaginary value to the valueless because we do not adhere to the standards set by the Master of that Day, Māliki Yawm al-Dīn, but rather to the vacuous standards of the façade of the “masters” of today.
Ultimately, Allah wants us to have unwavering certainty on the Last Day in order to maximize our aspirations to work righteousness during our stay in this world, and in terms of the level we wish to attain in Paradise. As the Prophet ﷺ said,
Paradise has one hundred levels, and between each two levels is a distance like that between the heavens and earth. Al-Firdaws is its highest level, from which four rivers of Paradise flow, and above which is the Throne. So when you ask from Allah, ask for Al-Firdaws.65
He ﷺ also reminded us, “When one of you calls upon Allah, be ambitious in your hopes, for absolutely nothing is too great for Allah.”66 For those whose faith has not yet ascended to those splendid heights, never losing hope in Māliki Yawm al-Dīn is their “duty of the hour,” as is devoting themselves to learning the art of thinking well of Allah by understanding His names, connecting to His Words, and to the lives of our righteous predecessors. A man once asked al-Barāʾ ibn ʿĀzib (rA) about the verse, “Do not throw yourself to destruction by your own hands.”67 He said, “Is this referring to a man who meets the enemy in battle and fights until he is killed?” Al-Barāʾ said, “No, rather it is the man who commits a sin, then says, ‘Allah will not forgive me.’”68
Allow us to seal this paper with the priceless advice that our beloved ﷺ shared as he sealed his blessed life. Jābir (rA) narrates: I heard the Prophet ﷺ say three days before his death, “No one of you should ever die without assuming the best of Allah, the Mighty and Majestic.”69
1 Peter Steinfels, “The Case for What ‘Comes as a Shock to Most Jews and Christians Alike,’” New York Times, September 30, 2006, U.S., https://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/30/us/30beliefs.html.
2 Qur’an 19:66–67, The Clear Quran.
3 Tanya Luhrmann, “When God Becomes a Therapist,” Psychology Today, April 2, 2012, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/when-god-talks-back/201204/when-god-becomes-therapist.
4 Qur’an 19:95, author’s loose translation.
5 An annual holiday Muslims celebrate following their ritual fasting of Ramadan and the ritual Hajj.
6 Ibn al-Jawzī, Ṣayd al-khāṭir (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmīyyah, 1992), 477.
7 Qur’an 1:2–4, The Clear Quran.
8 Qur’an 40:7.
9 Qur’an 39:75, The Clear Quran.
10 Shams ad-Dīn Abū Abdullah Muḥammad ibn Abī Bakr ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya was born in Damascus to a Ḥanbalī family. His father was the superintendent of the Jawziyya school, an institute dedicated to teaching the Islamic sciences and Ḥanbalī fiqh. He was heavily influenced by Ibn Taymiyyah, one of the most revolutionary scholars and thinkers in Islamic history and carried many of his ideas forward into his own works. He wrote books in almost every field of Islam, and was a polymath who also studied medicine with doctors in Egypt. His quotes and aphorisms are widely shared in contemporary times through digital media, a testament to the lasting impact of his writings.
11 Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, Madārij al-Sālikīn (Beirut: Dār al-Kitāb al-‘Arabī, 1996), 1/56-57.
12 Qur’an 82:17–19, The Clear Quran (with adaptation).
13 Qur’an 18:49, The Clear Quran.
14 Bilāl ibn Saʿd was an early transmitter of prophetic narrations (hadith) who narrated from multiple companions. He lived in Damascus and was the teacher of many of the early Syrian scholars, such as Al-Awzāʾī. He was also known for his piety, and it is said he would complete 100 units of prayer every day.
15 Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak, az-Zuhd wal-Raqā’iq (Riyadh: Dār al-Mi‘rāj al-Dawliyyah, 1995), 1:150, #62.
16 Abu Salma Ḥammād ibn Salamah al-Baṣrī was a prolific narrator of hadith and a scholar of the Arabic language. As his appellation suggests, he was from Basra in modern day Iraq and his narrations are frequently quoted in Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī and Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, the two most authoritative hadith compilations in Islam.
17 Al-Dhahabī, Siyar A‘lām al-Nubalā’ (Beirut: Mu’assasat al-Risālah, 1985), 7/449.
18 Al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī was from the tabi‘ūn (successor) generation, which meant he had met with the companions of the Prophet sallallahu ʿalayhī wa salam. He was born in Medina during the caliphate of ʾUmar ibn al-Khattāb, and his family subsequently moved to Basra following the civil war. He grew up to be one of the most significant scholars of his generation. He was one of the earliest ascetics at a time when wealth was accumulating in the Islamic empire. Many spiritual masters trace their connection to the Prophet ﷺ through al-Ḥasan.
19 Qur’an 46:15.
20 Sahih al-Bukhari, no. 6419.
21 See: Qur’an 7:44.
22 Qur’an 7:156, Saheeh International.
23 Sahih al-Bukhari, no. 3194.
24 Ibn al-Qayyim, Ḥadī al-arwāḥ ilā bilād al-afrāḥ (Jeddah: Majmaʾ Fiqh al-Islāmī, 2007), 2:764.
25 Jami’ at-Tirmidhi, no. 2420.
26 Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, no. 2956.
27 Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, no. 2753.
28 Al-Qurtubi, at-Tadhkira (Riyadh: Maktaba Dār al-Minhāj, 1425 AH), 1:796.
29 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, no. 2340; Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, no. 1914.
30 Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, no. 2245.
31 Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, no. 2807.
32 Ibn al-Qayyim, Rawdat ul-muhibbeen (Jeddah: Daar Aalim al-Fawaa’id, n.d.), 572.
33 Sahih Muslim, no. 181; some of the wording is from Jami’ Tirmidhi no. 2552 and Sunan Ibn Majah no. 187.
34 Sunan al-Nasā'ī, no. 1305, graded authentic by al-Albānī; Sahih Ibn Hibban no. 1971.
35 Abu Bakr ash-Shiblī was one of the most important early spiritual masters in Islamic history. He was born in Baghdad to a wealthy family in 247 AH. He became disillusioned with the world and went into self-imposed exile searching for a spiritual path. He became a disciple of the great master Junayd al-Baghdādī (d. 298 AH) and took up his mantle afterwards. He is frequently quoted in books of narrations pertaining to spiritual matters, as well as in the poems of spiritual writers.
36 Ibn al-Qayyim, Rawdat ul-muhibbeen, 589.
37 Qur’an 23:115.
38 Ibn al-Qayyim, Ṭarīq al-Hijratayn (Jeddah: Majmaʾa Fiqh al-Islāmī, 2008), 257.
39 Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Words (New Jersey: Tughra Books, 2010), 86.
40 Qur’an 16:60.
41 It is worth noting that the classic “Epicurean dilemma,” which argues that God cannot be merciful, capable, and knowing, and then still allow evil to exist, is fundamentally flawed even according to prominent atheists today. See https://yaqeeninstitute.org/read/paper/why-do-people-suffer-gods-existence-the-problem-of-evil.
42 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 3688; Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 2639d.
43 Sunan al-Nasāʾī, no. 150. Declared authentic (ṣaḥīḥ) by al-Albānī, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Nasāʾī, no. 150.
44 Jami’ at-Tirmidhī, no. 2435; Sunan Abī Dawūd, no. 4739. Al-Albani declared it authentic (Ṣaḥīḥ at-Tirmidhī, no. 2435; Ṣaḥīḥ Abu Dawud, no. 4739).
45 Qur’an 24:22, Saheeh International.
46 Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, no. 1844.
47 Jāmiʿ al-Tirmidhī, no. 2402, graded hasan by al-Albani.
48 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, no. 6416.
49 Sufyān ibn Saʾīd ath-Thawrī was one of the greatest scholars of hadith (narration) and fiqh (law) among the salaf (first three generations of Islam). He learned from over 600 teachers and was said to have had thousands of students. He founded his own madhab (legal school), but it did not survive beyond the next generation. He has also written one of the earliest tafāsīr we have available with us today, published partially until Sūrah at-Ṭūr (52). Aside from his scholarly achievements, he was also known for his piety and asceticism.
50 Abu Nu’aym, Hilyat al-awliyaa (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1996), 7:17.
51 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, no. 1241.
52 Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, no. 2635.
53 ʿAbdur-Rahmān ibn al-Jawzī, not to be confused with Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya quoted earlier, was another Ḥanbalī scholar who resided in Baghdad. He was a descendant of Abu Bakr as-Siddīq, the greatest companion of the Prophet sallallahu ʿalayhi wa salam. His eloquence was widely known, and it is said thousands would flock to his Friday sermons, such that it would require designated people to carry forward his speech to congregants who were seated far away. He was a prolific author, with some estimating that he wrote up to 700 works.
54 Ibn al-Jawzi, Sayd al-khatir, 317.
55 Sunan Ibn Majah no. 4105. Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr said that the hadith is confirmed (thabit) in al-Tamhīd (Morocco: Ministry of Endowments, 1967), 21:276, and it was graded authentic by al-Albānī.
56 Qur’an 39:10.
57 Qur’an 69:18.
58 Ibn al-Mubarak, al-Zuhd war-raqā’iq, the chapter on fleeing from mistakes and sins, hadith no. 307.
59 “What has landed you in Hell?” They will reply, “We were not of those who prayed, nor did we feed the poor. We used to indulge [in falsehood] along with others, and deny the Day of Judgment, until the inevitable came to us” (Qur’an 72:42–47).
60 Abu Nu‘aym al-Aṣbahānī, Ḥilyat al-Awliyā’ wa Ṭabaqāt al-Aṣfiyā’ (Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, 1996), 1:53.
61 Qur’an 25:27–28.
62 Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, no. 2750.
63 Sunan al-Tirmidhī, no. 413.
64 Musnad Aḥmad, no. 12902; al-Arnāʾūṭ said that it is authentic according to the criteria of Imam Muslim.
65 Jami’ at-Tirmidhī, no. 2531; Musnad Aḥmad, no. 22738 and graded authentic by al-Arnāʾūṭ.
66 Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Ḥibbān, no. 896; al-Arnāʾūṭ said that it is authentic according to the criteria of Imam Muslim.
67 Qur’an 2:195.
68 Shu‘ab al-Iman, no. 6691.
69 Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, no. 2788a.