The Fate of Non-Muslims: Perspectives on Salvation Outside of Islam
Published: March 7, 2018 • Updated: December 27, 2020
Author: Dr. Jonathan Brown
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
Do All Good People Go to Heaven?
- A God exists who created the world and watches over human life
- God wants people to be good, kind, and fair to each other, as taught by most world religions
- The main goal of life is to be happy
- There is no need for God to be particularly involved in one’s life, except when He is needed to resolve a problem
- Good people go to heaven when they die.
Those Ignorant of Islam
The rights of a neighbor are that, if he falls sick you visit him, if he dies you follow his funeral procession, if he asks you for a loan you lend to him, if he is in need you assist him, if good befalls him you congratulate him, if misfortune befalls him you console him, that you not build your house up above his, blocking out the breeze, and that you not afflict him with the aroma of your cooking pot without offering him some.
1. Islam is the Only Path
- “Whoever seeks other than Islam as a religion, it will not be accepted from him, and he shall be in the Hereafter among the lost.” (3:85)
- “Truly religion in the sight of God is Islam.” (3:19)
- “But whoever opposes the Messenger, after guidance has been made clear to him, and follows a way other than that of the believers, We shall leave him on [the path] he has taken, and We shall cause him to burn in Hell—what an evil journey’s end! (4:115, see also 48:13).
2. Belief in God and Doing Good Deeds
- “Indeed, those who believe, and the Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, those who believe in God and the Last Day and work righteousness, they shall have their reward with their Lord; no fear need they have, neither shall they grieve.” (2:62)
- Coming in between verses criticizing Christians and Jews for making claims of salvific exclusivity, God declares, “Nay, but whoever submits (aslama) themselves totally to God and does good, they will have their reward with their Lord, no fear need they have and neither shall they grieve.” (2:112)
- “Whoever says ‘There is no god but God’ enters the Garden.”
And among the People of the Book is an upright community who recite God’s signs in the watches of the night while they prostrate. They believe in God and the Last Day, enjoin right and forbid wrong, and hasten unto good deeds. And they are among the righteous. Whatsoever good they do, they will not be denied it. (Qur’an 3:113-115)
3. All True Paths Lead to the One
How I Deal with this Question
No, do not rule that anyone will go to the Garden,
Nor to the Fire, if you seek [to follow] the Sunna.
But how do we reconcile the tremendous emphasis on God’s mercy with the evidence that the Qur'an and Sunna provide for salvation coming through Islam alone? How do we reconcile, on one hand, the repeated declaration that it is only belief in the one God and doing good deeds that can secure someone peace in the eternity after death, with, on the other hand, how clearly we see the moral virtue and excellence in many non-Muslims we interact with every day? In my opinion, one can only reconcile this through a complete trust in God’s justice. As the Qur'an says on three occasions, “God does not wrong any of the slaves (i.e., human beings)” (3:182, 8:51, 22:10). The Prophet ﷺ explains that, when fates are apportioned in the Afterlife, “God does not wrong anyone of His creation.”
1 Alois Musil, The Manners and Customs of the Rwala Bedouins (New York: American Geographical Society, 1928), 479, 674-75.
2 Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, South Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 162-63; Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option (New York: Sentinel, 2017), 10.
3 Smith and Denton, Soul Searching, 170.
4 Smith and Denton, Soul Searching, 163.
5 Marshall Hodgson, The Venture of Islam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), 1:29.
6 This hadith is considered weak by many scholars, but Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī states that it has a basis (aṣl) from the Prophet ﷺ. See Murtaḍā al-Zabīdī, Itḥāf al-sāda al-muttaqīn bi-sharḥ Iḥyā’ ʿulūm al-dīn, 10 vols. (Beirut: Mu’assasat al-Tārīkh al-ʿArabī, 1994), 6:308–309.
7 Ḥamd al-Khaṭṭābī, Maʿālim al-sunan (Beirut: al-Maktaba al-ʿIlmiyya, 1981), 4:325.
8 Muwaṭṭa’ of Mālik: kitāb qaṣr al-ṣalāt fī al-safar, bāb jāmiʿ al-ṣalāt.
9 Muḥammad Ṭāhir Ibn ʿĀshūr, Fatāwā al-shaykh al-imām Muḥammad Ṭāhir Ibn ʿĀshūr, ed. Muḥammad Ibrāhīm Bū Zughayba (Dubai: Markaz Jumʿat al-Mājid li’l-Thaqāfa wa’l-Turāth, 2004), 366.
10 Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, trans. Michael Marmura (Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1997), 212; idem, Iḥyā’ ʿulūm al-dīn, ed. Muḥammad Wahbī Sulaymān and Usāma ʿAmmūra (Damascus: Dār al-Fikr, 2006), 4:2476-77.
11 Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī, al-Ḥāwī li’l-fatāwī, 2 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Kitāb al-ʿArabī, n.d.), 2:404; Muḥammad Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Albānī, Silsilat al-aḥādīth al-ṣaḥīḥa, #1434, #2468. One narration reads ‘arbaʿa yawm al-qiyāma yudlawn bi-ḥujja rajul aṣamm lā yasmaʿu wa rajul aḥmaq wa rajul harim wa man māta fī al-fatra…and that even if they entered the Fire it would be cool and tranquil for them. This is found in the Ṣaḥīḥ of Ibn Ḥibbān, the Musnad of Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal (Maymaniyya printing), 4:24 and other collections. A second version explains that their fate will depend on whether God had ordained salvation (saʿāda) or perdition (shaqāwa) for them. Another version, found in the Musnad of Abū Yaʿlā al-Mawṣilī (yu’tā bi-arbaʿa yawm al-qiyāma…; or arbaʿa yaḥtajjūn yawm al-qiyāma…) is cited as proof for the existence of the Ahl al-Fatra category by Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī; al-Ashʿarī, al-Ibāna ʿan uṣūl al-diyāna, ed. Fawqiyya Ḥusayn Maḥmūd (Cairo: Dār al-Anṣār, 1977), 33. This latter version of the hadith contains a section describing how the Ahl al-Fatra will be judged by God by being asked to jump through a fire. This element caused some controversy and disagreement. The famous Andalusian judge and hadith scholar Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr (d. 1070) rejected this version completely. He argues that, though this narration has sound (ṣaḥīḥ) isnāds, it is not widely transmitted enough or free enough of flaws in transmission (ʿilal) to establish the “major principle” it claims. And it is contradicted by other principles that are too well known. First of all, the Afterlife is not “a site for acts/deeds, it is a site of reward/punishment. So how could God order a person who never heard a messenger to do an act to prove belief?” For Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, how the Ahl al-Fatra are dealt with is a matter of God’s divine decree and power (qadar) that we should not get into; Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, al-Istidhkār, ed. ʿAbd al-Muʿṭī Amīn Qalʿajī (Beirut: Dār Qutayba, 1993), 8:404; idem, al-Tamhīd li-mā fī al-Muwaṭṭa’ min al-maʿānī wa’l-asānīd, ed. Muṣṭafā Aḥmad al-ʿAlawī and Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Kabīr al-Bakrī, 2nd ed., 26 vols. (Rabat: Wizārat ʿUmūm al-Awqāf wa’l-Shu’ūn al-Islāmiyya, 1982-), 18:130.
12 Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī, On the Boundaries of Theological Tolerance in Islam: Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī’s Fayṣal al-Tafriqa, trans. Sherman A. Jackson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 126. One of the requirements for a person to be held accountable (mukallaf) before God for the sacred law and the message of prophets is that the message have reached them (bulūgh al-daʿwā). According to the contemporary Ashʿarī theologian Saʿīd Fūda, this requires massive parallel transmission (tawātur) or something similar to it. See Saʿīd Fūda, “Sharḥ Jawharat al-Tawḥīd, part 5,” available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JiYmS_egwkE.
13 Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī, al-Ḥāwī li’l-fatāwī, 2 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Kitāb al-ʿArabī, n.d.), 2:404; al-Albānī, Silsilat al-aḥādīth al-ṣaḥīḥa, #1434, #2468.
14 Al-Ghazālī, On the Boundaries of Theological Tolerance in Islam, 126.
15 Muqbil bin Hādī al-Wādiʿī, Majmūʿ fatāwā al-Wādiʿī, ed. Ṣādiq Muḥammad al-Bayḍānī ([No place, no publisher], 2005), 414.
16 Mohammad Hassan Khalil, Islam and the Fate of Others (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 132.
17 See, for example, Muḥyī al-Dīn al-Nawawī, Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 15 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Qalam, 1987), 2:59.
18 Jāmiʿ al-Tirmidhī: kitāb al-īmān, bāb mā jā’a fī-man yamūtu wa huwa yashhadu an lā ilāh illā Allāh.. The more complete version of this hadith is, “Whoever has testified that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is the messenger of God, God has made the Fire prohibited for him”; Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim: kitāb al-īmān, bāb man laqiya Allāh bi’l-īmān wa huwa ghayr shākk fīhi dakhala al-janna wa ḥaruma ʿalayhi al-nār. Al-Albānī considers this narration to be ḥasan; al-Albānī, Ṣaḥīḥ Sunan al-Tirmidhī, revised ed. (Riyadh: Maktabat al-Maʿārif, 2000), 3:51-52.
19 Khalil, Islam and the Fate of Others, 112-123.
20 Fazlur Rahman, The Major Themes of the Qur’an, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1994), 166.
21 Farid Esack, Qur’an, Liberation and Pluralism (Oxford: Oneworld, 1997), 160-5.
22 Musnad of Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal (Maymaniyya printing), 5:265-66.
23 See al-Qurṭubī, al-Jāmiʿ li-aḥkām al-Qur’ān, ed. Muḥammad Ibrāhīm al-Ḥifnāwī and Maḥmūd Ḥāmid ʿUthmān, 20 vols in 10. (Cairo: Dār al-Ḥadīth, 1994), 1:394 (on Qur'an 2:62).
24 Esack, Qur’an, Liberation and Pluralism, 160-165.
25 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: kitāb al-riqāq, bāb al-ṣirāṭ jisr Jahannam; Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim: kitāb al-īmān, bāb maʿrifat ṭarīq al-ru’ya.
26 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: kitāb al-riqāq, bāb ṣifat al-janna wa’l-nār; Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim: kitāb al-īmān, bāb ithbāt al-shifāʿa wa ikhrāj al-muwaḥḥidīn min al-nār.
27 Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-Bārī sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, ed. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Bin Bāz and Muḥammad Fu’ād ʿAbd al-Bāqī, 16 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 1997), 11:525-7. In the hadith, the Prophet ﷺ says, regarding his uncle Abū Ṭālib, who died refusing to accept Islam despite knowing its teachings intimately, “Perhaps my intercession will benefit him on the Day of Resurrection,” and that he would receive a lighter punishment; Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: kitāb al-riqāq, bāb ṣifat al-janna wa’l-nār; Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim: kitāb al-īmān, bāb shifāʿat al-nabī (s) li-Abī Ṭālib….
28 raḥmatī taghlibu ghaḍabī; Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: kitāb al-tawhīd, bāb qawlihi taʿālā wa yuḥadhdhirukum Allāhu nafsahu.
29 Jon Hoover, “Islamic Universalism: Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya’s Salafī Deliberation on the Duration of Hell-Fire,” Muslim World 99 (2009): 180-201.
30 Ibn al-Amīr al-Ṣanʿānī, Rafʿ al-astār li-ibṭāl adillat al-qā’ilīn bi-fanā’ al-nār, ed. Muḥammad Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Albānī (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islāmī, 1984), 65, 75.
31 Khalil, Islam and the Fate of Others, 126-30.
32 Peter Gay, ed., Deism: An Anthology (Princeton: D. van Nostrand Co., 1968), 35.
33 One can find a good expression of this ethos in Chapter 2 of Reza Shah-Kazemi’s The Other in the Light of the One: The Universality of the Qur’ān and Interfaith Dialogue (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 2006).
34 Khalil, Islam and the Fate of Others, 58.
35 Hodgson, The Venture of Islam, 1:29.
36 Cicero, De Natura Deorum, I:60–62, 71–73; Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 3 vols. (New York: Modern Library, n.d.), 1:27.
37 Wa lā taḥkumanna ʿalā aḥadin bi’l-janna, wa lā bi’l-nār idhā aradta al-sunna.
38 Ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī, Tafsīr (Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, 1985), 8:34 (on Qur'an 6:129).
39 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: kitāb al-adab, bāb raḥmat al-walad wa taqbīluhu wa muʿānaqatuhu; Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim: kitāb al-tawba, bāb fī siʿat raḥmat Allāh taʿālā wa annahā sabaqat ghaḍabahu.
40 Sunan of Abū Dāwūd: kitāb al-ādāb, bāb al-nahy ʿan al-baghy; Muḥyī al-Sunna al-Ḥusayn al-Baghawī, Sharḥ al-sunna, ed. Shuʿayb al-Arnā’ūṭ (Damascus: al-Maktab al-Islāmī, 1983), 14:385.
41 Gay, Deism, 37-38.
42 Thomas Carlyle, “Hero as Prophet: Mahomet: Islam,” in Carlyle’s Lectures on Heroes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1920), 40.
43 kataba rabbukum ʿalā nafsihi al-raḥma; Qur'an 6:54.
44 ʿadhābī uṣību bihi man ashā’u wa raḥmatī wasiʿat kulla shay’in; Qur'an 7:156.
45 qul yā ʿibādī alladhīna asrafū ʿalā anfusihim lā taqnaṭū min raḥmat Allāh, inna Allāh yaghfiru al-dhunūb jamīʿan innahu huwa al-ghafūr al-raḥīm; Qur'an 39:53.
46 Jāmiʿ al-Tirmidhī: kitāb al-daʿawāt, ḥadith.
47 Ibn Taymiyya, Majmūʿat al-fatāwā, ed. Sayyid Ḥusayn al-ʿAffānī and Khayrī Saʿīd, 35 vols. (Cairo: al-Maktaba al-Tawfīqiyya, n.d.), 11:104; al-Albānī, Fatāwā al-Shaykh al-Albānī, ed. ʿUkāsha ʿAbd al-Mannān al-Ṭayyibī (Cairo: Maktabat al-Turāth al-Islāmī, 1994), 350.
48 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: kitāb al-tayammum, bāb 2.
49 Musnad of Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal, 5:347.
50 Musnad of Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal, 2:518.
51 Tim Winter, “Realism and the Real: Islamic Theology and the Problem of Alternative Expressions of God,” in Between Heaven and Hell: Islam, Salvation and the Fate of Others, ed. Mohammad Hassan Khalil (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 136-8; al-Zabīdī, Itḥāf al-sāda al-muttaqīn, 10:494-5.
52 Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim: kitāb al-janna wa ṣifat naʿīmihā wa ahlihā, bāb al-nār yadkhuluhā al-jabbārūn….
53 Al-Nawawī, Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 17/18:191. Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr writes, “But the one who names Himself the Forgiving, the most Merciful, the Benevolent, the Wise (al-ghafūr al-rahīm al-ra’ūf al-ḥakīm) is too great for His attributes to be anything but truth – there is no god but He, He is not asked what He does, rather they are asked.”; Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, al-Istidhkār, 8:402-3.