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Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin


Remedial nature of hell

Hell, therefore, only represents the evil consequences of evil deeds, but still it is not a place merely for undergoing the consequence of what has been done; it is also a remedial plan. In other words, the chastisement is not for the purpose of torture; it is for purification so that man, rid of the evil consequences, which he has brought about with his own hands, may be made fit for spiritual advancement. The Koran has clearly set out this law regarding even those punishments, which are made to overtake man here on earth: "And We did not send a prophet in a town, but We overtook its people with distress and affliction in order that they might humble themselves" (7:94). It implies that God brings down His punishment upon a sinning people in order that they may turn to Him; in other words, that they may be awakened to a higher life. The same must therefore be the object of punishment in hell; it is a remedial measure. In fact, a little consideration would show that good is enjoined because it helps the progress of man, and evil is prohibited because it retards that progress. If a man does well, he himself gets the advantages of it; if he does evil, it is to his own detriment. It is a subject to which the Koran returns over and over again: "He will indeed be successful who purifies it, and he will fail who corrupt it" (91:9-10), "Your striving is surely directed to various ends. Then as for him who gives in charity and is careful of his duty, and believes in goodness, We will facilitate for him the easy end. And as for him who is niggardly, and does not care for his duty, and rejects goodness, We will facilitate for him the difficult end" (92:4-10), "If you do good, you will do good for your own souls, and if you do evil, it shall be for them" (18:7), "Whoever does good, it is for his own soul, and whoever does evil, it is against it, and thy Lord is not in the least unjust to the servants" (41"46), and "Whoever does good, it is for his own soul, and whoever does evil, it is to his detriment; then you shall be brought back to your Lord" (45:15).

Purification being the great object, the man who has wasted his opportunity here must undergo the ordeal of hell in order to obtain it. Various other considerations lead to the same conclusion. In the first place, such great prominence is given to the attribute of mercy in God, that He is spoken of as having "ordained mercy on Himself" (6:12, 54); the Divine mercy is described as encompassing all things (6:148, 7:156, 40:7), so that even those who have acted extravagantly, against their own souls, should not despair of the mercy of God (39:53); and finally it is laid down that for mercy did He create all men (11:119). Such a Merciful Being could not chastise man unless for some great purpose, which purpose is to set him again on the road to the higher life, after purifying him from evil. It is like a hospital wherein different operations are performed only to save life.

The ultimate object of life of man is that he shall live in the service of God: "And I have not created the jinn and the men except that they should serve Me" (51:56). The man who lives in sin is debarred from the Divine presence (83:15); but being purified by fire, is again made fit for Divine service. Hence hell is called, in one place, the mawla (friend) of the sinners (57:15), and their umm (mother) in another (101:9). Both descriptions are a clear indication that hell is intended to raise up many by purifying him from the dross of evil, just as fire purifies gold of dross. It is to point to this truth that the Koran uses the word fitna (the assaying of gold, or casting it into the fire to purify it), both of the persecutions, which the faithful undergo in this life (2:191, 29:2, 10), and of the punishment, which the evildoers shall suffer in hell (37:63). Thus, the faithful are purified through their sufferings, in the way of God, in this life; and the evildoers shall be purified by hellfire. Hell is called a "friend" of sinner, because through sufferings it will fit them for spiritual progress, and it is called their "mother" because in its bosom they will be brought up, so that they may be able to tread the path of a new life.

The Egyptian author al-Tahawi (d. 321/933) writes in his Bayan al-Sunna wal Jama'a (p. 139) that, "If He wills, He punishes them in fire in proportion to their offense in accordance with His justice. Afterwards He will withdraw these from it, in accordance with His mercy, and will send them to the garden." Finally, we must not forget the meaningful supplication in Sahifa al-Sajjadia of Imam Zayn al-Abidin: "I ask Thee to have mercy on this delicate skin, this slender frame, which cannot endure the heat of Thy sun. How then will it endure the heat of Thy fire?"

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