Salvation in Islam
Salvation, or called in academic circles, Soteriology, comes from the Greek: σωτηρία sōtēria “salvation” from σωτήρ sōtēr “savior, preserver” and λόγος logos “study” or “word”) is the study of religious doctrines of salvation. Salvation theory occupies a place of special significance in many religions. Islam is quite clear about what heaven will be like but not so clear about what it takes to get there. Here’s an overview of the Islamic concept of salvation and what it takes to attain it and the rewards a faithful Muslim can expect one they enter the Islamic paradise, often called Al Jannah.
The concept of heaven in Islam does not have its equivalent in Christianity. The main term (there are many) for heaven is Al-Jannah, and it encompasses a cosmology of space and time with multitudes of gradations and levels. In short, depending on level of faithfulness and deeds done, Muslims enter multiple (8) doors that signify their obedience to specific principles, as in:
1) Baabus Salaah: Those who were consistent in observing their Salaah will be granted entry through this door.
2) Baabul Jihad: Those who participated in Jihad will be granted entry through this door.
3) Baabus Sadaqah: Those who frequently gave Sadaqah will be admitted into Jannah through this door.
4) Baabur Rayyaan: The people who constantly observed the fast will be granted entry through this door.
5) Baabul Hajj: Those who observe the pilgrimage will be admitted through this door.
6) Baabul Kaazimeenal Ghaiz Wal Aafina Anin Naas: This door is reserved for those who suppress their anger and pardon others.
7) Baabul Aiman: This door is reserved for the entry of such people who are saved from reckoning and chastisement (The Awliyah).
8) Baabuz Zikr: Those who excessively remembered Allah will be admitted through this door.
Al-Jannah is also separated by eight levels, each one with a hundred more gradations in each level. See this Muslim-friendly source for additional detail: Sunnah Muakada
Who gets in?
The Prophet said, “Allah will say (on the Day of Resurrection), ‘O Adam.’ Adam will reply, ‘Labbaik wa Sa’daik’, and all the good is in Your Hand.’ Allah will say: ‘Bring out the people of the fire.’ Adam will say: ‘O Allah! How many are the people of the Fire?’ Allah will reply: ‘From every one thousand, take out nine-hundred-and ninety-nine.’ …He further said, “You (Muslims) (compared with non Muslims) are like a black hair in the skin of a white ox or like a white hair in the skin of a black ox (i.e. your number is very small as compared with theirs).” (Sahih Bukhari Volume 004, Book 055, Hadith Number 567)
What are the criteria for entry?
Good Deeds: At the end of time, all people will be rewarded or punished according to how well they followed the instructions contained in God’s revelations to his prophets. God will resurrect the dead, and each person will be judged directly by Allah according to his or her intentions and deeds. At a minimum, the obligatory deeds must be fulfilled (e.g. Five Pillars, Six Articles). Each person’s deeds will be weighed in a balance, and if the evil deeds outweigh the good deeds, the person will be condemned to the eternal flame. If the good deeds outweigh the evil deeds, then the person will be rewarded with paradise. The Quran says that each person receives a book that contains an account of all of his or her deeds. If the book is placed in the right hand, the person is destined for eternal bliss. If the book is placed in the left hand, that person is destined for eternal flame.
Repentance: Islam does not teach that humans need intercession, although some traditions have allowed that Muhammad might intercede with God on humanity’s behalf. No one can know God, but at the same time, no one stands between the individual Muslim and God. If individuals find that they have sinned, they may sincerely apologize, and through remorse, receive forgiveness. The slate is clean, and they may begin again. This will likely happen many times in a life, because humans are not perfect. But on the Last Day, there are no excuses.
Allah’s Will: Due to the fact that Allah knows all and has already decreed who will attain the destination Al-Jannah (heaven), this condition is supreme above all others.
A Free Pass: Despite the above, it should be noted that there are “short cuts”. Martydom is first among them. Note that suicide is against Islam, but martyrdom most certainly is not. Over and over the Quran and Hadith agree that those who die while fighting the infidels in the service of Allah are automatic heirs of paradise. Note the following:
Quran (4:74) – “Let those fight in the way of Allah who sell the life of this world for the other. Whoso fighteth in the way of Allah, be he slain or be he victorious, on him We shall bestow a vast reward.”
Sahih Bukhari (52:46) – “Allah guarantees that He will admit the Mujahid in His Cause into Paradise if he is killed, otherwise He will return him to his home safely with rewards and war booty.”
These are only two … see here for a wider list of references.
What are the rewards?
When one thinks of success in this life, they usually conjure the image of big houses, fine jewelry and clothing, and expensive cars; financial stability is seen to be the key to a happy life. To most people, success is inseparably related to wealth, even though this is the furthest from the truth. How many times have we seen the wealthiest of people living such miserable lives, that it sometimes even leads them to commit suicide! Wealth is something which humans in their very nature desire at any cost, and this desire has been created for a great and wise purpose. When this desire is not satiated, it causes some extent of grief in a person. For this reason, God has promised the inhabitants of Paradise that they will have all that they imagined as far as wealth and belongings are concerned, both for those who were extremely poor, experiencing even hunger and thirst, to those well-to-do but who desired even more. (link)
“… there will be there all that the souls could desire, all that the eyes could delight in …” (Quran 43:71)
“Eat and drink at ease for that which you have sent forth (good deeds) in days past!” (Quran 69:24)
“… They will be adorned therein with bracelets of gold, and they will wear green garments of fine silk and heavy brocade. They will recline therein on raised thrones. How good [is] the recompense! How beautiful a couch [is there] to recline on!” (Quran 18:31)
> No Death and Disease: The physical body will not experience any ailments, which is not dissimilar from some Christian viewpoints. Again, the detail is interesting:
Another cause of pain and suffering in this life is the death of a loved one or disease, which are both non-existent in Paradise. None will feel any sickness or pain in Paradise. The Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, said about the people of Paradise: “They will never fall ill, blow their noses or spit.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari).
None will die in Paradise. All shall live eternally enjoying the pleasures therein. The Prophet Muhammad said that a caller will call out in Paradise when people enter it:
“Indeed may you be healthy and never be sick again, may you live and never die again, may you be young and never grow feeble again, may you enjoy, and never feel sorrow and regret again.” (Saheeh Muslim)
> Material Wealth Better in Heaven: As if being wealthy as to material things wasn’t enough, the Hadith adds that the quality of the wealth is also much better and beyond comparison to the material things here on Earth:
The delights of the people of Paradise, such as their clothing, food, drink, jewelry and palaces, will be far superior to their counterparts in this world. There is in fact no room for comparison, as even the smallest space in Paradise is better than this world and all that is in it. The Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, said: “The space of the bow of any one of you in Paradise is better than all that the sun rises upon” (Mishkaat al-Masaabeeh 3/85, no. 5615)
>Purity, even Bodily Functions: These details seem to both provide comfort for the believer who is concerned about the little things in paradise. To me, this is more than I’d want to know:
Paradise is free from all the impurities of this world. Eating and drinking in this life results in the need for excretion and its associated unpleasant odors. If a person drinks wine in this world, he loses his mind. Women in this world menstruate and give birth, which are sources of pain and hurt. Paradise is free from all of these discomforts: its people will not urinate, defecate, spit or suffer from catarrh. The wine of Paradise, as described by its Creator, is:
“Crystal-white, delicious to those who drink (thereof), free from intoxication, nor will they suffer intoxication therefrom” (Quran 37:46-47)
The water of Paradise does not become brackish, and its milk never changes in flavor:
“…rivers of water incorruptible; rivers of milk of which the taste never changes…” (Quran 47:15)
The women of Paradise are pure and free from menstruation, postnatal bleeding and all the other impurities suffered by women in this world, and all are free from stool and feces. God says:
“…and they shall have therein purified mates…” (Quran 2:25)
The prophet answered a person when they asked how the people of Paradise will relieve themselves:
“They relieve themselves by perspiring through their skins, and its fragrance will be that of musk, and all stomachs will have become lean.” (ibn Hibbaan) (Link)
> Finally, the Women: Yes, the faithful men are promised multiple women in paradise, and both the Quran and the Hadiths are not sparing on the details:
Virgins: “The Prophet Muhammad was heard saying: ‘The smallest reward for the people of paradise is an abode where there are 80,000 servants and 72 wives, over which stands a dome decorated with pearls, aquamarine, and ruby, as wide as the distance from Al-Jabiyah [a Damascus suburb] to Sana’a [Yemen].” Hadith, Al-Tirmidhi vol. 4, chp. 21 (The Features of Paradise as described by the Messenger of Allah).
Chaste Women: “In the Gardens of Paradise, Facing one another on thrones, Round them will be passed a cup of pure wine; White, delicious to the drinkers, Neither they will have any kind of hurt, abdominal pain, headache, or sin, nor will they suffer intoxication from it. And with them will be chaste females, restraining their glances, with wide and beautiful eyes.” (37:40-4)
Righteous are married to lovely eyed virgins: “Verily! The righteous will be in Paradise. Among Gardens and Springs; Dressed in fine silk and also in thick silk, facing each other, and We shall marry them to Houris with wide, lovely eyes.” (44:51-55)
“Verily, for those who fear Allah there will be Gardens in Paradise, filled with Delight. Enjoying in that which their Lord has bestowed on them, and the fact that their Lord saved them from the torment of the blazing Fire. The Lord will say: ‘Eat and drink with happiness because of what you used to do’. They will recline with ease on thrones arranged in ranks. And We shall marry them to Houris with wide lovely eyes.” (52: 17-20)
Describing the Virgins: “Reclining upon the couches lined with silk brocade, and the fruits of the Gardens will be near at hand. Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you deny? Wherein will be those houris, restraining their glances upon their husbands, whom no man or jinn has opened their hymens with sexual intercourse before. Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you deny? In beauty they are like rubies and coral. Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you deny?” (55:54-59)
“Therein gardens will be fair wives good and beautiful; Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you deny? Houris restrained in pavilions; Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you deny? Whom no man has opened their hymens with sexual intercourse before. Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you deny? Reclining on green cushions and rich beautiful mattresses. Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you deny?” (55:70-77)
“…We created the houris and made them virgins, loving companions for those on the right hand….” (56:37-40)
“As for the righteous, they shall surely triumph. Theirs shall be gardens and vineyards, and high-bosomed virgins for companions: a truly overflowing cup.” (78:31-34)
Sexual Potency: Faithful men will be given more power to enjoy sexual pleasures with their wives: “The believer will be given great sexual potency in Jannah. He will be granted potency equal to that of a hundred men” [Bukhari]. “The person that enters Jannah will be in perpetual Pleasures, Never will he be afflicted in anyway, Nor will his clothing wear away and Never will he loose his youth. [Muslim]
What strikes me most about Al-Jannah is how the sensual rewards, the “fast track” free pass for martyrs/fighters/mujaheddin and lastly – Allah’s sense of predestined will – all make for a perfect (shit) storm. How so? Well, in at least three ways:
- Al-Jannah supports Sexism: If “sensual pleasures” are a main feature of heaven, then they are also to be desired here on Earth. Hence the treatment of women as non-equals, chattel and not worthy of equal rights as defined in the Quran and Hadiths is absolutely consistent with what the afterlife has in store.
- Al-Jannah supports Terrorism: If one can obtain the highest heaven with the promise of some three score and 12 virgins as the centerpiece, then one would be considerably motivated to get there using the fast-track method: Martyrdom via Jihad.
- Al-Jannah supports Orthodoxy: If one is convinced that Al-Qadar has divinely willed their life to go in this direction, there is little motivation to look elsewhere for purpose and fulfillment. Indeed, there is great incentive to not stray from the path of Islam: Death has been prescribed for leaving it as an “apostate”. This is also another impediment to any concept of reform (internally) or the ability to co-exist in modern westernized societies (externally).