Since Muslims have spent considerable time and energy thinking about future things, it behooves us to look carefully at what they do believe. This article will first of all examine the prominence of Last Things in Islam, a doctrine Kenneth Cragg says, Muslims view as only judicial. This he feels reflects on the very nature of God as simply an omnipotent judge with little thought of his divine love.¹
Second, select signs of “The End” will be laid out, followed by a discussion of the horrors of hell and pleasures of paradise. Finally, we will look at the role of Jesus as Judge in Islamic eschatology. The study will be buttressed throughout with references from the Qur’an and Hadith. In the various Islamic-Christian eschatological comparisons it will soon become apparent that the Gospel addresses many felt-needs–particularly in light of the Muslim uncertainty about death and the hereafter. Due to space limitations, the article will have little to say about current events in the Middle East, but it will briefly demonstrate that both Christianity and Islam look to the coming Messiah for ultimate peace on earth.
Prominence and Description
It might come as a surprise to some just how vital the doctrine of Last Things is in Islam. Montgomery Watt makes the point that after the doctrine of tawhid (God is one), belief in the Judgment is second in importance.² This emphasis is seen by the great amount of attention given to the topic in the Qur’an (primarily in the Meccan chapters), and the Hadith, but also how much this subject has always occupied their minds and their pens.
Vivienne Stacey, a veteran missionary among Muslims, says this is particularly true of women, who may not know much about the Qur’an and Traditions but are quite well-acquainted with the Judgment. A description of punishment and paradise will be covered in detail below, but it is worth repeating Stacey’s further comment here that many Muslim women have the idea from the Hadith that for every 1000 men, only one will be in hell, whereas for every 1000 women, only one will be in heaven. The rest of them will be in hell.³
Stacey goes on to say that as a result, many Muslim women spend their lives in fear of judgment and so seek protection and comfort against evil spirits by resorting to less than orthodox Islamic views. It must be stated at the outset, that since all Muslims face death and the hereafter with great fear and uncertainty, the Christian witness has much to offer from the Scriptures. This however must be done with humility and understanding to demonstrate hope, ultimate victory and assurance of salvation through the finished work of Christ. Gentleness is needed because Muslims tend to look on such assurance as arrogant presumption on the will of Almighty God.
Judgment in the Qur’an
Unlike some Christian theologians, Muslim scholars generally do not try to present a strict chronological order of what is going to ultimately transpire. However, from the Qur’an, commentators point to frightful conditions before the final Judgment. One such passage that illustrates this oft-repeated theme is “The Folding Up”:
“When the sun with its spacious light is folded up; When the stars fall, losing their luster; When the mountains vanish like a mirage; When the she-camels, ten months with young, are left untended; When the wild beasts are herded together in human habitations; When the oceans boil over with a swell; When the souls are sorted out being joined like with like; When the female infant buried alive, is questioned—for what crime she was killed; When the Scrolls are laid open; When the world on high is unveiled; When the blazing fire is kindled to fierce heat; And when the Garden is brought near—Then shall each know what it has put forward. So verily I call to witness the planets that recede. Go straight, or hide; And the night as it dissipates; And the dawn as it breathes away the darkness.” (81:1-18)
Amidst this dramatic description where the sun darkens, mountains dissolve into dust, seas boil, stars fall and she-camels abort, it says: “When the female infant buried alive, [and] is questioned for what crime she was killed”
This of course is in reference to judgment for female infanticide in pre-Islamic Arabia that the Prophet Muhammad put a stop to. It is therefore only fair to say that Muhammad did in one sense raise the status of women, however as previously noted, Islamic traditions repeatedly state that most of hell’s inhabitants are women.
A similar account of the coming cataclysmic events is drawn from the next Surah: “When the sky is cleft asunder; When the stars are scattered; When the oceans are suffered to burst forth; And when the graves are turned upside down—Then shall each soul know what it hath sent forward and what it hath kept back” (82:1-5)
“The Day” and “The Hour”
Among Qur’anic descriptions of the coming judgment in Islam none are more reminiscent of the Christian Scriptures than those which speak of the “The Day” or “The Hour” when destruction will come. The more common Islamic expressions are yawm al-qiyammah (The Day of Resurrection), yawm ad-din (The Day of Judgment) or al-yawm al-akhir (The Last Day). As in the Bible, particularly I and II Thessalonians, “The Hour” comes suddenly, announced by a shout, a thunderclap or a trumpet blast.
A fuller description of the punishment of hell will follow, but it cannot be stated too often that the fate of those who go astray and refuse to believe the “Warner” (Muhammad), is horrendous. Specifically, in Surah 75 (“Those Sent Forth),” there is the recurring phrase, “Ah woe, that Day, To the Rejecters of Truth.”
According, in his introduction to this early Meccan surah, Yusuf Ali informs us that the refrain occurs ten times in only fifty verses–once in every five. “Rejecting the truth” for Muslims, it would seem, is simply a matter of unbelief. Unbelief means rejecting the Arabian Prophet (messenger) and the Qur’an (message). For example, The Qur’an says, “He who obeys the Messenger, obeys Allah” (4:80).
This illustrates that being Muslim is not just belief in one God. One cannot be a Muslim without strong allegiance to the Arabian Prophet, considered to be the last and the greatest of prophets.
*This is the first article in a four-part series on Islamic Eschatology by Dr. Warren Larson. The second article can be read here.
- Kenneth Cragg, Readings in the Qur’an: Selected and translated by Kenneth Cragg. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988, pp. 75-80.
- W. Montgomery Watt and Richard Bell, Bell’s Introduction to the Qur’an. Edinburgh: University Press, 1970, p. 158.
- Vivienne Stacey, Women in Islam. London: Interserve, 1995, p. 16. 6 Ibid., pp. 16-17. Stacey’s unreferenced quote that the majority of inhabitants in hell are women and few will make it to heaven is found in Mishkat, Al-Masabih, Vol. 1, translated by James Robson. Lahore: Ashraf Press, 1975, p. 9. The reason given is that they are ungrateful to their husbands and deficient in religion. The same is stated in the canonized tradition of Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 8, translated by Muhammad Muhsin Khan. Beirut: Dar Al Arabia, 1981, p. 362, 363, Nos. 534-535. Similarly, Al-Bukhari, Vol. 4, p. 337, No. 535 gives the disturbing account of a woman who is in hell merely because she had tied up a cat without feeding it properly.