“Why do Muslims think everyone else goes to hell?”
I’ve heard variations of this question many times throughout my life.
Sometimes it’s a close friend asking; sometimes it’s someone I’ve only met a few times. This question is usually accompanied by other questions, such as:
“If God is so merciful, why doesn’t everyone go to heaven?”
“What about the people who lived before Muhammad. Do they all go to hell?”
“What happens when a person who has never heard of Islam, dies?”
“Isn’t it enough to just become a good person?”
“So like, seriously, you think even Mother Teresa will go to hell?”
I haven’t always been able to answer these uncomfortable questions without hurting someone’s feelings. And that has been hard. It pushed me to learn more about this whole heaven and hell business.
In my search for answers, I came to understand a few core principles that reveal Allah’s wisdom, mercy, and judgment.
Heaven Isn’t Exclusive to Muslims
First, let’s define what being “Muslim” means.
Allah SWT has never called the followers of Islam as Muhammadans in the Quran, but rather Muslims. Being Muslim simply means submitting to God’s will. This includes those who follow previous prophets of Islam sent before Prophet Muhammad SAW.
“Verily! Those who believe and thoe who are Jews and Christians, and Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and do righteous good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
~ Quran 2:62
As for the person who has never received the message of Islam in its correct and true form, they will be tested on the Day of Resurrection: those who obey will enter heaven and those who don’t will enter Hell (based on a hadith reported by al-Aswad ibn Saree).
Muslims are Not Automatically Safe from Hellfire
Simply being born into a Muslim family or proclaiming to be Muslim doesn’t save you from hellfire. One must sincerely submit to the will of Allah without deviating from the truth. Prophet Muhammad SAW had warned Muslims of this when he said:
“The Jews split into 71 groups; one will enter Paradise and 70 will enter Hell. The Christians split into 72 groups; 71 will enter Hell and one will enter Paradise. By Him in Whose Power is the life of Muhammad, without a doubt, my Ummah will be divided into 73 groups. Only one will enter Paradise and 72 will enter Hell.”
~ Prophet Muhammad, Source: Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Fitan
This is why it is important for Muslims to avoid deviation by adhering to the lessons in the Quran, the divine revelation that Allah has promised will be guarded against corruption. Indeed, the Quran has remained unchanged for over 1,400 years, proven by the fact that even the oldest copy found is the same as today’s copy, as well as being preserved through the tradition of Quran memorization.
It’s also important to note that externally following the do’s and dont’s of Islam does not guarantee a spot in heaven if your heart is insincere. Even those who died in war fighting for Islam do not automatically go to heaven if Allah knows that their hearts did not submit to His will. The hypocrite is in fact assigned to the lowest level of hell.
“Indeed, the hypocrites will be in the lowest depths of the Fire – and never will you find for them a helper”.
~ Quran 4:145
Allah is the Only Judge
In the end, Allah is the only judge.
This relieves us from the burden of judging others. Quite frankly, we don’t have the right to say with certainty that so and so will go to heaven or hell.
No human being could possibly ever know if a “non-Muslim” has submitted to the will of Allah, or if someone had received the message of Islam in a correct and true form, or if someone is a true believer and not a hypocrite.
So, no. I do not know if Mother Teresa will go to heaven or hell. I do not even know if I will go to heaven or hell.
As a Muslim, I can only strive to be the very best servant of Allah that I can be. The rest is up to Allah, His infinite mercy, and His fair judgment.
Sadia Suhail is the content marketer at Quran Academy, an NYC-based startup that created ‘Quran Companion’ — a unique Quran memorization app with memorization technology, gamification, and social features.