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A Muslim Student's View on Justice and Mercy

Elmi Habib candidly presents his views on the two most important subjects.

by Elmi Habib—

Muslims and Christians both believe in the afterlife but their views are surprisingly different. This includes the respective compositions of heaven and hell and the criteria by which people get to one or the other (or both). In this article my young Muslim friend Elmi provides ample information on the Islamic view on this subject. 

Elmi is a student at the university of Michigan-Dearborn.

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful


This is an essay I’m writing in order to compile what I believe to be the relevant evidences from the Islamic sources for the perspective that I shared regarding our ongoing discussion of justice and mercy.  My main motivation for producing this is to demonstrate the clarity that our sources provide in shaping our theology.  The Qur’an is read through the Sunnah (the way of the Prophet ()).  Likewise, the Sunnah is understood in the light of the Noble Qur’an.  The sources listed below are from the Qur’an or from the authentic Narrations of the Prophet ().


Mankind was created imperfect.  We were given free-will as a test to see whether we will willfully follow Allah or not.  This is the reason behind our life and death.  As the Almighty says:

·       “1Blessed is He in whose hand is dominion, and He is over all things competent - 2[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed - and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving” [67:1-2].

·       “56And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” [51:56]

However, along with our free-will we have the choice to sin.  In fact, this is our soul’s inclination.  As the Prophet Yusuf, son of Yaqub is quoted saying in the Qur’an:

·       “53And I do not acquit myself. Indeed, the soul is a persistent enjoiner of evil, except those upon which my Lord has mercy. Indeed, my Lord is Forgiving and Merciful." [12:53]

So what is the solution?  As the Prophet Muhammad () says:

·       “Every son of Adam commits sin, and the best of those who commit sin are those who repent.” [Sunan Ibn Majah, Vol. 5, Book 37, Hadith 4251]

The solution to sinning is to repent.


Repentance, Taubah in Arabic, literally means “to turn”.  The same word is used to indicate the verb of repenting and accepting repentance.  The repentant one “turns” to Allah and Allah accepts his repentance by “turning” to him.  Whenever one sins, as mankind is wont to, they must:

1.     Realize what they have done is wrong,

2.     Regret it,

3.     Sincerely ask for Allah’s forgiveness,

4.     Leave the sin,

5.     Make the intention never to do it again,

6.     Reform their ways,

7.     Make reparations to the individual(s) they have wronged (if applicable)

The process described above is repentance.  Allah says:

·       “17The repentance accepted by Allah is only for those who do wrong in ignorance [or carelessness] and then repent soon after. It is those to whom Allah will turn in forgiveness, and Allah is ever Knowing and Wise. 18But repentance is not [accepted] of those who [continue to] do evil deeds up until, when death comes to one of them, he says, "Indeed, I have repented now," or of those who die while they are disbelievers. For them We have prepared a painful punishment.” [4:17-18]

·       “119Then, indeed your Lord, to those who have done wrong out of ignorance and then repent after that and correct themselves - indeed, your Lord, thereafter, is Forgiving and Merciful.” [16:119]

·       “39Say, "O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful." [39:53]

The “soon after” mentioned in the 4:17 means during the lifetime of the individual, before he dies.  As the Noble Prophet () explains:

·       “Allah accepts the repentance of His slave so long as the death rattle has not yet reached his throat.” [Sunan Ibn Majah, Vol. 5, Book 37, Hadith 4253]

Toward the end of Surah Furqan, it says:

·       “63And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace. 64And those who spend [part of] the night to their Lord prostrating and standing [in prayer]. 65And those who say, "Our Lord, avert from us the punishment of Hell. Indeed, its punishment is ever adhering; 66Indeed, it is evil as a settlement and residence. 67And [they are] those who, when they spend, do so not excessively or sparingly but are ever, between that, [justly] moderate. 68And those who do not invoke with Allah another deity or kill the soul which Allah has forbidden [to be killed], except by right, and do not commit unlawful sexual intercourse. And whoever should do that will meet a penalty.  69Multiplied for him is the punishment on the Day of Resurrection, and he will abide therein humiliated - 70Except for those who repent, believe and do righteous work. For them Allah will replace their evil deeds with good. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.  71And he who repents and does righteousness does indeed turn to Allah with [accepted] repentance.” [25:63-71]


Heaven and Hell

            It truly is difficult to enumerate in this small treatise the amount of times Allah describes in the Qur’an the denizens of paradise in contrast to the denizens of hellfire.  I will suffice to include to most concise, clear and explicit verses and narrations.  Firstly, entrance into paradise is presupposed by Allah’s mercy.  It is his mercy that is what enters one into heaven.  The Prophet Muhammad () said:

·       “None amongst you can get into Paradise by virtue of his deeds alone. They said: Allah's Messenger, not even you? Thereupon he said: Not even I, but that Allah should wrap me in His Grace and Mercy” [Sahih Muslim, Book 52, Hadith 69]

Allah Himself even describes admitting people into paradise as admitting them into His mercy:

·       “30So as for those who believed and did righteous deeds, their Lord will admit them into His mercy. That is what is the clear attainment.” [45:30]

Firstly, only Muslims will be the inhabitants of paradise. Every other group will be in Hell forever:

·       “Indeed, the [only] religion in the sight of Allah is Islam. And those who were given the Scripture did not differ except after knowledge had come to them - out of jealous animosity between themselves. And whoever disbelieves in the verses of Allah, then indeed, Allah is swift in [taking] account.” [3:19]

·       “And whoever desires other than Islam as religion - never will it be accepted from him, and he, in the Hereafter, will be among the losers.” [3:85]

This includes Jews and Christians after the apostleship of the Prophet Muhammad (), according to the Qur’an and the Sunnah.

Some Muslims will be in hell as well.  For example, those who choose to follow false sects.  As the Prophet Muhammad () says:

·       The Jews split into seventy-one sects, one of which will be in Paradise and seventy in Hell. The Christians split into seventy-two sects, seventy-one of which will be in Hell and one in Paradise. I swear by the One Whose Hand is the soul of Muhammad, my nation will split into seventy-three sects, one of which will be in Paradise and seventy-two in Hell.” It was said: “O Messenger of Allah, who are they?” He said: “The main body.” [Sunan Ibn Majah Book 36, Hadith 67]

He also gives the example of two Muslims who fight one another:

·       "If two Muslim men bear weapons against each other, then they are both on the brink of Hell. And if one of them kills the other, they will both be in Hell." [Sunan an-Nasa’i, Book 37, Hadith 152]

But they will not remain therein forever. 

·       “The Prophet () said, "Whoever said "None has the right to be worshipped but Allah and has in his heart good (faith) equal to the weight of a barley grain will be taken out of Hell. And whoever said: "None has the right to be worshipped but Allah and has in his heart good (faith) equal to the weight of a wheat grain will be taken out of Hell. And whoever said, "None has the right to be worshipped but Allah and has in his heart good (faith) equal to the weight of an atom will be taken out of Hell." [Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 2, Hadith 37]

The Muslims who enter hell are the exception to the rule.  They are the unrepentant sinners with no remorse as mentioned in the reference in chapter 25.


            Allah’s mercy is vast.  If a believer repents for his sins, Allah would surely forgive them and “turn” to them, as I have mentioned above.  Even if there are minor sins that aren’t repented for. The Most Merciful says:

·       “31If you avoid the major sins which you are forbidden, We will remove from you your lesser sins and admit you to a noble entrance [into Paradise].” [4:31]

·       “Those who avoid the major sins and immoralities, only [committing] slight ones. Indeed, your Lord is vast in forgiveness. He was most knowing of you when He produced you from the earth and when you were fetuses in the wombs of your mothers. So do not claim yourselves to be pure; He is most knowing of who fears Him.” [53:32]

Even if the sins are major!  Allah forgives whomever He wills.  This is because he examines our hearts and intentions.  The Prophet () says:

·       "A prostitute was forgiven by Allah, because, passing by a panting dog near a well and seeing that the dog was about to die of thirst, she took off her shoe, and tying it with her head-cover she drew out some water for it. So, Allah forgave her because of that." [Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 59, Hadith 127]

There is another similar account, showing that performing acts of kindness (even to animals) can result in the expiation of sins.

·       “A person suffered from intense thirst while on a journey, when he found a well. He climbed down into it and drank (water) and then came out and saw a dog lolling its tongue on account of thirst and eating the moistened earth. The person said: This dog has suffered from thirst as I had suffered from it. He climbed down into the well, filled his shoe with water, then caught it in his mouth until he climbed up and made the dog drink it. So Allah appreciated this act of his and pardoned him. Then (the Companions around him) said: Allah's Messenger, is there for us a reward even for (serving) such animals? He said: Yes, there is a reward for service to every living animal. [Sahih Muslim, Book 39, Hadith 210]

This is because Allah’s forgiveness entails the removal of sins.  As is mentioned in Surah Taghabun:

·       “9The Day He will assemble you for the Day of Assembly - that is the Day of Deprivation. And whoever believes in Allah and does righteousness - He will remove from him his misdeeds and admit him to gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever. That is the great attainment.” [64:9]

Sadly, I couldn’t find the hadeeth about the sinner who allowed a thirsty fly to drink…


            One of Allah’s Noble attributes is justice.  Several of His Sublime Names are tied to the many facets of this attribute: Al-Fattah (the best of those who “rest the case” so to speak), al-Hakam (the Judge, He whose ruling is solely by His Word), al-Hakeem (the Wise, He who is correct in his judgement), al-Adl (the Equitable, the embodiment of justice), and al-Haseeb (the Reckoner).  Here are some verses in the Quran to support this:

·       “8Is not Allah the most just of judges?” [95:8]

·       “26Say, "Our Lord will bring us together; then He will judge between us in truth. And He is the Knowing Judge." [34:26]

·       “89…Our Lord has encompassed all things in knowledge. Upon Allah we have relied. Our Lord, decide between us and our people in truth, and You are the best of those who give decision." [7:89]

·       “284To Allah belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth. Whether you show what is within yourselves or conceal it, Allah will bring you to account for it. Then He will forgive whom He wills and punish whom He wills, and Allah is over all things competent.” [2:284]

The Arabic word used for “account” in the latter reference is of the same root as al-Haseeb.  Allah also loves justice and commands the Believers to be just:

·       “8O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do.” [5:8]

·       “42…And if you judge, judge between them with justice. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.” [5:42]

This is because this is within His own nature.  In the beginning of a lengthy Hadith Qudsi (which is a Narration of the Prophet () where He quotes a saying of Allah, but it isn’t considered Qur’an) it is stated:

·       Abu Dharr reported Allah's Messenger () as saying that Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, said: “My servants, I have made oppression unlawful for Me and unlawful for you, so do not commit oppression against one another…” [Sahih Muslim, Book 45, Hadith 70]


I highly encourage you to follow the link to this hadith, as it is one of my all-time favorites.


Mercy versus Justice?


It’s never “mercy vs. justice” because Allah never contrasts his mercy and his justice.  His mercy isn’t a breach of justice and his justice isn’t a breach of mercy.  His mercy is instead contrasted with his punishment.  As the Almighty states:

·       “14And to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. He forgives whom He wills and punishes whom He wills. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.” [48:14]

He decides whoever is going to be punished and whoever is going to be forgiven, and either case is just because it is his Divine prerogative.  When a sin is committed, it is a breach of His Supreme regulations, so He is the one being sinned against.  Even in the case of murder, the individual who is killed is the object of sin, without a doubt.  But ultimately it is Allah who is sinned against because it is He who prohibited that activity.  Therefore, it is his prerogative, the ball is in His court if you will, to decide whether to forgive or punish.  In either case He is completely justified.  When He sends a disbeliever to hell, does that subtract from His mercy?  No, because mercy isn’t intended for him.  And when He enters the righteous into heaven, does that take away from the severity of His punishment?  No, because punishment isn’t intended for this him.  In each case he is just, because he is giving them what they deserve.  He promised those who believe and do righteous deeds paradise, as mentioned in Qur’an 64:9 above.  He likewise promised the disbelievers hellfire:

·       64Indeed, Allah has cursed the disbelievers and prepared for them a Blaze.  65Abiding therein forever, they will not find a protector or a helper.  66The Day their faces will be turned about in the Fire, they will say, "How we wish we had obeyed Allah and obeyed the Messenger." [33:64-66]

The only injustice is if He were to break the parameters He set, you see.  That was my problem with the “judge analogy”.  An earthly judge judges according to a set of laws.  If he breaks the law he is being unjust.  The judge has no authoritative prerogative to forgive.  How could he?  He is subservient to a set of laws set by a higher.  Allah on the other hand has all the Divine prerogative to forgive, because those are the rules that He set and is holding Himself to.  How can anyone come afterwards and say He is unjust?  He has all the more prerogative because it is His guidelines that are being breached through the act of sin. 

If one were to stick to the judge analogy, how would the Cross fare?  What if a judge wanted to forgive a murderer by means of sacrificing his own innocent son.  Even if he was willing, is this justice?



This short piece was intended to answer a few past questions and objections that I’ve received regarding our theology’s perspective on mercy and justice.  The evangelical polemic is pretty formulaic when it comes to this piece of argument.  I have answered many of the common claims that I have come across in my past interactions with missionaries and Christian interlocutors. 

O Allah, You are free from every imperfection; praise be to You. I testify that there is no true god except You; I ask Your Pardon and turn to You in repentance

  • 12 April 2018
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4/12/2018 6:00 PM

Follow-up messages between Elmi and me, Scott Cherry

February 27

Scott: Elmi, looks like you put a fair bit of time and effort into your essay. I respect that. I am going through it thoughtfully.

Elmi: Thanks. I went into it thinking it would be a 1-2 page bullet point list...but it turned out a lot longer than I expected.

Scott: Happens to me all the time.

March 1

Scott: Elmi, thank you for taking the time to write this thoughtful essay. As I said, I respect that you responded to my request for explicit verses from the Islamic literature to support your claims and explanations. Having read it through slowly and carefully, it is obvious that you made your best attempt to clarify and substantiate them. Here are some of my initial questions and reflections.

First, in your essay and in previous conversations you said that all Christians and Jews go to hell with all other non-Muslims. (Of course, this belief does not bother me for reasons that are probably obvious to you.) But please explain this verse on page 3 that you used just after your statement, that seems to say that a small minority of each religion will go to heaven. • “The Jews split into seventy-one sects, one of which will be in Paradise and seventy in Hell. The Christians split into seventy-two sects, seventy-one of which will be in Hell and one in Paradise. (This is a very minor point to me, but still one that merits clarification.)

Elmi: They are the ones who believed in their prophets/scripture and followed their guidance and did not associate partners with Allah. They are the Muslims. This discounts the ones who turned away from the Messengers and distorted their teachings. Like the Jews who disbelieved in Jesus/Muhammad and the Christians who disbelieve in Muhammad.

Muslim means one who submits. The saved people of the scripture are Muslims, no doubt about that.

Scott: Oh, ok. So, Jews and Christians that accepted Muhammad during and after his lifetime would be saved because they are actually Muslims (which I agree that they would be, by definition). What about the Jews and Christians before the time of Muhammad, who did not know of Muhammad?

I do not wish to overburden you all at once, but allow me continue my train of thought. In the second half of the verse from the Hadith it states: I swear by the One Whose Hand is the soul of Muhammad, my nation will split into seventy-three sects, one of which will be in Paradise and seventy-two in Hell.” It was said: “O Messenger of Allah, who are they?” He said: “The main body.” [Sunan Ibn Majah Book 36, Hadith 67] From this it appears that most Muslims will go to hell (98.6%). That's even higher than the 95% estimate we generally agreed upon last week. Is that about right? (Granted, many of them will eventually come out, but not those who were Muslims by birth and creed only, who didn't faithfully practice the required deen.) Am I getting it?

Elmi: Of course, the ones before Muhammad, if they believed in their prophets and the scriptures dispensed to them, would be saved too. I answered that in my first response. Islam means submission to Allah. The religion of all the prophets. Quran 2:62 and other places talks about this.

The saved group is 1/73 of the existing sects. This is known by the classical scholars as al-Firqat al-Najiyah (saved sect). The rest are going to hell because they chose to believe a lie and separated from the main body of Islam. The "main body" are those who follow the Qur'an and the Sunnah the way the companions do.

You are getting it, but the hadith doesn't state that 72/73 (98.6%) of Muslims are going to hell. The sects aren't divided evenly, but 72/73 of the GROUPS are going to be in hell.

Scott: Oh, ok. That's a fair distinction. Then 98% of all GROUPS of Muslims will go to hell. Which is the one that won't? Sunnis?

Elmi: The ones who follow the Qur'an and the Sunnah according to the way the companions of the prophet did. That's where the term "Sunni" comes from (follower of the Sunnah). If by Sunni you mean one who follows the Sunnah, then yes, they are the saved. But if by Sunni you mean 'not Shia' then no.

Scott: But shias and Muslims in the other 72 groups will eventually get out of hell, so no problem. Right?

...It would be interesting if we could ascertain the percentage of the individual Muslims are represented by the 72 groups as compared to the 1 one group. Anyway, by Sunni I mean your first definition. But, all things considered, any professing sunni who does not faithfully practice the sunnah is not a real sunni I surmise. So maybe our agreed-upon estimate that 95% of all Muslim people will have to go to hell first is pretty close. And some, or many, of those will not actually EVER get to come out of hell because they were never true Muslims. They were fake. Right?

Also, all Muslims who killed other Muslims go to hell too.

(p. 3, [Sunan an-Nasa’i, Book 37, Hadith 152])

Elmi: I wouldn't say going to hell for any period of time is "no problem".

You're speaking about particular sects and groups. I can tell you that any group that follows other than what the Prophet was upon...what guidance is that?

March 2nd, 9:09AM

Scott: I got a little time this morning and had some thoughts based on your assertion that it is Allah's prerogative to circumscribe his laws, i.e. he is not subject to them. So I'm curious...

Elmi: The point is that He decides what He's subject to.

Scott: Yes, I get that. He is above the law. Just what we all respect in a supreme ruler.

Hypothetically, a) If a Muslim person commited no sins at all CAN Allah send him to hell if he doesn't like him, or if the man doesn't love Allah?

Elmi: Allah decided those who are going to be in hell (forever or not) and who is going to be in heaven forever.

If someone doesn't love Allah he isn't a Muslim...

But I think I get your question. Allah will only send to hell those whom he had promised are destined to hell and only send to paradise those he promised he would send to paradise. He isn't going to go against his word.

Scott: Ok. He is subject to his own word?

Love for Allah is required. (But you almost never talk about that.) In any case, we must factor that in. People don't usually obey Masters out of love but out of duty and fear. Love is not even necessary for obedience. So it's highly possible for a person to be an obedient and pious Muslim without love for Allah. (Especially if she's always afraid of going to hell.) Or only a moderate or meager love for him. No wonder 95% of Muslims go to hell for awhile.

...If indeed they ever come out at all.

March 2nd

Elmi: Yes, He is most definitely subject to His own Word. ...All I'm saying is that Allah told us how to get to heaven, if we obey that we aren't going to go to hell.

You're changing the goalpost with your response to my 3rd paragraph. I said those who don't love Allah aren't Muslims. Then you equivocate someone who is obedient out of fear as someone who doesn't love Allah. These aren't equivalent. For example, I can love my mother but when I obey her it could be out of fear at the same time. It doesn't mean I don't love her.

Allah even says that those who love Him will obey him.

Qur'an 3:31 - "Say, [O Muhammad], 'If you should love Allah, then follow me, [so] Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.'"

Scott: 1) So being subject to his word is synonymous with being subject to his own laws. His word = law.

2) Yes. The problem is when you don't love him. That 95% of Muslims will get tortured is indicative of that. And many of them never get out.

3) Not so. I realize they are not mutually exclusive. I only meant that it's possible to fear Allah and obey him without loving him. That is the nature of a master-slave relationship. Love is secondarily at best.

4) Few people really love God/Allah, especially by Yahweh's and Jesus's standards in Deut. 6:5 and Matt. 22:37.

Elmi: By definition a Muslim will get out eventually. I discussed that in my paper. Whoever says the shahadah and believes in it even with an atom's weight will be removed from hell.

So what do you mean when you say obey Allah without loving Him? There is the general love of Allah and obedience motivated by that love. Obedience can be motivated by love and fear though.

I don't even see the point you're making about Muslims being tortured. Allah clearly tells us how to get into paradise, if someone does not follow that then they will go to hell.

March 13th

Elmi: By the way, you can put include my name in the article

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