The Fate of the Disbelievers

Many claim the Quran is a book of justice, peace and equality. This assertion is often used to promote a kinder, gentler Islam but is rarely backed with examples.  When I read or hear these assertions, I find myself cringing a little because that is not what I find when I open the covers of the book. I’ve been thinking about how I can reach such a different conclusion; how I find a book full of threats and an overtly angry and punishing God.

I’m sympathetic to the modern-day pressures felt by the Muslim community. Justified feelings of humility and the pressures of post-colonialism have colored Islamic thought in the last two centuries and things have gotten even more ugly in this post  9/11 world. The current state of the Muslim world is a complex subject to be explored and deserves an honest introspection.

However, my argument is that Islam and Muslims have always been pitted against the disbelievers. Early on in Islamic history, Muslims tried hard to separate themselves from the disbelievers and the enmity and violent upheaval of those times find themselves into the verse.

Islam does offer  justice to those within a Muslim society and to the believers. The  poor are given charity, the orphans are cared for. Murderers and thieves are punished. Even women have a right to support by their male relatives in all instances, although she may have to share her husband with others, and accept a lesser inheritance. Slavery is acceptable in the eyes of Allah, but kindness to your human property is highly prized and rewarded. Religious minorities are protected, although at the cost of the jizya. The Quran outlines all the things necessary for a functioning society, but at at the heart of this society, Islam must prevail: 

 Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued (9:29).

It’s a matter of debate whether or not living under an  Islamic system of law as outlined in the Quran would be just to those living within it, either Muslim or not. However, it is often the case in religious systems that the concept of justice is carried out in the afterlife. From a purely supernatural standpoint, the fate of those who decide not to sumit to the laws of Islam and reject either the superiority of Allah or his existence altogether will surely be punished in the afterlife.

I don’t think those of us who disbelieve would have so many issues with religion if, in general, it was more universal and accepting of diverse human opinions. Religion creates a sort of tribalism, a dichotomy between us and them. Of course, humankind will tend toward this type of behavior with almost any ideology, but when it is codified into practice by the actual scripture it becomes more problematic because now the hatred and placement of inferiority of the other is sanctioned by God himself.

Yes, the Quran does speak of justice, but it is almost always juxtaposed against the dichotomy of the believers versus the unbelievers:

O ye who believe! stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.

To those who believe and do deeds of righteousness hath Allah promised forgiveness and a great reward.

Those who reject faith and deny our signs will be companions of Hell-fire. (5:8-10).

It was never a universal message of love or justice. It was a promise of rewards to the believer and submitter to Allah. Those who resist, rather in body or mind, meet a terrible punishment, either in this life or the next. It’s difficult to respect a system of belief that essentially declares you are going to burn in hell forever and I don’t find any justice in that.

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25 Comments

Filed under apostasy, ex muslim, god is angry, Islam, religion

25 responses to “The Fate of the Disbelievers

  1. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this topic. You make much sense.

  2. What if the Hell-fire, the terrible punishment, is simply being distant from God? Although it’s not the mainstream interpretation we most often hear about, it is a longstanding interpretation, e.g. in Sufism, in Muhammad Asad’s translation of the Qur’an, etc.

    • If the Quran specifically stated this to be the punishment of disbelievers (being away from God), or even if it was rather vague about our fate, I might buy that interpretation. But no, it is quite explicit in describing hell as a place of torture, boiling flesh and scalding skin. All that fun stuff.

      • almostclever

        Do you hate it (sorry if that does not accurately describe your feeling) because you fear you will be seen in God’s eyes as the disbeliever, therefore forecasting that horrible image as your own fate – causing you to resent/disdain/reject further because you think it is speaking to you as a “disbeliever?”

        How would one know if that is how God sees them or not? In the Islamic view, no one knows how they will be judged.

        I think there has to be wrath, else how do we know beauty? If there was no misery how would we know joy?

        Some people live here on earth the same hell described in the Quran: torture, horrible abuses, etc.. and some people do such horrible things that society agrees they are better dead than alive. I think the description of hell for those situations is quite spot on.

        I guess I don’t see why that is a shocker or creates a bad taste in ones mouth, that hell (whether literal or symbolic) is a horrible place.

        Islamic teachers say that faith is a wavy line, that people embrace and reject it on different levels at different points in their lives. Does that make us all disbelievers? Who knows!? None of us know for sure.

        One thing about the Quran is it is totally dualistic. There is mercy AND wrath around every corner. Why should the Quran only be mercy? I think the Quran is a reflection of the realness of human existence. Whether we see that reflection literally or symbolically is another discussion altogether.

        • I am an apostate. I reject Islam on almost every level and am pretty much agnostic these days. If the Quran isn’t speaking about people like me when it speaks of the disbelievers, then I don’t know who else it might be. I’m not going to romanticize the verses.

          I’d argue that in the Islamic view the Quran is extremely explicit in how one will be judged based on ones belief and behavior in this life.

          “I think the Quran is a reflection of the realness of human existence. ” I do actually agree with this thought, and what a miserable lot we are. I guess I would hope for God to be something better than human.

          And yes, hell might exist in this life. It’s unfortunate that it has to also exist in eternity for some of us. Well, not that I actually believe that anyway. I don’t believe God speaks through the Quran. Not at all. It’s just becoming more and more absurd to me by the moment.

          • almostclever

            Ok, that is fair. I guess if you are an apostate, though, it doesn’t really effect your life because you don’t believe in it. Or does it still effect you on some level?

          • It effects my life not in the way that I believe any of the literal verses about hellfire will happen to me. However, it effects my life in the way that many Muslims who are close to me look down on the disbelievers because it is after all in the Quran that Allah is angry with us, we are inferior, and we will be punished. It effects the way my children are taught in Islamic school and the way my husband and his family believe they should be raised at all costs (lest they become one of those who are damned. If one believes the Quran to be the word of God and everything in it will come to pass, then it definitely effects the way one treats the “other” in this world. In fact, this idea that seems to pervade religion, that there is only ONE way and all others be damned effects the entire world. And not for the better.

  3. mike00000000001

    It is even debated within religions whether hell is temporary or permanent. There is a concept of justice that is moral ideal and you might say cold and calculating . . blind to all feeling and absolute . . dispensing itself regardless like clockwork. I think it is interesting to note that while some see justice this way, others see it has something that should “feel” right.

  4. Your writing is so good and I agree so completely with this post!

    I was always very disturbed by the stark division drawn between believers and unbelievers and the way the Quran caricatures the latter. In several places it instructs to treat the unbelievers inferiorly. Hardly conducive to peace and harmony in the world.

    The worst disappointment for me was the incident of Hudaybiyyah. It sounded wise and peaceful to sign a treaty with the Meccans, but God apparently only spared the Meccans from slaughter at the hands of the Muslims to avoid the collateral damage to the believers that were in Mecca. Those unbelieving Meccans would all convert shortly after anyway, but God didn’t seem to know or care about this!

    • You complementing my writing is of the highest honor in my opinion because I always admire YOUR writing and your incredibly thought provoking posts! Thanks for that, it kind of made my day 🙂

  5. Charlene

    Once again, I have pretty much exactly this same problem with Christianity. Only mine is tinged with Calvinism and the idea of predestination. And honestly, if God is going to be that…petty…I’d just as soon not be near him anyhow. So if Hell is only separation from God (some Baptists argue this way), it doesn’t sound much like punishment to me! I think of William Blake, who wrote about people enjoying the pleasures of Hell, which to the angels in Heaven look like torments.

    • i much prefer Blakes view :)…the Marriage of Heaven and Hell, reading it again after all these years it means so much more considering the place I’m in now. True genius. Thank you Charlene for reminding me.

  6. Many people who leave religion begin to see depiction and mention of Hell with skepticism. Children born into religion accept it more naturally than those who convert to a religion. How did you feel about all this when you were converting to Islam? Did it bother you then or did you try to convince yourself somehow that God needs to punish those who disbelief?

    I once read a wonderful article in which the writer argued that if we can explain hell in scripture as necessary and if we are able to make sense and use of it then it proves that we are making God think like us!

    • I’ll tell you, the verses about hell have always made me cringe. Often times Muslims tell skeptical non-Muslims to read the Quran because then they would see the truth about Islam and I would always think, no please, let them read something more gentle, maybe some Karen Armstrong or something. Truthfully, I would rationalize it in much of the way the other commenters are doing now. Or try not to think about it. Eventually I became exhausted with the constant need for justifications and apologetics. How can such a “perfect” religion be so full of imperfections?

  7. Growing up, I never actually picked up the Quran to read. My mother would read it often, and I would listen not knowing the meaning of the words. As a 16yo I decided to finally read it in English. I opened the book with such awe, anticipating beautiful words, and most of what I got was anything but. I read about the status of women because I was told often that women in Islam had a high status. But then I read about taking more than one wife and hitting your wife and how one female witness was like 2 male witnesses and inheritence issues. And I was shocked. I put the Quran down and tried to push it to the back of my mind.

    Then in my late 20’s I decided to read again. I decided to study Islam and teach myself ‘the truth’. I really want to believe. So I convinced myself that regardless of what Islam is, I had to believe it was the truth. There was no other way. I convinced myself that something must have gone wrong through the years; that Islam was interpreted incorrectly.

    But with time I realised that it was just all so …. silly. Really. I started to question whether I believed all of it. And then I thought that maybe I can take from it what I want, and leave the rest.

    And I tried. I am still trying. But the more I uncover, the sillier it all seems. Personally, I have to believe that there is a Creator. I don’t know why and I can’t really explain it, but I prefer there to be one. However, to see that God is referred to as ‘He’ in the Quran is extremely off-putting. Because of the word ‘he’ i have forever imagined God as a person. it has been extremely difficult to move away from that. And then it occurred to me that if God had sent the quran to humankind, would God have used ‘he’. Would God have created ‘un believers’ only to put them in hell? Would god have created homosexuals only to condemn them to eternal hell? Really?

    Would god have created woman only to tell her that, yes she has rights, but her word is still that half of a man’s? That men don’t need to cover their bodies because women don’t have sexual desires? (yes I realise that that is not specifically said in the quran, but not telling men to cover says this to me). That a woman must obey her husband? That a man is the head of the household? To me this sounds more like the thoughts of a man living in an ancient world.

    It just doesn’t seem right. And I have not reached these conclusions by studying Muslims, I have reached them by studying Islam.

    Don’t get me started on the hadith which are more like chinese whispers than anything else. If there had been toilet paper (or baby wipes) in the time of the Prophet, he would not have used water to clean, I am sure! And eating with one hand and not the other, who doesn’t use utensils to eat? And if you do eat with your fingers, do you not wash after being to the toilet?

    Are people not inherently good? DO we need a book to tell us not to kill and lie? Ofcourse, aside from the psychos who are going to be psychos regardless of any scripture! But then I wonder, why did god create the psychos? What will that achieve?

    And then I throw my hands up in the air not knowing what to think anymore!

    Many people derive much comfort from faith including Islam, and that is fine. If it makes them happy, I support that. I wish I could derive the same pleasure. It would be much easier; for ignorance surely is bliss.

    Thanks for making your blog public again!

  8. petals

    I have been following your blog for some time now and your words could be mine! Especially the reply on how the verses of hell made you cringe and you would prefer non-muslims to read a gentler explanation like Armstrong… it couldn’t get any more ridiculous, couldn’t it? That a human can be so much more gentle and put it in so much more beautiful words than Allah….

    I was also a convert and now an apostate. I just wanted to say that you do a great job in explaining and I am very glad your blog is public again! It is very very important that there are people like you out there who dare to speak out and tell people how it really is.

    • almostclever

      “it couldn’t get any more ridiculous, couldn’t it? That a human can be so much more gentle and put it in so much more beautiful words than Allah….”

      ……Just stopped me in my tracks……..

  9. Hi Petals and Blood (sounds like a college rock band) and welcome to Deconstruction. I hope to be writing more soon.

  10. tony peter

    What is OCD?

    Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), one of the anxiety disorders, is a potentially disabling condition that can persist throughout a person’s life. The individual who suffers from OCD becomes trapped in a pattern of repetitive thoughts and behaviors that are senseless and distressing but extremely difficult to overcome. OCD occurs in a spectrum from mild to severe, but if severe and left untreated, can destroy a person’s capacity to function at work, at school, or even in the home.

    you are in trouble.
    consult a doctor before its too late.your children may become
    1) drunkerds
    2) petty criminals
    3) pornstars.
    4) incests
    5)drug addicts
    your future generations ( grand children,great grand children may suffer seviour mental problems if you dont consult a psychiatrist ASAP)

  11. m

    You don’t give the courtesy of quoting the people you claim to be disagreeing with so I don’t know to whom it is news that the Quran distinguishes between believers and unbelievers. The unversality of the Quranic message is that it is addressed to every sane adult, membership is not restricted by descent, even to the religious leadership (unlike cohanim or brahmins).
    ….
    Religious minorities are protected, although at the cost of the jizya.
    That makes as much sense as saying Muslims are protected at the cost of zakat and military service.
    ….
    Any belief whatsoever creates a boundary between belief and disbelief. It seems that want is for the Quran to have said, “Hey, believe, don’t believe, it’s all good, moral, immoral, everybody gets the same reward.” Well, in atheism, everyone does get the same prize of becoming dirt, but moral consequence is implicit in religion.

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