There are many instances in Hadīth literature (traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) of the unerring justice of divine retribution for, in the life after death, man will be rewarded or punished strictly in accordance with the virtues or vices of his deeds in this world.
The Qur’ān gives us this notable example:
Proclaim a woeful punishment to those that hoard up gold and silver and do not spend it in God’s cause. The day will surely come when their treasures shall be heated in the fire of Hell, and their foreheads, sides and backs branded with them. Their tormentors will say to them, “These are the riches which you hoarded, taste then the punishment which is your due.” (9:34-35)
When the Prophet was once narrating a dream that he had, amongst the things that he was shown by the accompanying Angels was a world of allegory in which man’s worldly actions appeared in another worldly form. He was not only shown the results of good deeds in the everlasting life after death, but was also given an insight into the forms which evil deeds would assume in that eternal world.
When he saw people having their heads smashed with mighty rocks, he asked the Angels who they were, and was told that they were those whose heaviness of head prevented them from rising for prayer.
Others were having their tongues and lips cut with scissors. The Angel accompanying the Prophet explained to him that these were people, whose tongues wagged uncontrollably and irresponsibly, causing corruption in the land.
The state of affairs in Paradise is the same. The Qur’ān explains that the reward given in Heaven will be of the same hue as one’s actions in this world.
Proclaim good tidings to those who have faith and do good works. They shall dwell in gardens watered by running streams. Whenever they are given fruit to eat, they will say, “This is what we used to eat before,” for they shall be given the like.” (2:25)
This means that the rewards of the Hereafter will be in exact accordance with one’s actions in this world. The form of the reward will be exactly suited to our deeds.
Man is being tested in this world to see what response he offers in certain given situations. It is man and man alone who is being tested in this way. An inanimate object such as a stone or a piece of wood, would not find itself required to give responses to varying sets of circumstances. Man, on the other hand, is an aware, sensate being, who is stirred by the situations he faces in life, and who reacts to them mentally and physically, in word and in deed. God has given man freedom of thought and action in this world, and herein lies man’s real test, for God has given man this freedom to see how he uses it – whether, for example, he returns abuse for abuse, malice for malice, or whether he suffers these things, yet offering only prayers and goodwill in return.
Man’s response to the situations he faces in life can take one of two forms: the infernal or the heavenly. An infernal response is one which is categorically opposed to the will of God, while a heavenly response is one which humbly conforms to His will. Those who make the former response are Satanic in character and fit only for Hell. The latter evince divine characteristics and will be admitted to the Garden of Bliss.
How do we define ‘Satanic’ characteristics? They are those personality traits which cause an individual to embark on a retaliatory course, quite unmindful of the consequences, whenever he is confronted with circumstances which are not to his liking. Whether it be pain, sorrow or mere embarrassment which is inflicted upon him, he feels he must hit back, returning hate for hate, anger for anger. Divine characteristics, on the other hand, being deep-rooted in the fear of God, cause a man to rise above fleeting emotions and prevent him from being swayed by passionate love or hate in his dealings. To acquire these divine characteristics, we need only put into practice the commandments the Prophet was given by his Maker: “To join up with those who sever ties with me; to give to those who deprive me; to forgive those who wrong me.”
Just as the human body excretes filth, so does the human mentality emits hate, antipathy, jealousy, vengeance, arrogance and injustice. Considering that the Prophet’s words show Paradise as a world in which all filth and foul matter will be emitted in a fragrant form, how could it ever be possible for people who emit foul sentiments to enter that flawless domain? Those who discharge ‘filth’ in a form that is unacceptable are certainly not fit to inhabit the pure world of Paradise.
Those of God’s servants who will be welcomed in Paradise are those who exude purity. They are the ones who show love in return for hatred, who forgive when they might well seek vengeance. This doesn’t mean that the wronged one in Islam is not able to seek retribution or justice in the correct and legal fashion in our worldly life, but the higher ethic is always to forgive and show mercy, as an expression of the divine attribute of al-Rahman – the Most Merciful.
Paradise is a place for people who display goodwill when tempted to be jealous and malicious, a sense of justice when in a position to be cruel, and humility when it would be easy to be arrogant. This is what is meant by transforming inner filth into purity and fragrance. It is only people who are able to do so who will find their abode in the Gardens of Paradise.
The world has been so made that from time to time unpleasant situations are bound to arise. This is inescapable, since the world has been thus designed as a place of trial for mankind. One who responds positively in untoward situations will prove himself worthy of Paradise, while one who allows himself to fall a prey to negative sentiments will forfeit his right even to enter its gates.
Those who are truly fit to breathe the air of Paradise are the ones who, when beset by some calamity, do not succumb to despair, but who bear their sufferings with patience and fortitude. They are the ones who pray for those who wrong them, who adhere to justice and give others whatever is their due. They do not resent being criticised, but rather listen to their critics dispassionately. No matter how great their grievances, they do not waver from the path of justice. Justice, in fact, is the hallmark of their behaviour towards others; all can expect exemplary treatment at their hands. Although feelings of resentment and antagonism may creep into their hearts, because they themselves have suffered from disagreeable treatment, they do not allow such feelings to permeate their entire consciousness, and certainly do not permit them to affect their outward demeanour. Indeed, they make extra efforts to convert all feelings of antipathy into good-will and fair-mindedness before having any further dealings with those who have wronged them. They behave like the flowers which counter pollution with fragrance. The only people who can live such utterly blameless lives are those who remember God with every breath they take and whose hearts beat to the tune of their Maker. The lives of such saintly people are, indeed, based on the twin pillars of fear and love of the Lord.
When the flames of contumacy are fanned, it is the believer’s duty to bow in humility. When there is an upsurge of hatred, a believer should extend his kindness and love. Wherever ill-will is in evidence, a believer is required to be the embodiment of good-will and benevolence. When imprecations are being hurled, it is a believer’s duty to utter words of prayer. There are times when one is tempted to deny the rights of others: at such times, the believer must not forget the demands of justice, and must give others what is theirs by right. There are times too, when to acknowledge the truth is to suffer a loss of face; even so a believer should banish all thoughts of personal position and prestige, and acknowledge the truth, no matter how painfully humiliating. Sometimes there is an urge to have one’s revenge, at such moments; a believer is duty-bound to suppress this urge and to act in a manner which is in total consonance with the principles of justice and the sentiment of good-will.
Every situation which confronts a man in this world invites one of two kinds of responses. It is on the basis of this response that one will be pronounced fit for Heaven or for Hell.
A true word is spoken. One acknowledges it, another denies it. An issue arises, eliciting justice and mercy on the one hand, and cruelty and oppression on the other. Adverse circumstances come into being, arousing feelings of humility in one and contumacy in another. Attitudes of good-will and regard for others are faced off by the urge to hate and avenge. These opposing reactions are what determines our fate in the Hereafter, the positive taking us to Heaven and the negative to Hell. We should never lose sight of the fact that it is by them that we stand, or fall.