Crime and Punishment

Why is it, it is often asked, that those who do not worship One God should stay in Hellfire forever, as promised in the Qur’an. Isn’t that unreasonable?

Although this is a common doubt, it has some simple answers.

At the start, we must understand that the one who makes the rules, prescribes the punishments. In the USA, the state has made a law that no man will marry two women at a time. It is the USA then, which decides the punishment for those who break the law. It is not for any other to decide the punishment. For example, Saudi Arabia cannot determine the kind, level and extent of punishment for an American having broken the law. If indeed, Saudi Arabia is made the judging authority, the man who broke the law could be rewarded for solving two women’s problem. For, there are several million women in the USA who will certainly remain single all their lives. Several millions are to join these millions in coming years, a trend which, like everything in the West, shows a graph line rising upward. The problem is so acute, that even one or two high level scientific magazines have made efforts to highlight it. So, a Saudi court might actually reward an American who has two wives. But did the Saudis make the law against polygamy that they should be judging those who break the law? Of course not. It is Americans who made the law, and it is they who will suggest a punishment for the defaulters.

Take another example at a simpler scale. A father tells his son, “If you drank wine again, I will throw you out of this house, and will never let you in.” Now, it is the father who made the rule. It is he who prescribes the punishment. It is not for his neighbor to tell him, “Come on now. Are you barring your son forever? This is just not reasonable. A week or two yes, but forever?” The man might of course say in reply, “Who are you? I know what I am doing.”

Similarly, it is Allah who made the law that no one shall worship any other besides Him. And it is He who prescribed the punishment. To be sure, it is He who will judge those who will break the rule: not the Americans, not the Saudis.

Now, someone might be asked, “What’s the wisdom?” The answer is, when you ask for wisdom, you have already objected to the law and the Lawmaker. You could be reminded, “Who are you?” After all, Allah is prescribing punishment for a crime against Him, and not against you. His right is taken away, and so He will deal with the criminals the way He thinks fit. Lest we forget, it is His creations He is dealing with, and not our creations. So, where do we figure in?

By way of a second answer we might state that seriousness of crimes are judged by the intentions behind them. If you shot a gun at a deer in the forest, but accidentally killed a man somewhere in the bushes, you have committed a crime and deserve some sort of punishment. But if you aimed a gun at a man and killed him, intentionally, then the punishment will be different. You might have to lose your own life. So the size of the crime does not matter. In both cases you killed a man. It is your intention that matters.

Now, God has declared that someone who has known Him as One God, refuses to acknowledge Him, but instead, worships other suggested deities, then he will stay in the Fire forever. Why forever? It is because of the intention. If the criminal had lived forever, he would have worshipped false gods forever. Indeed, till his final breathe he will remain on polytheism, and might spell the name of a deity as his last word.

We have a good example in the nation of Nuh. They were polytheists. So Allah raised a Prophet amongst them. The following verses give the story in brief (23: 23-25): “And We did send Nuh to his people. He said, ‘O my people! Worship Allah. You have no god other than He. Will you not then fear?’ Said the chiefs of the unbelievers of his people, ‘This is no more than a man like yourselves, who seeks to gain superiority over you. Had Allah willed, He could have surely sent down angels. We have never heard of this among our ancestors of old. Surely, he is naught but a man bedeviled; so wait on him for a while.” (That is, wait until either he gives up his madness, or meets with his death).

In the above lines one can notice that the polytheists did not say, “Nuh is mistaken. We worship One God alone through the worship of the deities.” Nor did they say, “What One God is this man speaking about? Aren’t there several?” But rather, they simply refused to accept any criticism. In any case, Nuh warned them that they faced Allah’s ire for worshipping idols. But his people would not give up. On the other hand, Nuh also did not give up. He continued with his efforts. For how long was it? For 950 years. Now, his people did not say after first hundred years of Nuh’s warning: “Come on boys. It’s been a century since we have been worshipping idols. Let us now devote the next century to One God.” They did not. They did not give up idol-worship even after 950 years. Had Nuh remained warning them for 9500 years, they would have still remained on polytheism for 9500 years. Had he remained with them for eternity, they would have remained with idol-worship for eternity. So, why should they not remain in the Fire for eternity?

Finally, when Allah says in the Qur’an that the polytheists will stay in the Fire forever, then either you believe in the promise, or you do not. If you believe, then you should not be worshipping idols. If you do not, then what does it matter what Allah says about it in the Qur’an?