Jahannam (Arabic: جهنم) is the Islamic equivalent to hell. Its roots come from the Hebrew word Gehinnom, which was an ancient garbage dump outside of the city of Jerusalem where refuse was burned. According to the Qur'an, only Allah (God) knows who will go to Jahannam (Hell) and who will go to Jannah (Heaven).
The Qur'an provides detailed descriptions of Jahannam that have been interpreted both literally and metaphorically by Muslims. Jahannam is variably described as a firey place, a fearsome abyss, a narrow bridge that must be crossed to get into paradise, and also a foul-looking monster, which can be summoned by Allah (Qur'an 82.4). It is also said that "Zaqqum" (a thorned tree) grows in Jahannam, which has a bitter fruit, which the damned are compelled to eat to intensify their torment. Its fruits are shaped like devils' heads. (Qur'an 44.46).
It is said that Jahannam has seven levels that a sinner can go to depending on their deeds. In Islam, one's degree of punishment in hell depends on one's sins, and thus there are different levels of hell designated for different types of sinners. The most severe level is known as "Hutama," which is said to be reserved for religious hypocrites.
According to Islam, each person will be made to account for their deeds at the "Day of the Resurrection" (Qiyamah) (Qur'an 71.18). During this day, a man or a woman's own book of life will be opened, and they will be apprised of every action they did and every word they spoke (Qur'an 54.52-53), albeit actions taken during childhood are not judged. It is said that the account is so detailed that the person will be amazed at how comprehensive it is. It is also said that if one denies any deed he or she committed, or refuses to acknowledge it, then his or her body parts will testify against him or her. Every human, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, in Islamic thought will be held accountable for his or her deeds and will be judged by Allah accordingly (Qur'an 74.38).
The trials and tribulations associated with the Day of Judgment are detailed in both the Qur'an and the Hadith, as well as in the commentaries of the Islamic expositors and scholarly authorities. They are in agreement that on this day God will be angrier than ever before and even angels will tremble in front of God. Moreover, humans are so fearful on this "day" that the prophets themselves repeatedly address God with the phrase sallim, sallim, or spare, spare—that is, "spare your followers, O God." Followers of Muhammad during his lifetime who strayed from Islam after his passing, Apostates of Islam, are engulfed in fire. Those who distorted or ignored the Qur'an or converted to another religion are also engulfed in hellfire. However, those who truly believe in God, and are pious, referred to as Al-Ghurr-ul-Muhajjalun due to the trace of ritual ablution performed during their lives, repent their sin and return to "jannah (the Garden) beneath which rivers flow". The world is destroyed and the dead rise from their graves and gather, waiting to be judged for their actions.
The Qur'an states that along with Muslims, Allah will also save other People of the Book from hell and people who did not receive the true message of Islam will also be saved:
"Those who believe in Allah and the Last Day and does good deeds shall be rewarded by their Lord; they have nothing to fear nor are they saddened." (Qur'an 2.62)
After death, it is said the Archangel Azrael (with the help of other less significant angels) will separate the soul from the body, either harshly or painlessly depending on how righteous the person was during their lifetime (Qur'an 79.1-2). Following the separation of the soul and the body, Nakir and Munkar's (two Islamic Angels) will interrogate the soul in its grave asking:
This experience will be horrifying and frightening depending on whether the person was righteous or not.
After judgment all men and women are made to cross over a deep abyss, whence the flames of Jahannam (hell) leap up, on al-Sirât (الصراط, a thorny bridge so thin that it cannot be seen. It is said in Hadith that crossing the bridge is such a difficult task, because the bridge is as thin as a strand of hair, and as sharp as the edge of a sword. The believers and those destined for Jannah are able to cross quickly and safely, seeing it as a thick stone bridge, whereas others fall off this hair-thin bridge into Jahannam. Believers will be led by the prophet Muhammad to a vast basin or lake-fount called al-kawthar الكوثر, where their thirst will be sated with a white-colored drink that tastes like sweetened milk. It is said that whosoever drinks of it shall never thirst. In one hadith, al-kawthar is said to be a river of paradise (al-Bukhari, book 76, hadith 583.)
Throughout the "Day of Judgment," the underlying principle is that of a complete and perfect justice administered by Allah. However, the accounts of judgment are also replete with the emphasis that Allah is merciful and forgiving, and that such qualities will be granted on that day insofar as they are merited.
It is foretold that on this day, humanity will beseech the prophets to intercede on their behalf, pleading for the safety of members of their family and loved ones. First, the people will approach Abraham, then Moses, then Adam, and finally Noah, all of whom will decline to intercede on their behalf. These prophets will instead point to the Muhammad as the supreme intercessor on behalf of humanity. In one Hadith, it is related that following Muhammad's involvement and pleas, Allah himself intercedes, repeatedly ordering his angels to fetch out of Jahannam (hell) any who sincerely professed the Shahada until the angels are ordered to return and find anyone with even an atom's measure of goodness in his or her heart albeit those who have worshipped false gods, or have participated in shirk (idol worship) are not rescued from Jahannam (hell) and instead remain there forever. After the Intercession, life resumes, either in Jannah (paradise) or in Jahannam (hell).
Unlike depictions of hell as an abode of eternal punishment, found in other world's religions, Islam states that one can go to hell and from there go to Heaven after serving a sentence of time in hell. It is said that only Allah knows how long a sinners will be kept in hell. Sinners can be released according to Allah's will. However, the decision to be sent to Jannah (paradise) or to Jahannam (hell) is a matter in Allah's hands alone. God is thus the ultimate arbiter and qadi (judge) as to who goes to hell and who is rescued.
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