Debunking Jahannam: Why Islamic Hell Is Not Real by happy murtad
There are few concepts that have haunted the human psyche more perverse and absurd than that of an eternal hell.
Jahannam, Islam’s rendition of the fiery abode of the damned, is an exceptionally gruesome world of endless torture and grotesque physical anguish.
The Quran, the sacred text of Islam—believed by millions of Muslims to be the unchanged pronouncements of an all merciful God, is quite literally filled with countless obscene and ugly descriptions of the torment that is said to await billions of non-Muslim souls and even an untold number of Muslim souls.
Muslims are actively encouraged to live in a constant state of terror at the prospect of being banished to Jahannam for all eternity, as the Qur’an states “Fear ye the fire, whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for the disbelievers!” Surah 2:24
What is more, generation upon generation of Muslim children have been frightened into submission with nightmare-inducing scenes of suffering from Allah’s custom designed torture lair. The fear of hell is often reported as the single-most disturbing Islamic facet that lingers on, even after one has come to the rational conclusion that Islam is not true.
“The day they shall be dragged through the fire on their faces, taste ye the touch of hell!” Surah 54:48
“Those who shall dwell for ever in the Fire, and be given, to drink, boiling water, so that it cuts up their bowels!” Surah 47:15
“Verily, with Us are fetters (to bind them), and a raging Fire. And a food that chokes, and a painful torment.” Surah 73:12
“But those who deny (their Lord),- for them will be cut out a garment of Fire: over their heads will be poured out boiling water. By which is melted that within their bellies and [their] skins. In addition there will be maces of iron (to punish) them. Every time they wish to get away therefrom, from anguish, they will be forced back therein, and (it will be said), "Taste ye the Penalty of Burning!" Surah 22:19-22
Whilst torment by fire, iron maces, and bowel-tearing water are undoubtedly a clear violation of the Geneva Convention against Torture, there exist still in today’s modern world those who would adamantly assert that such cruel and unusual punishments are morally justifiable. While a marginal number of interpreters would assert that these verses are merely allegorical, a great deal more throughout the ages have taken these descriptions of pain and bodily harm with dead seriousness.
They would attempt unimpressive twists of logical gymnastics in a feat to explain that not only is such a deranged sentence true, it is also a wise and fitting judgement that ought to be imposed upon the vast majority of humanity.
In the same vein, and without the slightest perception of irony, advocates for the necessity of such a depraved notion will concede that it is entirely the brainchild and construction of a God who dubs himself “the most merciful of those who show mercy.”
The inhabitants of Islamic hell are not simply the hedonist tyrants of the days of old. They are the billions upon billions of people who did not reach the less than obvious conclusion that Islam was God’s only religion.
They are our colleagues, our doctors, our teachers, our mail men, our friends, and often times, our family.
They are fellow human beings.
Now, if Allah is indeed all knowing and all powerful, then he knew in advance that billions of these poor souls would be cast unto such unspeakable tortures, mostly on account of the beliefs they happened to be indoctrinated with from birth. He could have given all of them guidance and saved them from such a fate, but he chose not to. As Allah is quoted as saying in the Qur’an, “If We had so willed, We could certainly have brought every soul its true guidance: but the Word from Me will come true, "I will fill Hell with Jinns and men all together." Surah 32:13
This is troubling on many levels. Would it not be more merciful for him to simply not create the inhabitants of hell to start off with?
And if, for reasons beyond our comprehension, Allah was compelled to create humanity as he did, and was compelled to punish billions of them for their failures and transgressions as he will, then would not a death sentence be sufficient? Why could he not just cause them to stop existing if he is angered by them so much? Why is it necessary to keep them alive in order to sadistically subject them to eternal torture?
Consider for a moment the example of a rich man who anonymously sends money to his many poor children. These children, who have never seen their father, differ with each other about his true identity. Some of these children believe the milk man to be their father. Others believe the local judge to be their father. Still, some of the children curse their father for his absence. Nonetheless, the father continues to send money to his children. What would we say about such a father if on the day he finally revealed himself to his children, he physically punished them in a state of anger for their ignorance as to his true identity? What more would we say if he tortured them with fire and hooks, deliberately keeping them on the cusp of life so that they should gain no respite from his rage? Consider that every time they fell unconscious, he injected them with a dose of substance to reawaken them and heighten their capacity to feel pain. What might we say of such a father?
Indeed, the descriptions of hell in the Qur’an seem to have more befittingly arisen in the mind of a deranged sadist than in the wise plan of an all merciful god.
As we find it highly suspicious that an all-wise and all merciful deity could find within himself no better method of administering the eternal fate of billions of human souls, it is our duty to also call the history of such silly claims into the light of scrutiny.
It is no secret that Islam borrows heavily from the lore and legend of earlier Jewish and Christian writings. Islam acknowledges the mission and scripture of messengers such as Noah, Moses, and Abraham. One would therefore rightfully expect to find at least one example of said patriarchs warning their people against the blazing fires and unspeakable torments said to await the disbeliever.
Instead, we find no references to anything resembling Islamic hell in the Taurah (Torah). As the alleged destination for countless a wayward soul, jahannam is curiously absent from the writings of the earliest Hebrew prophets. Instead, the word that is sometimes translated as “hell” in Hebrew scripture is the Hebrew word “sheol,” which actually just means “grave” or “pit,” and is also translated as such into English many times.
While these alternate translations seem to lend credence to the idea of the early inception of a jahannam-styled hell, sheol was the destination of all living men, regardless of their righteousness. It is defined by early biblical scholars as simply the place or state of the dead. It is a shadowy, non-physical existence that encompasses the gloom and decay of death, but does not imply torment.
The following are examples of how the word “sheol” is understood in the Torah to simply mean grave:
"Ye shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave." Gen. xvii 38. "I will go down to the grave to my son mourning." xxxviii 35. "O that thou wouldst hide me in the grave!" Job xiV 13. "My life draweth nigh to the grave." Ps. lxxxviiI 3. "In the grave who shall give thee thanks?" lxxxvi 5. "Our bones are scattered at the grave's mouth." cxlI 7. "There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest." Ecc. ix. 10. "If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there." Ps. cxxxix. 8. "Hell from beneath is moved to meet thee, at thy coming. It stirreth up the dead for thee," &c. Isaiah xiV 9-15.
In the days of the Hebrew prophets, Allah did not threaten his detractors with blazing fires. Instead, a reading of the Jewish bible will show that the righteous were rewarded with worldly riches and power. Incentives to be righteous included a prolonged life, healthy offspring, abundant livestock (donkeys, goats, cattle, etc) and victory over one’s enemies. Earthquakes, floods, disease, and defeat were all interpreted as signs of divine disfavor. Once a human being was dead, they were dead. In sheol, there were no blazing flames, no iron maces, no choking fruits, and no molten brass. These ideas would only be born much, much later.
Jesus of Nazareth, known for his use of the parable, was the first to speak of Gehenna, the indisputable root of the Arabic phrase Jahannam.
Gehenna, or the Valley of Hinnom, was a well known, physical location on the outskirts of Jerusalem. In olden days, certain idolatrous Jews would sacrifice doves, livestock, and their own babies to appease pagan gods. As the Jews were admonished back into the worship of a singular deity, the place became a wretched dump, receiving the town’s rubbish, the decaying bodies of animals, and the worm-ridden corpses of executed criminals. There were perpetual fires necessary to control the filth and stench, and the decay of the place became a thing of infamy. When Jesus spoke of the fires of Gehanna, his listeners would have received a powerful mental image, a hell. Someone who committed a crime worthy of Gehanna had committed a serious offence indeed. (Schleusner)
The writers of early Christian scripture, who were directly influenced by earlier Greek ideas of the underworld Hades, embellished greatly upon the concept of hell. Sheol and Gehenna were both translated as hell and modeled largely on the Greek ideas of Tartarus in Hades. Tartarus, both a deity and a gloomy abyss of torment in the afterlife, was believed to be a place of suffering for the wicked within the Greek underworld. Indeed, Hades and Tartarus were used interchangeably to refer to hell in the Greek versions of the New Testament.
This is not a surprising turn. As Christianity emerged and spread during the oppressive reign of the pagan Roman Empire, the faithful were at a loss to explain why God’s favor was not being showered upon the righteous in the form of prosperity and victory.
This idea is common in the apocalyptic writings of the time, and the notion emerged that God must be waiting until an afterlife to reward the righteous and punish the sinful. Heaven and hell seemed like suitable replacements for goats and diseases, respectively.
Many centuries later, Muhammad would pick up on these ideas of Gehenna and Tartarus to use them for his own purposes. Having nothing to offer his followers of a worldly nature in return for their absolute obedience, Muhammad built upon the Christian ideas of heaven and hell, threatening his detractors with Jahannam and promising Jannah to his followers. While the New Testament spoke of Gehanna only 12 times, Muhammad made more than 75 references to Jahannam in the Qur’an. Not to be outdone by the Christian writers, Muhammad added significantly to the countless torture tactics that jahannam has become notorious for today.The amount of times that blazing fires and endless torments of all sorts are mentioned are too many to count.
Muhammad threatened the Arab tribes with hell not simply for being immoral, but for not obeying his every command, for not financing his campaigns, and for not going to battle for his cause. Similarly, as an incentive, the Kingdom of Heaven became filled with lush palm trees, rivers, wine, and full-breasted maidens. It was manipulation of the worst kind that has lived on to this day.
As part of our basic instincts, all living beings have a natural aversion to death. This manifests itself through our struggle to survive against all odds. As human beings who are consciously aware of our impending worldly demise, the concept of an afterlife can be comforting. When this yearning for eternal existence is manipulated through extravagant bribes and threats of torture, it can have a lasting effect on the mind.
Fortunately, there really is no reason to fear. Everything about the descriptions of heaven and hell in the Qur’an suggest that they were invented only to appeal to the base desires, fantasies, and fears of the desert tribes Muhammad was trying to recruit.
I alluded earlier to the Geneva Convention on torture. It is important to note the great strides of progress that the nations of the world have accomplished by recognizing and banning the evil of torture. Article 1 of the convention defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person…” Article 2 goes on to ban all forms of torture and states that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever" may be invoked to justify it. It compels signer states to take measures to prevent torture in all territories under their jurisdiction. As the all merciful lord of the universe, who has all of creation under his jurisdiction, is it not ironic that Allah himself would stand in violation of these internationally accepted principles?
The next time you are out and about, take a look around you. When you are at the grocery store perhaps, or in a crowded shopping mall, or stuck on a congested freeway, ask yourself if you could really imagine a merciful god subjecting all of those innocent people to a grotesque and sadistic torture. Could you imagine yourself doing that? Could you imagine anyone that you know doing that? Surely, it is a disgrace to a wise and merciful god to believe that he would do that.
The concept of jahannam, as it has evolved over the millennia, is a uniquely human construction of the worst kind, designed and embellished upon solely in the minds of scheming men.
It is only a relic of a darker time in human history, a lingering hangover of a time when tyrannical kings commanded complete authority and ruled over their kingdoms through fear and persecution. Men who lived in such dark times imagined a god that was, as kings then were, necessarily ruthless and brutal. As the world has moved beyond those dark eras, so to should we relegate the idea of a divinely sanctioned, torturous hell to the pages of history. Such horrible ideas have no place in our world today.
Very clear and succinct history there!