There’s this narration in Islam that I find relevant in many cases to the way it can be misunderstood today. It’s this idea that anyone with even the slightest faith in God will be saved from Hell. This often comes across wrong; among the questions people begin to wonder, someone can ask, is it fair that someone with no faith and does good has no guarantee, while someone with faith and doesn’t do any good will?
I believe that when people ask about this idea, they often have Christianity in mind. I’m not sure how they respond to this, assuming that’s truly what it says, but I thought it’d be interesting to share my thoughts on how this is viewed in Islam and how it’s influenced the way I tackle some situations. For the record, to those who already might know how this can be addressed, I’m aware that this idea can be expressed in terms of the length of stay, but again, this is on my own thoughts in a way that I hope doesn’t necessarily contradict what’s already commonly known.
The Source I’m Going on
Let’s start basic and share an actual saying that confirms this idea in Islam,
Once Mu’adh was along with Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as a companion rider.
Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “Mu’adh bin Jabal.”
Mu’adh replied, “Labbaik and Sa’daik [I’m here for you], Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)!”
Again, the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Mu`adh!”
Mu’adh said thrice, “Labbaik and Sa’daik, Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)!”
Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “There is none who testifies sincerely that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger except that Allah will save him from the Hellfire.”
Mu’adh said, “Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)! Should I not inform the people about it so that they may have glad tidings?”
He replied, “When the people hear about it, they will solely depend on it.”
Then Mu’adh narrated the above-mentioned Hadith just before his death, being afraid of committing a sin.Al-Bukhari, 128
After the Fact
Whenever I read this, I’m often more interested in what was said after the lesson about faith, rather than the idea that faith itself will save someone from Hell.
“When the people hear about it, they will solely depend on it.”
In response, the person who heard it chose to withhold the knowledge until his dying moments, in fear of having committed a sin.
In Islam, it’s wrong to withhold knowledge on one hand. On the other, the religion acknowledges that some types of information can do more damage than good when presented to different people. In the Art of Thinking Clearly, Rolf Dobelli describes a phenomenon coined as information bias, “If you have an enemy, give him information”. (Credit where it’s due, but this was him paraphrasing something Nassim Nicholas Taleb said in terms of banking.) From students to experts, there are cases and studies whereby those with less information do better than those who had too much. It’s not that the information was bad, it was that the information was irrelevant, sometimes skewed. For the latter, it’s that you wanted to be fair by presenting both sides of a claim equally, so you present five proofs of equal weight from each side, even though one side had a hundred strong points in total, while the other only had six. In turn, the people think that it’s a matter of perspective, when in reality it’s a matter of exception. Alternatively, it’s when something you know without a doubt to be wrong becomes a trend, except you can’t help but make excuses for it because you struggle to understand how so many people could be so wrong. You might have even taken your time to hear them out and their justifications, only to realise they still make zero sense.
How it Ends
So how does information bias relate to idea of faith leading to paradise in the narration?
No one knows who they’ll turn into tomorrow.
There are instances in which the fiercest enemies of Islam became the strongest advocators for it, alongside stories whereby those thought to be closest to God traded their faith for the life in front of them. Faith wavers day to day–it can climb high on and drop low, or it can disappear altogether if you aren’t careful. When people begin to rely on faith alone, it creates a paradox. God is good and commands the good, so you start to wonder what’s going on when someone who claims to believe in God wants next to nothing to do with Him. In theory, faith guarantees Paradise; in reality, we can never be sure if we’ll end with any. If we genuinely believed that someone we perceived as having passed away with no faith had nothing but good in him, then we wouldn’t have to worry because a God that knows everything would’ve noticed it and granted him his faith somewhere sometime. Everything else is irrelevant in the general sense, so we don’t entertain it any more than it needs to be.
If it ain’t Broke, don’t Fix it
It’s weird in hindsight when you think about it. The narration itself suggests that the idea of even the slightest hint of faith being a guarantee for Paradise shouldn’t be referred to often due to the potential bad it can bring about, but it can be these days. If someone asks me about it, I’ll act almost as if I hadn’t heard what was said and respond with something else. By that, I mean something like encourage doing good deeds, dependant on the context. Someone might think I’m trying to dodge the question, but I’m trying to encourage the expression of faith itself. You could ask me to give you a clear response and so yeah, I’m obliged to tell you in fear of withholding knowledge, only for me to add that no one knows whether such and such–including ourselves–will have it during our dying breaths. It’s not that I’m ashamed of the view the religion holds on faith here, I’m trying to emphasise its preservation in an age where it can be so tempting to throw it away, by encouraging someone to do good deeds.
In general, I’ve learnt that sometimes you need to be a little indirect by building on something that will ultimately help them to understand what they were after in the first place. Sometimes. Addressing something directly can sometimes makes something worse because they don’t yet have what they need to make use of it in a helpful way. In that, I’m reminded of a saying… if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. When someone asks for something that’s potentially bad for them to know about, you can help them to understand by directing them to something better than that. You don’t need to redefine what good they already know in the hopes that it’ll fix everything else they’re a little off on unless those foundations are genuinely missing to begin with. Otherwise, it seems to only confuse and so slow them down.
There’s one final thought I wanted to add that pretty much sums up what I’ve said. It starts with another narration,
A man asked the Prophet (ﷺ) about the Hour (i.e., Day of Judgment) saying, “When will the Hour be?”
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “What have you prepared for it?”
The man said, “Nothing, except that I love Allah and His Apostle”.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “You will be with those whom you love”…Al-Bukhari 3688
A man once asked a question no one except God knows the answer to, so he was instead asked to consider whether he had enough to get him through it. He responds with something that suggests a passion to do what’s good, so we leave it at that and give him the good news.