It would seem more people than me like it when a myth is debunked. For too long I believed some things which I was relieved to find are regarded differently in the Qur’an.
Things like it is easy to get into hell and that is where a lot of (if not most) people are headed. And if I do manage to get into heaven I will have to live a perfect life.
Things like when, Insha’Allah, I do enter heaven I will not need to change.
Things like I am great and wonderful and there is nothing better or more complicated than me.
And so it is I was led to reexamine these myths …
MYTH ONE: It is easy to get into hell and that is where most people are headed.
Surah Al-Layl — The Night (Q092.014-016)
I warn you about the raging Fire, in which none but the most wicked one will burn, who denied the truth, and turned away.
Phew! It turns out hell is reserved for the very worst; only the most wretched, the most wicked go to hell. “Only” and “most” here suggest that the bulk of us will not go to hell. Maybe I am lucky, I do not know any most wretched people personally. Speak of people … there are some who would condemn us to hell just for not thinking like them. I am glad I am going to be judged by Allah and not by people.
You have to make a choice here. Please choose carefully. Listen to this Hadith from Jami’at-Tirmidhi
Abu Hurairah narrated that the Messenger of Allah (Salla-Allahu-Alayhi-Wassalam) said: Allah, the Most High said: “I am as My slave thinks of Me, and I am with him when he remembers Me. If he remembers Me to himself, I remember him to Myself, and if he remembers Me in a gathering I remember him in a gathering better than that. And if he seeks to draw nearer to Me by a hand span, I draw nearer to him by a forearm’s length, …“ and so on in escalations that always favour us.
There is so much in this hadith that makes my heart beat faster. The opening phrase “I am as My slave thinks of Me” is critical. Another translation reads “I am as My slave expects Me to be.” If I think of Allah as a vengeful, exacting Being Allah is a vengeful, exacting Being. If I think of Allah as “The Most Kind” and “The Most Forgiving” then Allah is The Most Kind and The Most Forgiving to me. Our choice. Choose carefully.
The chorus from A Life Uncommon by country singer Jewel runs: “Lend your voices only to sounds of freedom, no longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from, fill your lives with love and bravery and you shall lead a life uncommon.”
No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from. I have been with believers who kept reminding me Shaytaan this and Shaytaan that; I heard “Shaytaan” more than I heard “Allah”. Shaytaan was used in an attempt to influence my thinking and control my behaviour. I will not lend my strength to that which I wish to be free from.
Thus, it is not that easy to get into hell.
MYTH TWO. If I enter heaven I will not need to change.
OK. We are not one of the very worst, we do not deny and we have not turned away, we have traversed the narrow bridge to enter heaven, but, before we can get too comfortable we will need to be stripped of something; some residual, latent, common failing. I imagine angels coming around, sleeves rolled up, with rubber gloves and long handled brushes doing this work.
Surah Al-Hijr — The Rocky Tract (Q015.045-049)
The righteous will be in Gardens with springs — “Enter them in peace and safety!”— and We shall remove any bitterness from their hearts: [they will be like] brothers, sitting on couches, face to face. No weariness will ever touch them there, nor will they ever be expelled. Tell My servants that I am the Forgiving, the Merciful.
Yusuf Ali translates “bitterness” as “any lurking sense of injury”; a Standard International translation as “resentment”; Maulana Wahiduddin Khan as “ill-will”. Our hearts will be cleansed of any trace of bitterness.
The imagery of a clean heart has been one I have held as an objective for decades. In Nabi Esa (Peace and Blessings Upon Him)’s reported sermon on a mountain there is a to do list for Christians, and each comes with its particular, specific reward. The “do this” part is matched with a “then this” consequence. I have an untested theory about how the pairing in this list takes place — it is this: the consequence you want the most is linked with the to do part that you find most difficult. For me this is the case. Thus my favourite beatitude is “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
In the Nabi Mohammed (Salla-Allahu-Alayhi-Wassalam)’s Night Journey his heart was removed, washed and returned. May we all, Insha’Allah, sometime experience this or something similar.
So, no matter how good I think I am I will need further cleansing in heaven.
MYTH THREE. I am great and wonderful and there is nothing better or more complicated than me.
It turns out mankind is not the pinnacle of creation as philosophy and science might have us think; we are not as great as we think we are.
Surah Ghafir — The Forgiver (Q040.057)
Certainly the creation of the heavens and the earth is greater than the creation of the men, but most people do not know.
The pressure is off. There is no position to maintain, no high ground to defend.
The Charter for Compassion dating from 2009 and on the wall behind me invites us to “dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world”.
In her uplifting 2015 work The Art of Surrender Eiman al-Zaabi writes: “Our joy comes from living in harmony with the rest of creation.” In harmony, not superiorly and exploitatively.
So, I am not the best there is.
I said I am glad when a myth is debunked. Let me explain why. Falsehood needs a constantly increasing network of ideas and arguments to bolster it up; lies cannot exist on their own, they need support, and supporting falsehood might turn out to be spiritually exhausting. On the other hand, truth just is. Eiman al Zaabi (again) states lucidly: “The trees, animals, stars, and planets do not debate the truth, because it’s embedded in their being.” So when I learn a truth I become liberated; my ability to think and plan good things is freed up.
In closing. I do not know if there is only one way to get to heaven or many ways. If there are many I think the Islam ticket is first class. I also maintain serving Allah should be neither too difficult nor too easy.
Not too easy is illustrated famously in …
Surah Al-Balad — The City (Q090.004)
We have created man into toil and struggle. [Yusuf Ali]
We have created the human being to face a great deal of hardship. [Muhammad Sarwar]
And equally well known not too difficult is stated in …
Surah Hajj – The Pilgrimage (Q022.078)
Strive hard for God as is His due: He has chosen you and placed no hardship in your religion.
This too may be a choice we make. I see no resolution to the paradox — the closest may be to regard life as difficult but religion as easy. But here we approach the realm of people who long for immortality but do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri writes: “All of us seek the path of ease, knowledge, security,
love and contentment. No happiness lasts unless it is based on the knowledge of
Allah and submission to His intended purpose and ways. The Qur’an is the key to
Choose lasting happiness.
Acquire knowledge of Allah and submit to His intended purpose and ways.
The Qur’an is the key.
I thought of reading a hadith here but it is long. Insha’Allah you will find a reference to the hadith in the online version of this talk. I hope someone with skill and time will be able to make a Desiderata-type poster of the hadith. The hadith is the one in which the Nabi (Salla-Allahu-Alayhi-Wassalam) speaks of the Qu’ran — he calls it an intercessor, a solicitor; he says the Qu’ran will lead those who follow it into paradise; it is a guide that shows the best path; it contains details and explanations and accomplishments; it has face meaning and hidden meaning; its wonders do not end and its rare facts do not become old; in it is the torch of guidance and the lighthouse of wisdom; it saves from destruction and protects against danger; the Quran is the best distraction from worldly attractions.
And Allah knows best.
 Haleem, M. A. S. Abdel. The Qur’an (Oxford World’s Classics) (p. 424). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
 … expressing a strong reaction of relief
 Divine Justice is far better than secular justice
 Vol. 6, Book of Supplications, Hadith 3603
 Jewel Kilcher (born 23 May 1974)
 I experienced the use of Shaytaan as coercive. I experience knowledge of Allah and his intended ways as shaping my ever-evolving being.
 Haleem, M. A. S. Abdel. The Qur’an (Oxford World’s Classics) (p. 163). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
 Matthew 5:8
 Sahih Bukhari, Volume 5, The Book of the Merits of the Ansar (book 58), Hadith No. 3626
 Please do not think I am saying we cannot improve while we are on earth. Mature people constantly feel they can improve their knowledge and/or attitude and/or skills; immature people often feel self-sufficient and invulnerable.
 Haleem, M. A. S. Abdel. The Qur’an (Oxford World’s Classics) (p. 305). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
 page 70 of 286 pages
 page 146 of 286 pages
 Haleem, M. A. S. Abdel. The Qur’an (Oxford World’s Classics) (p. 214). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition
 see Susan Ertz (1894 – 11 Apr 1985)
 Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri Beams of Illumination from the Divine Revelation – a commentary on Juz’Amma, the last section of the Qur’an, Zhara Publications, 1985 ISBN 1-919826-01-7 (see the Foreword of the 1999 reprint)
 Kitab Al-Kafi Book # 7: The Book on the Virtue of the Holy Quran; Chapter 1: The Excellence of the Holy Quran; Hadith 3456 (http://www.fourshiabooks.com/hadith/al-kafi/7/1/8)