Reward of Muslim & Non-Muslim Doers of Good in the Afterlife
A man once came to the Prophet, peace be upon him, and asked: ‘What of a man who fights in a battle seeking the spoils of war and renown?’ The Prophet replied: ‘There is no [reward] for him [in the Afterlife.’ The man reiterated the question three times, each time he got the same reply: ‘There is no [reward] for him [in the Afterlife].’ The Prophet, peace be upon him, then added:
.إِنَّ الله عَزَّ وَجَلَّ لَا يَقْبَلُ مِنْ الْعَمَلِ إِلَّا مَا كَانَ لَهُ خَالِصاً وَبْتُغِي َبِهِ وَجْهُـهُ
‘Indeed, Allah does not accept a deed, unless it is done sincerely seeking only His face.’1
There are a few crucial points that may be gleaned from this hadith which, in our time, have either been misunderstood and muddled, or denied by a misguided sense of Muslim humanism. Such points include:
1 – This hadith, and others like it, demonstrates that the righteous deed of a Muslim will not be acceptable to Allah, unless the deed is done solely intending the pleasure of Allah. This is what is meant by Allah’s words: فَمَنْ كَانَ يَرْجُوا لِقَاءَ رَبِّهِ فَلْيَعْمَلْ عَمَلاً صَالِحًا وَلاَ يُشْرِكْ بِعِبَادَةِ رَبِّهِ أَحَدًا – Whoever hopes to meet his Lord, let him do righteous deeds, and let him not associate anyone with Him in worship. [18:110]
2 – If such is the case for a believer, what of a non-Muslim; a disbeliever, who does not do good deeds sincerely for Allah? The answer comes to us in this Quranic verse: وَقَدِمْنَا إِلَى مَا عَمِلُوا مِنْ عَمَلٍ فَجَعَلْنَاهُ هَبَاءً مَنْثُورًا – We shall turn to the deeds they have done, and We shall make them as scattered dust. [25:23] And: وَالَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا أَعْمَالُهُمْ كَسَرَابٍ – As for those who disbelieve, their deeds are like a mirage. [24:39]
3 – But what of those non-Muslims who do perform good deeds solely for God’s sake and for intending His good pleasure? We have these explicit words of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, that speak to this very point:
إِنَّ اللهَ لَا يَظْلِمُ الْمُؤْمِنَ حَسَنَةً، يُثَابُ عَلَيْهَا الرِّزْقَ فِي الدُّنْيَا، وَيُجْزَى بِهَا فِي الْآخِرَةِ، وَأَمَّا الكَافِرُ فَيُطْعَمُ بِحَسَنَاتِ مَا عَمِلَ للهِ تَعَالَى في الدُّنْيَا، حَتَّى إِذَا أفْضَى إِلَى الآخرَةِ، لَمْ يَكُنْ لَهُ حَسَنَةٌ يُجْزَى بِهَا
‘Allah does not wrong the believer in terms of good deeds, for he shall be rewarded for it by provisions in this worldly life and [also] be recompensed for it in the Hereafter. As for the disbeliever, he will taste [the rewards] of his good deeds he did for Allah’s sake in this life, but in the Hereafter, he shall have no good deeds to be rewarded for.’2
4 – In other words, righteous deeds of disbelievers that were done sincerely for Allah will be rewarded in this present life; there will be no reward for them in the life to come. To this end, Allah, exalted is He, reveals in the Holy Qur’an: وَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِالإِيمَانِ فَقَدْ حَبِطَ عَمَلُهُ وَهُوَ فِي الآخِرَةِ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ – Whosoever denies faith, his work shall be in vain, and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers. [5:5]
In fact, Imam al-Nawawi states: ‘The scholars have a consensus that there is no reward in the Afterlife for a non-Muslim who dies in a state of unbelief.’3
5 – Some of the more informed may, at this point, ask about the Prophet’s beloved uncle, Abu Talib: won’t his punishment in the Hellfire be lightened because of his good deeds in aiding the Prophet, peace be upon him, and protecting him against harm and persecution in Makkah? The response to this objection is found in the following hadith:
لَعَلَّهُ تَنْفَعُهُ شَفَاعَتِي يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ، فَيُجْعَلُ فِي ضَحْضَاحٍ مِنْ نَارٍ يَبْلُغُ كَعْبَيْهِ، يَغْلِي مِنْهُ دِمَاغُهُ
‘Perhaps my intercession will benefit him on the Day of Resurrection such that he will be placed in a shallow part of the Fire that reaches up to his ankles, but by which it causes his brain to boil.’4
Thus, rather than being rewarded for his actual good deeds, Abu Talib’s punishment is lightened due to the Prophet’s intercession (shafa‘ah) for him. If, for argument’s sake, we admit that this intercession for him was due to his good deeds of defending the Prophet, peace be upon him, then this would be an exception to the rule that there is no reward in the Afterlife for non-Muslims who did good on earth but who died in a state of kufr.
6 – A final point: as for those non-Muslims who did good and who subsequently became Muslim and died upon Islam, Allah will reward them for each and every good deed they did even in their state of disbelief. About this, our Prophet, peace be upon him, said:
إِذَا أَسْلَمَ الْعَبْدُ فَحَسُنَ إِسْلَامُهُ كَتَبَ اللَّهُ لَهُ كُلَّ حَسَنَةٍ كَانَ أَزْلَفَهَا وَمُحِيَتْ عَنْهُ كُلُّ سَيِّئَةٍ كَانَ أَزْلَفَهَا
‘When a person becomes a Muslim and makes his Islam good, Allah writes for him every good deed he did in the past and erases from him any wrong deed he did in the past.’5
Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.
1. Al-Nasa’i, no.3142. Its chain was graded as hasan by al-‘Iraqi, al-Mughni ‘ani’l-Haml al-Asfar (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Tabariyyah, 1995), 1177; no.4269.
2. Muslim, no.2808.
3. Sharh Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 17:124.
4. Al-Bukhari, no.1408; Muslim, no.360.
5. Al-Bukhari, no.41, in mu‘allaq form; al-Nasa‘i, no.4998.
MashAllah tabarakAllah JZK for this reminder
Barakallahu fikum for taking the time to read it and comment. We ask that Allah make us of benefit to people in helping them draw close to Him, and that we not be a harm or hinderance to then coming to know and draw closer to Him.
Alhamdulillah that was very informative. Jazak Allah Khair for clarifying.
Barakallahu fikum. Glad you found it beneficial. May Allah increase us all in understanding and practice.
Jazakum allahu khairan dear sheikh, can you clarify what it means when you say good deeds that were done for the sake of Allah swt by disbelievers. If they are disbelievers then how would they do a good deed for the sake of Allah swt.
Barakallahu fikum. A disbeliever may be someone who believes in the One true God, such as Jews, Christians or Sikhs. They may do acts of goodness – such as giving charity, helping the needy, keeping good relations with relatives, standing up for justice, praying to Him sincerely – purely to please God and draw close to Him. But since they do not have iman; and since they do not affirm the Qur’an or the prophethood of the final Prophet, their deeds will not bear fruit in the Hereafter, just in this world.
If they are of those non-Muslims who have an excuse and are given an amnesty in the Hereafter, because the message of Islam was not conveyed to them, then that is another issue; and I have explained this elsewhere on the blog.
Assalamu alaykum Shaykh.
I have great difficulty understanding the hell/heaven believer/disbeliever binary in Islam because I feel that it is built on an assumption that shirk is a unique sin, as opposed to being the result of human fallibility just like any other sin. I also feel that it is predicated on the idea that the believers are by nature of belief more moral than disbelievers – and when I look at the content of tafaseer endorsing marital rape or wife beating or forcible conversion, I cant’t help but feel that this isn’t true at all.
I specifically struggle with the hell binary because I feel that we imply that disbelievers do not enter Islam because of “their whims and desires” as opposed to serious unaddressed issues they have with the belief that Islam is a universal message. For example, they might say that Islam has historically seen women as having less worth than men, and they can point to a millenium’s worth of tafaseer openly making statements about the inferiority of women while using religious texts to bolster their case. Or, they might point to the historical legal structures of sexual slavery and ask how a God who cares about women could allow them to be exposed to rape and being stripped from their families therein. One issue I have also come across is people asking how a religion that is universal can ask them to reject music or painting or women’s ability to engage in performance art, as this is akin to asking them to reject speaking in their own languages.
So when I sit and read about the hell/heaven binary, in my heart I feel that it’s deeply unfair because most people will not be able to engage in this level of sacrifices that involve cultural erasure and harming others, as opposed to avoiding “their whims and desires”. I feel like it is easy for people who are born into Islam and who are involved only in STEM to make casual statements about giving up these things for the sake of God – but not for people who are artistic or love non believers. In my heart I also am deeply puzzled as to how God could create humanity, with all their suffering and fallibility and weakness and the tendency to misunderstand revelation, and say that their lives will be worth nothing in His eyes because they did not worship in the correct manner.
I know that the standard answer to this will be to say that I just don’t have enough faith in God, and that if I truly believed in Him, I would bow to whatever He commanded and not presume that I know morality and punishment better than He does. But as you can see, I’m struggling because when I think from an outside-of-Islam perspective “who should God be and what should the message from the True God say”, I think it must be a message that is universally recognizable and adherable no matter one’s background. And that’s not what I’m seeing with Islam, and that’s why I’m struggling with hellfire.
Subhanallah! Please forgive me for not getting back to you sooner. When I first read your message, I thought I’d try to respond in writing. But after a few days of thinking about what you wrote, and the pain that one can feel in your words, I thought it best that we somehow talk instead.
Over the decades, I’ve had quite a few people message me with similar concerns. I have to say, though, that your anguish and struggle really hit me.
Unfortunately, very soon after, I was beset with three major tragedies in my wider family, one after another, which has continued to engage my time.
I don’t want to give you the “standard answer”. I’d really like to discuss this with you over the phone, or Skype, perhaps. Is that possible? Would that be better for you? Please do let me know.
And once again, I’m truly sorry for the delayed response. I only realised I hadn’t replied when someone posted another comment on this piece yesterday.
Surkheel Abu Aaliyah
A difficult, but necessary reminder of a simple fact that many find uncomfortable.
May Allah help us to truly submit, and grant us a sincere orientation and yearning for Him.
I pray you’re keeping well Abu Suhaylah.
Assalamu Alaikum Sheikh Abu Aaliyah,
I’m just coming across this after you reposted it on telegram.
I’m also really grateful to have been taught by you previously (a guest lecture in Shaykh Ahmad Saad’s class). On seeing your manner in person, & your responses, I feel like you are a person who could answer questions I’d be too afraid to ask other Shaykh’s, for fear of judgement.
After questioning for a while now, it occurs to me, (& I appreciate you’ve given caveats on Islam not being properly conveyed to people) that there could be a tribal misunderstanding of the word Islam & how we understand Muslims to be the only ones to go to jannah.
Allah ﷻ warns us how the Bani Israel thought they were the chosen people, & thought they would exclusively go to heaven on this account – yet I see Muslims committing this same tribal (dare I say arrogant) mistake.
The word Islam means submission to the one God, if I’m correct. Yet Allah ﷻ himself says he has many names, he says to call him by Allah ﷻ or Ar-Rahman etc. Amongst Allah’s names is the most Just, the Truth, the Loving. Some of the most sincere people I know are non-Muslims who I know submit themselves to the Truth above all. Is this not in itself Submission to a name of Allah ﷻ? By extension, does this not make them sort of a Muslim, though not a believer/Mu’min? (Is that a stretch?) In my eyes, they show more submission then most fortunate born-“Muslims” who inherited the religion but care not much about it. For me, if not, I cannot see how this squares with Allah’s ﷻ name ‘the most Just” if they are not higher ranked, just on account of being unaware of/ungifted with the religion Islam in the correctly conveyed manner.
I’m keen to hear your thoughts dear Shaykh.
Wa alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullah.
I pray you and your family are well and safe during this pandemic. May Allah increase you in goodness and bless you.
I’ll attempt to address your concerns, minus the textual proofs. If proofs are required, I’d be happy to furnish them later.
1 – Islam does indeed mean istislam – “submission’ or “surrender.” It is understood as surrendering to the will of God, as He revealed through prophets, and in revelation. A Muslim is one who has willing “surrendered” by believing in the two shahadahs, and declaring it with their tongue. Someone who has done that is considered to be a Muslim. Someone who does not believe in the two shahadahs, or refuses to declare them (even secretly to themselves), is considered a non-Muslim: even if they believe in God.
2 – If a non-Muslim is truly a seeker of Allah, and one who desires to give God His rights of worship and oneness, (and not merely a nice, moral person), but has not heard of the message of Islam, and thus dies as a non-Muslim; an unbeliever, he will be given an amnesty (or a test) on the Day of Judgement.
3 – If a non-Muslim had no desire to seek the truth about Allah ﷻ and Ultimate Realities, or were indifferent to seeking the Truth, even if they were good people on earth, will not have such an amnesty – as per the Qur’an.
4 – The Qur’an explicitly says that Islam is the only way of life (or form of surrender) acceptable to God, and that Muslims are favoured by Him. One sahih hadith states that only a person of iman, or [Islamic] faith/belief will enter Paradise. So, as a rule of thumb, it is perfectly fine to assert that “Muslims will go to Paradise” or “Muslims are favoured by God” or “Islam is the truth.” However, there is huge difference between making a claim about Islam (or believers as a category), and making claims as individual Muslims. Islam is perfect; Muslims are not. Islam can and does make claims; individuals Muslims must not and cannot – to do so would be arrogance, as well as being presumptuous that God has accepted our deeds.
5 – When we say that certain non-Muslims “submit themselves to the truth” what truth do they submit themselves to? If it is what they believe to be revealed truths from God, and they haver heard of Islam, or have only heard a distorted or garbled form of Islam, then they will have an amnesty. But if truth means what their own desires or egos dictate, or what society deems proper, then they are not submitters to the truth, or even truth seekers. Rather, they are people following their whims, or who follow social convention.
6 – Either one is a Muslim (i.e. someone who has professed the two shahadahs – testifying that only Allah is to be worshipped, and that the Prophet and what he was sent with is the truth from God), with whatever varying levels of faith and practice, or one is not a Muslim. There is no middle category (though, as I’ve said above, there may be some non-Muslims who will have an excuse or amnesty for not accepting Islam in this world).
7 – Of course, some non-Muslims are more morally upright than some Muslims, in terms of not lying, cheating, stealing, oppressing, etc. (but perhaps not in terms of drinking, fornicating, looking after their parents, etc.) But the greatest moral good, by far, is acknowledging the Creator, believing in His oneness, and giving Him His rights of tawhid and worship. Whoever believes in this principle, will be saved – even if it means being purged in Hell for unrepented sins one may have committed as a Muslim. One who does not believe in the principle, or isn’t a sincere, genuine truth seeker, will have no amnesty, nor salvation; only damnation.
I hope this helps clarify your concerns, and sheds some light on the nagging conundrums. May Allah ﷻ guide us all to a life that is pleasing to Him.
Surkheel Abu Aaliyah