The Humble "I"

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

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 أَحَدًاWhoever 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 مَنْثُورًاWe shall turn to the deeds they have done, and We shall make them as scattered dust. [25:23] And: وَالَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا أَعْمَالُهُمْ كَسَرَابٍAs 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 الْخَاسِرِينَWhosoever 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.

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9 thoughts on “Reward of Muslim & Non-Muslim Doers of Good in the Afterlife

  1. Nadeem on said:

    MashAllah tabarakAllah JZK for this reminder

    • Abu Aaliyah on said:

      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.

  2. Lubna Ul-Hasan on said:

    Alhamdulillah that was very informative. Jazak Allah Khair for clarifying.

    • Abu Aaliyah on said:

      Barakallahu fikum. Glad you found it beneficial. May Allah increase us all in understanding and practice.

  3. Abdurrahman on said:

    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.

    • Abu Aaliyah on said:

      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.

  4. Sarah on said:

    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.

    • Abu Aaliyah on said:

      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.

      Kind regards,
      Surkheel Abu Aaliyah

  5. A difficult, but necessary reminder of a simple fact that many find uncomfortable.

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