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.