Let’s start by looking at what Muslims themselves think: one of Islam’s six ‘articles of faith’ states that Muslims believe in the ‘Day of judgement’ when everyone’s deeds will be weighed on scales, deciding their fate: “Then those whose scales are heavy [with good deeds] - it is they who are the successful. But those whose scales are light are the ones who have lost their souls. In hell, will they abide” Q23:102-3 (English translation of the Qur’an).
Even if the good things a Muslim has done outweigh the bad, they still can’t be 100 per cent sure of avoiding hell because they believe Allah has the final say and can decide against the balance of the scales: “[Allah] forgives whom He wills, and He punishes whom He wills” Q5.18.
The Christian understanding of judgement is that only perfect people will avoid hell - it doesn’t matter how many good things outweigh bad - however, it also recognises that no such person exists. The Bible says that everyone has messed up and is destined for destruction, but it speaks of a way out through Jesus.
When we break stuff there are consequences. If I borrow my sister’s shoes and ruin them, she has two options: to make me pay for a new pair (fair enough) or to forgive me. If she chooses to forgive, she takes on the cost of new shoes, paying from her own pocket. Likewise, when God forgives us for messing up, there is a cost that needs to be paid - something is still broken.
Christians believe that one of the things that happened at the cross is that Jesus paid the cost that we should have paid and, in return, we are given eternal life (slightly better than new Jimmy Choos!). Muslims believe Jesus was an important prophet but that he did not die and was not God. Central to the Christian faith is the belief that Jesus - fully God and fully man - died on the cross to pay for our mess and ensure we receive eternal life. We can be 100 per cent sure of avoiding hell.
Some Christians would argue that because a Muslim hasn’t accepted Jesus’ sacrifice, they cannot be sure of avoiding hell. While the Bible is clear that Jesus is the only way to eternal life, we must also factor in God’s grace. Grace is getting something we don’t deserve. If my sister forgives me for the shoes and buys me a new pair as well as replacing her own, that’s grace. God, in choosing to forgive and pay the cost for our mistakes, demonstrates incredible grace. God’s grace extends much further than we can imagine - there may well be many surprises in heaven!
Questions to ask:
- Do you believe in hell? Why? Why not?
- Do you think your actions affect your eternal destiny?
- Does the idea of hell fit with a loving god?
Further reading: Seeking Allah, finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi.