Religious Concepts

Heaven and Hell – Part 2


Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), The Promised Messiah & Imam Mahdi

The Promised Messiah (as) wrote over 80 books in Arabic, Urdu, and Persian. Excerpts of his collected works have been translated into English and organised by topic.

The Review of Religions is pleased to present these excerpts as part of a monthly feature. In this series, the Promised Messiah (as) discusses the concept of heaven and hell, explaining the nature of divine chastisement and the bounties in the hereafter.

This is the second part of a multi-part series.

Extracts from The Essence of Islam, Vol. II, 439-451.

The Philosophy of Punishment in the Hereafter

There is a philosophy about punishment in the hereafter which is not set forth perfectly by any religion except Islam. God Almighty says in the Holy Qur’an:

مَنۡ کَانَ فِیۡ ھٰذِہٖۤ اَعۡمٰی فَھُوَ فِی الۡاٰخِرَۃِ اَعۡمٰی وَاَضَلُّ سَبِیۡلًا

He who is blind in this world shall be blind in the hereafter and even more astray.

This shows that a person takes with him from this world the eyes with which to behold God Almighty and the senses with which to perceive Him. He who does not acquire these senses in this life will not enjoy them in the hereafter. This is a mystery which is not understood by the common people. If its meaning is not that which we have set forth, then it is entirely wrong that those who are blind in this world shall be blind in the hereafter. The truth is that to recognise God Almighty without any error and to acquire a true understanding of His attributes in this world is the key to all comforts and delights of the future. This verse clearly indicates that we carry a torment with us from this world and that the blind existence and foul actions of this world will appear in the form of the torment of hell in the other world and they will not be anything new. As by shutting the doors of a room a person deprives himself of light and of fresh lifegiving air, or by swallowing a poison he puts an end to his life, in the same way, when he moves away from God and commits sin, he falls into a darkness and is involved in torment.

The meaning of junah, the Arabic word for sin, is to incline and to move away from the true centre. When a person moves away from God and withdraws from the light which descends upon the hearts from God, he is involved in a darkness which becomes a source of torment for him. Then he suffers the same type of torment of which type is his turning away. If he wishes to revert to the centre and transports himself to the spot where that light falls, he regains the light. As we observe in the world that we enjoy light in a room when we open its windows, in the same way, in the spiritual system to return to the true centre becomes the source of comfort and rescues from the suffering which had resulted from departing from the centre. This is called repentance. The darkness that is produced in this manner is called the misguidance of hell and to revert to the true centre which bestows comfort is called heaven. To move away from sin and to revert to virtue that would please God Almighty, becomes the atonement of the sin and wipes out its consequences. That is why God Almighty has said:

 اِنَّ الۡحَسَنٰتِ یُذۡھِبۡنَ السَّیِّاٰتِ

Good deeds wipe out evil deeds. As vice contains the poison of destruction and good contains the antidote of life, good alone is the means of overcoming the poison of vice. In other words, torment means the absence of comfort and salvation means the achievement of comfort and joy.

Torment is the Result of Man’s Actions

Illness means the condition when the body does not function normally and health is the condition when all natural matters function in the proper way. The moving away of a hand or foot or any other limb from its proper position causes pain and if this condition persists for a time not only the affected limb becomes useless, but it begins to affect other limbs also. The same is the case with the soul. When a person moves away from God, Who is the True Source of his life, and departs from the religion of nature, he is involved in suffering and if his heart is not dead and retains its feeling, he feels the torment keenly. If this condition is not reformed, there is an apprehension that all spiritual faculties might gradually become useless and a severe torment might ensue. Thus no suffering comes from outside; all suffering is generated within a person. We do not deny that torment is God’s action, but it is the consequence of man’s actions as when a person swallows poison, God kills him. This is indicated by God, the Glorious, in the verses:

نَارُ اللّٰہِ الۡمُوۡقَدَۃُ ۙالَّتِیۡ تَطَّلِعُ عَلَی الۡاَفۡـِٕدَۃِ

The torment of God is the fire that God kindles and its flame rises from the heart of man. It is thus clear that the real seed of torment is the foulness of one’s being which assumes the form of torment.

Nature of the Blessings of Paradise

In the same way, the source of the comfort of heaven are a person’s own actions. If he does not depart from the religion of nature and does not move away from the centre and, as a servant, he lies at the threshold of God and partakes of the lights of Godhead, then he is like the healthy limb which has not moved from its position and is performing the function for which God has created it and he suffers no pain and all is comfort.

A Person’s Heaven is Generated Within Him

In the Holy Qur’an, He says:

وَبَشِّرِ الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا وَعَمِلُوا الصّٰلِحٰتِ اَنَّ لَھُمۡ جَنّٰتٍ تَجۡرِیۡ مِنۡ تَحۡتِھَا الۡاَنۡھٰرُ

Convey to those who believe and act righteously the good news that for them are gardens beneath which rivers flow.

In this verse God Almighty has called faith a garden and righteous actions streams of water. This is the relationship between righteous actions and faith. As no garden can flourish and bring forth fruit without water, in the same way, no faith is helpful which is not accompanied by righteous action. So what is heaven? It is the embodiment of faith and righteous action. Like hell paradise too is nothing external. Indeed, a person’s heaven is born within him.

Remember! The blessings that are bestowed there are nothing but the pious which is shaped in the world. True faith resembles a plant and righteous actions are like streams which irrigate that plant and maintain its greenness and glory. In this world they are perceived as if in a dream, but in the other world they will be felt and observed as realities. That is why it is said that when the dwellers of heaven are bestowed these bounties, they will say:

 ھٰذَا الَّذِیۡ رُزِقۡنَا مِنۡ قَبۡلُ ۙ وَاُتُوۡا بِہٖ مُتَشَابِھًا

This does not mean that we will be bestowed in heaven the milk, or honey, or grapes, or pomegranates, etc., that we consume here. They will be entirely different except in name. They are described physically but we are informed that they illumine the soul and create understanding of God. Their source is the soul and righteousness. It does not mean that in this world what we partake of milk, honey, grapes, pomegranates, etc., will also be provided in the hereafter. Not at all. Those things in their kind and condition will be totally different except those that have common names. Although all these blessings are exemplified in concrete terms, it has been pointed out at the same time that all these blessings illumine the soul and lead to the knowledge of the Divine. Their source is soul and truth. ‘What was given to us before’, does not mean that they are material bounties of this world. No, absolutely not. What God means to say in this verse is that the believers who act righteously make with their own hands a heaven the fruit of which they will enjoy in the other world also. As they will have tasted that fruit spiritually in this world, they will recognise it in the other world and will exclaim: ‘These appear to be the same fruits and spiritual exaltations that we had enjoyed in the world’. In this manner those who worship God and possess spiritual insight will recognise them.

…there is a philosophy about heaven and hell which is as I have just set out. It should, however, not be forgotten that the punishments of this world are meant as a warning and a lesson and are part of a system of discipline. There is a relationship between statesmanship and mercy and these punishments are the reflection of that relationship. Human actions are preserved and recorded as sound is recorded in a gramophone. It is only a person who possesses insight who can draw pleasure and benefit from the contemplation of this system.

—Malfuzat, vol. III, pp. 25-30

Torment is something negative in nature. Absence of comfort is torment. Salvation is something positive in nature; that is, the recovery of comfort and prosperity is salvation. As darkness means absence of light, suffering means absence of well-being. Illness is the name of the condition when the body does not function properly and health is the name of the condition when all natural functions revert to normal. When the spiritual condition of a person moves away from the normal, this disturbance is called torment. When a limb like a hand or foot moves away from its proper position a pain is felt and the limb becomes unable to perform its allotted function and if it is neglected it gradually becomes useless or becomes infected and falls away. Very often there is apprehension of its neighbouring limbs being affected also. The pain that this limb generates does not come from outside but results naturally from its diseased condition. The same is the case with spiritual torment. When a person departs from the religion of nature and loses steadfastness, spiritual torment begins, though an ignorant, who is steeped in heedlessness, may not feel it. In that condition the affected soul is disabled from performing spiritual service. If this condition lasts for a time the soul becomes useless and becomes dangerous for its neighbours. The torment with which it is afflicted does not come from outside, but is generated by its diseased condition. No doubt it is the act of God, but it is like the case when a person takes a fatal dose of arsenic, God Almighty kills him. Or when a person shuts all the windows of his room, God Almighty makes the room dark, or if a person were to cut off his tongue, God Almighty would deprive him of the power of speech. These are all the acts of God which follow upon the acts of man. In the same way, spiritual torment is the act of God Almighty which follows upon a person’s own action. This is indicated in the verse:

نَارُ اللّٰہِ الۡمُوۡقَدَۃُ ۙالَّتِیۡ تَطَّلِعُ عَلَی الۡاَفۡـِٕدَۃِ

Chastisement of God is a torment inflicted by God. Its first flame rises from the heart of man himself.

This means that the root of the torment is in the heart of man and that the impure thoughts of the heart are the fuel of this hell. As the seed of the torment is the foulness of one’s being which becomes personified as torment, it follows that that which removes this torment is righteousness and purity.

—Kitab-ul-Bariyyah, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 13, pp. 81-82

The roots of torment are the mistaken beliefs and wrong actions of a person. They will be personified by the wrath of God in the form of fire. As striking a stone hard produces fire, in the same way, divine wrath striking these false beliefs and wrong actions will produce flames of fire and that fire will consume the disbelievers and the wrong-doers. As you observe that the fire of lightning meets the inner fire of a person and the two consume him, in the same way, the fire of divine wrath meeting the fire of false beliefs and wrong actions consumes a person. This is indicated by Allah the Exalted in the Holy Qur’an:

نَارُ اللّٰہِ الۡمُوۡقَدَۃُ ۙالَّتِیۡ تَطَّلِعُ عَلَی الۡاَفۡـِٕدَۃِ

What is hell? It is the fire of Allah’s wrath, which sets the hearts ablaze. That is, the hearts in which the embers of misconduct and false beliefs are still smouldering will feed the flames of their own fire with the fire of the divine wrath and the two fires jointly reduce them to ashes just as lightening reduces a person to ashes.

—Majmu‘a Ishtiharat, vol. II, pp. 189-190

Question:[8] Let Mirza Sahib recall his own belief, according to which after death a person who attains salvation will dwell in a heavenly mansion where God has planted a garden and where handsome women are provided and streams of wine, etc., are running. In short, even after salvation, all worldly provisions will be present and nothing more. Even that which is prohibited here, like wine and multiplicity of women, will be provided there. This is not true. Those who attain salvation shall pass their time happily and independently.

Answer: …According to your principle those who attain salvation will be expelled from the house of salvation after a fixed period and their weeping and crying will attract no mercy and the order of their expulsion will be carried out with great harshness against their will and they will be thrown out of the house of salvation in great disgrace and humiliation. At that time will not that paradise become a hell or even worse for them? In this condition of compulsive misery where will be their independence and what happiness will they feel? You say that those who attain salvation will dwell in great joy and happiness. Can any perfect happiness be enjoyed in a place where one is faced with the prospect of expulsion and enduring misery for millions of years once more, and all the time one is eaten up with the anxiety that after a short while one would have to encounter countless humiliations and would have to pass through incarnations of insects and dogs and cats?

…May God save us from your house of salvation. If such is Permeshwar and his house of salvation, then the unfortunate pious people will have only weeping here and weeping there.

Your objection that in the paradise of the Muslims worldly bounties will also be provided has no substance. On the contrary it should put you and your Permeshwar to great shame, inasmuch as the All-Powerful and Self-Sufficient God of the Muslims has out of His limitless treasures permanently and eternally bestowed everything in the hereafter on those who believe in the Holy Qur’an and has bestowed upon them spiritual as well as physical bounties, inasmuch as He knew that His true worshippers do not obey Him and worship Him in this world only through their souls, but through their souls and their bodies together.

Human perfection is not achieved through the soul alone but through a combination of the soul and the body. In order to provide perfect good fortune for those obedient to Him and to recompense them fully, He divided the delight of eternal salvation into two kinds. He bestowed upon them the delights of His Beloved vision and sent down upon them His other bounties like rain. In short, He did that which was worthy of the powers and greatness and limitless mercy of that All-Powerful One. As a contrast, your Permeshwar proved to be poor and bankrupt and could not lead you to any goal nor provide you with any permanent joy on account of his helplessness and indigence and powerlessness. Indeed he could do nothing for you. He could not bestow either spiritual or physical bounties upon you forever and left you frustrated and unsuccessful and deprived on both sides. He, for whom you were ready to die and to whom you were devoted, proved so unjust and uncomprehending and unaware that he attached no value to your spiritual and physical labours and esteemed your loving fidelity and devotion as paid labour, extending over a few days. Can one entertain increasing love for such a miserly, powerless and ignorant Permeshwar and can any heart turn to him with perfect sincerity? Certainly not. On the other hand, on realising his lack of power and generosity and appreciation, the souls of his worshippers would be grieved and remorseful that they had laboured uselessly for the sake of such a Permeshwar and for the limited salvation that he promised…

The Nature of the Bounties of Heaven

As regards the objection how would wine become lawful in heaven when it is unlawful in this life, the answer is the same that God Almighty has Himself given that the wine of heaven has no relationship with the evil-inciting wines of the world. God Almighty has said:

وَسَقٰهُمۡ رَبُّهُمۡ شَرَابًا طَهُورًا

اِنَّ الۡاَبۡرَارَ یَشۡرَبُوۡنَ مِنۡ کَاۡسٍ کَانَ مِزَاجُھَا کَافُوۡرًاعَیۡنًا یَّشۡرَبُ بِھَا عِبَادُ اللّٰہِ یُفَجِّرُوۡنَھَا تَفۡجِیۡرًا

This means that: God will give the dwellers of paradise to drink a wine that will purify them altogether.

The virtuous shall drink of a cup which will be tempered with camphor, that is to say, by drinking that wine their hearts will grow cold altogether to the love of that which is beside God. That wine is a spring from which the men of God start drinking in this very world. They cause it to flow easily in wide and broad streams.

In other words, through their loving labour all their hindrances are removed and the ups and downs of their humanness are levelled. They cut asunder wholly from the world and turn to God, and their understanding of the Divine is perfected. At another place it is said:

وَكَأۡسٍ مِّن مَّعِينٍ * لَّا يُصَدَّعُونَ عَنۡهَا وَلَا يُنزِفُونَ [11]

لَا یَسۡمَعُوۡنَ فِیۡھَا لَغۡوًا وَّلَا تَاۡثِیۡمًااِلَّا قِیۡلًا سَلٰمًا سَلٰمًا

وُجُوۡہٌ یَّوۡمَئِذٍ نَّاضِرَۃٌاِلٰی رَبِّھَا نَاظِرَۃٌ

مَنۡ کَانَ فِیۡ ھٰذِہٖۤ اَعۡمٰی فَھُوَ فِی الۡاٰخِرَۃِ اَعۡمٰی وَاَضَلُّ سَبِیۡلًا

The cups of purifying wine which will be like pure and limpid water will be offered to the dwellers of paradise. This wine will be free from all defects like headache, stupefaction and drunkenness.

They will not hear therein any vain, frivolous or sinful talk, but only the salutation: “Peace, peace” which is a sign of compassion, love and happiness will be heard on all sides.

On that day faces of the believers will be fresh and handsome. They will behold their Lord.

He who is blind in this world shall be blind in the hereafter and even more astray.

These verses show that the wine of paradise has no relationship or resemblance with the wines of this world. Indeed, in all its qualities it is opposed to these wines. Nowhere is it stated in the Holy Qur’an that like the wines of the world it will be made from grapes or molasses or the bark of acacia or any other physical substance. It is repeatedly said that the essence of that wine is the love and understanding of the Divine which a believer takes with him from this world. It is a divine mystery that that spiritual condition will appear like wine. To those who possess insight, this mystery is revealed in visions and wise people arrive at its reality through other signs.

The personification of spiritual matters in physical forms has been mentioned in the Holy Qur’an at several places, as, for instance, that the glorification of God will be personified like fruit-bearing trees and good actions will appear as pure and clear streams.

Surmah Chashm Arya, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 2, pp. 150-157


[1] The Holy Qur’an, 17:73.

[2] The Holy Qur’an, 11:115.

[3] The Holy Qur’an, 104:7-8.

[4] The Holy Qur’an, 2:26.

[5] ‘This is what was given us before, and gifts mutually resembling shall be brought to them.’ – The Holy Qur’an, 2:26.

[6] The Holy Qur’an, 104:7-8.

[7] Ibid.

[8] This extract is from the debate held in 1886 between the Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) (the Promised Messiah), and Lala Murlidhar, an Arya Samajist.

[9] The Holy Qur’an, 76:22.

[10] The Holy Qur’an, 76:6-7.

[11] The Holy Qur’an, 56:19-20.

[12] The Holy Qur’an, 56:26-27.

[13] The Holy Qur’an, 75:23-24.

[14] The Holy Qur’an, 17:73.