IBN TAYMIYYAH’S VIEW OF HELL REVISITED

In this post, I will be quoting from one of the leading (if not the foremost) scholar on Ibn Taymiyyah, the beloved theologian and polemicist of Wahhabi/Salafi Muslims, Jon Hoover, who wrote a book on the so-called Shaykh al-Islam. In his writing, Hoover confirms that Ibn Taymiyyah rejected everlasting punishment and actually believed that Allah would eventually empty hell out for the express purpose of granting salvation to every creature. Emphasis will be mine.

THE ULTIMATE DESTINY OF UNBELIEVERS

Ibn Taymiyya is totally unsympathetic to religions apart from Islam, and he is no doubt that unbelievers will suffer punishment in Hell-Fire in the hereafter. However, late in life he came to the conclusion that this punishment WOULD NOT LAST FOREVER. Sometime during Ibn Taymiyya’s last imprisonment in Damascus, his student Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya asked him twice about the chastisement of unbelievers in Hell-Fire. The first time Ibn Taymiyya refused to answer. He would only say that it was a difficult question and it appears that he did not yet know what to think. The second time Ibn Qayyim sent his teacher a book containing a statement by ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, a Companion of the Prophet Muhammad. The statement read, “Even if the People of the Fire stayed in the Fire like the amount of sand of ‘Alij, they would have, despite that, a day in which they would come out.” (‘Alij was a large tract of sand on the way to Mecca.) Ibn Taymiyya responded with what appears to be his last work, a short treatise entitled Refutation of Whoever Adheres to the Annihilation of Paradise and Hell-Fire (Al-Radd ‘ala man qala bi-fana’ al-janna wa al-nar).

In this treatise, Ibn Taymiyya argues that it is incorrect to say that both Paradise and Hell-Fire will be annihilated. That was the view of an eccentric theologian from the second century of Islam. Instead, explains Ibn Taymiyya, the reward of Paradise is everlasting while the chastisement of unbelievers in Hell-Fire WILL END. ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab’s statement elucidates the Qur’an, which says that those in Hell will be in it “for long stretches of time” (78:23). The expression “long stretches of time” does not mean forever. A time will come when everyone WILL COME OUT.

Most other Muslim scholars of Ibn Taymiyya’s day maintained that unbelievers would remain in Hell-fire forever. The Qur’an says in many places that unbelievers will be in Hell-Fire
“abiding therein forever” (e.g. Q. 4:169). It was also claimed that a consensus had been reached on this point. The Muslim scholars had come to agreement that unbelievers would remain in Hell-fire forever with no end to their chastisement. There was also no disagreement among the earliest Muslim generations, the Salaf, over the matter.

Ibn Taymiyya responds that the Qur’anic terms “abiding” and “forever” should not be taken in their absolute senses. They do not preclude an eventual end to the punishment of unbelievers. He also rejects the alleged consensus around everlasting Hell-Fire. There was NO consensus for this AMONG THE COMPANIONS, as the statement of the Companion ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab quoted above illustrates. Additionally, as mentioned in Chapter Five, Ibn Taymiyya does not accept a later consensus as binding because it is too difficult to verify.    

Broader theological considerations also play a role in Ibn Taymiyya’s argument. It follows from God’s mercy and forgiveness that the blessings of Paradise will last forever, but everlasting chastisement does not follow from any of God’s names and attributes. Also, God’s mercy precludes chastisement without end. The Qur’an says, “[God] has written mercy for Himself” (Q. 6:12), and a hadith reads, “My mercy precedes my anger.” Finally, Ibn Taymiyya appeals to God’s wise purpose. God’s wise purpose in chastisement is cleansing from sins and purifying souls, he explains. Therefore, there could be no wise purpose in chastising someone forever.

The implication of Ibn Taymiyya’s argument is UNIVERSAL SALVATION. He makes clear that God’s wise purpose in chastisement and punishment is reform not retribution. Retribution metes out reward and punishment in due proportion to human deeds. The mainstream Sunni tradition maintained that the just retribution for unbelief was eternal Hell-Fire. From Ibn Taymiyya’s perspective, however, everlasting punishment would defeat God’s wise purpose of purifying souls towards a higher end. Hell-Fire fits neatly into Ibn Taymiyya’s purpose-driven theology as an instrument of therapeutic discipline.

Although Ibn Taymiyya does not say so explicitly, his reasoning leads to the conclusion that God will use Hell-fire to bring all creatures into complete accord with the purposes for which they were naturally constituted and through which they will attain the greatest benefit. Everyone will eventually worship God alone. (Hoover, Makers of the Muslim World: Ibn Taymiyya [OneWorld Academic, 2019], 8. God and Humanity, pp. 137-139)  

FURTHER READING

IBN TAYMIYYAH’S REJECTION OF ETERNAL PUNISHMENT

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