The difference between Trial and Punishment

Question 517: The Difference between Trial and Punishment. As-Salamu `Alaykum. I have asked this question of many scholars but no one has been able to give me a satisfactory answer. I hope you can clarify it for me. I know that man has to go through a lot of problems and afflictions throughout his life. Now these sufferings could be a punishment from God or it could be that God wants to test his faith and raise his ranks in the Hereafter. But how can we tell the difference between punishment from God or tests and trials by God?

Brief answer 517: Imam Ali (a) says, “Calamities are designed to punish the unbeliever, to test the believer, and for prophets, it is to raise them up in rank and degree.

Detailed answer 517: To see whether unpleasant natural happenings are God’s punishment or not, we should consider the following points:

  1. Living in indulgence and laziness are not the end goals in the creation of human beings. The end goal of human beings is to achieve true happiness, which cannot be gained except through praying and gaining proximity to God.
  2. Natural disasters also have some intrinsic benefits in the sense that they help human beings reach their end goal. It can be said that the harm that these incidents deliver can be considered relative. This means that we consider these things as disasters only when we look through the eyes of those who have been affected. For example a snake’s poison is harmful for a person or an animal that is bitten, but in reality it is good for the snake itself as it protects it from danger and harm.

These catastrophic incidents which occur have invaluable effects when gauged in proportion to the whole universe and the life of the creatures therein.

Some of these effects are as follows:

1- Flourishing talents:  Due to the nature of human beings and the general conditions of the world, whenever human beings are facing hardships and are struggling to overcome these hardships, their internal talents, whether material or mental, are forced to manifest themselves. For instance, many scientific discoveries and innovations have taken place due to the needs of human beings. The Holy Quran has underlined this fact that whenever there is difficulty and suffering it is followed soon after by comfort and ease.[1]

From the Holy Quran’s point of view, one of God’s methods is to test human beings by putting them through difficulties[2] at various stages in their lives in order to draw out and manifest their hidden talents. Imam Ali (a) describes the effects of difficulties on drawing out people’s intrinsic talents in the form of a very beautiful simile:

“Know that the desert trees have stronger branches, while trees planted near water have thinner (and weaker) barks.”[3]

2- Enlightenment:  One of the most important consequences of calamities is that they awaken human beings from the ignorance caused by the material blessings of this world. These calamities remind humans of their important responsibilities before God and replace arrogance with humbleness. Regarding this issue, the Holy Quran says that various Prophets have had their people tested with different types of hardships in order to dissolve any feeling of resistance in them and to help them to submit to the truth.

“And We sent no prophet to any town, unless We seized its people with suffering and harshness.”[4]

3- Appreciation for God’s bounties:  Another benefit that natural disasters bring is recognition of the importance of God’s bounties by human beings. “One who knows the value of being healthy is the one who has suffered formerly.”

In a Hadith, Imam Sadiq (a) says, “Calamities are for both good people and bad people; God uses them to improve both groups. When calamities occur for good people it reminds them of the bounties they used to have and teaches them how to be patient and grateful.”[5]

c- The proportion of what human beings know to what they don’t is similar to the proportion of a drop of water to an ocean. There are many unknown secrets, not only in the outside world, but also contained inside of human beings. Since the knowledge of human beings is limited, we cannot claim to know every secret about the incident which we call ‘evil’. It is likely that there are many benefits in these incidents which we are unaware of and unable to fathom. It’s evident that we cannot say something does not exist simply because we cannot recognize it ourselves. Therefore, careful judgment is a key requirement of wisdom. It is very easy to think of something as evil while its reality may be the complete opposite. The Holy Quran beautifully uncovers this through the verse which says, “It may be that you dislike a thing while it is good for you…”[6]

  1. Another important point is the effect of people’s acts on the occurrence of disasters. The human being is a creature with free will. However, based on the law of causation, the wrong decisions that people make might lead to calamites and sufferings.[7]

The Holy Quran says, “And if people of the towns had believed and had had piety, then certainly, We should have opened for them the blessings of the heaven and the earth, but they disbelieved. So We took them (with punishment) for what they used to earn. “[8]

Imam Ali (a) has said in this regard, “God punishes his servants for their evil behaviors by decreasing the fruits of trees, and bringing a lack of rain, etc …, until they repent and stop committing sins, and take heed. “[9]

The way that people’s ethical behavior can create the causation of natural disasters and the kind of relationship that exists between them is a detailed issue itself, which will be discussed later.

With the help of science, some of the destructive effects of natural disasters are prevented in developed countries. With this in mind it should be realized that it’s not possible to completely evade the sufferings that are caused by people’s evil actions. This is an issue that cannot be decided easily; for instance, we can see that the same developed countries passed through a period of suffering and pain in the second World War that was much greater than any natural disasters that have occurred throughout history. The source of such wars and calamities is directly linked to evil actions and the misconducts of the authorities in those countries. In addition, they are now suffering from other calamities such as social corruption, various diseases and a lack of moral and mental security, and various other issues which will be discussed later.

The most important thing is that in these natural disasters, God has set different goals for different people. These happenings are a blessing for believers, because they are either expiations for sins, for which the individual concerned would have been punished in the next world., In some traditions they have even been considered as valuable as martyrdom in the way of God[10], This is because it is something which can awaken people from ignorance and remind them of God’s blessings, whereas the unbeliever is not welcomed by these blessings. He may spend his life in pleasure and welfare, but in the other world, he will be seized by painful sufferings much greater than the ones in this world.

Imam Ali (a) says, “Calamities are designed to punish the unbeliever, to test the believer, and for prophets, it is to raise them up in rank and degree.”[11]

  1. It should be pointed out that calamities are blessings when a human being can benefit from them and makes his soul perfect through patience. However, if he chooses to evade and escape from difficulties, the difficulties he faces will become very harsh for him (Not that one shouldn’t try to avoid difficulty, but one shouldn’t think that they should never take place for him, and if they do, he can complain and question everything). The fact is that like calamities, blessings can also lead to either happiness or misery. Therefore, whether an occurance is a blessing or not depends on the reaction shown by human beings, i.e. whether they are grateful or ungrateful towards God. In addition, it depends on their level of patience.
  2. A calamity is something that is God’s punishment, which is a consequence of the evil behavior of human beings. These are the true calamities by definition because firstly, they are under the control of human beings and secondly, they don’t lead to goodness and perfection. For example, cruelty is a calamity for human beings as is narrated in traditions.

“Cruelty is God’s harshest punishment.”[12] This is because the punishment of cruelty cannot be felt and it does not awaken the human being so as to bring God’s grace upon him.[13]

  1. Finally, natural occurrences are the results of various causes. Some causes stand in one line and some side by side. This means that the causes themselves are consequences of other causes. Anyway, there are material and non-material causes (in some cases the acts of human beings) that form an adequate cause for natural disasters, which are all subject to the general order of the universe which is materialized by God’s will. Therefore, natural disasters happen by divine will, and are prevented by God as well. God can punish any group of people whenever He wishes. In most cases, He does this via natural causes. Natural occurrences and their prevention are both based on divine will, and are not necessarily in contradiction with the fact that they are used to punish.

For further information in this regards, please refer to the following answer:

Index: Reasons why Allah immerses us in the sea of hardships, answer 474.

[1] Shahid Mutahhari, Adle Elahi, pp. 130-134.

[2] “فان مع العسر یسراً ان مع العسر یسراً” Inshirah:5-6.

[3] Anbiya:25; Baqarah:155.

[4] Nahjul-Balaghah, Letter 45.

[5] A’raf:94

[6] Biharul-Anwar, vol. 3, pg. 139

[7] “و عسی ان تکرهوا شیئاً و هو خیر لکم” Baqarah:216.

[8] Ma’arefe Eslami, vol. 1, pp. 81-85.

[9]  “وَ لَوْ أَنَّ أَهْلَ الْقُرَى ءَامَنُوا وَ اتَّقَوْا لَفَتَحْنَا عَلَيهِم بَرَكَتٍ مِّنَ السمَاءِ وَ الأَرْضِ وَ لَكِن كَذَّبُوا فَأَخَذْنَهُم بِمَا كانُوا يَكْسِبُونَ” A’raf:96. For further explanation see:Tafsir Nemouneh, vol. 6, pp. 265-274 and vol.1, pg.53, under verse 7 of surah Baqarah.

[10] Nahjul-Balaghah, Sermon 143.

[11] Kafi, vol. 1, pg. 353.

[12] Mustadrakul-Wasa’el, vol. 2, pg. 438.

[13] “ما ضرب الله عبراً بعقوبة اشد من قسوة القلب” Mustadrakul-Wasa’el, vol. 13, pg. 93.


Can Sunnis Go To Heaven / Types of Non-Muslims

Question 317: Guys, I am Al-Sunni, Will I go to Jannat? Generally, can Sunnis Go To Heaven?

Answer 317: Those who weren’t Muslim can be divided into two categories:

1- The infidels and rejecters of faith: Those who knew Islam was the true religion, yet refused to accept it out of negligence and other personal reasons. This group deserve to go to Hell and remain there forever.

2- Those who never heard of Islam or what they heard of was a small part of it, making it resemble other religions that they knew were false. Such people will be saved given they were sincere in their own religions.

Islam says these people will have a chance if they had followed their own religions; religions that were in harmony with their human nature.

The same things that were said go for those who were Muslim, but didn’t hear about Imam Ali (as) or heard very little.
In a nutshell, all of those whom the truth hasn’t reached not as a result of shortcoming and not striving for the truth, don’t deserve to go to Hell, because it is the place for the sinners, and those who tried but never found the truth aren’t considered sinners and negligent.

The criterion for going to Paradise and Hell, according to the Quran, are a person’s deeds. A person’s individual profile shall not be taken into consideration because there must be a difference between one who is wholeheartedly believing in Islam and one who is just accepting it. God, the Exalted, says to those who claim to be believing Muslims: “Say, We submit; and faith has not yet entered into your hearts.”

Reciting the Two Testimonies (Shahaadatayn) makes a person Muslim; he enters the pale of Islam by reciting them. That is to say, the two testimonies have something to do with the aspects of his worldly, legal and social life. One who converts to Islam enjoys certain rights which a non-Muslim does not. However, being entitled to Paradise is something beyond this. That is to say, in order for a person to enter Paradise, not only submission to God is necessary but hearty belief and good deeds are also required. That is to say practical backing is essential for gaining divine reward.

Conclusively, if a person is not up to the standards and criteria for going to Paradise as mentioned in the Quran, mere qualification by the term Shia or Islam would not save him from divine punishment or entering Hell.

In conclusion, we must say that man’s deeds have been considered to be the criterion for entering Paradise. Nominal Shi’ism or Islamic identifications do not save a person from Hell fire. Hence, based on Quranic verses and sayings from the Infallible Imams, peace be upon them, Muslims and Shias who do not act upon God’s injunctions and who do not stay away from prohibitions and have not fulfilled His commands will be deprived of divine mercy and blessings and will be subjected to punishment in Hell. When it comes to whether the punishments are eternal or not or what the nature of the rewards and punishments is and how intercession works, all of these should be discussed in their appropriate place.

At the end, it should be noted that our answer to the question does not mean that being Shia has no role in one’s entering the Paradise and that whoever does good deeds, be he a non-Shia, will be entitled to Paradise. Because we believe that thought and good deeds are both important and they are like two wings with which an individual flies to eternal felicity and happiness.[1]

Paradise is an indisputable vow of Allah (swt).[2] The question is, who are those who will go to paradise? Considering the collection of verses on this matter, the answer is[3] meaning that there is one condition and that is being a “Mumin” [believer]. Another question comes to mind; who are the believers and what are their traits? Is it enough to recite the Shahaadatayn to be a believer?[4] Those who go to heaven are those who have completely obeyed Allah (swt) and His messenger (pbuh). How is one to obey them? Once again, taking into consideration the verses on this issue, the things that Allah (swt) and His messenger want from us can be summed up into two categories: beliefs and actions.[5] (Indeed those who have faith and do righteous deeds, for them will be gardens with streams running in them).

– As long as we don’t obey the prophet (pbuh), we aren’t considered obedient.

– Obedience is both in action and in belief

– Obeying the prophet (pbuh) in some of what he has asked us to do isn’t considered true complete obedience!

What is the outcome of faith and good deeds?

According to the Quran, the fruit of these two is “taqwa” (piety), and those who are pious will enter paradise for sure:[6]

Conclusion of what was said till now: The essence of salvation is taqwa which means to completely obey all of Allah’s (swt) and His messenger’s (pbuh) commands.

Although taqwa has different degrees, the least needed to possess it is to perform all wajib duties and refrain from all sins. So a prerequisite to taqwa would be to learn about what things are wajib and what things are forbidden and haram in Islam so that we can perform and refrain from them respectfully.

One of the prophet’s (pbuh) most important commands is to know and obey his true successors (imams).[7] Clearly, anyone who doesn’t believe in them verbally, in the heart and in his/her actions, cannot be considered a true believer and righteous person and lacks taqwa, because he hasn’t obeyed the prophet (pbuh) in one of the most important things he has asked us to do.

Significant Point: According to verse 59 of surah Nisa, obeying “those vested with authority” is obligatory, to the extent that obeying them has been considered equal to obeying Allah (swt) and their disobedience, His disobedience. What needs to be mentioned here is that they must be infallible, making them invulnerable to any form of sin and even mistake. It isn’t true to say that anyone who becomes ruler of the Muslim nation, falls under the category of “those vested with authority”, because if those vested with authority weren’t to be infallible, there would always be chances of their commands not being in correspondence with Allah’s (swt) and His messenger’s (pbuh), hence the discrepancy between the order of obeying Allah (swt) and obeying those vested with authority [for instance, if the imams were mistakenly to say something isn’t mandatory, while Allah (swt) says it is, there is clear contradiction between saying both Allah (swt) and they have to be obeyed; it is impossible!].
Now that we have spoken about how believing in the imams plays a role in our salvation [which was that since it is obedience of one of the prophet’s (pbuh) most important commands, it is part of taqwa], it is good to speak a bit about what role the imams play in the salvation of people and society and in whether one will go to heaven or hell.[8]

The impact of believing in the imam on one’s salvation: Keeping in mind what was said above, here we will speak of the concept of salvation and success; what it is in this world and the next and the role belief in the imam plays in bringing salvation.

  1. a) The concept of salvation: Each and every person has his/her own perception of salvation and happiness, but it seems this variety in views isn’t to the benefit of those who are in pursuit of the truth. So it’s better to seek the true meaning from that who is to divide all people into the two groups of those who have reached salvation and those who don’t and are at loss.
    When Allah (swt) wants to describe one of His successful servants, Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh), this is how He does it:[9] (And verily, Ibrahim was a true follower Of Nuh; He came towards his Creator and Nurturer With a pure heart). He also quotes him saying:

“Do not disgrace me on the day that they will be resurrected; the day when neither wealth nor children will avail; except him who comes to Allah with a pure heart”. [10]

As you can see, a pure heart has been emphasized in these verses. What can be deduced is that one reaches salvation when he/she lives in a way that when the time to part this world and meet Allah (swt) arrives, he/she has a pure heart.
What is interesting is that after verse 89 of surah Shu’ara [that says “except him who comes to Allah (swt) with a pure heart], the verse comes, which means: “[And on the Day of Judgement] Paradise is drawn near to the muttaqin or pious people”. The message this verse conveys is that the outcome of having a pure heart is to have taqwa, and that paradise is the reward of those who bear taqwa.

Conclusion: Happiness and salvation are contingent upon having a pure heart, and a sign if having it is taqwa. The person who has truly reached salvation is one who possesses a pure heart.

  1. b) The role believing in an imam plays in one reaching salvation: Many Sunni and Shia scholars have narrated the following hadith; a portion of it will be narrated here:

The prophet (pbuh) told Ali (as): “Prophet Musa’s (pbuh) nation was split into seventy-one sects in which only one of those sects was delivered while all the others would go to Hell; Prophet Isa’s (pbuh) nation was split into seventy-two groups in which only one of them was delivered and the rest all companions of the Hellfire; my nation will also be split into seventy-three groups in which only one of them will be delivered, while the rest will all go to Hell. Imam Ali (as) asked: “O Messenger of Allah (swt)! Which of them is to be delivered?” He answered: “Those who go your way and the way of your followers and embrace it.”[11]

Baridah Aslami [whom the Sunnis believe to be one of the prophet’s (pbuh) companions] quotes the prophet (pbuh) saying that what is meant by “the straight path” in surah Fatihah that says “guide us to the straight path” is Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his progeny.[12]

The prophet (pbuh) has said: “Whoever wishes to swiftly pass “the bridge of sirat” [on the Day of Judgment] like a typhoon and enter paradise without any reckoning, has to accept my friend, successor, companion and the one to take my place after me over my progeny, Ali ibn Abi Taleb.” If anyone desires to go to Hell, then he should: “disregard his [Ali’s (as)] authority, for by my lord’s glory and magnificence, he [Ali (as)] is the only door to Allah (swt) and the straight path and the one whose authority and imamate will be asked of on the Day of Judgment [from the rest of the people].”[13]

For further information in this regards, please refer to the following answer:

Index: Jannatul Firdaus (Garden of Paradise) is the paradise which God has made of gold and silver, answer 338.

Index: Barzakh / Everyone Shall Enter the Hell, answer 326.

Index: Rest, Rain and Snow in the Heaven, answer 325.

[1] . Hujraat, 14.

[2]  . “مثل الجنة التی وعد المتقون” Muhammad: 47.

[3] . Tawbah: 72.

[4] . Nisa’:13.

[5] . Buruj:11.

[6] . Ale-Imran:15.

[7] . Nisa’:59; Shura:23; Al-Mustadrak alal-Sahihain, vol. 3, pg. 109.

[8] . Of course, the subject of the need of people for an imam is one that calls for an extensive discussion, in which isn’t the theme of this article.

[9] . Saffat:83-84.

[10] . Shu’ara:87-89.

[11] . Asqalani, Al-Isabah fi Tamyeezil-Sahabah, vol. 2, pg. 174.

[12] . Sayyid Shahabuddin Shafe’I, Rashfatul-Sadi, pg. 25; Sheikh Salman Hanafi, Yanabi’ul-Mawaddah, pg. 114.

[13] . Haskani, Shawahidul-Tanzil, vol. 1, pp. 51 and 90.


The differences and similarities between Shia and Sunni

Question 187: What is the difference and similarities between (Shia and Sunni) the Ahlul Sunnah and Ahlulbayt (as) followers?

Answer 187: The discussion concerning such a topic is very extensive and this answer cannot incorporate all the details. We shall briefly mention, in two stages (e.g. beliefs and laws), those of the Shiite views which are opposed by Sunnis or a group of them:

  1. A) Beliefs and Tenets of Shiite Religion:
  2. Although Tawhid (oneness of God) is a principle common between the Shiite and Sunnit schools of thought, Shia believes that God’s attributes are the same as His Essence.
  3. According to Shia, God cannot be seen in this world nor can He be seen in the Hereafter.
  4. Unlike the Sunnis, Shia holds that it is not permissible on God’s part to punish an obedient and give rewards to a sinner.
  5. Shia does not believe in determinism and compulsion.
  6. The most important Shiite belief is the belief in Imamat. Shia holds that Imamat is a part of the fundamentals of faith and the successor of the Prophet must be inerrant and infallible and it is precisely because of infallibility, which is known by none other than God, that the imam (leader) after the Prophet should be appointed by God and that the Islamic governments should lead to Wilayah.

  7. Obeying an oppressive and unjust sovereign is not permissible according to Shia.
  8. Shia believes that Ahlulbayt in verse 33 of Chapter al-Ahzab refers to Fatima (daughter of the Holy Prophet (pbuh)) and the pure Imams (a.s.).
  9. Shia is of the view that the prophets are infallible. They do not commit any sin, whether capital or minor.
  10. Bada, Raj’at (return) and intercession are also some of the Shiite beliefs.
  11. Shia does not consider all the companions of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) as just. There were different types of people amongst the companions. Some were just and some were hypocrites. Their fatwa (verdict) are not authoritative and valid for anyone.
  12. B) Laws:
  13. Taqiyah (dissimulation) is permissible according to Shia.
  14. Mut’ah (Fixed-time marriage) is permissible according to Shiite viewpoint.
  15. The gate of Ijtihad is open according to Shia.
  16. Shia does not accept ta’sib and awl in inheritance.

Note: The principle of ‘awl (proportionate reduction) is applied by Sunni jurists when the estate of the deceased is ‘oversubscribed’ by Quranic heirs. Ta’sib is applied by Sunni jurisprudence to give priority to male agnates as heirs, and this results in many mathematical complexities in their system of inheritance. The only really significant difference between the Shi’ah and Sunni schools of jurisprudence in the laws of inheritance concerns the principles of “‘awl” and “ta’sib”. The Imamiyah jurisprudents have proved by means of ahadith from the Ahlu ‘l-bayt (a.s.) that there is no ‘awl or ta’sib in the matter of inheritance. This was also the opinion held by the great companions of the Holy Prophet. The well-known statement of Ibn ‘Abbas in which he speaks against ‘awl and ta’sib can be taken as authoritative. There are also other grounds of proof for negating these two principles.[1]

  1. According to Shia, combining between two prayers is permissible.
  2. “Hayya ‘ala Khayril ‘Amal” (Hasten to the best acts) is a part of the Adhan.
  3. It is permissible to visit the Infallible Imams’ graves (we believe that not only visiting graves is not shirk (idolatrous) but it is very much a monotheistic act and there is a lot of reward in it.).

For further explanation, you can refer to some books written in this regard including: Al-Jawame’ wal-Fawareq bayn al-Sunnah wa al-Shia by Muhammad Jawad Mughniyah; Ma’a al-Shia al-Imamiyah fi Aqaedehim, by Ayatollah Ja’far Subhani, Islamic Beliefs in the Light of the School of Ahlalbayt by Ayatollah Ja’far Subhani.[2]

[1] . For further information in this regards, please refer to: Khums: Rules concerning Awl and Ta’sib, answer 324.

[2] . Adopted from IQ (with a few changes has been made on).