Do Good Deeds or God’s Mercy Determine our Destination?

13 August, 2020
Q What happens to a person when they die? What determines where a person goes when they die? Their good works, or God's mercy and love?

Answer

Short Answer:

  • This worldly life is a phase for action, yet the afterlife that comes after the resurrection is a phase of accountability.
  • Good deeds are required but not sufficient for entering paradise. Therefore, it is said that Muslims will enter Paradise by Allah’s mercy and elevate in its degrees in view of their good deeds.
  • However, we have to know that Allah’s Mercy showers the believers and non-believers in this world, but it will shower only the believers on the day of Judgment.

………….

Asalaamu alaykum, and thank you for sending in your important questions to our website.

What happens to a person when they die?

Death is a phase that follows when the spirit departs from the body to render it inanimate. As per Islamic creed, we believe in the resurrection when the body and the spirit will be reunited in the afterlife.

Noteworthy, these matters constitute part of the Ghayb (Unseen), which is revealed to us through authentic sources, essentially, the Noble Quran and the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). 

Thus, every Muslim is required to believe in these unseen beliefs, which are mostly beyond our human mental capacity. In this regard, the Noble Quran states:

“Those who believe in the Unseen and perform the prayer and spend from that which We have provided them.” (Quran 2:3)

Muslim scholars refer to the period between death and resurrection as ‘Life in Barzakh’, which only Allah know its nature and reality. The first stage in Barzakh’ commences with the grave. For more on what actually happens in the grave, please refer to

as well as 

Human Spirit

Remarkably, the human spirit is one of the creatures of Allah and its true nature and essence are only known to Allah. In this matter, Narrated `Abdullah (May Allah be pleased with him):

While I was in the company of the Prophet (PBUH) at a farm and he was reclining on a palm leave stalk, some Jews passed by. Some of them said to the others. “Ask him (the Prophet (PBUH) about the spirit.” Some of them said, “What urges you to ask him about it” Others said, “(Don’t) lest he should give you a reply which you dislike.” But they said, “Ask him.” So they asked him about the human soul.

The Prophet (PBUH) kept quiet and did not give them any answer. I knew that he was being divinely inspired so I stayed at my place. When the divine inspiration had been revealed, the Prophet (PBUH) recited:

” They ask you ˹O Prophet˺ about the spirit. Say, “Its nature is known only to my Lord, and you ˹O humanity˺ have been given but little knowledge.” (Quran 17:85)

The Bridge Over Hell on the Day of Judgment   

Allah informs us in the Noble Quran that every individual shall come close to hell. Allah says: 

” There is none of you who will not pass over it. ˹This is˺ a decree your Lord must fulfil. Then We will deliver those who were devout, leaving the wrongdoers there on their knees.” (Quran – 19: 71-72).   

There are numerous Hadiths that refers to “the bridge on hell”. While one-statement indicates that this bridge is as sharp as the edge of a sword, the more reliable ones do not highlight that particular quality.

Such authentic prophetic statements mention that the pious will cross it as swift as a blink, or lighting, or wind, or fast horses. The quality of their deeds in this worldly life is what determines the speed of their crossing.

Thus, the ones with the best deeds will be the first and the fastest to cross it. In this regard, Abdullah ibn Massoud reported that the Prophet (PBUH) said:

 “The believers are told to save themselves according to their light, which is given to them in accordance with their good deeds. Some of them will pass as fast as a blink, some as wind, some as birds, some as fast horses and some running. The last of them is a man who has no more light than the size of his large toes, and who stumbles over the bridge. In one version of this Hadith, this last person is reported to turn to Allah and ask Him why has He made his crossing so slow. Allah will answer him: “It is your deeds that slowed you down.”

What Determines Our Final Destination? Our Good Deeds? Or God’s Mercy?

It is well established that the good deeds are not the price of paradise as the prophet (PBUH) says:

“The good deeds of any person will not make him enter Paradise.” (i.e., None can enter Paradise through his good deeds.) They (the Prophet’s companions) said, ‘Not even you, O Allah’s Messenger (PBUH)?’ He said, “Not even myself, unless Allah bestows His favor and mercy on me.” So be moderate in your religious deeds and do the deeds that are within your ability: and none of you should wish for death, for if he is a good doer, he may increase his good deeds, and if he is an evil doer, he may repent to Allah.”.

This Hadith is a clear indication that good deeds are required but not sufficient for entering paradise. Therefore, it is said that Muslims will enter Paradise by Allah’s mercy and elevate in its degrees in view of their good deeds.

However, we have to know that Allah’s Mercy showers the believers and non-believers in this world, but it will shower only the believers on the day of Judgment. Allah says: 

My mercy encompasses everything. I will ordain mercy for those who shun evil, pay obligatory charity, and believe in Our revelations. (Quran 7:156)

Allah never fails those who believe in Him and do good deeds

Noteworthy, Allah never fails those who believe in Him and do good deeds. Allah says:


“As for those who believe and do good, We certainly never deny the reward of those who are best in deeds. It is they who will have the Gardens of Eternity, with rivers flowing under their feet. There they will be adorned with bracelets of gold, and wear green garments of fine silk and rich brocade, reclining there on ˹canopied˺ couches. What a marvelous reward! And what a fabulous place to rest!” (Quran 18:30-31)

In sum, this worldly life is a phase for action, yet the afterlife that comes after the resurrection is a phase of accountability. Individuals will either be in pure happiness or in total misery. Those on whom Allah bestows His mercy will dwell in paradise, while those who are denied it will abide in hell, the place of absolute misery.

It is also clearly stated by the Prophet, PBUH , that the deeds of even the most righteous individual will not be enough to admit him/her into paradise without Allah’s mercy. Allah’s mercy is guaranteed by none other than Allah Himself to those who believe in Him and do well in their worldly lives.

And Allah knows best.

I hope this helps.

Salam and please keep in touch.

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

About Hossam Ed-Deen Allam
Hosam Ed-Deen Allam holds an MA of Diplomacy and Religion with Distinction from the Department of Politics, Philosophy, and Religion at Lancaster University in the UK. His main research area concerns Faith-based Diplomacy, Conflict Transformation, De-sectarianisation, and Peacebuilding. In parallel, Allam works as a member of Al-Azhar Fatwa Global Centre in addition to serving as a lecturer of the sources of Islamic jurisprudence at the Faculty of Sharia and Law at Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Hossam Ed-Deen is a Graduate of Al-Azhar University in Cairo from the Faculty of Shari’ah and Law in English. He has served as a lecturer of Islamic jurisprudence and its principles at the renowned Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo and has served as a religious leader in a number of communities in North America including NYC. Through his years of community work, he has provided training and guidance to government departments along with developing educational projects and community centers.