Should We Take the Quranic Punishments of Hell Literally?

16 July, 2017
Q Asalaamu alaykum. I feel that people of today have a very shallow understanding of being close to God. It seems they are only seeking to escape the punishments of the hellfire rather than really seeking to be near to God. When I read the many Quran verses about hell, my logical mind says that these verses cannot be literal; what I mean is that a thinking person would rationally grasp that God was using hyperbole to get his point across. But is this sinful? Should I be taking these verses literally???


Asalamu Alaikum,

Thank you for contacting About Islam with your question.

Dr. Shabir Ally, from Let the Quran Speak, addresses this question in the video below:


Aisha Khaja:

Dr. Shabir, the question today is about hell. And someone is asking: is the experience of Hell as terrible as it sounds or is it that the nature of the experience of Hell is completely beyond our comprehension?

Dr. Shabir Ally:

Two things need to be borne in mind here. One is that punishments in the past were quite severe–meted out by dictators and tyrants.

And we see some of this in the Quran where there are stories being told of ancient civilizations and people who try to believe in God. And they were oppressors who tortured them just because they wanted to believe in God.

And sometimes the oppressors pawned themselves off as God and demanded that people worship them instead, and if people did not comply, you know, sometimes they were torn to bits […] I mean claws were used to rip flesh from their bodies—and so on. Very terrible punishment.

So when the message was given in that barbaric context, the Quran had to draw people’s attention away from their complacency in just simply obeying their dictators and following along with the dictates of their times to come to the higher recognition of the One God and to actually choose freedom for themselves.

And one of the ways in which the Quran does this is to show them the very stark kinds of punishments that are being described in the Quran for the life Hereafter.

It’s saying, ‘Okay, if your oppressors are going to do that to you, you don’t need to fear that. Fear God instead because God has the power to do all of these things to you.’ So that’s one aspect of it. It’s not that God would actually go through with it and do all of these things.

The second aspect is to be aware that what God wants to point out here is the horrible consequences of evil actions. So we will experience the horrible consequences but not necessarily in this literal way the way it is described in the Quran as the punishments in hell.

I hope this helps answer your question. You can also check out more from Let the Quran Speak at the link here.

Please keep in touch.

Walaikum Asalam.

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

What Will The Afterlife Be Like?


A Few Days In Hell




4 Things Helped Early Muslims Withstand Persecution in Makkah