Outline of the Discussion
Good Deeds of Non-Muslims
Outline of the Discussion
One of the issues which is discussed regarding “Divine justice” is the issue of the good deeds performed by non-Muslims.
Today, the issue of whether the good deeds of non-Muslims are accepted by God or not is under discussion amongst the different classes - whether learned or unlearned, literate or illiterate. If they are accepted, what difference does it make if a person is a Muslim or not; the important thing is to do good in this world. If a person is not a Muslim and practices no religion, he or she has lost nothing. And if their actions are not acceptable and are altogether void with no reward or recompense from God, then how is that compatible with Divine justice?
This same question can be asked from a ShÄ«`a perspective within the bounds of IslÄm: Are the actions of a non-ShÄ«`a Muslim acceptable to God, or are they null and void? If they are acceptable, what difference does it make if a person is a ShÄ«`a Muslim or a non-ShÄ«`a Muslim? What is important is to be Muslim; a person who is not a ShÄ«`a and doesn’t believe in the wilÄyah (Divinely-appointed guardianship) of the Ahlul BaÄ«t (as) has not lost anything. And if the actions of such a person are not acceptable to God, then how is that compatible with Divine justice?
In the past, this issue was only discussed by philosophers and in the books of philosophy. However, today it has entered into the minds of all levels of society; few people can be found who have not at least broached the subject for themselves and in their own minds.
Divine philosophers would discuss the issue from the aspect that if all people who are outside the fold of religion are to face perdition and Divine punishment, it necessarily follows that in the universe, evil and compulsion are preponderant. However, the fact that felicity and good have primacy in the universe – not evil and wretchedness – is an accepted and definitive principle.
Humanity is the greatest of all of creation; everything else has been created for it (of course, with the correct conception of this idea that is understood by the wise, not the perception that the short-sighted people commonly possess). If humanity itself is to be created for the Hell-fire – that is, if the final abode of the majority of humanity is to be Hell – then one must grant that the anger of God supersedes His mercy. This is because the majority of people are strangers to the true religion; and even those who are within the fold of the true religion are beset by deviation and digression when it comes to practicing. This was the background of the discussion amongst the philosophers.
It has been nearly half a century that, as a result of easier communication among Muslim and non-Muslim nations, an increase in the means of communication, and greater interaction amongst nations, the issue of whether being a Muslim and a believer as a necessary condition for the acceptability of good deeds is being discussed among all levels of society, especially the so-called intellectuals.
who were not Muslim but who performed valuable services for humanity, they find such people worthy of reward. On the other hand since they used to think that the actions of non-Muslims are altogether null and void, they fall into serious doubt and uncertainty. In this way, an issue which for years was the exclusive domain of the philosophers has entered the general conversations of people and has taken the form of an objection with regard to Divine justice.
Of course, this objection is not directly related to Divine justice; it is related to IslÄm’s viewpoint about human beings and their actions, and becomes related to Divine justice inasmuch as it appears that such a viewpoint regarding human beings, their actions, and God’s dealing with them is in opposition to the standards of Divine justice.
In the interactions that I have and have had with students and the youth, I have frequently been faced with this question. Sometimes they ask whether the great inventors and scientists, with all the worthy services which they have done for humanity, will go to Hell. Will the likes of Pasteur and Edison go to Hell while indolent holy people who have spent their lives idly in a corner of the Masjid go to Heaven? Has God created Heaven solely for us ShÄ«`as?
I remember that once an acquaintance from my city, who was a practicing Muslim, came to Tehran to visit me, and he raised this issue.
This man had visited a lepers’ hospital in Mashhad and had been stirred and deeply affected by the sight of the Christian nurses who were sincerely (at least in his view) looking after the patients with leprosy. At that time, this issue came up in his mind and he fell into doubt.
You are aware that looking after a patient of leprosy is a very difficult and unpleasant task and when this hospital was established in Mashhad, very few doctors were willing to serve there, and similarly, no one was willing to care for the patients. Advertisements for the employment of nurses were taken out in the newspapers; in all of Iran, not a single person gave a positive answer to this invitation. A small group of so-called ascetic Christian women from France came and took charge of nursing the lepers.
This man, who had seen the humanitarianism and loving care of those nurses towards lepers, who had been abandoned by even their own parents, had been strongly affected by these nurses.
He related that the Christian nurses wore long, loose clothes, and apart from their face and hands, no part of their body was visible. Each of them had a long rosary – which had perhaps a thousand beads – and whenever they would find free time from work, they would busy themselves in their recitations on the rosary.
Then the man asked with a troubled mind and in a disturbed tone whether it was true that non-Muslims would not enter Heaven?
Of course, right now we are not concerned with the motives of those Christian ladies. Was it truly for God, in God’s way, and out of pure humanitarianism that they did what they did, or was another motive in play? Certainly, we don’t want to be pessimistic, just as we are not overly optimistic; our point is that these incidents and events have introduced our people to a serious question.
Several years ago, I was invited to an association to give a speech. In that association, in accordance with their tradition, the participants were requested to write down any questions they had so that they could be answered at the appropriate time. Those questions had been recorded in a notebook, and that notebook had been given to me so I could choose the topic of my speech from amongst those topics (noted in the book). I noticed that the question that had been repeated more than any other was whether God will send all non-Muslims to Hell. Will Pasteur, Edison, and Kokh be amongst those who will be punished in the Hereafter?
It was from that time that I realized the importance of this issue inasmuch as it had attracted people’s thoughts.
Now, in this part of the book, we will discuss this issue. But before we begin, we need to clarify two points in order for the topic at hand to become completely clear.