Free Will: Not Using Our Intellect Leads to Hell

On The Wings Of Freedom (photo: iStock by Getty Images).

The Qur’an says that those who deny their Allah-given power of freewill and freedom of choice are denying their self; and those who deny the power of Allah (and seek power elsewhere) are denying the existence of Allah (67:6).

وَلِلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا بِرَبِّهِمْ عَذَابُ جَهَنَّمَ ۖ وَبِئْسَ الْمَصِيرُ

Suffering in hell awaits all who are [thus] bent on blaspheming against their Sustainer: and how vile a journey's end! [Asad]

The punishment of Hell after death will be known in the Hereafter. But we all know what kind of hellish humiliation and subjugation surround those nations which do not have (or do not consider having) the power of freewill. Even their domestic laws and policies are made by other nations essentially making these other nations their Masters. What could be greater hell than this?! Allah has called the gatekeeper of Hell, Malik meaning Master (43:77).

وَنَادَوْا يَا مَالِكُ لِيَقْضِ عَلَيْنَا رَبُّكَ ۖ قَالَ إِنَّكُم مَّاكِثُونَ

And they will cry: “O thou [angel] who rulest [over hell]! Let thy Sustainer put an end to us!” - [whereupon] he will reply: “Verily, you must live on [in this state] [Asad]

Although subjugated nations keep calling themselves sovereign powers, that is not true. What an awful hell it is that they live in! This is a strange thing. The Qur’an has repeatedly mentioned جہنّم (Jahannam) in connection with punishment for crimes. It says جحیم  (Jaheem) for hell in some places and النار (al-Naar) in other places.

Here it says جہنّم (Jahannam). The description of جہنّم (Jahannam) that is given here by the Qur’an is in metaphorical terms: It is a maximum security prison indicating the severity of the crime. It says that when they will be thrown in it then loud sounds of agony and cry of pain and terror will be heard; that Hell would be furiously erupting with fire (67:8), as if it is full of rage. From this we can sense the severity of the punishment and the intensity of the crime described by the Qur’an; otherwise, it would be sufficient to say just جہنّم (Jahannam).

تَكَادُ تَمَيَّزُ مِنَ الْغَيْظِ ۖ كُلَّمَا أُلْقِيَ فِيهَا فَوْجٌ سَأَلَهُمْ خَزَنَتُهَا أَلَمْ يَأْتِكُمْ نَذِيرٌ

Well-nigh bursting with fury; [and] every time a host [of such sinners] is flung into it, its keepers will ask them, "Has no warner ever come to you?" (67:8) [Asad]


قَالُوا بَلَىٰ قَدْ جَاءَنَا نَذِيرٌ فَكَذَّبْنَا وَقُلْنَا مَا نَزَّلَ اللَّهُ مِن شَيْءٍ إِنْ أَنتُمْ إِلَّا فِي ضَلَالٍ كَبِيرٍ

They will reply: "Yea, a warner did indeed come unto us, but we gave him the lie and said, 'Never has God sent down anything [by way of revelation]! You [self-styled warners] are but lost in a great delusion!"' (67:9) [Asad]

There is no greater crime than abandoning or denying one’s freedom of choice. This is the ONLY exclusive gift from Allah bestowed to human beings. Allah has called this gift His divine energy. This makes humankind uniquely special in comparison to all the other creations in the entire Universe. By denying this Allah-given unique gift one degrades one’s own humanity. It is to accept humiliation.

That is why the punishment is so severe. Now, after this, the Qur’an says that when the soothsayers and astrologers and their followers will be thrown in hell wave after wave then the gatekeeper master of hell will ask them: Didn’t someone come to warn you of the consequences of such beliefs and ideologies? Didn’t someone tell you that this is شرک (shirk) and کفر (kufr)?

The Qur’an points out why we are suffering this humiliating punishment by outlining our each and every crime. The biggest punishment is that the name of the guard of Hell is مالک ‘Maalik’ which means Master. Obedience of humans by humans is the biggest hell. The conversation had been continuing about whether or not a warner came. In response to the question from مالک ‘Maalik’, they (those destined for hell) said: “Yes! He came.” Then مالک ‘Maalik’ asked: “What did you do?” They replied: “We belied him that we will suffer punishment; we belied him that we will be destroyed; we belied him that we will suffer humiliation. We told him repeatedly that you are lying; that you are not receiving any revelation from Allah. We condemned those who followed the warner. We told them you are being misled by him. On the contrary, we claimed that we are on the right path.”

Now the Qur’an says that they admitted to مالک ‘Maalik’ that if we only had listened to the warner and used our intellect then we would not be in this abyss, in this hell, in this pit of fire. Alas! (67:10).

وَقَالُوا لَوْ كُنَّا نَسْمَعُ أَوْ نَعْقِلُ مَا كُنَّا فِي أَصْحَابِ السَّعِيرِ

And they will add: "Had we but listened [to those warnings], or [at least] used our own reason, we would not [now] be among those who are destined for the blazing flame!" [Asad]

Not using intellect and thought leads to hell

The verse (67:10) brings out a unique point: What was the thing that fortune tellers were using to predict the future, and these people were blindly following them? It was a claim based on the knowledge of the unseen. Neither the people, nor the ones whom they approached, used knowledge and intellect in this prediction. Actually, there is no place for ‘why’ in this. Those who were being driven to their hell, what were they saying? They were saying that had we listened to the warner and used our intellect then we wouldn't be in hell.

Thus has the Qur'an clearly identified the people destined for hell! It has elaborated and explained this in many places. It puts great importance on using intellect, deep thinking, and intense reflection.

Here, in this verse (67:10), the Qur’an summarizes in their own words of why they are in hell: They said we were listening to astrologers, soothsayers, fortune tellers, palmists, and we were not using our own intellectual power; that is the reason we are now in hell.

Another verse (7:179) explains this further.

وَلَقَدْ ذَرَأْنَا لِجَهَنَّمَ كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الْجِنِّ وَالْإِنسِ ۖ لَهُمْ قُلُوبٌ لَّا يَفْقَهُونَ بِهَا وَلَهُمْ أَعْيُنٌ لَّا يُبْصِرُونَ بِهَا وَلَهُمْ آذَانٌ لَّا يَسْمَعُونَ بِهَا ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ كَالْأَنْعَامِ بَلْ هُمْ أَضَلُّ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْغَافِلُونَ

And most certainly have We destined for hell many of the invisible beings and men who have hearts with which they fail to grasp the truth, and eyes with which they fail to see, and ears with which they fail to hear. They are like cattle -nay, they are even less conscious of the right way: it is they, they who are the [truly] heedless! [Asad]

There is mention of جن ‘Jinn’ going to hell. The Qur’an has this unique and distinct quality that it preserves within its pages the Arabic language and its phraseology of the time of the Prophet (PBUH); and to understand the true meaning of words and phrases we have to see how they were used at that time. For example, take these words انس ‘Ins’ and جن ‘Jinn’. The population in the deserts of Arabia was composed of two groups of people: Nomads, who used to move around and lived in places far away from towns; and those who used to live in towns. Even now, there are few large towns in Arabia and most of the population lives a nomadic life and is mostly invisible to the town’s people. Anything that is hidden from the eye is called جن ‘Jinn’ in Arabic language and those people who live in towns and cities as a social group are called ‘Ins’. So, nomads were called جن ‘Jinn’ and the city people were called انس ‘Ins’.

Those deprived of intellect and thought 

The Qur’an (7:179) says that those who do not use their Allah-given intellect to understand His message, it is clear from their demeanor that they are destined for hell. Who are these people? They have the ability to understand but they do not use it. Do you see what the Qur’an is talking about the people of hell? It is talking about choice. If it was the case that they did not have the ability to think then it would not be a matter of choice. They would, in that case, be helpless. But the Qur’an starts with لَهُمْ قُلُوبٌ  i.e., they have mind but they do not use it to think. This is the first thing. Qur’an then goes on: They have ‘eyes’ but they do not use them to ‘see’. Then it says: they have ‘ears’ but they do not use it to ‘hear’. They remain dumb, blind, and deaf. They do not use their intellectual and mental powers to think and to understand.

Now, it is obvious who these people are who are preparing themselves for hell. These are the people about whom the Qur’an says that they are destined for hell. These are the people who are subject to Our law: “Not using mind and power of critical thinking leads to hell”. These people are not using the faculty of intellect that was given to them. They are preparing themselves for hell. The Qur’an says that when you find such people, know that they are companions of hell; that they have now been identified in this very world as companions of hell – as the verse (7:179) exemplifies.

On the other hand, our current man-made شریعہ (Shariah) forbids critical thinking and using intellect in matters of دین  Deen (Islam). Now it should be clear why the Qur’an says that those who do not use their faculty of intellect, their very demeanor tells that they are companions of hell. But the Qur’an goes further. It tells that these people are not humans but animals. No! Actually, they are worse than animals (7:179).

Verse (7:179) says that they are worse than animals. That is, they are worse than even a fly which at least uses its freedom to fly and sit anywhere it likes. But these human animals do not use their intellect. An animal sitting in the sun goes to a shade whenever it wants. But it is this human animal that says my fate is predetermined so why challenge it. Qur’an says: such people are unmindful, and are among the غَافِلُونَ “Ghafiloon” which means that they possess everything required for critical thinking but remain unmindful. They do not use them. But when in hell, they will say: if only we could have listened to the warnings of the messenger, then why would we be in hell today?!

Listening to the Qur’an without meaning, and reading it without understanding 

There is only one way of avoiding hell. The standard for this has been set by the Qur’an: whatever Allah says in the Qur’an, it must be listened to carefully and understood using intellect and thought; and then it must be translated into action. But it has become customary for us to listen to the Qur’an without understanding. No other book is listened to as much as the Qur’an. But this listening is such that there is no place in it for intellect and thought. We have become accustomed to listening to words without understanding their meaning: neither the one who recites knows the meaning, nor those who listen understand anything. So, do we think we can proclaim this as listening to the Qur’an?

When those who are going to hell say: that if only we had listened with the intention of using our minds to understand the message then we would not be in this position. This clearly means that whatever words we hear we should try to find out their meaning. If we do not know the meaning of words then how can we ponder on the meaning of those words?

That is why the Qur’an in the verse (7:179) says that these people are not human beings but animals; actually even worse than animals. It is as if it does not matter if one recites to animals or to humans. That is the reason the verse (67:11) says that hell-goers will acknowledge their sin. This is also a unique principle of the Qur’an – sinners/criminals acknowledging their sins/crimes. The Qur’an mentions such principles in a way that one can formulate a state constitution as well as code of laws for the society.

Two essential principles for code of justice

We can now see from just these two verses (67:10-11) what kind of code of law could be formulated and what should be the basis of the rule of law? First, according to these verses, it is clearly established that whoever is being punished, or to be punished, or to be charged must be asked first whether or not the law had reached you beforehand. Note how important this is in the eyes of the Qur’an. Second, that person must be capable of understanding the law, or if not, then someone must have explained that to him. Note also what the security guard of Hell, Malik asked those destined for it. He asked them whether or not messengers had come to warn them about the consequences of their actions.

So, it is clear that a state should make an arrangement that the laws it wants to enact should first reach all citizens; and that they should be able to understand what the laws mean. Also, everyone who is charged must be given a chance to explain and say whatever one wants to say in one’s defense. This is why the verses say that those people had not entered hell yet. They were still outside hell. And the security guard Malik was asking them whether or not a messenger came to warn them. They were given a chance. If a messenger did not come to them then they could simply walk away by saying: No, Malik of hell! A messenger did not come to warn us.  They would not be charged for the crime they had committed in that case. They would not be sent to hell. Therefore, according to the Quran, every suspect must be given a chance to defend himself and say whatever he wants to say in his self-defense.

Methodology for lawmaking as derived from the Qur’an

Allah gave even the Satan Iblis a chance to explain himself when he refused to prostrate before Adam (2:34; 7:11; 15:31; 17:61). Allah let Iblis say whatever he wanted to say in his defense. Only after this he could be punished if found guilty. It is not necessary that guidance in the Qur’an are to be found in the form of law only. Actually, the guiding principles given in the Qur’an could easily be used to formulate laws.

This deductive methodology can be used to formulate laws for an Islamic society. If, even a criminal as guilty as Iblis, has been given a chance by the Almighty Allah to explain himself, then who is anybody else who can order punishment for someone without giving that person full opportunity to explain and defend himself. Allah, who has supreme authority and absolute power and who has knowledge of everything; even He is giving this right of explanation and self-defense, then no one else has the authority to take that right away.

These are mentioned in the Qur’an to serve as guidance for us so that we can formulate state constitution and laws for its governance. The whole narrative has been presented in such a way that the people who had committed crime could willingly acknowledge their crime (67:11); that they know full well that witnesses won’t lie; and that the judge will not be wrongly influenced by anything. Then only this would be called عدل (justice) in the eyes of the Qur’an.

Precondition for justice: The law itself must be based on justice

The Qur’an has called this عدل (justice). One can call it rule-of-law-based justice. This is the same thing which is now called justice since decisions are based on prevailing laws of the time. This is the norm throughout the world. But the Qur’an whose teaching is unique says that if the law itself is based on injustice then how could the judgments based on that law be called justice? Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that the law itself must be based on justice. That is why the Qur’an calls it:

يَهْدُونَ بِالْحَقِّ وَبِهِ يَعْدِلُونَ

People who direct (others) with truth and dispense justice therewith (7:181) [Yusuf Ali].

The right government is one which delivers justice according to this truth, i.e., according to the principles and guidance given in the Qur’an. Then only it will be called true justice. When it is known with complete confidence that the witnesses will provide 100% true testimony and the judge will be completely honest and not subject to any influence or bias; that nothing whatsoever will influence the justice system; that the guilty cannot get away by giving any type of compensation; that no one else can take the place of the guilty or provide any material support to him – then this is the type of justice system that the Qur’an is talking about.

Also, one must have full faith in the system for one’s defense, and the penalty must be commensurate with the crime and be just. The guilty party must fully understand that true justice has been served, and freely say so. After this, the Qur’an says that these are the companions of blazing fire ( أَصْحَابِ السَّعِيرِ) for whom there is so much misery and hopelessness. Whatever are life’s miseries, these are now their fate. They are far removed from life’s good things. Their punishment being that they will be deprived of life's pleasures and abundance. This is the real punishment.

As opposed to them there is another group (Momineen) for whom the Qur’an says that they always fear from the unseen future negative consequences of violating Allah’s laws or transgressing His guidance (the Quran). They know that if they did violate Allah’ Laws then that the result will be severe punishment.

إِنَّمَا تُنذِرُ مَنِ اتَّبَعَ الذِّكْرَ وَخَشِيَ الرَّحْمَٰنَ بِالْغَيْبِ ۖ فَبَشِّرْهُ بِمَغْفِرَةٍ وَأَجْرٍ كَرِيمٍ

Thou canst [truly] warn only him who is willing to take the reminder to heart, and who stands in awe of the Most Gracious although He is beyond the reach of human perception: unto such, then, give the glad tiding of [God’s] forgiveness and of a most excellent reward! (36:11) [Asad]

وَلَا تَهِنُوا۟ وَلَا تَحْزَنُوا۟ وَأَنتُمُ ٱلْأَعْلَوْنَ إِن كُنتُم مُّؤْمِنِينَ

Be not, then, faint of heart, and grieve not: for you are bound to rise high if you are [truly] believers. (3:139) [Asad]

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