Divine Reward and Punishment
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Divine reward and punishment or al-Thawāb wa l-ʿiqāb (Arabic:الثواب و العقاب), are two Qur'anic terms for good and bad deeds of human. "Thawab" is the reward which God grants to His faithful servants in return for their faith and good deeds. "'Iqab" is the punishment that an unbeliever or a sinner receives for his unbelief or unlawful and sinful deeds.
Among the most important issues discussed about reward and punishment are the essentiality of faith for reward, whether it is given in return for a behavior or as a mere grace of God, the place of receiving reward and punishment, and the issue of embodiment of actions. Reward and punishment are a proof of human's free will; since without free will, there must be no reward for a good deed or a punishment for a bad one.
Extensive discussions are held regarding the topic in Islamic theology, philosophy, mysticism, and the principles of jurisprudence.
"Thawab" is an Arabic term. The root of the word means to return to a previous status. It is roughly an equivalent of "reward" in English. The technical meaning of thawab is the reward that God grants to the faithful in return for their righteous deeds.
The root of the word "'iqab" means to follow something and go after it. In its technical sense, this term means the punishment and penalty that a person receives for his unbelief or practical sins.
In the Qur'an and Exegeses
The words "thawab" and "'iqab" and their derivatives are used 13 and 20 times respectively. In addition to these words, other terms are used, such as "Ajr" for the faithful and "Jaza'" for the unbelievers, or pairs such as "tarhib and targhib," (frightening and encouraging) "bishara and indhar" (giving good news and warning) or "wa'd and wa'id."
Exegetes, following theologians, consider reward as a gain emanating from aptness and qualification (not only God's grace), given with respect and admiration (not just as a repay), and punishment as a deserved loss and harm, received with humiliation.
Abu l-Futuh al-Razi claims that the difference between 'adhab and 'iqab is that 'iqab is always deserved, but not 'adhab.
According to several verses of the Qur'an, even the smallest actions of people are recorded in "Kitab" and saved, and on the Day of Resurrection it is presented to them. Therefore, Kitab, which is sometimes referred to as the letter or the booklet of deeds, and some explanations have been provided by exegetes for the presentation of human actions.
'Allama Tabataba'i argues that what is saved in Kitab is the essence of the actions itself, rather than its written form as it is usual in this world. However, most of the exegetes described Kitab as a written being. Additionally, some believe that the booklet includes the amount of reward and punishment as well, and some state that people will receive reward and punishment justly according to their deeds recorded in Kitab.
Seeing the Deeds
There are different opinions among exegetes about the meaning of seeing the deeds in the Hereafter: Seeing the requital of deeds, seeing the booklet of deeds, receiving reward or punishment, seeing the essence of the deeds - according to the theory of embodiment of deeds - and knowing and true perception of what was done in this world. According to the 40th verse of Qur'an 53 "and his endeavor soon will be seen" 'Allama Tabataba'i says that probably one's deed is shown to him and other people.
Embodiment of Actions
There are two types of Qur'anic verses regarding reward and punishment:
- The ones indicating that reward and punishment are different from human actions; and Heaven is the reward for the good people; and Hell is the punishment for the sinners.
- The ones implying the embodiment of deed and the unity of deed and its requital on the Day of Resurrection.
Many exegetes believe that these verses are metaphorical or figurative and phrases such as "the presence of deeds on the final day" are actually referring to the consequences and the booklet of deeds. On the other hand, 'Allama Tabataba'i believes that these two sets of verses could be literal and needless of any justification metaphorically or figuratively. He states that each of these two groups of verses is considering one aspect of the deeds in the Hereafter.
Proportionality between Requital and Deed
Proportionality between the requital and the action is another issue mentioned in the verses regarding reward and punishment. Some verses state clearly that on the Day of Resurrection humans are rewarded and punished exactly equal to their good and bad deeds. In others, the punishments fully match the sins, but considering God's grace, the reward of good deeds is more and better than the deeds. There is not much disagreement among the exegetes in explaining these verses.
According to 'Allama Tabataba'i, because of His grace, God compensates the deficiency of humans' good deeds and rewards them based on the best of their actions. The increase in the reward of good deeds are different in Qur'anic verses: several times, ten times, seven hundred times, and "without reckoning." Exegetes give different explanations on the meaning of "without reckoning" some of which are as follows: God's reward is countless and in other words eternal, God's reward is beyond what the faithful deserve; nobody questions God about how much He rewards, nor he expect anything in return; God's rewards come from His endless fountain of grace and generosity.
Faith, Condition of Reward
According to some verses, faith is the condition of receiving reward; therefore, the good actions of the unfaithful or unbelievers do not deserve a reward in the Hereafter. Likewise, if the sinners who commit what equals unfaithfulness do not repent, in which case their whole faith is ruined, they do not receive any rewards. To explain this, exegetes indicate that actions like unbelief and apostasy negate the effect of the past good deeds in gaining eternal salvation, while faith is the enabling cause of good deeds' effects (such as receiving reward) in the Hereafter. On the other hand, some verses state that faith, repentance and good deeds (such as compulsory prayers, hajj, piety, refraining from major sins) will wash away sins (Takfir in its Qur'anic sense).
In this World and in the Hereafter
The Qur'an has mentioned the reward of this world in contrast with the reward of the Hereafter and the people who only seek the reward of this world in contrast with those who seek the reward of the Hereafter. According to Qur'anic verses, both rewards are in God's hands. He gives the reward of this world to its seekers and they do not receive anything in the Hereafter, while He gives both rewards to the seekers of the reward of the Hereafter.
Explaining these verses, exegetes of the Qur'an have said that according to the context and occasion of revelation, the reward of this world means the war booty of the Battle of Uhud and generally everything that one enjoys and take advantage of in this world including: money, conquest in battle, honor, fame and so on. The reward of the Hereafter is the honor before God, high status in the Hereafter, Heaven and its blessings, forgiveness of God and so on. According to al-Tabrisi, calling the rewards of this world as "thawab" is a figurative usage. 'Allama Tabataba'i has said that using the adjective "fair" (husn) for the reward of the Hereafter (the verse read: "So Allah gave them the reward of this world and the fair reward of the Hereafter" Qur'an 2:148) and not using the same adjective for the reward of this world shows the high value of the reward of the Hereafter in contrast with that of this world. However, there is no contradiction between the reward of this world and that of the Hereafter, rather those who only seek the reward of this world do not receive the reward of the Hereafter and those who seek the reward of the Hereafter will receive both.
God has promised the following people of severe punishment: who deny His signs, who change His blessings, who disbelieve, who oppose Him and His Messenger, who are lazy in responding when He and His Apostle summon them and who disobey His rulings in Hajj.
In Shi'a hadith sources the terms thawab and 'iqab have been used very much. There are several chapters related to this topic in the Four Books and many hadiths have been narrated explaining the reward and the punishment of various actions (form the reward of believing in Tawhid to the reward of minor good deeds and from the punishment of polytheism to the punishment of minor sins).
Among Shi'a and Sunni hadiths, hadiths about reward are more than hadiths about punishment.
According to the Qur'an and hadiths, only the faithful receive the reward of their good deeds in the hereafter and unbelievers will not receive anything in the hereafter.
In many hadiths the reward of ziyara of Infallible Imams (a) is compared to that of fighting and martyrdom or the reward mentioned for fulfilling a need of a faithful person is fulfillment of one hundred prayers, one of which is going to Heaven or forgiving of all sins and if death occurs in that moment, entering Heaven and receiving eternal reward. It is also narrated that if someone makes the heart of a faithful person happy, not only does God make his heart happy in the hereafter, but also gives him what he wishes and even more than he wished that he could not imagine. Moreover, it is mentioned that the reward of taking care of an orphan is being with Prophet Muhammad (s) in the heaven and the reward of helping widows or the needy is like the reward of fighting on the way of God.
By referring to hadiths it can be inferred that the amount of reward depends on several factors, such as: the importance of that action, the knowledge of the doer, his/her intention, place and time of action. Likewise, the amount of punishment changes by some factors, such as the lineage of the doer, as it is narrated that the descendants of Lady Fatima (s) who become obdurate and do not recognize the right of the infallible Imams (a) will face a double punishment.
Among Shi'a Muhaddiths (narrators), al-Shaykh al-Saduq has given a considerable attention to the topic of reward and punishment by compiling a book titled as thawab al-a'mal wa 'iqab al-a'mal (the reward of the deeds and the punishment of the deeds).
The terms thawab and 'iqab and their derivatives are rarely used in Sunni narrated hadiths, however some compilers and commentators of Sihah al-Sitta (the Six Authentic (books)) have used the terms in the title of some chapters in their books. The term "Jaza'" (requital) is also used about both reward and punishment. Sometimes in narrations the terms thawab and Jaza' are used interchangeably.
Place of Receiving
Various Qur'anic verses and hadiths talk about the stage in which reward and punishment starts for a person. People receive rewards of some good deeds and punishment of some sins in this world, however the true place of reckoning and reward and punishment is the hereafter in which the most minor good or bad deeds are reckoned and requited.
Although all Muslims believe in the punishment in the grave, there are disagreement about those who receive reward or punishment in their graves. According to some hadiths reward and punishment in grave is only for the pure faithful of pure unbeliever, while other people will be requited in the Hereafter.
In Islamic Philosophy and Mysticism
In Islamic philosophy and mysticism, more than reward and punishment, the terms happiness and wretchedness were emphasized and it was tried to change the meaning of reward and punishment to happiness and wretchedness; even sometimes the asceticism and worshiping acts of non-mystic for receiving reward was counted as a kind of transaction. Philosophers usually have explained the religious concept of salvation by the term happiness.
Reality of Reward and Punishment in Philosophy
Among philosophers, happiness involves a kind of spiritual joy which is nothing except for perception and attainment of perfection and good; so the greatest happiness is most perception and the happiest human is the most successful one to attain good. Mulla Sadra explicitly said, the hereafter, which is the realm of reward and punishment, is a perceptional world. It should be noted that for Mulla Sadra perception and knowledge are grades of existence, or even they are existence itself.
Muslim philosophers mostly considered reward and punishment as a necessary and inevitable consequence of one's deeds. According to Mulla Sadra, just as inappropriate foods cause illness of the body, wrong ideas and bad deeds cause illness of the spirit.
According to Avicenna, there is no great evil in this world and if there is evil, it is little. Some of this little evil is from human being, but this evil is a necessity of their essence and they cannot be created without this little evil.
Reality of Reward and Punishment in Mysticism
Similar points can be found in Islamic mysticism. Ibn 'Arabi believes, it is the knowledge and negligence of human to his essence that makes him felicitous or wretched, and the essence of human is nothing except for Haqq (Truth) and its manifestation. Heaven, which Ibn 'Arabi calls Dar al-Sa'ada (the house of happiness), is an idea hidden in every one's essence, which is nothing except for real truth, and entering Heaven means returning to this idea and finding the true attributes manifested in it. Therefore, happiness means knowing God and the essential unity of existence and wretchedness is deprivation of this knowledge; the only criterion for happiness and wretchedness is knowledge. According to Ibn 'Arabi there is no external punisher or rewarder, rather punishments and rewards are the existential (Takwini) results of one's deeds.
There are two mainstreams in explaining the teaching of reward and punishment in theological sources: 'Adliyya (Imamiyya and Mu'tazila) who discussed this topic in the chapter of Divine justice and the chapter of Resurrection (Ma'ad), and Ash'aris and Maturidis who discussed it only in the chapter of Resurrection (Ma'ad).
Entitlement or Divine Grace
Most of Mu'tazila argued that each person is entitled to reward and punishment as a result of his deeds. On the other hand, Ash'aris and Maturidis did not accept that. They believed that reward is Divine grace and punishment is Divine justice. Rejecting the rational good and bad (al-Husn wa l-Qubh al-'Aqli), they believed that nothing is obligatory for God and His justice is nothing except for His authority over His properties; He is the master and whatever He does is good and proper, rewarding or punishing.
Shi'a theologians believe that the theory of entitlement cannot be proven by reason, rather it is proven by the Qur'an and hadiths.
Mu'tazila and some of Shi'a theologians, such as Khwajih Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, believe that reason can justify eternality of reward and punishment; however, most of Shi'a scholars believe that there is no rational reason for proving that, rather the only proof for eternality of reward and punishment is the Qur'anic verses and hadiths.
Mu'tazila consider the committer of major sins as Fasiq (evil-doer) and entitled to eternal punishment. Shi'a theologian do not agree with that opinion, as they believe there is no rational reason proving it, also, it is possible that God pardons a committer of major sins and does not punish him.
Factors that Reject Reward and Punishment
According to Islamic theologians, there are several factors that reject Thwab and 'iqab. There are disagreements between Shi'a, Mu'tazila and Ash'aris about these factors. The most controversial factors are as following:
Shi'a and Mu'tazila of Basra believe that forgiving Fasiq or Kafir by God is rationally good (al-Hasan al-'Aqli), because He has the right to punish them and if He renounce it, His servant receives a benefit and there is no bad (Qubh).
Ash'aris believe it is rationally possible that God forgives major sins, although it cannot be said that He will do so. Some of them said that God does not forgive some major sins, which we do not know.
On the contrary, Mu'tazila of Baghdad believe that God does not pardon who are entitled to punishment.
Ihbat and Takfir
Mu'tazila believed in Ihbat and Takfir, which mean everyone's sins is compared to his good deeds, if his sins are more than his good deeds, the sins remove the good deeds and he would be entitled to punishment for remaining sins (Ihbat) and if the good deeds are more than sins, some good deeds are taken as atonement for the sins and due to remaining good deeds the person would be entitled to thawab (Takfir).
Shi'a and Ash'aris do not accept the theory of Ihbat and Takfir. As Ash'aris believed that reward and punishment is not entitlement and nothing is obligatory for God, they rejected the theory of Ihbat and Takfir. According to Shi'a theology, committing a sin does not prevent a faithful Muslim from going to Heaven and does not entitle him to eternal Hell, because he is entitled to eternal reward for his faith; therefore, he would be temporarily punished for his sins.
Another factor that dismisses punishment is repentance. The effective time for repentance is when the sinner still has the ability to commit the sin. Most of Mu'tazila believe that only major sins need repentance and the good deeds will atone for minor ones.
Dismissing punishment by repentance does not mean the reward of repentance is added to other rewards and they atone for sins, rather repentance by itself cause dismissing of punishment.
Ash'aris do not count repentance by itself as a factor of dismissing punishment.
Mu'tazila did not believe in intercession of Prophet Muhammad (s) as a factor of dismissing punishment, rather as an extra reward.
Ash'aris believed that intercession only applies to committers of major sins.
According to Shi'a beliefs, Shafa'a, under specific conditions, erases sins (major and minor) or elevates the person, if he has no sins, through the grades of Heaven.
Relation between Free Will and Reward and Punishment
'Adliyya (Shi'a and Mu'tazila) theologians counted reward and punishment as a sign of human free will. They argued that if human being do not have free will in his actions, praising or blaming him and rewarding or punishing him is unreasonable and unjust, while commanding him to do something was irrational, as he did not have free will in his actions. However, by presenting the theory of Kasb, Ash'aris said that reward and punishment are "'Adat Allah" (God's habit) and are not signs of free will.
Theologians have linked the concepts of "thawab and 'iqab" with "praising and blaming" (Madh and Dhamm), therefore these topics have been tied to the more fundamental issues of Good and Bad (Husn and Qubh).
In Usul al-Fiqh
Shi'a scholars of principle of jurisprudence have tried in their works to define "Good and Bad" by the concept of thawab and 'iqab, and thereby they linked one of the most important ethical concepts to a jurisprudential one. Contrary to the majority of Shi'a scholars, Mirza Muhammad Husayn Na'ini questioned the theory of Entitlement and argued that because human being are God's servant, they must obey Him and it is not rationally prohibited that a master give rewards to his obedient servants; basically, reward is God's grace upon His servants.
Mirza Shirazi accepted the theory of Entitlement and added that not giving reward to one who is entitled to it is bad (Qabih). But it should be noted that Mirza Shirazi, contrary to theologians, believes that independent reason does not see an act of obedience entitled to benefits and profits, rather only entitled to proximity to God; the benefits and profits are divine grace, though. According to his viewpoint, independent reason realizes that a sinner is entitled to punishment; however, forgiving him is good (Hasan).
The theory of Entitlement is very popular among Shi'a scholars of principles of jurisprudence; however, a group of them along with some Muslim philosophers accepted the theory of Embodiment of Actions (Tajassum al-A'mal). The advocates of this theory believe that reward and punishment are not inevitably and necessarily a result of deeds, rather in fact they are nothing but manifestation of the reality and essence of one's deeds. In other words, in the Hereafter evil deeds are embodied as fire of the Hell and good deeds are embodied as blessings in Heaven. Scholars of Usul have mentioned that the intention of obedience and compliance or the intention of proximity to God is a necessary requirement for entitlement to reward, and without that no deed is entitled to reward.
Undesirability of Punishment without Prior Infroming/Warning
This is an Usuli rule meaning that from the viewpoint of the reason, God does not punish human being for disobeying a ruling that was not expressed by Him, as it would be unjust, and He never do injustice. Scholars of Usul believe that what entitles a person to punishment is disobedience to God's commands; but as disobeying a command that is not expressed is rationally impossible, expressing and stating the ruling is a necessary requirement for entitlement to punishment. Other than expressing the ruling, it must be delivered to Mukallaf, in a way that if he tries to find that ruling he could reach it.
- The material for writing this article has been mainly taken from ثواب و عقاب in Farsi WikiShia.