Quora Answer: What Do Verses on Abiding in Hell Forever in the Qur’an Imply?
The following is my answer to a Quora question: “What do these verses in the Qur’an imply?”
This is the verse:
إِنَّ ٱلۡمُجۡرِمِينَ فِى عَذَابِ جَهَنَّمَ خَـٰلِدُونَ (٧٤) لَا يُفَتَّرُ عَنۡهُمۡ وَهُمۡ فِيهِ مُبۡلِسُونَ (٧٥) وَمَا ظَلَمۡنَـٰهُمۡ وَلَـٰكِن كَانُواْ هُمُ ٱلظَّـٰلِمِينَ (٧٦) وَنَادَوۡاْ يَـٰمَـٰلِكُ لِيَقۡضِ عَلَيۡنَا رَبُّكَۖ قَالَ إِنَّكُم مَّـٰكِثُونَ (٧٧) لَقَدۡ جِئۡنَـٰكُم بِٱلۡحَقِّ وَلَـٰكِنَّ أَكۡثَرَكُمۡ لِلۡحَقِّ كَـٰرِهُونَ (٧٨)
The sinners will be in the Punishment of Hell, to dwell therein (for aye): Nowise will the (Punishment) be lightened for them, and in despair will they be there overwhelmed. Nowise shall We be unjust to them: but it is they who have been unjust themselves. They will cry, “O Malik! Would that your Lord put an end to us!” He will say, “Nay but you shall abide!” Verily We have brought the truth to you: but most of you have a hatred for truth. (Surah az-Zukhruf:74-78)
There is a great chance for confusion and misunderstanding when taking verses in isolation. In any case, these verses illustrate the fate of the sinners. The word used for the length of their stay is “khalid”, which is understood generally to mean eternity. Based on this verse alone, that is the impression. But there are other verses in the Qur’an that Use the word “ila al-abad”, which means, a very long time, beyond human comprehension. So “forever” in a theological sense does not always mean forever. There are varying opinions on the matter. There are several opinions of the scholars on the issue of damnation itself. Many scholars, including Imam Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali ibn Isma’il al-Ash’ari (r.a.) himself, say that there are those who are Sent to the Fire without hope of Salvation. There are opinions that state that the disbelievers, the hypocrites and the polytheists abide in forever.
Also, we must also consider the following verses:
فَأَمَّا ٱلَّذِينَ شَقُواْ فَفِى ٱلنَّارِ لَهُمۡ فِيہَا زَفِيرٌ۬ وَشَهِيقٌ (١٠٦) خَـٰلِدِينَ فِيہَا مَا دَامَتِ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٲتُ وَٱلۡأَرۡضُ إِلَّا مَا شَآءَ رَبُّكَۚ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ فَعَّالٌ۬ لِّمَا يُرِيدُ (١٠٧) ۞ وَأَمَّا ٱلَّذِينَ سُعِدُواْ فَفِى ٱلۡجَنَّةِ خَـٰلِدِينَ فِيہَا مَا دَامَتِ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٲتُ وَٱلۡأَرۡضُ إِلَّا مَا شَآءَ رَبُّكَۖ عَطَآءً غَيۡرَ مَجۡذُوذٍ۬ (١٠٨)
Those who are wretched shall be in the Fire: there will be for them therein (nothing but) the heaving of sighs and sobs: They will dwell therein for all the time that the Heavens and the Earth endure, except as your Lord Wills: for your Lord is the (Sure) Accomplisher of what He Planns. And those who are Blessed shall be in the Garden: they will dwell therein for all the time that the Heavens and the Earth endure, except as your Lord Wills: a Gift without break. (Surah Hud:106-108)
We must understand that Allah (s.w.t.) only Promised a Gift without end for the dwellers of Paradise. There is no such promise for the dwellers of the Fire. The line, “a Gift without break,” is missing when He Addressed the damned.
Also, there is an atsar, a category of narrations that end with a companion, on the authority of Sayyidina Abu Bakr ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Utsman asw-Swiddiq (r.a.). One of the few places that it is mentioned is in Kashf al-Mahjub of Imam Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali ibn ‘Utsman al-Hujwiri (q.s.). In it, Sayyidina Abu Bakr asw-Swiddiq (r.a.) said that there will come a time, when the gates of Hell will be hanging on their hinges and Hell will be like a wheat field that has been mown, empty. It references the hadits of when the Prophet (s.a.w.) spoke after the Isra’ wa al-Mi’raj, where he explained his shafa’at. In that hadits, the Prophet (s.a.w.) described the different categories of people who are Removed from the Fire through the intercession of the Prophet (s.a.w.), the other prophets, the pious, the parents, the children, the single dzurrat, atom, of faith until there remains those in the Fire who have not even that, not even a moment where they remembered God. The Prophet (s.a.w.) said that there would still be multitudes in the Fire. And then Allah (s.w.t.) will Decree, “Remove from the Fire those which the Hand of God can Hold.” And that is understood to mean that all are Removed. By then, the fires would have burned to embers and these souls will be like ashes.
The Prophet (s.a.w.) said that these souls will be Thrown into the River Ridhwan and there they will reform again. Allah (s.w.t.) will Ask the same Question that was Posed to us when he Drew Forth and Assembled the Children of Adam in ‘Alam Alastu bi Rabbikum: “Am I not your Rabb?” And then, they will finally acknowledge.
وَإِذۡ أَخَذَ رَبُّكَ مِنۢ بَنِىٓ ءَادَمَ مِن ظُهُورِهِمۡ ذُرِّيَّتَہُمۡ وَأَشۡہَدَهُمۡ عَلَىٰٓ أَنفُسِہِمۡ أَلَسۡتُ بِرَبِّكُمۡۖ قَالُواْ بَلَىٰۛ شَهِدۡنَآۛ أَن تَقُولُواْ يَوۡمَ ٱلۡقِيَـٰمَةِ إِنَّا ڪُنَّا عَنۡ هَـٰذَا غَـٰفِلِينَ (١٧٢)
When thy Lord Drew forth from the Children of Adam ― from their loins ― their descendants, and Made them testify concerning themselves, (Saying), “Am I not your Lord (Who Cherishes and Sustains you)?” ― They said, “Yea! We do testify!” (This), lest you should say on the Day of Judgement, “Of this we were never mindful.” (Surah al-A’araf:172)
The people of the Fire are there because of their hand; none can say that God lead them astray. It is said that the burning will not let up in the duration of the stay, and that when the flesh is burned away, they will be healed anew. It is a burning where the pain does not end. In this world, when you get a burn severe enough, the nerves are damaged and you feel nothing. There is no such respite in the Fire.
These sort of verses are always paired with verses for the People of the Garden. They affirm that Heaven and Hell are real, and that its delights and torments are real. These are part of Muslim belief and cannot be taken away.