10 Ways to Avoid Punishment in the Afterlife

From a lecture by Sheikh Dr. Yasir Qadhi, which he derived from Ibn Taymiyyah’s Punishment By the Hellfire is Repelled By Ten Causes by Ibn Tamiyyah, a reminder to me first…

Life is short. Like it or not, we’re all going to die. If you adhere to one of the monotheistic faiths, you’re likely aware of the potential destinations after death, and it’s one thing that we should all be at least mildly concerned about. I, for one, want to wind up in Paradise, worshiping God and glorifying Him, rather than pleading for mercy and enduring endless, repeated punishment, so some ideas of how to avoid punishment in the next life are welcome and needed.

Before I get started, it’s important to note that a few of these are unpleasant or even frightening, but rest assured, they’re better than the alternative.

Tawbah (Repentance). Tawbah is an action of the heart, it’s turning away from sin and anything that displeases God, and it’s returning to Him. Tawhah is pretty much required of  everyone at some point—we all sin and fall short of the grace of God—and it’s the most effective way of removing sin.

God urges us to repent repeatedly,

إِنَّمَا التَّوْبَةُ عَلَى اللَّهِ لِلَّذِينَ يَعْمَلُونَ السُّوءَ بِجَهَالَةٍ ثُمَّ يَتُوبُونَ مِن قَرِيبٍ فَأُولَٰئِكَ يَتُوبُ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِمْ ۗ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمًا

The repentance accepted by Allah is only for those who do wrong in ignorance [or carelessness] and then repent soon after. It is those to whom Allah will turn in forgiveness, and Allah is ever Knowing and Wise.
An Nisa, 17

ثُمَّ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ لِلَّذِينَ عَمِلُوا السُّوءَ بِجَهَالَةٍ ثُمَّ تَابُوا مِن بَعْدِ ذَٰلِكَ وَأَصْلَحُوا إِنَّ رَبَّكَ مِن بَعْدِهَا لَغَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

Then, indeed your Lord, to those who have done wrong out of ignorance and then repent after that and correct themselves – indeed, your Lord, thereafter, is Forgiving and Merciful.
An Nahl, 118

and God even created us to repent. As reported by Abu Huraira:

The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “By Him in Whose Hand is my life, if you were not to commit sin, Allah would sweep you out of existence and He would replace (you by) those people who would commit sin and seek forgiveness from Allah, and He would have pardoned them.”
Sahih Muslim (in Riyad us-Saliheen)

Istighfar (Seeking Forgiveness). Seeking Forgiveness is an action of the tongue; it’s a verbal request for forgiveness. The messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, used to seek forgiveness all the time:

The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “Sometimes I perceive a veil over my heart, and I supplicate Allah for forgiveness a hundred times in a day.”
Sahih Muslim (in Riyad us-Saliheen)

I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) saying, “I swear by Allah that I seek Allah’s Pardon and turn to Him in repentance more than seventy times a day.”
Sahih Bukhari (in Riyad us-Saliheen)

Even if you keep sinning, keep seeking forgiveness.

I heard the Prophet (ﷺ) saying, “If somebody commits a sin and then says, ‘O my Lord! I have sinned, please forgive me!’ and his Lord says, ‘My slave has known that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for it, I therefore have forgiven my slave (his sins).’ Then he remains without committing any sin for a while and then again commits another sin and says, ‘O my Lord, I have committed another sin, please forgive me,’ and Allah says, ‘My slave has known that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for it, I therefore have forgiven my slave (his sin). Then he remains without Committing any another sin for a while and then commits another sin (for the third time) and says, ‘O my Lord, I have committed another sin, please forgive me,’ and Allah says, ‘My slave has known that he has a Lord Who forgives sins and punishes for it I therefore have forgiven My slave (his sin), he can do whatever he likes.”
Sahih Bukhari

And keep seeking forgiveness: Astaghfirullah, Astaghfirullah, Astaghfirullah. May it be that God forgives you, and it may be that He keeps you away from further sins.
At the very least, if you’re busy seeking forgiveness, maybe you’re too busy to sin…

Good Deeds

وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ طَرَفَيِ النَّهَارِ وَزُلَفًا مِّنَ اللَّيْلِ ۚ إِنَّ الْحَسَنَاتِ يُذْهِبْنَ السَّيِّئَاتِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ ذِكْرَىٰ لِلذَّاكِرِينَ

And establish prayer at the two ends of the day and at the approach of the night. Indeed, good deeds do away with misdeeds. That is a reminder for those who remember.
Hud, 114

Good deeds dissolve evil deeds. It’s really as simple as that… So (advice to myself first) walk to prayer at the mosque when you get a chance and pick up some garbage on the way. It may be that beautifying the path to God’s house is the thing that tips the scales in your favor… And if that’s not your thing—I understand if it’s not—then there are loads of good deeds available to us all, from feeding the hungry to making love to your wife or husband.*

Let’s get to it!

Tthe good deeds, that is…

Others making Dua and Istighfar on your behalf, by name or generically. Ask for forgiveness for yourself, for others (specifically) and for your community (of faith, or otherwise) and for those funny looking people over there with those funny beliefs and practices. God alone knows, but your dua for your neighbor or some stranger halfway around the world might just be the thing that saves them from the fire.

Calamities and Trials

“When Allah wants good for his slave, He hastens his punishment in the world. And when He wants bad for His slave, He withholds his sins from him until he appears before Him on the Day of Judgement.”And with this (same) chain, (it was reported) from the Prophet (ﷺ) who said: “Indeed greater reward comes with greater trial. And indeed, when Allah loves a people He subjects them to trials, so whoever is content, then for him is pleasure, and whoever is discontent, then for him is wrath.” at Tirmidhi

We’d rather avoid things like this, really, but calamities and trials are going to happen, and through His mercy, God has made them a means of cleansing and forgiveness. All praise and thanks be to God!

Adhab al Qabr (the punishment of the grave). After our death, when they lower our bodies into the ground, two angels come to us and ask three questions:

  1. “Who is your Lord?”
  2. “What is your religion?”
  3. “Who is your prophet?”

We won’t answer with our tongues, but only with our hearts. And if we give the wrong answer, the angels will torture us right there and then.

This torture, while wildly undesirable and very scary, if it saves us from damnation, it’s worth it.

Punishment and Trials on the Day of Judgement. That last day is going to be hard. No shade anywhere, except for that under the throne of God, and it’s reserved. No water or food, except for what nourishment is in us already from our faith and practice. There’s a bridge to cross that’s as wide or narrow as your faith. We’ll all be plunged into darkness, with only the light from our hearts to guide us to the gates of heaven.

May Allah make it easy on us on that Day, and may He make the road wide, and our hearts blinding.

Good Deeds, given to us by the Living after we die

Abu Hurayra reported that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “When a person dies, all action is cut off for him with the exception of three things: sadaqa which continues, knowledge which benefits, or a righteous child who makes supplication for him.”
Al-Adab Al-Mufrad

In life, say prayers for forgiveness for your deceased relatives and friends. Give charity in their honor. It may be that people pray for you after your death, and maybe those prayers are enough to grant you access to heaven.

Intercession of the Prophet
On the Day of Judgement, the people will go one by one to the prophets, asking for their intercession. When we get to Muhammad, peace be upon him, he will praise Allah azza wa jall, fall prostrate, and ask Allah to forgive some of us, and He will. There’s a long hadith about this that I won’t relate here, and may Allah make us among those who benefit from the Prophet’s intercession.

the Rahmah of Allah (the Mercy of God)

Abu Hurairah narrated that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “Allah created a hundred mercies, and He placed one mercy among his creation, they show mercy to one another by it, and there are ninety-nine mercies with Allah.”
at-Tirmidhi 

All of the mercy that mothers show to their children, the feeding of the poor, the lenience of judges and courts, and all the other little things we do out of compassion and generosity, all of those that we do now, all that future people do, and all that the peoples who came before us did, is just 1% of the Mercy of God. He is the Most Merciful, the Entirely Merciful.

إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَغْفِرُ أَن يُشْرَكَ بِهِ وَيَغْفِرُ مَا دُونَ ذَٰلِكَ لِمَن يَشَاءُ ۚ وَمَن يُشْرِكْ بِاللَّهِ فَقَدْ ضَلَّ ضَلَالًا بَعِيدًا

Indeed, Allah does not forgive association with Him, but He forgives what is less than that for whom He wills. And he who associates others with Allah has certainly gone far astray.
An Nisa, 116

We can count on His Mercy, but we can’t rely on that solely.

So there are the 10 things that can keep us from punishment in the afterlife.

tl;dr

  1. Tawbah (Repentance)
  2. Istighfar (Seeking Forgiveness)
  3. Good Deeds
  4. Dua and Istighfar made by others for you, specifically or generally
  5. Calamities and Trials
  6. Adhab al Qabr (the punishment of the grave)
  7. Punishment and Trials on the Day of Judgement
  8. Good Deeds, gifted to us by others after our death
  9. Intercession of the Prophet on the Day of Judgement
  10. the Mercy of God

And that brings us to one extra tip: Avoid sinning in the first place!

That’s the best way to earn God’s pleasure! It’s difficult, for sure, and we’re always going to sin some, but the more we cut down on sins and strive for His forgiveness and mercy, God willing, the easier time we’ll have later.

Dr. Qadhi does a much better job than I, so check out his lecture.

And a translation of Ibn Tamiyyah’s tract is here, if you want a flavor of the original.

*You’d be punished for Adultery, right? It’s one of the major sins, after all. Then wouldn’t God grant you reward for doing it in the right way? INSHAALLAH.

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