Islamic Studies Afterlife, Heaven, Hell
Nerina Rustomji
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0255


Eschatological reckoning after the end of the time is one of the major themes found within the Qur’an and early Islamic theological and historical literature, and it can be argued that eschatology is so integral to Islamic religion and history that its impact can be seen in a wide range of texts, images, and objects. While the topics of the Afterlife, Heaven, and Hell offer great significance for the field of Islamic studies, the bibliography is still limited. Yet, the academic study of Islamic eschatology is at an energetic, nascent stage of development as scholars conceptualize, analyze, and reflect on the meanings of heaven and hell in the Islamic past and present. The afterlife in Islamic texts and traditions involve concepts of the hereafter (al-akhira), heaven (al-janna), and hell (al-nar). Other terms are also used to designate heaven. Al-samawat refers to “the heavens,” and al-firdaws is translated as “paradise.” Hell also has additional descriptors, including hawiya (abyss), jahim (hellfire), sa’ir (fire), jahannam (hell), laza (flame), saqar (blaze), and hutama (furnace). The final realms of heaven and hell are reached after a believer has died and remained in the intermediate state of barzakh. At the appointed hour (sa’a), believers face reckoning (al-hisab), the resurrection (al-qiyama), the gathering of humanity (al-hashr), and judgment as they cross the bridge Sirat. After this eschatological process, believers gain placement in heaven or hell. The final realms are distinct from the prelapsarian state of Eden with its paradise narrative about Adam, his wife, and Iblis. In this sense the afterlife is the final cosmological stage of time and space that is the teleological end of the life on earth.

General Overviews

Heaven and Hell are vast topics. Because it is a challenge to provide a general overview of the Afterlife, introductory works have adopted particular methodologies. Religious studies with an emphasis on textual expressions of heaven and hell predominate. Smith and Haddad 1981 offered the first conceptualization of the afterlife as a subject. El-Saleh 1971 provides a useful compendium of sources by genre and time. Lange 2015 offers wide-ranging discussions of medieval texts. Two other works offer a more specific approach. Rustomji 2009 provides a historical overview that focuses on material culture. Denkha 2014 offers a comparative study that addresses the linkages between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

  • Denkha, Atta. L’imaginaire du paradis et le monde de l’au-delà dans le christianisme et dans l’islam. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2014.

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    A comparative examination of Christian and Islamic sources and cosmologies that provides an interesting examination of cross-cultural textual analysis.

  • Haleem, Muhammad. “Qur’anic Paradise: How to Get to Paradise and What to Expect There.” In Roads to Paradise: Eschatology and Concepts of the Hereafter in Islam. Vol. 1, Foundations and Formation of a Tradition. Edited by Sebastian Günther and Todd Lawson, 49–66. Leiden, The Netherlands and Boston: Brill, 2017.

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    A short introduction to paradise that presents the Qur’anic view of who is qualified to enter paradise and what they should expect upon entering.

  • Lange, Christian. Paradise and Hell in Islamic Traditions. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004301368Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An in-depth study with a useful bibliography that suggests that the otherworld is in continuous conversation with the earthly world.

  • Rustomji, Nerina. The Garden and the Fire: Heaven and Hell in Islamic Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

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    A cultural history that argues that the Islamic Heaven and Hell from the 7th to the 16th centuries were understood through their material culture.

  • El-Saleh, Soubhi. La vie future selon le Coran. Paris: Vrin, 1971.

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    An important resource that presents a textual exposition of the Afterlife, organized by genre.

  • Smith, Jane Idelman, and Yvonne Haddad. Islamic Understanding of Death and Resurrection. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981.

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    A critical text that conceptualizes heaven and hell in Islam and offers discussion of classical and modern theologians’ interpretations of the afterlife.

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