Jahannam is the term used in Islam for hell-fire, the place where wrongdoers will be punished in the afterlife. The levels of punishment have been described extensively in the Quran, and are dependent on a person’s deeds. The more evil that a person commits, the more intense the punishment will be. “[It is but] a small enjoyment; then their [final] refuge is Hell, and wretched is the resting place.” (Quran 3:197)
“And indeed, Hell is the promised place for them all.” (Quran 15:43) Jahannam is a real place, and it exists, like Jannah (Paradise). Some Muslims who claim that Jahannam is a spiritual place, rather than a real, actual location, are misguided. Allah has described the various gates to the hell-fire in the Quran. He has also provided several names for the Hell-fire.
Hell has many different levels, as detailed in the Quran. “Indeed, the hypocrites will be in the lowest depths of the Fire – and never will you find for them a helper.” (Quran 4:145) Amongst the gravest sins is the association of partners with Allah, for which He outlines the worst punishment.
Allah has determined different periods of punishment for people based on how He sees fit, with all His wisdom. Some people will have to endure the punishment forever, while others may be sent in it for a short period. “As for those who were [destined to be] wretched, they will be in the Fire. For them, therein is [violent] exhaling and inhaling.[They will be] abiding therein as long as the heavens and the earth endure, except what your Lord should will.” (Quran 11:106-107)
In contrast – to learn about the pleasures of Paradise, click here.
The angels that watch over Jahannam
“O you who have believed, protect yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is people and stones, over which are (appointed) angels, harsh and severe…” (Quran 66:6). Allah describes the angels who watch over hell as “harsh and severe,” which is to be expected.
“And what can make you know what is Saqar?It lets nothing remain and leaves nothing [unburned], Blackening the skins. Over it are nineteen [angels].” (Quran 74:27-30). Allah tells us that the angels looking after the hell-fire will be 19 in number.
“And those in the Fire will say to the keepers of Hell, ‘Supplicate your Lord to lighten for us a day from the punishment.’” (Quran 40:49). Allah refers to the angels as keepers or guards of hell. This shows the amount of strength they have, if just 19 of them can look after the whole of hell-fire.
Click here to learn more about Allah’s angels.
The vastness of Jahannam
Abu Huraira narrated, “We were in the company of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) that we heard a terrible sound. Thereupon Allah’s Apostle (PBUH) said: Do you know what (sound) is this? We said: Allah and His Messenger know best. Thereupon he said: That is a stone which was thrown seventy years before in Hell, and it has constantly been slipping down, and now it has reached its base.” (Sahih Muslim)
“On the Day We will say to Hell, ‘Have you been filled?’ and it will say, ‘Are there some more.’” (Quran 50:30)
From these pieces of evidence, we can reasonably ascertain that hell is going to be quite massive. If we consider the number of human beings on Earth and how they keep increasing and sinning, we will realize that this is no surprise. And, once the hell-fire’s inhabitants are all sent there, it will still have space for more.
The gates of Jahannam
“It has seven gates; for every gate is of them a portion designated.” (Quran 15:44). The hell-fire has seven different gates, through which people will enter it, based on their sins.
“And those who disbelieved will be driven to Hell in groups until, when they reach it, its gates are opened, and its keepers will say, ‘Did there not come to you messengers from yourselves, reciting to you the verses of your Lord and warning you of the meeting of this Day of yours?’” The gates will be opened when the to-be inhabitants arrive.
The heat of Jahannam
There will be no source of comfort for the people of the fire. “[They will be] in scorching fire and scalding waterand a shade of black smoke, neither cool nor beneficial.” (Quran 56:42-44).
All of the hell-fire has also been described as extremely hot. “But as for one whose scales are light,His refuge will be an abyss. And what can make you know what that is? It is a Fire, intensely hot.” (Quran 101:8-11)
The hell-fire spares no one and nothing. It burns everything. “It lets nothing remain and leaves nothing [unburned],blackening the skins.” (Quran 74:28-29)
The fire of hell is beyond anything humans will ever experience in this life. Its strength goes well beyond the worldly fire. The Prophet (PBUH) said, “The fire which sons of Adam burn is only one-seventieth part of the Fire of Hell.” (Sahih Muslim)
Allah states that for the inhabitants of the fire, there will be no relief and no lightening of the punishment. “…The punishment will not be lightened for them, nor will they be aided.” (Quran 2:86)
Food and drink in Jahannam
Allah describes the terrible punishment that awaits the people of hell-fire in terms of food. “For them, there will be no food except from a poisonous, thorny plantwhich neither nourishes nor avails against hunger.” (Quran 88:6-7)
Also outlined in the Quran is the “tree of Zaqqum,” a special food for the inhabitants of the fire. “Indeed, the tree of Zaqqum is food for the sinful. Like murky oil, it boils within bellies like the boiling of scalding water.” (Quran 44:43-46)
Regarding this tree, the Prophet (PBUH) stated, “If a drop of Zaqqum were to be dropped on the earth, it would ruin the livelihood of the people of this world, so how about those who have no food other than it (i.e., Zaqqum)?” (Sunan ibn Majah)
The people of hell will be given various forms of boiling liquids to drink. Allah describes these people as, “Those who abide eternally in the Fire and are given to drink scalding water that will sever their intestines.” (Quran 47:15)
Allah also described a “murky oil” as being amongst the drinks of hell-fire. “And if they call for relief, they will be relieved with water like murky oil, which scalds [their] faces. Wretched is the drink, and evil is the resting place.” (Quran 18:29)
Another drink that is mentioned for the people of hell is that which contains pus. “Before him is Hell, and he will be given a drink of purulent water.He will gulp it but will hardly [be able to] swallow it…” (Quran 14:16-17)
The least punishment in Jahannam
The smallest punishment in hell, which’s description we have been provided with, is one that is beyond anyone’s imagination in this life.
The Prophet (PBUH) said, “The least punished person of the (Hell) Fire people on the Day of Resurrection will be a man under whose arch of the feet two smoldering embers will be placed, because of which his brain will boil just like Al-Mirjal (copper vessel) or a Qum-qum (narrow-necked vessel) is boiling with water.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
The punishment of the roasting skin
Allah describes a penalty that never ends. This entails the burning of the skins of the inhabitants of the fire. But, the skins are replaced so that the punishment resumes.
“We will drive them into a Fire. Every time their skins are roasted through, We will replace them with other skins so they may taste the punishment.” (Quran 4:56)
The punishment of melting and striking
“But those who disbelieved will have cut out for them garments of fire. Poured upon their heads will be scalding waterby which is melted that within their bellies and [their] skins. And for [striking] them are maces of iron.” (Quran 22:19-21). This is another of the punishments that continues to recur.
The Prophet (PBUH) elaborated on this punishment as well. “Indeed, Hamim will be poured over their heads. The Hamim will penetrate until it finds its way to his insides. Then whatever is inside him will fall out until it pours over his feet while it melts away. Then he will be reformed to how he was.” (Jami at-Tirmidhi)
The punishment of the dragging
“The Day they are dragged into the Fire on their faces [it will be said], ‘Taste the touch of Saqar.’” (Quran 54:58)
“When the shackles are around their necks and the chains; they will be draggedin boiling water; then in the Fire, they will be filled [with flame].” (Quran 40:71-72)
This is one of the most painful of the punishments outlined in the Quran. It will disfigure the faces of the inhabitants of hell-fire in the most frightful manner.
How should Muslims feel about Jahannam?
The hell-fire is very much real and is something that wrongdoers will have to suffer in, in the hereafter. Many of the verses regarding Jahannam were revealed during the early days of Prophethood in Makkah. They were meant to give out a warning to the disbelievers, that their days of opposing Allah were coming to an end.
For Muslims, fearing and loving Allah are two sides of the same coin. Muslims must be aware of the punishments of the hell-fire. “Say to those who disbelieve, ‘You will be overcome and gathered together to Hell, and wretched is the resting place.’” (Quran 3:12). At the same time, they should not excessively focus on the hell-fire. Focusing too much on the reality of the hell-fire can make a Muslim forget Allah’s mercy.
This causes a dangerous situation wherein a person loses hope. As a result, he may think there is no point in doing good deeds as he is destined for Jahannam. So, we must view the reality of Jahannam as a warning for us, and obey Allah and His Prophet (PBUH) and refrain from committing evil deeds.
However, we must always remember that Allah is the Ultimate Being, capable of forgiving any sins, besides shirk. Hence, we must continually repent for any evil deeds we have committed and strive to do good. Allah is the Most Forgiving and the Most Merciful. Nothing is beyond Him. If we sincerely repent and change ourselves, there is every chance that Allah will forgive our sins and save us from the Hell-fire.