The process of judgement on the Last Day can be conveniently discussed under four subheadings, corresponding to different aspects of the judgment:
1. Presentation of the Deeds (`Ard): each person’s deeds are presented before Allah, and thus they are exposed to their records, and to their Lord. This stage may therefore also be called the Exposing.
2. Questioning (Su’al): people are questioned about their deeds
3. Accounting or Reckoning (Hisab): people are held accountable, or brought to account, for their wrongs.
4. Judgement (Qada’) : judgement is given; the person comes to know whether he is destined to Heaven or to Hell.
1. The Exposing
“And they shall be presented before their Lord in rows.” [Qur’an, 18:48]
Mankind will be exposed (i.e. presented) before their Lord.
The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “Mankind will be exposed three exposures on the Day of Resurrection. The [first] two exposures shall be disputation and excuses, but at the third [exposure], the scrolls [of deeds] will be distributed, and then some will take them in their right hands, others in their left.” [Narrated by Tirmidhi]
So, the first time, people will dispute with one another : the weak with the tyrants who hindered them from faith, the tyrants responding that they are, in the final analysis, not to blame, for each individual believes or disbelieves by his/her own conscious decision. The disbelievers will deny that prophets came to them. At the second exposure, people will acknowledge their wrongs, and will seek excuses. With the third exposure, the books of deeds will be distributed amongst them, as we return to under our discussion of “The Judgment.”
2. The Questioning
“Then, by your Lord, We shall surely question them all, about what they used to do.” [Qur’an, 15:92-93]
Belief in the questioning and reckoning of the Hereafter instills a sense of responsibility and accountability in the Muslim. He must be constantly watching over his heart and his deeds, and must be prepared to forego those fleeting, ephemeral pleasures of this world which are available to him in the path of sin. He must be prepared to undergo some suffering and hardship in this temporary abode, in order to avoid the inescapable consequences of evil in the Hereafter. He must fear standing before his Lord if he desires safety on that ghastly day. Allah, the Mighty, the Majestic has said in the Hadith Qudsi, , “By My Might! I shall not combine for My servant two lives of fear, nor two lives of surety.” [Narrated by Ibn Hibban]
People will be questioned, on the Day of Judgement, about various things, of which we may mention the following:
(i) About faith and belief
“You will be asked about “Laa ilaaha illallaah” [Narrated by Tirmidhi]
“Then, We shall surely question those to whom were sent (messengers), and We shall surely question the Messengers.” [Qur’an, 7:6]
The people will be questioned about whether messengers came to them, and how they responded to them. The messengers themselves will be questioned about whether they conveyed the message.
(ii) About salah
“The first thing which the servant will be questioned about on the Day of Resurrection will be his salah. If it is in order, then he shall have prospered and succeeded, while if it is impaired, then he shall have failed and be in ruined.” [Narrated by Tirmidhi]
(iii) About those under their care
“O believers! Save yourselves and your families from a Fire, whose fuel is mankind and stones.” [Qur’an, 66:6]
“Every one of you is a guardian, and every one of you will be asked about those in his care.” [Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim]
(iv) About the bodily organs
“Do not follow that which you have no knowledge of; (your) hearing, sight and heart – you will be questioned about all of them.” [Qur’an, 17:36]
(v) About delight
“Then, you shall be questioned on that day about delight.” [Qur’an, 102:8]
(vi) About intentions
“Whoever desires the life of the world and its adornment, We shall repay their deeds to them in it, and they will not suffer any short payment therein. They are those for whom there is nothing but the Fire in the Hereafter. In vain shall be that which they wrought therein, and null shall be that which they used to do.” [Qur’an, 11:15]
In a long hadith narrated by Muslim, we are told that the men whose cases shall be judged first on the Day of Resurrection shall be a man who was martyred, a man who acquired knowledge and taught it and who recited the Qur’an and a man to whom Allah had been generous and given many varieties of wealth. These men will acknowledge Allah’s favors upon them, and will claim that they did these deeds for His sake. They will be exposed as liars, for they did not do these deeds for the sake of Allah. The man who was martyred had been fighting in order to be called brave, the scholar or reciter of the Qur’an had acted thus in order to gain a reupation as such, and the philanthropist had sought recognition as a generous person. Since deeds are according to their intentions, these people received what they had sought through these deeds, and they will not receive reward for them. Hence, they will be dragged into Hell.
(vii) Four Questions
There are four questions which everyone must face: “The feet of a servant will not move on the Day of Resurrection until he has been questioned about [four things:] his life – how he spent it, his knowledge – how he acted upon it, his wealth – where he earned it and how he spent it, and his body – how he used it.” [Narrated by Tirmidhi]
3. The Accounting
“To Us shall be their coming, then with Us shall be their reckoning.” [Qur’an, 88:25-26]
People will be brought to account for their deeds, as well as for their resolved intentions. “When two Muslims encounter one another with their swords, the murderer and the murdered shall be in the Fire.” [Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim] The murdered individual is also in the Fire because he was intent on killing his companion. However, out of Allah’s grace, we are excused for fleeting thoughts which we do not consciously entertain or sustain, nor verbalize.
“Allah does not task a soul beyond its scope.” [Qur’an, 2:286]
The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) has said, “Allah has forgiven my ummah for those things which their hearts whisper to them.” [Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim]
The reckoning may be either easy or difficult.
“Then, whoever is given his book in his right hand, he shall be accounted a light reckoning. And he shall turn to his people rejoicing.” [Qur’an, 84:7-8]
The easy reckoning is a mere exposure of the deeds after the presentation of the book.
“Indeed, Allah, the Mighty, the Majestic, will draw the believer near, and will place His Shelter over him, and conceal him from people, and will make him acknowledge his sins, saying to him, ‘Do you know such a sin? Do you know such a sin? Do you know such a sin?’ Until, when He has made him ackowledge his sins, and he considers himself as being ruined, [Allah] will say to him, ‘Indeed, I concealed them for you in the world, and I forgive you them this day.’ Then, the book of hsi good deeds will be brought forth. As for the unbelievers and the hypocrites, the witnesses will say, ‘These are those who lied against their Lord. Indeed, the curse of Allah is upon the wrongdoers.” [Narrated by Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad]
The difficult reckoning involves disputation and precise accounting.
On the authority of `A’ishah (may Allah be pelased with her) : the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and his Household and grant them peace) said : “Whoever is disputed with in his reckoning shall be punished.” A’ishah said, “But, has not Allah said, (translated) ‘Whoever is given his book in his right hand, he shall be accounted a light accounting.’ ? He said, ‘That is not the accounting; rather that is the presentation [of deeds]. Whoever is disputed with in his accounting on the Day of Arising shall be punished (in one narration : shall be ruined).” [Narrated by Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Nasa’i]
There will be some that will enter heaven without reckoning. In the hadith narrated by Muslim, the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) says that the nations of all the prophets were exposed to him. He saw some prophets with only one or two people, or their family members with them (i.e. no-one else had believed in them). Then, he saw a huge crowd, and thought that was his ummah. Gabriel (peace be upon him) told him that it was actually the ummah of Moses (peace be upon him), but he indicated to him a larger crowd which stretched from one horizon to the next, and told him that this was his ummah. He said, “and with them are 70,000 who shall enter heaven without reckoning or punishment.” They are those who do not use charms, nor seek them from others, nor draw omens, but rely upon their Lord.”
Martyrs of the battlefield will also be exempted from the reckoning. “When the servants are standing at the place of reckoning, a [group of] people will come with their swords on their backs dripping blood, and they will assemble at the gate of Heaven. It will be asked, ‘Who are these?’ whereupon it will be said, “They are the martyrs; they were alive, receiving sustenance.'” [Narrated by Tabarani]
4. The Judgement
4.1 Divine Judgment
“Indeed, your Lord shall judge between them by His [just] judgment, and He is the Mighty, the Knowing.” [Qur’an, 27:78]
“Do they await only that Allah should come to them, in shadows of the clouds, and the angels, and the matter be judged?” [Qur’an, 2:210]
“And your Lord will come, and the angels, rank upon rank. And Hell shall be brought forth on that day. On that day, mankind shall reflect, but what good to him shall [then] the remembrance be? He will say: O, I wish I had sent ahead [some good] for my life!” [Qur’an, 89:22-24]
Allah’s judgement is just.
“And the earth will be illuminated by the light of your Lord, and the record will be laid, and the prophets and the witnesses will be brought forth, and judgment will be made between them with truth, and they will not be wronged. And every soul will be recompensed in full for what it had done, and He is best aware of what they do.” [Qur’an, 39:69-70]
Allah will inform people about what they had done.
“On the day when He will raise them up, and then inform them about what they did. Allah enumerated it while they forgot it. And Allah is a witness over all things. Do you not see that Allah knows what is in the heavens and what is in the earth. There is not any secret counsel of three except that He is the fourth of them, nor any five except that He is the sixth of them, nor any fewer than that, nor any more, except that He is with them wherever they may be. Then, He will inform them of what they did, on the Day of Arising. Indeed, Allah knows all things. ” [Qur’an, 58:6-7]
4.2 The Balance (al-Mizan)
As we have already come to know, the World of the Hereafter is one foreign and unfamiliar to our worldly experience. In it, truth shall prevail and every individual will face what s/he sent forward. Many things that were previously intangible or abstract will become manifested as real, observable entities.
People’s very appearances on that day will betray them.
“On the day when [some] faces will become white [with radiance], and [other] faces will become black. As for those whose faces will be blackened [it will be said], ‘Did you disbelieve after your faith?! So, taste the punishment for having disbelieved!’ And, as for those whose faces shall be made white [with radiance], [they shall be] in the mercy of Allah; they shall abide therein.” [Qur’an, 3:106-107]
“The guilty ones shall be recognized by their marks, so that they shall be seized by [their] forelocks and feet.” [Qur’an, 55: 41]
Also among the things that will materialize are deeds: both good and bad:
“On the day when every soul shall be confronted with whatever good it has done. And, [as for] whatever it bad it has done, it will wish that there were a great distance between it and [its evil].” [Qur’an, 3:30]
“And they will find what they did placed before them.” [Qur’an, 18:49]
“Let not those who are miserly with that which Allah has given them of His bounty think that it is good for them. Nay, it is bad for them. That which they covetously withheld will be clasped around their necks on the Day of Resurrection. And to Allah belongs the heritage of the Heavens and the Earth. And Allah is well-acquainted with what you do.” [Qur’an, 3:180]
On the authority of Abu Umamah : he said : I heard the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) saying, “Recite the Qur’an, for it is an intercessor for its people on the Day of Resurrection, and recite the Two Radiant Ones (al-Baqarah and Aal-`Imran), for the two of them shall come on the Day of Resurrection as if they are two clouds or two canopies . . . . arguing for their people [i.e. those who recited them] on the Day of Resurrection.” [Narrated by Ahmad and Muslim]
The deeds (and/or the books of deeds) will be weighed, and this is the role of the Balance.
“And We shall lay down the equitable balances for the Day of Resurrection, so that no soul shall be wronged in the least. And, even if it be the weight of a mustard-seed, We shall produce it, and We suffice to take account.” [Qur’an, 21:47]
People themselves may also be weighed, for their true worth and substance rather than their physical size, as suggested by the following hadith:
“A big, plump [sinful] man will be brought on the Day of Judgment, [yet] he will not weigh as much as mosquito’s wing before Allah.” [Narrated by Bukhari]
“Then, whoever’s scales are heavy, they are the successful ones. And whoever’s scales are light, they are the ones who have lost themselves by denying Our signs.” [Qur’an, 7:9]
The scales of the disbelievers will be light, for their good deeds shall be rendered null and worthless.
“Say : Shall we inform you of those who are the worst losers with regard to their deeds; those whose efforts are wasted in this world, while they think that they are doing good? They are those who disbelieved in the signs of their Lord and the meeting with Him, so their deeds are void, and We do not give them any weight on the Day of Resurrection.” [Qur’an, 18:103-105]
The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) has advised us on how to fill our scales to make them heavy with good deeds. He said, “There are two statements which are light on the tongue, beloved to [Allah] The Most Gracious and heavy on the Balance : <subHaanallaahi wa-biHamdihee, subHaanallaahil-`aZeem> (Free from all imperfection is Allah, and praise to Him. Free from all imperfection is Allah, the Mighty.)” [Narrated by Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah and Ahmad]
“There is nothing which weighs more heavily in the Balance on the Day of Resurrection than good character.” [Narrated by Abu Dawud, and Tirmidhi who judged it authentic.]
4.3 The Path (al-Sirat)
The Sirat is a bridge like a sword-edge, and it spans Hell. It is referred to in the Qur’an : “And there is not any of you except that he must appear before it (Hell). It is an unavoidable decree with your Lord. Then, We shall save those who were pious, and We shall leave the guilty ones therein (humbled) on their knees.” [Qur’an, 19:71-72]
Everyone will receive light in proportion to their deeds, and will then be left to cross the Sirat. Some will traverse it, and their speeds will vary depending on the light they have. Others will fail to cross, and will fall into Hell.
Intercession is for a created being to request Allah to forgive another created being. It is a manifestation of Allah’s generosity, for He may forgive any sin other than kufr or shirk.
Allah is not compelled to accede to requests for intercession.
“On that day, no intercession will be of avail, except from those whom Allah permits [to intercede], and whose word is acceptable to Him.” [Qur’an, 20:109]
He will not accept intercession for those who died as disbelievers.
“Then, the intercession of the intercessors will not benefit them.” [Qur’an, 74:48]
Who will intercede?
1. Prophets will be permitted to intercede for their followers.
2. Angels will intercede. “How many angels are there in the heavens and the earth, whose intercession is of no avail at all, except after Allah permits whom He wills and approves.” [Qur’an, 53:26]
3. The martyr will be permitted to intercede for seventy people of his household. [Narrated by Ahmad and Tirmidhi]
4. The pious Muslim may be allowed to intercede. The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) has said,
“Whoever reads the Qur’an and implements it, such that he regarded its lawful as lawful and its prohibited as prohibited, Allah will enter him into Heaven, and grant him intercession for ten members of his household, all of whom are deserving of the Fire.” [Narrated by Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah]
After all the intercessions, some more sinful Muslims will be emancipated from the Fire by the sheer mercy of Allah. Allah will say, “The angels have interceded, the prophets have interceded and the believers have interceded. None remains but the Most Merciful of the merciful ones.” [Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim]
- Intercession will be granted to the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) for some of his ummah to enter Heaven without any reckoning. Bukhari’s narration of the Hadith of the Intercession mentions, near the end, that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), when given permission to intercede, will say, three times, “O my Lord! My ummah!” whereupon Allah will grant him this intercession.
- Intercession will be granted for some sinful Muslims who are deserving of Hell, such that they are saved from that punishment.
- Intercession will be granted for sinful Muslims who entered Hell to come out of it. The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “Every prophet has a supplication which is [guaranteed to be] answered; every [other] prophet hastened his supplication, but I have concealed my supplication for intercession for my ummah on the Day of Resurrection, and so it shall reach, Allah willing, everyone who died not associating anything with Allah.” [Narrated by Muslim] He will supplicate, “O Lord! Grant me permission [for the deliverance of] those who said ‘Laa ilaaha illallaah‘.” Then, Allah will say, “By My might and My majesty! By My grandeur and My greatness! I shall surely bring forth from [the Fire] whoever said ‘laa ilaaha illallaah‘.” [Narrated by Muslim]
- Intercession for raising of ranks within Heaven.
Each person receives a just verdict from Allah, based on their faith and deeds:
a) Those whose good outweighs their evil will enter Heaven.
b) Those whose evil and good are equal in weight will also enter Heaven, but they may have to wait for some time, during which they will see some people going to Heaven and others to Hell. According to a number of the salaf, these people are the People of A`raf. (See [Qur’an, 7:46-49]
c) Those whose evil outweighs their good are deserving of Hell. They may be punished in Hell and then taken out (through intercession or merely by Allah’s mercy) and then go to Heaven, or they may be saved from Hell altogether (either by intercession, or by Allah forgiving them.)
Those who died upon unbelief are destined for Hell. Their good deeds are now worthless (Qur’an, 5:5) (they may already have received reward for them in their worldly lives), and are of no help in getting to Heaven. One can imagine their horror and panic upon receiving their verdict, and we can see that they will (unsuccessfully) look for any possible way out:
- They will ask to be returned to the world for another chance. (See [Qur’an, 32:12])
- They will express wish to return when they see Hell, but they will be lying. (See [Qur’an, 6:27-31]).
- They will look for intercessors ( See [Qur’an, 7:53]) but intercession will not benefit them (See [Qur’an, 74:48]).
- They will falsely swear by Allah that they were not polytheists. (See [Qur’an, 6:23]
- They will cry out in vain to be brought out of Hell. (See [Qur’an, 23:106-108]
- They will ask the angels to ask Allah for lightening of the punishment for one day, but will be refused. (See [Qur’an, 40:47-50])
- They will ask Malik to ask Allah to annihilate them, but they will be refused. (See [Qur’an, 43:77])
We have mentioned earlier that there human beings have books of their worldly deeds. Receiving the book of deeds in the right hand signifies success, while receiving it in the left hand and/or behind one’s back signifies failure.
“O mankind! You are striving in your deeds towards your Lord and [towards] meeting Him. Then, as for he who is given his book in his right hand shall be reckoned an easy reckoning, and he shall return to his family members in joy. And, as for the one who is given his book in his left hand, he shall call for destruction, and shall taste of a blazing fire.” [Qur’an, 84:6-12]