Surah 99 (Al-Zalzalah/The Earthquake): 4-8

4. That Day she [the earth] shall convey her chronicles,
5. For the Lord inspired her.
6. That Day mankind shall issue forth upon diverse paths to witness their deeds.
7. So whosoever does a mote’s weight of good we shall see it,
8. And whosoever does a mote’s weight of evil we shall see it.


It will be recalled that throughout a person’s life their virtuous and sinful deeds will have been meticulously recorded in books by angels on their right and left shoulders 〈14.〉 Surah 83 states that ‘the book of the profligate’ is kept in Sijjin (literally ‘a prison’), {83.6}, sometimes imagined to lie deep in the depths of the earth; and the books of the pious in Illiyuun, {83.18}, (literally ‘high places’) At judgment the books shall be scrutinised and audited after which each person shall be handed their individual report. The first indication that a person receives of their fate shall be whether the book is proffered for them to take in their right or left hand. This shall convey to them the preponderance of good or evil in their deeds, and the sentence that they shall receive, {69.19-29}.


At judgement, God ‘shall raise up a witness from every community’, {4.41}, {16.85}, {28.85}, {33.45} and {57.19}, and ‘whosoever is given his book in his right hand’ shall be called ‘by their imam’, {17.71}. Jesus is named as witness for all the People of the Book:

{4.159} There is not one of the People of the Book, but will surely believe in (Jesus) before his death, and on the Day of Resurrection he will be a witness against them,

whilst Muhammad shall be a witness for the community of those that believe in him, {2.143} and {22.78}. Those being judged will not be permitted to present a defence, {16.85}, {30.57}, {45.35}. Instead, those being damned will stand helpless as ‘their tongues, their hands and their feet’, {24.24}, or in {41.19-24} their ears, their eyes and their skins’, ’shall give witness against them for that which they used to do.’ In any event, any speech would be futile since, as the Qur’an ominously warns:

{50.16} We did indeed create man, and We know what his soul whispers to him, and We are nearer to him than his jugular vein.

See also {8.24}.


When judgment is delivered it shall be one of four possible outcomes. {56.7-56} describes three of these verdicts. One may be judged to be amongst ‘the foremost’, or else the ‘companions of the right’; in either of which cases one shall all be admitted to the Gardens of Paradise, the former enjoying a superior reward there compared to that granted to the latter 〈99.〉The companions of the left’ though are condemned to the Hellfire 〈100.〉 Some people, constituting a fourth category, are those destined for the Heights, see 〈98.〉, whose ultimate fate the Qur’an does not disclose.


There is no consensus in Islam as to the criteria either for salvation or for inclusion within the foremost, who are described as ‘many from those of old, and few from those of later times’, {56.13-14}. Throughout the Qur’an the promise of heaven and threat of hell are frequently directed towards ‘believers’ and ‘unbelievers’ respectively, in verses such as:

{10.103}: ‘We save our messengers and those who believe. Thus, is it incumbent upon Us to save believers’,


{3.116}: ’Truly those who disbelieve neither their wealth nor their children will avail them aught against God. They are the inhabitants of the Fire, abiding therein’,


{5.72}: ‘They certainly disbelieve, those who say: ‘Truly God is the Messiah, son of Mary ...  Surely whosoever ascribes partners unto God, God has forbidden him the Garden, and his refuge shall be the Fire. And the wrongdoers shall have no helpers.’

However, as stated in {49.14}, see 〈87.〉 above, God appears to offer some reduced measure of salvation for mere submission even unaccompanied by actual faith.


Many other verses, such as {99.7-8} (produced above), describe a careful balancing of deeds, so that ‘every soul is held in pledge for what it has earned’, {52.21} and {74.38}, similarly {13.33}. This implies a judgment according to works rather than by faith alone. Although none can be certain how this tallying of good and bad deeds will be conducted, it seems implicit from the metaphor of ‘weighing’ that a person’s good deeds, including prayer, might outweigh their bad: ‘Truly good deeds remove those that are evil’, {11.114}.


More common, though, is the suggestion that where believers ‘mix righteous deeds with others that are evil’ the good do not outweigh or remove the bad, but for those who try to reform ‘it may be that God will relent unto them’, {9.102}. See {5.65}, {8.29}, {29.7}, {47.2}, {48.5}, {64.9} and {65.5}. Some of these verses adopt an encouraging, reassuring tone:

{5.65}: ‘Had the People of the Book believed and been reverent, We would surely have absolved them of their evil deeds and caused them to enter the Gardens of bliss’, and


{8.29}: ‘O you who believe! If you reverence God He will make for you a criterion and absolve you of your evil deeds and forgive you. And God is possessed of Tremendous Bounty

but none quite amounts to a promise. The words of {4.31}:

{4.31} If you shun the grave sins that you are forbidden, we shall absolve you of your evil deeds and cause you to enter at a noble gate.

seem hopeful, but must leave a worrying uncertainty as to what, God may consider to be ‘the grave sins’ that He will never forgive.


{66.8} introduces a further element, familiar to Christians, of forgiveness in response to repentance:

{66.8} O you who believe! Repent unto God with sincere repentance. It may be that your Lord will absolve you of your evil deeds and cause you to enter the Gardens with rivers running below – the Day when God will not disgrace the Prophet and those who believe with him, with their light spreading before them and on their right, while they say ‘Our Lord complete our light for us and forgive us.


Yet God’s forgiveness in the Qur’an is expressed as being more sparingly granted than is the case in the gospels:

{4.17} God only accepts the repentance of those who do evil in ignorance and then turn quickly in repentance.

These are the ones unto whom God relents and God is Knowing, Wise,

and, in order to emphasise God’s absolute power, His forgiveness in response to repentance, as with His balancing good deeds against bad, is always couched as a residual discretion rather than a promise: God ‘forgives whomsoever He will and punishes whomsoever he will’, {48.14}, also {2.105 & 284}, {3.129} and {5.18}. For the Qur’an’s view of what makes a deed good or evil see 〈84.〉


Seeking intercession from intermediaries on the Last Day is repeatedly dismissed as being of no assistance, {2.48 & 123}, {39.43-44} and {74.48} (‘the intercession of the intercessors will avail thee not’), although these apparently absolute statements are rendered equivocal by other similar verses that add the provisos:

‘…Save (from) the one who has made a pact with the Compassionate’, {19.47}

‘Save by His Leave’, {2.255}, {20.109}, {21.28}, {34.23} and {53.26},

‘…Save (from) such as have borne witness to the truth’, {43.86}, and

the throne bearer angels, {40.7} 〈14.〉

How select this group of intercessors is illustrated by the fact that Noah was chastised for seeking forgiveness of his son 20.and Abraham was only excused his intercession for his father (which is apparently unsuccessful) on the basis that it had been made in order to fulfil an oath 21.The Qur’an’s announcer himself, as one might expect, has been granted leave to intercede for believers prior to judgment upon them being pronounced, {9.113}, also {3.159} and {24.62}. Indeed, in {4.64} he advises his followers that his word will carry significance weight: ‘If the Messenger had sought forgiveness for them they would surely have found God Relenting, Merciful’.


The Qur’an, several times, refers to ‘those who believe and do good works’, {4.124}, {5.9}, {16.97}, {42.26} and {103.3}, as though both faith (or possibly mere submission) and a preponderance of good works over evil are each independently required for salvation.


All of the above verses lead to obvious scope for disagreement within Islam over whether salvation is gained by faith, works, both faith and works together, submission or repentance, and in what circumstances one might hope that intercessions or throwing oneself upon God’s mercy will be effective.


To add yet one more complication, as has been seen in 〈18.〉 Causation, many verses describe God ‘leading men astray’, ‘sealing their hearts’, ‘making men for Hell’, etc. These verses have historically caused many Muslim theologians to adopt a predestinarian outlook, although there is good reason to doubt that this was intended by the Qur’an’s author, who loses no opportunity to denounce his enemies for their sinfulness.


Given the extraordinarily graphic descriptions of Paradise and the Hellfire, see 〈99.〉 and 〈100.〉, the issue of salvation to a believing Muslims with a sinful past could hardly be of more urgent anxiety. concern. The only certainty in Quranic soteriology would seem to be that the šhahīd, those who fight jihad, will be admitted to Paradise, and that those who die whilst so engaged will be so admitted from the moment of their death 〈95.〉