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In the Name of God بسم الله

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I'm trying to gather some information on hell-fire, I'd like to know of any non-literalist views on what the fire may be/ representing.

Any info, personal view or from a particular source would be great

Thanks

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I'm trying to gather some information on hell-fire, I'd like to know of any non-literalist views on what the fire may be/ representing.

Any info, personal view or from a particular source would be great

Thanks

I think there are problems on several fronts in regards to what you are trying to look for.

I am not a Muslim (clearly) and usually i refrain from commenting on most threads outside the interfaith/philosophy section unless i have something substantial to add or have a sizeable interest in the topic. So, again not a Muslim. I have read a lot of theology and philosophy, so, I’ll just add a few points.

Look to other religions first.

In Judaism, in the written torah (aka the old testament of the bible, just the written torah none of the later traditions), Hell is almost not mentioned at all. Hell as we think of it as a place of fire with Satan does not exist in the Torah. There are a very very small number of lines (I’m talking under 10) describing a state of distance from God, certainly not the retribution and pain when we think of hell though. A recent article i read by a rabbi implied this place is sort of like a cleansing process and that is it, there’s no real punishment. It went on to say that no one would stay at this distance from God for longer than a year and very good people might get an "overnight dry-cleaning service". So, no real fire or punishment, just a distance from God. Obviously, that last bit is just the interpretation of a particular rabbi.

Christians have mainly a false image of their version of hell. Growing up as a Christian, i thought like many people of the fire, brimstone and pitchforks. I was a Catholic and depending where you live they sometimes range towards the more liberal side in regards to theology (as opposed to the very conservative protestants, Baptists, etc. you find in North America). Therefore, this wasn't emphasised to us all that much, indeed, according to the church, non-Christians can still go to heaven if they are good enough. The image most people have though is barely in the bible at all. It is actually mostly the creation of artists from the renaissance and other times, it is mostly an artistic embellishment. If you look in the actual bible, there are comparatively few verses describing the Christian hell and those that do are not very clear.

Compared to the fairly muddy and abstract idea of hell we see in Christianity, Islam seems to have it fairly well defined in comparison. You will find many more descriptions and mentions of hell in the Quran than the entire Torah and Bible combined. This is what i have noticed from my own personal experience. The first time i opened a Quran i was astounded just by the number of times "the fire", "hell", "hellfire" or other similar things were mentioned, just in the first surah too!. The description is much better and more concrete than the above two religions. It could be something i remembered wrong but it goes as far to say some of the tortures that go on such as having boiling lead poured down your throat. Many Christians have this kind of image as well but the important thing to note is the bible says nothing like this, it’s all artistic license.

Therefore, just on the basis of how many times it is mentioned and just how vivid the description is (compared to the other two religions as well) it is fairly hard to be non-literal about it.

The Bible is not the work of God. It is the work of human people, over decades, inspired by God. The Quran on the other hand is quite literally the work of God. God spoke to Muhammad and Muhammad spoke to his scribes who then wrote it down. Supposedly, there is an exact unchanged copy of the Quran around. For Christians, it is fairly easy to be liberal. It's the work of human hands, western civilization went through the enlightment and other periods like that which really opened up public discourse, and people were no long afraid to challenge the status quo. In my opinion, such an event did not occur in the Islamic civilizations. It is both a cause and a symptom i think. One also asks why such movements never gained the widespread popularity as they did in the Christian world. I think part of the reason is the fact the Quran is the literal word of God. If you are challenging the Quran, it is tantamount to challenging God (I'm sure its no big shock that i would like to see liberal movements arise like they have in Christianity but considering the theology in Islam, i dont know if it will happen).

It is a lot easier with the bible where you can claim the authors were just being poetic or speaking in metaphors. It is a lot easier to pick and choose where to be literal and where to be non-literal. Especially since it is written by different authors, with different situations, in different times.

The Quran, one author, we all know who that is. It is a bit more hard to claim God was being artistic or speaking in metaphors relevant for the time since that is not the nature of God.

Just in regards to hell, there are almost no good descriptions of it in Judaism or Christianity, so, its fairly easy to interpret the vague statements there. However, in Islam you have mentions not only of hell but also of the punishments that will take place like having your eyes gouged out or having lead poured down your throat. It is hard to see those punishments as anything but literal words. I find it very difficult to see how anyone could interpret those as some kind of metaphor or non-literal event; it is a very, very big stretch. I'm talking college English major stretch...interpreting little things in the book into big things that aren't there. You do not have to like it but I’m convinced in regards to Islamic theology, especially in light of the mention of specific punishments, hell is a literal place. You do not have to like it (although there might be a problem with your beliefs or how you take them) but you cannot just make stuff up either.

Obviously, everyone is non-literal to a certain degree. Sometimes in religious texts its said that God has hands or touched something or has spoken. Interpreted literally you might think he has a physical hand or mouth or something. Obviously, this is not the case. Therefore, no one is super-literal. The problem with being interpretative and non-literal is where do you start and more importantly, where do you stop? Alright, you think hell is non-literal and just a metaphor but that opens up the gates for almost everything in the Quran to be the same.

Here is a thread i made awhile ago about liberal islam and literalism, it might interest you.

Here is a thread about hell.

Edited by kingpomba

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I think there are problems on several fronts in regards to what you are trying to look for.

I am not a Muslim (clearly) and usually i refrain from commenting on most threads outside the interfaith/philosophy section unless i have something substantial to add or have a sizeable interest in the topic. So, again not a Muslim. I have read a lot of theology and philosophy, so, I’ll just add a few points.

Look to other religions first.

In Judaism, in the written torah (aka the old testament of the bible, just the written torah none of the later traditions), Hell is almost not mentioned at all. Hell as we think of it as a place of fire with Satan does not exist in the Torah. There are a very very small number of lines (I’m talking under 10) describing a state of distance from God, certainly not the retribution and pain when we think of hell though. A recent article i read by a rabbi implied this place is sort of like a cleansing process and that is it, there’s no real punishment. It went on to say that no one would stay at this distance from God for longer than a year and very good people might get an "overnight dry-cleaning service". So, no real fire or punishment, just a distance from God. Obviously, that last bit is just the interpretation of a particular rabbi.

Christians have mainly a false image of their version of hell. Growing up as a Christian, i thought like many people of the fire, brimstone and pitchforks. I was a Catholic and depending where you live they sometimes range towards the more liberal side in regards to theology (as opposed to the very conservative protestants, Baptists, etc. you find in North America). Therefore, this wasn't emphasised to us all that much, indeed, according to the church, non-Christians can still go to heaven if they are good enough. The image most people have though is barely in the bible at all. It is actually mostly the creation of artists from the renaissance and other times, it is mostly an artistic embellishment. If you look in the actual bible, there are comparatively few verses describing the Christian hell and those that do are not very clear.

Compared to the fairly muddy and abstract idea of hell we see in Christianity, Islam seems to have it fairly well defined in comparison. You will find many more descriptions and mentions of hell in the Quran than the entire Torah and Bible combined. This is what i have noticed from my own personal experience. The first time i opened a Quran i was astounded just by the number of times "the fire", "hell", "hellfire" or other similar things were mentioned, just in the first surah too!. The description is much better and more concrete than the above two religions. It could be something i remembered wrong but it goes as far to say some of the tortures that go on such as having boiling lead poured down your throat. Many Christians have this kind of image as well but the important thing to note is the bible says nothing like this, it’s all artistic license.

Therefore, just on the basis of how many times it is mentioned and just how vivid the description is (compared to the other two religions as well) it is fairly hard to be non-literal about it.

The Bible is not the work of God. It is the work of human people, over decades, inspired by God. The Quran on the other hand is quite literally the work of God. God spoke to Muhammad and Muhammad spoke to his scribes who then wrote it down. Supposedly, there is an exact unchanged copy of the Quran around. For Christians, it is fairly easy to be liberal. It's the work of human hands, western civilization went through the enlightment and other periods like that which really opened up public discourse, and people were no long afraid to challenge the status quo. In my opinion, such an event did not occur in the Islamic civilizations. It is both a cause and a symptom i think. One also asks why such movements never gained the widespread popularity as they did in the Christian world. I think part of the reason is the fact the Quran is the literal word of God. If you are challenging the Quran, it is tantamount to challenging God (I'm sure its no big shock that i would like to see liberal movements arise like they have in Christianity but considering the theology in Islam, i dont know if it will happen).

It is a lot easier with the bible where you can claim the authors were just being poetic or speaking in metaphors. It is a lot easier to pick and choose where to be literal and where to be non-literal. Especially since it is written by different authors, with different situations, in different times.

The Quran, one author, we all know who that is. It is a bit more hard to claim God was being artistic or speaking in metaphors relevant for the time since that is not the nature of God.

Just in regards to hell, there are almost no good descriptions of it in Judaism or Christianity, so, its fairly easy to interpret the vague statements there. However, in Islam you have mentions not only of hell but also of the punishments that will take place like having your eyes gouged out or having lead poured down your throat. It is hard to see those punishments as anything but literal words. I find it very difficult to see how anyone could interpret those as some kind of metaphor or non-literal event; it is a very, very big stretch. I'm talking college English major stretch...interpreting little things in the book into big things that aren't there. You do not have to like it but I’m convinced in regards to Islamic theology, especially in light of the mention of specific punishments, hell is a literal place. You do not have to like it (although there might be a problem with your beliefs or how you take them) but you cannot just make stuff up either.

Obviously, everyone is non-literal to a certain degree. Sometimes in religious texts its said that God has hands or touched something or has spoken. Interpreted literally you might think he has a physical hand or mouth or something. Obviously, this is not the case. Therefore, no one is super-literal. The problem with being interpretative and non-literal is where do you start and more importantly, where do you stop? Alright, you think hell is non-literal and just a metaphor but that opens up the gates for almost everything in the Quran to be the same.

Here is a thread i made awhile ago about liberal islam and literalism, it might interest you.

Here is a thread about hell.

Thanks for your comprehensive reply, firstly I wasn't aware that there was that little mention of hell in the Torah and Bible. 

What you spoke of about the Rabbi is something that makes sense to me ... That should result in the greatest of pain the inability to receive the mercy of God, I attended an Islamic lecture where the orator sort of touched on that concept and also discussed that perhaps when we enter the new dimension of after life 'bad deeds' are sort of repelled , it causes almost a painful type friction against this new environment. 

There is a lot of mention of punishment and hell in the Quran (as there is paradise and luxury). So regards the number of times paradise or hell is mentioned, seems to me to show the Qurans prerogative to explicitly remind us about the reppurcusions of what our actions will bear, thus the frequent mention you cant miss the message, regards the actual threats and promises being outlined, well i still think there is room for a non literalist view or at least a middle stance, when you say its not in Gods nature to communicate in this direct way, I think it's perfect sense to, if the messaage has to be understood by all, well it may as well start at the basics... Everyone of all backgrounds and intellect can at least gather a simple conclusion from imagery association of hell, punishments and heaven , to motivate them at a very basic level to do good and avoid bad, I still want to believe these are metaphors for man to affiliate with only, and what is in the hereafter , good or bad is out of our comprehension , rather the feelings of fear , retribution and despair we have when we hear some of those punishments is what we should perhaps grasp onto instead of the actual punishment itself?.. we will after all have a different body with completely different senses ...

The first time I started to think of hell in a different way was when I read the alchemy of happiness by Al- Ghazali which touched slightly on this in the chapter 'knowledge Of the next world'

Oh and regards metaphors and where to start and stop , I think we should look at the implications of taking something as literal or metaphorical as opposed to just shy away from it to be on the safe side , for example, if I read the Quran and see that God is referred to as a 'he' and he sits on a throne if I take it literally it degrades my understanding of the absoluteness of God a metaphorical understanding however allows me to understand that he has a , high station and the throne is representative of something and that's what I should take from it, on this topic however , wether I take the hell descriptions literally , i.e that I may be engulfed with flames and made to drink boiling water if I enter hell ( God forbid ) or instead if I grasp the notion of extreme awful conditions and repercussions for bad deeds in hell but not as exactly as described, still holds the same message as the former understanding ie refrain from bad , I think finding somewhere in the middle of literal and metaphor can give a clear understanding when it comes to descriptions in Quran 

I look forward to reading your other threads

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