Classical Sunni eschatology maintains that all those who believe that God is one will enter the Garden of Paradise in due time. Some monotheists may first have to endure punishment and purification in the Fire for their sins, but those with even the least grain of belief will eventually enter the Garden as their reward. Conversely, unbelievers and those who associate partners with God (mushrikūn) will spend eternity in Hell-Fire as retribution for their unforgivable error.1 Classical Sunnism supports punishment of unbelievers and associators in unending Fire with many verses from the Qur’ān. However, its fundamental warrant for this doctrine is not the Qur’ān but consensus (ijmā‘). The classical Sunni principle of consensus affirms that when the scholars of the Muslim community have agreed on a matter — that Islam has Five Pillars, for example — it is no longer open to discussion.2 So, the claim here is that the Muslim community has reached a binding consensus that punishment of unbelievers in the Fire will never cease.3
This claim has not gone uncontested. In copious writings on the duration of the Fire, the Damascene theologian Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (d. 751/1350) — the leading student of the famed Ḥanbali jurist Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328) — presents what may well be the most forthright challenge to the alleged consensus on this doctrine in medieval Islamic thought. The case for the limited duration of chastisement in the Fire did receive careful consideration earlier on as is evident in the vast Qur’ān commentary of Fakhr al-D?n al-Rāz? (d. 606/1209).4 Nonetheless, Ibn al-Qayyim's discussions appear to be unprecedented in their thoroughness and length. In his argumentation, the Fire no longer functions retributively to punish as in the classical doctrine but therapeutically to cleanse from sins, even the sins of unbelief (kufr) and associationism (shirk). Does then the punishment of unbelievers come to an end? Does the Fire pass away when its purposes have been attained? As we will see, some scholars have concluded that Ibn al-Qayyim answers these questions affirmatively to yield a doctrine of universal salvation. Yet, closer examination of his texts shows that coming to this conclusion is not as simple as it first appears.
This article investigates three lengthy discussions on the duration of punishment and the Fire by Ibn al-Qayyim that come from the later years of his life. These three have emerged in recent controversial literature as the fullest and most significant of Ibn al-Qayyim's deliberations on the topic.5 I have not undertaken an exhaustive search for additional treatments elsewhere in Ibn al-Qayyim's vast corpus, and no attempt is made here to provide a comprehensive overview of his thought on this subject. Rather, this study seeks to clarify Ibn al-Qayyim's views in the key texts under consideration, note debts to his teacher Ibn Taymiyya, and explore the means by which he circumvents the classical Sunni consensus.
Hoover, J. (2009). Islamic universalism: Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya's Salafī deliberations on the duration of Hell-Fire. Muslim World, 99(1), doi:10.1111/j.1478-1913.2009.01260.x