Addressing the Argument: Confusion... Do Muslims Enter Heaven Based on Their Good Works or Not?
In Surah 7:43 and 16:32 it states that believers enter paradise based on their good works, however in Saheeh Muslim, Book 39, Number 6762 the Prophet (peace be upon him) said that our deeds won’t save us, but rather Allah’s Mercy. Isn’t this a contradiction?
There are a number of ways in which this apparent difficulty may be addressed. Below are some of the opinions of the scholars (orthodox and deviant included)…
One: Good works in and of themselves are not a cause for entering paradise, unless Allah out of His Mercy and Grace causes them to be. The fact that you were able to do these good works resulting in Paradise being a reward is only due to Allah’s Mercy and Grace allowing that to occur. Similarly, it was Allah’s offer of protection, which made you avoid sinful acts. Hence, salvation is in reality a result of Allah’s Mercy and Grace. In summary… works are a cause for admittance into paradise in conformity with the Qur'anic verses, however works are from God’s Mercy (for enabling us to do them), hence God’s Mercy is the ultimate cause for admittance into paradise (in conformity with the hadith). Without God’s Mercy, the works of human beings would be empty and would not be of value for consideration when the salvation of an individual is being determined.
Two: The Qur’anic verses surely affirm that works are a cause for admittance into paradise just as bad deeds are a cause for admittance into hell, however the Prophet’s statement in the hadith entails that paradise is not a deserving compensation for the good works we do. In other words, we can’t expect that our good works are somehow deserving of paradise as a result. For instance, if you pay 2 dollars for a Pepsi can, you view that you have earned the Pepsi can because you paid for it. What the Prophet (peace be upon him) is saying is that our works are not deserving of Paradise, since the works we offer are too small in comparison to the reward of paradise. We also have sins and we must rely on God’s Mercy and Grace to erase our sins so that He may admit us into paradise. In summary…. Allah will reward us with paradise because we did good works as the Qur’an states, however our good works are not deserving of paradise in return as if paradise were some sort of compensation.
Three: Works on their own aren’t enough to get you into paradise, however works play a role in determining which level in paradise you enter. The Qur’anic verses in question are to be restricted in terms of discussing levels in paradise.
Four: The Qur’anic verses in question are metaphorical and are to be understood in light of the hadith. So the Qur’an only makes good works a “sign” or “symbol” to recognize those who enter paradise and not that they actually entered paradise because of their good works.
Five: The Qur’anic verses are talking about good works which have been accepted by God (i.e. that they entered paradise because their good works got accepted), while the hadith was talking about good works in and of themselves before even being accepted by God.
Six: What the heretical Qadariyah (i.e. Mu'tazilite) sect said and that is that the person earns paradise with his good works and that paradise is a deserving compensation.
Seven: What the heretical Jabbariyah sect said and that is that good works are completely irrelevant and that it’s strictly only up to God’s Will to decide whether you enter paradise, regardless of whatever it is you do (i.e. what you do plays zero role in God’s judgment of you).
Strongest Views (Bassam Zawadi's opinion)
Options no. 1, 2 and 5 appear to be reasonable options one may opt for.
Option no. 3 seems adhoc, despite the meaning of the interpretation being correct.
Option no. 4 doesn't seem to be a necessary route to take at all. There is no reason to take these passages metaphorically when there exists a reasonable reconciliation when they are taken on their plain reading.
Options no. 6 & 7 are clearly baseless and false without even needing to know that they have come from deviant groups.
- الأحاديث المشكلة الواردة في تفسير القرآن الكريم عرض ودراسة, by أحمد بن عبد العزيز بن مقرن القصير, pages 232-242
- أحاديث العقيدة المتوهم إشكالها في الصحيحين, by سليمان بن محمد الدبيخي, pages 382-386