Do Muslims Believe They Can “Earn” Paradise?
By Quran and Bible Blog Contributor stewjo004
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْم
“Those who believe and do the few good deeds expected of them, will have their Lord guide them because of their faith…”
A common claim by Christian missionaries is that Islam is a ‘works’ based religion (i.e. you try to ‘earn’ your way into Heaven by doing good deeds). This comes purely from ignorance of Islam’s teachings and is part of the propaganda to promote “Christianity as the ‘only’ religion that is based on faith to get into Heaven and therefore it’s the truth because of this unique belief”. In this article we will explore this argument and see if this is true.
Islam is also based on faith –
To begin, let’s first refute the claim that Islam believes a person can earn his/her way to Heaven. What’s good for us is we have several narrations that directly relate to this topic:
“A man in the past worshipped Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) continuously for 500 years. He was granted a shelter on top of a mountain that was surrounded by salty water. However, Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) caused a stream of sweet water to flow through the mountain for that individual. The man would drink from this water and use it to make ablution. Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) also raised a pomegranate tree from which the man would eat one fruit every day.
One day, this person supplicated to Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) that, “Oh Allah (سبحانه وتعالى), bring my death while I am in the state of prostration.” Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) accepted this dua of his. Whenever Jibreel (عليه السلام) came down to the Earth, he found this man prostrating to Allah (سبحانه وتعالى). Jibreel (عليه السلام) said that on the day of Judgement, Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) will tell the angels to take this individual to Paradise through His mercy. However, this man will insist that he should enter paradise through the good deeds that he had performed.
Then, Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) will tell the angels to compare his good deeds with the blessings that were given to him in the world. It will be seen that 500 years of his worship does not even equal to the gift of eye sight that was given to him by Allah (سبحانه وتعالى). The angels will be asked to take him toward the hell fire. Then the man will plead, “Oh Allah (سبحانه وتعالى)! Enter me into Paradise only through Your mercy.” At that point, the following discussion will take place between Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) and that man.
Allah (سبحانه وتعالى): Oh my servant, who created you?
The worshipper: Oh Allah (سبحانه وتعالى), You have created me.
Allah (سبحانه وتعالى): Were you created because of the good deeds you have done or because of My mercy?
The worshipper: Because of Your mercy.
Allah (سبحانه وتعالى): Who granted you the ability to worship for 500 years?
The worshipper: Oh the Almighty! You have granted me that ability.
Allah (سبحانه وتعالى): Who placed you on the mountain surrounded by the ocean? Who caused a stream of sweet water to flow in between the salty water? Who caused a pomegranate tree to grow for you? Who granted you death while in the state of prostration?
The worshipper: Oh the Sustainer of the Worlds! You have done all of these.
Then Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) will say, “All these have happened due to My mercy and you too will enter Paradise only through My Mercy.”
As can be seen, this alone is enough to refute the claim, but let’s explore a few more narrations:
“Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying: None amongst you can get into Paradise by virtue of his deeds alone. They said: Allah’s Messenger, not even you? Thereupon he said: Not even I, but that Allah should wrap me in His Grace and Mercy.”
“Narrated ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin Al-‘As that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “Indeed Allah will distinguish a man from my Ummah before all of creation on the Day of Judgement. Ninety-nine scrolls will be laid out for him, each scroll is as far as the eye can see, then He will say: ‘Do you deny any of this? Have those who recorded this wronged you?’ He will say: ‘No, O Lord!’ He will say: Do you have an excuse?’ He will say: ‘No, O Lord!’ So He will say: ‘Rather you have a good deed with us, so you shall not be wronged today.” Then He will bring out a card (Bitaqah); on it will be: “I testify to La Ilaha Illallah, and I testify that Muhammad is His servant and Messenger.” He will say: ‘Bring your scales.’ He will say: ‘O Lord! What good is this card next to these scrolls?’ He will say: ‘You shall not be wronged.’ He said: ‘The scrolls will be put on a pan (of the scale), and the card on (the other) pan: the scrolls will be light, and the card will be heavy, nothing is heavier than the Name of Allah.’”
So yes, Islam teaches that believers should do good deeds, but Muslims do not believe that we can use them as some bargaining chip with God on the Day of Judgment, because the reality is nothing we do is enough to show the proper thanks to God for all the blessings He has and continues to bestow on us. Paradise is awarded only because of God’s mercy and love. However, just because we are saved by His mercy and love does NOT mean we go around acting self-righteous, and stop doing good or performing voluntary acts to get closer to God.
What the above narrations are discussing is not to not feel entitled to a reward as a result of our actions. In fact, God tells us in the Quran that it was because of Him that we were guided and it is because of Him that we were able to perform the good in the first place. Therefore, our reliance should be solely on Him. In Surah Al-Araf, God describes the people’s situation in Heaven:
“I will pull out all secret ill feelings from their chest; underneath their feet streams will flow and they will say: “All the praise and thanks belongs to God, who guided us to this! Had God not guided us, we would never have found the way! The Messengers of our Lord really did come with the Truth…” A voice will announce to them: “This is the Garden you have inherited because of all the work you used to do.”
Notice that the people in Heaven are not bragging about their good deeds, but rather praising God for guiding them. God out of His appreciation for their faith and doing good gave them the gift of Paradise:
“So whoever does good deeds and is a believer, their efforts will not be ignored, I am recording them for them.”
“There they will hear no vain or lying talk. A reward from your Lord, a fitting gift.”
The question may arise: so why do good? To put it simply, we do good deeds as an expression of faith. Actions are a reflection of what is in our heart. For example, I can say I love somebody but if I beat them every day, it is seriously suspect if I truly love them. We do not do good to obtain some righteous standard that admits us into Heaven. Worship in Islam is done solely to please God. We perform our acts of worship because we were commanded to do them:
“It was narrated that ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr said: ‘The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: ‘Adhere to righteousness even though you will not be able to do all acts of virtue…’”
Now it is true that none of us are infallible and that we all sin. Where we differ from Christians in viewing sin is that God knew we were going to sin when He created us. What sin allows us to do is repent and come back to God seeking His mercy and forgiveness, which is something God absolutely loves:
“Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) having said: ‘By Him in Whose Hand is my life, if you were not to commit sin, Allah would sweep you out of existence and He would replace (you by) those people who would commit sin and seek forgiveness from Allah, and He would have pardoned them.’”
To further prove that the act of worship is simply a by-product of faith, we must remember that in Islam, for the good deed to be accepted by God, there are two things that have to be there:
- The proper intention.
- It is done in accordance with what God has legislated.
If either of these are missing, God rejects the act of worship. So if we were doing mindless deeds, such as mindlessly rushing through prayer or helping someone only so that they will hurry up, thinking that we would still receive the reward, this is not the case.
So to sum everything up:
- Islam is based on faith, not works.
- Doing good is a by-product of having faith.
- Don’t listen to people who have no idea what they’re talking about.
 Surah Yusuf, 10:9.
 Bayhaqi & Al-Hakim.
 Sahih Muslim, 39:6764.
 Jami At-Tirmidhi, 5:38:2639. Classified as “Sahih” by Darussalam.
 Surah Al-Araf, 7:43.
 Surah Al-Anbiya, 21:94.
 Surah An-Naba, 78:35-36.
 Sunan Ibn Majah, 1:1:277. Classed as “Hasan” by Darussalam.
 Sahih Muslim, 37:6622.