In any religion, one of the fundamental issues is that of destiny. By this I mean what happens after we die? Do we go to be with God? If so, under what circumstances are we granted entrance into heaven? In a previous article, I contrasted what Islam taught about Muhammad and what Christianity taught about Jesus regarding their respective destinies. In this article, this issue will be probed even more fully.
In the Qur’an, the following verse tells Muhammad he should be uncertain regarding his future,
[46.9] Say: I am not the first of the apostles, and I do not know what will be done with me or with you: I do not follow anything but that which is revealed to me, and I am nothing but a plain warner.
The idea that Muhammad is unsure of his own salvation should and often does cause anxiety for Muslims who want to go to heaven in the afterlife. After all, if Muhammad himself couldn’t be certain of his eternal destiny, how much less hope is there for the average workaday Muslim. For this reason, many recent Islamic apologists restrict the interpretation of the passage above to refer to this life only. But such a limited interpretation disregards a variety of Islamic traditions. In Sahih Bukhari, the most trusted Hadith, one of the early Muslims was discussing whether her father would reside in heaven or Hell. Muhammad expressly stated that nobody could be certain of anyone’s final destination, even that of himself. Muhammad stated that “By Allah, though I am the Apostle of Allah, yet I do not know what Allah will do to me,”[i] This Hadith is reported through several chains of narration, so it’s authenticity is as strong as it gets.
Some Islamic commentators have tried to backpedal by saying that surely Muhammad must have known his own eternal destiny. They contrive a variety of arguments to put forth such a position. Yet viewing the Hadith forces them to admit the verse of the Qur’an cited earlier refers to things eternal rather than events of Muhammad’s life. As an example, in an attempt to explain away the troublesome ambiguities of Muhammad’s final destiny, Bassam Zawadi undermines his own arguments by offering these comments,
… it appears to me that the context of the hadeeth in Saheeh Bukhari makes it appear that the Prophet (peace be upon him) is speaking about how he doesn’t know what will happen to him in the Hereafter. [ii]
At best, Muhammad’s final destination is ambiguous when viewing it through the lens of Islamic theology. However, a careful and unbiased reading of all the relevant sources points to the likelihood that Muhammad had no assurance of salvation.
I have already contrasted this with what Jesus said about Himself (John 11:25) and where He was going (John 14:2-3, John 16:28). Yet as always, let’s go down the road less traveled. What does Islam teach about Jesus and His final destiny? Given that Muhammad’s eternal destiny is ambiguous, surely the same vagaries must exist within Islam with respect to Jesus as well.
The Qur’an has a number of passages which discuss Jesus. This first one says that Jesus is worthy of regard in the hereafter,
[3.45] When the angels said: O Marium, surely Allah gives you good news with a Word from Him (of one) whose name is the Messiah, Isa son of Marium, worthy of regard in this world and the hereafter and of those who are made near (to Allah).
One early Islamic commentator, ibn Kathir, even went so far as to interpret this verse to mean that Jesus will be so close to Allah as to intercede for His followers. Yet the Qur’an contains an even more explicit statement that Jesus is in paradise in the following verse,
[3.55] And when Allah said: O Isa, I am going to terminate the period of your stay (on earth) and cause you to ascend unto Me and purify you of those who disbelieve and make those who follow you above those who disbelieve to the day of resurrection; then to Me shall be your return, so l will decide between you concerning that in which you differed.
Here the Qur’an flatly states that when Jesus’ time on earth is finished, Allah will cause Jesus to ascend to heaven. There is no other way to read this and numerous Hadith back up this plain interpretation. No amount of verbal trickery can reinterpret this verse to mean anything other than what it says. While the fate of all Muslims and even that of Muhammad is in peril, the Qur’an itself makes it explicitly evident that Jesus’ final destination is known; He is in heaven with absolute certainty.
To recap, even the Islamic sources themselves are obscure at best regarding Muhammad’s destination, intimating that he cannot know where he would end up. Yet the very same sources testify that Jesus is in heaven! This should be an eye-opener. As a Muslim, which of these two that Islam calls prophets would you prefer to follow?