The majority of us have heard of this hadith: Narrated Jabir ibn Abdullah: A man came to the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) and said: Messenger of Allah, what are the two things quite unavoidable? He who dies without associating anyone with Allah would (necessarily ) enter Paradise and he who dies associating anything with Allah would enter the (fire of) Hell. Sahih Bukhari: Book 1, Number 0168
As a result of knowing this, we assume that as long as we are Muslims, the fire will be prohibited to us, but few of us think much about the other hadiths which talk about Muslims in the hellfire. It would seem that the two are mutually incompatible, but they are not. Muslims who pray and fast will be in the Hellfire, even though they did not associate anything with Allah. How can this be? Simple, for them the fire is a temporary punishment, not a permanent one as it is for the one who associates partners with Allah.
Many hadiths talk about the Muslim in the Hellfire, such as:
Narrated AbuSa'id al-Khudri: The Messenger of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) said: The (permanent) inhabitants of the Fire are those who are doomed to it, and verily they would neither die nor live in it. But the people whom the Fire would afflict (temporarily) on account of their sins, or so said (the narrator) "on account of their misdeeds," He would cause them to die till they would be turned into charcoal. Then they would be granted intercession and would be brought in groups and would be spread on the rivers of Paradise and then it would be said: O inhabitants of Paradise, pour water over them; then they would sprout forth like the sprouting of seed in the silt carried by flood... Sahih Bukhari: Book 1, Number 0357:
Allah's Apostle said, "Allah will gather all the people on the Day of Resurrection and they will say, 'Let us request someone to intercede for us with our Lord so that He may relieve us from this place of ours... (They will go to Adam, Moses, Noah and Issa but will eventually be told), "go to Muhammad as Allah has forgiven his past and future sins.' They will come to me and I will ask my Lord's permission, and when I see Him, I will fall down in prostration to Him, and He will leave me in that state as long as (He) Allah will, and then I will be addressed. 'Raise up your head (O Muhammad)! Ask, and your request will be granted, and say, and your saying will be listened to; intercede, and your intercession will be accepted.' Then I will raise my head, and I will glorify and praise my Lord with a saying(i.e. invocation) He will teach me, and then I will intercede, Allah will fix a limit for me (i.e., certain type of people for whom I may intercede), and I will take them out of the (Hell) Fire and let them enter Paradise. Then I will come back (to Allah) and fall in prostration, and will do the same for the third and fourth times till no-one remains in the (Hell) Fire except those whom the Qur'an has imprisoned therein." (The sub-narrator, Qatada used to say at that point, "...those upon whom eternity (in Hell) has been imposed.") (See Hadith No. 3, Vol 6). Sahih Bukhari Volume 8, Book 76, Number 570:
Narrated Abu Sa'id Al-Khudri: The Prophet said, "You (Muslims) cannot be more pressing in claiming from me a right that has been clearly proved to be yours than the believers in interceding with Almighty for their (Muslim) brothers on that Day, when they see themselves safe. They will say, 'O Allah! (Save) our brothers (for they) used to pray with us, fast with us and also do good deeds with us.' Allah will say, 'Go and take out (of Hell) anyone in whose heart you find faith equal to the weight of one (gold) Dinar.' Allah will forbid the Fire to burn the faces of those sinners. They will go to them and find some of them in Hell (Fire) up to their feet, and some up to the middle of their legs. So they will take out those whom they will recognize and then they will return, and Allah will say (to them), 'Go and take out (of Hell) anyone in whose heart you find faith equal to the weight of one half Dinar.' They will take out whomever they will recognize and return, and then Allah will say, 'Go and take out (of Hell) anyone in whose heart you find faith equal to the weight of an atom (or a smallest ant), and so they will take out all those whom they will recognize." Abu Sa'id said: If you do not believe me then read the Holy Verse, "'Surely! Allah wrongs not even of the weight of an atom (or a smallest ant) but if there is any good (done) He doubles it." (4.40) The Prophet added, "Then the prophets and Angels and the believers will intercede, and (last of all) the Almighty (Allah) will say, 'Now remains My Intercession. He will then hold a handful of the Fire from which He will take out some people whose bodies have been burnt, and they will be thrown into a river at the entrance of Paradise, called the water of life. They will grow on its banks, as a seed carried by the torrent grows. You have noticed how it grows beside a rock or beside a tree, and how the side facing the sun is usually green while the side facing the shade is white. Those people will come out (of the River of Life) like pearls, and they will have (golden) necklaces, and then they will enter Paradise whereupon the people of Paradise will say, 'These are the people emancipated by the Beneficent. He has admitted them into Paradise without them having done any good deeds and without sending forth any good (for themselves).' Then it will be said to them, 'For you is what you have seen and its equivalent as well.'" Sahih Bukhari: Volume 9, Book 93, Number 532s.
There are those for whom Allah has promised eternal Hellfire, as we can see in the Quraan:
(Surely it has been revealed to us that the chastisement will surely come upon him who rejects and turns back. 20:48;
Then leave Me alone with such as reject this Message: by degrees shall We punish them from directions they perceive not. (68:44) ,
And: (As for) those who disbelieve in Our communications, We shall make them enter fire; so oft as their skins are thoroughly burned, We will change them for other skins, that they may taste the chastisement; surely Allah is Mighty, Wise 4:56).
But there are also those who must suffer for a bit. Now I want to reflect upon this part. Let us ask ourselves, "How much time am I willing to stay in the Hellfire?" Remember,
Narrated AbuSa'id al-Khudri: Verily, the Messenger of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) said: The least tormented of the inhabitants of the Fire would be he who would wear two shoes of Fire and his brain would boil on account of the heat of the shoes. Sahih Bukhari: Book 1, Number 0412.
This is the least of the punishments. Allah tells us about drinking boiling water:
Just imagine drinking a boiling water whose heat is not even on our scales!
Leave alone those who take their religion to be mere play and amusement, and are deceived by the life of this world. But proclaim (to them) this (truth): that every soul delivers itself to ruin by its own acts: it will find for itself no protector or intercessor except Allah: if it offered every ransom, (or reparation), none will be accepted: such is (the end of) those who deliver themselves to ruin by their own acts: they will have for drink (only) boiling water, and for punishment, one most grievous: for they persisted in rejecting Allah. (6:70)
This is a punishment for those who take their religion as play and amusement. This includes the Muslim, if it is not meant exclusively for us. Also, look to the above hadith. The people are saying, "(Save) our brothers (for they) used to pray with us, fast with us and also do good deeds with us." Reflect on this. These people who are in the Hellfire are Muslims. Not only are they Muslims, they are Muslims who used to pray, fast and do good deeds. What will happen to us if we are not praying or not fasting or not doing good deeds? Islam is easy, and Allah's Mercy is so Great, but we can not rely so much on His Mercy that we forget His Wrath.
We know that a single act can give us forgiveness, like the prostitute who gave water to the dog and was forgiven all her sins (Sahih Bukhari: Volume 4, Book 54, Number 538) , but we must also remember that a single act can also get us hellfire, like the woman punished for torturing her cat (Sahih Bukhari: Volume 1, Book 12, Number 712. )
These were simple gestures towards animals. Think about it. We can be forgiven for a single act which may seem small in our eyes or punished for an act that seems equally small. We try to console ourselves by telling ourselves, "I love Allah, and He knows I am good in my heart," but we don't do the deeds which match this love. Or we ratinalize that since we pray and fast that Allah will definitely forgive us if we do this one small thing. Allah may forgive us, but we can't forget that He may not forgive us. We need to stack the scales in our favor. We need to be careful and diligent in our pursuit of Jannah.
Brothers and sisters, please reflect. Most of us spend the better part of our lives in search of comfort in this life. Most of us have spent at least 12 years of our lives studying. Many of us continued to study in college, 4 or 5 or 10 more years. We have sacrificed fun and sleep for the sake of good grades and success in our studies. We forsake our comforts and our pleasures in order to do well. All of this is based on the firm belief that in the end, we will be rewarded by a good job, money, prestige or honors. Now, how much time do we devote towards studying Quraan? Learning hadiths? Praying? Fasting? Doing good deeds? How much sleep do we sacrifice? How many pleasures do we forego for the sake of the ultimate in comfort and prestige and honor, Jannah?
We waste our hours with our secular education at the expense of our Islamic education. Not to say it is wrong to study, but we must not neglect the next life in favor of this life. Also we need to reflect on what is true in our faith. We have faith in education, do we have faith in Allah's promise? Are we putting as much effort into seeking Jannah as we are for a piddly piece of paper that supposedly raises us in stature in this life? The only true reward is the reward with Allah. The only true honor is the honor of Allah's Favor. The only true success is the success we gain from Allah.
Allah warned our beloved Prophet and us:
Let not the vicissitude (of the success) of those who disbelieve, in the land, deceive thee (O Muhammad). Little is it for enjoyment: Their ultimate abode is Hell: what an evil bed (To lie on)! But those who keep their duty to their Lord, for them are Gardens underneath which rivers flow, wherein they will be safe for ever. A gift of welcome from their Lord. That which Allah hath in store is better for the righteous. (3: 196-198).
...Let not the life of the world beguile you, nor let the deceiver beguile you, in regard to Allah. (31:33).
Brothers and sisters, I leave you with this thought. Never forget Allah's Mercy and never forget His equally Great Wrath. Don't despair His punishment nor count too greatly on His Forgiveness. Inshallah, by maintaining this balance, we can achieve the ultimate true success, Jannah.
O Allah! Please let us strive for Your Great pleasure. Oh Allah! Please let us strive for Your Great reward. O Allah! Please forgive us and treat us with your mercy while forbidding from us your Wrath. Ameen