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HHIT — Result In Brief

Project ID: 263308
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Netherlands

Islam’s paradise and hell reframed

The Muslim afterworld, with its imagery rich in sensual promises, including for martyrs killed in the fight with non-Muslims, has shaped Western perceptions of Islam for centuries. An in-depth look at the concepts of heaven and hell in Islam serves to nuance essentialist assumptions that Muslims have always and everywhere emphasised the nexus between violence, bodily pleasure, and salvation.
Islam’s paradise and hell reframed
The Muslim literature on the afterlife, written in Arabic and Persian and a plethora of other languages, is rich in traditions that stress spiritual rather than bodily survival after death, or that develop notions of the afterworld as a third ontological realm situated between the world of the here-and-now and the sphere of pure intelligibles, a realm in which the imagination reigns supreme. As for bodily conceptions of an afterworld full of pleasures and pains, these too are found in numerous forms and varieties; but rather than suggesting that Islam is “sensual”, they demonstrate that the Islamic tradition is embodied in the anthropological sense, that is, that it seeks to wed notions of intellectual and spiritual happiness with physical well-being.

Research in this project has resulted in a number of major monographs, including Christian Lange, Paradise and hell in Islamic traditions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

The idea of heaven and hell in the Islamic religion is in its essence close to Islam’s sister monotheistic religions, Christianity and Judaism. However, the Muslim hereafter has been manipulated by both those who commit terror and those who oppose it.

Clarifying such concepts in their original form, without manipulation and distortion, could help foster understanding and enlighten European citizens of all religious backgrounds. This includes young Muslims targeted for indoctrination by misguided fanatics who promise, for example, ‘unlimited virgins in paradise’.

With this in mind, the EU-funded HHIT (The here and the hereafter in Islamic traditions) project outlined a history of the Muslim paradise and hell in order to articulate their true definition. The project evaluated the degree to which Islamic traditions favour or reject a view of human existence with respect to the hereafter. It investigated different traditions from the birth of Islam (7th century) until today, considering not only Islamic theological tradition and jurisprudence but also philosophical, mystical, artistic and popular interpretations of heaven and hell.

While Islam considers the relationship between this world and the otherworld very important, modern Islamic studies have not investigated it in detail. The project team therefore conducted the first comprehensive study covering five key topics. These were the eschatological imaginaire (e.g. judgement day or Armageddon), material culture and the arts, theology and law, mysticism and philosophy, and modern/contemporary visions of the hereafter.

The research resulted in several publications such as ‘A general history of the Muslim paradise and hell’ and a book series on ‘Studies in Islamic Apocalypticism and Eschatology’. Key monographs emerging from the project treated topics such as the significance of the Kaaba, the afterlife in Islamic philosophy, mystical Quran on paradise and hell, piety, world-denying movements in early Islam, and violent warfare (jihad).

The results were supported by three international conferences, the project website, video material, two documentaries, several articles and media interviews. Challenging erroneous clichés and prejudices about Muslim belief in the afterlife, the project’s in-depth outcomes are bound to help set the record straight on several fronts and foster understanding among people of all backgrounds.

Related information


Islam, heaven, hell, HHIT, paradise, eschatological
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