Is punishing the guilty cruelty?
Question: An atheist utters, “Why will a disbeliever suffer torment in Hell? Is it not Allah who creates disbelievers? Why does He put them into Hell? Is it compatible with humanity and justice? Is it not cruelty?” What should we say to him as a reply?
Is there a system without penalties? Can it ever be injustice to punish criminals? Think that a person kills hundreds of people regardless of whether they are children, young or old, women or men, ill or healthy, guilty or innocent. He hallows their eyes out and burns their corpses. When it is demanded that this brutal creature be sentenced to death, objections are raised on the ground that the death penalty is barbarity and does not befit humanity and justice. The murderer kills hundreds of humans. However, his act gains acceptance as if it befit humanity, and they defend him. This, in turn, sets a bad example for other murderers, giving courage to them. Murdering people is, in a way, promoted. If the death penalty is imposed on this murderer, as it is in the United States, other murderers may eschew it. At least, the number of murderers of innocent individuals lessens to a large extent. If the penalty is light, crime rate increases. If the penalty is heavy, crime rate decreases. If the purpose is to prevent people from dying and to make a favor to them, then penalties must be stiff. If humans’ being killed does not have any importance, murderers should not be punished at all. Which one is justice: to release criminals or to inflict a deterrent punishment on them?
Hadrat Imâm-i Rabbânî declares:
If He were to put all the people into Hell and torment them eternally, who would have the right to object? For He would be using His property which He Himself had created and raised. How could it be said to be cruelty while there is no transgression to someone else’s property, because there is no someone else? However, the possessions which people use and which they boast about belong in actual fact not to themselves but to Him. Indeed, it is injustice for us to lay hands on them, to interfere with them. For the order of this world and for some other uses, Allahu ta’âlâ has assigned them to our possession, yet in fact they are all His. Then what is proper for us to do is to use them as much as their real Owner allows us to.
The atheist asks such a question because of his unbelief in a creator. If he believed the fact that the Creator of everything is Allah, he could not have asked a question of this sort. Can people not use the household goods in their houses anyway they wish? Can they not throw the old ones or new ones away? If property belongs to them, then do they not have the right to use them as they wish? Similarly, Allahu ta’âlâ can put the people He created into Hell, even if they are innocent. But He, out of His kindness, does not put the innocent, that is, those who have îmân, into Hell. If it is a perfectly natural thing to punish those who act against the laws and violate them, why is it injustice for Allah to punish those who are disobedient to His commandments?
Disbelief and cruelty
Question: There are Germans who say that it is cruelty that disbelievers stay in Hell eternally in return for the sins they committed in their life spans of, for example, a hundred years. Why is the requital for a hundred years’ disbelief an eternal punishment?
Janâb-i Haqq (Allahu ta’âlâ) did not clearly explain the reason for it. Some Islamic savants state:
Because disbelievers would remain disbelievers if they lived forever, the punishment for their disbelief is to be tormented in Hell forever. Therefore, it cannot be asserted that it would be cruelty to torment disbelievers forever