Muslim WakeUp’s most recent article deals with the scoresheet mentality in religious observance, where promised rewards for good actions are tallied up like a “pile of candy”. I agree with Pamela’s assessment that this is the morality of toddlers. As a convert, this kind of thinking has very little appeal. In fact, this simplistic kind of morality is probably responsible for driving a good many people out of their inherited religion, muslim or otherwise. My father recalls his religious instruction being “hell avoidance” training with little other context. He was Catholic, but every religion has this at some level.
Now, the rewards that Pamela writes about come from the Hadith, so none of us can say these things are not valid, or that they are not of use in motivating us to do good. Why else would Nabi Muhammad have said it? [Aside: I got married early in part because of the hadith that the salat of the married person is worth 23 times the salat of the unmarried. Little did I know this is because you have 23x less time to pray…] The problem only comes when we count on our actions to purchase us this or that. It smacks of Catholic indulgences. Focusing on the candy lessens Allah’s Mercy and His Justice. It makes it more difficult for us to be between hope and fear of our final destination. (Hey, I can’t be in danger of Hell, I’ve already earned 5 umbrellas in Paradise!)
It is an article of faith as a muslim to believe in the reality of Allah’s reward in Paradise and His punishment in Hell. I don’t think what Pamela writes denies that at all. When Rabia prayed (horribly paraphrased) “Lord, if I worship You out of desire for Your Paradise, deny me of it, and if I worship You out of fear of Your Hellfire, plunge me in it”, she was certainly not denying their existence or even making small the reward or punishment of these places. She was expressing the idea that this is not the highest and purest reason to do good deeds.
We can cultivate deep fear of Hell and hope of Paradise without keeping score. This was the way of the Salaf (The first few generations of Muslims, not the modern-day nutters from Saud. But you knew that.), who would weep, faint and even expire upon remembering the hellfire, and become elated and weep for joy upon remembering God’s mercy and Paradise. A great article on this last point is The Impressibility of the Salaf.
Imam Ahmad in his Kitab al-Zuhd (“The Simple Life” p. 248 #880) narrates from Abu Hayyan that when Ibn Mas`ud passed by the furnace of a blacksmith as they were fanning the fire, he fell unconscious.
SubhanAllah! Ibn Mas’ud collapsed even though he had not committed a sin; remembering the reality of the Hellfire was sufficient!