Jahannam (Arabic: جهنم (etymologically related to Hebrew גיהנום Gehennom and Greek: γέεννα) is one of the names for the Islamic concept of Hell. Other names for hell (or the different gates of hell[1]) occurring in the Quran include: al-Nar النار ("The Fire"[2]), Jaħeem (Ħanbali) Gaħeem (Ħanafi) جحيم ("Blazing Fire"[3]), Ħatamah (Ħanbali) / "Ħathamah" (Ħanafi) حطم ("That which Breaks to Pieces"[4]), Haawiyah (Ħanbali) Haaviyah (Usman Ħanafi) هاوية ("The Abyss"[5]), Ladthaa لظى, Sa’eer سعير ("The Blaze"[6]), Saqar سقر.[7][8] The hadith of Islamic prophet Muhammad, and some writings of later Islamic scholars also describe Jahannam.

According to the Qur'an, on the Last Day[Note 1] the world will be destroyed and all people and jinn will be raised from the dead to be judged by Allah as to whether they deserved to be sent to paradise (Jannah) or hell.[10] Hell will be occupied by those who do not believe in God (Tawhid), have disobeyed His laws, and/or reject His messengers.[7] One group that will not have to wait until the Last Day to enter hell are "Enemies of Islam", who are sentenced immediately to Hell upon death.[10]

Suffering in hell is both physical and spiritual,[10][11] and varies according to the sins of the condemned.[12] As described in the Quran, Hell has seven levels (each one more severe than the one above it[10]); seven gates (each for a specific group of sinners[13]); a blazing fire, boiling water, and the Tree of Zaqqum.[14] Not all Muslims and scholars agree whether hell is an eternal destination or whether some or even all of the condemned will eventually be forgiven and allowed to enter paradise.[10][12][15]


Prophet Muhammad, Buraq and Gabriel, observe "shameless women" being punished in Hell for exposing their hair to the sight of strangers.

Most of how Muslims picture and think about Jahannam comes from the Qur'an, according to scholar Einar Thomassen, who found nearly 500 references to Jahannam/hell (using a variety of names) in the Qur'an.[16]

The Hadiths (the corpus of the reports of the teachings, deeds and sayings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad) introduce punishments, reasons and revelations not mentioned in the Quran. In both Quranic verses and hadiths, "the Fire" (Jahannam) is "a gruesome place of punishment that is always contrasted with Jannah, "the Garden" (paradise). Whatever characteristic "the Garden offered, the Fire usually offered the opposite conditions."[17] Several hadith describes a part of hell that is extremely cold rather than hot, known as Zamhareer.[18]

Eschatological manuals

In addition to the Quran and hadith are "Eschatological manuals". These were written after the other two sources and developed descriptions of Jahannam "in more deliberate ways".[19] While the Quran and hadith tend to describe punishments that unbelievers are forced to give themselves, the manuals illustrate external and more dramatic punishment, through demons, scorpions, and snakes.[20]

Manuals dedicated solely to the subject of Jahannam include Ibn Abi al-Dunya's Sifat al-nar, and al-Maqdisi's Dhikr al-nar. Other manuals—such as texts by al-Ghazali, the influential Muslim theologian of the 9th century, and 12th century scholar Qadi Ayyad -- "dramatise life in the Fire", and present "new punishments, different types of sinners, and the appearance of a multitude of demons," to exhort the faithful to piety.[1] His hell has a structure with a specific place for each type of sinners.[20]

Al Ghazali, in his book The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife, describes and discusses the "wrongdoer" and graphic, sometimes violent scenes of Jahannam.[21]

Like al-Ghazali, the thirteenth-century Muslim scholar Al-Qurtubi describes hell as a gigantic sentient being, rather than a place. In Paradise and Hell-fire in Imam al Qurtubi, Qurtubi writes, "On the Day of Judgment, hell will be brought with seventy thousand reins. A single rein will be held by seventy thousand angels…"[22]

In The Soul’s Journey After Death, Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, a theologian in the 14th century, writes explicitly of punishments faced by sinners and unbelievers in Jahannam. These are directly related to the wrongdoer’s earthly transgressions.[23]

General characteristics

The Qur'an uses a number of different terms and phrases to refer to hell. Al-nar (the fire) is used 125 times, jahannam 77 times, jaheem (blazing flames) 26 times.[24]

One collection[25] of Quranic descriptions of hell include "rather specific indications of the tortures of the Fire": flames that crackle and roar;[26] fierce, boiling waters [27] scorching wind, and black smoke,[28] roaring and boiling as if it would burst with rage.[29] Its wretched inhabitants sigh and wail,[30] their scorched skins are constantly exchanged for new ones so that they can taste the torment anew, [31] drink festering water and though death appears on all sides they cannot die,[32] are linked together in chains of 70 cubits,[33] wearing pitch for clothing and fire on their faces,[34] have boiling water that will be poured over their heads, melting their insides as well as their skins, and hooks of iron to drag them back should they try to escape,[35] their remorseful admissions of wrongdoing and pleading for forgiveness are in vain.[36][37][38]

The description of Jahannam as a place of blazing fire appears in almost every verse in the Qur'an describing hell.[39] Jahannam is described as being located below heaven,[Note 2][41] having seven gates, each for a specific group[1] or at least a different "portion" or "party"[42] of sinners. The Quran also mentions wrongdoers having "degrees (or ranks) according to their deeds"[43] which scholar believe refers to the seven gates.[24] The one mention of levels of hell is that hypocrites will be found in its very bottom.[24][44]

Jahannam inhales and has "breath" according to verse 67:7,[35] and a "voice" according to verse 50:30, where God asks Jahannam on Judgment Day if it is full and Jahannam answers: "Are there any more (to come)?"[45]

The fuel for the fire of Jahannam, according to the Quran, are sinners,[46] disbelieving Jinn,[47] and stones.[48] The fire burns their skins, changing their colour to black due to its intensity. Jahannam has a shadow of smoke ascending "in three columns", but this provides "no shade of coolness". Its sparks are described to be as "huge as a palace."[49]

The Quran mentions three different sources of food in hell:

The Tree of Zaqqum is mentioned in verses 17:60,[54] 37:62-68,[55] 44:43,[56] and 56:52,[57] of the Quran.[58] Quran 4:168 and Quran 37:23 talk of a road that leads to hell.[24] [6]


The Quran describes Jahannam as having "nineteen" angels.[59][60] The keeper named "Maalik" explains to hell's inhabitants who appeal to him to be let out that they must remain in Hell because "they abhorred the truth when the truth was brought to them."[61] According to the Traditions of Muhammad, the 19 are angels and Maalik leads them. Maalik is very severe and harsh, and will listen to condemned persons' requests for remission of their punishments after 1000 years but then deny those requests as well. In Islamic art, Maalik is often depicted with a stern expression on his face. Hell is perceived to be so deep that if a stone were thrown into it, it would fall for 70 years before reaching the bottom.[60] (According to one calculation this would make it over 190,000,000 km deep, a far greater distance than the diameter of Earth.[Note 3] The breadth of each of Hell's walls is equivalent to a distance covered by a walking journey of 40 years.[60] Malik in Hadith quotes Mohammed as saying that the fire of Jahannam was seventy times greater than fire on earth.[62] He also described that fire as "blacker than tar".[63]

In book 87 Hadith 155, "Interpretation of Dreams" of Sahih al-Bukhari, Muhammad talked of angels each with "a mace of iron" who guarded hell, and then expanded on the Qur'an’s discourse describing Jahannam by recounting it as a place that

"was built inside like a well and it had side posts like those of a well, and beside each post there was an angel carrying an iron mace. I saw therein many people hanging upside down with iron chains, and I recognized therein some men from the Quraish".[64]

The Quran gives several names for hell: Jaheem ("Blazing Fire"[3]), Hatamah ("That which Breaks to Pieces",[4]), Haawiyah ("The Abyss"[5]), Ladthaa, Sa’eer ("the blaze"[6]), Saqar.[7] [8] In an eschatological manual by Qadi Ayyad, (Daqa'iq al-akhbarfi dhikr al-janna wa-l-nar), these are names for the different gates of hell, which each specialize in a type of condemned (polytheists, Christian, Jews, Zorastrians, etc.).[1][65]

Judgement and condemnation

The period of time between a person's death and the Day of Judgement, is known in Islam as barzakh.[66][67] Although not yet in hell, it is believed that the sinners and unbelievers destined for it will suffer during this time.[Note 4]

According to Leor Halevi, between the moment of death and the time of their burial ceremony, "the spirit of a deceased Muslim takes a quick journey to Heaven and Hell, where it beholds visions of the bliss and torture awaiting humanity at the end of days".[69]

By the time corpse handlers are ready to wash the body, the spirit returns to earth to observe the preparations for burial and to accompany the procession toward the cemetery. But then, before earth is piled upon the freshly dug grave, an unusual reunion takes place: The spirit returns to dwell within the body.[69][70]

In the grave, the deceased Muslim - this composite of spirit and corpse - encounters two terrifying angels, Munkar and Nakir, recognized by their bluish faces, their huge teeth and their wild hair, test the faith of the dead in their graves.[69]

These angels carry out a trial to probe the soundness of a Muslim's faith. Asking "Who is your Lord?", "Who is your Prophet?, "What is your religion?."[71] If the dead Muslim answers their questions convincingly and if he has no sin on record, then the grave is transformed into a luxurious space that makes bearable the long wait until the final judgment.[69]

According to theologian Al-Ghazali, Afterlife will start with the "Day of the Arising" and a trumpet blast[72] which will wake the dead from their graves. "The Perspiration"[73][74] —when all created beings, including men, angels, jinn, demons and animals gather and sweat unshaded from the sun—will follow.[75] Sinners and unbelievers will suffer and sweat longer on this day, which lasts for "50,000 years".[76]

God will judge each soul,[77] accept no excuses, and examine every act and intention—no matter how small.[78] It is believed those whose good deeds outweigh the bad will be assigned to Jannah (heaven), and those whose bad deeds outweigh the good to Jahannam.[79][80]

Finally the souls will traverse over hellfire[81] via the bridge of sirat. For sinners, it is believed the bridge will be thinner than hair and sharper than the sharpest sword, impossible to walk on without falling below to arrive at their destination.[82]


The people that end up in Hell will be "the companions of the left hand".[Quran 56:9] Various groups of people described by the Quran as being in Jahannam include: disbelievers,[83] hypocrites (Munafiq),[84] polytheists,[85] the People of the Book who reject the truth,[86] arrogant rejectors of truth,[87] sinners and criminals,[88] tyrants,[89] the unjust,[90] transgressors,[91] concealers of God's revelations,[92] persecutors of believers,[93] people who commit suicide, and murderers (of believers).[94]

The suffering of the hypocrites and disbelievers is emphasized in the Qur'an:

The idea that hypocrites are the worst class of sinners in Islam has been traced to the verse stating: "The Hypocrites will be in the lowest depths of the Fire."[Quran 4:145][95] Those who commit shirk (polytheists) are singled out for special mention in 9:63.[96]

Some prominent people in, or destined to arrive in, hell mentioned in the Hadith and Quran are: Fir'awn (viz., the pharaoh of The Exodus), the wives of Nuh and Lut, and Abu Lahab and his wife (contemporaries and enemies of Muhammad).

Inhabitants in hadith

Other people mentioned in Hadith include, but are not limited to, the mighty, the proud and the haughty.[97]

According to one hadith, out of every one thousand people entering into the afterlife, nine hundred and ninety-nine of them will end up in the fire.[98][99][100] Another states that women make up the majority of the population of Jahannam.[101] Although it should also be mentioned that in another hadith the Muhmmad also majority of people in heaven are women.[Note 5]

Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalani, Qadhi 'Iyadh, and others also considered it to be a logical extension that women will make up the majority of the inhabitants of Paradise.

Sahih Muslim quotes Muhammad as saying that suicides would reside in Jahannam forever.[103] According to Hadith collector Muwatta Imam Malik (Imam Malik), Muhammad said: "Truly a man utters words to which he attaches no importance, and by them he falls into the fire of Jahannam."[104]

Al-Bukhari in book 72:834 added to the list of dwellers in Jahannam: "The people who will receive the severest punishment from Allah will be the picture makers".[105][106] Use of utensils made of precious metals could also land its users in Jahannam: "A person who drinks from a silver vessel brings the fire of Jahannam into his belly".[107] As could starving a cat to death: "A woman was tortured and was put in Hell because of a cat which she had kept locked till it died of hunger."[108] [109] (An extreme penalty according to one Christian critic.)

Eternal or temporary?

Who will be sent to hell, and who will be there for eternity is disputed.[10][12]

At least two verses in the Quran (6:128[110] and 11:107[111]) emphasise that consignment to hell is horrible and eternal, with the caveat "except as God (or your Lord) wills it".

Religiousfacts.com quotes IslamOnline:

"Ultimately, God will remove from Hell those believers whose sins were not forgiven nor atoned for by good deeds in their lifetimes, and they will then enter Paradise. The remaining inhabitants of Hell will stay there eternally."[10][112]

Some Hadith point the release of all the inhabitants of Hell. Muhammad is quoted as saying "Allah will bring out people from the Fire and admit them into Paradise."[Note 6] Also he is quoted as saying "Surely a time will come over hell when its gates shall be blown by wind, there shall be none in it, and this shall be after they have remained therein for many years."[114]

In one Hadith, it is related that on or after Judgement Day Muhammad and then Allah will intercede to remove sinners from Jahannam. These include "any who sincerely professed the Shahada,"[115] and then anyone with "even an atom’s measure of goodness in his or her heart". Exempt from intercession will be anyone who participated in shirk (polytheism).[116] Scholar Qazi Thanaa Ullah in a work of Hanafi fiqh states "unbelievers" will "undergo eternal torment in Jahannam", while wrongdoing Muslims will be released to paradise "after either a long or short duration" in Jahannam, as appropriate.[117]

Author Phil Parshall quotes other Hadith[118][119][120][121] telling similar stories of sinning believers being taken out of hell and allowed into heaven, which he compares to the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory.[122]

Some commentators have claimed that verses 19:67-72[123] imply that all mankind will be brought to Jahannam and that God will save the believers. Others think this idea contradicts verse 21:101,[124] in which those who have earned Paradise are "kept far away from it (Hell)" and that only those who have earned Hell are being referred to in verses 19:67-72. Others maintain that the Qur'an designated the occupants of Jahannam in several verses, none of which mention any future as forgiven inhabitants of Paradise.


The Quran and Hadith offer detailed descriptions of the methods of punishment in Jahannam. The Quran states the punishments will be: the burning of skin, only to be replaced for reburning;[125] garments of fire to be worn,[44] and boiling water that will scald the skin and internal organs[126] and faces;[127] faces on fire;[128] lips burnt off;[129] backs on fire;[130] from side to side;[131] faces dragged along fire;[132] bound in yokes then dragged through boiling water and fire, and wearing a pair of sandals on fire that will boil your brain.[133] [134]

In the Quran, the punishments of Jahannam (such as burning)[135] are always followed with contrary protection of paradise (such as shade[136]). Hell is said to be filled with venomous snakes/scorpions, the pain from whose venom will last 40 years.[137]

Those who prevent others from following the path of Allah will be punished more severely.[138] Hypocrites are found in the lowest of depths of the fire.[139] Those who spread corruption—on top of having already hindered the path of Allah—will experience harsher punishments.


Surah (chapter) al-Ghashiyah of the Qur'an states that the only food in Hell will be "dari" or a bitter plant.[140] Another surah—Sad—states that sinners in hell will taste "a boiling fluid and a filthy fluid of pus and blood and other penalties of a similar kind to match them".[141] Verses in four different surah state that hell's inhabitants food will be the fruit from the Zaqqum tree[58]—a tree that springs out of the bottom of hellfire. The shoots of its fruit-stalks are like the "heads of devils" and eating it is similar to eating molten brass that will boil their insides "like scalding water". Sinners drink boiling water that will cut their bowels when they consume it. If they call for relief, they shall be given water also described as being like molten brass, which will scald their faces.[142]


According to one Hadith, the least-suffering person in Jahannam will have his/her brain boiling from standing on hot embers.[143]

Types of punishments in Jahannam are often specific to type of sin, for example those who did not pay Zakat, "on the Day of Resurrection, his wealth will be presented to him in the shape of a bald-headed poisonous male snake with two poisonous glands in its mouth and it will encircle itself round his neck and bite him over his cheeks and say, 'I am your wealth; I am your treasure.'" [144][145] Another Hadith relates that a person who committed suicide will be punished over and over on the Day of Judgment and later in Jahannam by the very means he/she used to end his/her life.[146][147][148]

Religious comparison


Unlike the hell often depicted in Christian culture,[Note 7] Jahannam is not the seat of the devil (Shaytan), but simply a place created by God to punish sinners.[12]

The Book of Revelation describes a "lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death",[150] which most Christians believe to be a description of Hell. While the Quran describes Jahannam as having seven levels, each for different sins, the Bible (as regards the issue of levels), speaks of the "lowest Hell (Sheol)".[151][152] It also refers to a "bottomless pit",[153] though it does not say this is Hell, while Dante's Inferno and other non-Biblical Christian-based writings speak of hell as being divided into multiple "circles". Some Jewish sources such as Jerahmeel provide descriptive detail of hell-like places, divided into multiple levels; usually Sheol, which is translated as a grave or pit, is the place where humans descend upon death. In all three Abrahamic religions, humans in hell are said to be cut off from God.


While many Christian theologians believe that account of hell in the bible are symbolic rather than literal, there is little or no such interpretation among Muslims. According to one Christian evangelist who has spent 30+ years among Muslims in Asia (Phil Parshall), "I have never met a Muslim who has attempted to undercut the bluntness and severity of their doctrine of hell."[154]


Like Zoroastrianism, Muslims believe that on Judgement Day all souls will pass over a bridge over hell (As-Sirāt in Islam, Chinvat Bridge in Zorastrianism) which those destined for hell will find too narrow and fall below into their new abode.[155]

See also



  1. Last Day is also called the Day of Standing Up, Day of Separation, Day of Reckoning, Day of Awakening, Day of Judgment, The Encompassing Day or The Hour [9]
  2. "The companions of the Fire will call to the Companions of the Garden: ‘Pour down to us water or anything that God doth provide’"[40]
  3. Assuming Earth gravity, an Earth-like atmosphere, and an 89.5 m/s terminal velocity, a distance of about 197,708,364,000 meters, or about the average diameter of the orbit of the planet Venus
  4. Until the Day of Judgment, deceased souls remain in their graves awaiting the resurrection. However, they begin to feel immediately a taste of their destiny to come. Those bound for hell will suffer in their graves, while those bound for heaven will be in peace until that time.[68]
  5. It was upon this that Abu Huraira reported that RasulAllah said: The (members) of the first group to get into Paradise would have their faces as bright as full moon during the night, and the next to this group would have their faces as bright as the shining stars in the sky, and every person would have two wives and the marrow of their shanks would glimmer beneath the flesh and there would be none without a wife in Paradise.[102]
  6. Jabir reported that he had heard with his ears the Apostle (ﷺ) saying: Allah will bring out people from the Fire and admit them into Paradise.[113]
  7. The Christian Bible itself makes no mention of hell being the home of the devil.[149]


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  117. Al-Amriki, Yusuf Talal Ali; Ullah, Qazi Thanaa (1985). Essential Hanafi Handbook of Fiqh. Lahore, Pakistan: Kazi Publications. p. 27.
  118. Bukhari v.8 pp.375-6, book 76, chapter 52, #577
  119. Bukhari v.1 p.24, book 2, chapter 15, #21
  120. Sahih al-Bukhari, 8:76:577
  121. Sahih al-Bukhari, 1:2:21
  122. Parshall, Phil (1994). Inside the Community. Baker Books. pp. 136–7. ISBN 0801071321.
  123. Quran 19:67-72
  124. Quran 21:101
  125. Quran 4:56
  126. Quran 22:19–20
  127. Quran 18:28–20
  128. Quran 14:49–50
  129. Quran 23:103–104
  130. Quran 21:39–40
  131. Quran 33:66
  132. Quran 54:47–48
  133. Quran 40:69
  134. Parshall, Phil (1989). "8. Hell and Heaven". The Cross and the Crescent Understanding the Muslim Mind and Heart (PDF). Global Mapping International. p. 133. Retrieved 29 December 2014.
  135. Quran 4:56–20
  136. Quran 4:57–20
  137. "The levels of Jahannam (Hell Fire). Snakes and Scorpions of Jahannam". ummah.com. Retrieved 30 December 2014.
  138. Quran 16:88–50
  139. Quran 4:145–50
  140. Quran 88:6-7
  141. Quran 38:55-58
  142. "The Food of Hell". Islamcan.com. Retrieved 29 December 2014.
  143. Sahih Muslim, 001:0414
  144. Sahih al-Bukhari, 2:24:468
  145. Parshall, Phil (1989). "8. Hell and Heaven". The Cross and the Crescent Understanding the Muslim Mind and Heart (PDF). Global Mapping International. p. 134. Retrieved 29 December 2014.
  146. Sahih al-Bukhari, 8:73:73
  147. Sahih al-Bukhari, 8:73:126
  148. Sahih al-Bukhari, 2:23:445
  149. "Hell Is Not Satan's Home". The Bible Says. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  150. King James Bible. Revelation 21:8.
  151. King James Bible. Deuteronomy 32:22.
  152. King James Bible. Psalms 86:13.
  153. King James Bible. Revelation 9:2.
  154. Parshall, Phil (1994). Inside the Community. Baker Books. p. 131. ISBN 0801071321.
  155. Encyclopedia of World Religions. Encyclopedia Britannica Store. p. 421. Retrieved 7 January 2015.

Books and journal articles

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