Description of Hell

1. The Location of Hell

The scholars differ as to where Hell is located at present. Some say that it is in the lower earth, others say that it is in the heavens, and yet others refrain from discussing the matter at all. This last group is correct, because there are no sound and clear reports that define the location of Hell. One of those who prefer not to discuss the matter at all is Suyuti. He said: “Do not discuss Hell, i.e., do not discuss where it may be located, for no-one knows this except Allah subhaana wa ta’aala, and I know of no hadith that I could rely on with regard to this issue.”

2. The Vast Extent of Hell

Hell is huge and vast and immensely deep, as is proven by several things:

  1. Those who will enter Hell are innumerable. In addition to the vast number of the disbelievers in Hell, the structure and makeup of only one of them will be so huge that his molars will be as big as Mount Uhud, and the distance between his shoulders will be equivalent to three days’ walking. Nevertheless, Hell will accomodate the huge number of kuffar and evildoers who have existed throughout history, in spite of their huge size, and there will still be room for more, as Allah subhaana wa ta’aala says in the Qur’aan:

    “On the Day when We will say to Hell: ‘Are you filled?’ It will say: ‘Are there any more [to come]?'” (50:30)

    The Fire of Hell is like a mill to which are brought thousands upon thousands of tons of grain, which it grinds tirelessly until it is all done, then waits for more. In the hadith that describes the debate between Paradise and Hell, it says that Allah subhaana wa ta’aala said to Hell:

    “‘You are My punishment; I will punish in you whomsoever I will.’ Both Paradise and Hell will be filled, but Hell will not be filled until Allah places His Foot in it. In another version, it says: Until Allah, the All-Glory and All-High, will put His Leg and it will say, ‘Enough, enough!’ Then it will be filled, and its different parts will come closer to one another. Allah will not wrong any one of His creation.” Bukhari and muslim reported on the authority of Abu Hurayrah radiyallahu ‘anha.

    Anas radiyallahu ‘anha reported that the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa salam said:

    “People will continue to be thrown into Hell, and it will continue to say, ‘Are there any more?’ until the Lord of Glory places His Foot in it. Its different parts will come closer to one anohter, and it will say, ‘Enough, enough, by Your Glory and honor!'” (Bukhari and Muslim)

  2. Another indication of its vast depth is the fact that a stone thrown from the top of Hell takes a very long time to reach the bottom. Muslim reports that Abu Hurayrah radiyallahu ‘anha said, “We were with the Messenger of Allah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and we heard the sound of something falling. The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:’Do you know what that was?’ We said, “Allah and His Messenger know best.’ He said, ‘That was a stone that was thrown into Hell seventy years ago, and it is yet in the way in (to reach the other side of the) Hell until now.'” Haakim reports from Abu Hurayrah, and Tabaraani from Mu’aadh and Abu Umamah (may Allah be pleased with them) that the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:”If there was a huge stone as big as seven khalfaat stones, and it was thrown from the edge of Hell, it would fly through it for seventy years and yet it will not reach the bottom.” (Sahih al-Jaami’ as-Sagheer, 5/58, hadith no. 5124. Its isnaad is Saheeh).
  3. Great number of angels will bring Hell forth on the Day of Resurrection. The Messenger sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam described how Hell will be bought forth on the Day of Resurrection, concerning which Allah subhaana wa ta’aala said:

    And Hell will be brought near that Day…. (89:23)

    The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:

    “Hell will be brought forth that Day by means of seventy thousand ropes, each of which will be held by seventy thousand angels.” (Muslim on the authority of ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ood).

    We can only imagine the vastness of this terrifying creation that requires such a huge number of strong and powerful angels whose strength is known only to Allah subhaana wa ta’aala.

  4. Another indication of the vastness of Hell is the fact that two great creations like the sun and the moon will be two rolled-up bulls in Hell. At-Tahaawi reports in his Mushakkal al-Aathaar, that Salamah ibn ‘Abdur-Rahmaan said: Abu Hurayrah told us that the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:”The sun and the moon will be like two rolled-up bulls in Hell on the Day of Resurrection.”

3. The Levels of Hell

There are variations in the degrees of heat of Hell, and in the levels of punishment which Allah subhaana wa ta’aala has prepared for its inhabitants. There is not just one level, as Allah subhaana wa ta’aala says:

“Verily, the hypocrites will be in the lowest depths [grade] of the Fire…” (4:145)

It is said that both Paradise and Hell have different levels; the lower the level in Hell, the greater the intensity of heat. The hypocrites will suffer the worst punishment, and so they will be in the lowest level of Hell.

Allah suhaana wa ta’aala, the All-Glorious, refers to levels of Paradise and Hell in the Qur’aan:

“For all there will be degrees [or ranks] according to what they did…” (6:132)

“Is then one who follows [seeks] the good Pleasure of Allah like one who draws on himself the Wrath of Allah? His abode is Hell – and worst indeed is that destination! They are in varying grades with Allah, and Allah is All-Seer of what they do.”

‘Abdur-Rahman ibn Zayd ibn Aslam raydiyallahu ‘anha said: “The levels of Paradise go up and the levels of Hell go down.” [There is a lengthy division of levels of Hell in the book….] There is no proof for this division of the inhabitants of Hell, or the names that have been attributed to the various levels. The turth is that all of these names – Jahannam, Laza, Al-Hutamah, etc – are alternative names by which Hell in its entirety is known, and they are not applied to one part or another of it. It is also known that people will be placed in different levels of Hell according to the extent of their kufr (disbelief) and sins.

4. The Gates of Hell

Allah subhaana wa ta’aala has told us that Hell has seven gates, as He said:

“And surely, Hell is the promised place for them all. It [Hell] has seven gates, for each of these gates is a [special] class [of sinners] assigned.” (15:43-44)

Ibn Katheer, commenting on this aayah, said: “This means that each gate has been allotted its share of the followers of iblees who will enter it, and they will not be able to avoid it. May Allah protect us from it. Each will enter a gate according to his deeds, and will be assigned a level of Hell according to his deeds.”

It is reported that ‘Ali ibn Abi Taalib (radiyallahu ‘anha) said during a khutbah (sermon): “The gates of Hell are such and such.” Abu Haaroon said, “They are in layers, one above another.” It is also reported that he said, “There are seven gates of Hell, one above the other. The first will be filled, the second, the third, until all of them are filled.”

When the disbelievers will be brought to Hell, its gates will be opened and they will enter, to remain there forever:

“And those who disbelieved will be driven to Hell in groups, till, when they reach it, the gates thereof will be opened [suddenly like a prison at the arrival of prisoners]. And its keepers will say, ‘DId not the Messengers come to you from yourselves – reciting to you the Verses of your Lord, and warning you of the Meeting of this Day of yours?’ They will say, ‘Yes,’ but the Word of torment has been justified against disbelievers!” (39:71)

After they are admitted, they will be told:

“…Enter you the gates of Hell, to abide therein. And [indeed] what an evil abode of the arrogant!” (39:72)

These gates will be shutupon the evildoers, and they will have no hope of ever escaping from them after that, as Allah subhaana wa ta’aala says:

“But those who reject Our Signs, they are the [unhappy] companions of the Left Hand. On them will be Fire vaulted over [all around].” (90:19-20)

Ibn ‘Abbaas said: “‘Vaulted’ (literally: ‘shut over them’) means that the gates will be locked.” Mujaahid pointed out that the word used (mu’sadah) is the word used in the dialect of the Quraysh to mean “locked” or “shut.”

In the Qur’aan, Allah the Exalted says:

“Woe to every [kind of] scandal-monger and backbiter, who piles up wealth and lays it by. Thinking that his wealth would make him last forever! By no means! He will be sure to be thrown into that which Breaks to Pieces. And what will explain to you that which Breaks to Pieces? [It is] the Fire of [the wrath of] Allah, kindled [to a blaze], which does mount [right] to the hearts. It shall be made into a vault over them, in columns outstretched.” (104:1-9)

Allah subhaana wa ta’aala informs us that the gates of Hell will be locked behind them. Ibn ‘Abbaas said: “‘In columns outstretched’ means that the gates will be stretched out.” ‘Atiyah said: “It is a pillar of iron.” Muqaatil said: “The gates will be closed firmly behind them, and locked with a bolt of iron, so that the pain and heat turn again to them intensified. The expression ‘stretched forth’ applies to the ‘pillar’, meaning that the bolts with which the gates are locked will be very long, because a long bolt is stronger than a short one.”

The gates of Hell may be opened and closed before the Day of Judgement. The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) told us that the gates of Hell are locked during the month of Ramadaan. Abu Hurayrah radiyallahu ‘anha reported that the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:

“When Ramadaan comes, the gates of Paradise are opened and the gates of Hell are closed, and shayateen (stan and his jinn deputies) and devils are tied up.” (Ibid., pp. 66)

Tirmidhi reported that Abu Hurayrah said: “The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said:

“When the first night of Ramadaan comes, the shayateen and deviles are chained up. The gates of Hell are closed, and not one of them is opened. THe gates of Paradise are opeend, and not one of them is closed.”

5. The Fuel of Hell

Stones and the rebellious disbelievers are the fuel of Hell, as Allah subhaana wa ta’aala says:

“O you who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is men and stones.” (66:6)

“…Then fear the Fire [Hell] whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for the disbelievers.” (2:24)

What is meant by the people who will be fuel for the Fire is the disbelievers and polytheists. As for the type of stone that will fuel the fire, Allah subhaana wa ta’aala knows best what it really is. […] As [the type of stone] is a matter of ijtihaad (juristic reasoning in the context of the Qur’aan and Sunnah), based on knowledge of the nature and qualities of stones, then it cannot be taken for granted.

Another source of fuel for the Fire will be the gods, which were worshipped instead of Allah subhaana wa ta’aala:

“Certainly! You [disbelievers] and that which you are worshipping now besides Allah, are [but] fuel for Hell! [Surely], you will enter it. Had these [idols, etc] been aaliha [gods], they would not have entered there [Hell], and all of them will abide therein.” (21:98-99)

Al-Jawhari said: “Everything that is used to feed the Fire or increase it is its fuel.” Abu ‘Ubaydah said: “Everything that you throw into the Fire is fuel for it.”

6. The Intensity of its Heat & the Vastness of its Smoke & Sparks

Allah subhaana wa ta’aala says:

“And those on the Left Hand – who iwll be those on the Left Hand? In fierce hot wind and boiling water, And shadow of black smoke, [That shadow] neither cool, nor [even] pleasant.” (56:41-44)

This aayah includes all of the things that people avail themselves of in this world when it is too hot; these three things are: water, air and shade. But the aayah (verse) states that these things will be of no help whatsoever to the people of Hell. The air of Hell is As-Sumoom,  which is an intensely hot wind; its water is Al-Hameem, boiling water; its shade is Al-Yahmoom, which is a part of the smoke of Hell.

Just as this aayah emphasizes the horrifying position of those on the Left Hand, who are the poeple of Hell, another aayah emphasizes the horror of Hell itself. Allah subhaana wa ta’aala says:

“But he whose balance [of good deeds] will be [found] light, will have his home in a [bottomless] pit. And what will explain to you what this is? [It is] a Fire blazing fiercely!” (101:8-11)

The shade referred to in the aayah,

And shadow of black smoke (56:43)

is the shadow cast by the smoke of Hell. Shade usually makes one feel cool and comfortable, and people love to feel it, but this shade (in Hell) will be neither cool nor pleasant; it is the shadow of black smoke.

The Qur’aan tells us that this shade is the smoke of Hell which rises above the Fire:

“Depart you to a shadow [of smoke ascending] in three columns, [which yields] no shade of coolness and is of no use against the fierce Blaze. Indeed! It [Hell] throws about sparks [huge] as forts. As if there were [a string of] yellow camels [marching swiftly].” (77:30-33)

Allah, the Exalted, explained how strong this Fire is, and how it affects the tormented:

“Soon will I cast him into Hellfire. And what will explain to you exactly what Hellfire is? Naught does it permit to endure, and naught does it leave alone! Darkening and changing the color of man!” (74:26-29)

The Fire consumes all, destroying everything and leaving nothing untouched. It burns skin, reaching to the bone, melting the contents of the stomach, mounting to the hearts and exposing the innermost and vitals. The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam told us:

“Fire, as we know it, is one-seventieth part of the Fire of Hell.” Someone said, “O’ Messenger of Allah, it is enough as it is!” He sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said, “It (the Fire of Hell) is as if sixty-nine equal portions were added to fire as know it.” (Bukhari)

According to a version narrated by Muslim, the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam used the phrase: “…fire as you know it and as it is used by the sons of Adam…”

This Fire never dies down, no matter how much time passes:

“So taste you [the results of your evil actions]; no increase shall We give you, except in torment.” (78:30)

“…Whenever it abates, We shall increase for them the fierceness of the Fire.” (17:97)

The disbelievers will not taste the luxury of respite, and the torment will not be lessened for them, no matter how long it lasts:

“…Their torment shall not be lightened, nor shall they be helped.” (2:86)

The Fire is rekindled every day, as is stated in the hadith reported by Muslim from ‘Amr ibn ‘Absah radiyallahu ‘anha, who said: “The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:

“Pray Salaat as-Subh (the early morning prayer), then stop praying when the sun is rising until it is fully up, for it rises between the horsn of shaytaan and the disbelievers prostrate to the sun at that time. Then pray, for the prayer is witnessed (by the angels) until the shadow becomes the length of a lance. Then cease prayer, for at that time Hell is heated up. Then when the shadow moves forward, pray….”

Bukhari and Muslim report from Abu Hurayrah radiyallahu ‘anha that the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:

“When it becomes very hot, wait until it cools down to pray, because the intense heat is a breeze from Hell.”

The Fire of Hell will be further refuelled on the Day of Resurrection when it receives its inhabitants:

“And when the Hellfire shall be kindled to a fierce blaze, and when Paradise shall be bought near.” (81:12-13)

7. Hell Speaks and Sees

Whoever reads the descriptions of Hell in the Qur’aan and the hadiths will discover that it is a creation that can see, speak and complain. The Qur’aan tells us that Hell will be able to see its people from afar when they are coming towards it, and it will start to utter terrifying cries that will indicate how much anger and hatred it feels towards these evildoers:

“When it [Hell] sees them from a far place, they will hear it raging and roaring.” (25:12)

Ibn Jareer reports that Ibn ‘Abbaas said: “A man will be dragged towards Hell, which will shrink into itself. Allah will say: ‘What is the matter with you?’ It will say, ‘He is seeking refuge with You from me.’ He will say, ‘Release My slave.’ Another man will be dragged towards Hell, and he will say, ‘O’ my Lord, I did not expect this of You.’ Allah will say, ‘What did you expect?’ He will say, ‘That Your Mercy would extend to me too.’ Allah subhaana wa ta’aala will say, ‘Release my slave.’ Another man will be dragged towards Hell, and it will send out a gust of air like a mule snorting at a camel, then it will take in a gust of air, and there will be no-one left except it will terrify him.” (Ibn Katheer quoted this report in An-Nihaayah, 2/21, and said its isnaad is saheeh.)

Imam Ahmad and Tirmidhi report from Abu Salih from Abu Hurayrah radiyallahu ‘anha that the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:

“On the Day of Resurrection, a neck will stretch forth from Hell; it will have two eyes to see, two ears to hear, and a tongue to speak. It will say: ‘I have been appointed to take care of three types of people: every arrogant tyrant, every person who called on some deity other than Allah, and those who made pictures.” (Tirmidhi stated that this hadith was saheeh.)

8. Ibn ‘Umar’s Vision of Hell

Bukhari and Muslim report that Ibn ‘Umar said: “I saw in a dream that two angels came to me. Each of them was holding a whip of iron in his hand. Then I met (another) angel who was also holdin a whip of iron in his hand. They said, ‘Do not worry, you are a good man; we just wish that you prayed more at night.’ They took me to the dge of Hell, which looked like a well with horns: between every two horns will stood an angel holding a whip of iron. I saw men hanging upside-down, held in chains, and I recognized some men of Quraysh. Then they led me away, towards the right. I told Hafsah about my dream, and she told the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasaslam), who said: “‘Abdullah is a righteous man.”

9. Does Anybody see Hell in Reality before the Day of Resurrection?

We know that our Prophet sallalahu ‘alayhi wa sallam saw Hell, just as he saw Paradise during his lifetime. Bukhari and Muslim report from ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbaas that the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said, concerning Salaat al-Khusoof  (the eclipse prayer):

“I saw Paradise, and I reached out to take a bunch of its fruits. If I had managed to do so, you would have eaten from it until the end of this world. And I saw Hell, I never saw anything more terrifying. I saw that most of its inhabitants are women.”

Bukhari reports from Asma` that the Messenger sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:

“Paradise came so close to me that had I wanted, I could have taken some of its fruits. Hell was brought so close to me that I said, ‘O’ my Lord, even when I am still with them?’ I saw a woman being scratched by a cat, I asked, ‘Why is this?’ They told me, ‘She detained her (the cat) until she died of hunger; she did not feed her or let her loose so that she could eat of the vermin of the earth.’ “

Imam Ahmad reports from Al-Mugheerah ibn Shu’bah that the Messenger of Allah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam  said: “Hell was brought so close to me that I tried to blow its heat away from my face. I saw there the man with the stick with the crooked end, and one who had tended Al-Baheerah (a she-camel let loose for free pasture for idols, upon which nothing was allowed to be carried), and the man of Himyar, and the woman who imprisoned the cat.”

Muslim reports from Jaabir radiyallahu ‘anha that the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam  said:

“Paradise and Hell were shown to me. Paraidse was brought close to me that I tried to take fruit from it, but I could not reach it. hell was shown to me, and was brought so close that I stepped back for fear that it would touch me. I saw a Himyari woman who was tall and black, being punished on account of a cat that she owned; she had tied it up, not giving it anything to eat or drink, nor let it eat of the vermin of the earth. I also saw Abu Thumaamah ‘Umar ibn Maalik being dragged by his trachea through Hell.”

After people die, they are shown, in Barzakh (the period between death and Judgement), their position in Paradise (if they are believers) or Hell (if they are disbelievers).

10. How Hell Affects this Earth and its Inhabitants

Bukhari reports that Abu Hurayrah radiyallahu ‘anhu said: “Hell complained to its Lord, saying, ‘O’ my Lord, some parts of me have consumed others.’ He thus allowed it to exhale twice, once in the winter and once in the summer. That is why you find extreme heat (in the summer) and extreme cold (in the winter).”

Bukhari also narrated from Abu Sa’eed radiyallahu ‘anhu that the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam  said: “Delay your prayers until it cools down, for the intensity of heat is from the exhaled air of Hell.”

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