𝐖𝐢𝐥𝐥 𝐉𝐞𝐬𝐮𝐬 𝐛𝐮𝐫𝐧 𝐢𝐧 𝐇𝐞𝐥𝐥? 𝐉𝐞𝐬𝐮𝐬 𝐢𝐬 𝐫𝐚𝐢𝐬𝐞𝐝 𝐭𝐨 𝐀𝐥𝐥𝐚𝐡
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
[Sura 4:158], near stationed with him [Sura 3:45], worshiped by millions of Christians, yet Sura Sura 21:98 says, that all that are worshiped by men besides Allah will burn in Hell together with those who worship them.
According to the Christian missionaries:
Surely you and what you worship besides Allah are the firewood of hell; to it you shall come.
— Sura 21:98
The logic is clear, Jesus is not God [5:75], millions of Christians are worshiping Jesus today and even the Qur’an acknowledges this [5:119], therefore Jesus will be fuel for the Hell fire [21:98] together with the Christians. This clearly contradicts the verses on Jesus’ special place near to Allah [Sura 3:45; 4:158 and others].
What is logically clear is that the Christian missionaries have not shown any support for their statement that the verse 21:98 indeed refers to Jesus(P). The issues here are:
- What does the verse 21:98 actually say?
- Why should Jesus(P) go to hell-fire?
- Grammatical considerations & tafsîr
Let us see what the Arabic actually says in the verse 21:98.
Surely you and what you worship besides Allah are the firewood of hell; to it you shall come. [Qur’ân 21:98]
The word “mâ“ translated as “what“ (and underlined with red) in verse 21:98 is used to refer to things/objects and seldom would it refer to people. Otherwise, it would be “man” (i.e. who or whom). Thus Jesus(P) is not referred to in that verse. This verse would rather refer to idols worshipped by the pagan Arabs who lived in the time of Prophet Muhammad(P). More details are available in the section Grammatical considerations & tafsîr.
It is true that many Christians worship Jesus(P) and that according to the Qur’ân [21:98] whoever worships any deity except God would be the firewood of hell. In this context, what will happen to Jesus(P)? The Christian missionaries say rightfully that Jesus(P) is highly esteemed in Islam:
Behold! the angels said: “O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah;[Qur’ân 3:45]
For the sake of debate, the question would be: What was the mischief committed by Jesus(P) for which he would deserve hell? Did he order the Christians to worship him? We, the Muslims, believe he did not:
And behold! Allah will say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah.?” He will say: “Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, Thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, Thou I know not what is in Thine.
For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden. “Never said I to them aught except what Thou didst command me to say, to wit, ‘Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord’; and I was a witness over them whilst I dwelt amongst them; when Thou didst take me up Thou wast the Watcher over them, and Thou art a witness to all things. [Qur’ân 5:116-117]
And God Almighty also says:
On no soul doth Allah place a burden greater than it can bear. It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns. […] [Qur’ân 2:286]
No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another: nor would We punish until We had sent a messenger (to give warning). [Qur’ân 17:15]
So, as shown in verses 5:116-117, Jesus(P) will be confronted with those who worship him. After he washes his hands from the Christian polytheism, each one will be accountable for his own deeds because the messenger (Prophet Muhammad(P)) has warned the Christians against their error and they refused to follow him and the consequences of not heeding to the advice (see verse 17:15).
Grammatical Considerations & Tafsîr
Coming back to the original issue, verse 21:98 (saying that what is worshipped besides God will be the firewood of hell) refers to things/objects and not to the people for obvious grammatical reasons. Moreover, as discussed above Jesus(P) is innocent from the Christian worship and thus he cannot be accountable for the Christian misguidance after his ascension to the Heaven.
Of course, Jesus(P) is honoured by Islam and there is no contradiction between this fact and the Christian misguidance from which he is totally innocent (according to the Qur’ân too).
Some missionaries go further with this argument by quoting Sîrah concerning the revelation of verse 21:98. We have cross-checked the quotation from as-Sîrah an-Nabawiyyah by Ibn Hishâm which says:
Here is its English translation:
Ibn Ishâq said:
The Apostle of God(P) sat one day, so I have heard, with al-Walîd Ibn al-Mughîrah in the mosque, and an-Nadr Ibn al-Harith came and sat with them in the assembly where some of Quraysh were. So the Apostle spoke but an-Nadr interrupted him.
Then the Apostle spoke to him until he silenced him. Then he read to him and to the others: “Verily ye and what ye serve other than God is the fuel of hell. You will come to it. If these had been gods they would not have come to it, but all will be in it everlastingly. There is wailing and there they will not hear”.
Ibn Ishâq said:
Then the Apostle of God(P) left and cAbdullâh Ibn al-Zibicrâ as-Sahmî came and sat down. al-Walîd said to him: “By God, an-Nadr could not stand up to the (grand)son of cAbdul-Muttalib just now and Muhammad alleged that we and what we worship among these deities of ours [mâ nacbudu min ‘âlihatinâ hâdhihî] are fuel for hell”.
cAbdullâh Ibn al-Zibicrâ said: “If I had found him I would have refuted him. Ask Muhammad, “Is everything which is worshipped besides God in hell with those who worship it?’ We worship the angels; the Jews worship cUzayr; and the Christians worship Jesus the Son of Mary.” Al-Walîd and those with him in the assembly wondered at the words of cAbdullâh Ibn al-Zibicrâ and saw that he had argued convincingly.
When the Apostle of God(P) heard of the speech of Ibn al-Zibicrâ, he said: “Everyone who appreciates being worshipped to the exclusion of God will be with those who worship him. They worship only devils and whom they have ordered to be worshipped.”
So God Almighty revealed concerning that “Those who have received kindness from us in the past will be removed far from it and will not hear its sound and they abide eternally in their heart’s desire”, i.e., Jesus Son of Mary and cUzayr and those rabbis and monks who have lived in obedience to God, whom the erring people worship as lords beside God.
And He revealed concerning their assertion that they worship angels and that they are the daughters of God, “And they say the Merciful has chosen a son, (exalted be He above this); nay, they are but honored slaves, they do not speak before He speaks, and they carry out His commands”, as far as the words, “and he of them who says, I am God as well as He, that one we shall repay with Hell. Thus do they repay the sinful ones.” 
In the quotation above, the pagans of Makkah understood that verse 21:98 concerned them specifically as well as their idols (see how they stress: “what we worship among these deities of ours“- in Arabic: mâ nacbudu min ‘âlihatinâ hâdhihi).
No mention of deified humans was understood. However, the question of cAbdullâh Ibn al-Zibicrâ – even if it was out of the real scope of the verse – came as a relief for them especially after Prophet Muhammad(P) had silenced Ibn an-Nadr one of their best orators. When the Prophet(P) heard of cAbdullâh’s objection, he brought an answer to his specific question, i.e., what about the humans that are worshipped?
The answer was: if and only if their being worshipped pleased them, then they will meet the same fate as their worshippers – Hell. This saves Jesus(P), Mary(P), the Angels and whatever pious people who were later worshipped against their own consent.
Moreover, many Qur’ânic commentaries such as those of al-Tabarî, al-Qurtubî and Ibn Kathîr mention this quotation of Sîrah concerning the following passage of Sûrat al-Zukhruf:
When (Jesus) the son of Mary is held up as an example, behold, thy people raise a clamor thereat (in ridicule)! And they say, “Are our gods best, or he?” This they set forth to thee, only by way of disputation: yea, they are a contentious people. He was no more than a servant: We granted Our favor to him, and We made him an example to the Children of Israel.
And if it were Our Will, We could make angels from amongst you, succeeding each other on the earth. And (Jesus) shall be a Sign (for the coming of) the Hour (of Judgment): therefore have no doubt about the (Hour), but follow ye Me: this is a Straight Way. [Qur’ân 43:57-61]
Very interestingly, al-Qurtubî had the following to say in his tafsîr, while commenting on verse 43:57 :
Ibn cAbbâs said:
This verse refers to the argument between cAbdullâh Ibn al-Zibicrâ and the Prophet of God(P) concerning Jesus. The one who held the example [in the verse] is cAbdullâh Ibn al-Zibicrâ while he was still a pagan. This took place when Quraysh reported to him that Muhammad recites: “Verily ye and what ye serve other than God is the fuel of hell.” [21:98]. He said: “If I had attended him, I would have replied to him.” They asked him:
“What would you say?” I would say: “The Christ is worshipped by the Christians and the Jews worship cUzayr. Are they among the firewood of hell?” Then Quraysh wondered at his words and saw that he had argued convincingly and this is the meaning of yasiddûn [raise a clamour in ridicule]. So, God revealed: “Surely (as for) those for whom the good has already gone forth from Us, they shall be kept far off from it;” [21:101]
If Ibn al-Zibicrâ had pondered on verse 21:98, he wouldn’t have objected to it because it makes mention of “what ye serve” and not “whom you serve” because the verse speaks about the idols and other things, and not about Jesus nor the angels even if they are worshipped.
Two things stand out from this quotation:
Firstly, the grammatical considerations that we made in the beginning of this article according to which only inanimate things are included in verse 21:98. Al-Qurtubî stands by this opinion when commenting on verse 43:57 as well as verse 21:98.
The scholars say that Jesus, cUzayr and the angels are not meant by verse 21:98 because “mâ” [i.e., “what”] refers to inanimate things and not to people. If the verse pointed to them, it would use “man” [i.e., “who” or “whom”] instead.
As-Sâbûnî in Mukhtasar Tafsîr Ibn Kathîr points out this argument too in the explanation of verse 43:58
Regarding His divine words: “This they set forth to thee, only by way of disputation: yea, they are a contentious people” means: they say so for the sake of argument while they know that their argument is not applicable to this verse since it refers to things only [i.e., in the Arabic language “mâ” is used to refer to things and God Almighty used “mâ” and not “man”] and so it is in His divine speech “Verily ye and what ye serve other than God is the fuel of hell.”
Moreover, this verse was addressed at Quraysh who were used to worship idols and they did not worship Jesus so that he could be included here. Therefore, their answer is no more than a fake argument in which they do not believe themselves.
Secondly, it is implied that cAbdullâh Ibn al-Zibicrâ, the one who opposed the Prophet(P) about verse 21:98, became a Muslim. The reader may check entry number 4682 in al-Isâbah by Ibn Hajar where we get the confirmation that Ibn al-Zibicrâ converted to Islam and praised the Prophet(P) with his poetry. If he knew that there were a contradiction in the Qur’ân concerning Jesus(P) and whether he would go to hell, would he believe in Muhammad(P) and convert to Islam?
In conclusion, it can said that there is no difference between the arguments of cAbdullâh Ibn al-Zibicrâ when he was a pagan and the Christian missionaries of this day. The verse 21:98 does not refer to Jesus(P) at all and neither does the Qur’ân say that Jesus(P) would be going to hell. Everything points to the fact that the missionaries’ argument is hollow and that they are contentious indeed!
This issue is also discussed as a logical fallacy committed by the Quraysh.
The reader would also notice that the best tafsîr of the Qur’ân is Qur’ân itself (notice how 21:98 is explained using 43:57-58), i.e., al-Qur’ân yufassiru bacduhu bacdan (different parts of the Qur’ân explain each other). What is given in a general way in one place is discussed in detail in some other place in the Qur’ân. What is dealt with briefly at one place is expanded in some other place. Such an exegesis involves the use of Context & Internal Relationships.
And Allah knows best!
The ways in which people will pass over the Siraat=Bridge over Hellfire will vary according to their deeds Quran (19:71)
 Ibn Hishâm, Al-Sîrah al-Nabawiyyah, 1971, Volume 2, Maktabat al-Kulliyyât al-Azhariyyah, Cairo, pp. 8-9.
 Tafsîr al-Qurtubî, available online (requires an Arabic enabled browser or plugin).
 Tafsîr al-Qurtubî, Op-Cit.
 Muhammad cAlî as-Sâbûnî, Mukhtasar Tafsîr Ibn Kathîr, Volume 3, matches Version 1.18 in Muhaddith software.
 Ibn Hajar al-cAsqalanî, Al-‘Isâbah, Version 1.03, part of Muhaddith software.