Alexander Broekhuijse: Final Paper– The Reflection of Early Christian and Muslim Persecution Within Final Judgment Scenarios

In the Abrahamic Religions, the afterlife represents the ultimate goal, the final stage that will culminate God and man’s role on earth that began with creation. In both Christianity and Islam, the event which kickstarts humanity’s final transition into the afterlife is the Day of Judgement. This judgement day represents God’s coming to earth and his discernment and evaluation of every person’s actions and decisions on earth. The dead will be revived from the grave and judged, and those that are deemed worthy will go to heaven, and those that are deemed unworthy will travel to hell. The motivations behind a Judgement day; however, can be traced back to the early living conditions and experiences of both faiths. Heavy persecution and harassment can be found at the beginning of both Christian and Muslim history. The construction and role of the day of judgment in both Christianity and Islam reveals a reaction to early persecution and torture and represents a promise that regardless of how painful life is if one has faith and does good acts then they will be rewarded for it.

In order to understand the relationship between religious persecution and the Day of Judgement in Islam, we must primarily understand the extent to which the first Muslims were persecuted. The first attacks against the early Muslim’s occurred once Muhammad and his followers traveled to the city of Mecca, in present-day Saudi Arabia. Mecca at the time was primarily dominated by several different polytheistic religions, whose faith primarily focused on different idols and statues that were involved in prayer to a collection of different gods. Muhammad and his follower’s arrival represented a rejection of that belief system, and this produced a violent reaction from the people of Mecca. An especially gruesome example of the persecution that the first Muslims experienced was the torture and murder of Sumayyah bint Khabbab. Sumayyah was a former slave woman, and the seventh person to convert to Islam. Over the course of her life in Mecca, she was tortured in several different ways, including being forced to stand out in the sun wearing a heavy suit of chain mail. Eventually, Sumayyah was killed by Amr ibr Hishan, a member of the Makhzum tribe after he stabbed her through the chest with a spear. Similarly, the prophet Muhammad was also harassed by the people of Mecca, as citizens would regularly dump filth and thorns on his doorstep. One of the more extreme examples of the persecution against Muhammad was when Aqaba Bin Muiitt threw the entrails of a sacrificed camel onto the prophet while he prayed. The Arabic word commonly used to reference this persecution is ‘fitna’. The word, meaning trial, affliction, or distress, serves as a representation of the suffering and strife that the first Muslims experienced. Fazlur Rahman accurately describes the weight of this word in Islamic history in his text The Religious Situation of Mecca From The Eve of Islam Up To The Hijra, “As for fitna, although this term is used in the very early Madinan days to describe the active pressure, including physical violence and, indeed, fighting, on the part of Meccans to bring back those new Muslim converts who had left Mecca and joined the Prophet in Madina, its standard and patent use refers to the persecution of Muslims by Meccan pagans in Mecca itself.”1 The suffering that the first Muslim’s experienced produced an impact on the faith itself, and reinforces the core concept of goodness to others and charity within the faith, juxtaposing it as a reaction to the suffering that they went through. Further than that it contextualizes the Day of Judgement as a reminder to those that suffered, like the first Muslim people did, that at the end those who hurt others will be punished, and those who loved will be rewarded.

To properly analyze the dichotomy between the Day of Judgment and religious persecution, the event must be contextualized within the details and happenings surrounding the Day of Judgement itself. The primary event that will foresee the Day of Judgment, Yawm al-Qiyāmah, is the arrival of the false prophet, Masih ad-Dajjal. This individual will bring about chaos on earth by convincing many individuals that he is the next messenger of God. This chaos on earth will consist of complete tribal warfare, large clouds of black smoke filling the sky, several pieces of the earth sinking into the ground, and the rising of the sun from the west instead of the east. In response to this Chaos will be the arrival of Mahdi, the prophesied redeemer, who along with Isa, or Jesus Christ, will battle against Masih ad-Dajjal, rid the earth of evil, and rule the earth for either five, seven, nine, or nineteen years until the coming of the judgement day. The Day of Judgment will begin with the sounding of the last trumpet, which will raise the dead from their graves and gather all for judgment in the Mahsahar al Qiy’amah.

While the events surrounding the Day of Judgement are important in understanding the event itself, it is similarly important to understand specific details of the resurrection itself, and the perspective that they add to the core Muslim belief of treating others as one would prefer to be treated. With the Day of Judgement, God will bring every human being back from the grave, but one is not resurrected in the same condition that they were in when they died. In her text, Reflections on Aspects of Immortality in Islam, Jane Smith details exactly how individuals are resurrected, “We humans will surely perish, but that is not the end of it. When God so pleases we will be resurrected and will again be returned to Him. And the condition of that return is one in which judgment will be rendered in terms of the way we have chosen to live our lives.”2 Smith highlights an essential aspect to understanding the Day of Judgment in Islam. When we are returned to this earth by God, we are returned formed by the quality of our actions. If one was cruel, he would be returned as a representation of his cruelty. Similarly if one was good, they would be returned in that condition as well. This essence of being a representation of your own actions is highlighted in verse 75:11 through 75:14 of the Surah Al-Qiyama chapter within the Quran. It states, “Man will say on that day, “Where is the place of Escape” No! There is no refuge To your Lord, that day, is the place of permanence  Man will be informed that day of what he sent ahead and kept back.” The Day of Judgment is a day of absolutes, and once it occurs one cannot turn back. This concept of being a representation of your actions reinforces the notion that the best way to please and serve God is to be good to others. This conception of being resurrected as a representation of your actions receives new context when one considers the early persecution of the Muslim people. It is understandable that a people that were persecuted as their faith was being constructed would desire an event that would punish the unfaithful harassers, and benefit those that suffered and remained faithful.

To produce a well-rounded perspective on the Day of Judgement there must be a brief examination into what follows the resurrection, Heaven and Hell. In Islam, heaven and hell are described less as physical location and more as sensations and experiences that those who are sent there feel. Heaven is described as spiritual and physical pleasure, where individuals are able to experience all that they desired in life. Hell is a reflection of heaven, where those that disobeyed God’s laws and rejected his messengers experience nothing but spiritual and physical torment for all eternity. Smith describes this experience well, stating that “The kafirs, those destined for the Fire, are not unbelievers as the term is commonly rendered so much as rejecters of God’s signs. The content of one’s affirmation or rejection is expressed specifically through one’s actions.”3 In Islam, God’s desire is primarily characterized as good for others and the world they live in. Thus those that deny God’s signs, are not people that turn away from the Muslim faith, but instead, those that ignore the need to care for others. This properly characterizes those that persecuted the original Muslim people, as it did not matter that the Meccan polytheists  did not convert, but instead that they harassed and attacked those that they did not agree with. The construction of hell as a place where those who harm others provides those who were initially tortured during the construction of Islam solace. This solace is reflected in verse 20:112 of the Quran which states that “whoever does good works, is a mu’min (a person of faith or conviction) and need fear no harm. . . .” The construction of heaven and hell within the Day of Judgement provides support for those that do good and are punished for it, as it reassures them that though they may suffer now, ultimately they will be praised, and those that hurt them will suffer.

Islam is not the sole Abrahamic religion possessing a final judgement, nor is it the only Abrahamic religion which has received persecution, Christianity similarly experienced heavy persecution during its early development within ancient Rome, and the same elements of persecution that are reflected in the Islamic day of judgment are mirrored in Christianity’s last judgement. Since the death of Christ in 30-33 AD, Christians received merciless bedevilment from their fellow Romans. Christians were forced to meet in secret, they were attacked in the streets, their homes were destroyed and damaged, they were forbidden to enter the public forum or baths, and were consistently attacked in the streets. A vivid example of the persecution early Christian’s faced is the death of 48 Christians in modern-day Lyon, France in 177 AD. This harassment is eloquently described in the text The Martyrs of Lyon, A.D. 177 by Edmund Hill. The text contains a letter written by a Christian living in Lyon in 177, and it details the suffering as follows, “The first thing they were to endure most nobly was being set upon by the city mob in a heap, howling, looting, throwing stones, pulling and knocking them about, doing everything in fact that the most savage rabble likes to see done to its enemy”4 The attack was an attempt by a city of Romans to torture the Christians’ into surrendering their faith. Christians were beaten and eventually thrown into a pit of wild beasts to be eaten alive. Some Christian’s surrendered their faith, others did not. It is important to recognize; however, the experiences detailed of those men and women who did not surrender their faith. One man is described as experiencing “he himself remained inflexible and unyielding, solid in his confession, sprinkled and strengthened by the heavenly water of the fountain of life which springs from the belly of Christ.”5 One specific Christian, Blandina, is regarded as a martyr for her actions during her torture. She was exposed and bound to a stake, beasts were let loose to attack her, but still she did not denounce her faith. The aforementioned letter details her experience as thus, “the blessed woman, like the stout-hearted athlete she was, took on a new lease of life by her confession, and seemed to find refreshing comfort and relief from her torments in saying ‘I am a Christian, and there is nothing criminal committed amongst us”6 Eventually she was cast into a net and thrown in front of a bull, who eventually killed her; however, the power of her actions remains. Blandina’s experience seemingly mirrors that of Sumayyah bint Khabbab, both were tortured but still refused to renounce their faith. It is this mutual steadfastness in the face of horrors that provides context to the Day of Judgment and the Final Judgement respectively. The events provide hope that regardless of what happens, those that are good will ultimately receive goodness.

The Final Judgment in Christianity bears a similar structure to the Day of Judgement in Islam, further reinforcing the relevance of persecution in the importance and focus on an ultimate judgment from God. In Christianity, the Final Judgment is said to occur in tandem with the arrival of Jesus Christ and the false prophet. In the Book of Revelations, the arrival of Christ and the war with the false prophet, there is large scale death and chaos. Following the death and chaos will be the arrival of God and the resurrection of all men and women for judgement. Matthew 13:40-43 describes these events as “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!” While this is a more violent description than what is found in the Quran, it carries the same message. The Final Judgement, like the Day of Judgement, represents a moment of resolution for those who have suffered yet still remained faithful and good. Looking back to the suffering of those in Lyon in 177 AD, it becomes evident why a judgement day is necessary to maintain faith in developing religions. It produces reassurances that regardless of how difficult things are in life if one does good, there will be a reward eventually. Neil Middleton sums up this idea excellently in his text God’s Kingdom and His Judgement, stating that “The final judgment is an affirmation of the communal nature of man and of his unity with Christ.”7 The world affirmation is especially pertinent to the discussion of the role of persecution and judgement day scenarios, as it is evidence to those who suffer because of their faith that regardless of what they experience, God will make everything right.

Examining both Christianity and Islam’s persecution and judgement days raises several important conclusions that add to the role of history in religion. When one is in the face of pain, evil, and suffering because of one’s religion it is common that one will turn away from that faith. A judgement day; however, gives one the hope to persevere, as it reminds the individual that the pain of this life is only temporary, and if one remains faithful and good, then they will be given paradise. This where the stories of Blandina and Sumayyah bint Khabbab become symbolic, as they reveal the importance of remaining faithful even in absolute sorrow. These martyrs represent some of the absolute worst treatment individuals can experience; however, it is their resilience and faithfulness that genuinely inspires. Religion and faith give people strength, and final judgments give people an end goal to work towards. Verse 18:88 of the Quran reinforces this idea stating that, “As for him who has faith and does wholesome deeds, he shall as recompense the most beautiful”. This statement reflects the idea found in both Christianity and Islam, that even through life, it is what one does that is representative of them, not what happens to them.

Works Cited:

1. Rahman, Fazlur. “THE RELIGIOUS SITUATION OF MECCA FROM THE EVE OF ISLAM UP TO THE HIJRA.” Islamic Studies, vol. 16, no. 4, 1977, pp. 298. 

2. Smith, Jane I. “Reflections on Aspects of Immortality in Islam.” The Harvard Theological Review, vol. 70, no. 1/2, 1977, 86.

 3. Ibid, 87.

 4. Hill, Edmund. “THE MARTYRS OF LYONS, A. D. 177.” Life of the Spirit (1946-1964), vol. 11, no. 126, 1956, pp. 271. 

5. Ibid, 274.

6. Ibid, 273. 

7. MIDDLETON, NEIL. “God’s Kingdom and His Judgement.” Life of the Spirit (1946-1964), vol. 17, no. 195, 1962, pp. 171.

Murata, Sachiko, and William C. Chittick. The Vision of Islam. New York: Paragon House, 1994. Print.