“In Islam, sinners will face judgement without forgiveness”

Nicky Gumbel, 1994, Searching Issues, Kingsway Publications, England p.31

I WAS reading Searching Issues by Nicky Gumbel (of Alpha / Holy Trinity Brompton fame) recently and I came across the above statement in the second chapter, ‘What About Other Religions?‘ The question I want to address here is whether this is true. The actual context of his remark, I think, arises from a different theological perspective. To quote more fully, Gumbel writes:

‘Secondly, Jesus is unique in his achievement. As Peter asserts, “salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). We all need a saviour because we have all sinned and we cannot save ourselves from the results of sin. None of the other great religions even claims to have a saviour. … Likewise, Muhammad is regarded as a prophet – not as a saviour. In Islam, sinners will face judgement without forgiveness.
By contrast, Jesus is the one who brings salvation. He saves us from our guilt, he saves us from the addictive power of sin and he saves us from the judgement we all deserve.’ (pp.30-31)

Only in the context of Gumbel’s earlier assertion (that we all need a saviour [that is, a name under heaven]) is his statement about Islam true. It is indeed the case that a Muslim believes that no name under heaven has the ability to forgive the sins by which we are judged on the Day of Recompense, but this does not mean that there is no forgiveness. What Gumbel’s position suggests is that God alone is unable to accept the repentance of one who turns to Him.

A Muslim would not usually use the Christian terminology, but let me explain the Islamic position, as I understand it, in this way:

God has given us this life to prepare for the Day of Judgement, by believing in Him, worshipping Him and accumulating good deeds. A consequence of failure to worship Him and accumulating sins is disaster on the Day of Judgement. As humans, how ever, we all commit sins. Therefore, in order to be of the successful, we need to be saved from the results of sin. God, the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth is He who brings that salvation. When we repent and seek His forgiveness, He veils our sins and saves us from punishment.

Seeking forgiveness is, in fact, mentioned throughout the Qur’an. Gumbel’s view that, ‘In Islam, sinners will face judgement without forgiveness’ is quite wrong, unless he is speaking of those who do not repent or believe (in which case, the position of Christianity is the same).

Here is what the Qur’an actually says:

‘And to God belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. He forgives whom He wills and punishes whom He wills. And God is Forgiving and Merciful. O you who have believed, do not consume usury, doubled and multiplied, but fear God that you may be successful. And fear the Fire, which has been prepared for the disbelievers. And obey God and the Messenger that you may obtain mercy. And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a garden as wide as the heavens and the earth, prepared for the righteous who spend [in the cause of God] during ease and hardship and who restrain anger and who pardon the people – and God loves the doers of good; and those who, if they commit an immorality or wrong themselves, remember God and seek forgiveness for their sins – and who can forgive sins except God? – and do not persist in what they have done while they know. Those – their reward is forgiveness from their Lord and gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide eternally. Excellent is the reward of the workers. (Qur’an, Surah Ali ‘Imran 3:129-136)

In Islam, the term is ‘turning back’ (tawbah), i.e. Turning back to God and seeking refuge in His forgiveness, so that God turns back to the person who has sinned. The Prophet taught the following supplication for forgiveness:

‘O God, You are my Lord – there is no god but You. You created me, and I am Your servant; and I uphold Your covenant and promise to You as much as I am able. I seek refuge in You from the evil I have done. I acknowledge my sin, so forgive me. Indeed, there is none who can forgive sins except You.’

This is the reality in Islam.

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