Salvation for Kuffar? Yaqeen Institute and Brown Promote Deviant Perspectives

Note: This post is an excerpt from the full Reviewing Yaqeen Institute report.

One of the most egregious papers published by Yaqeen Institute is titled: “The Fate of Non-Muslims: Perspectives on Salvation Outside of Islam,” written by Jonathan Brown.

The essay prompted two rebuttals that came shortly after it was published in 2018. Mobeen Vaid and Sh Dr. Mateen Khan strongly denounce Brown and Yaqeen for promoting clear deviancy. Sh Mateen sums it up thus:

“The article’s logical inconsistencies are numerous, and its undermining of explicit text and Sunni creed is unacceptable, but those are secondary points to what I would like to highlight. Brown forwards a creedal stance against the explicitly stated creed of Sunni Islam and uses Yaqeen’s platform as a means of conveying that opinion to the public.”

What is so problematic about Brown’s essay? A great deal. The entire paper reads like a tormented soul grappling with the question of whether non-Muslims will be saved in the Hereafter. Brown grasps for anything that might open a door for non-Muslims, anything that could be taken as an alternative to the unanimous consensus position in Islam. What is this consensus? That, all else being equal, believing in Islam and being Muslim is required for salvation and, that Allah does not forgive shirk and those who die upon shirk will not be forgiven by Him. This is explicit in the Quran:

“Indeed, Allah does not forgive association with Him, but He forgives what is less than that for whom He wills. And he who associates others with Allah has certainly fabricated a tremendous sin.” [Quran 4:48, also see 4:116.]

But apparently this is not enough for Brown. His desperation takes him to aberrant views from modernist reformists like Farid Esask, Fazlur Rahman, and Rashid Rida. But those readers not aware of the heterodox inclinations of these academics wouldn’t get that impression from Brown. Brown presents them as firmly within the Islamic tradition when he says:

“What about non-Muslims who are informed reliably and accurately about Islam’s teachings and yet do not convert? What is their fate in the Afterlife? As far as I understand, three answers have been offered in the Islamic tradition. Please note: at this point I’m not advocating any one of them. I am merely presenting them and trying to lay out arguments for and against them. […]

1. Islam is the Only Path

This school of thought is exclusive. It holds that only by embracing the message of the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, only by adopting the religion we know of as Islam, can one attain salvation in the Hereafter. […]

2. Belief in God and Doing Good Deeds

One might call this the moral theism school of thought. It holds that anyone who believes in God and does good deeds can attain salvation. […]

3. All True Paths Lead to the One

An even broader approach to the questions of salvation and truth is sometimes known as the Perennialist school.”[150]

Brown frames these three positions as being “in the Islamic tradition,” which by itself is an egregious distortion. He presents two deviant views from self-described reformists as being on par with the singular correct Islamic position and even says that he isn’t advocating any particular one. This is a microcosm of Yaqeen’s “muddying the water” approach. The clear cut consensus Islamic position goes against liberal Western sensibilities, so that position is mitigated by inclusion of everything but the kitchen sink. The confused reader can then pick and choose from the alternatives, whatever makes him feel most comfortable. This is Yaqeen’s “compassionate orthodoxy.”

To make his deviance on this issue absolutely clear, Brown writes:

“The question of whether or not there lies salvation outside of Islam—or of any exclusive religion—is too daunting for any particular conclusions to be drawn (at least by me).”

Now, it should be pointed out that Brown does say at the end of his essay the following: “Islam is the only valid religion in the eyes of God.” This is Islamically sound, right?

But remember that this is not a paper about whether religions other than Islam are valid. The paper is about whether kuffar and mushrikin can attain salvation after rejecting Islam, and Brown is, at best, ambivalent about this and presents numerous arguments that contradict the Quran and Islamic orthodoxy.

He underscores this ambivalence towards punishment of kuffar in the Hereafter with this:

“Here one massive question looms: does one believe that accepting the specific religious message of Muhammad ﷺ, as it has been preserved and transmitted down to our times, is so important that rejecting it means suffering eternally in Hellfire, whether that punishment is physical or a spiritual alienation from God? Put more simply, is believing in Islam so important that you’re willing to declare that non-Muslims have no hope for peace in the Afterlife?”[152]

The sheer irreverence of the question leaves one speechless. Is believing in Islam so important? YES. That is the whole point of revelation, messengers, the struggle of billions of believers throughout the eons of history. Indeed, it is the whole purpose of our existence as creations of Allah. Yet Brown questions the importance of belief and spends the whole essay reflecting on the value of polytheists who are nonetheless “good people.”

He also says “you’re willing to declare” as if this is something we as individuals “declare” from our personal opinions, as opposed to what Allah and His Messenger have asserted.

There are numerous other significant errors in the essay. For example, this passage:

“When it comes to [the salvation of] specific individuals the tradition of Muslim scholars has been to withhold judgment. We can pass judgment on the correctness or falsity of religions, but we do not know the fate of the individual people who follow those religions. Because of the enormity of God’s mercy, and because the scope of His cosmic justice so far exceeds our ken, the result is that we cannot know who will enter Heaven and who will not.”

Brown is either confused or he is purposely distorting the Islamic position. Yes, it is correct that we don’t pass judgment on individuals, even kuffar, and say definitively that so-and-so person is in the Fire. But this withholding of judgment is not because there is a possibility that God’s mercy and His cosmic justice, as Brown puts it, will result in forgiveness for that person’s kufr and/or shirk. We may withhold judgment because we do not know if the person secretly was a believer despite appearances. So, Brown twists this Islamic position to serve his own argument.

The original essay had even more flagrant distortions and deviancy. Originally, Brown wrote:

“As far as I know this is only my opinion, but it thus seems entirely possible that a non-Muslim who believed in God and did enormous good deeds, even one who had committed shirk (the grievous sin of associating partners with God), might face only temporary punishment for their error before attaining salvation in the Garden.”

He adds to this with:

“To be clear, what follows here is just my idea: it thus also seems possible that God could forgive the sin of shirk for a reason other than repentance, perhaps as an expression of His immeasurable mercy.”

This is clear cut deviancy and contradicts the Quran and the unanimously established creed of Sunni Islam. Confirming this, Sh Mateen writes: “This opinion suggests salvation for the reached, unrepentant disbeliever. The evidence from the primary texts and scholarly consensus is completely overwhelming and resolute to the contrary.”[155]

Ust Mobeen underlines this:

“To suggest a possibility of forgiveness that then militates against this creedal foundation upon which the very religion of Islam is built is not merely heterodox, but unfounded, unacceptable, and worthy of outright rejection.”

Sh Mateen then goes on to denounce Yaqeen for agreeing to publish such an essay, thereby exposing their audience to deviance presented as sound Islam:

“In a post-modern world where everyone’s opinion – scholarly or unscholarly, deviant or orthodox – is seen as equal, is it responsible for Yaqeen Institute to advance non-normative, deviant opinions? […] Given the authority and platform from which such pronouncements are being issued, an astute reader will walk away with only doubts rather than the pristine certainty that is Islamic creed. […] Scholars who advocated for or are associated with deviance in creed and innovation in jurisprudence have a responsibility to publicly withdraw their support or offer the appropriate criticism. The Muslim public has this right upon them, and we should demand no less.”

About a month after publication, Yaqeen decided to quietly remove the two above-mentioned sentences about Allah forgiving mushrikin. It is customary for academic publications to include editors’ notes about any corrections and changes to a text that occur after the text is published. This is to alert people who read earlier versions that there were mistakes. But, as with other examples discussed in the report, Yaqeen includes no such notes, as if the offending sentences never existed. But they did exist and many people read those sentences, and those who didn’t know better came away with a distorted understanding of Islamic creed.

Brown tries to explain why a proper correction wasn’t made in a podcast interview. He claims that noting the correction will only cause more confusion since more people will be exposed to the deviant belief. But this makes no sense. If Yaqeen is trying to teach a correct understanding of salvation, then should clearly specify both what is correct and what is deviance as deviance. If Yaqeen could make it crystal clear:

“In a previous version of this paper, we advanced the view that mushrikin and kuffar who rejected Islam could still attain salvation. We retract this view because it is completely false and deviant and goes against the sound aqida of all Sunni scholars.”

Why can’t Yaqeen make such a correction?

Doesn’t Yaqeen have a responsibility to not only own up to its mistakes but also take steps to rectify the damage? More significantly, how could such a deeply flawed, heterodox piece be published in the first place on a platform that claims to have over a dozen scholarly advisors, editors, and directors, led by an imam as its president?

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11 COMMENTS

  1. “He claims that noting the correction will only cause more confusion since more people will be exposed to the deviant belief.”

    Well, at least he’s admitting that much. As far as I know Brown is a historian. Why is he speaking on these matters? And why is Al-Yaqeen (Al-Mushbooh) green lighting this deviancy?

  2. One simple question for all kafirs who wish for Muslims to pronounce heaven on them:

    Why are you so insistent to reach the salvation and heaven of the religion you don’t believe in?

    One simple question for all zanadeeq like Brown who want to pronounce heaven for kafirs:

    Why do you want them to attain the salvation and reward of the religion that they don’t believe in?

    • How logical would it be if Khizr Khan said that Humayun Khan is entitled to a 21 gun salute in Hanoi, on the Vietnamese national day?

      Just showing the stupidity and inconsistency of such thoughts of absolute entitlement.

      Not drawing analogy between Jannah and Vietnam or between Allah and His creation.

  3. I completely agree, and felt quite uncomfortable reading how Dr Brown says Allah can forgive the Mushrik even though he SWT states in the Quran he never will forgive any sin less than the sin of Shirk.

    On a related note however, we should be clear that there is some leeway and legitimate difference in interpretation between the Sunni theologians on who exactly will be subject to eternal punishment as opposed to an extremely long punishment in Jahannam.

    Ash’ari theologians hold, for example, that the one who the message of Islam has not reached (or as according to al-Ghazali it has reached distorted e.g. “The Muslims worship the Kaaba” etc.) will not punished, or they will only be punished after being subjected to a test in the hereafter (a view the Athari agree with in relation to a hadith). This is based on the verse of the Quran 17:15, and hadith such as those found in Musnad Ahmad and Sahih Ibn Hibban which talk of the ghayr mukallafin being tested with a fire that is cool (to enter it).

    On the other hands, the Maturidis completely disagree and stipulate that even the person who never received the message of Islam is still at least required to affirm monotheism (belief in Allah alone), otherwise they will suffer eternal punishment. They stipulate this is arrivable rationally/empirically for someone born upon the fitra and the story of Ibrahim Alayhis Salam is an example of this. I believe they question the hadith brought by the Ash’ari/Athari theologians and instead point to verses of the Quran e.g. that Allah will never forgive less than the sin of shirk, or the verse that he will show them his signs in the furtherst reaches of the sky until it is clear to them that this is the truth.

    Another question is, “What about the people who are aware of Islam and reject it?” Such people are clearly disbelievers and will be punished in Jahannam according to explicit verses of the Quran.

    Note: There is no difference of opinion that the Mushrikeen/Kuffar billah who are aware of Islam and reject it will enter Jahannam and abide there forever (khaliduna fihi abada).

    But an interesting question arises, “What if they were monotheists?” I.e. what if they believed in Allah but rejected the rest of Islam after having heard it. By consensus such people are disbelievers and will enter Jahannam. But there is however a difference of opinion on whether they will suffer eternal punishment or just an incredibly long punishment. I.e. there is a difference of opinion on whether it is possible for the monotheist to enter Jannah eventually.

    From what I can tell there are two opinions, both equally valid. One is based on Tafsir of the Quran by way of the Quran itself (Tafsir al-Quran bil Quran) without allowing Takhsis, and the other seemingly allows Takhsis of a verse in the Quran via hadith (Tafsir al-Quran bil Hadith).

    The first opinion, in particular advanced by Maturidi scholar Badr ad-Din al Ayni, in his Umdat al-Qari (commentary on Sahih Bukhari), is that those who reject the Prophet Alayhis Salam will enter Jahannam for eternity. This can be backed up by numerous verses of the Quran e.g. which stipulate there is no there is no difference between believing in Allah and believing in his messenger and the verse that states that those who reject Allah and his messenger (talking to the pagans), shall enter jahannam and the word “abada” meaning forever is used. The Athari scholar al-Mardawi also holds this view.

    The second opinion, given by Imam an-Nawawi (al-Ash’ari) in his Sharh of Sahih Muslim, is a commentary on the rather clear hadith of Sahih Muslim 39 that the one who dies knowing for certain that there is no god other than Allah enters Jannah. Imam an-Nawawi comments and brings various opinions and states that this means that the one who affirms the oneness of God will eventually enter Jannah and Imam an-Nawawi claims consensus on this. This view can also be backed up by various verses of the Quran and conversely the interpretation of the verses brought by the Maturidis can be disputed over.

    Similarly Badr-ad-Din al-Ayni claims consensus for his position.

    Perhaps these should be interpreted as the consensus for their schools i.e. that the Hanafis (Maturidis) all hold the view that the one who knowingly rejects the Prophet Alayhis Salam shall enter Jahannam khaliduna fihi abada. Whilst the Shafi’is (and likely other Ash’ari and likely the Atharis) hold that such a monotheist will eventually enter Jannah.

    So there are some nuiances to be had in this discussion of eternal damnation and Jannah. One should remember that it is consensus of Sunni Islam that Jahannam is eternal. All schools and scholars are in agreement that the Mushrikeen and Kuffar billah who hear of Islam and reject it shall enter Jahannam for eternity. To go against this position and to argue for a Jahannam that comes to an end is heretical. There are some scholars who tried arguing or defending this but by virtue of holding this opinion they fall outside of Sunni Islam. In fact I think some theologians would even stipulate that this is Kufr.

    It is accepted by consensus that Muslims (leaving aside non-Muslim Monotheists where there is a difference of opinion) will all eventually enter Jannah, regardless of their sin, and this is confirmed in hadith and by interpretation of the Quran.

    My own opinion, which I understand is the opinion of the Hanbali/Athari scholar al-Mardawi, is that all those that die as Mushrikeen or Kuffar Billah shall enter Jahannam Khaliduna Fihi Abadah even if they died not know of Islam, whilst all those that affirm monotheism will eventually enter Jannah even if they disbelieved in the Prophet Alayhis Salam. I recommend readers to watch on YouTube John Starling’s video on Qala’id al-Iqyan on this subject: type “Qala’id al-Iqyan 02” in the search box on YouTube.

    Nevertheless, I do not negate that Allah could forgive the Mushrikeen/Kuffar Billah to whom the message of Islam has not reached (I save myself from the difference of the Ash’aris and the majority of the Atharis in this regard). I similarly respect the views of the Maturidis who state that belief in the prophet Alayhis Salam is necessary to enter Jannah for those aware of Islam.

    It is unfortunate that Dr Johnathon Brown did not explain some of the more interesting and legitimate nuiances. May Allah forgive him and Daniel and lead them both to the straight path.

    • “The first opinion, in particular advanced by Maturidi scholar Badr ad-Din al Ayni, in his Umdat al-Qari (commentary on Sahih Bukhari), is that those who reject the Prophet Alayhis Salam will enter Jahannam for eternity. This can be backed up by numerous verses of the Quran e.g. which stipulate there is no there is no difference between believing in Allah and believing in his messenger and the verse that states that those who reject Allah and his messenger (talking to the pagans), shall enter jahannam and the word “abada” meaning forever is used. The Athari scholar al-Mardawi also holds this view.”

      Mistakenly stated that al-Mardawi agrees with Badr ad-Din al-Ayni on the issue of eternal damnation for the one that rejects the Prophet Alayhis Salam, what I was meant to say is that al-Mardawi agrees with the Maturidis in their view that I gave above this, that one is required to come to a belief in Allah even if Islam has not reached them. Again I recommend watching the explanation of Qala’id al-Iqyan by John Starling on this.

    • “On a related note however, we should be clear that there is some leeway and legitimate difference in interpretation between the Sunni theologians on who exactly will be subject to eternal punishment as opposed to an extremely long punishment in Jahannam.”

      Misleading paragraph as what comes after it is not on that subject, should have said, “legitimate difference in interpretation between Sunni theologians on exactly who is subject to Jahannam based off of whether the message has reached them.

    • And when I say, “it is known by consensus”, what I mean is it known by creedal necessity and I am not aware of any valid opinion differing (and by definition if there was an opinion differing it would be invalid).

  4. Leave all these books and articles and opinions of men, and instead spend your time contemplating Allah’s verses. Spend less time hammering out refutations and mournful laments — less time glued to social media — and more time buried in His Book. If you are willing to embrace the difficult ascent, in time He may grant you true insight. It is all there in His Book, but only those who look will see it. Leave all of this for now — we will survive without you — and focus on your own salvation instead.

    In another twenty years you will wish that you could dispense this advice to your younger self.

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