Q. First of all, I would like to express my admiration for the intellectual beauty and honesty of your website. At a time when the understanding of Islam outside the ummah is too often perpetuated by a vicious cycle of misinformation, bigotry, and stereotypes, websites like yours, which enable Muslims to reveal the wisdom and scholarship in their heritage as well as examine the realities of their faith, is truly inspiring. I have been better educated on this website on many aspects of Islam than the entirety of my GCSE Religious Studies Course, and I can only take this opportunity to express my gratitude for being so enriched.

I would, however, also like to ask a question which has confused me for a long time. Is it possible to be a good person, perhaps even worthy of paradise, in the context of Islam while being an atheist? I was raised in the Jewish faith, in which, according to the Torah, “all the righteous of nations (i.e. those that abide by the seven Noahide laws) have a place in the Hereafter”. Is there a similar concession within Islam? If an atheist had promoted truth and human happiness in his life, such as Elie Wiesel, could he/she be granted entrance to jannah? Of course there are arguments that such people are not "really" atheists, of which I, as an atheist, remain unconvinced.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my query; my very best wishes go to your website, and I am sure your response would clarify my understanding of Islam.

A. Thank you very much for your kind words. You raised an interesting question. Who is an atheist? One who denies, based on the lack of proof, that there is a god. An atheist is NOT someone who KNOWS that there is a god, and then refuses to acknowledge one. An atheist is NOT one who rejects proof when it is presented in a cogent manner. Those definitions are, in our view, what we may logically conclude regarding atheists.

The Qur'an's argument is against those who BELIEVE that there is a god, and reject the idea based on arrogance or their partiality to some factor of contumacy. The idea of punishment is that a person is guilty of something. What is the atheist guilty of? That atheist may claim God is guilty of not making the divine evident. Can an atheist who is good go to heaven? Here I am in the quandary of being posed a rational question that requires an answer based on irrational belief (religion). And to answer with certainty would appear to some that I am playing God.

All I can say is that a God who claims to be just cannot punish someone if that person denies something because there was, in his/her perception, a lack of evidence. I don't believe in a "Tam O'Shanter" scenario, so my view is that since there is heaven and hell, and since hell is reserved for those who are evildoers and rejectors of provable truth, the atheist cannot, from a logical perspective as it relates to philosophy or religion, be relegated to hell. Our analysis is based on what we believe to be the lexicology of the Qur'an, and not faith-based constructs.

Posted January 12, 2010