Qur'an Contradiction:

Will Allah reward the good deeds of Unbelievers?

All religions exhort their followers to do good deeds, i.e. to help the weak and the poor.[1] Even people who do not believe in God at all, i.e. who do not believe that there will be eternal reward or punishment for what they do in this life, still make it a point that people should do good and help those in need.

The topic of reward and punishment for all we do in this life is a very prominent theme througout the Qur'an. Many passages speak about the good deeds of the believers or the bad deeds of the unbelievers, and there is little surprise when looking at the outcome of those. Things become more difficult when we want to know what the Qur'an teaches regarding the good deeds of those who reject Islam.

So whoever does righteous good deeds while he is a believer (in the Oneness of Allah Islamic Monotheism), his efforts will not be rejected. Verily! We record it in his Book of deeds. S. 21:94 Al-Hilali & Khan

This verse promises Muslims that their good deeds will not be rejected by Allah. On the other hand, this condition implies that those who are not (Muslim) believers are at least at risk that their good deeds will be rejected. That this is indeed so, is made explicit in some other passages.

Unbelievers, i.e. those who rejected the message of Muhammad, cannot hope that their good deeds will receive any reward from God:

It is not for the Mushrikun (polytheists, idolaters, pagans, disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah), to maintain the Mosques of Allah (i.e. to pray and worship Allah therein, to look after their cleanliness and their building, etc.), while they witness against their ownselves of disbelief. The works of such are in vain and in Fire shall they abide. S. 9:17 Al-Hilali & Khan

As in the case of those before you: they were mightier than you in power, and more flourishing in wealth and children. They had their enjoyment of their portion: and ye have of yours, as did those before you; and ye indulge in idle talk as they did. They! - their work are fruitless in this world and in the Hereafter, and they will lose (all spiritual good). S. 9:69 Yusuf Ali

The next verse states something similar, but this time the context deals with the specific case of a Muslim who leaves Islam. It seems to be irrelevant whether he subsequently becomes a polytheist, an atheist, or a Christian:

... And they will never cease fighting you until they turn you back from your religion (Islamic Monotheism) if they can. And whosoever of you turns back from his religion and dies as a disbeliever, then his deeds will be lost in this life and in the Hereafter, and they will be the dwellers of the Fire. They will abide therein forever. S. 2:217 Al-Hilali & Khan

On the other hand, speaking of the last days and God's final judgment of mankind, Sura 99 states:

In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.
(1) When the earth is shaken with its (final) earthquake.
(2) And when the earth throws out its burdens,
(3) And man will say: "What is the matter with it?"
(4) That Day it will declare its information (about all what happened over it of good or evil).
(5) Because your Lord has inspired it.
(6) That Day mankind will proceed in scattered groups that they may be shown their deeds.
(7) So whosoever does good equal to the weight of an atom (or a small ant), shall see it.
(8) And whosoever does evil equal to the weight of an atom (or a small ant), shall see it. (Al-Hilali & Khan)

This whole sura is completely general, there is no restriction to (Muslim) believers, but it says in verse 7 that everyone who does good, even if only a little, will see it, and this certainly implies some kind of reward. The passage speaks of all of mankind (6). This general promise is confirmed again in Sura 4:40:

God is never unjust in the least degree: If there is any good (done), He doubleth it, and giveth from His own presence a great reward. (Yusuf Ali)

Surely! Allah wrongs not even of the weight of an atom (or a small ant) but if there is any good (done), He doubles it, and gives from Him a great reward. (Al-Hilali & Khan)

Since S. 99:7 and 4:40 make absolute statements that apply to all people, they contradict those other passages which explicitly state that there will be no reward whatsoever for the good deeds of the unbelievers.

Apart from these very general statements found in S. 99:7 and 4:40, the Qur'an also gives Jews and Christians an explicit promise of reward for their good deeds:

Verily! Those who believe and those who are Jews and Christians, and Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and do righteous good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. S. 2:62 Al-Hilali & Khan

This passage promises even more. "No fear" and "nor shall they grieve" can only mean that they will go to Paradise and not to Hell, which is even more than a certain reward for some good deeds.

Just as there are plenty of Muslims who do not truly believe and do not live according to the rules of Islam, so there are plenty of people who consider themselves to be Jews or Christians but do not truly believe in the teachings of the Bible nor live according to its moral standards. Therefore it makes sense that the Qur'an specifies some minimum requirements: (1) Belief in Allah, (2) belief in the Last Day (the Final Judgment), and (3) doing righteous good deeds. Whoever meets those three requirements among those who are either Muslims, Jews, Christians or Sabians, they shall have their reward for their good deeds. Even more, they shall not have any fear or a need to grieve in regard to the life to come.

The very fact that this verse is formulated as it is, presupposes that — according to the Qur'an — Jews and Christians believe in the same God as the Muslims. The conditions (1) - (3) merely emphasize that this promise holds only for those who are serious about their faith and live according to the teachings of their scriptures. People of religions that worship other gods are not included. Add to this the specific statement:

And argue not with the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), unless it be in (a way) that is better (with good words and in good manner, inviting them to Islamic Monotheism with His Verses), except with such of them as do wrong, and say (to them): "We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you; our Ilah (God) and your Ilah (God) is One (i.e. Allah), and to Him we have submitted (as Muslims)." S. 29:46 Al-Hilali & Khan

Thus, Jews and Christians who truly believe and follow their scriptures satisfy those first two conditions stipulated in S. 2:62, since the Bible clearly teaches that there will be a Last Day on which God will judge mankind (e.g., Joel 3:1-3, 11-13; Psalm 62:12, 96:13, 98:9; Isaiah 40:10, 62:11; Jeremiah 17:10; Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 10:42, 17:30-31; Romans 2:5-6, 16, 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Revelation 20:11-15).

However, the Qur'an also calls the Jews and Christians unbelievers and idolaters. The word for unbeliever comes from the term kafir, which refers to one who makes kufr. According to the Quran, the Jews and Christians (specifically the latter) fall under these categories of mushrik and kafir:

O ye who believe! surely, the idolaters are unclean (al-mushrikoona najasun). So they shall not approach the Sacred Mosque after this year of theirs. And if you fear poverty, ALLAH will enrich you out of HIS bounty, if HE pleases. Surely, ALLAH is All-Knowing, Wise. Fight those from among the people of the Book, who believe not in ALLAH, nor in the Last Day, nor hold as unlawful what ALLAH and HIS Messenger have declared to be unlawful, nor follow the true religion, until they pay the tax considering it a favour and acknowledge their subjection. And the Jews say, ‘Ezra is the son of ALLAH,’ and the Christians say, ‘the Messiah is the son of ALLAH;’ that is what they say with their mouths. They only imitate the saying of those who disbelieved (kafaroo) before them. ALLAH's curse be on them! How they are turned away. They have taken their priest and their monks for lords besides ALLAH. And so have they taken the Messiah, son of Mary. And they were not commanded but to worship the One God. There is no God but HE. Holy is HE far above what they associate (yushrikoona) with Him! They seek to extinguish the light of ALLAH with their mouths; but ALLAH refuses but to perfect HIS light, though the disbelievers (al-kafiroona) may resent it. HE it is Who has sent HIS Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth, that HE may make it prevail over every other religion, even though the idolaters (al-mushrikoona) may resent it. S. 9:28-33 Sher Ali

The above passage claims that not only are Christians idolaters (or of those who associate partners with God) and blasphemers (or disbelievers), but the Jews are as well. It even classifies the Jews and Christians as unclean!

They indeed have disbelieved (kafara) who say, `Surely ALLAH - He is the Messiah, son of Mary.' Say, `Who then has any power against ALLAH, if HE desired to destroy the Messiah, son of Mary, and his mother and all those that are in the earth?' And to ALLAH belongs the Kingdom of the heavens and the earth and what is between them. HE creates what HE pleases and ALLAH has power over all things. S. 5:17 Sher Ali

They are unbelievers (kafara) who say, 'God is the Messiah, Mary's son.' For the Messiah said, 'Children of Israel, serve God, my Lord and your Lord. Verily whoso associates with God anything (innahu man yushrik biAllahi), God shall prohibit him entrance to Paradise, and his refuge shall be the Fire; and wrongdoers shall have no helpers.' S. 5:72 Arberry

Certainly they disbelieve (kafara) who say: Surely Allah is the third (person) of the three; and there is no god but the one God, and if they desist not from what they say, a painful chastisement shall befall those among them who disbelieve. S. 5:73 Shakir

To summarize, the Qur'an makes the following statements:

  1. Christians will (a) have reward for their good deeds and (b) will have nothing to fear for the life to come (S. 2:62).
  2. Christians are mushriks and kafirs (S. 9:28-33; 5:17, 72-73)
  3. Mushriks will (a) have no reward and (b) will abide in Hell forever (S. 9:17)

The contradiction is glaringly obvious.

Jochen Katz


[1] Although all religions and even most non-religious world views exhort their followers to do good deeds, the motivation for those good works may be very different. This article has the limited purpose of pointing out an inconsistency in the Qur'an. It is beyond the scope of this short paper to provide a detailed comparison of the very different concepts of good works in Islam and Christianity, let alone other religions.

Nevertheless, the most fundamental difference should at least be mentioned. Islam is a work based system. Good deeds are done for the reward that the believers expect to earn for them. The future of a Muslim depends to a good part on how he performs here on earth. Islam does not have a concept of redemption or salvation. People are seen as basically good (though weak and temptible), and as being able to be obedient to God's will and to perform all that God demands of man. Thus, there is no need for a savior.

The Bible teaches something very different. After the Fall, man became sinful and so distant from God that he is no longer able do anything that is fully good.

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. Isaiah 64:6

Man ist totally lost. He cannot by his own strength satisfy the righteous demands of God. Yet, God himself does all that is necessary to take care of the problem of sin and salvation is offered as a free gift.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10

Thus, good works are the consequence of the grace we have experienced in our lives. We can never earn God's grace by trying hard. Salvation is God's free gift. However, because we have been given such a great gift, the forgiveness of our sins and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit that transforms our lives, therefore we gladly do good works out of gratefulness.

God is good. It is his joy and desire to do good. And if our life has been touched by him, we become able to gladly do what he wants. Being his children, our character and actions should display the "family values". Our life should show whom we belong to, God's nature should find its reflection in our life. We are called to do good deeds, not to earn God's favor, but so that God be glorified:

You are the salt of the earth. ... You are the light of the world. ... let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. ... "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:13, 14, 16, 43-48

If you desire to learn more about God's Gospel of salvation by grace, I recommend The Bridge to Eternal Life and other articles in the section on Basic Christianity.

Contradictions in the Qur'an
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