As for the principle, it is that the deeds of man are not sufficient to deliver him from the Hellfire, or to grant him entry into Paradise; instead this can only come about through the mercy of Allah and His forgiveness. The Qur’an supports this meaning in many places such as His sayings, “Those who migrated and were driven from their homes and suffered harm in My way and fought and were killed, I will ease their bad actions from them and admit them into Gardens with rivers flowing beneath them as a reward from Allah.” (Ali Imran 3:195) “Their Lord gives them the good news of His Mercy and good pleasure and Gardens where they will enjoy everlasting delight, remaining in them timelessly, for ever and ever.” (al-Tawbah 9:22) “… it is to believe in Allah and His Messenger and to do Jihad in the Way of Allah with your wealth and your selves. That is better for you if you only knew. He will forgive you your wrong actions and admit you into Gardens with rivers flowing beneath them…” (Al-Saff 61:11-12) mentioning victory and entry into Paradise alongside forgiveness and mercy thereby proving that this cannot be attained except by these.
Some of the Salaf said, ‘The Hereafter consisted either of Allah’s forgiveness to the Fire; and this world is either a source of Allah’s protection or a source of destruction.’ On his deathbed, Muhammad ibn Wasi’ bid farewell to his companions saying, ‘Peace be upon you, either to the Fire or to the forgiveness of Allah.’ (Abu Nuaym al-Hilyah, vol 2, p348)
As for the saying of Allah, “That is the Garden you will be made to inherit for what you did.” (al-Zukhruf 43:72) “…eat and drink with relish for what you did before in days gone by!” (al-Haqqah 69:24) the scholars differed concerning the meaning of this, falling into two opinions:
- Entry into Paradise is accorded by His Mercy, but the assignment of ranking and station in Paradise is done in accordance to the deeds one performed. [Ibn Hajr] Ibn Uyaynah said, ‘They were of the opinion that salvation from the Fire occurs through the forgiveness of Allah, entry into Paradise occurs by His grace, and the apportioning of ranking occurs in accordance to one’s deeds.’
- That the ba which has been mentioned in His sayings, “for what you did”, “for what you did before in days gone by” is the ba used to indicate causality (sabab). Hence the meaning is that Allah had appointed deeds to the means for entry into Paradise. The ba which has been negated in his saying, “Actions alone will not cause one to enter Paradise” is the ba indicating comparison and compensation (muqabalah) and replacing like for like (muawidah). The meaning of the hadith would then be that none deserves entry into Paradise by virtue of the deeds he has performed. Through this explanation the erroneous understanding that Paradise is the imbursement of deeds is dispelled: the understanding that the person, by virtue of his deeds alone, has the right to be granted entry into Paradise by Allah; just as one who pays the price for a commodity has the right that it be given to him by the seller. This explanation makes clear that actual entry comes to pass by the grace and mercy of Allah, and that deeds are a cause for the entry into Paradise.
Therefore actual entry into Paradise is dependent upon the grace of Allah, His forgiveness and mercy; He is the one who blessed the person with he means and the result of that means. Hence entry is not a direct outcome of actions in and of themselves. It is recorded in the sahih that the Prophet, may Allah;s peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Allah, Blessed and Exalted, said to Paradise: You are My mercy, I show mercy through you to whoever I will of My servants.”
The servants have no right over Him that he must render,
Never! Neither, in His presence, in any effort wretched.
If they are punished, then by His Justice; if they are in bliss,
Then by His beneficence. He is the Kind, the Vast.
The Journey to Allah by Ibn Rajab Al-Hanbali Pages 18-21