There is one major distinction between a weak believer, who God will redeem in the Hereafter, compared to a disbeliever who is destined for Hell. This distinguishing factor is that while a disbeliever will deny their sins, or in the worst case scenario will even be convinced that their sins are righteous, a weak believer recognizes their sins yet lacks the fortitude to avoid them.
Sura 7 of the Quran describes these people as the dwellers of the Purgatory or in Arabic Al-A‘arãf.
[7:46] A barrier separates them, while the Purgatory (Al-A‘arãf) is occupied by people who recognize each side by their looks. They will call the dwellers of Paradise: “Peace be upon you.” They did not enter (Paradise) through wishful thinking. [7:47] When they turn their eyes towards the dwellers of Hell, they will say, “Our Lord, do not put us with these wicked people.” [7:48] The dwellers of the Purgatory (Al-A‘arãf) will call on people they recognize by their looks, saying, “Your great numbers did not avail you in any way, nor did your arrogance. [7:49] “Are those the people you swore that GOD will never touch them with mercy?” (The people in the Purgatory will then be told,) “Enter Paradise; you have nothing to fear, nor will you grieve.”
وَبَيْنَهُمَا حِجَابٌ وَعَلَى الْأَعْرَافِ رِجَالٌ يَعْرِفُونَ كُلًّا بِسِيمَاهُمْ وَنَادَوْا أَصْحَابَ الْجَنَّةِ أَنْ سَلَامٌ عَلَيْكُمْ لَمْ يَدْخُلُوهَا وَهُمْ يَطْمَعُونَ
وَإِذَا صُرِفَتْ أَبْصَارُهُمْ تِلْقَاءَ أَصْحَابِ النَّارِ قَالُوا رَبَّنَا لَا تَجْعَلْنَا مَعَ الْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِينَ
وَنَادَىٰ أَصْحَابُ الْأَعْرَافِ رِجَالًا يَعْرِفُونَهُمْ بِسِيمَاهُمْ قَالُوا مَا أَغْنَىٰ عَنْكُمْ جَمْعُكُمْ وَمَا كُنْتُمْ تَسْتَكْبِرُونَ
أَهَٰؤُلَاءِ الَّذِينَ أَقْسَمْتُمْ لَا يَنَالُهُمُ اللَّهُ بِرَحْمَةٍ ادْخُلُوا الْجَنَّةَ لَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْكُمْ وَلَا أَنْتُمْ تَحْزَنُونَ
What makes these people unique is that they are able to differentiate those who are making it to heaven or hell just from their looks. Since in the Hereafter what is going to differentiate us is our righteousness these individuals can distinguish the righteous deeds from the unrighteous deeds. For a committed disbeliever or hypocrite this ability has been lost from them.
[35:8] Note the one whose evil work is adorned in his eyes, until he thinks that it is righteous. GOD thus sends astray whoever wills (to go astray), and He guides whoever wills (to be guided). Therefore, do not grieve over them. GOD is fully aware of everything they do.
أَفَمَنْ زُيِّنَ لَهُ سُوءُ عَمَلِهِ فَرَآهُ حَسَنًا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ يُضِلُّ مَنْ يَشَاءُ وَيَهْدِي مَنْ يَشَاءُ فَلَا تَذْهَبْ نَفْسُكَ عَلَيْهِمْ حَسَرَاتٍ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ بِمَا يَصْنَعُونَ
Someone who does not acknowledge that they made mistakes or fallen in sin will never seek to repent and reform.
[3:135] If they fall in sin or wrong their souls, they remember GOD and ask forgiveness for their sins—and who forgives the sins except GOD—and they do not persist in sins, knowingly.
وَالَّذِينَ إِذَا فَعَلُوا فَاحِشَةً أَوْ ظَلَمُوا أَنْفُسَهُمْ ذَكَرُوا اللَّهَ فَاسْتَغْفَرُوا لِذُنُوبِهِمْ وَمَنْ يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ وَلَمْ يُصِرُّوا عَلَىٰ مَا فَعَلُوا وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ
The root of the the Arabic word for the Purgatory (Al-A‘arãf / الْأَعْرَافِ ) comes from the root ع ر ف which has the derivative meaning “to recognize” which is also used twice in the verses to describe the dwellers of the Purgatory (Al-A‘arãf / الْأَعْرَافِ ) as those who “recognize” each side by their looks.
The Quran describes these people in other verses, and also provides a clue in the Arabic of their connection.
[9:102] There are others who have confessed their sins; they have mixed good deeds with bad deeds. GOD will redeem them, for GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful.
وَآخَرُونَ اعْتَرَفُوا بِذُنُوبِهِمْ خَلَطُوا عَمَلًا صَالِحًا وَآخَرَ سَيِّئًا عَسَى اللَّهُ أَنْ يَتُوبَ عَلَيْهِمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ
The Arabic for the word confess is اعْتَرَفُوا / iʿ’tarafū which is the same root as the word for Purgatory and to recognize. This is because in order for a person to confess to something they have to first recognize what it is they have one. If they never recognize what they have done then there will never be a confession.
[9:101] Among the Arabs around you, there are hypocrites. Also, among the city dwellers, there are those who are accustomed to hypocrisy. You do not know them, but we know them. We will double the retribution for them, then they end up committed to a terrible retribution.
وَمِمَّنْ حَوْلَكُمْ مِنَ الْأَعْرَابِ مُنَافِقُونَ وَمِنْ أَهْلِ الْمَدِينَةِ مَرَدُوا عَلَى النِّفَاقِ لَا تَعْلَمُهُمْ نَحْنُ نَعْلَمُهُمْ سَنُعَذِّبُهُمْ مَرَّتَيْنِ ثُمَّ يُرَدُّونَ إِلَىٰ عَذَابٍ عَظِيمٍ
We see that the initial response from the disbelievers when confronted about their sinful life in the Hereafter is denial.
[6:22] On the day when we summon them all, we will ask the idol worshipers, “Where are the idols you set up?” [6:23] Their disastrous response will be, “By GOD our Lord, we never were idol worshipers.”
وَيَوْمَ نَحْشُرُهُمْ جَمِيعًا ثُمَّ نَقُولُ لِلَّذِينَ أَشْرَكُوا أَيْنَ شُرَكَاؤُكُمُ الَّذِينَ كُنْتُمْ تَزْعُمُونَ
ثُمَّ لَمْ تَكُنْ فِتْنَتُهُمْ إِلَّا أَنْ قَالُوا وَاللَّهِ رَبِّنَا مَا كُنَّا مُشْرِكِينَ
But when God removes their veil they will ultimately see the truth.
[50:19] Finally, the inevitable coma of death comes; this is what you tried to evade. [50:20] The horn is blown; this is the promised day. [50:21] Every soul comes with a herder and a witness. [50:22] You used to be oblivious to this. We now remove your veil; today, your vision is (as strong as) steel.
لَقَدْ كُنْتَ فِي غَفْلَةٍ مِنْ هَٰذَا فَكَشَفْنَا عَنْكَ غِطَاءَكَ فَبَصَرُكَ الْيَوْمَ حَدِيدٌ
It won’t be until that time that the disbeliever will recognize their sins.
[40:10] Those who disbelieve will be told, “GOD’s abhorrence towards you is even worse than your own abhorrence towards yourselves. For you were invited to believe, but you chose to disbelieve.” [40:11] They will say, “Our Lord, you have put us to death twice, and You gave us two lives; now we have confessed our sins. Is there any way out?”
قَالُوا رَبَّنَا أَمَتَّنَا اثْنَتَيْنِ وَأَحْيَيْتَنَا اثْنَتَيْنِ فَاعْتَرَفْنَا بِذُنُوبِنَا فَهَلْ إِلَىٰ خُرُوجٍ مِنْ سَبِيلٍ
[67:6] For those who disbelieved in their Lord, the retribution of Gehenna. What a miserable destiny. [67:7] When they get thrown therein, they hear its furor as it fumes. [67:8] It almost explodes from rage. Whenever a group is thrown therein, its guards would ask them, “Did you not receive a warner?” [67:9] They would answer, “Yes indeed; a warner did come to us, but we disbelieved and said, ‘GOD did not reveal anything. You are totally astray.'” [67:10] They also say, “If we heard or understood, we would not be among the dwellers of Hell!” [67:11] Thus, they confessed their sins. Woe to the dwellers of Hell.
These individuals spent their life failing to hear or understand the followed the path of Satan to be unappreciative of their Lord. This is why the constant reading and reflecting on the words of the Quran is so important. One of the names of the Quran is called “الفرقان / Al-Furqãn” which is the title of Sura 25 and is translated as The Statute Book.
[25:1] Most blessed is the One who revealed the Statute Book to His servant, so he can serve as a warner to the whole world.
(١) تَبارَكَ الَّذي نَزَّلَ الفُرقانَ عَلىٰ عَبدِهِ لِيَكونَ لِلعالَمينَ نَذيرًا
A statute in the Quranic sense is a law or commandment set by God. The Arabic word for الفرقان / Al-Furqãn in its literal translation would be translated as “distinction” or “criteria”. This is because the Quran is the book by which we judge what is evil and what is good. So if we want to calibrate our moral compass we should constantly be gauging our beliefs against the Quran.
When God created us He created us with the innate knowledge of what is good and what is evil.
But as we age we become susceptible to the devil’s influence and slowly start confounding truth with falsehood.
[2:42] Do not confound the truth with falsehood, nor shall you conceal the truth, knowingly.
وَلَا تَلْبِسُوا الْحَقَّ بِالْبَاطِلِ وَتَكْتُمُوا الْحَقَّ وَأَنْتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ
At first individuals who do this they realize what they are doing, but because people hate dissonance and cannot stand to living up to what they know they should be doing the people are faced with a choice – either reform and fix their sinful ways or start the journey of convincing themselves that their sinful acts are righteous.
So when a person commits sin they are better off accepting that they failed to live up to the expectations set out by God, rather than giving into the devil and trick themselves into thinking that they committed nothing wrong at all. This is because while there is a redemption for the first group, there is nothing but an eternity of Hell for the latter.