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Title: Jahannam in Medieval Islamic Thought
Authors: Zaki, Mona M.
Advisors: Cook, Michael A
Hamori, Andras
Contributors: Near Eastern Studies Department
Keywords: afterlife
Subjects: Middle Eastern studies
Issue Date: 2015
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Abstract By the fourth/tenth century Jahannam acquires a definitive geography, its own inhabitants and appears to be fully operational as a destination. This study investigates a narrative that evolved after the Prophet’s death mainly within the framework of admonition literature (wa‘÷) and as a reminder (tadhkirah) and a deterrent (takhwıf) to Muslims against finding themselves there. The infernal narrative began with space and the first two chapters focus on its physical characteristics: its topography, climate, flora, water resources and fauna. Famous landmarks towered amid scorching heat and skies choked with fumes; its spiky flora was inedible, its water rank and its fauna aggressive. As a place of punishment the terrain was designed to be difficult, treacherous and dangerous. Although our texts focus primarily on the level allotted to the Muslim community, the operational dynamics brought the seven levels into focus. Sustainability was key for Jahannam’s survival for once the gates were locked, the inhabitants had to make the best of things on their own. The discussion of sin highlights the diversity of Jahannam’s population that is directly attributed to Muslim debates on the relationship of sin to salvation. The large body of the sinner becomes a billboard advertising sin through deformity. A brief overview of popular and scholarly texts on sin (kab‹a‘ir), their classifications and principles of punishment introduces the inhabitants of Jahannam. In later afterlife narratives, the ahl al-n‹ar exchange an earlier anonymity for tashhır or publicity that adds shame and disgrace to their predicament. Assigning an image such as large bellies for usurers reveals the perils of reductionism. A more accurate classification would categorize sinners by group. Scholars were criticized for verbal and moral transgressions. Works on sin are rich in social commentary; there are several lists that explain the reason women form the largest demographic constituency in hell. In chapter four we examine Jahannam’s community and its power structure. M‹alik, the head warden, stands at the head of a squadron of zab‹aniyah whose strength and skills are best illustrated through the instruments they wield. The infernal narrative also gives voice to Jahannam’s community as scripted in Qur’‹anic verse revealing the cantankerous nature of our inmates who argue, blame, accuse and hope to haggle their way out of their predicament. Jahannam’s community comes with its prosopography that includes Sunnı and Shı‘ite celebrities that illustrate the ongoing aspect of the infernal narrative. The final chapter of this study is an overview of the afterlife justice system through four accounts: the Qur’‹anic, two early versions and the popular Shajarat al-yaq‹in in order to argue that the litigant nature of the final versions can be attributed to a confidence acquired with the development of law, sharı‘ah, and the definitions of sin. The fate of Muslim sinners and the framework of his release as manumission did not only re-define Jahannam as to whether it was a permanent or temporary abode. The message was the supremacy of the Muslim community with its ability to ransom back its own and negotiate their release. This was one step that the latter day w‹alıs of ß‹ufism capitalized on to release their followers and ensure loyalty well beyond grave.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Near Eastern Studies

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