Can Mother Teresa, a non-Muslim, go to heaven?

Published: August 24, 2012
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"She can't go to heaven? But she saved thousands of lives." PHOTO: AFP

The recent killings of Shias and blasphemy charges against a young Christian girl are not a product of some foreign militant group terrorising our peaceful land.

The incidents of violence against minorities and sectarian groups are largely a result of the ideology that exists in all corners of our society. Whether you are a liberal or conservative, educated or ignorant, we all share the blame for such incidents.

On this very topic, a heated argument in my class erupted when I asked a simple question to my students:

“Is Mother Teresa going to heaven?”

To my surprise, more than 80% of this educated elite answered the question with a vehement ‘no’. All of those who answered in the negative explained that while Mother Teresa was a noble woman, she was not a Muslim and, hence, could not enter heaven. This ideology is the first step towards the action of violence and brutality.

Below is a dialogue with one of my students who represented this school of thought:

“So, Mother Teresa is not going to heaven?”

Student: “No, since she was not a Muslim.”

“But she saved thousands of lives.”

Student: “Well, she was to be rewarded for that in this world, but one can’t enter heaven until he/she says the Kalima.”

“So you’re saying only the Muslims are going to heaven, no matter how evil they are?”

Student: “Yes, evil Muslims will be punished for some time, and will be sent to heaven after the punishment.”

“So, when you die, you’re going to go to heaven no matter what you do in this world, just because you we’re born a Muslim?

Student: “Yes, precisely!”

“Did you decide where you were born?”

Student: “No.”

“Who decided that?”

Student: “God.”

“So, God has already decided at your birth that you’re going to heaven; whereas Mother Teresa, having saved thousands of lives, will be going to hell?”

Student: “Err… I think so. God has said it in numerous places in the Holy Quran. Had the ‘message’ reached her and she converted to Islam, she would have been able to enter paradise.”

“Is accepting the message more important, or following the message?”

Student: “Following it, of course.”

“Do you think you follow the message of Islam?”

Student: “Well, I try to, but I don’t think so.”

“Do you think Mother Teresa followed the message of Islam?”

Student: “Umm, well she didn’t offer namaz or read the Holy Quran, but she did follow the message.”

“So, she still can’t go to heaven after having followed the message of Islam?”

Student: “I don’t know. I’ll have to do further research on that.”

“Forget that. Have you read the Holy Quran?”

Student (enthusiastically) : “Yes!”

“With translation or only the Arabic text?”

Student: “Arabic only.”

“How do you claim that something is written in the Holy Quran when you have not really read it?”

Student: “I don’t know. I’ve heard about it.”

“So, Mother Teresa is going to hell because you’ve heard from somebody that it is written in the Holy Quran, who probably heard it from somebody else?”

Student: “Hmm.”

“You’re basically assuming that it is written in the Holy Quran, and assuming that Mother Teresa is not going to heaven.”

Student (frustrated) : “I don’t know.”

“Do you accept that without reading or understanding the Holy Quran, whatever you claim about it is mere assumption?”

Student: “Yes.”

“Good. So, can Mother Teresa possibly go to heaven now that you’re not God, and do not have the absolute knowledge about the day after?”

Student: “I don’t know, may be?”

This dialogue depicts one of the root cause of most of the sectarian and religious problems in Pakistan. Our beliefs and knowledge about the world has been told to us by someone who heard them from somebody else, and so on. In our culture, the idea of self-exploration does not exist and people have taken beliefs and ideas to be for granted.

Moreover, we are so bogged down into petty debates that we have lost track of what really is important for our survival. We need to really get over and beyond the petty debate about who is going to hell or heaven. There is a desperate need to change the narrative and debate in our households, classrooms, and most importantly, our media, so we can start thinking about issues that are urgent and real. As long as our debate doesn’t change, we will continue to discriminate against other sects and religions.

Read more by Hussain here or follow him on Twitter @HNadim87

Hussain Nadim

Hussain Nadim

A faculty member teaching political science and international relations at NUST Business School and Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.