Promise and threat

Symptomatic of this Ash'arite-Mu'tazilite divide was the largely Mu'tazilite topic known as the promise and threat (al-wa'd wa'l-wa'id), which asserted that an individual's eternal fate may be at least to some extent rationally ascertained on the basis of God's promise to reward the good person and punish the evildoer. Ash'arites and Hanbalites contested this, asserting that it privileged human judgement based on reason over God's sovereign will. Fearful of vainglorious overconfidence in God's favour, Islamic piety has in general eschewed any concept of ''being saved'' or a sense of security about one's posthumous destiny. Significant reports of the Prophet caution about the possibility that even the most pious person might commit a grave sin before the last moment of life. At the same time, in the case of the sinner, God's mercy is said to outweigh His wrath,20 and a particular good deed may carry salvific weight beyond any human expectation. A balance of hope and fear is therefore the general Muslim attitude towards one's eternal state, serving as both a deterrent against wrongdoing and an assurance of divine mercy. For some, the very notion of reward and punishment as a sufficient motivation for human behaviour has been open to critique. For example, al-Ghazali states, ''It is not proper that the bondman's quest for Heaven should be for anything other than meeting with his Lord. As for the rest of Heaven's delights, man's participation in them is no more than a beast let loose in a pasture.''21

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