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Last Updated: 2014/10/06
Summary of question
Is questioning pervasive and all-encompassing? What does questioning of prophets mean?
The Holy Quran says, "Most certainly then We will question those to whom (the messengers) were sent, and most certainly We will also question the messengers." (Al-A\'raf: 6) Elsewhere the Quran again says, "And most certainly you will be questioned as to what you did." (Nahl: 93) When it comes to these two verses, two important questions seem to be of considerable significance: 1. It is inferred from the foregoing two verses that questioning is general and all-encompassing in the sense that prophets are also questioned. If that is the case, how should we interpret the verses and traditions which signify that some will enter Paradise and some will enter Hell without questioning? 2. If some believers go to Paradise without being called to accounts, does that mean that the prophets lower than them in this regard?
Concise answer
An important issue discussed in religious texts in connection with the Day of Resurrection is the subject of questioning on this very day. What is actually inferred from Quranic verses and prophetic traditions is that the questioning is pervasive and it is there for everyone; it is general and includes even divine prophets. No one is excluded from questioning. Undoubtedly, these questionings by Allah are not real and they are not meant to discover something because nothing is hidden to Allah, the Lord of the Universe. There are other purposes for the questions like intimidation, scorning, blaming, respecting etc. The stations and stages of the Day of Resurrection are different and only some stages involve questioning whereas there is no questioning in some other stages. Some of the verses of the Quran refer to these stages.  If the prophets are asked on the Day of Resurrection, it is to show respect to them or that the questions concern the accomplishment of their prophetic missions.
Detailed Answer
An important issue discussed in religious texts in connection with the Day of Resurrection is the subject of questioning on this day. The Quranic verses in this regard can be classified into two sets:
1. Verses signifying that questioning is general and all-encompassing in the sense that prophets are also questioned. Here are a few examples of such verses:
"Most certainly then We will question those to whom (the messengers) were sent, and most certainly We will also question the messengers."[1] "So, by your Lord, We would most certainly question them all as to what they did."[2]
2. Verses saying that the sinners will not be questioned about their sins. God says, "So on that day neither man nor jinni shall be asked about his sin."[3]
There are two important questions about these two categories of verses:
1. How is it possible to reconcile between these two categories of verses? How is the inconsistency resolved?
2. What does the questioning of prophets mean?  What does it mean that the prophets are also questioned on the Day of Resurrection?
Before dealing with the two questions, we need to present a preamble. In one classification, questioning is divided into two kinds:
A) Real questioning:  Sometimes the questioning is real. That is, he who asks a question seeks to know something which he does not know just like the magicians' questions from Pharaoh: "So when the sorcerers arrived, they said to Pharaoh: "Of course - shall we have a (suitable) reward if we win?"[4]
B) Figurative or unreal questioning: Sometimes the questioning is figurative or unreal. That is, the questioner does not ask to know something; he has some other purposes for questioning; they include threatening, reprimanding, mocking or respecting etc. which are presented in the form of a question. Perhaps, he might know the answer to his question like when God asks the idolaters questions to reprimand or blame them: "A lie-- gods besides Allah-- do you desire?"[5]
God's questions are from the second category because nothing is hidden to Allah and He has knowledge of everything. That is why He never asks to learn about something: "and there does not lie concealed from your Lord the weight of an atom in the earth or in the heaven, nor any thing less than that nor greater, but it is in a clear book."[6]
Although God's questions are entirely unreal, they are not always from the same category as they are meant for different purposes. Sometimes questions are asked to get confessions, sometimes they are meant to refute something, sometimes they are meant to blame and reprimand someone and sometimes they are meant to indicate something else. The questions on the Day of Resurrection are general and all-encompassing but the questions are different. Although God's questions are unreal and they are not meant to understand or discover something, figurative and unreal questions are of different kinds. Questions put to people are not meant to discover something or reveal the truth because God, the Exalted, says: "The guilty shall be recognized by their marks, so they shall be seized by the forelocks and the feet."[7] In fact, sinners are asked questions to reprimand and blame them as to why they disobeyed and offended Allah despite all signs and clear proofs.
Questioning Being All-encompassing:
There are some verses of the Quran according to which God sends some to Paradise and some to Hell without questioning but it is inferred from Quranic verses (e.g verse 6 of Surah al-A'raf) and prophetic traditions that questioning is there for everyone; it is general and includes even divine prophets and no one is excluded from questioning. Apparently these two groups of verses are refuting and contradicting each other. To reject the apparent contradictions a number of answers have been given. What follows are two instances of those answers:
1. Wherever it is said in the Quran that God does not ask any questions, they refer to real questions. That is to say God does not ask His servant to understand whether they are innocent or sinners, good doers or evil doers because God is aware of everything. [8] Wherever it is said that everyone is responsible and shall be asked about their deeds, the question is unreal and meant to blame or disapprove of someone's acts.
2. There are different stages and stations in the Day of Judgment. In some of these stages, no one is allowed to speak or utter a word as there is no questioning or answering in these stages according to the Quran.  However, there are some other stages and stations which, according to some other verses of the Quran, involve questioning.
Questioning of Divine Prophets
When it comes to questioning prophets, there are different views and opinions:
1. Some believe that these questions are not meant to reprimand the prophets; in fact they are meant to reprimand the unbelievers.[9] These questions are meant to make the unbelievers that the prophets warned them about the consequences of their disobedience and rebellion. Why did you (the unbelievers) disobey God and His prophets when in fact the prophets fulfilled their duty in the best possible manner?
2. Some have said that the questioning of prophets is meant to tell the prophet to bear witness as to how people reacted to the divine message that was delivered to them. What was their response to the messenger of Allah? How did they behave with him?[10] It has been narrated from the Commander of the Faithful, Ali (AS) that he said: "On the Day of Judgment the prophets are asked about how they accomplished their missions. The prophets reply that they delivered God's message to the nations. The nations are also asked about prophetic missions and they deny it saying: 'No one came to us with good news, no warner came to us.' The Messenger of Allah (S) is asked and he bears witness to the truthfulness of prophets and wrongness of the deniers."[11]
3. Some have said that respecting and honoring the prophets is the cause of this questioning.[12] With such questions, the respect and greatness of prophets are made known to others. Sometimes, someone is asked a question in the presence of other people, not with the aim of understanding something but with the aim of showing his superiority to others.
4. Sometimes the divine prophets are asked questions to take confessions from them against their peoples and to bring sinners to justice as is in the case of Prophet Jesus who is asked by Allah: "O Isa son of Marium! did you say to men, Take me and my mother for two gods besides Allah he will say: Glory be to Thee, it did not befit me that I should say what I had no right to (say)."[13]

[1] Al-A'raf, 6
[2] Hijr, 92 – 93.
[3] Al-Rahman, 39
[4] Al-Shu'ara, 41
[5] Saaffaat, 86.
[6] Yunus, 61.
[7] Al-Rahman, 41.
[8] Tusi, Muhammad bin Hasan, Al-Tebyan fi Tafsir al-Qur'an, vol.4, p. 334, first edition, Maktab al-E'lam al-Islami, 1409 A.H.
[9] Tabarsi, Fazl bin Hasan, Majma' al-Bayan, vol.4, p. 218, Al-A'lami Institute, Beirut, 1415 A.H.
[10] Tabarsi, Fazl bin Hasan, Jawami' al-Jami', vol.1, p. 461, first edition, Islamic Publications Institute, Qom, 1418 A.H.
[11] Faiz Kashani, Tafsir al-Saafi, vol.2, p. 180 and vol.1, p. 452, second edition, Maktabat al-Sadr, Tehran, 1374 (Persian calendar).
[12] Kashani, Mulla Fathullah, Tafsir Manhaj al-Sadeqin fi Ilzam al-Mukhalefin, vol.4, p. 5, p. second edition, Islamiyah Bookstall, Tehran, 1344 (Persian calendar).
[13] Al-Maedah, 116.
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