Where on earth is hell? State punishment and eschatology in the Islamic middle period*

Christian Lange

in Public Violence in Islamic Societies

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print July 2009 | ISBN: 9780748637317
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748653164 | DOI:
Where on earth is hell? State punishment and eschatology in the Islamic middle period*

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This chapter discusses state punishment and eschatology during the mid-Islamic period. The emphasis in this chapter is not on the theological or legal discussions of the sequence of this-worldly and other-worldly violence, rather the focus is on their structural similarities. The basic hypothesis pursued in this chapter is this: representations of violence in the Islamic eschatological imagination mirror the structural processes and symbolic imagery of state violence as it was enacted in the socio-political context in which these representations were circulated and given a literary form. It is argued in this chapter that hell was often conceived not as a part of the ‘next’ world at all, rather it was seen as an imaginary ‘other’ world which was coterminous, in spatial, temporal and conceptual terms, with this world. Here in this chapter, hell is regarded as an imaginary reflection of life on earth. Punitive practices of the Muslim served as vehicles to reflect on one's prospects of salvation and punishment. Rituals of punishment served as a reminder of the other world. On the other hand, the punishment's eschatological symbolism also served as a means to deflect resistance against the state's monopoly over violence. Executions and public forms of violence were clothed into an aura of the sacred in order to maintain social control. The link of punishment by the state with other-worldly punishment drew attention away from the suffering of the punished individual, transforming spectacles of pain into edifying experiences for the audience. An attitude of quietism was thus encouraged, based on the notion that punishment by the state was in the eternal order of things. In sum, state punishments and eschatology served as a canvass for the social and political power of those in the ruling elite.

Keywords: state punishment; eschatology; mid-Islamic period; violence; hell; rituals of punishment

Chapter.  10505 words. 

Subjects: Society and Culture

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