Question: Some people claim:
Imam-i Rabbani said, "Those polytheists who grew up in the mountains and who worship idols because they have not heard of any heavenly religions will not enter Paradise because they do not have faith. Without warning them by sending a prophet first, He does not throw His servants into Hell eternally solely on the grounds that they could not find the truth through their minds. Such people will be annihilated like all animals," but he erred in his deduction (ijtihad). Those people whom no religion reached, like people who lived in interregnum, will go to Paradise. Secondly, to annihilate them is a severer punishment than to throw them into Hell. Is a punishment severer than Hell inflicted on a person whom no religion reached?
There are two big mistakes here:
Even if a person is as great a mujtahid as Imam-i A'zam and Imam-i Shafi'i, he cannot say about another mujtahid that he is wrong because the legal maxim "An ijtihad does not invalidate another ijtihad" is well known. In the Shafi'i Madhhab, it is fard to recite the Fatiha behind the imam while it is makruh tahrimi, that is, haram, in the Hanafi Madhhab. But neither the Shafi'is nor the Hanafis can say that the other's ruling is wrong. Similarly, regarding different ijtihads of Imam-i Maturidi and Imam-i Ash'ari, it cannot be said that one is right and the other is wrong. Making so bold as to say "Imam-i Rabbani erred in his ijtihad" is to display ignorance as well as bigotry.
The second mistake lies in the statement "Annihilating a person and reducing him/her to dust is a harsher punishment than Hell." However, annihilation is a great salvation compared with the vehement torment of Hell, for a disbeliever will not be able to endure the vehemence of Hell and will say, "Ya laytani kuntu turaba," which means, "I wish I were dust" (An-Naba' 40).
The Blessed Companions and other Islamic scholars, as they were very much fearful of the vehemence of Hell and being called to account, wished that they were a pebble, soil, bird, even that they had never been born. Some examples are as follows: Hadrat Abu Bakr used to say, "I wish I were a bird or green grass. I wish I had not been a human, so that I will not be called to account." Similarly, Hadrat 'Umar, out of his fear for falling into Hell, wished that he were a handful of soil or garbage and even that he had never been born. (Ihya, Zayn-ul-majalis, Qurrat-ul-'aynayn)
Hadrat Uthman used to say, "I would rather not be created again when I die." Hadrat Abu Zar, who was one of the Blessed Companions, used to say, "I would prefer to be a tree rather than fall into Hell" (Ihya).
There is no such foolishness as to ignore the Qur'anic verse stating that disbelievers will not be able to endure the eternal torment and wish that they were dust, and to consider the eternal torment lighter than being annihilated.