The Qur’anic view of salvation is one that involves the balance of scales, good works, and faith.
First, there are scales; the Qur’an says, “And We set a just balance for the Day of Resurrection so that no soul is wronged in aught. Though it be of the weight of a grain of mustard seed, We bring it. And We suffice for reckoners” (21:47). The Qur’an makes many references to the Day of Judgment, which it presents as a day to be feared. In some verses it is depicted as a calamity:
“The Calamity! What is the Calamity? And how will you know what the Calamity is? A day when people will become like scattered moths, And the mountains will become like carded wool. Then, as for him whose scales are heavy [with good deeds], He will be in a pleasing life. But as for him whose scales are light, The bottomless pit will be his home. How will you know what it is? A raging fire.” (101:1-11)
On this day the scales will emerge to weigh the good and the bad (3:30). Those whose scales are heavy will go to heaven and those whose are light go to hell,
“Until, when death cometh unto one of them, he saith: My Lord! Send me back, That I may do right in that which I have left behind! But nay! It is but a word that he speaketh; and behind them is a barrier until the day when they are raised. And when the trumpet is blown there will be no kinship among them that day, nor will they ask of one another. Then those whose scales are heavy, they are the successful. And those whose scales are light are those who lose their souls, in hell abiding. The fire burneth their faces, and they are glum therein” (23:99-104).
“The weighing on that day is the true (weighing). As for those whose scale is heavy, they are the successful. And as for those whose scale is light: those are they who lose their souls because they used to wrong Our revelations” (7:8-9).
Good works/deeds thus form an integral part of one’s possible salvation. The Qur’an teaches that good works will help accrue merit tipping the scale in one’s favor. Good works include, but are not limited to, having faith in the Qur’an, the Prophet Muhammad, and submitting to Allah (24:52; 33:35); worshiping and paying alms to the poor (2:110, 277); fasting (33:35); and fighting in the way of Allah to kill or be killed (9:111). In Q25:70, Allah is willing to save those who do righteous work by turning their evil deeds into good deeds.
Certainly, the more good deed one performs the better it is for his eternal prospects on the Day of Judgement. This does, however, raise important questions for Muslims, such as concerning how many good works one is required to perform to enter heaven. But many Muslims remain uncertain of their eternal fate as they do not know if they have accrued enough merit themselves to enter into heaven. Not even the Prophet Muhammad knew with certainty that Allah would permit him to enter heaven (Sahih al-Bukhari 9.87.145).
The Qur’an also teaches that belief is essential and that it is only believers who will be saved: “Then shall We save Our messengers and the believers, in like manner (as of old). It is incumbent upon Us to save believers” (10:103). Q19:60 teaches that those “who shall repent and believe and do right” will enter the Garden (heaven). Q41:30 is also explicit: “Lo! those who say: Our Lord is Allah, and afterward are upright, the angels descend upon them, saying: Fear not nor grieve, but hear good tidings of the paradise which ye are promised.” Moreover, for those who do not believe, God has prepared a Fire (hell) for them (3:131).
Muddying our picture of salvation is that the Qur’an says that non-Muslims such as Jews and Christians can be saved: “And they say: None entereth paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian. These are their own desires. Say: Bring your proof (of what ye state) if ye are truthful” (2:111). One can further add Sabeans to the list: “Lo! those who believe, and those who are Jews, and Sabaeans, and Christians – Whosoever believeth in Allah and the Last Day and doeth right – there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve” (5:69). These verses are inconsistent when viewed in light of other Qur’anic exhortations affirming belief in Muhammad to be essential to salvation (4:136, 152; 7:156), that Jews and Christians did not accept Muhammad’s claim to prophethood, and other verses teaching that Christian, Jews, and idolators who disbelieve will go to the fire of hell (98:1, 6).
Although Allah is willing to lead some to hell, he is also merciful: “Had it not been for the grace of Allah and His mercy unto you, not one of you would ever have grown pure. But Allah causeth whom He will to grow. And Allah is Hearer, Knower” (24:21). Allah’s merciful nature is attested in other chapters and verses (7:151; 12:64; 23:109). It is also important to note that the Basmala which opens all chapters in the Qur’an (except for chapter 9) refers to God as forgiving and merciful; the Basmala reads: “In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.” Allah is certainly willing to forgive sins (3:89, 133; 5:39-40; 39:53; 42:05).
Although Allah is merciful, he is willing to send some people to hell. This is consistent with the Qur’an’s image of Allah’s will determining all things that happen (3:145; 6:59; 7:188; 74:56). Allah is willing to lead some astray (7:179; 14:27), to place upon “their hearts veils” so that they do not understand Muhammad’s message (6:25-26), and set barriers around unbelievers so “that they see not” (36:9).
In summary, Allah, being merciful, is willing to forgive sins although he will send some astray and to hell. Salvation is the result of good deeds (believing in Allah, the Qur’an, Muhammad, and performing alms, fasts, and jihad) that must, on the Day of Judgement, outweigh bad deeds.