There are different ways to look at one's faith, and why we need to do what God wants, and stay away from what God tells you not to do.
For example, one can look at being a believer as being an employee: if you do what your boss wants, you will get promoted (= go to heaven). If you keep doing what you were instructed not to do, you will get fired (= go to hell). Another approach, and a better one, is to think how we behave in the company of people we love (family, friends, etc). In this case, we will do what makes them happy and we try to avoid what makes then not happy.
In the 'employee scenario', you want your boss to be less happy with others than with you - a typical competitive market approach with a zero-sum mentality logic. In the 'loving family scenario', you should not feel that your loved ones must dislike everybody else to make you content. And if you feel that way, it is jealousy, and it is not healthy.
All major religions have groups where the approach to 'salvation' (= being loved by God, and eventually going to Heaven) takes either the 'employee-employer' path, or the 'loving family' path. For some Christian, if you do not believe in God exclusively through Jesus as a savior, you are doomed to Hell, no matter how holy you live your life. Other Christian groups feel differently and think that you may be saved if you live your life the righteous way, even if you do not believe in Jesus as a divine figure and a savior.
As a Muslim, born and raised in an Arab and a predominantly Muslim country, I do not recall that the idea of 'all the others are going to hell' was prominent in our early religious education. The focus was on how we can get a good chance of going to heaven. And even though other Muslims may have had different experiences growing up, that topic is not of major prominence in religious Muslim discussions.
Of course, in Islam (as explicitly cited in the Quran) the ideas of accountability, the Day of Judgment, eternal reward (Paradise) and eternal punishment (Hellfire, Jehannam) are key ideas of Islamic faith, and that is beyond dispute. Actually, denying any of these tenets of faith takes those who deny it outside of the bounds of Islam.
Having said that, I am puzzled by why any believer in any faith would waste energy trying to prove that another faith group is NOT going to heaven, rather than focus exclusively on how he or she ensure that they themselves and their own group are doing everything to establish good life on Earth, and eventually go to Heavens.
Our Muslim community in this city -- as well as all over the world -- is not in good shape. The challenges thrown at us from within and from without are tremendous and I do not see that we, i.e. Muslims, are coping well at all.
A week and a half ago, for example, thirty Shia Muslims were blown into bits and pieces by an Iraqi Sunni suicide bomber woman while they were conducting their religious pilgrimage. Few days ago, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a funeral for a slain Shiite leader in northwest Pakistan, killing another 30 Shia Muslims, wounding more than 60.
Over the last few weeks, Taliban insurgents bombed several girls schools in Afghanistan, and some reports claimed similar event in Taliban dominated areas in Pakistan as well. Reports abound of young girls attacked for going to schools, and of some teachers killed for teaching in girls schools.
In Palestine, the vengeful tit-for-tat incidents between Hamas and non-Hamas organizations keep erupting all the time with loss of life, limb and the little resources Palestinians have. And in the Arab world, the fracture between Shia and Sunna seems in some Arab gulf countries to over-shadow the Israeli Palestinian problem.
On this side of the ocean and less than a week ago, a prominent American Muslim beheaded his wife who had filed for divorce in the recent past. And as if that was not bad enough, that killer was the founder of Bridges TV, to 'improve the perceptions' of Islam in America.
The list goes on, and on, and on.
I know it is not our personal responsibility to solve all those problems. But it is not our responsibility either to decide how God 'should' judge Christians, Jews, Buddhists, or whatever.
So, why when I go to the Friday sermon I find that we are not discussing our Muslim problems, and instead are analyzing other religions ideologies and festival, and whether they can be saved or not?
And even if it is not our personal responsibility to solve other Muslim nations problems, it is our collective duty as believers to try to figure out why there is not a place on earth were one can see Islam implemented in a way that can be a model for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
It is our duty, personally and collectively, to understand why our Islamic core values-- such as communal brotherhood, social justice, equality, tolerance, peace, freedoms for minorities and undisputed respect for human rights -- are no where to be found in any piece of land under Muslim control.
Understanding why we fail as Muslims to fulfill the basic commitment to our religious core social and behavioral values is a daunting task. And for decades, it seems we have been moving in the wrong direction, and that many of our Muslims communities are slipping deeper and deeper into poverty, authoritarianism, extremism and even lawlessness.
If that is our case, why should we waste anytime trying to prove that others are not going be saved in the afterlife? When our own ship is sinking, why would we be concerned whether or not non-Muslims 'definitely have no chance to experience God's mercy?'.
Listening to recent Friday sermons debating the authenticity of Christmas as a religious occasion, or of the devilish pagan origins of Halloween seems to me and to many fellow Muslims like disputing whether our neighbor's house has proper foundation or not, while our own house is on fire.
I sincerely fail to see the need for these sermons. I am also not convinced that scaring Muslim of the 'deviancy' of other religions is the most effective way to strengthen their dedication to Islam. We definitely would be better off if we use our time to show Muslim faithfuls the way to use the strong points in Islam to build better life for ourselves and for our fellow citizens here.
Moreover, a Muslim's love for God should be the mainstay of their desire to obey Him.
Something does not sound right about being a believer when you are only afraid of going to hell. It seems more satisfying, not to mention more mentally healthy, if one's dedication to their religion is a result of profound love of God, and the belief in the validity of the commandments of God as a way to live a good life on this earth.
"Say [O Prophet]: 'If you love God, follow me, [and] God will love you and forgive you your sins; for God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.'" (Chapter 3:31)
"And yet there are people who choose to believe in beings that allegedly rival God,* loving them as [only] God should be loved: whereas those who have attained to faith love God more than all else... "(Chapter 2:165)
In addition 'playing God' by determining the fate of any individual or group on the Day of Judgment is not something that God asked us to do. It is actually something that God specifically asked us not to do. Many verses of the Quran do just that. So, take a look these:
"As for anyone - be it man or woman - who does righteous deeds, and is a believer withal - him shall We most certainly cause to live a good life..." (Chapter 16:97)
The Quran actually criticized earlier Jews and Christians because each group claimed that they only are exclusively correct and are the most favored by God.
"The Sovereignty on that day will be God's, He will judge between them. Then those who believed and did good works will be in Gardens of Delight," (Chapter 22:56)
"For behold, unto Us will be their return, and verily, It is for Us to call them to account." (Chapter 88:25-26)
God also makes it clear that He intended for us to think differently, and believe differently. And that our competition should be about doing good deeds.
"Furthermore, the Jews assert, 'The Christians have no valid ground for their beliefs,' while the Christians assert, 'The Jews have no valid ground for their beliefs' - and both quote the divine writ! Even thus, like unto what they say, have [always] spoken those who were devoid of knowledge;' but it is God who will judge between them on Resurrection Day with regard to all on which they were wont to differ." (Chapter 2:113)
And nothing could be better to conclude with other than this wonderful prayer, that succinctly summarizes all what faith is about:
"for, every community faces a direction of its own, of which He is the focal point. Vie, therefore, with one another in doing good works. Wherever you may be, God will gather you all unto Himself: for, verily, God has the power to will anything." (Chapter 2:148)
So, please fellow Muslims: just focus on our success in this life, and our salvation in the life-after.
"O our Sustainer! Grant us good in this world and good in the life to come, and keep us safe from suffering through the fire" (Chapter 2:201)
As for the others, God in His ultimate mercy, fairness and knowledge will know best how to take care of them.