Death and the Hereafter
Death, a General Law
Aging and extinction are the inevitable characteristics of the life of this world. All contingent beings will taste death. “Every living creature shall taste death.” [3:185] Man may deny everything, even his Creator, but he cannot deny death. But what is ‘death’? Does it mean annihilation and perishing? Is our physical death the end of our existence? Is there any life after death? If there is, then is it spiritual or physical or both?
The Conception of Death in Islam
Death, in Islam, is nothing more than a transition. It is like a passage through which we enter another world higher and more advanced than the present one. It is in fact a birth to an eternal life. From the Islamic point of view, there are at least three different interconnected stages of life. Each one comes after the other. Also, each one is more perfect than the one before. The first is the world of matter in which we are living with both our body and soul. The second is named the world of Barzakh (intermediate) which is the world of souls with a certain type of body similar to our physical body. The third and the final world is the Hereafter in which every soul will unite with its original worldly body.
The world of matter is the place of action. The third world, i.e. the Hereafter, in contrast, is the world of reward and/or punishment. As a matter of fact, the Hereafter is the reflection of the world of matter. Here and Hereafter are, therefore, different interconnected stages of life. The world of Barzakh is like a small version of the Day of Judgment in which the souls of humans (and perhaps the jinn) will receive their temporary rewards or punishment. During that period their worldly actions – good or evil – will possibly grow until the Day of Judgment.
The Islamic Definition of Death
Death in Islam is not ‘Fout’ (annihilation), it is ‘Wafaat’ (Thorough collection). “The Angel of Death put in charge of you will (fully) take you (Yatawaffaa), then shall you be brought back to your Lord.” [32:11]
Therefore, ‘death’ is an existing concept: “(Allah) Who created death and life” [67:2]
Philosophy of Death
Some might ask: ‘Why is death necessary?’ or might argue that “If there is a God, He must be a cruel one for allowing the pain of death to occur.”
The above argument is due to a lack of understanding of the meaning and philosophy of death and life.
The Holy Quran in the second Ayah of Chapter 67 clearly describes the philosophy of death: “He Who created Death and Life, that He may try which of you is best in deed; and He is the Exalted in Might, Oft- Forgiving.” The following points can be understood from the Ayah:
Death and Life are both created and hence they exist. As a result, death is not annihilation.
Life and Death have a purpose and a meaning.
This world is a field of action, and the Hereafter is to receive the recompense of it, like that of the harvest and sowing, for one reaps what one sows.
The value of man in the sight of God depends on their good or evil actions and beliefs.
The term Barzakh literally means a barrier between two things. In Islamic terminology it is meant for a world between Here and the Hereafter.
Since the world of Barzakh is still beyond the knowledge of man, all what we know is from the Quran and the Hadith.
In general, Barzakh is an intermediate world in which all souls will live until the Great Day of Judgment occurs. The righteous souls will be temporarily rewarded, as the souls of criminals will be temporarily punished. According to some traditions the souls will be clothed with a body similar to the worldly body of the person in this world. Imam Sadiq (as) said: “When Allah collects the soul of a believer, He will accommodate his soul to a body like his worldly body. Then they eat and drink and when a visitor sees them he recognises them in their worldly image.”
Islam & the Hereafter
Although the general conception of life after death and the Hereafter is found in all Divine Religions, the emphasis given in Islam is unique.
A glance at the Holy Quran provides the idea that believing in the Hereafter is the most important issue in Islam after believing in God. The topic has covered nearly one-third of the Holy Quran with more than 1200 Ayaat. It is almost impossible to find a page in the Quran in which the issue of the Hereafter is not mentioned. Believing in God and the Hereafter are coupled in the Quran approximately 30 times.
Therefore, in Islamic Theology, believing in God and the Hereafter are considered the border between atheism and religious belief.
Believing in the Hereafter in Islam means the soul and the body of the dead will rise on the Day of Resurrection to be judged. Righteous people will be rewarded with eternal blessings in Paradise whilst the sinful and disbelievers will suffer in Hell.
Is Resurrection Possible?
1. First Creation
The human body is made up of several chemical elements. The elements include minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, copper, etc. Mankind is created from soil and will return to soil. Therefore, as the creation of man from soil happened the first time, it can happen again on the Day of Resurrection.
2. Might of God
Another way to prove the possibility of Resurrection Day is to consider the might of God. As the belief in Hereafter comes after believing in God, we are logically permitted to present religious proof. The Almighty God is capable of bringing the disintegrated parts of bodies back to normal. The Quran 36:81, 46:33
3. Resurrection of Plants
The third way to prove the possibility of resurrection is the continuous resurrection of plants. Every year we observe the law of death and return to life, in the world of plants. They all die in winter and return to life in spring. Also, dead soil returns to life after absorbing the first drops of rain. The Quran 7:57, 35:9, 50:9-11
4. Resurrection of Energy
The basic law of physics dictates that energy is conserved and can only be changed from one form to another or into matter. That’s what makes energy renewable. Solar energy for instance, is a renewable energy which replenishes itself naturally in a relatively short time. Therefore, the light of the sun being a solar energy never really dies. It will be stored in another matter, though in a potential form like a compressed spring, until it is released. That’s the secret behind creating energy by burning a piece of wood. Therefore, when a piece of wood is burnt it is as if a dead solar energy resurrected again. The Quran 36:79-80
Why is the Hereafter Necessary?
1. Innate Proofs
Loving immortality and the attribute of survival after death is a natural desire of mankind and hence, it appears to have been held by human beings from the earliest of times. In general, when there is an instinct there must be a satisfaction for it. As when there is a feeling of thirst, there must be water satisfying the instinct of that thirst.
The instinct of immortality will not be satisfied unless there is an immortal life after this mortal one.
2. Proof of Wisdom
There are number of Ayaat in the Quran providing this proof. For instance see: 15: 85, 23:115.
We are living in a meaningful world in which everything has a purpose and an aim. If death were the end of everything, the creation of the entire universe would be in vain.
3. Proof of Justice
Justice is one of God’s attributes. The whole universe is established on justice. However, the history of man presented many criminals that never received their full punishment in this world. How many innocent people are killed without their murderers found? How many properties are stolen and the thieves never caught? Therefore, there must be a great day of judgment in which all tyrants, oppressors, and criminals will be judged with justice.
4. Proof of Movement and Aim
Man is proceeding towards his purpose of creation with a gradual evolution and movement.
If death were the end of life the purpose of life would not be reached. In other words, accepting a purpose for this life is meaningless without believing in the Hereafter. From an Islamic point of view, mankind is like a ship starting a journey from the border of non-existence proceeding within the river of existence and finally anchoring in the eternal ocean of existence towards God.
5. Physical and Spiritual Resurrection
Human beings are a combination of soul and body. These two ingredients are so mixed up with each other that the pain and pleasure of each one has effects on the other. Psychosomatic disorders are examples of this interaction. Such a mutual effect and relation will be temporarily cut off by physical death. Yet on the Day of Resurrection both the body and soul go back to each other to experience a thorough pleasure or pain. They may have a taste of pain or pleasure by themselves, but the complete one will not be obtained unless both are together. That is why a painful or pleasurable dream is not the same as that in real life in which both the body and soul are together.
Therefore, from an Islamic point of view, Resurrection is going to be both physical and spiritual. Hundreds of Ayaat in the Holy Quran explicitly indicate that mankind will be raised with the same body they owned in this world.
Some Characteristics of the Day of Judgment
1. Book of Actions
In a number of Ayaat and many Ahadith, the issue of the Book of Actions is mentioned as one of the characteristics of the Day of Resurrection.
In general, the Book of Actions is something that each and every individual or each nation will carry with them which consists of their entire actions in this world, good or bad.
Although there are different interpretations for the nature of the book, it seems it is the soul of humans in which the impacts of all actions are firmly penetrated and rooted. Those impacts are not only rooted in the souls of man, but they are also engraved in the entire world around which the action has taken place.
The engravings are not understandable for us while we are in this world, yet they are so natural and irrefutable.
The book, according to Ayah 13 in Chapter 17 of the Quran, will be hung around the neck of individuals. The neck is a resemblance of receiving the reward or punishment. For, both the medals of reward and the chains of punishment are hung around the neck.
On the Day of Resurrection, every soul shall read his/her Book of Actions. The book will be handed over to its, and only its, author; i.e. the doer. Once you look at your book, every single action accompanied with its real intention is precisely, with all the details, engraved in the book. The most comprehensive biography of your life – It contains the entire life of the person, from the cradle to the grave. By then, “…because of what is recorded therein, they will say: Ah! Woe to us! What a book this is! It leaves out nothing small or great, but takes account thereof.”
2. Embodiment of Actions
Another characteristic of the Day of Resurrection is the embodiment of our actions. Numerous Ayaat and Hadiths present the idea that, on the Day of Resurrection, each and every individual will see the real picture of his/her actions.
From an Islamic point of view, each action has a worldly appearance and a real face. The worldly appearance is what is seen in this world. This appearance may or may not be the same as the real picture of the action. In other words, the relation between this world and the Hereafter is like the world of dreams and that of wakefulness. As what we see in the dream may have a different or even an opposite picture in reality, what we act upon may also have a different picture in the Hereafter.
A Prophetic saying describes alcoholic drinks as fire, for the Prophet in his ascension has seen the real picture of it. Also, being kind to the parents is seen by the Prophet as a kind and compassionate companion in the Hereafter.
Paradise and Hell
There are two end-points for humans in the Hereafter: Paradise or Hell.
The criteria for being admitted to Paradise are faith and righteous deeds. The criteria for punishment in Hell are stubborn disbelief and evil deeds. The Holy Quran in numerous Ayaat has described heaven, its physical and spiritual pleasures and blessings. The precise picture of Paradise, however, is perceivable only when visiting it.
Hell is a horrible fire, in addition to various methods of punishment which come in different levels. Each punishment is the embodiment of the actions of the person in this world. Hell is the place for those who denied the truth deliberately and those who were oppressors and did not repent.
Philosophy of Hell
The philosophy of hell, and the reason it is created, is a common question in different cultures. Many people may wonder how the Merciful God can punish His creatures with such a variety of severe punishments in hell. The following points shall answer the question:
Both the punishments and rewards in the Hereafter are direct results of man’s actions. They are examples of the law of cause and effect. For, one reaps what one sows. They are the reality of man’s actions in this world. In Chapter 66 Ayah 7 we read: “O you unbelievers, make no excuses this Day (the Day of Judgment) you are being requited all that you did.”
Any law which is not binding will not be followed or executed. Such a law is, in fact, a pseudo-law and will not solve any problems. Imagine a state which is trying to provide security to its citizens without enacting any punishment law. There is no fine for any offence. Both criminals and righteous citizens are provided the same reward and facilities. No doubt, insecurity and injustice will prevail in such a city. This is the major philosophy of the conception of hell and heaven in Divine Religions.
Why an Eternal Hell?
Although not all of those who enter Hell will remain therein forever, there are some groups of people who will suffer in hell for eternity. The eternity in Hell is mentioned in the Quran more than 30 times. Here a question arises about the correlation between the action and the punishment. Let us assume a person has been a criminal for their entire life of 100 years. Is it fair for them to be punished eternally? The answer is, there are two types of punishments: contractual and natural. The contractual punishments are all types of civil fines which vary in different cultures and times. They are types of punishments that are agreed upon for certain offences. The natural punishment is the natural effect of any crime. For instance, prohibited speed in driving may cost two types of penalties for the driver. One is a contractual fine which may be some fiscal penalty and losing some points. The second type of penalty may be a fatal accident.
Religious punishments are also of two types. The Jurisprudential ones which are established for this life are similar to the civil contractual punishments, while the punishments in the Hereafter as well as rewards, are the natural punishments and rewards, for they are nothing more than the reality of deeds, good or bad.