“Verily We shall give life to the dead, and We record all that they send before and that they leave behind, and We have taken account of all things in a clear Book (of evidence).” (36:12)
“And to every soul will be paid in full (the fruit) of its deeds, and He knows best all that they do.” (39:70)
Belief in the hereafter — what pertains to the day of judgment, bodily resurrection, and heaven and hell — is another basic article of faith in Islam.
As we have already seen, Islam asserts that the present life is but a minute part of the totality of existence. The Quran informs the human being of the reality of another life of a very different nature from the life of this world, of infinite duration. For God, the All-Wise, All-Powerful Creator, is able to do anything He pleases. He is easily able to transform His creations from one state of being to another. Can we for a moment imagine that it can be more difficult for Almighty God to raise us up when we are dead than it was to create us in the first place? The Quran speaks again and again of familiar and obvious examples of such transformations: the coming to life again of the earth after it lies dead and barren in the grip of winter or drought: the development of a sperm and an ovum into an embryo in the environment of the mother’s womb, and its further development from that state into a thinking, feeling, acting human being living in the world.
“And among His signs is this: You see the earth barren and desolate, but when We send down rain to it, it is stirred to life and yields increase. Verily, He Who gives life to the dead earth can surely give life to the dead. Indeed, He has power over all things.” (41:39)
“O mankind! If you are in doubt concerning the resurrection, then, verily, We created you from dust, then from a drop, then from a clot, then from a lump of flesh (both) shaped and shapeless, that We may make it clear for you. And We cause what We will to remain in the wombs for an appointed time, and afterwards We bring you forth as infants: then you attain your full strength. And among you there is he who dies (young) and among you there is he who is brought back to the most abject time of life so that, after knowledge, he knows nothing. And you see the earth barren, but when We send down water on it, it thrills and swells and puts forth every lovely kind (of growth). That is because God is the Reality, and it is He Who gives life to the dead, and it is He Who has power over all things, and because the Hour (of Judgment) will come concerning which there is no doubt, and because God will raise those who are in the graves.” (22:5-7)
“Does not the human being see that it is We Who created him from sperm? Yet behold, he is an open adversary. And he makes comparisons for Us, and forgets his own creation. He says: ‘Who can give life to bones wiser they are decomposed?’ Say: ‘He will give them life Who created them the first time, for He knows about every kind of creating.'” (36:77-79)
“Then how can you reject faith in God, seeing that you were without life and He gave you life; then He will cause you to die and will bring you to life again, and again, to Him will you return.” (2:28)
As we have seen, Islam lays the greatest stress on the individual’s accountability to God. The human being’s life in this world constitutes a trial, an examination period, during which he prepares himself, either for good or for ill, for the next life of infinite duration. The day of judgment may be compared to the ending of the examination, during which the Teacher will ask each individual student, “What were you doing during the
exam?” and will then evaluate the work he hands in. For although the human body dies, his soul, his personality has an existence extending beyond the present life: it is a continuous entity whose inner state will accompany it into the hereafter. It is this state, together with one’s deeds, which will determine one’s ultimate destiny.
It is obvious that an individual who has lived with the correct awareness of and relationship to Reality through submission to God Most High is in an entirely different inner state from one who has lived all his life with an incorrect or distorted awareness of Reality and in forgetfulness, rebellion and ingratitude vis-a-vis God, and who has died in this state. Moreover, although many of the deeds of such people may appear outwardly similar, they have been motivated by entirely different intentions: the one to obey and please God and the other for any reason other than pleasing God, Whose reality he does not acknowledge. Indeed, the differences between the inner states of such persons is so great that their being kept apart from one another, in entirely different environments corresponding to what is within them and among companions having a similar inner condition, is a requirement of the most rudimentary conception of justice, not to speak of the absolute, unswerving justice of the All-Knowing, All-Wise, Infinitely Just and at the same time Most Merciful God. In very vivid, awe-inspiring language, the Quran sketches over and over the outline of the events of the last day. At a time when God sees fit, which is known only to Him, this world will be brought to an end in a terrifying cosmic cataclysm frightful beyond imagination. And on that awesome day of judgment, the bodies of the dead will be raised from their graves and rejoined with their souls, while those who were alive on earth at that time
will die and be joined to this assembly. All people, past and present, will then stand before God, each one as totally alone and helpless as when he came into the world, to render their accounting:
“When the sky is rent asunder and attentive to its Lord in fear, and when the earth is flattened out and has cast forth all that was within it and become empty, and attentive to its Lord in fear, 0 human being! fierily you are ever laboring on laboriously toward your Lord, and you shall meet Him. Then he who is given his record in his right hand will surely receive an easy reckoning and will return to his people joyfully. But as for him who is given his record behind his back, he will invoke destruction and will be thrown to scorching fire. Verily, he lived among this people happily; truly he did not think that he would have to return (to us). Nay, but lo! his Lord was watchful of him. So I do swear by the ruddy glow of sunset, and by the night and what it envelopes, and by the moon when it is at the full, you shall surely travel from stage to stage.” (84:1-19)
“Then when there comes the deafening noise, that day a man shall flee from his brother and his mother and his father, and his wife and his children. Each one of them that day will have enough concern (of his own) to make him indifferent to the others. Some faces that day will be beaming, laughing, rejoicing. And other faces that day will be dust-stained: blackness will cover them. Those will be the deniers of God, the doers of iniquity.” (80:33-42)
Then those who denied God and rejected His guidance, who devoted themselves to the worship of deities other than God, and who did evil deeds will be consigned to a fearsome and terrible abode in which their companions will be others who, like themselves, are completely alienated from God. There they will be in a state of enduring torment and agony from which there will be no respite. They will long to have another chance to return to the world to live their lives differently in the light of their present knowledge of Reality, but it will be too late. The examination will be over and all the books closed. They will have no choice but to acknowledge the justice of their destiny which is due to what their own hands wrought, in spite of all the clear warnings which were sent to guide them.
“And on the day those who disbelieve will be placed before the fire, (they will be asked), ‘Is not this real?’ They will say, ‘Yes, by Our Lord.’ He will say, ‘Then taste the punishment because you disbelieved'”(46:34)
“Verily, the sinners will be in the punishment of hell, to remain therein. It will not be lightened for them and they will be overwhelmed in despair. And We shall not be unjust to them, but it is they who have been unjust to themselves.” (43:74-76)
As for those who believed in God, who obeyed and submitted to Him and lived their lives for His pleasure, and who left this life in a state of surrender to Him, a state of unutterable contentment and satisfaction awaits:
“O My servants, no fear shall be on you that day nor shall you grieve those who have believed in Our signs and submitted. Enter the garden, you and your wives, in rejoicing.” (43:68-70)
“Those who believe and do righteous deeds, they are the best of creatures. Their reward is with their Lord: gardens of paradise beneath which rivers flow. They will dwell therein forever, God well-pleased with them and they with Him. This is for those who hold their Lord in awe.” (98:7-8)
These two states, heaven and hell, will be experienced in physical form by the new bodies with which God will raise people up: they are not merely spiritual or psychic states. And while we do not know their exact nature, the Quran tells us that the inhabitants of heaven will experience some things which will remind them of their life on earth, that the happiness and beauty of it will far exceed anything one can imagine, and that the ultimate triumph and bliss for those who have attained paradise will be in nearness to their Lord. As for those who have deserved hell, theirs will be a temporary or permanent state of torture depending on their inner condition and the nature and extent of their sins. The Quran describes hell as a state of intense, fearful burning and agony without respite, among the most horrifyingly loathsome surroundings and companions. But the most awful part of the suffering of its inhabitants will be the terrible. inescapable awareness that this is the destiny which they deserved and brought upon themselves by rejecting God and ignoring the guidance which He had conveyed to them through His messengers.
This clear reality of the future life is always before the mind and consciousness of the devout Muslim. It is this awareness which keeps the present life, in the midst of the most intense happiness and the deepest pain alike, in perspective: the perspective of a passing, temporary abode in which one has been placed as a test in order to qualify and prepare himself for his future home.
This perspective is essential for the maintenance of mental balance and stability amidst the difficulties of life. Yet no Muslim, even the best among them, imagines that he is guaranteed paradise; on the contrary, the more conscientious and God-fearing one is, the more he is aware of his own shortcomings and weaknesses.
Therefore, the Muslim, knowing that God alone controls life and death and that death may come to him at any time, tries to send on ahead for his future existence such deeds as will merit the pleasure, of his Lord, so that he can look forward to it with hope for His mercy and grace.
“When the sky is cleft asunder, when the stars are dispersed, when the oceans burst forth and the graves are overturned, a soul will know what it has sent ahead and kept back. O human being, what has made you careless concerning your Lord, the Bountiful, He Who created you, then fashioned you and then proportioned you? In whatever form He wills, He
casts you. Nay, but they deny the judgment. And verily, over you are guardians (angels), generous ones, recording; they know all you do. Verily, the righteous ones will be in bliss, and verily, the wicked will be in the fire. They will enter therein on the day of judgment and will not be able to keep away from it. And what will convey to you what the day of judgment is? Again, what will convey to you what the day of judgment is? A day when no soul shall have any power whatsoever for (another) soul. The command that day will be (wholly) with God.” (82:1-19)
“The likeness of the life of this world is as the rain which We send down from the sky. By its mingling arises the produce of the earth from which people and animals eat. (It grows) until, when the earth is clad with its ornaments and is decked out, and its people deem that they are the masters of it, Our command comes to it by night or by day, and We make it like a clean-mown harvest as if it had not flourished yesterday. Thus do We explain the signs (of God) for people who reflect. And God calls to the abode of peace. He guides whom He pleases to a straight path. To those who do right is a goodly (reward) and more (than that). No darkness nor shame shall cover their faces. These are the people of the garden; they will abide therein. But those who have earned evil will have a reward of like evil; darkness will cover them. No protector will they have against gods as if their faces had been covered with pieces from the depths of darkness. They are the people of the fire; they will abide therein.” (10:24-27)
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