Afterlife in Islam
Death is the foundation of life. Nothing goes to waste. Each death is a door to a new life. This is because the Supreme Being, who exercises free disposal over the creation, allows no waste. He gives existence to the most precious of creatures out of the meanest of things. He has subjected the creation to constant flux and renewal through the cycle of death and life, to an incessant motion towards its final perfection.
Just as He alternates day with night and spring with winter to yield ever-fresh results, He has established the cycle of death and life as an over- aching pattern within which His purpose for the creation of the universe may be realized.
However painful death seems to people, particularly to the materialists who regard it as going to non-existence, death is in reality a changing of residence or dimension, a receiving of one’s discharge from worldly duties, with the soul set free. Although death is, in appearance, a decomposition that seems to extinguish the light of life and cause the living body to rot away, and destroy worldly pleasures, it is, in fact, a transferring of the body and an invitation to, and the beginning of, a new, more perfect and better designed life.
Death is the foundation of a more perfect life. Since perfection is a blessing which requires filtration, refinement and purification, creatures experience death and are thereby elevated to a higher degree of life. For example, in order to obtain gold and iron, tons of crude oil have to be melted in a pot and refined. If they did not undergo this process of refinement, they would remain earth or stones worth next to nothing. Likewise, the dying of plants in the stomach of animals results in their providing sustenance for animals and thereby being elevated to a higher level of life. As another example, when the stone of a fruit ‘dies’, it appears to decompose and rot away into the soil. But, in doing so, it undergoes a perfect chemical process. It passes through stages of re-formation and ultimately grows into an elaborate, new tree. The death of some plants and animal flesh in the stomach of a man causes them to rise to the level of human life, so their death, in this sense, can be regarded as more perfect than their lives.
Everything in the universe from the particles of air to the atoms of water, from the molecules of grass and trees to the cells of living things, travel to death in ecstasy and with great zeal, which takes them ultimately to their perfection. When, for example, two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen devastate themselves in a chemical reaction, they are actually reborn, and rise to another, more perfect level of life in the form of water, which is the vital element of life in the universe. It is in this way that death should be understood —as a transformation into a higher level of existence, not an annihilation or going to non-existence. If the ‘dying’ of elements, which are the simplest levels of existence, is so perfect and serves life, then for man, having died and gone underground, there will certainly be an eternal life, much more refined, perfect and elaborate.
Death is, from the Divine point of view, a handing over of affairs by the dead to their successors. The life of each living creature is a procession before the One who has created it, and after each procession has been recorded in heavenly tablets in all its details, it is replaced with a new one so that the creation may be continuously renewed and refreshed and display ever-fresh spectacles. The one who has come goes. The one who has settled emigrates. Thus the whole creation is constantly enlivened in its unending towards its final destination and the light of life is continuously refined.
As the disappearance of bubbles, group by group on an ever-flowing stream demonstrates their transience or mortality vis-à-vis the performance of the sun reflected in them, their death also plainly affirms that nothing created is able to be self-subsistent and everything owes its existence to a Permanent One. Death also teaches us that nothing mortal is worth setting one’s heart upon. One should seek the Immortal Being, thus attaining eternity in spirit and an eternal life of happiness.
Death is also for man an effective warning, an instructive phenomenon, as well as a means of consolation. It warns us that there is no absolute non-existence and therefore when a thing goes; it leaves behind thousands of forms of its existence. For example, a flower dies, but besides leaving its form and appearance in thousands of memories, it deputes its formation and life cycle to its seeds to go on living in a different, much broader dimension. Likewise, a man dies only after his whole life, with all its details, has been recorded on heavenly tablets and also in his own memory as well as in many other memories, so that ‘whoever has done an atoms weight of good shall see it, and whoever has done an atom’s weight of evil shall see it.’ Therefore, death is not something to fear. It is in fact a reality that forces us to discipline ourselves to do good and refrain from evil. It also consoles us with the belief that when we go through it, we enter a new and better, more spacious and more beautiful world, where we will reunite with the beloved ones who had already left us for that wonderful place. What other belief than this, can give such consolation, especially to a child whose mother or father or brother has said farewell to him to go to that other world?
The Islamic belief in the afterlife as stated in the Qur’an is descriptive. The Islamic word for Paradise is jannah and Hell is jahannam. Jannat and Jahannam both have different levels. Jannat possesses 8 gates while Jahannam possess 7 deep terrible layers. Individuals will arrive at both everlasting homes during Judgment Day, which commences after the Angel Israfel blows the trumpet the second time. Their level of comfort while in the grave depends wholly on their level of Iman or faith in the one God, or Allah, equivalent in Arabic. In order for one to achieve proper, firm and healthy Iman one must practice righteous deeds or else his level of Iman chokes and shrinks and eventually can wither away if one does not practice Islam long enough, hence the depth of practicing Islam is good deeds. One may also acquire Tasbih and recite the names of Allah in such manner as “SubahannAllah” or Glory be to Allah in Arabic over and over again to acquire good deeds. The levels in Jannah are 100 and 7 for Jahannam.
Islam teaches that the purpose of Man’s entire creation is to worship the Creator of the Heavens and Earth – Allah (God in Arabic) alone that includes being kind to other human beings and life including bugs, and to trees, by not oppressing them. Islam teaches that the life we live on Earth is nothing but a test for us and to determine each individual’s ultimate abode be it punishment or Jannat in the afterlife, which is eternal and everlasting.
In the 20th century, discussions about the afterlife address the interconnection between human action and divine judgment, the need for moral rectitude, and the eternal consequences of human action in this life and world.
Period between death and Resurrection
Islam hold different positions regard the abode after the deceased. In the common Semitic view, man is a union of body and soul/spirit. The Quran itself refers to ruh, later used to designate human’s immortal self, not to the soul, but only to nafs. Muslims however, especially those influenced by Neo-Platonism, Muʿtazila, classical Islamic theology, Shi’a and Sufis, regarded ruh as to matter unrelated human’s immortal spirit. Therefore, they distinguishes between nafs and ruh, the latter surviving death.
According to a hadith from Sahih Muslim, Muhammad said:
‘When the ruh (soul) is taken out, the eyesight follows it’.”
The Quran itself gives only brief references about the period between death and the resurrection. However it mentions that certain individuals such as martyrs are alive and not dead in 2:154 and also indicates, that some are already in hell in 71:25. The term Barzakh indicates that the deceased and the living are entirely separated and can not interact with each other. Otherwise the Barzakh refers to the whole period between the Day of Resurrection and death and is used synonymously for “grave”. Despite the brief mentionings of the Quran, Islamic tradition discusses elaborately, almost in graphic detail, as to what exactly happens before, during, and after death.
After the burial each person is interrogated in the grave by two angels, called Munkar and Nakir, appointed by God to question the dead in order to test their faith. The righteous believers answer correctly and live in peace and comfort while the sinners and disbelievers fail and punishments ensue. In the life of Barzakh, the souls of the sinners and disbelievers are kept and punished in a place called Sijjin which is said to be located at the lowest level of the earth (traditionally hell, before the Day of resurrection or underworld). The books containing the full records of their deeds are also kept here. On the other hand, the souls of the righteous believers are kept in a place called Illiyin. Their books of deeds are also kept here. According to some account, Illiyin is located in the heaven.
After the questioning, depending on the state of the soul, the deceased will undergo different journeys. The sinner’s or disbelievers will meet the harsh angels or even the Zabaniyya to take position in front of him. Thereupon they tell the soul to come out to the wrath of God. Being terrified, the soul desperately tries to hide itself in the body. Thereupon, the angels of death starts beating the soul and extracts it from the body in a most painful way. The painful process of taking out a sinner’s soul has been compared with “the dragging of an iron skewer through moist wool, tearing the veins and sinews.” The soul of the sinner is then wrapped in a dirty cloth which emits bad smell. Carrying the soul, the angels head towards the heaven. On the way, other angels inquire about this wicked soul. They are told that this is the soul of that and that sinner person. The angels then arrive at the upper heaven, but its doors are not opened for the evil soul. Consequently, the soul is then thrown into hell or underworld, where it is punished until the Day of Judgment.
On the other hand, when a righteous believer dies, bright-faced angels from heaven descends with divine perfume and shroud. Then the angels of death comes, and tells the soul to come out to the pleasure and mercy of God. The soul is then extracted as easily as water comes out from the pitcher. The soul is then wrapped in the perfumed shroud and is taken up to the seventh heaven where God declares: ‘write down his name in ‘Illiyin’ and take him back to earth. I created him from earth, and I will raise him second time from this very earth.’ The soul is then pushed back into the body and is interrogated by two angels called Munkar and Nakir. He succeeds in answering the questions, and is blessed with heavenly rewards.
Barzakh also holds some resemblance to the Christian idea of limbo, that contains the souls, which go neither to heaven or to hell and remain in the grave. It is said that the martyrs – persons who die on the way of God – always skip Barzakh and the trial of the death angels and go to paradise directly.