3 May 2014
The Afterlife: From the Islamic Perspective
This essay will be exploring the concept of life after death from the perspective of the Islamic faith. Various topics will include the afterlife, moment of death, and judgment day. Extensive focus will be placed on events that take place for monotheistic believers along with the topic of judgment day being discussed relative to both believers and nonbelievers. The information gathered for the purposes of this essay are found in the Quran, The remembrance of death and the afterlife by Ghazzali T, The minor resurrection: what happens after death: in the light of the Qur’an and Sunnah by Ashqar Umar, and The Resurrection and the Afterlife by Ali Unal. Before the intrinsic nature of the Day of Judgement can truly be deduced, a discussion into the concept of death must first be explored.
Death is inevitable; it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but rather more appropriately ‘when’. God mentions in the Quran “Every soul will taste death. And We test you with evil and with good as trial; and to Us you will be returned” (21:35). In Islamic eschatology when the soul is in the moment of death, an angel named Azra'eil will arrive to engulf a person’s soul (Gazali 130). Simultaneously, the believer will hear “O reassured soul, Return to your Lord, well-pleased and pleasing [to Him], And enter among My [righteous] servants, And enter My Paradise.” (89:27-30). The soul will then be taken out of the body as smooth as some water being gently poured out of a jug (Gazali 128). Al-Ghazali mentions in his book the remembrance of death and the after life, that “God dispatches unto him angles whose faces are like the sun, who bear his shrouds and his perfume with them”(Gazali 127). Al-Ghazali also states that as soon as the soul is taken out, angels will wrap it into a cloth from heaven. Umar S. al-Ashqar in his book The Minor Resurrection goes on to mention how “angles take it [the righteous soul] on a sublime journey of honor, and the gates of heaven are opened for it.” (Ashqar 101). They will be taken to the gates of the first heaven where then the angles will ask for the gates to be open. Once open, the soul will be taken up to a grand part of heaven temporarily to turn in their book of good deeds. As soon and the physical body is prepared for burial, God commands the angels to take the soul back into its body (Gazali 128).
According to Islamic thought, there are various stages in the grave the first being that every body placed in a grave will experience a squeezing sensation. This is clarified as Umar states “when the deceased is placed in his grave, he is squeezed in a manner from which no one, great or small, righteous or immoral, can escape (Ashqar 66). Once squeezed, the soul will come in contact with two angels known as Munkar and Nakir. They will be presented as extremely frightening and horrendous figures for both believers and non-believers alike. Ali Unal mentions in his book The Resurrection and the Afterlife both Munkar and Nakir will ask three questions from the people in the grave, “Who is your Lord? What is your religion? And what do you say about the man that was sent as a messenger sent to you?” (Unal 78). The response is dictated on how they explicitly lived their lives. The people who lived a life of righteousness will hypothetically respond, “God, I believed in him and worshiped him. Islam. That man is my prophet, I heard about him I believed in him and I followed him.” Islamic ideology teaches that all the major religions such as Judaism and Christianity are originally one continuous message sent down to mankind. However they become tainted later through the combination of man and time, so what was preached at the time of Jesus (pbuh) or Moses (pbuh) was actually the message of Islam (which can be translated as a whole surrender to God) and the souls in the grave will mention the prophet that was reviled to them. In the Quran Allah mentions “Allah keeps firm those who believe, with the firm word, in worldly life and in the Hereafter. And Allah sends astray the wrongdoers. And Allah does what He wills” (14:27). Once the correct answers are given they will be told, “rest for what is going to come will be better oh beautiful soul.” A window will be shown to them on their left, looking into hell. They will be told that that place was created as their spot in hell, however since they believed and did righteousness they will never enter it and the window will be shut. On their right a window looking into heaven will be shown. Seeing this the believer in the grave will then pray that the Day of Judgment would come soon so that they may go and enjoy what is given to them after.
Islam along with other religious scriptures preaches that a variety of things will take place before and after the actual Judgment begins. Judgment Day will begin with a terrible, Trumpet blast that will destroy everything. Islam mentions how even the angels, except a few that God allows’ to live will perish. The Quran mentions “the Horn will be blown, and whoever is in the heavens and whoever is on the earth will fall dead except whom Allah wills. Then it will be blown again, and at once they will be standing, looking on” (39:68). This can be understood that a second “blast” will resurrect all of living creation once again to be ready for the judgment to come.
When resurrected, mankind will designed as more enhanced on both physical and mental standards. The Quran states “You were certainly in un-mindfulness of this, and We have removed from you your cover, so your sight, this Day, is sharp" (50:22), referring to the fact of how your eyes can see now see the angels etc. Al-Ghazali mentions that prophet Muhammad (pbuh) stated, “on the Day of Arising, mankind shall be gathered upon an off-white land like pure flower, on which no sign has been left by anyone” (Gazali 179). There will be no irregularities on its surface giving no place for anything to hide. People will be in utter astonishment. the Quran paints the picture mentioning, “It is the Day when people will be like moths, disperse” (101:4). All of creation is gathered up they will remain in a state of fear and awe for over fifty thousand years before actual Judgment takes place (Gazali 184).
The experience in this limbo state before the actual judgment will vary from person to person. For the believing soul however that day will pass as if it was only the length of a single prayer. The sun will be placed very close to the land and people will be sweating in varying degrees waiting for their final judgment. The amount they will sweat will correlate to how much evil they have done. Some sweating only to their ankles, others to their knees, while others will almost be drowning in it. The pious will be under the shade of God, protected from the fierce blaze of the sun. It will be so unbearable that mankind will be tired of waiting they search from someone among the pious who can intercede and ask for judgment to start. After numerous messengers are asked prophet Muhammad (pbuh) will accept, and he will intercede for all of creation for judgment to begin, his supplication will be one that is unmatched of any supplication ever made. Then according to Islamic ideology it is said that God will accept his intercession and the sky will open and thousands of powerful angles will descend surrounding the creation of their Lord.
Following their dissention the magnificent thrown of God will lowered, in a matter befitting to Him, carried by eight unimaginably huge angels. All of creation will quiver from fear and shear amazement, not even the angels will be exempt in humbling themselves. All of mankind will go stand behind the messengers sent to them that they followed or the false gods they used to worship. All the false deities will be created and people who claimed to be gods will also line up with their followers behind them. The true believers will be the only ones to see the thrown of God as it descends and with their respected messengers; while the unbelieving people will not be given the reward of even seeing their Lord. They will be in extreme grief and shame cursing each other. Their false gods will testify against them saying they were free from what their followers worshiped, and that they had submitted to the one true God (Gazali 192). God will command the angel Gabriel to bring Hell. Hell will be like a raging beast bursting with fury, roaring with tremendous might as it’s brought off to the distance, its sight will cause all to tremble with fear. Al-Ghazali describes when hell is brought out “all men fall down prostrate, fearfully raising their eyes to watch in timidity and submission. The hearts of the wrongdoers are broken, and hearts choke gullets, and the minds of the blessed and the damned alike are dazed.” Vivid imagery in Islam about what is believed to take place on the Day of Judgment is a definite facet in the Quran.
Now the actual Judgment will take place and one by one each person will receive their record books containing every deed they committed big or small. Then they will be carried by two formidable angels to their Lord and questioned about what they were given and what they did. When the believers are questioned however, it will be a different form of questioning, for some, a veil will come between them and all others waiting to be judged, keeping their responses private to save them the humiliation of testifying their misdeeds in front of others. Some will only see their deeds played before their eyes without any form of questioning before heading to the next stage. In Islamic belief God is the most just, therefore any wrong done by any person on another will be thoroughly assessed and compensated. Good deeds will be the form of payment and if no good deeds remain, other peoples sins are taken as compensation.
Even the animals will get compensation for any injustice done to them. Be it from mankind or their own species. All animals after justly reprieved will then be turned to dust; this is done to torment the disbelievers who will wish nothing other than to just be turn to dust “Indeed, We have warned you of a near punishment on the Day when a man will observe what his hands have put forth and the disbeliever will say, "Oh, I wish that I were dust!" (78:40). The compensation for even the animals harmed shows the extent of Justice taken by the Islamic idea of an all just God.
After their confessions mankind will be split to three groups with some sent to the final scale to weight their deeds with absolute justice. The three groups will consist of one group being composed of those with not one single deed. These people will be grabbed their forelocks by a great beast and flung into the hellfire being told “Sorrow, never to be followed by any joy” (Gazali 203). There well be another group filled with pious individuals having not a single bad deed to their credit and with the mercy of God, they are allowed to race toward what was promised to them, having a voice tell them “Joy, never to be followed by sorrow”(Gazali 203). They will go to gates of Heaven waiting for the gates to open. The third group, which will hold the majority of people, will consist of people having a mix of good and bad deeds shall be taken to the scales to be judged. There will be people that will end up having a balance between good and bad deeds; they will be taken to a temporary holding place known as Al-Araf (which literally translates to “The Heights”) neither in hell nor in heaven. No one will pass solely based on his or her deeds, even the prophets; it will only be balanced in their favor with the mercy of God.
After this test the people will be sent to the final stage of the Day of Judgment, which is the crossing of the bridge. This bridge will be as thin as a hair and will be as sharp as a sword stretching over the gulf of hell (Gazali 212). Depending on the level of faith, people will be able to cross the bridge in different manners, whilst some will slip or be jerked off the bridge into the doom that awaits them. Some will pass in a twinkle of an eye or like a flash of lightning. Others will pass in a jog, while others will walk, some will experience trouble but still make it across. Even then there will be people crawling on their hands and legs over the bridge to pass. The people that will fall into hell or get pulled off the bridge are not limited to only disbelievers; but it is clearly mentioned that even believers who have done evil deeds and not repented properly before they had died will be flung into the hellfire. However, they will eventually be pulled out with the mercy of God and the endless supplication of the people in heaven along with the prophets. The people placed in the Al-Araf, as mentioned, will be saved as well. This will cause further punishment to the disbelievers due to the fact that they would assume these were people of hell; but as God mentions his mercy surpasses his punishment, he mentions in the Quran “[Allah will say], "Are these the ones whom you [inhabitants of Hell] swore that Allah would never offer them mercy? Enter Paradise, [O People of the Elevations]. No fear will there be concerning you, nor will you grieve." (7:49). This is done to point out to the people of hellfire how bad they really were to not even be able to be people with equal good to bad deeds.
Islamic belief gives a grand sense detail about the afterlife to remind people what awaits them in hope that they strive for righteousness. These descriptions are given to, at least from the Islamic perspective, not only inform but also induce change within individuals who follow the Islamic faith. Islam teaches that because the time of death is unknown, one must always be the best they can be. It gives references to what can be achieved with good works and the severe consequences that come with sin to warn the people of their choices in this life in relation to the Islamic concept of an everlasting afterlife.
Ashqar, ʻUmar Sulaymān, and Nasiruddin Khattab. The Minor Resurrection: What Happens After Death : In The Light of the Qurʼan and Sunnah. English ed. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: International Islamic Pub. House, 2005. Print.
Ġazālī, Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad Abū Ḥāmid al, and Timothy J. Winter. The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife itāb d̲hikr al-mawt wa-mā baʻdahu : Book XL of the Revival of Religious Sciences = Iḥyāʼ ʻulūm al-dīn. Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 1989. Print.
Ünal, Ali. The Resurrection and the Afterlife. Fairfax, Va.: Fountain, 2000. Print.