Alex Broekhuijse: Muslim Eschatology and Morality- A Lesson in Motivation

A religion serves several purposes; however, one of the most important functions of a faith is the ability to answer the questions that man is inherently unable to answer. One of these questions that religion seeks to answer is the question of what remains after death. Humanity’s moral condition inherently inhibits it from the ability to determine what the afterlife consists of, or even if there is one, to begin with. The Muslim faith answers these questions through a lens of long term moral practices, positioning man’s actions throughout his life, along with his moral condition, as what influences his post life conditions. Islamic eschatology reinforces the concept of righteousness and kindness through a consistent reminder that at the last judgment those who are good will be rewarded and those who are not will suffer.

For Islam, the afterlife truly begins with the last day, a final day of reckoning in which God raises the dead and sends them to their final resting place, either heaven or hell, and it is this day that reveals important context for the moral implications of Islam’s eschatology. In the last day, God travels to earth and divides the living and the dead between those traveling to heaven, and those traveling to hell. In this action, the world is destroyed, and mankind is prepared for judgment. The Quran describes this moment as “Man will say on that day, “Where is the place of Escape” No! There is no refuge To your Lord, that day is the place of permanence  Man will be informed that day of what he sent ahead and kept back.”1 This quotation is important because it reveals a deeper moral context to the day of judgment. It reminds the individual that even after death, we cannot escape the impacts of our actions The day of judgment cements the ripples of every action we make, and thus develops a message that one can never genuinely get away with doing the wrong thing, as there will always be a judgment.

The Muslim concept of Heaven similarly enforces a moral lesson, that one must not only act good but be good and good to others in order to truly succeed and reach heaven. Heaven in Islam is described as an eternal feeling of spiritual and physical pleasure. Each individual’s longings throughout his life will be provided to them in heaven, and there will be an eternal feeling of fulfillment. The Quran describes heaven as “For such the reward is forgiveness from their Lord, and Gardens with rivers flowing underneath – an eternal dwelling. How excellent a recompense for those who work (and strive)!”2 This quote reveals the motivation behind seeking heaven while on earth, which is a feeling of eternal home and security, something that life on earth is entirely devoid of. This quote, and the Muslim perception of heaven provide a relief for those who do good. It reminds the individual that while doing good is not always the easy thing to do, it is always the right thing to do, and if one does so, then ultimately they will be rewarded. It develops a distinction between earthly and divine rewards, as even if the reward for doing the wrong thing is larger while on earth, the concept of heaven and its divine pleasures pushes people to choose the right thing.

Hell, in Islam, reflects the opposite of heaven, producing a vision of isolation and suffering which serves to provide doubt behind humanity doing the wrong thing, and promote kindness. In Islam Hell is populated by those who disrespect God, his messengers, and his laws. It consists of eternal physical and spiritual torment for all eternal. This goes beyond the traditional Christian depiction of hell, as it introduces the concept of spiritual torment, which brings with it feelings of eternal loneliness, isolation, and emptiness. Similarly being sent to hell is described as a justice, with those who act despicably getting what is just even if they do not receive it on earth. The text The Vision of Islam describes this process as “Things show themselves for what they are; deception and trickery do not rule the cosmos, everything will end up in its proper place.”3 This quote accurately describes hell as not something to fear, but instead as something that reinforces making the right choice, and similarly helps ease suffering. Even if it feels that those who consistently act unkind and unrighteous are profiting, the concept of hell reinforces that in the end, everything is equalized.

It is important to remember that as much as religion answers questions, it also provides guidance and motivation. The Muslim concepts of heaven, hell, and the last day provide just that, guidance when an individual’s questions what is the best course of action. It reminds us that the actions we take on earth do not only lead to temporary results but instead hold a greater ultimate weight. This all can be related back to the Muslim concept of adab, which reminds mankind that we are a reflection of our actions. This concept, along with Muslim eschatology, produces the moral idea that man is ultimately judged on what he does and how he acts. Even if one feels that deep down they are a good person, it is our actions that reflect that person, and thus what we are judged on.

Bibliography:

  1. Quran 75:11-75:14
  2. Quran 3:136
  3. Murata, Sachiko, and William C. Chittick. The Vision of Islam. Srinagar, Kashmir, India: Gulshan Kashmir, 2015. Print, 232
  4. Smith, Jane I. “Reflections on Aspects of Immortality in Islam.” The Harvard Theological Review, vol. 70, no. 1/2, 1977
  5. Dickson, D. Bruce, et al. “Where Do You Go When You Die? A Cross-Cultural Test of the Hypothesis That Infrastructure Predicts Individual Eschatology.” Journal of Anthropological Research, vol. 61, no. 1, 2005, pp. 53–79., www.jstor.org/stable/3631297.