Qur’anic Eschatology

The Qur’an stands out from other religious texts for many reasons, such as its cyclical storytelling and seemingly disorganized chronology but one of the most obvious difference is its very in depth discussion of eschatology. The topic of the End of Days can be broken up into a few different subsections such as final destinations and capacity. All of these prophetic statements have one goal: to get humankind to develop the self-awareness of “Keen Sight” during this lifetime.

Logistically, if one were to look at the Last Day, they would see two avenues: Gardens or Hellfire. These two destinations are mentioned over and over again across the suras. Arriving at these final resting places, people receive the expected lot: Gardens get good food and pleasure and hellfire gets torture and despair. One important distinction in Islam is the lack of dualism between the body and soul.  (Rahman, 112) This means that after-death, people are embodied in the afterlife so are experiencing these pleasures and pains as they have experienced them in this life. Byond all that comes with residing in a Garden for eternity, the Qur’an posits that “greater than all this, [is] the good pleasure of [being with] God.” (Q 9:72) This is to say that more important than the bodily and sensory, in the afterlife there is an emotional binary: the loneliness of hellfire and the companionship of paradise. (Mahallati, 3/27) This leads to the believe that hellfire is not a location where one is tossed into a vat of lava or fire, as one’s imagination might assume, but a place where all the ‘hellfire’ is an internal burning. (Mahallati, 3/29) A modern reader might understand this as ‘beating yourself up’ for all of eternity.

As for what happens to the earth at this time, the Qur’an explicitly explains this in suras 81 and 82 as seemingly catastrophic destruction. On closer inspection this ‘destruction’ is really a transformation. Rather than sending souls to a Heaven or Hell that is distinct from Earth as is popular understanding in Western society, the Qur’an describes the reorganizing of the natural resources already on Earth. (Rahman, 111) The Gardens of Paradise and prisons of Hellfire will be created out of material already found on Earth.

Another major aspect of the eschatological framework of the Qur’an is “The Hour.” This is a moment when all of one’s mind becomes public (Rahman, 109): “When every human will be shaken into a unique and unprecedented self-awareness of his deeds: he will squarely and starkly face his own doings, not-doings, and misdoings and accept the judgement upon them as a ‘necessary sequel.’ ” (Rahman, 106) This is when the actions of a lifetime are weighed and the decision is made as to whether or not you head to hellfire or gardens. It is often said that “Whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it,” (Mahallati, 3/27) which is to say you will be judged fairly and according to your actions. Once one reaches Al-akhira or, “the end,” they can no longer amend actions or atone for sins. The Qur’an vividly describes God referring to your “deed-sheets” that describes all your actions and one’s own organs bearing witness against oneself (Rahman, 110). This unamendable judgement enforces the Qur’an assertion about the seriousness of this life, as it is your only chance. Since you cannot change anything at “The Hour,” you must act how you want to be judged. The “Day [of Judgement is one] when no soul can do anything to help another.” (Q 82:19) It is said that the only thing that can help you at this time is God’s mercy. (Rahman, 108)

Akin to the Qur’anic moral code, judgement during the eschaton is based on capacity. Every community that comes before God is judged based on the standards set by their prophet. (Rahman, 114) This is to say that Ancient Jews cannot be judged by the same standards that Muslims are judged by because they had not received the revelations of Muhammad yet, and therefore are not expected to follow the commandments he received. Likewise, anyone who lived since the time of the Prophet and had reasonable access to his revelations will be judged on whether or not they followed those revelations. This idea of capacity in the Qur’an shows the importance of justice and fairness to Allah. One theologian, Al Ghazali, believes in the “Plain Lot.” This expands upon this idea of capacity by saying that one is judged based on the amount of responsibility and maturity that they had amounted by the time of death. This is shown by the idea of the Plain Lot in the after life that is either decorated or desecrated by your current actions. If you do good, springs burst up and trees grow, but if you do bad, the ground cracks and no shade is provided. This concept breeds the mentality that “this life is farm land of the next life.” (Mahallati, 3/29)

As already mentioned, morality is inextricable from eschatology. The motivation to do good is out of fear of repercussions. Once one is in the after-life, though, one no longer is motivated by fear or anticipation but by “keen sight.” (Rahman, 120) This term refers to the moment when your inner being goes public and you understand all your actions must have consequence. This ability to clearly see right and wrong is called taqwa. (Rahman, 120) The point of these eschological stories, morals, and the Qur’an more broadly, is “for man to develop this ‘keen sight’ here and now, when there is opportunity for action and progress, for at the hour of Judgement it will be too late to remedy the state of affairs; there will be reaping, not sowing or nurturing.” (Rahman, 120)