Braque Hesselink: A Commentary on Qur’anic Eschatology

In the broad expanse of human existence, we find ourselves questioning our own, relatively minute lives in the sea of humanity. We feel ourselves tossed hopelessly on the tides of social change, especially in contemporary America, and believe that our individual actions amount to little. But the Qur’an teaches us that a single human action can have immeasurable weight—indeed, it is our seemingly routine, day-to-day actions which determine the fate of our eternal existences. The eschatological characteristics of the Qur’an provide insight into how we should lead our lives in this world, so that we might find bliss in the next. There are several defining aspects of Qur’anic eschatology which provide a basis for how humans should act. Based on the eschatological doctrines of the Qur’an, mercy, humility, and diligence are three of the most significant qualities that a person must adopt in their endeavours to reach Paradise.

Mercy is a divine virtue, integral to a person striving to enter Paradise—mercy is, after all, the quality embodied by God that allows humanity to exist on Earth. The Qur’an discusses the “eschatological asymmetry” of how God judges humans.[1] Regarding His judgement of us, it is said that “His mercy precedes his wrath,” and, if He were to judge humanity purely on the scale of justice, we would not be morally deserving of Paradise and would surely perish.[2] Humans are meant to emulate this quality of mercy in our actions, rather than simply acting on the principles of justice.[3] I believe that one of the defining human qualities that sets us apart from animals is our capacity for mercy—unlike beasts, that act instinctually in the killing one another, we have the potential to overcome our violent tendencies and earn our place in Paradise. The Qur’an further states that even a person who has committed a sin can ask for forgiveness; if they atone earnestly, God “transmutes their very lapses into goodness.”[4] To enter Paradise, we must learn to forgive others, just as God, the “merciful” and “compassionate,” continually forgives us.[5]

Humility is another defining virtue that has eschatological implications for those striving to reach Paradise. The Qur’an warns that humans must “not walk the Earth in arrogance. For [individuals] can never be greater than a mountain in size or stability.”[6] The Qur’an condemns pride, as it is a vice which hinders humans from genuinely appreciating that we owe our station in life to God, rather than to ourselves.[7] I believe that pride is one of the worst vices that a human can act upon, as it undermines our relationship to God; a proud person is blind to the āyāt that surround us, showing us to be thankful for the bountiful world in which we exist.[8] Humility is one of the principal virtues that determines whether a person joins “[the group] of the blessed [or] the condemned” during the Final Judgement.[9] The Qur’an observes that those who do not exercise humility believe that all their “successes are [their] own, [while] all [their] hardships are from God.”[10] The truth is the opposite—that we owe our successes to God, and our hardships to ourselves.[11] If we are to reach Paradise, we must learn to be humble and appreciate the life that God has afforded us.

Diligence is another virtue integral to the actions of a person endeavouring to enter Paradise. The Five Pillars of Islam, which every Muslim must abide to, exemplify the diligence we must adopt in this life. They have significant eschatological implications. Salat, or daily prayer, is an act of diligence that maintains our constant connection with God, and reminds us that the principles of the Qur’an must be upheld in daily life. So too does Sawn, the yearly fasting during Ramadan,[12] serve as a reminder that to reach the gardens of Paradise and receive the “Lord’s bounties,”[13] we must constantly be pious and exhibit virtue. I believe that diligence is an eschatological quality of the Divine; Islamic theologians posit that the world is being renewed every moment, and humans, too, are constantly being restored by God, so that we might maintain a continual existence on Earth before passing into the next life.[14] God undertakes an incomprehensible burden to preserve humanity—I believe that, in emulation, we should act persistently to maintain the integrity of our own relationships, just as the existence of the larger human race is diligently maintained by God. Without diligence, we cannot be in constant pursuit of virtue. If we are not always striving to better ourselves, and nurturing our bond with God, then we threaten our prospects of entering Paradise.

The value of a human life does not diminish in relation to a growing population, nor are individual actions overshadowed by the acts of larger social powers. Every individual act carries a divine weight—through our personal actions, we can transcend this existence and experience quintessential bliss in the next life. Qur’anic eschatology shows us that, by pursuing virtuous lives, we improve our spiritual statuses during the Final Judgement. By exhibiting mercy, humility, and diligence, we bring ourselves ever closer to reaching Paradise.

 

Bibliography

Haleem, Muhammad Abdel. Understanding the Qur’an: Themes and Style. New York: I.B. Tauris, 1999.

McAuliffe, Jane Dammen, ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Qur’an. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Rahman, Fazlur. Major Themes of the Qur’an. 2nd ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009.

 

I have adhered to the Honor Code in this assignment

Braque Hesselink

 

[1] From class notes.

[2] From class notes.

[3] From class notes.

[4] Fazlur Rahman, Major Themes of the Qur’an (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009), 6.

[5] Rahman, 6.

[6] From class notes.

[7] From class notes.

[8] From class notes.

[9] Jane Dammen McAuliffe, ed., The Cambridge Companion to the Qur’an (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 104.

[10] From class notes.

[11] From class notes.

[12] From class notes.

[13] Muhammad Abdel Haleem, Understanding the Qur’an: Themes and Style (New York: I.B. Tauris, 1999), 175.

[14] From class notes.