Charlotte Halifax: Qur’anic Eschatology

Charlotte Halifax

March 13th, 2016

Introduction to the Qur’an

 

Qur’anic Eschatology

 

Eschatology in the Qur’an, the study of the Day of Judgement, has always been highly important to understanding the Islamic faith and understanding the process a Muslim must go through in their life and after it. In Al-Ghazali’s essay on the Hereafter, he writes in his introduction that, “from the first days of the Muslim experience the remembrance of death and the chastening fasts of eschatology provided a characteristic underpinning to the devotional life” (page xiii). The action in the life of a Muslim will completely influence their fate on the Day of Judgement, when he or she must face all of their deeds and God. The mortal life is much different than this one, according to Lari-Algar. In this life, he believes, “man must labor and sow.” (page 148). However, in the Hereafter, “he [man] reaps” (page 148). This “reaping,” as it were, will not include anything bad, according to Lari-Algar; it will lack everything bad in the mortal life, such as disease and dissatisfaction. He also references the fear that the Day of Judgement induces, writing on page 152 that, “The believer who is convinced that the day of requital will come, who knows that the day of the sinner and the oppressor will be the low levels and regions of hell, will fear the outcome of deeds.”

The Qur’an has a lot of precise description about the actual Day of Judgement. This huge amount of detail and time devoted to discussing the last day underlines its importance in the mortal and devotional of a practicing Muslim. Sura 56 opens with, “when the Calamity shall fall And there is no denying its fall, Abasing and exalting; When the earth is made to tremble and totter, And the mountains are pulverized, Turned into scattered dust.” A similar description can be found in Sura 44, which states, ““So look out for a Day when heaven exhales smoke, for all to see, that envelops mankind— a painful torment that! ‘Our Lord, draw away this torment from us, for we are believers.’” Sura 69 has a similar, longer description of the final day, starting with: “When the Trumpet shall be blown, a single blast, And the earth and mountains are raised and crushed, a single crush, On that Day, the Calamity shall strike! The sky shall be rent and, on that day, be brittle,” and continues for several verses. There are many more descriptions in various other suras of the Day of Judgement.

The descriptions of the Hereafter and the Day of Judgement carry a certain duality with them in the Qur’an: there seem to be two clear outcomes for man. In Chapter Six of “Major Themes of the Qur’an,” Rahman discusses the fact that Qur’anic Eschatology is split into two parts— the joys of the Garden and the punishments of Hell. He writes that this duality can also be expressed as “God’s pleasure and anger” or “reward and punishment in general” (page 106). This can be seen in the Qur’an’s descriptions of the fate of the faithful believers versus the blasphemous unbelievers. The most description of the Gardens can be found in Sura 56. Some of this includes, “In the Gardens of Bliss: A crowd of ancient communities, And a few from latter times. Upon couches studded with jewels They shall recline, face to face. Passing among them are youths, ever young,  With chalices and pitchers, and cups of a pure draught, Causing them neither ache nor intoxication, And fruits they shall have, whatever they choose, And flesh of fowl, whatever they desire, And maidens, eyes large and dark, Like pearls in their shells, As a reward for their past deeds.”

There is a lot of graphic description of Hell in Sura 56 as well. In addition, many suras reference the fate of those blasphemers who will not be going to the Gardens of Bliss and try to negatively influence faithful believers. This is referenced in Sura 50, when blasphemers are alleged to say, “This is an amazing claim! When we are dead and turned to dust, a return to life is surely far-fetched.” In response, believers are told to “Bear patiently what they [blasphemers] say, and glorify the praises of your lord.” Another reference to blasphemers comes in Sura 75, when God asks, “Does man imagine We shall not reassemble his bones?/Indeed, we reshape his very fingers!” Sura 69 becomes more specific, referencing specific blasphemers such as the Thamud tribe, the Pharaoh, and the people of ‘Ad, and discusses each of their unpleasant endings.

Eschatology of the Qur’an enables Muslims and non Muslims alike to understand the importance of the Day of Judgement has in both the Qur’an itself and the lives of everyday Muslims. The moment of Judgement is when we as humans are final able to see our true selves and examine our actions— it is the ultimate self awareness. Rahman writes that all teachings on the Hereafter will manifest at “The Hour,” 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” (page 106). This is clearly linked to a part of Sura 75 that says, “When eyes are dazzled, And the moon is eclipsed, And sun and moon are joined together, Man that Day shall ask: ‘Where to escape?’ No, there is no refuge! To your Lord that Day is the journey’s end. Man that Day shall be informed Of all his works, from first to last. In truth, man shall witness against himself, Even as he advances his excuses.” Rahman describes this further as “an hour when all veils between between the mental preoccupations of man and the objective moral reality will be rent” (page 106). All of the heavy descriptions and warnings towards blasphemers lead up to this moment, when man or woman is fully seen by God and receives either reward or punishment for their life’s deeds.