Gabe Salmon: Utter Transparency in the Qur’anic Eschaton Demands Personal Responsibility

(Response Paper Assignment 5)

The character of the afterlife is a peculiarly arresting theme in the Qur’an. Our beliefs about what follows life directly affect our morality and conduct. The Qur’an leverages the keen immediacy of these questions of eschatology and human existence to reinforce the centrality of personal responsibility in faith.

Beyond the mere duality of paradise and hellfire, the Qur’anic depiction of the hereafter has elaborate nuance and includes ten cardinal features. The promise of transparency in judgement reflects both God’s omniscience and fairness for existence. Both intercession and individuality in “The Hour” of judgement supports mercy in justice, while accountability means no one—no matter their lofty or lowly station on Earth—may escape proportional punishment or reward for their deeds. The loneliness of hellfire and the companionship of paradise offer contrasting incentives to encourage moral behavior in life [see note 1 below]. In paradise, the blessed are rewarded with the accessibility of all positive dreams and intentions; this makes their acts “resemble the acts of God; they rely on their wills for the accomplishment of their deeds . . .” (p 149, Lari). The idea that we each develop the balance of our own eternal presence (khulud) over our lifetimes to be judged in the afterlife demands mindfulness in our conduct. Finally, the As-sirāt bridge (alternatively called “the Traverse” or the narrow passage) over which everybody must cross before arriving at paradise underlines the importance of moral balance and developing a robust khulud over our lifetimes.

Of these attributes, the absolute transparency promised by the Qur’an at the reckoning poses particular urgency for our daily conduct today. As scholar Fazlur Rahman observes, the Qur’an proclaims that everybody will ultimately “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…” (p 106). That before God, every human will have to confront the totality of his/her deeds, in exquisite and excruciating detail, is a compelling motivator to live righteously. This idea of transparency is linked indelibly to each of the other characteristics of the Qur’an’s eschatology, especially the eternal presence and the As-sirāt bridge. For example, the Qur’an emphasizes the precision of God’s accounting of deeds, declaring that “Whoso has done an atom’s worth of good shall see it; Whoso who has done an atom’s worth of evil shall see it” (99:8). On the As-sirāt bridge, “thinner than a hair and sharper than a sword” (Ibn Hibban), an extra atom from one’s eternal presence can mean a plunge to hellfire. This is a vivid eschatological illustration of the importance of vigilance in righteousness.

As our modern world becomes increasingly connected, the notion of transparency—planning for the probability that our deeds may have an audience—becomes both more relevant and useful. 

Notes:

[1] These ideas (of loneliness of hellfire and the companionship of paradise ) are also attached to the more general idea of the “dissolution of ties” during judgement (as Lari describes (p 158)): both a symptom of a transformation into a permanent divine reality (where Earthly relations and order fall away) and an invitation to cherish our ephemeral relationships in life so that we may continue them in the next one.