The End of Days: The Qur’anic Afterlife

The End of Days: The Qur’anic Afterlife

 

Religion is a haven of those who seek answers. It has been sought after for many years for a myriad of different reasons, each personal each religious person. However, for almost everyone who seeks it, religion holds one irresistible promise—the promise of a continuation after our mortal death, and an explanation of that next life. Many religions offer different versions of this continuation, such as heaven, hell, or reincarnation, but none of them hold that humans simply end. In Islam, the Qur’an of all the holy books holds the most explicit detail of human continuation after death of any of the Abrahamic religions1, the main tenets of which include the revelation of the universe, the ultimate judgment, and eternal existence in either paradise or hellfire.

According to Islam, on the Day of Judgement every person who ever lived will rise from their graves and face the records of their lives. On that day, not only will humans rise from their graves, but all of earth will be destroyed and transformed. On that day, there will be no more secrets to the universe, and everything will reach ultimate transparency. Every human will understand God, the cosmos, and the entirety of themselves.2 This revealing of the self includes not only a full record of each individuals deeds in life, but also their deepest personalities, and no person will be able to hide themselves or their thoughts anymore. On that day, every mind will become public and, “even one’s bodily organs will speak out.”3 There will be no more secrets on the Day of Judgement, and everything will be made known. This has several implications for human action while on the earth, namely that while alive humans should not just try to do good deeds, but to move themselves towards a complete understanding of their deepest personalities and therefore allow for a complete transparency of their heart.4 This transparency of heart is the greatest achievement in the mortal life, as having nothing to hide or keep secret from others means that there is no deed or emotion of which you are ashamed.5 While the Qur’an focuses mostly on the personal revelation of the soul and the soul of others, I am personally far more interested in the revelation of all of the secrets of the universe as nothing is hidden. As a naturally curious person, the revelation of all is a deeply attractive and interesting concept, apart from human revelation, as the answers to all of the questions that I ask.

This revelation is then followed by the judgement. In the judgement, every person is asked to account for their life. They themselves have to report, despite their actions being apparent, everything that they have done. As mentioned above, “their own ears and eyes and skins will give evidence against them of what they knew.”6 Then comes the weighing of the weight of the deeds against each other, the good versus the bad, to determine every person’s place in either heaven (the Garden) or hell. However, no relationship with God is purely transactional7, because human beings could not live on justice alone. Forgiveness and benevolence are also taken into account, so that, “whoso begets a good deed shall be rewarded tenfold; whoso begets an evil deed shall only be punished once.”8 In addition to this, each human is judged on their actions according to their own capacity for good.9Even in judgement, God is generous. The idea of judgement in the Qur’anic narrative is important to give meaning to our human lives and to impress upon us that our actions have consequences and that our worldly lives, while temporary, are not a laughing matter. In addition to this, it is necessary to make sure that human conflict and ultimate fairness is wrought that could not be brought about on earth.10

After they are revealed and judged, humans are sent to either heaven or hellfire. The Qur’anic views on heaven and hell are a very interesting combination of physical as well as spiritual and emotional hell.11 The Qur’an differs from many religious doctrines about the afterlife in that it insists that there is no duality of body and soul, meaning that the afterlife is not populated by a collection of disembodied souls but by bodied people. This seems to imply that there is a physical component to heaven and hell.12 However, the Qur’an mentions the spiritual aspects of the afterlife significantly more, and they seem to be the more important aspects of the next life. When considering the experience of heaven and hell, it seems that humans feel not so much the physical pains or pleasures, but the emotional experiences of these places. The experience of hell is eternal animosity and loneliness, an abandonment by God that, now that you are aware of His existence, is unbearably painful. In contrast, the experience of heaven is one of  friendship and eternal love from a grateful God, and is spiritually blissful.13 These experiences are emphasis far more in the Qur’an than any physical experience, and the more we emulate them on earth, the more likely we are to be able to experience them in perpetuity.

This amount of detail about the afterlife available in the Qur’an is difficult to contain in a short essay, but the most crucial components about the revealing, the weighing, and the eternal life have been provided. Death is the ultimate human fear: in that is the fear of nonexistence and loneliness, of the unimaginable empty. Religion provides an alternative in a promise of the afterlife, and simultaneously the afterlife provides something for religion. It provides its followers an incentive to follow religions laws and live harmoniously to achieve the bliss they have been promised. While belief in an afterlife has led to some hate, such as telling people of differing opinions that they are going to hell, it has in many ways been a force of good in this world, and given meaning to acts, good and bad, that would otherwise for many lacked definition. The Qur’anic eschatology specifically not only emphasis acts, but intention. Doing the right things, for the right reasons, which is an important component in discovering any truly good person.

 

Endnotes

  1. Mahallati, M. Jafar. “The Qur’anic Eschatology and the Last Judgement.” Lecture, March 27, 2018.
  2.  ibid.
  3.  Rahman, Fazlur. Major Themes of the Qur’an (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009) pg.109
  4. Rahman, Fazlur. Major Themes of the Qur’an (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009) pg.11
  5. ibid.
  6. The Qur’an 4:19 (Khalidi, Tarif)
  7. Mahallati, M. Jafar. “Good and Evil.” Lecture, March 29, 2018.
  8. The Qur’an 6:160 (Khalidi, Tarif)
  9. Mahallati, M. Jafar. “The Qur’anic Eschatology and the Last Judgement.” Lecture, March 27, 2018.
  10.  Rahman, Fazlur. Major Themes of the Qur’an (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009) pg. 116
  11.  Rahman, Fazlur. Major Themes of the Qur’an (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009) pg. 112
  12. ibid.
  13. Mahallati, M. Jafar. “The Qur’anic Eschatology and the Last Judgement.” Lecture, March 27, 2018.

 

Citations

Mahallati, M. Jafar. “The Qur’anic Eschatology and the Last Judgement.” Lecture, March 27, 2018.

Mahallati, M. Jafar. “Good and Evil.” Lecture, March 29, 2018.

The Qur’an (Khalidi, Tarif)

Rahman, Fazlur. Major Themes of the Qur’an (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009)