Companionship; On the Eschatology of the Qur’an
To be a member of the Islamic faith, one must carry three core beliefs: That there is only one God, that Muhammad is the prophet of God, and that an afterlife exists. The first two beliefs rely heavily on the tangible, living world. One should follow Allah’s teachings through Muhammad’s voice in order to live the best, most righteous life while on this Earth. But this is only a minor blimp on the human lifecycle as told through the Qur’an. One’s true home begins on the day of judgement, where God assigns either Paradise or Hellfire. This is the culmination of life on Earth, a preparation and illumination for the greater portion of what life ultimately becomes. Either companionship is achieved, or Hellfire’s loneliness burns from within.
When a man dies, their soul waits for the day of judgement. Also known as the calamity or apocalypse, the translation can be most properly understood as the overturning. For the day of judgement is essentially the moment of cosmic unveiling, “when the sun is overturned, when the stars fall away”.[i] Michael Sells comments on this moment as the time where “each soul will know what it has prepared,” where “the deepest secrets within have been revealed”.[ii] This should be good news to all mankind. Here, one can think of the overturning as God’s absorption and unity of the soul. For if God knows and sees all, what is this transparency but the essential coming together of man and maker? In death and judgement, man is closer to God than he has ever been, and it is finally possible to understand the self completely.
While humankind should anticipate the day of judgement with great pleasure and excitement, a great number of them instead fear it. For there are said to be a few eschatological absolutes, among them is a focus on individuality and accountability.[iii] The Qur’an itself states “each soul shall know what it did, and what it failed to do.”[iv] Those who sin, those who are ungrateful and arrogant, they shall be made aware of their ways. Of course, this transparency has the additive effect of supreme self-awareness. Rahman notes that upon the hour of judgement, man must “accept the judgement as a necessary sequel”.[v] Necessary because in seeing themselves completely—in seeing themselves as God does—they grow aware of any punishment or gift as it is rightful. In this way, Hellfire can be thought of as self-punishment, but more on that later.
There are two options for individuals once they have been judged: Paradise with God, and Hellfire in loneliness.[vi] The act of judgement has become subject to great scholarly discourse, but much of it can be taken directly from Qur’anic verses. Among them is the recognition of complete weighing: “whoso has done an atoms worth of good [and evil] shall see it”.[vii] Every minor detail of one’s life is revealed to themselves and is judged accordingly. In this way, God assures absolute justice in their appraisal. Despite this, God proves to be unbalanced in their benevolence. While an individual is punished on a 1:1 scale, they are rewarded with 10 times their effort.[viii] Such a bountiful relationship with God is not expected, nor is it deserved, and yet our relationship with God as told through the Qur’an is ceaselessly astounding. The very nature of life is a gift unwarranted, for nothing could be exchanged in order to be born, and yet one is rewarded in life regardless. Islam can therefore be though of as a religion of companionship. God does not provide in a 1:1 ratio as humans do when they transact in business exchanges, rather the Islamic God gives gifts in abundance. This is the mark of true companions—a complimentary act done freely in kindness to one-another.
Paradise, then, is the realization of such supreme companionship. This is especially fitting as to reach paradise, one must earn their dues—essentially purposely fulfilling God’s covenant with man, and man’s covenant with one another. “This life is the farmland of the next life” is a common phrase in many Arabic countries.[ix] To till the soil, man must be kind and just to one-another, and to harvest, they should follow daily prayers, rituals, and pilgrimages among one another. For it is noted that God rewards those exponentially whom pray together.[x] Paradise is not only reached through one’s companionship with God, but among men as well. It would not be a leap to assume such companionship carries on in paradise, for that which is rewarded on Earth is most assuredly rewarded in the after-life.
Hellfire is the essential punishment with which man aims to avoid. Sayyid Lari brutally describes the torment, “human intellect… [is] incapable of grasping the true nature of punishment in the hereafter”. He further notes that it is a fire burning inside, quoting the Qur’an: “the fire of hell will burn within and then proceed outwards,”[xi] This may be the metaphor where the Qur’an most accurately describes the sinners’ torture. A fire burning within can be interpreted as self-punishment, something which is corroborated by the earlier discussion of the Qur’an’s transparency in regards to an individual’s shortcomings. In fact, no pain may be as severe as that which is internalized and understood as a man’s own fault. It is the very fact that their torture is just which lights the hottest coals and emboldens the flame. And it is because they failed to properly attain companionship which has landed them in such a place, and so the burden is fittingly theirs alone. Hellfire is loneliness.[xii]
The Qur’an’s eschatology hinges upon the very nature of companionship and justice. One who maintains such a companionship with God and man alike may assuredly reach paradise, and those who fear Hellfire should practice such a kindness and adherence to others as a result. The day of judgement will only be once, it’s knowledge transcending, it’s fate absolute. It is best to take this life seriously.
I have adhered to the honor code on this assignment: Sam Agnoli
Khālidī, Ṭarīf Al-. The Qur’an. New York: Viking, 2008.
Lārī, Mujtabá Mūsavī, and Hamid Algar. Resurrection, Judgement, and the Hereafter. Qom, I.R. Iran: Foundation of Islamic C.P.W., 2010.
Malhatti, M. Jafar. Powerpoint Week 3 A, 7 A, and 7 B. 2018.
Sells, Michael. Approaching the Qu’ran The Early Revelations. Ashland, Oregon: White Cloud Press, 2007.
Rahman, Fazlur. Major themes of the Qur-an. Minneapolis, MN: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1999.
[i] The Qur’an, Sura 81
[ii] Michael Sells, Approaching the Qu’ran The Early Revelations. (Ashland, Oregon: White Cloud Press, 2007), Page 49.
[iii] Powerpoint, Week 7 A.
[iv] The Qur’an, Sura 82:5
[v] Fazlur Rahman, Major themes of the Qur-an. (Minneapolis, MN: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1999). Page 74.
[vi] Powerpoint Week 7 A.
[vii]The Qur’an, Sura 99:7-8
[viii] Powerpoint 7 B.
[ix] Powerpoint 7 B.
[x]Powerpoint 3 A.
[xi] Mujtabá Mūsavī Lārī and Hamid Algar, Resurrection, Judgement, and the Hereafter (Qom, I.R. Iran: Foundation of Islamic C.P.W., 2010). Page 151.
[xii] Powerpoint Week 7 A.