Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Qur’anic Eschatology

Clio Schwartz

RELG 272 Intro to the Qur’an

Professor Jafar Mahallati

Qur’anic Eschatology

 

The Qur’an is singular as a religious text for several reasons, the most well-known being that it is the direct word of God himself. This is often depicted in the use of first person or first person plural pronouns. However, it is also singular in that it is the religious text that most elaborately explains life after death. The use of “death” here could be argued; the word for death in Arabic literally means “transformation,” which refers to the transformation from life on Earth to the afterlife. Much of the Qur’an is dedicated to describing the quality of the afterlife, whether that is in heaven, also known as paradise, or in the flames of hell. However, none of this takes place immediately after death or transformation. Rather, all souls await the Day of Judgement.

A core belief of Islam that is defined in the Qur’an is that all deeds are weighed on the Day of Judgement. All humans that have ever existed will rise to meet their eternal fate, and Earth will no longer exist. According to Sayyid Mujtaba Musavi Lari, temporal relationships will cease to exist; there will be no “before” or “after.” 1 This begs the question of whether hell and paradise currently exist, or if God will create them on the Day of Judgement. If nobody is currently in hell or paradise, why would they exist? Some Islamic scholars argue that there are several Qur’anic verses that point to the current existence of paradise and hell. In Sura 3, in verse 131, the Qur’an states, “And fear the Fire, which has been prepared for the disbelievers.” 2 Two lines later, the Qur’an reads, “And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a garden as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for the righteous.” 3 This implies that God has already created heaven and hell, and they wait for the believers and disbelievers, respectively. However, some interpret the description of the breadth of heaven and hell to mean that the world will be transformed into heaven and hell in the same way the humans will be transformed upon their deaths.

The form that paradise takes is described as being incomprehensible by man. There are no afflictions of any type, be they physical, mental, or anything else. There will be no need to strive for more, because all that one desires will be easily accessed. Additionally, the goal of life on Earth – to be close to God – will have been achieved, because man will constantly be in the Lord’s presence. “The example of Paradise, which the righteous have been promised, is [that] beneath it rivers flow. Its fruit is lasting, and its shade. That is the consequence for the righteous.” (13:35) Because man cannot comprehend paradise in its full extent, it is therefore understandable as to why the descriptions of heaven are elusive and vague. “And no soul knows what has been hidden for them of comfort for eyes as reward for what they used to do.” (32:17) One of the prevailing descriptions of paradise is that peace is the constant state of interaction, which is in drastic contrast to the hurtful nature of human existence on Earth.

For those humans whose bad deeds outweigh their good, even God’s mercy cannot save them from the fiery depths of hell. “The fire of hell will burn them from within and will then proceed outwards; its first spark will strike the heart.” (104:6-7) This verse causes some to believe that the fire of hell is not an external fire but rather an internal flame, an individual pain that consumes each person in hell. A frequently cited characteristic of those who end up in hell is their arrogance. This is repeated time and time again; those who do not feel humble in the face of God are relegated to eternity in hell. Disbelievers are also included in those who are arrogant – arrogant enough to believe that they could live in a world of such bounty without attributing it to the omnipotence and omniscience of God. One might imagine that hell would hold the majority of humanity, as the Qur’an frequently references the ungrateful majority. Nonetheless, God is known to show incredible mercy, and it is often said that the worst of your bad deeds is erased on the Day of Judgement.4 But those who live their lives banking on God’s mercy at the Day of Judgement are likely to end up in hellfire.5

Meanwhile, where are the souls of those who have died? There is an intermediate realm, non-material, in which all souls linger post-mortem. “The intermediate realm extends from now until the time of resurrection,” (23:100) the Qur’an asserts. However, those destined for hellfire are already experiencing their punishment in the intermediate realm. “Hellfire has already encompassed the unbelievers.” (9:49)

Islamic theologian Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali argued:

“Don’t you see that when you are asleep you believe certain things and imagine certain circumstances and believe they are fixed and lasting and entertain no doubts about that being their status? Then you wake up and know that all your imaginings and beliefs were groundless and unsubstantial. So while everything you believe through sensation or intellection in your waking state may be true in relation to that state, what assurance have you that you may not suddenly experience a state which would have the same relation to your waking state as the latter has to your dreaming, and your waking state would be dreaming in relation to that new and further state? If you found yourself in such a state, you would be sure that all your rational beliefs were unsubstantial fancies.”6

This,  to al-Ghazali, rationalizes a belief in the afterlife. We would be so self-assured and almost close-minded to assume that we know the beginning and end of everything, just because we have a level of self-awareness and consciousness that we don’t perceive other beings to have. The afterlife may very well be a reality, and in that case many feel that it is important to prepare for that Day of Judgement in which it is decided where they stay for all eternity.

Endnotes

  1.  Lārī, Mujtabá Mūsavī, and Hamid Algar. Resurrection, Judgement, and the Hereafter. Qom, I.R. Iran: Foundation of Islamic C.P.W., 2010.
  2. Qur’an, 3:131.
  3. Ibid, 3:133.
  4. M. Jafar Mahallati, Class Lecture.
  5.  Lārī, Mujtabá Mūsavī, and Hamid Algar. Resurrection, Judgement, and the Hereafter. Qom, I.R. Iran: Foundation of Islamic C.P.W., 2010.
  6. “Al-Ghazali and the Dream Argument.” The Campaign for Better Citation and Credit-Giving Practices in Philosophy. Accessed April 07, 2018. http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/the_campaign_for_better_c/2015/10/al-ghazâlî-and-the-dream-argument.html.

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