The Quran, more than any other Abrahamic religion, focuses on the eschatology. There are graphic descriptions of how the villainous will be tortured while the just will be rewarded. However, these descriptions often cross the line into metaphor and so it is hard to understand if these describe actual punishments or feelings felt by the unjust. What is clear however is that the afterlife in Quranic eschatology is the great equalizer. Islam through its complex understanding of heaven and hell promises complete equality of humankind before God.
In their blog post, Ashley George quotes Fazlur Rahman to discuss the Quran’s dedication to transparent judgment in the world to come. The quote “each individual will be alone that day, without relatives, friends, clans, tribes, or nations, to support them: ‘We shall inherit from him [man] whatever he says, and he shall come to Us alone.’ (19:80)”i ii does emphasize the transparent nature of the Islamic judgment day but also emphasizes that all people will be the same before God.
By saying, “each individual will be alone that day, without relatives, friends, clans, tribes, or nations, to support them” the Quran is stripping human beings of external identities away from people before judging them. People from rich tribes and those from poor ones will be judged the same way. Any privilege status on earth that allowed a person some freedom to escape judgment will be erased in the afterlife since all people are equal before God.
The Quran expands on this idea by envisioning heaven as an idyllic society of people living in communion with God. The Third Surah says “For those who fear Allah will be gardens in the presence of their Lord beneath which rivers flow, wherein they abide eternally, and purified spouses and approval from Allah. And Allah is Seeing of [His] servants.” (3:15)iii In this verse, all just humans are characterized as God’s servants which connote subservience to God’s will. This is a basic reading of the text which obscures the large implication of the sentence. All of these people must have been good as they all arrived in heaven and it is unlikely that they were all equally just. However, all are equally designated servants to God implying that in heaven, society exists outside of human hierarchies. Just as with judgment, when people are stripped of extra identities, all humans are equal before God.
The Third Surah continues by emphasizing that in heaven the lines that divide human beings into all groups become blurred. “And their Lord responded to them, “Never will I allow to be lost the work of [any] worker among you, whether male or female; you are of one another.” (3:195)iv This verse underlines the very essence of the Islamic understanding of heaven. For Muslims, heaven is more than just a place. It is an enhanced state of consciousness where humans engage with God. This new, higher relationship is based not on random identities, but on the total sum of actions a person has accomplished over their lifetime. Heaven equalizes people because, in the end, it matters less what gender, race, religion, etc. someone is and whether they are a just person. The borders between men and women blur, while the those between the righteous and unjust harden.
The goal of Islamic eschatology is manifold and to reduce it to a simple promise of equality wouldn’t be doing it justice. However, the equality of humankind before God is a fundamental Abrahamic precept which the Quran expounds through its own eschatology. The point is guide followers away from material diversions and divisions and instead towards living ethical lives. In the end, it is the actions that people take that will enable them to commune with God.
i Rahman, 107
ii Ashley George, Paradise or Hellfire; It’s Your Choice April 11, 2018
iii “Surah 3” Rodwell, J. M., and D. S. Margoliouth. The Koran. Digireads.com Pub., 2012.
iv “Surah 3” ibid.
George, Ashley Paradise or Hellfire; It’s Your Choice April 11, 2018
Rahman, Fazlur, and Ebrahim Moosa. Major Themes of the Qur’an. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009.
Rodwell, J.M., and D.S. Margoliouth. The Koran. Digireads.com Pub., 2012