Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Understanding the Afterlife – Islamic Eschatology

by Evan Corey

Most elements of the afterlife lie outside of human understanding.  However, through exegesis of the Qur’an and other God-given revelations, Muslim scholars throughout the centuries have determined a vague outline of the hereafter.  The first conclusion through exegesis is that the afterlife is by nature full of overwhelming clarity.  All will be revealed.  Next, the hereafter is defined by permanence; after the Day of Reckoning wherein God judges humanity by their actions, there will be no more change.  Finally, the afterlife is a product of justice, and at every level it maintains the justice of God’s will.  Even after God judges humanity, the full extent of his justice will define the billions of layer of heaven and hell.  Despite the fact that the hereafter is completely unknown to humanity, through God’s merciful revelation, humanity can begin to understand that the afterlife is marked by absolute clarity, permanence, and justice, and thus model their lives for the best result in the afterlife.

On the day of reckoning, the most important point of transformation is that all becomes stunningly clear, and all that was hidden becomes known.  God “drew away your veil and now your insight is sharp as steel,”[1] meaning that humanity will finally clearly understand the scripture and the universe.  The Qur’an describes how every body part of a human being will testify their actions before the Lord.[2]  Even if the hands and eyes of a person didn’t show clearly their actions, “their Lord that Day is All-Aware of them”[3] and knows everything about them.  According to the Qur’an, each person receives a book on the Day of Reckoning wherein God has “inscribed all [they] have done,” a book of ultimate truths.[4]  Clearly, each person will be transparent on that day, in will and deed.  This clarity remains beyond the Day of Judgement, for on that day “every person will find his deepest self”[5] and become unable to maintain denial in any form.   As Lari writes, “all the veils and obstacles that had hidden things from each other will vanish,”[6] and clarity will reign above and below.

After the Day of Reckoning, the new world order becomes deeply permanent and eternal, as stated several times throughout the Qur’an.  The constant changes and insecurity in life will cease forever.  In paradise, “foods will be constantly available, and the shade there will be permanent,”[7] implying that there is not even movement of the sun much less resource scarcity.  Thus, the weather, availability of resources, and status in heaven is unchanging.  This is confirmed by the promise that “no toil shall touch [those in paradise], nor will they be made to leave it,”[8] a vow which ensures no repeat of the Fall from Eden.   There will be no return to Earth or any other place after the Day of Reckoning.  Correspondingly, in hell “punishment in the hereafter lasts for all eternity,”[9] and none may escape it.  The Qur’an promises “severe and eternal” punishment in hell for the sinners of earth.[10]  Not even the form of torment changes.  Forever, the sinners must face endless and utmost regret and remorse for their failure to know and follow God.[11]  Humanity will come as close to God as possible,[12] and in that closeness they will share the eternality of God, for better or for worse.

Humanity will also experience his eternal justice.  On the Day of Judgement, certainly, each atom of good and evil will be weighed, but even beyond that Day, God’s justice is apparent in the afterlife.  The entirety of the hereafter molds itself around the fact that God’s justice “requires Him to give to everyone in accordance with his need and his state,”[13] as he promises in the Qur’an.  God calls humans to “let each soul consider what it has laid in stock for the morrow,”[14] as their actions on earth correspond to their lot in the afterlife.  While “one must bear responsibility for one’s deeds, thoughts, and intentions” on the Day of Reckoning,[15] one must also bear that responsibility in the eternality of the hereafter, whether in punishment or in excess.  However, through the great justice of God, there are not only two possible levels of the hereafter but instead as many levels as there are people.[16]  No two people have committed the exact same sins and good deeds.  Thus, God does not lump together the worst sinners with the tamest sinners but rather gives to each that which they have earned, or more than they have earned when it comes to those who are defined in their lives by piety and good deeds.  While on earth “man must labor and sow; there he reaps” the result.[17]  This is the result of God’s great justice.

Because humanity can glean these aspects of the afterlife through revelation, humans can adjust their lives before the Day of Reckoning comes.  Transparency in the afterlife would be a terrifying prospect for a person who holds many secrets, but if a person lives their life with transparency and integrity, they will find no horrors in the afterlife.  Similarly, if a person is humble and follows God’s will in life, there will be no need for eternal regret and punishment.  The permanence of the afterlife is only terrifying to the person who faces permanent torture, not for the person who faces permanent comfort.  One who pursues peace instead of strife will be at home in the constancy of the hereafter.  Indeed, the Qur’an calls humanity to be one who finds comfort in justice instead of fear of punishment.  God has given humanity the Qur’an as a great mercy.  Those who follow its guidance will find peace, and those who ignore its warnings will find punishment.  Ultimately, what humans can understand from the Qur’an is that God’s mercy is in the present, in the gift of free will, guidance, and revelation, and that His justice comes in the hereafter, where humans will reap exactly what they have sowed.

 

Notes:

[1] Khalidi, Tarif. The Qur’an: A New Translation. New York, N.Y.: Viking, 2008. 50:22.

[2] Ibid., 41:19-24.

[3] Ibid., 100:9-10.

[4] Ibid., 45:29.

[5] Rahman, Fazlur, and Ebrahim Moosa. Major Themes of the Qur’an. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009. 106.

[6] Lari, Sayyid Mujaba Musavi. Resurrection, Judgement, and the Hereafter. Qom, I.R. Iran: Foundation of Islamic C.P.W., 2010. 158

[7] Ibid., 148.

[8] Khalidi, 15:48.

[9] Lari, 152.

[10] Ibid., 151.

[11] Ibid., 154.

[12] Khalidi, 10:56.

[13] Lari, 153.

[14] Khalidi, 59:18.

[15] Rahman, 119.

[16] Mahallati, Jafar. “March 29 Lecture.” Introduction to the Qur’an, Oberlin, 2018.

[17] Lari, 148.

 

Bibliography

Khalidi, Tarif. The Qur’an: A New Translation. American ed. New York, N.Y.: Viking, 2008.

Lari, Sayyid Mujaba Musavi, Resurrection, Judgement, and the Hereafter. Translated by Hamid Algar. Qom, I.R. Iran: Foundation of Islamic C.P.W., 2010.

Mahallati, Jafar. “March 15 Lecture.” Introduction to the Qur’an, Oberlin, 2018.

Rahman, Fazlur and Ebrahim Moosa. Major Themes of the Qur’An. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009.

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