Islam — The Religion of Humanity
Life after Death
6. Life after death
Belief in a future life, in one form or another, is also common to all religions of the world, and it is the third fundamental article of a Muslim’s faith. The mystery of the life after death has, however, nowhere been solved so clearly as in Islam. The idea of a life after death was so obscure till as late as the appearance of the Jewish religion, that not only is there not much of it found in the Old Testament but an important Jewish sect actually denied any such state of existence. This was, however, due to the fact that much light was not thrown upon it in earlier revelation. The belief in transmigration (or reincarnation of souls) was also due to the undeveloped mind of man mistaking spiritual realities for physical facts. In Islam, the idea reached its perfection, as did other important fundamental principles of religion. Belief in a future life implies the accountability of man in another life for actions done in this. The belief is no doubt a most valuable basis for the moral elevation of the world, if properly understood. The following points are particularly emphasized by the Holy Quran.
Life after death is only a continuation of the life below
The gulf that is generally interposed between this life and the life after death is the great obstacle in the solution of the mystery of the hereafter. Islam makes that gulf disappear altogether: it makes the next life as only a continuation of the present life. On this point the Holy Quran is explicit. It says:
“We have (in this very life) made the consequences of a man’s deeds cling to his neck, and these hidden consequences We will bring to light on the Day of Resurrection in the form of a book wide open” (17:13,14).
And again it says:
“Whoever is blind in this life, he will be blind in the hereafter; nay, straying further away from the path” (17:72).
And elsewhere we have:
“O soul that art at rest! return to thy Lord, He being pleased with thee and thou being pleased with Him. So enter among My servants and enter My Garden” (89:27–30).
The first of these quotations makes it clear that the great facts which shall be brought to light on the day of Resurrection shall not be anything new, but only a manifestation of what is hidden from the physical eye here. The life after death is, therefore, not a new life, but only a continuation of this life, bringing its hidden realities to light. The other two quotations show that a hellish and a heavenly life both begin in this world. The blindness of the next life is hell, but according to the verse quoted only those who are blind here shall be blind hereafter, thus making it clear that the spiritual blindness of this life is the real hell, and from here it is carried along to the next life. Similarly, it is the soul that has found perfect peace and rest that is made to enter into paradise at death, thus showing that the paradise of the next life is only a continuation of the peace and rest which a man enjoys spiritually in this life. Thus it is clear that, according to the Holy Quran, the next life is a continuation of this, and death is not an interruption but a connecting link, a door that opens up the hidden realities of this life.
State after death is an image of the spiritual state in this life
With Islam, the most significant truth with regard to the next life has been brought to light. In the Christian teaching the corporeal and the spiritual are melted together, weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth and the quenchless fire as the punishment of the wicked are spoken of in the same breath with the kingdom of heaven, the treasure in heaven and the life eternal as the reward of the righteous; but there is no clear indication as to the sources of the one or the other. The Holy Quran, on the other hand, makes it clear that the state after death is a complete representation, a full and clear image, of our spiritual state in this life. Here the good or bad conditions of the deeds or beliefs of a man are latent within him, and their poison or panacea casts its influence upon him only secretly, but in the life to come they shall become manifest and clear as daylight. The shape which our deeds and their consequences assume in this very life is not visible to the eye of man in this life, but in the next life it will be unrolled in all its clearness. The pleasures and pains of the next life, therefore, though spiritual in reality, will not be hidden from the ordinary eye as spiritual facts are in this life. It is for this reason that while, on the one hand, the blessings of the next life are mentioned by physical names as an evidence of their clear representation to the eye, they are on the other hand spoken of as things which “the eye has not seen, nor has the ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man to conceive of them”. This description of the blessings of the next life is really an explanation given by the Holy Prophet himself of the verse of the Quran which says that no soul knows the blessings and joys which have been kept secret for it (32:17).
The following verse of the Holy Quran, which may ordinarily be misunderstood, is far from describing the heavenly blessings as being identical with the things of this world. It runs thus:
“And give good news to those who believe and do good deeds, that for them are gardens in which rivers flow. Whenever they are given a portion of the fruits thereof, they shall say, ‘This is what was given to us before,’ and they are given the like of it” (2:25).
Now the fruits which the righteous are made to speak of as having tasted in this life could not possibly be the fruits of trees or the things of this life. The verse, in fact, tells us that those who believe and do good deeds prepare a paradise with their own hands for themselves, with their good deeds for fruits. It is of the fruits of this garden that they are spiritually made to taste here, and of the same, only in a more palpable form, shall they eat in the next life. To the same effect we may quote another verse of the Holy Quran:
“On that day you will see the faithful men and the faithful women, their light gleaming before them and on their right hand” (57:12).
This verse shows that the light of faith by which the righteous men and women were guided in this life, and which could be seen here only with the spiritual eye, shall be clearly seen going before the believers on the day of Resurrection.
As in the case of the blessings of paradise, the punishment of hell is also an image of the spiritual tortures of this life. Hell is said to be a place where one shall neither live nor die (20:74). It should be remembered in this connection that the Quran describes those who walk in error and wickedness as dead and lifeless, while the good it calls living. The secret of this is that the means of the life of those who are ignorant of God, being simply eating and drinking and the satisfaction of physical desires, are entirely cut off at their death. Of spiritual food they have no share, and therefore, while devoid of true life, they shall be raised again to taste of the evil consequences of their evil deeds.
Infinite progress in life after death
Islam teaches that man is destined to make infinite progress in the life after death. Underlying this is the principle that the development of man’s faculties as it takes place in this life is not sealed by finality; but a much wider vista of progress opens out after death. Hell is meant only to purify a man of the dross which he has accumulated with his own hands, in order to make him fit for spiritual advancement in that life. Verses 106 and 107 of the 11th chapter of the Quran show clearly that the punishment of hell is not everlasting. There are also Sayings of the Holy Prophet and his Companions which leave little doubt that hell is a temporary place for the sinner, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, and that the chastisement of hell is a remedy to heal his spiritual diseases and to enable him to start again on the road to the higher life. Nor is paradise a place for simple enjoyment; it is essentially a place for advancement to higher and higher stages (39:20). Those in paradise are spoken of as having an unceasing desire for attaining to higher and higher excellences, their prayer therein being: