LIFE AFTER DEATH

WAMY Series on Islam No. 6

 

The question of whether there is a life after death is not an issue of

scientific concern, for science only deals with the classification and

analysis of sense data. While man has been conducting scientific

inquiries and research, in the modern sense of the term, for only the

last few centuries, he has been familiar with the concept of life after

death since time immemorial.

All of the prophets sent by God for the benefit of humanity called

upon their people to worship God and to believe in life after death.

They laid so much emphasis on this last belief that even a slight

doubt about its reality was considered a sign of denying both God

and all other beliefs. The very fact that they have dealt with this

metaphysical question of life after death so confidently and so

uniformly, despite the fact that they appeared over thousands of

years and in different places, proves that the source of their

knowledge about this reality was one and the same: divine

revelation. We also know that these prophets of God were opposed

strongly by their people on this very issue, as many considered it

impossible. Despite such opposition, however, the prophets were able

to convince many people of its truth.

This raises the following question: what made those followers forsake

the established beliefs, traditions and customs of their forefathers

notwithstanding the risk of being totally alienated from their own

community?

The simple answer is: they analyzed the issue with their minds and

hearts and came gradually to the realization that the prophets were

speaking the truth. Did they realize the truth through perceptual

consciousness? No, for a perceptual experience of life after death is

impossible. What they used was their rational, aesthetic, and moral

consciousness, which God has given to every individual in addition to

a perceptual consciousness. These additional faculties guides an

individual through those realities that cannot be verified by sensory

data. That is why all prophets of God appeal to the aesthetic, moral,

and rational consciousness of man when discussing metaphysical

matters. For example, when the idolaters of Makkah denied even the

possibility of life after death, the Qur'an exposed the weakness of.their

stand by advancing very logical and rational arguments in

support of it:

And he has coined for us similitude, and has forgotten the fact

of his creation, saying: Who will revive these bones when they

have rotted away? Say: He will revive them who produced

them at the first, for He is the knower of every creation, Who

has appointed for you fire from the green tree, and behold, you

kindle from it. Is not He who created the heavens and the

earth, able to create the like of them? Yes, and He is indeed the

Supreme Creator, the All-knowing. (36: 78-81)

In another verse, the Qur'an says very clearly that non believers do

not have a sound basis for their denial of life after death. It is based

on pure conjecture:

They say, 'There is nothing but our present life; we die, and we

live, and nothing but Time destroys us. Of that they have no

knowledge; they merely conjecture. And when our revelations

are recited to them, their only argument is that they say, 'Bring

us our fathers, if you speak truly.' (45:2425)

Surely God will raise all those who have died, but only when He

chooses to do so. A day will come when the whole universe will be

destroyed and then the dead will be resurrected to stand before God.

This day will be the beginning of the life that will never end, and on

that day every person will be rewarded by God according to his or

her good or evil deeds. This day is called the Day of Judgment.

The Qur'an states that there will be a life after death because the

moral consciousness of mankind demands it. If there is no life after

death, any belief God Himself becomes irrelevant. Furthermore, such

a situation would mean that God is unjust and indifferent, for how

could He create mankind and then lose interest in His creation? As

God is just, those people who have committed crimes must be

punished. All of those tyrants who have killed scores of innocent

persons, unleashed great corruption and evil within their societies,

enslaved their people to serve their whims, and other terrible deeds

must be brought to justice.

As man's life is so short and the world is not eternal, true justice can

only be meted out in the afterlife, which will have none of these

limitations. The Qur'an states that the Day of Judgment must come. and

that God will decide the fate of each soul according to his or her

record of deeds:

Those who disbelieve say: The Hour will never come unto us.'

Say: Nay by my Lord but it is coming unto you surely' (He is)

the Knower of the Unseen. Not an atom's weight, or less than

that or greater, escapes Him in the heavens or in the earth, but

it is in a clear record, that He may reward those who believe

and do good works. For them is pardon and a rich provision.

But those who strive against Our revelations, challenging Us,

theirs will be a painful doom of wrath. (34:3-5)

The Day of Resurrection will be the manifestation of God's justice and

mercy. He will shower His mercy on those who suffered during their

lives for His sake, believing that eternal bliss was awaiting them.

Those who abused the bounties of God and did not care about the life

to come will be in the most miserable state. Drawing a comparison

between them, the Qur'an says:

Is he, then, to whom we have promised a goodly promise the

fulfillment of which he will meet, like the one whom We have

provided with the good things of this life, and then on the Day

of Resurrection he will be of those who will be brought

arraigned before God? (28:61)

The Qur'an also states that this worldly life is a preparation for the

eternal life after death. But those who deny it become slaves of their

passions and desires and make fun of virtuous and God-conscious

persons. Such persons realize their folly only at the time of their

death, a time when their wish to be given a further return to this life

and make amends will be in vain. Their miserable state at the time

of death, the horror of the Day of Judgment, and the eternal bliss

guaranteed to sincere believers are presented very clearly and

powerfully in the Qur'an:

Until, when death comes unto one of them, he says, 'My Lord

send me back, that I may do right in that which I have left :

behind. ~ But nay! It is but a word that he speaks; and behind :

t hem is a barrier until the day when they are raised. And

when the Trumpet is blown there will be no kinship among

them that day nor will they ask of one another Then those

whose scales are heavy, they are successful. And those whose

scales are light are those who lose their souls, in hell abiding,

the fire burns their faces and they are alum therein. (23: 99-104)

The belief in life after death guarantees success in the Hereafter and

also makes this world a place of peace and happiness by

transforming people into individuals who are more responsible and

dutiful in their activities.

Consider the example of the people who lived in the Arabian

peninsula before the appearance of the Prophet Muhammad. They

were great lovers of gambling, wine, tribal feuds, plundering, and

murdering. As they had no concept of an afterlife, why not enjoy

themselves as they saw fit? But as soon as they accepted the belief in

the One God and an afterlife, they became a very disciplined nation.

They gave up their vices, helped each other when requested to do so,

and settled all their disputes on the basis of justice and equality.

The denial of life after death also has consequences in this world.

When an entire nation denies belief in the afterlife, all kinds of evils

and corruption are unleashed and the society is set on the path to

ultimate destruction. The Qur'an mentions the terrible end of such

pre-Islamic peoples as the Aad, the Thamud, and the Pharaoh of

ancient Egypt:

(The tribes of) Thamud and 'Aad disbelieved in the judgment

to come. As for Thamud, they were destroyed by the lightning

and as for 'Aad, they were destroyed by a fierce roaring wind,

which He imposed on them for seven long nights and eight long

days so that you might see the people laid prostrate in it as if

they were the stumps of fallen down palm trees. Now do you

see a remnant of them? Pharaoh likewise and those before him,

and the subverted dines. They committed errors and they

rebelled against the Messenger of their Lord, and He seized

them with a surpassing grip. Lo, when the waters rose, We bore

you in the running ship that We might make it a reminder for

you and for heeding ears to hold. So when the [trumpet is

blown with a single blast and the earth and the mountains are

lifted up and crushed with a single blow, then on that day the

[error shall come to pass, and the heavens shall be split for

upon that day it shall be very frail. Then as or him who is

given his book in his right hand, he shall say: Here, take and

read my book! Certainly I thought that I should encounter my

reckoning' So he shall be in a pleasing life in a lofty garden,

its clusters nigh together 'Eat and drink with wholesome appetite

for that you did long ago, in the days gone by.' But as for him

who is given his book in his left hand, he shall say: -Would that

I had not been given my book and not known my reckoning!

Would that it had been the end. My wealth has not availed me,

my authority is gone from me. (69: 439)

There are very convincing reasons to believe in life after death.

First: All the prophets of God have called their people to believe in it.

Second: Whenever a society is built on the basis of this belief, it has

been the most ideal and peaceful society, free of social and moral

evils.

Third: History bears witness that whenever this belief has been

rejected collectively by a group of people in spite of the repeated

warning of the prophet, the group as a whole has been punished by

God even in this world.

Fourth: The moral, aesthetic, and rational faculties of man endorse

the possibility of life after death.

Fifth: God's attributes of justice and mercy have no meaning if there

is no life after death.