Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam who passed away in 632, related:
“Gabriel came to me and said, ‘O Muhammad, live as you wish, for you shall eventually die. Love whom you desire, for you shall eventually depart. Do what you please, for you shall pay. Know that the night-prayer is the honor of a believer, and his pride is being independant on others.’” (Silsilah al-Saheehah)
If there is only one thing certain about life, it is that it ends. This truism instinctively raises a question which preoccupies most people at least once in their life: What lies beyond death?
At the physiological level, the journey that the deceased takes is plain for all to witness. If left alone to natural causes, the heart will stop beating, the lungs will stop breathing, and the body’s cells will be starved of blood and oxygen. The termination of blood flow to the outer extremities will soon turn them pale. With the oxygen cut off, cells will respire anaerobically for a time, producing the lactic acid which causes rigor mortis – the stiffening of the corpse’s muscles. Then, as the cells begin to decompose, the stiffness wanes, the tongue protrudes, the temperature drops, the skin discolors, the flesh rots, and the parasites have their feast - until all that is left is dried-out tooth and bone.
As for the journey of the soul after death, then this is not something that can be witnessed, nor can it be gauged through scientific enquiry. Even in a living body, the conscious, or soul, of a person cannot be subjected to empirical experimentation. It is simply beyond human control. In this regard, the concept of a Hereafter - a life beyond death, resurrection, and a Day of Reckoning; not to mention the existence of a Divine, Omnipotent Creator, His angels, destiny, and so on - comes under the subject of belief in the unseen. The only way in which man can come to know anything of the unseen world is through divine revelation.
“And with God are the keys of the unseen, none knows them but He. And He knows whatever there is in (or on) the earth and in the sea; not a leaf falls, but He knows it. There is not a grain in the darkness of the earth, nor anything fresh or dry, but is written in a Clear Record.” (Quran 6:59)
While what has come down to us of the Torah, the Psalms, the Gospel - the scriptures revealed to early prophets - all speak of a Hereafter, it is only through God’s Final Revelation to humanity, the Holy Quran, as revealed to His Final Prophet, Muhammad, that we learn most about the afterlife. And as the Quran is, and will forever remain, preserved and uncorrupted by human hands, the insight it gives us into the world of the unseen is, for the believer, as factual, real and true as anything that can be learnt through any scientific endeavor (and with a zero margin of error!).
“…We have neglected nothing in the Book; then unto their Lord they shall all be gathered.” (Quran 6:38)
Coupled with the question of what happens after we die, is the question: Why are we here? For if there is indeed no greater purpose to life (that is, greater than simply living life itself), the question of what happens after death becomes academic, if not pointless. It is only if one first accepts that our intelligent design, our creation, necessitates an intelligence and designer behind it, a Creator who will judge us for what we do, that life on earth carries any significant meaning.
“Then did you think that We created you in vain and that to Us you would not be returned? Therefore exalted be God, the Sovereign, the Truth; no deity is there save Him, Lord of the Supreme Throne.” (Quran 23:115-116)
If aught else, a discerning person would be forced to conclude that life on earth is full of injustice, cruelty and oppression; that the law of the jungle, survival of the fittest, is what is paramount; that if one cannot find happiness in this life, whether due to an absence of material comforts, physical love, or other joyous experiences, then life is simply not worth living. In fact, it is precisely because a person despairs of this worldly life while having little, no, or imperfect faith in an afterlife, that they may commit suicide. After all, what else do the unhappy, unloved and unwanted; the dejected, (desperately) depressed and despairing have to lose?!
“And who despairs of the Mercy of his Lord except those who are astray?” (Quran 15:56)
So can we accept that our death is limited to mere physiological termination, or that life is merely a product of blind, selfish evolution? Surely, there is more to death, and so to life, than this.
Part 2. The Believer in the Grave
A Grave World
We will now take a brief look at the journey of the soul after death. This is truly an amazing story, all the more so because it is true and one which we all must take. The sheer depth of knowledge we have concerning this journey, its precision and detail, is a manifest sign that Muhammad was truly God’s Last Messenger to humanity. The revelation he received and then communicated to us from His Lord is as unambiguous in its description of the afterlife as it comprehensive. Our glimpse into this knowledge will begin with a brief exploration of the journey of the believing soul from the moment of death to its final resting place in Paradise.
When a believer is about to depart this world, angels with white faces come down from the heavens and say:
“O peaceful soul, come out to forgiveness from God and His pleasure.” (Hakim and others)
The believer will look forward to meeting his Creator, as the Prophet, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, explained:
“…when the time of the death of a believer approaches, he receives the good news of God’s pleasure with him and His blessings upon him, and so at that time nothing is dearer to him than what lies ahead of him. He therefore loves meeting God, and God loves meeting him.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)
The soul peacefully passes out of the body like a drop of water which emerges from a water-skin, and the angels take hold of it:
The angels gently extract it, saying:
“…Do not fear and do not grieve, but receive good tidings of the Paradise which you were promised. We were your allies in this worldly life and [are so] in the Hereafter, and you will have therein whatever your souls desire, and you will have therein whatever you request [or wish], as a hospitality from the Forgiving and Merciful.” (Quran 41:30-32)
Once extracted from the body, the angels wrap the soul in a shroud smelling of musk and ascend up to the heavens. As the Gates of Heaven open for the soul, the angels greet it:
“A good soul has come from the earth, may God bless you and the body you used to dwell in.”
…introducing it with the best names it was called with in this life. God commands his “book” to be recorded, and the soul is returned back to earth.
The soul then remains in a place of limbo in its grave, called the Barzakh, awaiting the Day of Judgment. Two fearsome, dread-inspiring angels called Munkar and Nakeer visit the soul to ask it about its religion, God, and prophet. The believing soul sits upright in its grave as God grants it the strength to answer the angels with full faith and certainty.
Munkar and Nakeer: “What is your religion?”
Believing soul: “Islam.”
Munkar and Nakeer: “Who is your Lord?”
Believing soul: “Allah.”
Munkar and Nakeer: “Who is your Prophet?” (or “What do you say about this man?”)
Believing soul: “Muhammad.”
Munkar and Nakeer: “How did you come to know these things?”
Believing soul: “I read the Book of Allah (i.e. the Quran) and I believed.”
Then, when the soul passes the test, a voice from the heavens will call out:
“My slave has spoken the truth, supply him with furnishings from Paradise, clothe him from Paradise, and open a gate for him to Paradise.”
The believer’s grave is made roomy and spacious and filled with light. He is shown what would have been his abode in Hell - had he been a wicked sinner - before a portal is opened for him every morning and evening showing him his actual home in Paradise. Excited and full of joyful anticipation, the believer will keep asking: ‘When will the Hour (of Resurrection) come?! When will the Hour come?!’ until he is told to calm down.
Part 3. The Believer on Judgment Day
The Day of Judgment
“That Day, a man shall flee from his brother; from his mother and his father; from his wife and his children. For on that Day, every man will have enough to make him indifferent to others.” (Quran 80:34-37)
The Hour of Resurrection will be a terrifying, overwhelming event. Yet, despite its trauma, the believer will be ecstatic, just as Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, related from his Lord:
God says, “By My Glory and Majesty, I will not give My slave two securities and two terrors. If he feels secure from Me in the world, I will instill fear in him on the Day when I gather My slaves together; and if he fears Me in the world, I will make him feel safe on the Day when I gather My slaves together.
“Unquestionably, for the allies of God there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve: those who believed and used to fear God (in this life); for them are good tidings in the worldly life and in the Hereafter. No change is there in the words of God. Indeed in that is the great success.” (Quran 10:62-64)
When all humans ever created are gathered to stand naked and uncircumcised on a great plain under the ferocious scorching heat of the Sun, an elite group of pious men and women will be shaded under the Throne of God. The Prophet Muhammad foretold just who these fortunate souls will be, on that Day when no other shade will avail:
· a just ruler who did not abuse his power, but established divinely revealed justice among people
· a young man who grew up worshipping his Lord and controlled his desires in order to remain chaste
· those who hearts were attached to the Mosques, longing to return every time they left them
· those who loved one another for God’s sake
· those who were tempted by seductively beautiful women, but their fear of God stopped them from sinning
· the one who spent in charity sincerely for God’s sake, keeping their charity secret
· the one who wept out of God’s fear in solitude
Specific acts of worship will also keep people safe on that day, namely:
· efforts in this world to relieve the woes of the distressed, to help the needy, and to overlook the mistakes of others will relieve people’s own distress on Judgment Day
· leniency shown to the indebted
· the just who are fair to their families and matters entrusted to them
· controlling anger
· whoever calls to prayer
· growing old while in a state of Islam
· performing ritual ablution (wudu’) regularly and properly
· those who fight alongside Jesus son of Mary against the Anti-Christ and his army
God will bring the believer close to Him, shelter him, cover him, and ask him about his sins. After acknowledging his sins he will believe he is doomed, but God will say:
“I concealed it for you in the world, and I forgive it for you this Day.”
He will be rebuked for his shortcomings, but will then be handed his record of good deeds in his right hand.
“Then as for he who is given his record in his right hand, he will be judged with an easy account and return to his people in happiness.” (Quran 84:7-8)
Happy to look at his record, he will announce his joy:
“So as for he who is given his record in his right hand, he will say, ‘Here, read my record! Indeed, I was certain that I would be meeting my account.’ So he will be in a pleasant life – in an elevated Garden, its [fruit] to be picked hanging near. [He will be told], ‘Eat and drink in satisfaction for what you put forth in the days past.’” (Quran 69:19-24)
The record of good deeds will then be weighed, literally, to determine whether it outweighs the person’s record of bad deeds, and so that reward or punishment be meted out accordingly.
“And We place the scales of justice for the Day of Resurrection, so no soul will be treated unjustly at all. And if there is [any deed even] the weight of a mustard seed, We will bring it forth. And sufficient are We to take account.” (Quran 21:47)
“So whoever worked even an atom’s weight of good will see (the good fruits of his labor).” (Quran 99:7)
“The heaviest thing that will be placed in a person’s Balance on the Day of Resurrection [after the testimony of Faith] is good manners, and God hates the obscene, immoral person.” (Al-Tirmidhi)
The believers will quench their thirst from a special reservoir dedicated to the Prophet Muhammad. Whoever drinks from it shall never experience thirst again. Its beauty, immenseness, and sweet, fine taste have been described in detail by the Prophet.
The believers in Islam – both the sinful amongst them and the pious – as well as the hypocrites will be left in the great plain after the unbelievers are driven to Hell. A long bridge traversing the Hellfire and engulfed in darkness will separate them from Paradise. The faithful will take strength and comfort in their swift crossing over the roaring fires of Hell and in the ‘light’ that God will place in front of them, guiding them to their eternal home:
“On the Day you see the believing men and believing women, their light proceeding before them and on their right, [it will be said], ‘Your good tidings today are of gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein you will abide eternally.’ Indeed in that is the great success.” (Quran 57:12)
Finally, after crossing the bridge, the faithful will be purified before they are entered into Paradise. All scores between believers will be settled so that no one man nurses a grudge against another.
Part 4. The Believer and Paradise
The believers will be ushered on towards the grand eight gates of Paradise. There, they will receive a joyous angelic reception and be congratulated on account of their safe arrival and salvation from Hell.
“But those who feared their Lord will be driven to Paradise in groups until, when they reach it while its gates have been opened and its keepers say, ‘Peace be upon you; you have become pure; so enter it to abide eternally therein.” (Quran 39:73)
(It will be said to the pious): “O (you) the one in (complete) rest and satisfaction! Come back to your Lord, Well-pleased and well-pleasing unto Him! Enter you then among My honored slaves. Enter you My Paradise!” (Quran 89:27-30)
The best of the Muslims will enter Paradise first. The most righteous of them will ascend to the highest levels.
“But whoever comes to God as a believer (in His Oneness, etc.) and has done righteous good deeds; for such are the high ranks (in the Hereafter).” (Quran 20:75)
“And the foremost (in faith) will be foremost (in the Hereafter); those are the ones brought near to God in the Gardens of Pleasure; they will enter in one rank with bright faces.” (Quran 56:10-2)
The Quranic description of Paradise gives us a vision of just what a fantastic place it is. An eternal home that will fulfill all our wholesome desires, seduce all our senses, grant us everything we could possibly want and much more besides. God describes His Paradise as having earth made of is fine musk powder, soil of saffron, bricks of gold and silver, and pebbles of pearls and rubies. Beneath the gardens of Paradise are flowing rivers of sparkling water, sweet milk, clear honey, and non-intoxicating wine. The tents on their banks are domes of hollow pearls. The whole space is filled with sparkling light, sweet-smelling plants and fragrances that can be savored from afar. There are lofty palaces, huge mansions, grapevines, date palms, pomegranate trees, lotus and acacia trees whose trunks of made of gold. Ripe, abundant fruit of all kinds: berries, citrus, drupes, grapes, melons, pomes; all kinds of fruit, tropical and exotic; anything the faithful could possibly desire!
“…And therein is whatever each soul desires and delights the eyes...” (Quran 43:71)
Each believer will have a most beautiful, pious and pure spouse, wearing exquisite clothing; And there will be so much more in a new world of eternal, radiant joy.
“And no soul knows what has been hidden for them of comfort for eyes [i.e. satisfaction] as reward for what they used to do.” (Quran 32:17)
As well as physical delights, Paradise will also give its residents a state of emotional and psychological bliss, as the Prophet said:
“Whoever enters Paradise is blessed with a life of joy; he will never feel miserable, his clothes will never wear out, and his youth shall never fade away. The people will hear a divine call: ‘I grant you that you will be healthy and never fall sick, you will live and never die, you will be young and never age, you will be joyful and never feel miserable.’” (Saheeh Muslim)
Ultimately, the thing that will most delight the eyes will be the Countenance of God Himself. For the true believer, to see this blessed vision of God is to have won the ultimate prize.
“[Some] faces, that Day, will be radiant, looking at their Lord.” (Quran 75:22-23)
This is the Paradise, the eternal home and final destination of the righteous believer. May God, Most High, make us worthy of it.