Life and Beyond
By: Muhammad Abdel Haleem
In the Qur'an life in this world is an inseparable part of a continuum, a unified whole - life, death, life - which gives our life a context and relevance. In this context, the life of the individual is made meaningful and enriched inasmuch as it is full of 'good works'. Life in this world leads to the afterlife, a belief which is fundamental in the Qur'an. The afterlife is not treated in the Qur'an in a separate chapter, or as something on its own, for its own sake, but always in relation to life in this world.
Linguistically it is not possible in the Qur'an to talk about this life without semantic reference to the next since every term used for each is comparative with the other. Thus: al- 'ula and al-akhira (the First and the Last life), al-dunya and al-akhira (the nearer and the further/latter life). Neither has a name specific to itself, or independent of the other. Consequently, the frequency of the terms in the Qur'an is the same, in the case of dunya and akhira - each appears 115 times.'
There is a reference, direct or indirect, to one aspect or another of the afterlife on almost every single page of the Qur'an. This follows from the fact that belief in the afterlife is an article of faith which has a bearing on every aspect of the present life and manifests itself in the discussion of the creed, the rituals, the ethics and the laws of Islam. In discussing the afterlife, moreover, the Qur'an addresses both believers and non-believers. The plan of two worlds and the relationship between them has been, from the beginning, part of the divine scheme of things:
It is God who created you, then He provided sustenance for you, then He will cause you to die, then He will give life back to you.
It is We who give lift and make to die and to Us is the homecoming. 50:43
He created death and life that He might try you &cording to which of you is best in works. 67:2
According to the Qur'an, belief in the afterlife, which is an issue fundamental to the mission of Muhammad, was also central to the mission of all prophets before him.
Belief in the afterlife is often referred to in conjunction with belief in God, as in the expression: 'If you believe in God and the Last Day'. Believers are frequently reminded in the Qur'an, 'Be mindful of God and know that you shall meet Him' (2:233) (used in this instance to urge fitting treatment of one's wife in intimate situations). 'To Him is the homecoming/ the return' (36:83; 4O:3). As a belief in the afterlife is so fundamental to Islam, it is only right that Muslims should regularly be reminded of it not only throughout the pages of the Qur'an but also in their daily life. practicing Muslims in their five daily prayers repeat their praise of God at least seventeen times a day, 'The Master of the Day of Judgment' (1:4). Being inattentive to the afterlife (30:7) or to the prospect of coming to judgment (32:14) are signs of the unbeliever. All this heightens the believer's sense of responsibility for actions in this life. In fact the principles and details of religion are meant to be seen within the framework of the interdependence of this life and the afterlife and to color the Muslims' conception of life and the universe and have a bearing on their actions in this life.
The Importance of the Resurrection and Judgment in the Afterlife
Divine wisdom and justice necessitate the resurrection of the dead and judgment in an afterlife:
We have not created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them save in truth. Surely the Hour' is coming. 15:85
The resurrection is thus:
...a binding promise from God that shall be fulfilled though most people may not know it, so that He may resolve their differences for them.
In the Qur'an, judgment is so essential to human beings that God has created them with a peculiar, innate permanent judge within themselves, that is 'conscience', the 'reproachful soul'. Indeed this is marked in a chapter entitled The Resurrection in which God declares:
I swear by the Day of Resurrection, and by the reproachful soul! Does man think We shall never put his bones together again? Yes indeed: We can remold his very fingers.
The 'reproachful soul' foreshadows the judgment and is here placed side by side, in the oath, with the resurrection that precedes the judgment. In answer to the unbelievers' incredulity that the scattered bones of dead people can be resurrected into new life, God swears that it will be done. Modem interpreters see in the phrase, 'his very fingers', reference to the power of God who moulds our finger prints in a way unique to each individual: He has done it in this life and can do it again in the afterlife.
The Possibility of the Resurrection of the Dead
In addition to the necessity and desirability of the resurrection and afterlife, the Qur'an turns repeatedly to its possibility. During the Meccan period of the Prophet's mission, a great deal of the Qur'an was concerned with the three fundamental beliefs of the unity of God, the prophethood of Muhammad and other prophets before him, and the resurrection and judgment. The resurrection in particular seemed incredible to unbelievers. Indeed much of what one hears today is reminiscent of what unbelievers said at the time of the revelation of the Qur'an. They felt the resurrection to be biologically impossible, asking again and again:
How, after we die and become dust and bones could we be raised again? 56:47
Against this, the Qur'an employs a basic argument which is not difficult to accept rationally, equating two similar feats: the power that can accomplish something once can do it again. From the fact that human beings now exist, it is clear that divine power was not incapable of making them: Why should it be assumed that such power will be incapable of doing for a second time what it achieved the first (50:: 15)? Indeed a second creation is easier than a first one (30:27).
The Qur'an repeatedly reminds people that they were made into human beings from something very small:
Is man not aware that We created him from a little germ? Yet he is flagrantly contentious. He raises an argument and forgets his own creation. He asks: 'Who will give life to rotten bones?' Say: 'He who first brought them into being will give them life again: He has knowledge of every creation; who has made for you out of the green tree fire and lo! from it you kindle.' 36:77-80
This last point affirms the ability of a power that generates things from seemingly opposite or different things - a fire from green trees and bodies from bones and dust; just as a full grown man is different from the little germ that was his beginning. If they ask:
'What! When we are lost in the earth shall we be created afresh?' 32:13
The answer comes:
We know all that the earth takes away from them. We have a book which records all things. 50:4
Another rational argument the Qur'an uses to convince disbelievers of the truth of the resurrection is the comparison between the greater act of creation and the lesser act of resurrection:
Perhaps when the unbelievers say it is not possible to turn dust into a new creation, what they really think is that it is not possible for human power like their own; but, after all, they have not created themselves or the heavens and the earth (52:35-6). A greater power than their own has created them once and can do so again, and has also created what is greater than them. As the Qur' an argues with the unbelievers, sometimes it even omits the name of the Creator, in order to focus their minds more clearly on the argument itself, saying simply, 'He who did it first', 'who created the Heavens', etc. When the Prophet recites Qur'anic verses that confirm the resurrection in the afterlife, the unbelievers of his time challenge him personally:
Bring back to us our fathers-if what you say be true!
The Qur'an directs the Prophet:
Say: 'It is God who gives you life, then makes you die, then He shall gather you to the Resurrection. 45:25-6
In discussing the resurrection, moreover, the Qur'an cites phenomena very familiar to human beings to show the power that takes creation through different stages, particularly in the life of people and plants.
People, if you doubt the resurrection, remember that We first created you from dust, then from a living germ, then from a tiny clinging thing, and then from a half-formed lump of flesh, so that We might manifest to you Our power. We cause whatever We please to remain in the wombs for an appointed term, and then We bring you forth as infants- that you may grow up and reach your prime. Some are caused to die young and some are caused to live on to abject old age when all that they once knew they know no more.
You sometimes see the earth dry and barren: but no sooner do We send down rain upon it than it begins to stir and swell, -putting forth every kind of radiant bloom. That is because God is Truth: He resurrects the dead and has power our all things. 22:5-6
Indeed the Qur'an uses the very same Arabic verb for bringing forth' people from their mothers' wombs (16:78) 'bringing forth' plants from the earth (6:99) and 'bringing forth' people from the earth at the resurrection (30:19).
Not only does the Qur'an present proof of the resurrection, but it turns the argument against those who deny it, pointing out that they themselves have no proof for their own position:
They say: 'There is nothing but out present life; we live and die, nothing but time destroys us.' Of this they have no knowledge; they merely conjecture. 45:24
At the resurrection they will know that what they said was wrong and will regret it. 16:39, 6:31
There is much description in the Qur'an of rewards and punishment. As human beings have bodies, minds and spirits, all of which are gifts from God and as, out of His grace He provided mankind with the means of gratifying all these components in this life, so in the afterlife He will provide means of gratifying them all to 'those who believed and did good works' (7:32). Bodies, as we have noted, will be 'a new creation' and in paradise will not suffer the shortcomings of worldly bodies. 'No mortal knows what comfort is in store for them as a reward for their labors' (32:17). 'No evil shall visit them' - the Arabic word su' includes whatever is undesirable (39: 16; 40:7). There is no tedium there, such as skeptics now invoke as an argument against eternal existence. 'They will live in the land of perfect peace' (6:127). The honor God will confer on them will be their highest reward.- An opposite picture is given of punishment-the essence of which is humiliation.
As already pointed out, the Qur'an does not treat the afterlife as something theoretical or in a separate chapter at the end of the book. It is embedded in the text throughout and its effect on the reader is enhanced by the vivid and powerful language of the Arabic text. After a short conjunction like 'when' to indicate the afterlife, it commonly employs the past and present tense as if it had happened and was already here.Ó
There is an obvious interdependence between this life and the afterlife. We have seen how the terms occur with equal frequency in the Qur'an and how linguistically one cannot utter the name of one without semantic reference to the other. Everything in the judgment has to do with action in the world. Dwellers in paradise or hell sometimes talk about what they did in this world (52:28; 40:47).
The Afterlife and the Present Life
In the Qur'an, life in this world, through its relation to the afterlife, has much more significance than it would otherwise have. A whole new dimension is given to the lives of those who believe that they will live beyond the grave, and will not be terminated in dust. They are continually reminded of this (at least seventeen times a day, as we have said, for practicing Muslims). The life of the individual continues in the two worlds, but through different stages: from the womb to the world, to the grave, to the resurrection, judgment and lasting life in the final abode - the intervening period in the grave will seem 'a mere part of a day' (23:113).
The Qur'an does not disparage the present life; both lives are created by God and
To God belong the last life and the first life. 53:25
He created for you all that the earth contains. 2:29
Eat of what your Lord has given you and render thanks to Him.
In gathering wealth the faithful are 'seeking the bounty of God'. They are directed to do this after finishing the prayer in which they praise 'the Master of the Day of judgment' (62: 10; 65:17; 73:20). In seeking to attain paradise- they should always bear in mind the Qur'anic exhortation: 'Do not neglect your share in this world' (28:77).
Prophet Muhammad said:
He whose day is no better than the day before it has done himself wrong.
He also said:
When a son of Adam dies his deeds cease, except through three things: a running charity that he founded, useful knowledge he left behind, or a righteous son who prays for him.
Of the judgment he said:
No person will leave the judgment place before being asked about four things: his life span and how he spent it, his knowledge and what he did with it, his body and in which things he wore it out, and his wealth - from where he collected it and how he spent it.
God has ordained a law and a path for each of you. Had God wished it, He could have made you into one nation, but in order to by you in what has come to you, He has made you as you are. So vie with one another in good works, for to God you shall all return and He will declare to you what you have disagreed about. 5:48
Believers are taught in the Qur'an to pray:
Lord, give us good in this life and good in the afterlife.
The above article was excerpted from Understanding The Qur'an- Themes And Style by Muhammad Abdel Haleem who is a professor of Islamic Studies and editor of the Journal of Qur'anic Studies.
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