Islamic Views on the Soul, Death and Judgement

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Muhammad's Night Journey
Islam accepts the beliefs and concepts of life after death, immortality of the soul, a Day of Judgment, a resurrection and heaven and hell. The Qur’an says that the world will end and that Allah will measure and judge human affairs; [Source:]

The Muslim concept of the soul is similar to the Christian concept although there has been considerable debate within Islam as to the soul’s relation with the mind, body and God’s “spirit” or “breath” and how it survives death and is resurrected. Most Sunni regard the soul as a material substance that is not visible to the eye but was created along with the body by God while Sufis and other mystical Muslims regard the soul as something more abstract and separate from the body.

According to a prevailing view among Muslims, the souls has three parts and is not unlike Freud’s concept of the id, ego and superego: 1) an id-like component that is driven by animal urges and is “prone to evil”; 2) an ego-like component that can distinguish between good and evil and strives to overcome evil; and 3) a spiritual component that is totally oriented towards God and enters heaven after death. The spiritual component is said to be about the size of a bee and shimmers like mercury when it is removed from the body.

It is believed that the dead body is helpless and cannot react to any thing so it should be handled with care. The soul, after the decease is some state we call as barzakh. In this state the punishment of grave is given to the sinners and the righteous are rewarded in some manner. But these things may not be visible to others , like widening of grave or darkness of grave etc. The soul in barzakh can feel the punishments and rewards. The soul remains in this state till the day of judgement. If some one prays for the deceased and his children do righteous deeds than the punishment may be less extensive. [Source: Dania Tehreem]

Websites and Resources: Islam IslamOnline ; Institute for Social Policy and Understanding; ; Islamic City ; BBC article ; University of Southern California Compendium of Muslim Texts ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on Islam ; Islam at Project Gutenberg ; Muslims: PBS Frontline documentary frontline

Muslim Views About Death and the Afterlife

Shiite view of the death of Hussein

Death is regarded as the will of Allah is seen as the transition from life in this next world. It is something to be met with dignity and courage. Muslims believe that death is a stage in which the spirit leaves the body and waits for the resurrection of the spirit on the Judgement Day. Some believe that upon death the soul is temporarily taken to heaven and is questioned about its worthiness by angels and informed immediately as to whether he will be allowed to go heaven or is condemned to death. At each of the seven levels of heaven the soul is approached by angels who welcome him if he has been faithful and scorn him if he has sinned. The soul is also taken on a quick tour of hell where it is shown the tortures that await it there.

The Muslim vision of the Last Judgement, Satan, angels, Heaven and Hell and its set of moral and ethical doctrines are similar to those of Christianity and Judaism. Some Muslims believe 40 days before a person dies a leaf falls from a great tree beneath the throne of God and that leaf has the name of person who is to die and an angel is summoned to begin making preparations for that person. At the moment of death that angel appears to the dying person and informs him that there is no escape. After death occurs, the soul is drawn from the body by four angels clothed in white and escorted to heaven.

Sinners are unceremoniously barred from heaven and flung back to earth. There is some debate about what happens to the faithful. Some believe they reside in heaven until the Day of Judgement. Some believe they return to the corpse and wait like everyone else in the earth to the Day of Judgement. Some say the soul returns to earth and dies a second death and enters a long sleep until the judgement. Yet others believe the soul is reborn in a quasi-life in which they are interrogated about their faith by black angels with green eyes and visited by foul- and sweet-smelling personifications of their sins and good deeds and are informed of their fate. Those who are damned begin wailing with misery.

Book: “Muhammad’s Grave: Death Rites and the Making of Islamic Society” by Leor Halevi, a professor of history at Texas A&M University.

Sunnah on Death

The Sunnahs are the practices and examples drawn from the Prophet Muhammad's life. Along with the Hadiths they are the most important texts in Islam after the Qur’an. They must adhere to a strict chain of narration that ensures their authenticity, taking into account factors such as the character of people in the chain and continuity in narration. Reports that fail to meet such criteria are disregarded.

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Buraq, Muhammad's mount for his
Night Journey After His Death
The Sunnah reads: “Wish not for death any one of you; either a doer of good works, for peradventure he may increase them by an increase of life; or an offender, for perhaps he may obtain the forgiveness of God by repentance. When the soul is taken from the body the eyes follow it, and look toward it: on this account the eyes remain open. [Source: Charles F. Horne, ed., The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East, (New York: Parke, Austin, & Lipscomb, 1917), Vol. VI: Medieval Arabia, pp. 11-32]

“When a believer is nearly dead, angels of mercy come, clothed in white silk garments, and say to the soul of the dying man, "Come out, O thou who art satisfied with God, and with whom he is satisfied; come out to rest, which is with God, and the sustenance of God's mercy and compassion, and to the Lord, who is not angry." Then the soul cometh out like the smell of the best musk, so that verily it is handed from one angel to another, till they bring it to the doors of the celestial regions.

Then the angels say, "What a wonderful, pleasant smell this is which is come to you from the earth!" Then they bring it to the souls of the faithful, and they are very happy at its coming; more than ye are at the coming of one of your family after a long journey. And the souls of the faithful ask it, "What hath such a one done, and such a one? how are they?" and they mention the names of their friends who are left in the world. And some of them say, "Let it alone; do not ask it, because it was grieved in the world, and came from thence aggrieved; ask it when it is at rest." Then the soul saith when it is at ease, "Verily such a one about whom ye ask is dead." And as they do not see him among themselves, they say to one another, "Surely he was carried to his mother, which is hell fire."

“And verily when an infidel is near death, angels of punishment come to him, clothed in sackcloth, and say to his soul, "Come out, thou discontented, and with whom God is displeased; come to God's punishments." Then it cometh out with a disagreeable smell, worse than the worst stench of a dead body, until they bring it upon the earth, and they say, "What an extraordinarily bad smell this is"; 'till they bring it to the souls of the infidels.

Sunnah on the State after Death

The Sunnahs are the practices and examples drawn from the Prophet Muhammad's life. Along with the Hadiths they are the most important texts in Islam after the Qur’an. They must adhere to a strict chain of narration that ensures their authenticity, taking into account factors such as the character of people in the chain and continuity in narration. Reports that fail to meet such criteria are disregarded.

The Sunnah reads: “To whomsoever God giveth wealth, and he does not perform the charity due from it, his wealth will be made into the shape of a serpent on the day of resurrection, which shall not have any hair upon its head, and this is a sign of its poison and long life, and it hath two black spots upon its eyes, and it will be twisted round his neck like a chain on the day of resurrection; then the serpent will seize the man's jaw-bones, and will say, "I am thy wealth, the charity for which thou didst not give, and I am thy treasure, from which thou didst not separate any alms." [Source: Charles F. Horne, ed., The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East, (New York: Parke, Austin, & Lipscomb, 1917), Vol. VI: Medieval Arabia, pp. 11-32]

Muhammad's Night Journey
“The Prophet asked us, "Did any one of you dream?" We said, "No." He said, "But I did. Two men came to me and took hold of my hands, and carried me to a pure land: and behold, there was a man sitting and another standing: the first had an iron hook in his hand, and was hooking the other in the lip, and split it to the back of the neck, and then did the same with the other lip. While this was doing the first healed, and the man kept on from one lip to the other. I said, 'What is this?' They said, 'Move on,' and we did so 'till we reached a man sleeping on his back, and another standing at his head with a stone in his hand, with which he was breaking the other's head, and afterward rolled the stone about and then followed it, and had not yet returned, when the man's head was healed and well. Then he broke it again, and I said, 'What is this?' They said, 'Walk on'; and we walked, 'till we came to a hole like an oven, with its top narrow and its bottom wide, and fire was burning under it, and there were naked men and women in it; and when the fire burned high the people mounted also, and when the fire subsided they subsided also. Then I said, 'What is this?'

They said, 'Move on'; and we went on 'till we came to a river of blood, with a man standing in the middle of it, and another man on the bank, with stones in his hands: and when the man in the river attempted to come out, the other threw stones in his face, and made him return. And I said, 'What is this?' They said, 'Advance'; and we moved forward, 'till we arrived at a green garden, in which was a large tree, and an old man and children sitting on the roots of it, and near it was a man lighting a fire. Then I was carried upon the tree, and put into a house which was in the middle of it—a better house I have never seen: and there were old men, young men, women, and children. After that they brought me out of the house and carried me to the top of the tree, and put me into a better house, where were old men and young men. And I said to my two conductors, 'Verily ye have shown me a great many things tonight, then inform me of what I have seen.'

They said, 'Yes: as to the man whom you saw with split lips, he was a liar, and will be treated in that way 'till the day of resurrection; and the person you saw getting his head broken is a man whom God taught the Qur'an, and he did not repeat it in the night, nor practice what is in it by day, and he will be treated as you saw 'till the day of resurrection; and the people you saw in the oven are adulterers; and those you saw in the river are receivers of usury; and the old man you saw under the tree is Abraham; and the children around them are the children of men: and the person who was lighting the fire was Malik, the keeper of hell; and the first house you entered was for the common believers; and as to the second house, it is for the martyrs: and we who conducted you are one of us Gabriel, and the other Michael; then raise up your head'; and I did so, and saw above it as it were a cloud: and they said, 'That is your dwelling.' I said, 'Call it here, that I may enter it'; and they said, 'Verily your life remaineth, but when you have completed it, you will come into your house.="

Muslim Concept of Torture of the Grave

Tomb of Khadija, Muhammad's wife

One prevailing belief among Muslims is that by the time the corpse is ready to be washed the soul has returned to earth to observe the preparation for burial and the procession to the cemetery. Then just before the grave is to be filled in with dirt, the spirit returns to dwell in the body. In the grave the combined spirt and corpse are subjected to a serial of trials to test his faith by two demonic angels---Munkar and Nakir---recognized by the bluish faces, huge teeth and wild hair. If the deceased passes the trials his grave is transformed into a luxurious space, making the long wait to Judgement Day bearable. If he fails, the space is made cramped and uncomfortable. As times goes on for those who fail the weight of earth crushes down on the body and worms eat away at the flesh, causing terrible pain. [Source: Leor Halevi, New York Times, April 2007]

Fear of “the torture of the grave” has been around at least since the 8th century and remains strong today. Prayers, sermons, invocations and stories in literature and the media constantly remind the faithful of this fate. Anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that this fear is very real and alive. The psychologist Ahmed M.Abdel-Khalek who has studied anxieties about death among Arab youth has found that preoccupation with the fear of the torture of the grave is strong. Many young Egyptians and Kuwaitis, a poll by Abdel-Khalek found, worry more at this torture than they do about a serious disease befalling a loved one.

In 2007, an Islamist web site ran a picture an 18-year-old dead “sinner” whose body was exhumed on the orders of his father. The fact that the body appeared aged and bruised after only three hours in the grave was presented as scientific proof that the torture of the grave was real. Muslims are told they can escape the “the torture of the grave” by dying as a martyr which does not only occur fighting for Islam but can also happen if a person dies in a fire, by drowning, is crushed under a building or dies in some other in which they endure great physical pain. If one dies such a death, it is believed, the period in the grave is skipped and the deceased go directly to paradise, where they receive new bodies.

Life After Death

Muhammad in Heaven

Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad wrote: ““What happens to man’s soul between the time of his carnal death and his resurrection on the Day of Judgement? The Holy Prophet(sa) is reported to have said that after our death windows will open up in the grave; for the pious people windows open from heaven, and for the wicked people they open towards hell. However, if we were to open up a grave we would not find any windows! So literal acceptance of these words will not convey the true meaning of this subject. It is impossible that the Holy Prophet(sa) should ever misinform us; hence here he had to be speaking metaphorically. Had it not been so, then every time we dig up a grave, we should find windows, either opening into hell, or letting in the fragrant and pleasant air of paradise. But we witness neither of these. So what do the Holy Prophet’s words mean? [Source: Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (1928–2003), Khalifatul Masih IV]

“The grave is actually an intermediary phase of existence between this life and the life to come. Here, spiritual life will progress gradually through many stages until it reaches its ultimate destiny. Then by the Command of Allah, a trumpet will be blown and the final spiritual form will come into being. In this interim period, different souls would pass through a semblance of heaven or hell before reaching their final stage of perfection, fit and ready to be raised into a completely transformed entity. The Quran illustrates this concept beautifully: “Your first creation and your second creation will be identical.” (Quran 31:29)

“The question that now arises is: Will the soul also progress as does the child in the mother’s womb, and will it passes through all these stages? The answer to this can be found in the very same verse of the Quran: ‘Ma khalqukum wa ma ba’sukum illa ka nafsin wahidin’—your first creation and your second creation will be identical.

“In support of this reasoning, the Quran categorically declares that when the souls are resurrected they will talk to one another, trying to determine how long they tarried on the earth. Some will say, ‘We tarried for a day’ while others will say, ‘For even less than a day.’ Allah will then say, ‘No even that is not correct.’ In other words, Allah will say, ‘You tarried on earth for much less than what you estimate.’ In reality, the relationship of one life-span to a small part of the day is more or less the same ratio that the time of the soul’s resurrection will have to its previous entire life. The further away something is, the smaller it appears. Our childhood seems like an experience of just a few seconds. The greater the distance of the stars, the smaller they appear. What Allah is trying to tell us is that we won’t find ourselves being judged the very next day after we die. Instead, judgement will take place in such a distant future that our previous lives will seem like a matter of a few seconds to us, like a small point a long way away. In short, man’s resurrection is described as a transformation that he cannot envisage and an event that is as certain as his existence here on earth. All these subjects have been explained in detail in the Holy Quran.

Muslim Ideas About the End of the World

Jews, Christians and Muslims all have end of the world scenarios foretold by natural disasters and other calamities and feature the accession to heaven by the faithful. Hindus and Buddhist read life as cyclical and they have no end of the world scenarios. The Muslim end-of-the world features a war of Armageddon led by a "hidden" iman, a descendant of Muhammad, against the forces of evil led by the Antichrist-like Dajjal.

One haddith reads: “The hour [of the world’s end] shall not occur until the Euphrates will disclose a mountain of gold over which the people will fight.” Some Muslim fundamentalists regarded “mountain of gold” as a metaphor for oil and the Euphrates as a reference to Iraq and see the war in Iraq as fulfilment of this prophecy. Another hadith reads that “song and dance by women lacking virtue” coming to every home is one of the signs that the end of the world is near. Some see this as reference to MTV.

Muslim Ideas About Judgement Day

20120509-Arabic-manuscript.jpg Muslims also believe there is a Judgement Day, known as the “ Hisab” (“the Reckoning”), in which all men are resurrected from the dead and judged on the basis of their deeds. Heralded by a trumpet blown by the archangel Asrafil, it takes places after the destruction of the universe and its re-creation by God. Some Muslims believe that on the Judgement Day the Kaaba will be transported to Jerusalem and all the dead with meet on their way to the city.

During the Muslim resurrection people emerge from their graves, with sinners displaying deformities that are in proportion to their sins. Everyone gathers before God in a great “ Hashr” (Assembly) and thinks over their sins and good deeds while they wait their turn to be judged. There is nothing they can do; their fate has been sealed by the actions on earth or by pre-destination, depending on how that matter is viewed. By some estimates the average person has to wait 50,000 years for his turn. They only people are exempt from waiting are prophets and martyrs who have gone directly to heaven.

As their moment of judgment approaches, the souls of the dead are asked to prostrate themselves. The Muslim faithful who have prayed religiously five times a day find this part easy. Sinners and infidels find their backs are rigid and find they can’t bend over. Some say at this juncture Muhammad will appear and intercede on behalf of those who followed his path.

Qur’an and Sunnah on Judgement

The Qur’an reads: “So establish weight with justice and fall not short in the balance. It is he who has spread out the earth for his creatures: Therein is fruit and date-palms, producing spathes (enclosing dates); also corn, with its leaves and stalk for fodder, and sweet-smelling plants. Then which of the favours of your Lord will you deny? |::|

The Sunnahs are the practices and examples drawn from the Prophet Muhammad's life. Along with the Hadiths they are the most important texts in Islam after the Qur’an. They must adhere to a strict chain of narration that ensures their authenticity, taking into account factors such as the character of people in the chain and continuity in narration. Reports that fail to meet such criteria are disregarded.

The Sunnah reads: “The first judgment that God will pass on man at the day of resurrection will be for murder. Whosoever throws himself from the top of a mountain and killeth himself is in hell fire forever; and whosoever killeth himself with iron, his iron shall be in his hand, and he will stab his belly with it in hell fire everlastingly. [Source: Charles F. Horne, ed., The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East, (New York: Parke, Austin, & Lipscomb, 1917), Vol. VI: Medieval Arabia, pp. 11-32]

“No judge must decide between two persons whilst he is angry. There is no judge who hath decided between men, whether just or unjust, but will come to God's court on the day of resurrection held by the neck by an angel; and the angel will raise his head toward the heavens and wait for God's orders; and if God orders to throw him into hell, the angel will do it from a height of forty years' journey. Verily there will come on a just judge at the day of resurrection such fear and horror, that he will wish, Would to God that I had not decided between two persons in a trial for a single date.

Averroes on Divine Justice and Injustice

Averroës (also called Ibn Rushd, b. 1126, Córdoba — d. 1198, Marrakech) was an influential Islamic religious philosopher who integrated Islamic traditions and Greek thought. At the request of the caliph Ibn at-Tufayl he produced a series of summaries and commentaries on most of Aristotle's works (1162-95) and on Plato's Republic, which exerted considerable influence for centuries. He wrote the Decisive Treatise on the Agreement Between Religious Law and Philosophy (Fasl), Examination of the Methods of Proof Concerning the Doctrines of Religion (Manahij), and The Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahafut) at-tahafut, all in defense of the philosophical study of religion against the theologians (1179-80). [Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica]

In “Problem Fourth: Divine Justice and Injustice,” Averroes wrote in “On the Harmony of Religions and Philosophy” (1190): “The Asharites have expressed a very peculiar opinion, both with regard to reason and religion; about this problem they have explained it in a way in which religion has not, but have adopted quite an opposite method. They say that in this problem the case of the invisible world is quite opposed to the visible. They think that God is just or unjust within the limits of religious actions. So when a man's action is just with regard to religion, he also is just; and whatever religion calls it to be unjust, He is unjust. They say that whatever has not been imposed as a divinely ordained duty upon men, does not come within the four walls of religion. He is neither just or unjust, but all His actions about such things are just. They have laid down that there is nothing in itself which may be called just or unjust. But to say that there is nothing which may in itself be called good or bad is simply intolerable. Justice is known as good, and injustice as bad. So according to them, polytheism is in itself neither injustice nor evil, but with regard to religion, and had religion ordained it, it would have been just and true. Such also would have been the case with any kind of sin. But all this is quite contrary to our hadith and reason. [Source: “Ibn Rushd: On the Harmony of Religions and Philosophy, in Arabic Kitab fasl al-maqal, with its appendix (Damina). Appended is an extract from Kitab al-kashfan manahij al-adilla, published and translated as: “Averröes, The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, trans. Muhammad Jamil-al-Rahman (Baroda: A. G. Widgery, 1921), pp. 14-19, 122-131, 204-229, 242-249, 260-283, 300-308. A more recent edition is edited by George Hourani, (Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1959).]

“As to hadith God has described himself as just, and denied injustice to himself. He says "God has borne witness that there is no God but He; and the angels and those who are endowed with wisdom profess the same, who execute righteousness" [Qur'an 3.16]; and "Your God is not unjust towards His servants;" and again, "Verily, God will not deal unjustly with men in any respect; but men deal unjustly with their own souls" [Qur'an 41.46]. It may be asked, What is your opinion about misleading the people, whether it is just or unjust, for God has mentioned in many a verse of the Qur'an, "That He leads as well as misleads the people?" [Qur'an 10.45]. He says, "God causes to err whom He pleases, and directs whom He pleases" [Qur'an 14.4]; and, "If we had pleased, we had certainly given every soul its direction" [Qur'an 32.11]. We would say that these verses cannot be taken esoterically, for there are many verses which apparently contradict them — the verses in which God denies injustice to himself.

Muslim Judgement and the Journey to Heaven and Hell

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Idris the prophet in heaven and hell
One by one people will be called before God to view the record of their life in the great Book of Life, a tablet attached to the throne of God. Each page has deeds from a person’s life recorded by the angels. Those destined for heaven are told to take their book in their right hand. Those condemned to hell must take it their left hand. After this they are asked to stand on scales operated by the archangels Jibril and Mikhail that weigh a person’s deeds and submission to Allah.

All souls cross the bridge of Shirat over Hell. The faithful, led by Muhammad and the other prophets, find that the bridge is wide and clear. Sinner find the bridge narrow and full of obstacles. The way for them is unmarked and no one is present to guide them. Even the most adept fall off when the bridge narrows to the width of hair and then an edge as sharp as a sword.

Sinners deemed unworthy of entrance to heaven fall in. They keep falling until they reach their appropriate level of hell (See Hell Below). Those that reach the other side of the bridge enter a desert with magnificent trees and begin their journey into heaven.

According to a 10th century description of the entrance to paradise: “Beneath each tree are two wells of water, which gush forth from the Garden...[The Saved] go to that desert and drink from one of the streams. When the water reaches their chests, all the foul matter and blood and urine depart, and they are cleansed of their outer and inner malevolence. Then they come to the other stream and wash their heads in it and their faces become as bright as the moon on the night of the full moon. Their souls become soft like milk and their bodies become sweet like musk.”

On the subject of entering paradise Muhammad said: "Hell is veiled in delights, and Heaven in hardships and miseries ...Paradise is nearer you than the thongs of your sandals; and the Fire likewise." He also said "he will not enter hell, who hath faith equal to mustard seed in his heart; and he will not enter Paradise, who hath a single grain of pride, equal to a mustard seed in his heart."

Muslim Heaven and Hell

Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad wrote: ““In Islam itself there are different views held by different sects or Muslim scholars. The general understanding tends to perceive the otherworldly form as very similar to the carnal one here on earth. The concept of Heaven and Hell consequently present a material image rather than a spiritual image of things to be. Heaven is presented, according to their concept, as an immeasurably large garden literally abounding in beautiful trees casting eternal shadows under which rivers will flow. The rivers would be of milk and honey. The garden will be fruit bearing and all man may desire of fruits would be his at his command. The meat would be that of birds of all sorts; it is only for one to wish which meat he particularly craves. [Source: Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (1928–2003), Khalifatul Masih IV]

Female companions of exceeding beauty and refinement would be provided to the pious men, with no limit imposed on the number, which will be decided according to their capacity. As many as they can cope with will be theirs. What would they do? How would they relate with each other? Will they bear children or lead a barren life of enjoyment? These are all the moot questions. The enjoyment, as it is conceived, is intensely sensual. No work to be performed, no labour to be wasted, no effort to be made. A perfect life (if such life can be called perfect) of complete and total indolence, with the option of overeating and over-drinking, because also wine will be flowing close to the rivers of milk and honey. No fear of dyspepsia or intoxication! Reclining on heavenly cushions of silk and brocade, they will while their time away in eternal bliss—but what an eternal bliss!

“In Islam, there are others who categorically reject this naive understanding of the Quranic references to Heaven, and prove with many a reference to verses of the Holy Quran that what it describes is just metaphorical imagery which has no carnality about it. In fact the Holy Quran makes it amply clear that the form of existence of the life to come will be so different from all known forms of life here on earth, that it is beyond human imagination even to have the slightest glimpse of the otherworldly realities. “We will raise you into a form of which you have not the slightest knowledge.” (Quran 56:62)

Muhammad Visiting Paradise

“There are certain aspects of the new life which need to be discussed. The concept of hell and heaven in Islam is completely different from the normally held view. Hell and heaven are not two different places occupying separate time and space. According to the Holy Quran, the heaven covers the entire universe. ‘Where would be hell then?’ enquired some of the companions of the Holy Prophet(sa). ‘At the same place’, was the answer, ‘but you do not have the faculty to understand their coexistence.’ That is to say in ordinary human terms, they may seem to occupy the same time-space, but in reality because they belong to different dimensions, so they will coexist without interfering and inter-relating with each other.

Averroes on The Day of Judgment

In “Problem Fifth: The Day of Judgment”, Averroes wrote in “On the Harmony of Religions and Philosophy” (1190): “Come the Day of Judgment, some believe that the body will be different from our present body. This is only transient, that will be eternal. For this also there are religious arguments. It seems that even Abdullah ben-Abbas held this view. For it is related of him that he said, "There is nought in this world of the hereafter, but names." It seems that this view is better suited to the learned men because its possibility is based upon principles, in which there is no disagreement according to all men: the one being that the soul is immortal, and the second is that the return of the souls into other bodies does not look so impossible as the return of the bodies themselves. It is so because the material of the bodies here is found following and passing from one body to another, i.e., one and the same matter is found in many people and in many different times. The example of bodies cannot be found, for their matter is the same. For instance a man dies and his body becomes dissolved into earth. The earth ultimately becomes dissolved into vegetable, which is eaten by quite a different man from whom another man comes into being. If we suppose them to be different bodies, then our aforesaid view cannot be true. [Source: “Ibn Rushd: On the Harmony of Religions and Philosophy, in Arabic Kitab fasl al-maqal, with its appendix (Damina). Appended is an extract from Kitab al-kashfan manahij al-adilla, published and translated as: “Averröes, The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, trans. Muhammad Jamil-al-Rahman (Baroda: A. G. Widgery, 1921), pp. 14-19, 122-131, 204-229, 242-249, 260-283, 300-308. A more recent edition is edited by George Hourani, (Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1959).]

“The truth about this question is this question is that man should follow that which he himself has thought out but anyhow it should not be the view which may deny the fundamental principle altogether. For this would be denying its existence. Such a belief leads to infidelity, on account of a distinct knowledge of this condition being given to man, both by religion and by human reason, which is all based upon the eternal nature of the soul. If it be said whether there is any argument or information in the Law about this eternal nature of the soul, we would say that it is found in the Qur'an itself, where God says, "God takes unto himself the souls of men at the time of their death; and those which die not He also takes in their sleep" [Qur'an 39.43]. In this verse sleep and death have been placed upon the same level, on account of the change in its instrument, and in sleep on account of a change in itself. For had it not been so it would not have come to its former condition after awakening. By this means we know that this cession does not effect its essence, but was only attached to it on account of change in its instrument. So it does not follow that with a cessation of the work of the instrument, the soul also ceases to exist. Death is only a cessation of work, so it is clear that its condition should be like that of sleep. As someone has said that if an old man were to get the eyes of the young, he would begin to see like him.

“This is all that we thought of in an exposition of the beliefs of our religion, Islam. What remains for us is to look into things of religion in which interpretation is allowed and not allowed. And if allowed, then who are the people to take advantage of it? With this thing we would finish our discourse.

Al-Ghazali on Death and the Afterlife

Abu Hamid Ibn Muhammad Ibn Muhammad al-Tusi al-Shafi'i al-Ghazali (Ghazali in Persian, Al-Ghazali in Arabic) was born in 1058 in Tus in Khorasan, (a region of Iran). His major contributions were in religion, philosophy and Sufism. In philosophy, he said mathematics and exact sciences were essentially correct and used Aristotelian logic and the Neoplatonic procedures to reveal the flaws of Neoplatonic philosophy and argue that Aristotelianism put to much emphasis on rationalism. In religion he attempted to reign in the excessively mystical aspects of Sufism and purify Islam by reestablished the authority of the Sunni orthodoxy. He didn’t discount Sufism totally and in fact that genuine sufism was essential in attaining the absolute truth. Al-Ghazali was a prolific writer. His books include Tahafut al-Falasifa (The Incoherence of the Philosophers), Ihya al-'Ulum al-Islamia (The Rivival of the Religious Sciences), "The Beginning of Guidance and his Autobiography", "Deliverance from Error". Some of his works were translated into Latin in the medieval Europe, where he was known as Algazel and via the translation of a truncated work, the Maqasid al-Falasifa [The Intentions of the Philosophers.]

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Hell Burning

Al-Ghazali wrote in “Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife”: “An exposition of the grave's discourse to the dead, and of their utterances, either on the tongue of common speech, or that of the Spiritual State (lisan al-hal) (from Chapter Seven): “Now, the tongue of the Spiritual State (lisan al-hal) is even more eloquent in communicating with the dead than that of the speech when communicating with the living. The Emissary of God (May God bless him and grant him peace) said, 'When the dead man is laid in his grave it speaks to him, saying, "Woe betide you, O son of Adam! What distracted you from contemplating me? Did you not know that I am the house of trial, the house of darkness, the house of solitude and the house of worms? What distracted you from me? You used to pass me by, strutting on!" Now if he had worked well, then someone will reply to the grave on his behalf, saying, "Do you not see that it was his practice to enjoin the good and forbid the evil?" And the grave replies, "Then for him shall I turn to verdure [a condition of freshness or healthy growth.], and his body shall become radiance, and his spirit shall soar up to God (Exhalted is He!)".' (According to the narrator, 'strutting' [faddad] is to take large strides.) [Ref: al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi, 161; Abu Nu'aym, VI. 90; Abu Ya'la, al-Musnad (Haytami, Majma', III. 45-46)] [Source: Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111 CE): “The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife”, from “The Revival of the Religious Sciences” (Ihya ulum al-din), Islamic Texts Society, translated by T.J.Winter, Internet Islamic History Sourcebook,]

“Said Ubaid bin Umayr al-Laythi 'Not a single man dies without being called by the pit in which he is buried, which declares, "I am the house of gloom, and of loneliness and solitude! If you were obedient to God during your lifetime then today I shall be a source of mercy for you, but if you were rebellious then I am an act of vengence against you. The obedient who enter me shall come forth joyful, while the rebellious who enter me shall emerge in ruin".' Said Muhammad ibn Sabih 'I have heard that if a man is laid in his tomb to be tormented or afflicted by something which is odious to him, his dead neighbours call out to him, saying, "O you who leave your bretheren and neighbours behind you in the world! Was there never a lesson for you in us? Was there no clue for you in our preceding you?

Did you not see how our actions were servered from us while you still had some respite? Why did you not achieve that which passed your bretheren by?" Then the regions of the earth call out to him, saying, "O you who were beguiled by the outer aspect of the world! Did you not take heed from your relatives who had vanished into the earth's interior? Those who were beguiled by the world before you and then met their fate, and entered into their graves? You watched them being borne aloft [To the cemetary], availed nothing by those they loved, and taken to the abode which they could not escape."'

“Said Abd Allah ibn Ubayd ibn Umayr at a funeral, 'I have heard it said that the Emissary of God (may God bless him and grant him peace) once declared, "The dead man sits up and hears the footsteps of those that are present at his funeral, but none addresses him save his tomb, which says, 'Woe betide you, O son of Adam! Did you not fear me and my narrowness, and my corruption, terror and worms? What have you prepared for me?" [Ibn al-Mubarak, (riwaya Nuaym ibn Hammad), 41; Ibn Abi'l-Dunya, K. al-Qubur (Zabidi, x.397; Suyuti, Sharh, 114).

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: ; Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History” by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art,, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Library of Congress and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2024

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