The question of life after death has always
agitated the minds of people belonging to all religions and all
ages alike. There is also the atheistic view which totally denies
the possibility of life after death. The religions which believe
in life after death can be divided into two categories.
- Those which believe in the reincarnation of the soul of a
dead person into a new human or animal form of existence.
- Those which believe in an otherworldly state of existence
The atheistic view is outside the domain of this
discussion. As far as Islamic doctrine is concerned, Islam
belongs to that category of religions which totally rejects
all possibilities of reincarnation in any form. But those who
believe in some otherworldly form of spiritual or carnal existence
are divided among themselves on so many planes. Within each
religion the understanding differs. Hence, with reference to
the views held by the followers of various religions, no belief
can be attributed to them without fear of contradiction.
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. 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. Surah Al-Waqiah
(Ch. 56: V.62)
This is the categorical statement of the Quran
on the subject. In recent times, the founder of the Ahmadiyya
Community, Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) of Qadian, presented
this view of spiritual existence as against carnal existence
in his unique and outstanding treatise entitled 'The
Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam". All views propounded
in the book are well documented with Quranic references and traditions
of the Holy Founder of Islam. A brief account is reproduced here.
According to his profound study, the life in
the hereafter would not be material. Instead, it would be of
a spiritual nature of which we can only visualise certain aspects.
We cannot determine precisely how things will take shape. One
of the salient features of his vision of the hereafter concerns
the soul giving birth to another rarer entity, which would occupy
the same position in relation to the soul as the soul occupies
in relation to our carnal existence here on earth. This birth
of a soul from within the soul will be related to the sort of
life that we have lived here on earth. If our lives here are
spent in submission to the will of God and in accordance with
His commands, our tastes gradually become cultured and attuned
to enjoying spiritual pleasures as against carnal pleasures.
Within the soul a sort of embryonic soul begins to take shape.
New faculties are born and new tastes are acquired, in which
those accustomed to carnal pleasures find no enjoyment. These
new types of refined human beings can find the content of their
heart. Sacrifice instead of the usurpation of others' rights
becomes enjoyable. Forgiveness takes the upper hand of revenge,
and love with no selfish motive is born like a second nature,
replacing all relationships that have ulterior motives. Thus,
one can say a new soul within the soul is in the offing.
All these projections regarding the development
of the soul are inferences drawn from various verses of the Holy
Quran, yet the exact nature of future events cannot be precisely
determined. One can only say that something along these lines
would take place, the details of which lie beyond the reach of
human understanding. 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. '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.
But what is the meaning of heavenly bliss, the
tortures of the fire of hell? In answer to this question, the
Promised Messiah (as) has illustrated the issue in the following
terms: If a man is almost dying of thirst, and is otherwise healthy,
cool water can provide him such deeply satisfying pleasure as
cannot be derived from the ordinary experience of drinking water,
or even the most delicious drink of his choice. If a man is thirsty
and hungry as well, and he needs an immediate source of energy,
a chilled bunch of grapes can provide him with such deep satisfaction
as is not experienced by the same in ordinary circumstances.
But the pre-requisite for these pleasures is good health. Now
visualise a very sick man, who is nauseating and trying to vomit
whatever liquid is left in him, and is at the verge of death
through dehydration. Offer him a glass of cool water, or a chilled
bunch of grapes, then not to mention his accepting them, a mere
glance of them would create a state of revulsion and absolute
abhorrence in him.
In illustrations like these, the Promised Messiah
(as) made it clear that hell and heaven are only issues of relativity.
A healthy soul which has acquired the taste for good things,
when brought into close proximity of the objects of its choice,
will draw even greater pleasure than before. All that a healthy
spiritual man was craving was nearness to God and His attributes
and to imitate divine virtues. In heaven, such a healthy soul
would begin to see and conceive and feel the nearness of the
attributes of God like never before. They, according to the Promised
Messiah, would not remain merely spiritual values, but would
acquire ethereal forms and shapes, which the newly born heavenly
spirit would enjoy with the help of the erstwhile soul, which
would function as the body. That again would be a matter of relativity.
The converse will be true of hell, in the sense that an unhealthy
soul would create an unhealthy body for the new soul of the hereafter.
And the same factors which provide pleasure to the healthy soul
would provide torture and deep suffering for this unhealthy entity.
When we refer to mind or soul in comparison
to our carnal body, there is a vast difference in the nature
of their existence, which is almost inconceivable. Every part
of the body is alive and is throbbing with life, not only in
material terms but also in awareness. Every particle of the human
body is gifted with some sort of awareness. Scientists try to
express that awareness in terms of electronic pulses, but that
is a very crude way of describing the overall awareness of the
conscious and subconscious mind and the immune system and other
independent functions of the human body, which still lie far
beyond our power of comprehension.
So what is that awareness? How can it be defined
and explained -- that Ultimate 'I' in every living thing. Can
we refer to it as ego in psychological terms? But never has a
psychologist succeeded in defining the ego. It is that something
which in religious terms is described as the soul. There is no
way we can measure the distance between the soul and the carnal
body. In terms of rarity, the soul even in our crudest perception,
is so rare and ultra-refined that in no way can it be likened
to the body that it occupies. Now try to conceive the scenario
of the birth of a soul within the soul over a period of billions
of years. At the end of a long day, we find a soul within a soul,
which would have the same comparison in terms of rarity as a
human soul here on earth has with the human body. Something similar
to this will take place, and in relative terms, the future existence
of life would also have two states combined into one entity.
In relative terms, one state would be like body and the other
like soul. In comparison to our bodies, our soul would appear
like a body to the newly evolved essence of existence.
For further details, readers are advised to
read the full treatise, which deals not only with this subject,
but also discusses some other very interesting topics which agitate
the minds of people the world over.
In short, each individual creates his own hell
or his own heaven, and in accordance with his own state each
heaven differs from the other person's heaven, and each hell
differs from the other person's hell, though apparently they
occupy the same space and time in otherworldly dimensions.
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?
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:
Pondering over the birth of a child from a single
cell, one finds the following Quranic statement:
Now this subject is related to the subject of
the two identical creations mentioned above. Take for example
the case of such children as are congenitally ill. They do not
suddenly contract illness at the time of delivery, rather they
gradually develop into a state of morbidity which is progressive
and which starts from the time of their early embryonic stage.
Similarly, the soul of a person who is spiritually diseased,
in that embryonic stage before its final resurrection on the
Day of Judgement, will suffer through a semblance of hell and
will remain uneasy in that period of the grave as does an unhealthy
child in the womb of its mother. The ways of a healthy child
are totally different, even his kicking is appreciated by the
The question that now arises is: Will the soul
also progress as does the child in the mother's womb, and will
it pass through all these stages? The answer to this can be found
in the very same verse of the Quran: 'Ma khalakakum wa ma
basukum illa ka nafsin wahidin' -- your first creation and
your second creation will be identical.
To understand the second creation, we need to
understand the way a baby takes shape in a mother's womb. These
forms apparently only take nine months to develop, while in reality
the creation of life is spread over billions of years. Going
back to the beginning of zoological life, the baby passes through
almost all the stages of the evolution of life. From the beginning
of the pregnancy, through to its culmination nine months later,
the development of the child reflects all the stages of creation.
In other words, all the phases of evolution are being repeated
in those nine months, one after the other, and at such great
speed that it is beyond our imagination. It keeps alive the stages
of the system of evolution, and presents a picture of it.
The creation of life underwent a long period
of development to reach the form that we witness in nine months.
This sheds light on the fact that the period of our first creation
was very long, and our second creation will also span a long
period. By studying these nine months we can learn something
of the billions of years of the history of life, and also about
the evolution of souls in the next world. It is perhaps safe
to infer that the time from the early origin of life to the ultimate
creation of man, would perhaps be needed once again for the development
of the soul after the death.
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 that '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.