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Life after Death

Dr. Ijaz Rauf – Canada
Review of Religions, July 1996

Human mind and intelligence is always curious and looks for evidence for every belief or understanding. Interest in the near-death experience is a living proof of the fact that humans want to know for sure if there is going to be a life after death. What happens to a person when she or he dies? Is that the end of it? Or is there going to be something after this life? Every major religion of the world promotes belief in the life after death.

All religious teachings give hope of life after death. However, one question which remains unanswered is, if we are going to live after our death what kind of life are we going to take? What will be the form of of the life after death? Or how our souls are going to be or which state they will be in when they leave their material capsule (physical body) behind in this world?

Islam has given a beautiful answer in a manner which human intelligence can comprehend. In the Qur’an, we read:

And among His Signs is your sleep by night, and by day, your seeking of His bounty. In that, surely, are Signs for a people who hear. (Ch. 30, v. 24)

One of the Signs of Allah in our sleep, as He has mentioned in the above verse, is a limited experience of the life after death. This theory is further supported by the following verse of the Holy Qur’an, where Allah says,

Allah takes away the souls of human beings at the time of their death; and during their sleep of those also that are not yet dead sleep. Then He retains those against which He has decreed death, and sends back the others till an appointed term. In that, surely, are Signs for a people who reflect. (Ch. 39, v. 43)

Now reading this verse, there remains no doubt in one’s mind where the soul after death goes; it returns to its Lord, and Allah saying that `and of those who are not yet dead, during their sleep’ very strongly suggests that while we sleep for a limited time our souls do return to their Lord just as the souls return to their Lord after the death of the physical body.

Also the fact that Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) taught us to pray in the following words before going to sleep: O Lord, in Thy Name do I die and in Thy name do I rise. He also taught us to pray: All praise belongs to Allah, who has brought us back to life after causing us to die and to Him shall we return. This signifies that what we experience in our sleeps is a temporary death. Having said that, then what we see in our dreams is a limited vision (experience) of the life after death.

Major religions describe the life after death to be in a form where the soul is free from the constraints of the time and space as we know in this world. The same is true for dreams. In our dreams we can experience things which are free from the time and space constraints. One moment we would be in part of the world and in a blink of a second we could be in another part. We can see things in our dreams which are physically impossible. Similarly we can see the souls which have gone to hereafter before us, like our dead relatives and loved ones. Many people will tell you that one of their dead relatives gave them some happy news or warned against something. Since in that experience of life after death (i.e. dreams) we are free from time constraints, we can see the events which have not as yet happened, but will happen some time in the future. Sometimes people even see the reality of an incident which occurred in the past, either near past or distant past, with full details.

Since our souls are still attached to our physical bodies, the reality of the experience of the hereafter in our dream can also be supported by the fact that our dreams leave a considerable impact on us. Sometimes the effect is for only a couple of days while at other times it is life long and people cannot forget the experience of a particular dream. Whenever they think about it they feel the reality of the dream. The effect of our dreams (i.e. what our soul experiences) on our physical bodies is due to their mutual intimate connection. If our physical body is sick it also disturbs our soul, similarly, if we cry in our dreams our physical body also sheds tears.

Having hopefully built a convincing argument about the experience of life after death in our sleep, I would like to move on to the rewards in the hereafter. There are many places in the Qur’an where these rewards are mentioned, such as:

Verily, the righteous will be (placed) amid gardens and fountains. `Enter therein with peace, in safety.’ And We shall remove whatever of rancour may be in their breasts (so that they will be as) brothers (seated) on thrones, facing one another. Fatigue shall not touch them there, nor shall they (ever) be ejected therefrom. (Ch. 15, vs. 46-49)

As well as:

Verily the inmates of Heaven will, on that day, be happy in (their) occupation. They and their spouses will be in pleasant shades, reclining on raised couches. They will have fruits therein, and they will have whatever they call for. `Peace on you’ – a word (of greeting) from the Merciful Lord. (Ch. 36, vs. 56-59)

It should be noted that just as the dreams (i.e. vision of the hereafter) are subject to interpretation, similarly, what we are told about hereafter needs to be interpreted and cannot be taken in literal terms. The hereafter is described in our terminology so that we may reflect upon what we will receive there as a reward. The explanation of these rewards is given in words with which we communicate and can understand while reflecting the actual description of the reward. But they are not the exact rewards we shall get in the hereafter. To explain this point I draw the attention of the readers to the Hadith of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), where he explains the characteristics of the donkey of Dajjal. He said that Dajjal would make an appearance on a white donkey whose two ears would be 30 yards apart and between whose legs there was to be a distance of a day and a night’s journey. He was to travel on water as well as land was to eat fire and leave clouds of smoke in front of it as well as behind it when it travelled in the land or sea. (Kanz ul Ummal). Today after seeing the trains and aeroplanes and other means of transport we know what Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was referring to. However, at that time when he explained to his companions about the means of transportation that the Dajjal would have, he had to use the vocabulary that people of that time could understand. Similarly when in the Qur’an, Allah talks about the rewards in the hereafter, He uses words and examples which we can appreciate. Thus when Allah talks about gardens, the gardens are spiritual gardens and the reward of the soul will be eternal peace and pleasure and love of the Almighty.

There will be glorification of Allah Almighty in Paradise by the faithful (10:11). There will be stages in the Paradise and it appears that after entering Paradise, the believers will seek Maghfirah i.e. suppression of defects (66:9). They will be continually praying to God for the attainment of perfection and complete immersion in Divine Light and will be continually travelling upwards, regarding each state as defective in comparison with the higher one to which they will aspire, and will therefore pray to God to suppress the defective state that they may be able to get to the higher one. This is the true significance of Istighfar of which the literal meaning is, `asking forgiveness for one’s lapses’.

Thus the never-ceasing desire for perfection on the part of believers in Paradise is expressed in verse: `Our Lord perfect our light for us’ (66:9). This shows that life in Paradise will not be one of inaction. On the contrary, spiritual advance in Paradise will know no end, for as the believer attains excellence characteristics of a certain stage, they will not stop at that, but seeing before him a higher stage of excellence and finding that the stage at which they previously arrived was not the highest stage will proceed further, and so on without end. In spite of all this, however, believers will feel none of the fatigue which is the inevitable result of hard work and there will also be no waste or decay which are the results of fatigue (15:49).

I pray to Allah Almighty that this short article provides some arguments to the satisfaction of the searching souls and serves the purpose it was written for.