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Chapter 6: The Nearer Life (al-dunya) and the Afterlife (Al-Akhira)

In addition to monotheism, a constant theme discussed in the Qur’an is about the two phases of human life; life in this world and the life that starts after death. The worldly life has been referred to as al-Dunya (the nearer or ordinary life), and the life after death is called al-Akhira (the later life or the afterlife). They represent two stages or degrees of human existence inseparable from each other - one transient and changing, the other permanent and constant; one representing the sphere of actions, and the other the sphere of results.

Our understanding of the universe and our role in it is incomprehensible without knowing about these two stages of life; a knowledge which has come primarily from the revealed sciences.

1. The Nearer Life (Hayat al-Dunya)

The Qur’an uses the term al-dunya for life on this earth. The word dunya means “nearer” or “something less important or ordinary.” In multiple places, the Qur’an comments on the real nature of life on earth and warns us about its true disposition. It has been described as something of a transient nature, a place of transit, test and trials, and actions. It is also a place for learning, spiritual development and growth. What one achieves here is manifested during the next phase of existence which is a constant, higher and more permanent phase of existence:

وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا لَعِبٌ وَلَهْوٌ

And what is the life of this world other than play and amusement? (Qur’an, Surah al-Anʿam, 6:32).

The Qur’an describes the life in this world as only a play and amusement, something which is not “real” in comparison to the life after death. In this life, one goes through different roles and situations; an idea that also resonates in Shakespeare’s play As You Like It

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.

The duration and time span that a person spends in this world has also been described as short and brief. Each person who is alive today will be overtaken by death tomorrow. When one looks back at the time that one spent in this world, even if forty years may have passed, it appears as if it was only yesterday that he/she was a child.

The Qur’an highlights this by saying that when people go into the next world, and they are asked how much time they spent in this world, they will respond by saying only a little. We understand in the light of physics that time is relative to the frame of reference of the observer - it changes as the frame of reference changes. (See Chapter 13 in this book).

قَالَ كَمْ لَبِثْتُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ عَدَدَ سِنِينَ قَالُوا لَبِثْنَا يَوْمًا أَوْ بَعْضَ يَوْمٍ فَاسْأَلِ الْعَادِّينَ قَالَ إِنْ لَبِثْتُمْ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا لَوْ أَنَّكُمْ كُنْتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ أَفَحَسِبْتُمْ أَنَّمَا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ عَبَثًا وَأَنَّكُمْ إِلَيْنَا لَا تُرْجَعُونَ

(God) says: For how many years did you stay on earth? They reply: We stayed for a day or part of a day. Ask of those who are able to keep count of this. Says He (God): You stayed but for a short while, if only you had known (how short it was to be and acted accordingly)! Or did you think that We created you in vain, and that you should devote all your time to play and entertainment, and that you would not be brought back to Us? (Qur’an, Surah al-Mu’minun, 23:112-115).

The Qur’an also describes life on earth as a life of illusion and deception, where the reality is hidden and the truth often gets obscured by falsehood. Things are often not how they appear to be; and we often have to experience betrayal of trust and treachery. People occupy themselves chasing ordinary desires and mediocre things, and are forgetful of their real purpose and goal during this life:

وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ

(Know that) the present, worldly life is nothing but a transient enjoyment of delusion. (Qur’an, Surah Ale ʿImran, 3:185).

وَذَرِ الَّذِينَ اتَّخَذُوا دِينَهُمْ لَعِبًا وَلَهْوًا وَغَرَّتْهُمُ الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا

And leave those who have taken their religion for a play and an idle sport, and whom this world’s life has deceived. (Qur’an, Surah al-Anʿam, 6:70).

In our day to day life there is intense struggle and competition for accumulating wealth, power and position. There is a desire to dominate others and stand out in terms of material possessions, family and prestige. Morals and good actions are valued less whereas money, children, fame and power are given a lot more importance:

الْمَالُ وَالْبَنُونَ زِينَةُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَالْبَاقِيَاتُ الصَّالِحَاتُ خَيْرٌ عِنْدَ رَبِّكَ ثَوَابًا وَخَيْرٌ أَمَلًا

Wealth and children are an adornment of the present, worldly life, but the good, righteous deeds (based on faith and) which endure are better in the sight of your Lord in bringing reward and better to aspire for. (Qur’an, Surah al-Kahf, 18:46).

There is also uncertainty, ups and downs, and overnight changes in fortune and situations. One may be very well placed in life, financially secure, have family, fame, in full control of their situation - but then something like an illness or loss in business, or some other type of calamity occus and things change drastically:

إِنَّمَا مَثَلُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا كَمَاءٍ أَنْزَلْنَاهُ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ فَاخْتَلَطَ بِهِ نَبَاتُ الْأَرْضِ مِمَّا يَأْكُلُ النَّاسُ وَالْأَنْعَامُ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا أَخَذَتِ الْأَرْضُ زُخْرُفَهَا وَازَّيَّنَتْ وَظَنَّ أَهْلُهَا أَنَّهُمْ قَادِرُونَ عَلَيْهَا أَتَاهَا أَمْرُنَا لَيْلًا أَوْ نَهَارًا فَجَعَلْنَاهَا حَصِيدًا كَأَنْ لَمْ تَغْنَ بِالْأَمْسِ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ نُفَصِّلُ الْآيَاتِ لِقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ

The present, worldly life is like this: We send down water from the sky, and the earth’s vegetation, of which humans and animals eat, mingles with it, until, when the earth has taken on her ornaments and has been embellished, and its inhabitants suppose that they are its masters with a free hand over the earth, Our command comes upon it by night or day unexpectedly, and We cause it to become like a field mown down, as if it had not flourished the previous day. Thus We set out in detail the signs (the signposts of Our way and the relevant commands and guidance included in the Qur’an) for a people who reflect (on them and draw the necessary lesson). (Qur’an, Surah Yunus, 10:24).

After reflecting on these ayat of the Qur’an, one cannot help but agree with them as we really do compete with each other in terms of material possessions and we try to dominate one another. There is also a tremendous amount of deception and illusion as often things are not how they appear to be, and one can easily make mistakes which can have deleterious consequences.

Another important feature of this life’s material possessions is how quickly they lose their appeal. Let us take an example of our favorite food. Initially we will crave it and want it every day. But if we actually continue to eat it every single day then within a few days it will no longer appeal to us and after a while we may actually not even want it. The same is the case with most material possessions and temporal positions. Whether it is a new car, a new job, a new phone or a new video game, after a while we get used to that thing and start considering it as mundane. This points towards our inherent nature which craves perfection, and is seeking something everlasting - and this world and what it contains is unable to fulfil that need. Those with spiritual insight and clear knowledge of the life to come, regard this world as ordinary and are not possessed by its embellishments.

Imam ʿAli (‘a) has said:

In my view this world of yours is no better than the sneezing of a goat.1

In Nahj al-Balagha, Imam ʿAli (‘a) constantly warns us about the perils of this world and gives advice on how to navigate through it. In one sermon, he says:

O creatures of God! I advise you to keep away from this world which is (soon) to leave you even though you do not like its departure, and which will make your bodies old even though you would like to keep them fresh. Your example and its example is like the travelers who travel some distance and then as though they traverse it quickly or they aimed at a sign and reached it at once. How short is the distance to aim if one heads towards it and reaches it; and how short is the stage of one who has only a day which he cannot exceed, while a swift driver is driving him in this world until he departs from it.

So do not hanker after worldly honor and its pride, and do not feel happy over its beauties and bounties, nor wail over its damages and misfortunates because its honor and pride will end, while its beauty and bounty would perish, and its damages and misfortunes will pass away. Every period in it has an end and every living being in it will die. Is not there for you a warning in the relics of the predecessors and an eye opener and lesson in your fore-fathers, provided that you understand?

Do you not see that your predecessors do not come back, and the surviving followers do not remain? Do you not observe that the people of this world pass mornings and evenings in different conditions? Thus (somewhere) a dead is wept for, someone is being condoled, someone is prostate in distress, someone in enquiring about a sick, someone is passing his last breath, someone is hankering after the world, while death is looking for him, someone is forgetful but he is not forgotten (by death), and on the footsteps of the predecessors walk the survivors.2

He further says about the present abode of existence:

This is a house surrounded by calamities and well-known for its deceitfulness. Its conditions do not last and those who inhabit it do not remain safe. Its conditions are variable and its ways are changing. Life in it is blameworthy and safety in it is non-existent. Yet its people are targets; it strikes them with its arrows and destroys them through death.3

He further warns, and wants us to prepare for the life that is coming:

O creatures of God! Fear God and anticipate your death by good actions. Purchase everlasting joy by paying transitory things - pleasures of this world. Get ready for the journey, for you are being driven, and prepare yourself for death since it is hovering over you. Be people who wake up when called, and who know that this world is not their abode, and have it changed with (next).

Certainly, God has not created you aimlessly nor left you as useless. There is nothing between anyone of you and Paradise or Hell except death that must befall everyone. The life that is being shortened every moment, and being dismantled every hour must be regarded as very short. The hidden thing namely death which is being driven (to you) by two - over (every) new phenomenon, the day and the night, is certainly quick to approach. The traveler who is approaching with success or failure (namely death) deserves the best of provision. So acquire such provisions from this world while you are here with that which you may shield yourself tomorrow (on the Day of Judgement).4

Now avoidance or cautionary approach to the world and its embellishments does not mean that the Qur’an or the Imams are advocating a monastic life in which one lives away from society, is aloof from people and does not take part in social transactions, business, learning, explorations and entrepreneurship. On the contrary exploration of nature and social interaction is one of the often repeated messages of the Qur’an.

What is being cautioned against is to not take this world as a permanent and everlasting place, its success and failure as absolute and being cautious about the perils that inherently exist in it (e.g. the thorns that exist within its attractive rose flowers).

لِكَيْلَا تَأْسَوْا عَلَىٰ مَا فَاتَكُمْ وَلَا تَفْرَحُوا بِمَا آتَاكُمْ ۗ وَاللّٰهُ لَا يُحِبُّ كُلَّ مُخْتَالٍ فَخُورٍ

So that you may not grieve for what has escaped you, nor exult because of what God has granted you: God does not love anyone proud and boastful. (Qur’an, Surah al-Hadid, 57:23).

This approach will keep our feet stable during the ups and downs of this life, and allow us to maintain our focus on what is to come, which is everlasting and permanent and for which we are asked to work for, i.e the life of the hereafter.

In regards to this life and that of the world to come, Imam Husayn (‘a) has been quoted as saying:

It is as if the world never was, and it is as if the hereafter has never declined (has always been).5

2. The After Life (al-Akhira)

In the Qur’an, the life that comes after this worldly life has been described as the real life, a life for which our intentions and efforts here should really be focused on”

وَمَا هَٰذِهِ الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا لَهْوٌ وَلَعِبٌ ۚ وَإِنَّ الدَّارَ الْآخِرَةَ لَهِيَ الْحَيَوَانُ ۚ لَوْ كَانُوا يَعْلَمُونَ

The present, worldly life is nothing but a pastime and play, but the abode of the Hereafter is truly alive. If they but knew. (Qur’an, Surah al-ʿAnkabut, 29:64).

These two phases of life (al-dunya and al-akhira) are linked and inseparable from one other. The hereafter represents another dimension of existence which is more real, vivid and long lasting. In terms of graded realities of existence, it is a higher level than the current phase of existence which we find ourselves in. What our experiences will be in that dimension are dependent on what we believed to be true in this life, what actions we have performed and what our intentions have been. It is as if we are building our own hereafter literally with our own hands.

Now some may wonder where is the hereafter, and why do we not experience it right now?

An analogy that can help explain the comparison between the two worlds - i.e. life on this earth and the hereafter is that of a fetus growing inside of its mother’s womb, and then the life outside of the womb after birth.

Inside of the mother’s womb the life of a fetus is confined and sensory experience and knowledge are limited. If someone was to tell the fetus that there is a large, spacious world outside of the mother’s womb with all sorts of activities, people, food, pleasures and sightseeing, it will be very hard for the fetus to imagine this as they would have no context of what we are telling them.

In the same way, the life after death or the hereafter - in terms of its vastness and expanse and what lies there - is beyond what we have seen or what we can ever even imagine:

يَعْلَمُونَ ظَاهِرًا مِنَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَهُمْ عَنِ الْآخِرَةِ هُمْ غَافِلُونَ

They only know (what reaches to their senses from) the outward aspect of the life of this world, but they are heedless and unaware of (what lies beyond it and) the Hereafter. (Qur’an, Surah al-Rum, 30:7).

يَا قَوْمِ إِنَّمَا هَٰذِهِ الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا مَتَاعٌ وَإِنَّ الْآخِرَةَ هِيَ دَارُ الْقَرَارِ

O my people! The life of this world is but a (passing) enjoyment, while the Hereafter – that is indeed the home of permanence. (Qur’an, Surah al-Mu’min, 40:39).

3. Death (al-Mawt)

The most certain thing in the life of an individual is death. Anyone who was alive previously experienced death and anyone who is alive now will certainly die as well:

كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَائِقَةُ الْمَوْتِ

Every soul shall taste of death. (Qur’an, Surah Ale ʿImran, 3:185).

In fact, an examination of nature around us also points towards the decline and death in all that exists - whether it is a plant or an animal, a celestial object like a star or a galaxy - even the entire universe is not expected to last forever. It is in the nature of existence around us to perish and not last forever which makes it distinct from God who never dies:

نَحْنُ قَدَّرْنَا بَيْنَكُمُ الْمَوْتَ وَمَا نَحْنُ بِمَسْبُوقِينَ

It is also We (God) who decree death among you – and We (God) cannot be overcome. (Qur’an, Surah al-Waqiʿah, 56:60).

Death is a great equalizer, no one whether strong or weak, rich or poor, a person who is good or bad can escape it. It will get to all of us. But death does not mean an end, destruction or annihilation, like a cell phone whose battery has run out and is considered “dead.” In fact, death represents a new beginning, a transfer from this phase of existence to the next.

According to philosophy of trans-substantial motion by Mulla Sadra (to be discussed in detail later on in this book in chapter 14), in the beginning, our soul (Arabic: al-nafs) is more corporeal and physical in its nature, and through motion in its substance it gradually becomes more spiritual and less corporeal. This process continues throughout life resulting in gradual perfection of the soul and its independence from the body. As the soul becomes more independent from the body, the body begins to decline and starts showing signs of old age. When the soul has become completely independent from the body, then natural death occurs i.e. separation of the connection between the body and the soul.

Death is a separation of that last connection between the body and the soul which was already getting weaker due to gradual perfection of the soul.

A parable of death is the ripening of a fruit and its separation from the tree stalk. Once the fruit is fully mature and ripe, it can no longer stay on the tree. Similarly, once a soul is perfected in its independence from the body and the decree for its separation has arrived, it must leave the body resulting in death. Death due to illness or injury also results in separation of the body and soul and is different from natural death.

When describing death, Imam ʿAli (‘a) has stated:

Death is inscribed on the offspring of Adam just like a necklace hangs on a young girl’s neck.6

4. Intermediate Realm (al-Barzakh)

After death, the soul moves to a new realm of existence called the “barzakh” which is a higher realm of existence compared to this physical realm.

حَتَّىٰ إِذَا جَاءَ أَحَدَهُمُ الْمَوْتُ قَالَ رَبِّ ارْجِعُونِ لَعَلِّي أَعْمَلُ صَالِحًا فِيمَا تَرَكْتُ ۚ كَلَّا ۚ إِنَّهَا كَلِمَةٌ هُوَ قَائِلُهَا ۖ وَمِنْ وَرَائِهِمْ بَرْزَخٌ إِلَىٰ يَوْمِ يُبْعَثُونَ

(Those who persist in their evil ways will not cease from their false attributions to God, and from their harsh reaction to you) until when death comes to one of them, and then he implores: My Lord! Please, let me return to life, that I may act righteously with respect to whatever I have left undone in the world. No, never! It is merely a word that he utters over and over again. Before those (who are dead) is an intermediate world (of the grave, where they will stay) until the Day when they will be raised up. (Qur’an, Surah al-Mu’minun, 23:99-100).

The soul stays in this realm until the “Day of Reckoning” when all of the souls will be gathered.

During its stay in barzakh, the soul maintains interest and attention towards the physical realm of existence in which we currently exist. The duration of this stay is related to the soul’s attachment to the physical realm of existence. The stronger the soul’s connection and attachment is to the physical world, the longer the stay in barzakh will be.7

Once the soul has moved to barzakh, the perception and vision of the soul is enhanced manifold as it severs its connection with the physical world. So death does not result in diminishment and annihilation, but on the contrary to enhancement and permanence:

لَقَدْ كُنْتَ فِي غَفْلَةٍ مِنْ هَٰذَا فَكَشَفْنَا عَنْكَ غِطَاءَكَ فَبَصَرُكَ الْيَوْمَ حَدِيدٌ

Indeed you were in heedlessness of this, and now We have removed from you your veil, so your sight today is sharp. (Qur’an, Surah Qaf, 50:22).

The experience of every soul in barzakh is related to its belief and actions during life on earth. If the soul is of a righteous individual, then it experiences will be of comfort and ease whereas if the soul is that of a wretched individual, then the perception will be that of fear and pain.

One may question how do we know if it is true that after death the soul leaves the body and enters another realm of existence or not? Do we have any proof besides the revealed sciences? Also can some individuals experience the life of barzakh while still alive in this world?

The answer to these questions is that we all have experienced the life of barzakh to some extent while living in this world. When we fall asleep the soul partially departs from the body and enters into a realm of barzakh temporarily, in which we perceive visions, visit places and meet individuals, hold conversations, experience emotions such as pleasure and fear - all along while our bodies remain confined to our beds:

اللّٰهُ يَتَوَفَّى الْأَنْفُسَ حِينَ مَوْتِهَا وَالَّتِي لَمْ تَمُتْ فِي مَنَامِهَا فَيُمْسِكُ الَّتِي قَضَىٰ عَلَيْهَا الْمَوْتَ وَيُرْسِلُ الْأُخْرَىٰ إِلَىٰ أَجَلٍ مُسَمًّى ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ

God takes the souls at the time of the death of (the person), and in their sleep those (of the ones) that have not died. He withholds (the souls of) those for whom He has decreed death, and the rest He sends back (to their bodies to live on) for a term appointed by Him. Surely in that are signs (important lessons) for people who reflect and are mindful. (Qur’an, Surah al-Zumar, 39:42).

The reason a soul can have these meta-physical experiences during sleep is due to its lack of attention and attachment with the physical body white it is sleeping. The same phenomenon is repeated at the time of death when the soul completely and permanently leaves the body where as during sleep the departure is partial and for the duration of sleep. Sleep is like mini-death.

Those individuals with enhanced spirituality like the prophets and saints can have “visions“ and “spiritual experiences“ in which they can witness the reality of barzakh while alive and awake. Due to spiritual practices and less attachment towards the physical realm, their “eyes” towards barzakh are turned open and they witness realities which others can not.

Similarly, the Near Death Experience (NDE) is a well described phenomenon reported in medical literature, in which up to 18% of patients who were revived after undergoing cardiac arrest report having an Out of Body Experience (OBE). During these episodes, individuals reported witnessing their own body being resuscitated, meeting dead relatives, perceiving intense light and having joyful or fearful emotions.8 The experience of these individuals was quite vivid which left a lasting impression on them.

The “physics” of the hereafter will be different from the “physics” of this world. The concept of space, time and motion will be different. Travelling may not require the use of automobiles and can be instantaneous. Communication may not require use of speech, and ideas may be exchanged by transmitting thoughts alone. Surroundings like walls, trees and plants will appear conscious as well. Knowledge about something will be acquired by just paying attention to it. The intention and desire of wanting something will be sufficient for its availability without a need for a pre-requisite or a cause. Our consciousness and degree of existence will be much higher than what we experience during this material existence. Deep thinking on our experience during vivid dreams will help us to understand what our experiences may be like in the hereafter.

5. Resurrection (al-Qiyamah)

The life in barzakh will lead everyone to the most important event in our journey, which has been mentioned multiple times in the Qur’an with different names. It is called the Day of Qiyamah, the Day of Gathering or the Day of Reckoning. On this day, every soul from the beginning of time until the end will be gathered to receive judgement on what it did, or achieved during its stay in the physical ream of existence:

اللّٰهُ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ لَيَجْمَعَنَّكُمْ إِلَىٰ يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ لَا رَيْبَ فِيهِ ۗ وَمَنْ أَصْدَقُ مِنَ اللّٰهِ حَدِيثًا

God, there is no deity but He. He will gather you all together on the Day of Resurrection, about (the coming of) which there is no doubt. Who can be truer in statement than God? (Qur’an, Surah al-Nisa’, 4:87).

The entire setup on the Day of Judgement will be different from the current set up of the world. The stars and galaxies, the mountains and seas will all be replaced by something new and different. Everything will go through a process of death and then resurrection:

إِذَا الشَّمْسُ كُوِّرَتْ وَإِذَا النُّجُومُ انْكَدَرَتْ وَإِذَا الْجِبَالُ سُيِّرَتْ وَإِذَا الْعِشَارُ عُطِّلَتْ وَإِذَا الْوُحُوشُ حُشِرَتْ وَإِذَا الْبِحَارُ سُجِّرَتْ وَإِذَا النُّفُوسُ زُوِّجَتْ وَإِذَا الْمَوْءُودَةُ سُئِلَتْ بِأَيِّ ذَنْبٍ قُتِلَتْ وَإِذَا الصُّحُفُ نُشِرَتْ وَإِذَا السَّمَاءُ كُشِطَتْ وَإِذَا الْجَحِيمُ سُعِّرَتْ وَإِذَا الْـجـَنَّةُ أُزْلِفَتْ عَــلِمَتْ نَفْسٌ مَا أَحْضَرَتْ

When the sun is folded up (and darkened); and when the stars fall (losing their luster); and when the mountains are set moving; and when (highly prized) pregnant camels are left untended; and when the wild beasts (as also the domesticated ones) go forth from their places of rest (in terror of the destruction of the world, and then, following their revival, are gathered together before God, for the settlement of their accounts); and when the seas rise up boiling; and when the souls are coupled (the righteous men with pure, righteous spouses, and the evil ones with their evil spouses and with devilish companions); and when the female infant, buried alive, is questioned, for what crime she was killed; and when the scrolls (of the deeds of every person) are laid open; and when the heaven is torn away (with all the truths becoming manifest); and when the blazing flame is kindled (to fierce heat); and when paradise is brought near (for the God-revering, pious to enter); every person will (then) come to know what he has prepared (for himself). (Qur’an, Surah al-Takwir, 81:1-14).

Such will be the horror and anxiety on that Day, that no one will have any concern for anyone except their own self. People will not even worry about their own children or their spouses:

فَإِذَا جَاءَتِ الصَّاخَّةُ 33 يَوْمَ يَفِرُّ الْمَرْءُ مِنْ أَخِيهِ وَأُمِّهِ وَأَبِيهِ وَصَاحِبَتِهِ وَبَنِيهِ لِكُلِّ امْرِئٍ مِنْهُمْ يَوْمَئِذٍ شَأْنٌ يُغْنِيهِ

But when the piercing cry (heralding the resurrection) sounds; On that Day when a person flees from his brother, and from his mother and father, and from his spouse and his children; everyone on that Day has concern of his own enough to make him heedless (of anything else). (Qur’an, Surah al-ʿAbasa, 80:33-37).

This is a day of the manifestation of God’s authority in full display and no one will be allowed to even speak except by His permission. This is a day for secrets and hidden realities to emerge, actions that were performed in desolate places, and in the darkness of the night will no longer be hidden, and even their true intentions will be made manifest:

يَوْمَ تُبْلَى السَّرَائِرُ

On the day when hidden things shall be made manifest. (Qur’an, Surah al-Tariq, 86:9).

The disputes and the ideological differences that we quarrel about, and the personal conflicts that remained unresolved will now be settled:

فَاللّٰهُ يَحْكُمُ بَيْنَكُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ

So God will judge between you all on the Day of Resurrection. (Qur’an, Surah al-Nisa’, 4:141).

This is also a day of intense regret and disappointment, as well as of real success and victory. There is no escape from it nor respite:

وَأَنْذِرْهُمْ يَــوْمَ الْـحَسْرَةِ إِذْ قُضِيَ الْأَمْرُ وَهُمْ فِي غَـفْلَةٍ وَهُمْ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ

And warn them about the day of intense regret, when the matter shall have been decided; and they are (now) in negligence and they do not believe. (Qur’an, Surah Maryam, 19:39).

The calamity of the Day of Judgement is so intense that a person will be willing to give up everything that they held so dear in this life just to save themselves. They will realize that this is it, there is no turning back from here and one must face and live the consequences of what they had done to themselves and to others:

يُبَصَّرُونَهُمْ يَوَدُّ الْمُجْرِمُ لَوْ يَفْتَدِي مِنْ عَذَابِ يَوْمِئِذٍ بِبَنِيهِ وَصَاحِبَتِهِ وَأَخِيهِ وَفَصِيلَتِهِ الَّتِي تُؤْوِيهِ وَمَنْ فِي الْأَرْضِ جَمِيعًا ثُمَّ يُنْجِيهِ

Though they will be in sight of each other. Every disbelieving criminal will yearn to ransom himself from the punishment of that Day even by his sons, and his wife and his brother, and all his kinsfolk who sheltered him, and whoever else is on the earth, all of them, so that he might then save himself. (Qur’an, Surah al-Maʿarij, 70:11-14).

This is also the day of special mercy of God through intercession of His select beings for those who are in need of it:

مَنْ ذَا الَّذِي يَشْفَعُ عِنْدَهُ إِلَّا بِإِذْنِهِ

Who is he that can intercede with Him but by His permission? (Qur’an, Surah al-Baqarah, 2:255).

The Day of Judgement is the final culminating point of our efforts, and of finding out how we did with our lives. It is a day when things will appear as they truly are without any veil or a doubt about their reality.

Some will be extremely happy and pleased with their efforts; and others will be deeply sorrowful and regret their actions. However one thing is certain - no one will be wronged in the least bit as each soul will find out exactly what it has earned.

6. The Book of Deeds

On the Day of Judgement each one of us will be given our “book of deeds” detailing all that we had done during our lives. This book of deeds is not necessarily an actual “book” but the appearance of our soul shaped by our actions and intentions. Let us look at some examples to better understand this point.

When we do something, that action leaves an impression on our souls. If we continue to do this action repeatedly then a permanent impression will be made on our souls, sort of our habit or our nature.

For example, a person gives some money to help the needy. Then he repeats this action multiple times in different circumstances until it becomes his second nature or habit to help those in need. His soul thus acquires the quality of generosity.

وَلْتَنْظُرْ نَفْسٌ مَا قَدَّمَتْ لِغَدٍ

And let every soul consider what it has sent on for tomorrow… (Qur’an, Surah al-Hadid, 57:18).

Similarly, a person lies and cheats someone at an occasion; then he lies and cheats repeatedly with different individuals for his own advantage. Now, lying and cheating have become his habit or second nature and he will have to face the consequences of this evil habit.

Sometimes we do bad actions, such as hurting someone, and we can get away with it without facing any immediate consequences for it. However, this action is recorded on our soul and there is no escaping from it on the Day of Judgement, unless we make corrections and are regretful of our bad actions:

وَوُضِعَ الْكِتَابُ فَتَرَى الْمُجْرِمِينَ مُشْفِقِينَ مِمَّا فِيهِ وَيَقُولُونَ يَا وَيْلَتَنَا مَالِ هَٰذَا الْكِتَابِ لَا يُغَادِرُ صَغِيرَةً وَلَا كَبِيرَةً إِلَّا أَحْصَاهَا ۚ وَوَجَدُوا مَا عَمِلُوا حَاضِرًا ۗ وَلَا يَظْلِمُ رَبُّكَ أَحَدًا

And the record (of everyone’s deeds) is set in place; and you will see the disbelieving criminals filled with dread because of what is in it, and they will say: Alas, woe is ours! What is this record? It leaves out nothing, be it small or great, but it is accounted! They have found all that they did confronting them (in the forms thereof particular to the Hereafter). And Your Lord wrongs no one. (Qur’an, Surah al-Kahf, 18:49).

Besides our actions, even our beliefs and intentions are of utmost importance as well. For example, a person may be doing acts of charity and appears to be generous, but his intention is really seeking popularity and respect in the community, not necessarily helping the needy.

As each of us act with a particular intention, we start to make impressions upon our souls. Some actions are done repeatedly which leave a lasting impression on our souls, while others are done occasionally which have a lesser impact. Sometimes we regret after performing an action and try not to repeat it again. At other times, we do not care and continue to do so despite knowing that it is against societal moral norms. However the true calamity and horror of the Day of Judgement is this very inseparability of our actions from us:

إِنَّا أَنْذَرْنَاكُمْ عَذَابًا قَرِيبًا يَوْمَ يَنْظُرُ الْمَرْءُ مَا قَدَّمَتْ يَدَاهُ وَيَقُولُ الْكَافِرُ يَا لَيْتَنِي كُنْتُ تُرَابًا

We have surely warned you against a punishment near at hand. On that Day a person will look at what he has forwarded (from the world) with his own hands, and the unbeliever will say: Oh, would that I were mere dust (instead of being a responsible being with consciousness and free will)! (Qur’an, Surah al-Naba’, 78:40).

In the end, each one of us has done millions of actions throughout our lives. Each of these actions leave an impression on our soul, some make our soul brighter and luminous, while others make it darker and dull. In the end our soul becomes a product of what we have done throughout our lives.

Thus, this “book of deeds” which will be ‘brought forth’ on the Day of Judgement is the appearance of our own soul which is a product of our intentions and actions. (Good actions of those who do not believe in God will be discussed in chapter 15).

7. Paradise (al-Jannah)

The monotheistic teachings of Judaism, Christianity and Islam talk about an abode in the hereafter which is a place of tranquility, peace, abundance and pleasure. Dwellers of paradise will live forever in comfort and ease, and not face any danger or harm:

لِلَّذِينَ أَحْسَنُوا فِي هَٰذِهِ الدُّنْيَا حَسَنَةٌ وَلَدَارُ الْآخِرَةِ خَيْرٌ وَلَنِعْمَ دَارُ الْمُتَّقِينَ جَنَّاتُ عَدْنٍ يَدْخُلُونَهَا تَجْرِي مِنْ تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ لَهُمْ فِيهَا مَا يَشَاءُونَ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ يَجْزِي اللّٰهُ الْمُتَّقِينَ الَّذِينَ تَتَوَفَّاهُمُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ طَيِّبِينَ ۙ يَقُولُونَ سَلَامٌ عَلَيْكُمُ ادْخُلُوا الْجَنَّةَ بِمَا كُنْتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ

Whereas it is said to those who keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and piety: What is it that your Lord sends down (on the Messenger)? They answer: That which is purely good and to our benefit (in both worlds). For those devoted to doing good in this world, aware that God is seeing them, there is good, and the abode of the Hereafter is indeed better. How excellent indeed, is the abode of the God-revering, pious! Gardens of perpetual bliss which they will enter, through which rivers flow. Therein they will have whatever they may desire. Thus does God reward the God-revering, pious – Those whose souls the angels take while they are in a pious state (free of evil, and worshipping none but God alone), saying: Peace be upon you! Enter Paradise for what you have been doing. (Qur’an, Surah al-Nahl, 16:30-32).

The Qur’an is quite explicit about the abode of paradise in the hereafter for those who believe, do good and avoid evil actions. It gives vivid imagery of paradise and the various comforts, pleasures and honors that are bestowed on those who enter it. This is the reward for an individual, after leading a disciplined life in this world, facing its hardships and tests with forbearance and patience, and protecting their soul from moral corruption and bad habits:

عَلَىٰ سُرُرٍ مَوْضُونَةٍ مُتَّكِئِينَ عَلَيْهَا مُتَقَابِلِينَ يَطُوفُ عَلَيْهِمْ وِلْدَانٌ مُخَلَّدُونَ بِأَكْوَابٍ وَأَبَارِيقَ وَكَأْسٍ مِنْ مَعِينٍ لَا يُصَدَّعُونَ عَنْهَا وَلَا يُنْزِفُونَ وَفَاكِهَةٍ مِمَّا يَتَخَيَّرُونَ وَلَحْمِ طَيْرٍ مِمَّا يَشْتَهُونَ وَحُورٌ عِينٌ كَأَمْثَالِ اللُّؤْلُؤِ الْمَكْنُونِ جَزَاءً بِمَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ لَا يَسْمَعُونَ فِيهَا لَغْوًا وَلَا تَأْثِيمًا إِلَّا قِيلًا سَلَامًا سَلَامًا

(They will be seated) on lined thrones (encrusted with gold and precious stones), reclining upon them, facing one another. There will go round them immortal youths, with goblets, and ewers, and a cup from a clear-flowing spring, from which no aching of the head ensues, nor intoxication of the mind; and with fruits such as they choose, and with the flesh of fowls such as they desire; and (there will be) pure maidens, most beautiful of eye, like pearls kept hidden (in their shells). A reward for all (the good) that they used to do. They will hear there neither vain talk nor accusing speech; (they will hear) only speech (wishing) peace and security after peace and security. (Qur’an, Surah al-Waqiʿah, 56:15-26).

The rewards and blessings of paradise are nothing but the embodiment of our good actions in this world. What our soul experiences in the next world is a direct result of what it has done in this world. The actions of this world and the experiences of the next world are directly linked to one another. They are two aspects of the same reality.

When we help others, are kind and courteous to them, remove hardships from them, avoid unnecessary temptations and cultivate Divine manners in ourselves, then our soul immediately feels an ease, joy and bliss. With repeated actions this becomes our second nature and paradise is nothing but a manifestation of what the soul has already acquired for itself. The righteous souls during meditation and prayer, and while helping others feel spiritual ecstasy and comfort. It is as if they are already in paradise at that moment, and in the hereafter they will witness manifestation of the spiritual station that their souls have already achieved.

Besides the comfort and ease of paradise, there is still more for those who are sincere in their belief of monotheism. These individuals do not act for the sake of paradise, nor out of fear for hellfire, but they purely act for the pleasure and company of their true beloved – meaning God. They seek the Beloved and not His reward:

وَيُطْعِمُونَ الطَّعَامَ عَلَىٰ حُبِّهِ مِسْكِينًا وَيَتِيمًا وَأَسِيرًا إِنَّمَا نُطْعِمُكُمْ لِوَجْهِ اللّٰهِ لَا نُرِيدُ مِنْكُمْ جَزَاءً وَلَا شُكُورًا

They give food, however great be their need for it, with pleasure to the destitute, and to the orphan, and to the captive, (saying): We feed you only for God’s sake; we desire from you neither recompense nor thanks (we desire only the acceptance of God). (Qur’an, Surah al-Insan, 76:8-9).

The pleasure and approval of God is higher for them than what is available in the paradise:

وَعَدَ اللّٰهُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ جَنَّاتٍ تَجْرِي مِنْ تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا وَمَسَاكِنَ طَيِّبَةً فِي جَنَّاتِ عَدْنٍ ۚ وَرِضْوَانٌ مِنَ اللّٰهِ أَكْبَرُ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ هُوَ الْفَوْزُ الْعَظِيمُ

God has promised the believers, both men and women, Gardens through which rivers flow, therein to abide, and blessed dwellings in Gardens of perpetual bliss; and greater (than those) is God’s being pleased with them. That indeed is the supreme triumph. (Qur’an, Surah al-Tawbah, 9:72).

The closeness to God and witnessing His beauty and majesty is higher than the pleasures and comfort of paradise itself:

إِنَّ الْمُــتَّقِينَ فِي جَنَّاتٍ وَنَهَرٍ فِي مَــقْعَدِ صِدْقٍ عِنْدَ مَلِيكٍ مُقْتَدِرٍ

And the God-revering, pious ones will be in Gardens and by rivers; In the assembly of honor composed of the loyal and truthful in the Presence of the One All-Omnipotent Sovereign. (Qur’an, Surah al-Qamar, 54:54-55).

8. Hell (al-Jahannam)

The second abode of the hereafter that is repeatedly mentioned in the literature of monotheistic religions is called hell or jahannam (in Arabic, this word means a deep pit). It is the abode for the guilty. Those who were oppressive to others as well as to their own souls.

Just as the physical body can suffer from multiple illnesses, our souls can also have many diseases. The most important of these are: arrogance, greed and jealousy.

One of the main goals of following a religion or spiritual code of life is to purify the soul from these illnesses. It is not an easy task to overcome these illnesses and many of us including those that follow a religion fail to do it properly.

Based on the teachings of Islamic ethics, our soul has a few basic faculties which help guide our behavior. They are:

a. ʿAql (Faculty of Intellect)

b. Shahwa (Faculty of Passion)

c. Ghadhab (Faculty of Anger)

d. Wahm (Faculty of Imagination)

The faculty of intellect has the power of reason and rational inquiry and is attracted towards knowledge and finding out the real nature of things. It controls and regulates the other faculties; and it differentiates us and our behaviors from animalistic behaviors.

The faculty of passion helps us acquire things which we think are useful for us. This power generates the desire to eat, drink, have sexual relations, and acquire wealth and possessions.

The faculty of anger helps us to generate a repulsive response to things which we find harmful for us, and it also generates a desire to dominate others.

The faculty of imagination helps us to acquire universal and particular concepts, as well as plan and scheme our affairs.

These powers of the soul are not bad or evil in themselves but in fact are necessary for our existence in this life. But for optimal behavior they need to remain under the control of our intellect. However, when these faculties dominate our intellect, then we demonstrate behavior which crosses societal and moral norms and we can end up oppressing ourselves and others.

Hell and its torments and sufferings are not a revenge from God for disobeying His commands, but it is a natural outcome of our own actions and beliefs. When we abuse the faculties of passion, anger and imagination, we are generating suffering for us in the afterlife.

For example, a person abuses his faculty of passion by becoming greedy and starts accumulating and misappropriating the wealth of orphans who are under his care. According to the Qur’an, by doing this, in reality one is only accumulating fire for oneself, and in the afterlife one will face the consequences of it:

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَأْكُلُونَ أَمْوَالَ الْيَتَامَىٰ ظُلْمًا إِنَّمَا يَأْكُلُونَ فِي بُطُونِهِمْ نَارًا ۖ وَسَيَصْلَوْنَ سَعِيرًا

(As for) those who consume the property of the orphans unjustly, surely they only swallow fire into their stomaches and they shall enter burning fire. (Qur’an, Surah al-Nisa’, 4:10).

Similarly, those who satisfy their sexual urges outside of the bond of lawful marriage, transgress the limit of the faculty of passion and will certainly face the consequences of their actions:

وَلَا تَقْرَبُوا الزِّنَا ۖ إِنَّهُ كَانَ فَاحِشَةً وَسَاءَ سَبِيلًا

Do not draw near to any unlawful sexual intercourse; surely it is a shameful, indecent thing, and an evil way (leading to individual and social corruption). (Qur’an, Surah al-Isra’, 17:32).

The misuse of the faculty of anger is to verbally and physically abuse others. Unleashing a burst of anger on others on trivial matters, or trying to unjustly subdue others by putting them down is a manifestation of this faculty. Similarly, nations and countries who wage wars on others for domination or stealing their resources is also a manifestation of this faculty. Those who unjustly murder others will certainly face the consequences of their actions in the next world:

وَمَنْ يَقْتُلْ مُؤْمِنًا مُتَعَمِّدًا فَجَزَاؤُهُ جَهَنَّمُ خَالِدًا فِيهَا وَغَضِبَ اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَلَعَنَهُ وَأَعَدَّ لَهُ عَذَابًا عَظِيمًا

Whoever kills a believer intentionally, his recompense (in the Hereafter) is hell, therein to abide; and God has utterly condemned him, excluded him from His mercy, and prepared for him a tremendous punishment. (Qur’an, Surah al-Nisa, 4:93).

The abuse of the power of imagination is found in deceiving and cheating others. Other examples are lying, intentionally making false promises and tricking others into believing something which is not true. This behavior will also lead to an unpleasant outcome:

يُــخَادِعُونَ اللّٰهَ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَمَـا يَخْدَعُونَ إِلَّا أَنْفُسَهُمْ وَمَا يَشْعُرُونَ 9

They desire to deceive God and those who believe, however they deceive only themselves and they do not perceive. (Qur’an, Surah al-Baqarah, 2:9).

The hell-fire or a painful and unpleasant experience in the hereafter is what people have earned from their own hands through their false beliefs and wrong actions. Just as lung cancer is a direct result of smoking and not a “punishment” from God, similarly abusing various faculties and oppressing others leads to consequences for which we can only blame ourselves. Thus, we state that: Hell is not a “punishment” from God but is an outcome of our own actions. It is a manifestation of Divine Justice. Divine religions have cautioned and warned us against crossing certain limits (e.g. the Ten Commandments), as we cannot escape the consequences of our actions.

However, the hell which is described as a place of pain and suffering, is also a form of Divine mercy. Certain individuals have developed very bad habits and traits (e.g. abusive conduct, constant lying) and as such, no one wants to deal with them. Sending them to hell is a way of keeping them away from those who have upright, moral conduct and have fair dealings (also known as the people of heaven). We as human beings do this all of the time to those who have disruptive behavior in the society, we remove them from the society and place them in jail.

Moreover, the abode of hell gives these individuals with evil traits a chance to reform themselves from the bad, evil habits. The spiritual growth that they should have achieved while living as a believer in this world but did not due to their indulgence in various passions and lusts can be achieved to a certain extent by spending some time in hell. As for those who are truly unrepentant, stubborn in their denial of the reality and signs of God or are too proud to change their behavior in the light of clear arguments and Divine teachings and are hopeless of the mercy of God, they have chosen hell for themselves and will stay in there forever.

The Qur’an talks about the reality and the consequences of various actions - many of which we consider trivial. For example, backbiting or talking about the bad habits of someone in their absence for the sake of gossip - even though it may be true - is something which at best is discouraged and however may also be prohibited. The manifestation of this action (backbiting) in the hereafter is as if we are eating someone’s flesh:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ ۖ وَلَا تَجَسَّسُوا وَلَا يَغْتَبْ بَعْضُكُمْ بَعْضًا ۚ أَيُحِبُّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَنْ يَأْكُلَ لَحْمَ أَخِيهِ مَيْتًا فَكَرِهْتُمُوهُ ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللّٰهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللّٰهَ تَوَّابٌ رَحِيمٌ

O you who believe! Avoid much suspicion, for some suspicion is a grave sin (liable to God’s punishment); and do not spy (on one another), nor backbite (against one another). Would any of you love to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would abhor it! Keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and piety. Surely God is One Who truly returns repentance with liberal forgiveness and additional reward, All-Compassionate (particularly towards His believing servants). (Qur’an, Surah al-Hujurat, 49:12).

Based on the above discussion, it should be clear that the concept of hell in the afterlife is something which is a direct result of what we ourselves have done in this world. No one should feel immune from his or her own actions. If a man is unjustly murdered, or a woman is sexually abused, the culprit may or may not face the punishment in this life – however, there is no escaping from one’s actions in the hereafter:

فَمَنْ يَــعْمَلْ مِثْقَالَ ذَرَّةٍ خَـيْرًا يَرَهُ وَمَنْ يَعْمَلْ مِثْقَالَ ذَرَّةٍ شَرًّا يَرَهُ

So then, however has done an atom’s weight of good will see it; and whoever has done an atom’s weight of evil will see it. (Qur’an, Surah al-Zilzal, 99:7-8).

Rational Arguments for the Hereafter

The knowledge about the hereafter contained in the Abrahamic religions has come primarily from revelation such as the Bible and the Qur’an. However, are there any rational arguments in this regards? Should we believe that those who died long ago, and have now turned into bones and dust will ever be raised again? Can dead bones really come back to life:

وَضَرَبَ لَنَا مَثَلًا وَنَسِيَ خَلْقَهُ ۖ قَالَ مَنْ يُحْيِي الْعِظَامَ وَهِيَ رَمِيمٌ قَالَ مَنْ يُحْيِي الْعِظَامَ وَهِيَ رَمِيمٌ قُلْ يُحْيِيهَا الَّذِي أَنْشَأَهَا أَوَّلَ مَرَّةٍ ۖ وَهُوَ بِكُلِّ خَلْقٍ عَلِيمٌ

And he coins a comparison for Us, having forgotten his own origin and creation, saying: Who will give life to these bones when they have rotten away? Say: He Who produced them in the first instance will give them life. He has full knowledge of every (form and mode and possibility of) creation (and of everything He has created He knows every detail in every dimension of time and space). (Qur’an, Surah Ya Sin, 36:77-79).

We witness resurrection in nature all of the time. Nothing grows on a piece of land that has been devoid of water for a long time and is dead until rain falls on it and it starts to show signs of life again:

فَانْظُرْ إِلَىٰ آثَارِ رَحْمَتِ اللّٰهِ كَيْفَ يُحْيِي الْأَرْضَ بَعْدَ مَوْتِهَا ۚ إِنَّ ذَٰلِكَ لَمُحْيِي الْمَوْتَىٰ ۖ وَهُوَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

Look then at the signs of God’s mercy, how He gives life to the earth after its death, most surely He will raise the dead to life; and He has power over all things. (Qur’an, Surah al-Rum, 30:50).

But still for some people the default position is that since we have not witnessed the hereafter why should we believe in its existence? Who knows what happens after death? Why should I worry about facing the consequences of my actions after my death?

Let us try to analyze this.

The basic principle in the concept of the hereafter is that our beliefs and actions have consequences. I think most of us will agree with this line of thinking that our beliefs and actions at least have consequences in this life.

If a student works hard, attends all of the classes and prepares for the examination, then he is likely do well in the test as opposed to another student who does not study, misses classes and takes their examination lightly.

The actions of a hardworking student are based on a belief that they need to give importance to their studies for a successful outcome in their academic endeavors. On the contrary, a student who takes their studies casually despite having the ability to work as hard as the other student does not really believe in achieving academic success, or is distracted by other habits such as sports or videogames.

This example illustrates that our beliefs and actions based on that belief, have real consequences. The opposite of this way of thinking is that our beliefs and actions are inconsequential – but this is absurd.

Now, are the consequences of our actions limited to this current life only or do they extend beyond this life? Many a times a person intends to do good and is sincere in their efforts but ends up facing an adverse outcome.

For example, a woman is sincere to her husband and is devoted to him, but he ends up betraying her and abandons her for another woman. This woman, despite her sincere intentions and efforts had an adverse outcome.

Similarly, sometimes we see that a person is murdered and the killer is never found and never punished for this serious injustice. In other words, there appears to be no consequences for the killer despite committing a severe act of aggression.

If the scope of our actions and their consequences was limited to this life only, then this world will be a very unjust place. Often good is responded by good and bad by bad, but it is certainly not true in all situations. Our instincts tell us that there should be more to our efforts than what we see in this limited life.

All of us are bound by the time limit of life allotted to us. Some of us live to be 60 and 70, others die at 30 or 40 or even younger, but we all have the same end. We all must die without exception. This is despite all of us wanting to live forever, as we have an built-in instinct for permanence. Moreover, all of us must fall asleep for a good part of our lives, and none of us can escape this. We must severe connections with our work, families, possessions, hobbies and even our bodies every night for a good number of hours when we fall asleep. Every day we are reminded, that everything we have accumulated and is so dear to us will be separated from us when the overwhelming event of death will happen.

During sleep, we experience dreams which are truly a meta-physical experience just as Near Death Experiences (NDE) are, as reported by thousands of patients who have survived cardiac resuscitation. These observations (dreams and NDE) point towards a level of consciousness that is beyond our baseline level of consciousness during the awake state.

The inevitability of death (and mini-death i.e sleep) and the incomplete outcomes and consequences of our actions makes one wonder that there must be consciousness beyond death and it is at this point that the revelation from God gives further insight into the nature of the afterlife:

أَفَحَسِبْتُمْ أَنَّمَا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ عَبَثًا وَأَنَّكُمْ إِلَيْنَا لَا تُرْجَعُونَ

What! Do you then think that We have created you in vain and that you shall not be returned to Us? (Qur’an, Surah al-Mu’minun, 23:115).

The belief in the hereafter gives a depth of vision and extends our focus beyond the physical reality of this life. Whatever we do has consequences both in this life, and more importantly in the life to come. There is no escape from God’s dominion and the consequences of our own actions:

يَوْمَ هُمْ بَارِزُونَ ۖ لَا يَخْفَىٰ عَلَى اللّٰهِ مِنْهُمْ شَيْءٌ ۚ لِمَنِ الْمُلْكُ الْيَوْمَ ۖ لِلَّهِ الْوَاحِدِ الْقَهَّارِ 16

The Day when they will come forth (from death), with nothing of them being hidden from God. Whose is the absolute Sovereignty on that Day? It is God’s, the One, the All-Overwhelming (with absolute sway over all that exist). (Qur’an, Surah al-Mu’min, 40:16).

  • 1. Nahj al-Balagha, Sermon 3.
  • 2. Ibid., Sermon 99.
  • 3. Ibid., Sermon 226.
  • 4. Ibid., Sermon 64.
  • 5. Najmi, Husayn bin Ali - Sermons, Sayings and Letters from Medina till Karbala, Letter from Imam Husayn (‘a) to his half-brother Muhammad, b. Hanafiyya.
  • 6. Tawus, Sayyid ibn, Al-Luhuf, p. 33; Ibn Nama, p. 20.
  • 7. Khomeini, Ruh Allah, Maʿad, Published by the Institute of Education and Upbringing, Lahore, Pakistan.
  • 8. Near-death Experience in Survivors of Cardiac Arrest: A Prospective Study in the Netherlands, Lancet, December 15, 2001, 9298:2039-45; Eben Alexander. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. Simon and Shuster Paperbacks New York, 2012.