3.5 Life after death
"We have ordained death among you,
and We are not to be overcome, so that We may change your state and
make you grow into what you know not." (The Holy Quran 56:60-61)
"O soul who is at rest, return
to thy Lord, well-pleased (with Him), well-pleasing (Him). So enter
among My servants, and enter My garden." (89:27-30)
"It (hell) is the fire kindled
by Allah which rises over the hearts." (104:5-6)
What does Islam teach about life after death?
It teaches that a human being not only has a body, but also has a
'spirit' given to him or her by God. The spirit is the seed from which
a higher form of life grows within man, higher than physical life, just
as the body has developed from a small 'seed'. Just as in the world
around us higher forms of life evolve from lower ones, similarly from
the life of the individual in this world is evolved his higher 'spiritual'
life. During his life, man's deeds shape and mould his spirit, for better
or worse, according to his deeds. When a person dies, the physical body
is finished, but the spirit remains, as he or she had moulded it by
their deeds when alive. That is the life after death.
How is the spirit shaped during our life here?
Just as our physical actions and habits affect the body and leave
their impressions upon it, so does the good or evil of our deeds affect
the spirit and leave an impression upon it. Sometimes we can even feel
something of the effect of a good or bad deed upon us. If we nourish
the spirit through prayer to God and, with the strength we get from
this, do good and righteous deeds, the spirit will develop and grow
properly. But if the spirit is neglected, and bad deeds are done, it
suffers harm. It is as if God has given each person a piece of soft
clay. It is then up to the individual to shape it into something beautiful
or ugly by his deeds.
Is man rewarded after death for his good deeds and punished for the
As has been said above, good deeds benefit the spirit and evil deeds
harm it. This effect upon the spirit is what constitutes the reward
or punishment for one's deeds. In this life we can occasionally feel
this effect, but only very faintly and vaguely. After death, when only
the spirit is left, bearing all the impressions of deeds done throughout
life, the effects of those deeds will be felt clearly and vividly. It
is this which is the reward for good deeds and suffering for evil deeds.
What are heaven and hell?
Heaven and hell are not actual places somewhere in the universe, but
really our inner conditions or the condition of the spirit resulting
from our deeds. Heaven and hell begin in this life within a person's
heart. The feelings of bliss and contentment at doing good is the heaven
in one's heart. And the guilt, shame and greed felt by an evil doer
is the hell of the heart. After death, the heaven or hell that developed
in the heart is unfolded before us and becomes the world in which we
live, and we live in it not with the physical body of this life but
the 'spiritual' body made from our deeds.
The Holy Quran mentions many blessings and comforts in paradise and
many painful punishments in hell. What is the nature of these?
The exact nature of these things cannot be known in this world because
they are in an entirely different world where ours ideas of space, time,
feelings, etc. do not apply. But to describe them to us, physical terms
have to be used such as "gardens and rivers" in paradise,
and the "fire" of hell, to give an idea of what they feel
However, all these things of the next world actually begin in one's
heart in this world. For instance, the "fruits" of paradise
are really the fruits of good deeds that a person starts tasting in
his heart in this life, and the "fire" of hell is the same
fire of low desires and greed that burns in a person's heart here. In
the next world, all these feelings are unfolded and manifest themselves
as comforts of paradise or miseries of hell.
What is the Day of Judgment according to Islam?
Just as the life of an individual has an end, and the life of a nation
has an end, so does the life of this entire physical world have an end.
That is the 'Day of Judgment', which will bring the spiritual world
into full manifestation, in place of the present physical one. As said
above, immediately upon death a person begins to feel an awakening to
the higher life, made from his deeds in the present life. But this is
only a partial realization. It is on the Day of Judgment that everyone
is fully awakened and raised to the higher, spiritual life. It is called
the Day of Judgment because each person shall then become fully conscious
of the effects of his deeds in this life, and have a 'body' (so to speak)
made out of his or her own deeds.
Is there any other significant point about paradise and hell disclosed
Yes. It is that the life after death is actually the starting-point
of further progress for man. Those in paradise are advancing to higher
and higher stages in knowledge and perfection of faith. Hell is meant
to purify those in it of the effects of their bad deeds, and so make
them fit for further advancement. Its punishment is, therefore, not
Do Muslims believe in reincarnation, that is, after death a person
may be reborn in this world for another life here, and in this way
have several lives on earth?
No, Islam teaches continuous progress of the soul and so it cannot
return to this world after death of the body. The theory of reincarnation
teaches that if a person is born in poor or miserable circumstances,
or is suffering from some disability or disadvantage, this is a punishment
for him for bad deeds done in his former life; and if anyone is prosperous,
healthy, and of a 'high' family, that is his reward for good deeds done
in his former life. If one believes this, it would mean that we should
treat the poor, the destitute, and the suffering as if they deserve
their misfortunes, and have no sympathy for them because they are only
getting their just punishment; and we should have high regard for the
rich and the comfortable because they are receiving their reward for
past good deeds. Such an attitude would be inhuman and against the basic
teachings of Islam.
Islam teaches that each person is born with a pure soul, without any
burden to bear from a past life, and that both those people who seem
to be facing hardship in this world and those who appear to be enjoying
comforts are in a state of 'trial' to see how they behave under those
circumstances. These are not punishments or rewards. In God's eyes the
best person is he or she who acquits himself best in the conditions
What is the significance of the Muslim belief in life after death?
Firstly, it encourages man to do good and restrains him from doing
evil. This is because he realizes that a good deed will always bring
him benefit, even if it may not be obvious at the time; and he knows
that an evil deed, even if no one at all sees him do it, will have to
be answered for, and will have adverse consequences, in the next life
if not immediately in this one.
Secondly, it teaches man to look at the inner worth of himself and
of others, rather than the outward appearance (be it wealth, position,
beauty, or education). This is because he knows that it is the inner
part of man which is the real thing, and which survives forever, while
the outward possessions are certainly lost at death, and often even