What Does The Quran Say About The Afterlife?January 5, 2020 2023-11-21 16:12
What Does The Quran Say About The Afterlife?
In Islamic tradition, the Quran is revered as the direct word of God, delivered to Prophet Muhammadﷺ via the angel Gabriel with no change or alteration. In terms of contents, it can best be described as a rich tapestry of theology, history, genealogy, and self-help. It focuses very heavily on this life, dealing out worldly wisdom and tips on how the Prophet’s ﷺ followers can improve the world in which we currently live. However, the Quran also devotes a great deal of time to discussing what awaits us in the next life. Additional details on the afterlife can be found in hadith. Hadith are a collection of sayings from the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, many of which shed further light on topics covered in the Quran. In this article, we’re going to be examining some of the most interesting facts about the afterlife mentioned in the Quran and the hadith.
Allah Will Resurrect Everybody
The Quran teaches us, in no uncertain terms, that Allah will resurrect everybody on the Day of Judgment. Each individual shall then be held accountable for their deeds in this life and be permitted into Paradise or cast into the Hellfire. Allah’s will in process is stressed time and time again, as you will see in the below Quranic extract:
“And they say, ‘There is not but our worldly life; we die and live and nothing destroys us except time.’ And they have of that no knowledge; they are only assuming. And when Our verses are recited to them as clear evidences, their argument is only that they say, ‘Bring [back] our forefathers, if you should be truthful.’ Say, ‘God causes you to live, then causes you to die; then He will assemble you for the Day of Resurrection, about which there is no doubt,’ but most of the people do not know.”- Quran 45:24-26
This passage was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in response to the idolaters of his time. They held the belief that the afterlife was a non-issue and that man simply lived and died in this world and that was that. They regularly mocked the Prophet ﷺ for his teachings about the next world, challenging him to bring back their ancestors from the dead if he truly had the power to do so. Of course, Prophet Muhammadﷺ didn’t have the power to bring people back from the dead, nor did he ever claim to. Only Allah is capable of resurrecting those who have passed away, which is again stressed in the following extract:
“And he (the non-believer) presents for Us an example (that death is the end of consciousness) and forgets his creation. He says, ‘Who will give life to bones while they are disintegrated?’ Say, ‘He will give them life who produced them the first time; and He is, of all creation, Knowing.’ [It is] He who made for you from the green tree, fire, and then from it you ignite. Is not He who created the heavens and the earth able to create the likes of them? Yes, [it is indeed the case]; and He is the Knowing Creator.”- Quran, 36:78-81
This passage is significant as it not only confirms Allah’s ability and intention to resurrect all human beings on the Day of Judgment, but also reaffirms His status as the creator of the universe. It brings our existence full circle and assures us of our resurrection.
Allah’s Judgment Is Final
Throughout the Quran and the hadith, we are told that Allah is a forgiving and benevolent being. He wants all of mankind to dwell with Him in Paradise after being risen up on the Day of Judgment. As such, there are certain portions of the Quran which profess a willingness on Allah’s part to extend mercy and pardon certain misdeeds in order to ensure the highest number of people can enjoy the bliss of Paradise. However, Allah’s mercy is accompanied by incorruptible justice. Those who are truly undeserving of being saved will not have the privilege of a second chance. This is made clear in the following extract of the Quran:
“When death comes to one of them, he says, ‘My Lord, send me back! So that I can do good in the things I neglected.’ By no means! It is a mere word that he speaks.”- Quran, 23:99-100
This passage speaks of the inevitable regret the non-believers will experience when they are cast into Hellfire. In an attempt to avoid eternal suffering, they will plead with Allah and His angels for a second chance in the realm of the mortals. Of course, this second chance will not be forthcoming. Some scholars have also pointed out a tinge of distrust, which can be found in the final sentence of the above passage. While the doomed non-believer will promise to do good things if Allah would only allow them to return to their life in this world, the Quran states that their promise is “a mere word that he speaks.” Even if the non-believer were permitted to return to this world to perform good deeds, they would likely fall back into their old ways sooner or later. Allah is aware of this, which is why He affords each of us only one chance to prove our worthiness.
70,000 Will Enter Paradise Without Judgment
While Allah’s judgment on the last day is final, there are some who won’t have to worry about it. In the seventh book of the seventh volume of Sahih Bukhari, Ibn ‘Abbas رضي الله عنه recalls a story told by the Prophet Muhammadﷺ. Discussing a spiritual encounter, Prophet Muhammadﷺ describes nations being displayed before him. Along with them, he was shown prophet after prophet, many of whom were accompanied by only a few followers. He was then shown a multitude of people coming over the horizon in a crowd so great they were impossible to number. At this juncture, Ibn ‘Abbas narrates the Prophetﷺ saying: “It was said to me, ‘This is your nation out of whom seventy thousand shall enter Paradise without reckoning.'” – Sahih Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 7, Number 606
Much to the chagrin of those to whom Prophet Muhammadﷺ was speaking, the Prophetﷺ did not provide any further detail on the 70,000 people who will be granted admission to Paradise without judgment. Naturally, the prospect of assured entry into Paradise was an extremely alluring topic among the early Muslims. As such, the identity of the fortunate 70,000 followers was the subject of much debate. In the same hadith from which the above passage was taken, Ibn ‘Abbas tells us: “So the people started talking about the issue and said, “It is we who have believed in Allah and followed His Prophet; therefore, those people are either ourselves or our children who are born in the Islamic era, for we were born in the Pre-lslamic Period of Ignorance.'”- Sahih Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 7, Number 606
As we can see, these early believers assumed that they would be among the 70,000 granted immediate entry into Paradise. Despite what you may initially assume, this was not merely bravado on their part. They based their belief on the fact that they were the first to believe the message of the Prophet Muhammadﷺ. At a time when he was being mocked and persecuted by the dominant forces of Mecca, these early followers aligned themselves with the Prophetﷺ. They uprooted themselves and traveled across the desert at his command. They fought – many even dying – for Muhammad’sﷺ right to spread the message of the Quran and for their right to believe it. It should come as no surprise, then, that most contemporary Islamic scholars agree that these founding followers of Islam and their immediate offspring will make up the 70,000 Muslims permitted to enter Paradise without judgment.
Angels Guide Departed Souls
An individual’s journey into the afterlife actively begins in the moments leading up to their death. According to the Prophet Muhammadﷺ, as a person – be they a believer or a non-believer – prepares to enter into the afterlife, a number of angels will appear to them. Sometimes, these are the Angels of Mercy. Once the individual has passed away, they claim his or her soul and carry it with them to Paradise. Still carrying the soul in their possession, they journey through the various layers of Heaven but stop just short of the seventh, where Allah resides. While the soul waits for further guidance from the angels, they are free to interact with other departed souls, many of whom will inquire about mutual friends and acquaintances who are still in the realm of the living. Information on this journey into Paradise can be found in a number of popular Muslim writings. You’ll find an excerpt from the most notable of these below. “Then the souls of the believers come to him and they rejoice more over him than any one of you rejoices when his absent loved one comes to him. They ask him: ‘What happened to so and so, what happened to so and so?’ They say: ‘Let him be, for he was in the hardship of the world.’ When he says, ‘Did he not come here?’ They say: ‘He was taken to the pit (of Hell).'”- Al-Silsilah al-Saheehah, 2758
The experience described above must be truly wonderful and hopefully it is one that we and all of our readers may take some day. For those who are unworthy of entering Paradise, however, the journey into the afterlife is far less pleasant. Discussing the faith of those bound for Hellfire – often referred to in Islam as a “kafir“- the passage discussed above goes on to say: “When the kaafir is dying, the Angels of Punishment come to him with sackcloth and say: ‘Come out discontent and subject to divine wrath, to the punishment of Allah. So it comes out like the foulest stench of a corpse. They bring him to the gates of the earth, where they say: ‘How foul is this stench!’ Then they bring him to the souls of the kuffaar.”- Al-Silsilah al-Saheehah, 2758
From this, we can gather that each of us will have an encounter with angels who will guide us to our destination in the next world. The only question is will they be the Angels of Mercy or the Angels of Punishment? There are some Muslims who are of the belief that they will be granted entry to Paradise by onus of their religious identity alone. This, however, is not the case. Although the term “kafir” is often taken to mean non-believers, it can also be used to describe Muslims who do not adhere to the guidelines set by the Quran and the Prophet Muhammadﷺ. It is not enough to simply refer to oneself as a Muslim. If you wish to be greeted by the Angels of Mercy and not the Angels of Punishment as you pass into the next life, you must uphold the pillars of Islam to the best of your ability.
The Day of Judgment
Throughout this article, we have referred to the Day of Judgment. This is the end of times during which every Muslim and non-Muslim will be deemed either worthy or unworthy based on their works and faith. But what exactly can we expect to happen on the Day of Judgment? The Quran answers this question in great detail. Behold:“Then when the Horn is blown with one blast, and the earth and the mountains are lifted and leveled with one blow. Then on that Day, the Occurrence [a mass resurrection] will occur, And the heaven will split, for that Day it is infirm. And the angels are at its edges. And there will bear the Throne of your Lord above them, that Day, eight. That Day, you will be exhibited [for judgment by Allah]; not hidden among you is anything concealed. So as for he who is given his record in his right hand, he will say, “Here, read my record! Indeed, I was certain that I would be meeting my account.” So he will be in a pleasant life – In an elevated Garden, Its [fruit] to be picked hanging near. [They will be told], “Eat and drink in satisfaction for what you put forth (literally, advanced in anticipation of reward in the Hereafter) in the days past.” But as for he who is given his record in his left hand, he will say, “Oh, I wish I had not been given my record, and had not known what is my account. I wish it [my demise] had been the decisive one (with no afterlife to consider or experience). My wealth has not availed me. Gone from me is my authority.” [Allah will say to him], “Seize him and shackle him. Then into Hellfire drive him. Then into a chain whose length is seventy cubits insert him.” Indeed, he did not used to believe in God, the Most Great.”- Quran, 69:13-33
You may have noticed while reading the above extract that there is an apparent major contradiction between its teachings regarding the afterlife and those of the hadith. In the previous section, we discussed the hadith’s proclamation that a soul is claimed by either the Angels of Mercy or the Angels of Punishment in the seconds before death. That soul is then either taken to Paradise or thrown into the Hellfire. The passage of the Quran examined in this section, however, seems to indicate that nobody will be judged until the designated Day of Judgment. While these two teachings may seem at odds at first, they actually exist together in harmony. Many scholars hold the belief that when the Angels of Mercy or Punishment claim a soul, they take it to reside with those who lived a similar life. The just are sent to reside with the just, while the wicked are sent to reside with the wicked. Together, they await the Day of Judgment, when they will all receive their individual record. If a person receives their record in their right hand, their entry into Paradise is confirmed. On the other hand – no pun intended – those who receive their record in their left hand are confirmed for eternal damnation.
A Final Word
The existence of an afterlife is one of the most hotly debated topics among humankind and has been for as long as we have been on earth. For Muslims, however, there is no debate about the existence of an afterlife. Nor is there debate as to what awaits us in the afterlife. Islam teaches people, perhaps, the most fleshed out image of the next world of any religion. Thanks to what is written in the Quran and the hadith, a Muslim knows exactly what is going to happen from the seconds before they pass away to the moment they are handed their record on the Day of Judgment. This certainty provides a firm foundation for both faith and actions, allowing Muslims the world over to confidently dedicate themselves to Allah and His messengerﷺ.