The Hereafter


What is hereafter? What does hereafter mean?

Muslims believe that this life is very short in comparison to the life of the hereafter. Muslims are required to have faith in the reality of the hereafter, the Day of Judgment, Resurrection, Paradise and Hell.[1] This is known as belief in ‘ākhira’ (afterlife) or as ‘Maʿād’, which is another term for the Afterlife and it literally means, ‘the Return’ or ‘the Place of Return’.[2] This expression originates from the Qur’an derived from verses such as, “They say: What! When we are reduced to bones and dust, should we really be raised up (to be) a new creation? Say: “(Nay!) be ye stones or iron, or created matter which, in your minds, is hardest (to be raised up), (Yet shall ye be raised up)! Then will they say: Who will cause us to return? Say: He who created you first […]”[3] Based on the systematic study of the word ‘Maʿād’ in verses such as the one mentioned above, it is interesting to note that this term has always been paired with ‘Mabda’, which means, ‘Origin’ or ‘the Place of Origin’. The term ‘Mabda’ is found in Qurʾanic verses such as: “The Day that We roll up the heavens like a scroll rolled up for books (completed), even as We originated the first creation, so shall We produce a new one. A promise We have undertaken: truly shall We fulfill it.”[4]

This belief can be understood in relation to the belief in the journey of humanity between the origin and the return, the realms of Paradise (Janna), Hell (Jahannam) and the Barzakh, which is an intermediate state between death and the resurrection, and the apocalyptic events of the Last Days. It is vital that the new Muslim knows that the basic message of Islam is that Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, has created humanity for a purpose, that there is a continuation of life after death and that there is a final reckoning. The origin and return of all creation means that all creatures, individually and collectively, are subject to extinction, to death and decay, to a change from one state to another and to a transition from one abode to the next. In comparison, God is recognized as Almighty, the Eminent, the Forgiving, the Manager of all affairs, and the Maker of destinies. He alone has permanence across all of the ages, stages and lifetimes, which by necessity must wane and perish.

According to Islam, Muslims believe that before the resurrection, each person will meet his or her death in this world at a destined time (ajal); this belief is further reinforced by verses of the Qur’an such as: “To every people is a term appointed: when their term is reached, not an hour can they cause delay, nor (an hour) can they advance (it in anticipation)”.[5] Moreover, according to Islam, at a point in history, the absolute destruction of the universe or the cosmic death known as ‘the Hour’ (Sāʿa) will take place at a determined time which, Allah alone knows. In Islam it is acknowledged that God has created humanity for a purpose, which is to worship Him, and as part of the continuation of life after death, there will be an ultimate accounting, whereby, God’s justice will be served. It is on that day, the Day of Judgment, that the individual and the collective meet and are led to their final abode in the hereafter.

This whole idea of the Return is linked to the origin of humanity; when humanity had to leave its original home and was promised the possibility of a return. The Qur’an and the Hadith tradition are rich with descriptions of the creation of Adam and Eve, and their representations as the origin of humanity. Their origin began with their creation and their residence within the Garden, “We said: ‘O Adam! Dwell thou and thy wife in the Garden; and eat of the bountiful things therein as (where and when) ye will; but approach not this tree, or ye will run into harm and transgression.’ Then did Satan make them slip from the (garden), and get them out of the state (of felicity) in which they had been. We said: ‘Get ye down, all (ye people), with enmity between yourselves. On earth will be your dwelling-place and your means of livelihood—for a time.’ Then learnt Adam from his Lord words of inspiration, and his Lord turned towards him; for He is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful. We said: ‘Get ye down all from here; and if, as is sure, there comes to you guidance from me, whosoever follows My guidance, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. But those who reject faith and belie Our signs, they shall be companions of the Fire; they shall abide therein.’”[6]

The expulsion of Adam and Eve (peace be upon them) from the Garden described in this verse was a result of satanic deception and was immediately forgiven when Adam begged for forgiveness. It is important to note that in Islamic tradition, both the primordial man and woman were held to be equally blameful for the Fall of Man, and Eve was never seen as a temptress. Additionally, since God forgave them immediately, there is no doctrine of Original Sin in Islamic theology. Nevertheless, they were exiled by God and this exile was applicable to all humanity for a set period of time. Human beings were promised guidance from God through prophets and messengers; they were given felicitations of the Garden, but, with a warning for those who rejected the message. This forged the link between this world (dunyā), where Adam, Eve and their progeny were exiled, and the Hereafter (akhira), where they are destined to return. This journey of the children of Adam comes to an end upon the Day of Judgment.

Life in this lower world is intricately linked with eschatology because an individual’s conduct directly affects how they are judged by God after death. In connection with this, the Qur’an offers a comprehensive portrait of the human psyche that is interesting and unique. Human beings are recognized as the vice-regents of God on earth and they have been given this high position due to their rational abilities. They have also been given all good things for their sustenance and have been created in the best of molds. However, the human being is also portrayed in the Qur’an as a highly multifaceted and a deeply divided personality, who is in need of guidance and discipline. The human being is described as a mass of unruly and chaotic contradictions, torn between illusory desires that constantly change, such as passion, anger, greed, generosity, pettiness and piety. In addition to a human being’s own internal passions, there is an external enemy, Satan, who deceives the steadfast soul towards forgetting God. Thus, because the human soul can be steadfast and patient in its belief, or prone to capriciousness with hypocrisy, it is described in the Qur’an as in need of constant guidance from God through His prophets and messengers, and it is only through this guidance that a human being can return to felicity.[7]

There is a well-known saying in Muslim literature that ‘sleep is the brother of death’ and many scholars have drawn an analogy between the resurrection after death and the awaking after dreaming. Moreover, just as dreaming can sometimes bring one closer to true reality than when one is awake, so too is death seen as an awakening to the reality and the removal of the veil. Hence, another popular saying in the Muslim world is ‘people are asleep and when they die, they awaken.’ Death, just like life in this world, is relative, rather than absolute, when compared to the Reality we know as God.[8]  However, this does not mean that we Muslims do not feel the pain and sorrow when someone close to us dies. The best illustration of this is how the Prophet Muhammad grieved when his own son Ibrahim died at sixteen months of age; he showed his immense pain and sorrow through his tears. He is reported to have said, ‘O Ibrahim, were the truth not certain that the last of us will join the first, we would have mourned you even more than we do now […] The eyes send their tears and the heart is saddened, but we do not say anything except that which pleases our Lord. Indeed, O Ibrahim, we are bereaved by your departure from us.’[9] When faced with death, it is common for Muslims to recite the Qurʾanic verse, ‘To God we belong, and to Him is our return.’[10] In his work, ‘The Revival of the Religious Sciences’, the famous scholar Al-Ghazali has written about how individual phases of life can be beneficial for the afterlife. The topic of afterlife has always been extremely important for Muslims because the promise of Paradise is specifically linked to their faith and good deeds in the world.[11] Life in this world is seen as a rehearsal stage for the Hour; a place where all individuals are tried and tested.

Nevertheless, while the believer is striving to attain Paradise, the Qur’an contains a reminder to not forget the present world: ‘But seek, with the (wealth) which God has bestowed on thee, the Home of the Hereafter, [and do not]forget thy portion in this world, but do thou good, as God has been good to thee, and seek not (occasions for) mischief in the land; for God loves not those who do mischief.’[12] Similarly, believers are encouraged to recite the prayer: ‘Our Lord, give us good in this world and good in the Hereafter.’[13] The reason given for why one should not forget about this world and only focus on the Hereafter is that it is goodness from God, which deserves to be paid forward in this world through faith and good deeds. This life is therefore of great consequence—all actions and deeds matter and nothing is trivial either in life or in death.  For the new Muslim it is also important to know that in the Hadith literature, it is made clear that praying for the dead, asking God’s forgiveness for them and giving charity on their behalf are some of the deeds that can benefit those who have passed on from the lower world. Another element of social etiquette in Islam that is related to this issue, is visiting the graves of the deceased. The Prophet Muhammad is well known for recommending this by stating: “So visit the graves, for they will remind you of death.”[14] Once at a grave, it is recommended practice to recite the Qur’an and seek Allah’s forgiveness and mercy for the deceased. Many scholars have argued that people need to learn a lesson from going to graves; for instance, ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAlawī al-Ḥaddād wrote, “he should remember that soon he will go to the same end, and learn the lessons to be drawn from their condition.”[15]

Muslims are asked to believe in the Barzakh, which is also known as the life in the grave. It is an intermediate stage through which every individual passes after their life in this world (dunyā) and before their raising on the Day of Resurrection. Barzakh literally means ‘isthmus’, a narrow strip of land that forms a barrier between two seas. The meaning of this term has been derived from the following two verses of the Qur’an: “It is He Who has let free the two bodies of flowing water: one palatable and sweet, and the other salt and bitter; yet has He made a barrier (barzakh) between them, a partition that is forbidden to be passed,”[16] and, “He has let free the two bodies of flowing water, meeting together. Between them is a barrier (barzakh) which they do not transgress.”[17] The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) described life in the Intermediate Realm in the following terms:The grave is either one of the chasms of Hell or one of the gardens of Paradise”, and When one of you dies his [future]seat is displayed before him morning and evening: should he be of the people of Paradise, then it is situated among them, while should he be of the people of Hell, then it is situated among them.”[18] The most complete description of the events within the Barzakh is found in the Hadith literature and it always begins with the arrival of two interrogating angels named Munkar and Nakīr. All traditions agree that the two angels have been commanded by God to ask the deceased three questions in the grave: Who is your Lord? What is your religion? Who is your prophet? The correct answers to these are said to be Allah, Islam and Muhammad, and the righteous answer without hesitation. After hearing the deceased’s answers to these questions, the angels open a window either to Paradise (Jannah), whereupon the righteous may gaze and feel the atmosphere of felicity, or the angels may open one to the Fire (Nār).

Although there is uncertainty about when the Hour will actually occur, there is no such ambiguity regarding what will occur at the end of the universe, during the Resurrection and on Judgment Day, because there are explicit descriptions of them in the Qur’an and Hadith. The subject is generally divided into events that will occur before the Hour (which are known as the ‘Signs of the Hour’) and those that come afterwards. After the arrival of the Hour, the approximate sequence of events is said to begin with the sounding of a trumpet followed by the destruction of the cosmos, resurrection and the final reckoning. Even though there are verses about the terrestrial signs of the Hour in the Qur’an, there are many more regarding God’s cosmic undoing of the world before the Last Judgment. The topics of the actual destruction of the cosmos, the Resurrection, the Last Judgment and every individual being assigned a place for eternity in either Paradise or Hell are mentioned in detail in the Qur’an, and expanded accounts of these events are to be found in the Hadith literature and exegetical writings.

The Last Days before the arrival of the Hour (which is marked by the sounding of a trumpet) are primarily known as the ashrāṭ al-Sāʿa or ayāt al-Sāʿa (signs of the Hour). These signs are further divided into the minor signs, which mark the decay of society’s moral order during the End of Days, and the greater signs, which are cataclysmic events that occur when the Hour is imminent. The ten major signs or tribulations (fitan) are smoke, al-dajjal, the beast, sunrise in the west, descent of Jesus (peace be upon him), Gog and Magog, three major earthquakes[19] and fire.[20] These cataclysmic events are dramatically and graphically described either in the Qur’an or in the Hadith literature, as the devastation of creation and as a complete reversal of the natural order.[21] These events are foreshadowed by widespread moral decay, whose description is found within the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, and are recognized by most Muslim scholars as signs indicating the onset of the cataclysmic events.

Judgment Day is referred to by various terms in the Qur’an, including the Day of Resurrection (Yawm al-Qiyāma), the Day of Judgment (Yawm al-Dīn), the Hour (al-Sāʿa), the Last Day (al-Yawm al-Ākhir), the Day of Decision (Yawm al-Faṣl) and the Day of Reckoning (Yawm al-Ḥisāb). The call of the trumpet brings forth the total annihilation of everything created and another call of the trumpet brings forth the Day of Resurrection. On that day the Trumpet shall be blown by the Angel Isrāfīl and destruction will commence and when the Trumpet is blown the second time, all will be resurrected from their graves and enter an enormous plain.  After the trumpet blast, some of the perilous events that follow are described by Ghazali as: ‘the Resurrection on the Day of Arising, the Presentation before the Almighty, the Inquisition regarding matters both important and minor, the Erection of the scales in order that men’s destinies might be known and the passage over the Traverse despite the fineness and sharpness of its edge. These things will be followed by the awaiting of the Summons to final judgment, either bliss or misery.’[22]

The Afterlife (or Hereafter) is in no way considered by Muslims to be equivalent to the lower world (dunyā). While it is certainly true that some importance is attached to the present life in Islamic literature (even when one lives this life in accordance with all of the tenets of faith), the central focus is always on the life to come. The primary sources of Islam, the Qur’an and the Hadith repeatedly state that life in this world is temporary, whereas, the real and everlasting life is that of the Hereafter.[23] The realm of Paradise and Hell is unobservable and is the part of the ʿĀlam al-Ghayb (Unseen Realm); its location is unknown to anyone other than God. About Paradise, it is said in the Qur’an: ‘Now no person knows what delights of the eye are kept hidden (in reserve) for them as a reward for their (good) deeds.’[24] As for Hell, there are many descriptions of it in the Qur’an, and it is variously referred to there as, al-Nār (the Fire), al-Jahannam (Gēhinnōm[25]) and al-Jaḥīm (the Blazing Fire). In contrast to the fires of Hell that await sinners, those who believe, refrain from evil, perform good deeds, have God consciousness (taqwa) and are truthful, penitent and heedful they are promised the rewards of Paradise. Most frequently referred to as al-Janna (the Garden), Paradise is vividly described in the Hadith and, especially, in the Qur’an: ‘(Here is) a parable of the Garden which the righteous are promised: in it are rivers of water incorruptible; rivers of milk of which the taste never changes; rivers of wine, a joy to those who drink; and rivers of honey pure and clear. In it there are for them all kinds of fruits; and Grace from their Lord.’[26] This lasting home of the Hereafter is depicted as having both physical and spiritual delights and as a place where the faithful are contented, satisfied, at peace and secure. Here they will not hear any evil, they will not experience death, but rather feel true peace, hear gentle speech and, most of all, be in the presence of God.

[1]. For further detailed information on the Messengers/Prophets of God please see Amjad M. Hussain, The Muslim Creed: A Contemporary Study of Theology, Cambridge: Islamic Text Society, 2016, pp. 197-242.[2]. Murata and Chittick, Vision of Islam, p. 340.[3].Q. 17:49–51.[4].Q. 21:104.[5].Q. 7:34.[6]. Q. 2:35–39.[7]. Q. 4:137, Q. 41:51. Q. 8:54[8] See Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī, Kitāb dhikr al-mawt wa-mā baʿdahu, trans. T. J. Winter as The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife: Book xl of The Revival of the Religious Sciences, Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1989, pp. 124 and 153–54.[9].Translation from Muhammad Husayn Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust, 1994, p. 488.[10]. Q. 2:156.[11].Q. 67:1–2.[12].Q. 28:77.[13]. Q. 2:201.[14]. Sunan Ibn Majah, Vol. 1, Book 6, Hadith 1572.[15] Abdullah Ibn Alawi Haddad, The Lives of Man, Loiseville KY: Fons Vitea, 1991, p. 47.[16].. 25:53.[17].Q. 55:19–20.[18] Ghazālī, Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife, p. 127.[19]. In some sources ‘three lunar eclipses’.[20]. The Qur’an mentions three of these: the smoke (45:10–2), the beast (27:82) and Gog and Magog (18:94, 21:96).[21]. For example, see Q. 11:73, 17:99, 20:.102, 23:101, 27:87, and 36:51.[22].Ghazālī, Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife, p. 173.[23]. See for example, Q.57:20.[24].Q. 32:17.[25].A Hebrew eponym for Hell.[26]. Q. 47:15.

Source: Islam For New Muslims An Educational Guide,Assoc. Prof. Amjad M. Hussain, Erkam Publications

Reverting to Islam

What is Islam?