What is the afterlife in islam? What is the life after death?
What does it matter if one’s life is long or short in this fleeting realm? For when compared with the everlasting life, this perishing world is no different to the foam of soap. No matter how long a person lives in this world, it is but a short period of time when compared to the immense reality of the Next World.
As is indicated in verses of the Qur’an: “He will say: ‘How many years did you tarry on earth?’ They will say, ‘We tarried for a day or part of a day. Ask those who are able to count!’ He will say, ‘You only tarried there for a little while if you did but know!” (Al-Muminun, 23:112-114)
In another Qur’anic verse, Allah Almighty declares:
“On the Day they see it, it will be as if they had only lingered for the evening or the morning of a single day.” (An-Nazi’at, 79:46)
The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) offers the following similitude to illustrate the nature of this world compared to the next:
“By Allah, the significance of this world in comparison to the Next Life is similar to one of you dipping their finger into the ocean and then seeing the amount of water that remains on it.” (Muslim, Janna, 55)
The Turkish Sufi poet Yunus Emre succinctly expresses just what a short stay our presence is in this realm is:
“From the womb to the bazaar we came;
To buy a shroud and return to the grave.”
In another poem he says:
“Like a passing breeze,
my life has gone by.
To me it seems
but the blink of an eye.”
Our entire endeavour, then, should be to adorn this short life with service to God with worship and reverence.
By the same token, the days of this fleeting worldly life are nonetheless precious. For the Next Life is the place of receiving returns while this world is the place of investing.
It is narrated that Prophet Ilyas (upon him be peace) shuddered in horror when he saw the Angel of Death. Wondering the reason for this, the Archangel asked:
“O Prophet of Allah, is it death you fear?”
Prophet Ilyas replied:
“No, it is not that I fear death, but that I should take leave of the life of this world.” He then continued, saying:
“For I strived in this worldly life to serve my Lord, to enjoin the good and prevent evil, I spent my time in worship and performing deeds of righteousness and tried to live with good morals and character. This gave me peace and filled my heart with joy. I fear that I will no longer be able to experience such happiness and that I will be held captive in the grave until the Resurrection.
Amir ibn ‘Abd al-Qays (may Allah be pleased with him), from the generation of the Successors (Tabiin), began to weep at the approach of his death.
When asked why he was weeping, he replied:
“I do not weep for fear of death, nor out of worldly ambition, but because I will be no longer be able to observe the fast on hot days and wake up for worship in the middle of the night.” (Dhahabi, Sira, IV, 19)
In relation to an everlasting bliss in the Next Life being earned in this world, Imam Junayd al-Baghdadi says:
“A day in this world is better than a thousand years in the next because profit and loss are in this world, while in the Next World we can no longer do anything to attain salvation.”
Consider this: If Allah gave us a lifetime of a thousand years, say for instance if we were born in the year 1000 and died in 2000, all the while living in abundance and prosperity, we would now still be dead. No matter how long we may live, a passing worldly life is still passing. So therefore, how reasonable can it possibly be to prefer a single passing moment to all eternity?
Since those who prefer this world to the next cannot fathom the great many appetising varieties of food that indeed exist, it is no different to the comprehension of a child who imagines the onion in their hand to be the most delicious thing there is to eat. Choosing this passing world over the eternal is to share the lack of insight and perception of a hapless bird which flies into a little cage when it could be soaring through the endless skies.
A wise man once said:
“Were the world made of gold but fleeting and the Next Life made of mud but eternal, the wise person would prefer the eternal mud to the fleeting gold. What then, must one do if the situation were reversed and this fleeting world was made of mud and the next eternal life made of pure gold?”
Surely, a sound mind would exchange the small, simple and temporary interests for great benefits, the fruits of which will last forever. For this reason, the mission of every person of sound mind should be to avoid falling prey to the illusion of this fleeting world and to strive to earn their eternal happiness in the next abode.
The truly intelligent are described in a prophetic narration as follows:
“The wise person is the one who subjugates the lower self, calling it to account and working for what is after death. And fool is one who pursues their vain desires and merely hopes in Allah (on the Day of Judgement).” (Tirmidhi, Qiyama, 25/2459)
How sound of mind a person is should be measured in this light. So, one who sacrifices the fleeting to earn the eternal is deemed wise and sane. While the heedless person who forgets the Next Life and is deluded by this world, cannot be considered wise or even completely sane. In the words of Umar Ibn al Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) “truly ignorant and foolish is one who sells their eternal life for this life.” Allah does not value a person who loses themselves in this world, which does not even hold the worth of a gnat’s wing in His eyes, and forgets the afterlife.
It is for this reason that Luqman Hakim once advised:
“Sacrifice this world for the Next World that you may gain both. Do not sacrifice the Next World in exchange for this world and then lose both.”
For unrefined, raw souls, the world is a mirage that appears a false oasis. It is like a toffee apple that children love to eat: even though it is a spectacle of colour on the outside, it is sour and rotten within.
It is declared in a Qur’anic verse:
“Know that the life of this world is merely a game and a diversion and ostentation and a cause of boasting among yourselves and trying to outdo one another in wealth and children: like the plant-growth after rain which delights the cultivators, but then it withers and you see it turning yellow, and it then becomes broken stubble. In the Next World there is terrible punishment but also forgiveness from Allah and His good pleasure. The life of this world is nothing but the enjoyment of delusion.” (Al-Hadid, 57:20)
“Allah expands the provision of anyone He wills and restricts it. They rejoice in the life of this world. Yet the life of this world compared to the Next World, is only fleeting enjoyment.” (Ar-Ra’d, 13:26)
“The life of this world is nothing but a game and diversion. The abode of the Next World – that is truly life if only they knew.” (Al-‘Ankabut, 29:64)
“The life of this world is nothing but a game and a diversion. The Next World is better for those who have taqwa (fearful awareness of Allah). So will you not use your intellect? (Al-An’am, 6:32)
“..Those who prefer the life of this world to the Next World, and bar access to the way of Allah, wanting to make it crooked; they are greatly misguided.” (Ibrahim, 14:3)
“Those are the people who trade the Next World for this world. The punishment will not be lightened for them. They will not be helped.” (Al-Baqara, 2:86)
“Say, ‘The enjoyment of this world is very brief. The Next World is better for those who have taqwa (fearful awareness of Allah). You will not be wronged by so much as the smallest speck.’” (An-Nisa, 4:77)
“As for any of you who desires this fleeting existence, We hasten in it whatever We will to whoever We want. Then We will consign him to Hell where he will roast, reviled and driven out.
But as for him who desires the Next World, and strives for it with the striving it deserves, being a believer, the striving of such people will be greatly acknowledged.” (Al-Isra’, 17:18-19)
“My people! The life of this world is only fleeting enjoyment. It is the Next World which is the abode of permanence.” (Ghafir, 40:39)
This same truth issues forth in the words of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace):
“O Allah, the real life is the life of the Next World.” (Bukhari, Jihad 33, Salat 48)
The following incident narrated by ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (may Allah be pleased with him) offers us great guidance also:
The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) was sleeping on a straw mat and when he woke with the pattern of the mat imprinted on him. We said:
“O Messenger of Allah, allow us to prepare a bed for you!”
The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said:
“What do I have to do with this world? I am not in the world except as a rider seeking shade under a tree, then after resting for a break before setting off again on his journey.” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 44/2377)
Again, ‘Umar Ibn al Khattab (may Allah be well pleased with him) once came to the house of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). He cast his eye around the room. Every corner of it was empty. There was, however, a mat made of date palm leaves. The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) was lying on it and it had left an imprint on his blessed face. In another corner was a single measure of barley flour. Beside it was hanging an old water skin. This was all. This was all the worldly possessions that the Messenger of Allah, the pride of humanity possessed at a time when the entire Arabian Peninsula recognised and yielded to his authority.
‘Umar sighed heavily upon observing such a scene. His eyes filled with tears and he began to weep. The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said:
“What is it that makes you weep, O ‘Umar?”
‘Umar said: “Why should I not weep, O Messenger of Allah! When Caesar and Khosrau wallow in worldly luxury and you are the Messenger of Allah and you live like this!”
Putting ‘Umar’s heart at ease, the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said:
“Do not cry, O ‘Umar! Would you not prefer that this world be theirs and the Next World be for us?”
Allah the Almighty and All-Wise warns the believers against looking in envy at the worldly wealth, prosperity and power of the unbelievers:
“Were it not that mankind might all become one community, we would have given those who reject the All-Merciful silver roofs to their houses and silver stairways to ascend and silver doors to their houses and silver couches on which to recline, and gold ornaments. All that is merely the trappings of the life of this world. But the Next Life with your Lord is for those who have taqwa (fearful awareness of Allah) (Az-Zukhruf, 43:33-35)
“Do not be deceived by the fact that those of are disbelievers move freely about on the earth. A brief enjoyment; then their shelter will be Hell. What an evil resting-place!” (Al ‘Imran, 3:196-197)
Mawlana Jalaladin Rumi’s depiction is most fitting:
“One who seeks this fleeting world has sought an impossible, evil thing. While one who seeks the Next World has sought the good, the beautiful, the right and true.”
A person once approached Sufyan Ath-Thawri seeking his advice. Sufyan Ath-Thawri advised him with the following words:
“Work for this world in proportion to the time you will spend in it and work for the Next World in proportion to the time you will spend in it.” (Abu Nu’aym, Hilya, VII, 56)
So, we should frequently ask ourselves how much importance we give to this worldly life and how much importance we give to the life of the Next World, which is everlasting.
People in the modern world spend a great deal of energy and money researching ways of living longer and on medicines and cosmetics to this end. In the Next Life, however, no one will be concerned with whether lived a long or short life. The biggest concern for people there will be the extent to which they used their worldly life, which is as short a time as nightfall or mid-morning when compared to the afterlife, for the sake of their eternal life.
But sometimes even if people are aware of these truths, they cannot avoid following the desires of their lower self and falling prey to heedlessness. It is stated in the Qur’an:
“Yet still you prefer the life of this world when the Next World is better and longer lasting.” (Al-A’la, 87:16-17).
Human beings therefore prefer the world, which does not even amount to a single drop when compared to the ocean of the Next World.
I would like to present here a personal anecdote that has been a great source of reflection:
One day, as I was about to leave the house for the Morning Prayer, I heard the wailing shrieks of two cats outside. I went out to the garden to see what was happening. I saw two cats standing, facing each other, growling like little tigers ready for attack and exchanging stares without flinching. Their fur was standing on end, ready to tear the other to shreds at the slightest stir.
Just as I was wondering what could have led to this vicious confrontation, I saw a mouse between them – a little dead mouse. It turns out the cats were fighting over it and so the dead body of a little mouse was the motivation behind the harm they intended for one another, at the expense of personal injury.
This seemingly straightforward scene was in fact a great lesson. It demonstrated the negative consequences of the failure to remain indifferent to a bit of tempting food. In a sense, it represented those in pursuit of the world preferring loss and ruin in the Next Life for the sake of fulfilling their selfish appetites. It illustrated how fleeting desires and temptations, as well as positions of importance and leadership onto which many a heedless soul clings so tightly to, are in fact little different to this dead mouse that the cats were fighting over and in no way worth squandering our eternal lives for.
The following incident is a clear example of just how grievous an end awaits those who do not content themselves with the lawful bounties which earn divine approval, and who fall prey to desires:
During the Miraj (ascent through the heavens), the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) accompanied by the Archangel Gabriel (upon him be peace) saw a people eating raw putrid meat and leaving the good meat and the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) asked the Archangel who these people were and he replied:
“These are the men from your community who would leave their wives at home to be with those women who were forbidden to them and the women who would leave their husbands to be with those men forbidden to them.” (Haythami, I, 67, 68)
Likewise, disregarding the afterlife, the Reckoning and the punishment, and to immerse oneself in earthly pleasures without consideration for the lawful and unlawful, is a delusion which condemns the slave to dreadful destitution, shame and misery.
Consequently, one cannot understand a person who toils solely for the transient world despite professing belief in the Next Life that is the eternal realm. There can be no foolishness more obvious than reckless consumption of this fleeting worldly life, as though it will never end and failing to invest any of it for the eternal life to come.
For this world is not a site of play and amusement, but the only place where capital for the Next Life can be amassed. As affirmed in a Qur’anic verse:
“Seek the abode of the Next World with what Allah has given you, without forgetting your portion of this world. And do good as Allah has been good to you. And do not seek to cause corruption in the earth. Allah does not love the corrupters.” (Al-Qasas, 28:77)
With this divine injunction, attention is drawn to the fact that attainment of happiness in the Next Life is contingent not upon renunciation of the world, but on using what has been given from worldly means in a way in which Allah approves and thus turning them into otherworldly capital.
Junayd al-Baghdadi, one of the friends of Allah (may Allah be pleased with him) once encountered a man selling ice. Upon hearing the seller calling out, “Help a man whose capital is melting,” he was shaken, then fainted and fell down.
For as sublimely indicated in the Qur’anic chapter Al-‘Asr (The Late Afternoon), the human being is a traveller to eternity whose capital is wasting away day by day. If they fail to turn their worldly capital, through their belief and right actions, into capital for the Next Life, their worldly efforts will become portions that devils share with them. The outcome is great disappointment and a painful punishment.
As ‘Uthman (may Allah be well pleased with him) says:
“Assuredly this world is perishing, and the Next World is abiding. Let not the fleeting tempt or distract you from that which is eternal. Prefer the abiding to that which is ephemeral. For this world is finite and the return is to Allah. Fear Allah.” (Ibn Abi al-Dunya, al-Mawsu’a, I, 77)
 Abu al-‘Abbas Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Ajiba, al-Bahr al-Madid fi Tafsir al-Qur’an al-Majid, Cairo 1419, II, 112.
 See Ahmad, II, 298; Tabarani, al-Mu’jam al-Kabir, ed. Hamdi ‘Abd al-Majid al-Salafi, Beirut: Dar ihya’ al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1984–94, X:162.