Death & the Hereafter in Islam
“Every soul shall taste death.”Qur’an 29:57
Death is Near
“Wheresoever you may be, death will overtake you even if you are in fortresses built up strong and high!” Qur’an 4:78
Death is the reality from which none can escape. It draws nearer every day; every hour; every minute. According to the CIA’s The World Factbook 2007, almost two people die each second. That’s a staggering 57.9 million people each year! Every single being will reach this inescapable fate, regardless of their age, health, background, social status or piety. Where are the past kings, the billionaires and the powerful? Where are the once beautiful, the famous, and the intellectual elite?
The Reality of Death
Death is not a disaster, but simply a passing from this world onto the next. It should make us reflect and ponder about the purpose of life, and what will become of us after death.
Allah (God) has informed us in the Qur’an that He has created us with the purpose of worshipping Him alone and that He made this life a test to see who will fulfil that purpose:
“And I did not create the Jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” Qur’an 51:56
God has also informed us the purpose behind the creation of death and life:
“Allah is He who created death and life to test you as to which of you is best in deed.” Qur’an 67:2
One does not prepare for death by pre-paying funeral services or selecting a coffin in advance. It is about fulfilling one’s purpose in life – to worship Allah alone, to live according to His commandments, and perform good deeds. The concept of worship in Islam is all encompassing and is not merely restricted to praying. In fact, any action that is pleasing to Allah is considered an act of worship, and a person will be rewarded for it.
The Moment of Death
“Let every person consider what they have sent ahead for tomorrow.” Qur’an 59:18
Every day we see examples of death. We perceive a peaceful death as one with neither pain nor violence. However, this is not necessarily the case. When a person dies, the soul leaves the body, and so the physical appearance of the body may not reflect the situation of the soul. The peacefulness or unease of the soul will be a direct result of how well a person fulfilled their purpose in this life, and has little to do with the cause of death.
Consider an example of two people who have a one-way ticket to a destination they have never been to before. The first person takes the time to learn about the language, culture and practices relating to the destination. He acquires the right currency and vaccinations, and when it comes time to travel, he arrives without any surprises. He is safe and content, because he has taken the time to prepare.
In contrast, the second person is careless in his preparations and simply lives for the moment until the time comes to depart. He arrives at the unknown destination scared and confused. His unpreparedness causes him to end up with a dreadful fate, as all of the things he has brought with him were of no use.
Describing such a heedless person, Allah says in the Qur’an:
“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.” Qur’an 23:99-100
Also consider the response of those people consigned to hell, when they are questioned regarding what put them there:
“They will say, ‘We were not of those who prayed, nor did we feed the poor. And we used to enter into vain discourse with those who engaged in it, and we used to deny the Day of Recompense (the Day of Judgement) until there came to us the death that is certain.’ ” Qur’an 74:43-47
We all have an appointed time with death, and we will all travel to this unfamiliar destination. Ask yourself – have you prepared for it?
The Purpose of Life
“Did you think that We (God) created you in play (without any purpose), and that you would not be brought back to Us (God)?” Qur’an 23:115
Life is a test which ends in death, but it does not mark the end of one’s existence. Once death arrives, the opportunity to do good ceases. It will be too late to repent and our fate will be determined solely by our beliefs and deeds that we do in our current life. Man’s life is divided into two parts: a brief stay in this world, and an eternal life in the next. Any sane mind will conclude that eternal bliss is far more beneficial than short lived pleasures on Earth.
Allah created mankind and made us responsible for our actions by granting us freedom of choice, and intelligence to discern right and wrong. If there were no afterlife in which the good were rewarded and the bad punished, that would contradict the perfect justice of Allah.
Hence it is an absolute demand of justice that there be a Day of Judgement on which every soul is brought to account.
“Shall We then treat the People of Faith like the People of Sin? What is the matter with you? How do you judge?” Qur’an 68:35-36
The Day of Judgement
“Death, from which you are running away from, will certainly catch up with you. Then you will be returned to the Knower of the Unseen and the Visible (i.e. Allah) and He will inform you about what you did.” Qur’an 62:8
Everyone’s deeds in this life are meticulously recorded and preserved, as Allah says:
“And the Book (of Deeds) will be placed open, and you will see the sinful in great terror because of what is recorded therein. They will say, “Ah! Woe to us! What is this book that leaves nothing small or great, but takes account thereof!” They will find all that they did placed before them. And your Lord does injustice to no one.” Qur’an 18:49
We will be amazed by the accuracy of such a record of all our actions, as we will be reminded of matters long forgotten. Allah says,
“Allah has kept account of it, while they have forgotten it.” Qur’an 58:6
Thinking deeply on this should make us ashamed of committing any sin while knowing that it will be recorded against us and exposed on the Day of Judgement in front of Allah.
For those who doubt Allah’s abilities to resurrect and judge them, Allah quotes the disbelievers as saying:
“ ‘Who will give life to these bones when they have rotted away and became dust?’ Say (O Muhammad), ‘He will give life to them Who created them for the first time! And He is the All-Knower of every creation!’ ” Qur’an 36:78-79
Paradise and Hell
Those who believe in Allah as the only God worthy of being worshipped, and perform good deeds, will be rewarded with Paradise.
“Verily, the dwellers of the Paradise, that Day, will be busy in joyful things. They and their wives will be in pleasant shade, reclining on thrones. They will have therein fruits (of all kinds) and all that they ask for.” Qur’an 36:55-57
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) narrated that Allah said:
“I have prepared for My righteous slaves such excellent things as no eye has ever seen, nor an ear has ever heard, nor a human heart can ever think of.”
This is in sharp contrast to the people who deny the Oneness of Allah, who will be told:
“This is the Hell which you were promised! Burn therein this day, for that which you used to disbelieve.” Qur’an 36:63-64
For the disbelievers is the worst of punishments:
“Indeed, Hell has been lying in wait for the transgressors, a place of return, in which they will remain for ages [unending]. They will not taste therein any coolness or drink except scalding water and dirty wound discharges – an appropriate recompense [according to their evil acts]! Indeed, they were not expecting an account, and denied our verses with emphatic denial. But all things We have recorded in a Book. ‘So taste the penalty, and never will We (God) increase you except in torment.’ ” Qur’an 78:21-30
“O man! What has deceived you concerning your Lord, the Most Generous? Who created you, fashioned you perfectly, and gave you due proportion. In whatever form He willed, He put you together. No! But you deny the Recompense (reward for good deeds and punishment for evil deeds on the Day of Judgement).” Qur’an 82:6-9
“Indeed, the righteous will be in pleasure, and indeed, the wicked will be in Hellfire.” Qur’an 82:13-14
Death is inevitable. Our purpose in life is to worship Allah alone, perform acts of righteousness and to avoid all that is forbidden. Our fate is being decided on the basis of our present actions, so we can either make use of our opportunities on Earth to ensure an eternal place for ourselves in Paradise, or we can waste them and condemn ourselves to eternal punishment in Hell.