Akhirah. Akhirah. Akhirah. Allah Subhanahu wa ta’la insistently repeats and reminds us of it on almost every page of the Qur’an. So does Muhammad sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, the last Messenger of Allah (swt) for mankind, with every word he speaks and everything he does. They tell us that the Akhirah is more real than the ground under our feet. Real success or failure is success or failure in the Akhirah for which Allah (swt) will be the sole Judge. Nothing in this world has any value if it does not benefit man on the Day of Judgment. Thus, there is no Islam without the Akhirah, and no sensible Muslim can remain forgetful of it lest he become a loser on that Momentous Day.
Still, it is very easy to lose sight of the Akhirah, even for us believers, or to fail to be fully conscious of this most important reality. It is easy to forget that we will harvest in the Akhirah what we sow in this world, and that – for good or for bad – we are all engaged in sowing, each moment of our present life. There are various reasons for this loss of sight and forgetfulness.
One, we do not see the Akhirah before our eyes as we do other things. Two, we have no experience of it. And thirdly, of course, we have our many distractions. The vivid and variety-filled world that we see before our eyes absorbs our attention, time and energy. This world seems solid and permanent, while death seems remote and the Akhirah merely an abstract proposition of no immediate relevance.
In fact it was not meant to be easy for us to keep the Akhirah in mind. It is on the question of the Akhirah that our iman is sorely tested. Our attitude to the Akhirah depends solely on the strength and vitality of our iman.
To keep our iman healthy and strong and ensure its continuous growth we have to nourish and nurture it. This can only be done through our passionate engagement with Allah’s (swt) Book of Guidance for us and His Noble Messenger Muhammad (saws).
In this connection it would help to ask ourselves what the basis of our iman is. First, we believe that the Qur’an is the word of Allah (swt). We have all the evidence we need to be sure that the Qur’an is the word of Allah and preserved in its original form. And thus we believe that whatever Allah has said in the Qur’an is true. Nothing can be truer. Allah (swt) has not said anything that we do not need. And since He has placed so much importance on the Akhirah, the Muslim has to take it seriously. Any confusion in the heart about the veracity of the Qur’an will naturally undermine a Muslim’s sense of the reality of the Akhirah.
We further believe that Muhammad (saws) is a true Prophet of Allah (swt). Even the minutest details of his life are known to us. In fact, there is no one else in history or in our personal life whom we know better. His life convinces us. There is nothing false about him; he never told a lie or deceived anyone. Muhammad (saws) never sought any reward from others for what he did. All his struggles and hardships were for the sake of Allah (swt) alone. The Qur’an emphatically proclaims this: “No reward do I ask of you: it is (all) in your interest: my reward is only due from Allah: and He is Witness to all things.” (Surah Saba 34:47). Even when we pray for him by saying sallahu alayhi wa sallam (Surah Al-Ahzab 33:56), it is for our benefit, not his. Our prayers do not advance Muhammad’s (saws) place before Allah (swt) in any way. His position is secure with Allah (swt), but saying our taslim is an unfailing means for us to please Allah (swt). Thus we trust the most trustworthy, selfless and caring human being who ever lived.
We can also find confirmation for our belief by engaging our capacity for thinking. Islam does not require us to close our minds. On the contrary, it encourages us to think. Allah (swt) repeatedly prods us to observe and draw lessons from what we observe and rebukes us for our failure to think and reflect.
As thinking and reflecting beings, we can ask ourselves one question. What does life look like without the Akhirah? What meaning or sense and purpose is there in life if there is no Akhirah? None. Without the Akhirah, all is chaos, useless, valueless. On an entirely self-enclosed worldly level there cannot be any such thing as right and wrong, good or bad. All are equal and therefore meaningless. Without the Akhirah, an occasion for an absolutely thorough and flawless account-taking from man and according him what he truly deserves, any edifice of meaning or value that man might wish to erect crumbles even before it can be started. In such a case, what need or justification can there be in continuing to live in this state? Man would be in a void of despair.
But before one gives up and totally surrenders to despair, he can look at the universe around him and think about it. What should he make of the amazing beauty, variety, organization, interrelatedness, balance and harmony in the universe? What has brought about this harmony in variety? Surely, all these things could not have been there by themselves or by accident. Surely, some supremely powerful, intelligent and wise source must be behind all this, to bring all these qualities into being, to invest them in the universe and to guide and control it. And this source also needs to be one and indivisible. The presence of harmony unmistakably testifies to the unity and oneness of the source, for harmony is the imprint of unity on multiplicity.
This leads to another very important question. If that Source or Being can bring into existence such a universe of order and harmony, would He leave human beings, the most delicate and complex thing in the universe, outside His scheme? Since every element in the universe functions according to the law and principle impregnated into each, would He leave man without some law and principle to direct him? No, that cannot be. That would mean an element of disorder in an otherwise orderly universe. Reason demands a scheme and guidance for man also.
Here, however, we must recognize a crucial difference between all the other elements in the universe and man. While each of them obeys the guidance imbued into it, man has a will of his own and the freedom to use it the way he wishes. Man’s case therefore is different: the scheme and guidance for man must also be different.
As man can choose how to behave, there has to be some arrangement for his proper accountability and a dispensation of what he has earned through his choice. This requires the presence of all the parties involved and the availability of all the evidence at one place and time, and a judge capable of dealing with everyone with unquestionable thoroughness and justice.
Before man faces his judgment, though, the basis on which he is going to be judged must be made known to him. Observing the orderly behavior of the minutest of particles in the universe, man can feel sure that the basis for order in his life is also available. If he looks for it, he will find it.
Man with his pure innate capacity for thinking and reflection can easily arrive at a point where he can feel the existence and working of a Supreme and Perfect Being, the need for guidance from that ultimate and unfailing Source and the advent of a final moment of resolution when all confusion and bewilderment will be dispelled and all conflicts resolved, a moment when there are no more loose ends or unanswered questions. These are the most urgent and profound truths that man needs to know and can realize by his own effort. And this is one of the urgent messages at the heart of Islam.
There is no difficult or complicated philosophy involved in all this thinking. It is within the reach of any sensible human being, as it should be. For it affects the ultimate and eternal destiny of each one of us. But man by his own efforts can go no further. He cannot know the full identity and will of that Supreme Source, the form of his guidance, or clearly imagine the final judgment. He needs help from the Supreme Source. The realization of this is the dawning of wisdom.
It is here that Allah’s (swt) revelation and sending of human Messengers to guide and forewarn man fit in. Together, they can safely conduct man to the Akhirah. The human Messenger is needed not only to convey the message from Allah (swt) but no less importantly to also show man how to make use of the revelation. Thus Allah’s (swt) scheme for mankind finds fulfillment through three things: the Revelation, the Messengers and the Akhirah.
We Muslims believe in these things because nothing else makes sense. All else is confusion and disorder.
Now, what remains for us to do is to keep our vision of the Akhirah real, vivid and fresh, and work to prepare ourselves while we are in this world for that inevitable and overwhelming eventuality. It is on our vision of the Akhirah that our response to life, its conditions and all that befalls us, depends.
As always, we have the example of our most beneficent friend Muhammad (saws). How real, immediate, acute and vivid the Reality of the Akhirah was to him can be seen from this Hadith: “They (his Companions) said: ‘Oh, Messenger of Allah, we saw you reach out to something, while you were standing here, then we saw you restrain yourself.’ He said, ‘I saw Paradise and reached out to a bunch of its grapes, and had I taken it you would have eaten of it as long as the world endured. I saw Hell also'” (Sahih Muslim, Book 004, Hadith 1982). There are numerous other ahadith that convey the feeling that Muhammad (saws) is already there and is talking to his companions from there.
When we say we accept him as our Prophet (saws), we commit ourselves to molding our lives after him in every way. Let us try to keep our vision of the Akhirah clear and vivid, as Muhammad (saws) did, and to ready ourselves for it as he taught us to do.
A. K. M. Mohiuddin is a retired university professor of English literature living in Bangladesh. He can be reached at this address: akmm45 [at] yahoo [dot] com