Qur'an and the Hereafter

Conceptual stone gates leading to a fiery hell or beautiful heaven (photo: iStock by Getty Images).

The Quran says that life does not end with death; it is perpetual and continues beyond physical death to the hereafter. 

إِنَّا نَحْنُ نُحْيِي الْمَوْتَىٰ وَنَكْتُبُ مَا قَدَّمُوا وَآثَارَهُمْ ۚ وَكُلَّ شَيْءٍ أَحْصَيْنَاهُ فِي إِمَامٍ مُّبِينٍ

(36:12) – Verily, We shall indeed bring the dead back to life, and We shall record whatever [deeds] they have sent ahead, and the traces [of good and evil] which they have left behind: for all things do We take account in a record clear. [Asad]

If somehow one escapes accountability of one’s misdeeds and does not suffer in this world for his wrongdoings, he will definitely be held accountable for it and will have to suffer in the hereafter in front of everyone as witnesses whom he had hurt while pretending to be pious. 

وَكُلَّ إِنسَانٍ أَلْزَمْنَاهُ طَائِرَهُ فِي عُنُقِهِ ۖ وَنُخْرِجُ لَهُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ كِتَابًا يَلْقَاهُ مَنشُورًا

(17:13) – And We have fastened every man's deeds to his neck, and on the Day of Resurrection, We shall bring out for him a book which he will find wide open. [Hilali & Khan]

Could there be any greater hell than this? Some people live their lives pretending to be very pious; very friendly and trustworthy; promising everyone everything but in the heart always looking for ways to blame others for failing to keep those promises. Such people will be exposed in the hereafter in front of everyone! And they will accept their hypocrisy in front of everyone and suffer the consequences thereof. Everyone will be told to read one’s own account and decide one’s own punishment.

 اقْرَأْ كِتَابَكَ كَفَىٰ بِنَفْسِكَ الْيَوْمَ عَلَيْكَ حَسِيبًا 

(17:14) – [and he will be told:] “Read this thy record! Sufficient is thine own self today to make out thine account!” [Asad]

So, one will be one’s own witness that Day. One will not be able to deny what one used to hide from others. One wants to know the punishment? He will be told: decide your punishment yourself. What could be a fairer justice than this; what could be a more balanced verdict than this? No religion in the world has this kind of concept of the hereafter. The prevalent concept of forgiveness is totally against this fair and just verdict. Allah’s Law of Requital is completely fair to all without exception. Let alone others, even the Prophet (PBUH) was not granted an exception because Allah asked him to openly declare:

إِنِّي أَخَافُ إِنْ عَصَيْتُ رَبِّي عَذَابَ يَوْمٍ عَظِيمٍ

(6:15, 10:15) – Behold, I would dread, were I [thus] to rebel against my Sustainer, the suffering [which would befall me] on that awesome Day [of Judgment]. [Asad]

This is the reason the Quran asks the people of every religion to acquire conviction (IMAN) on this concept of the hereafter.

The Quranic concept of the hereafter is a glad tiding for creating a heavenly society on earth. How many of us act on this Quranic command that the Quran demands from us, Muslims, to acquire Iman:

 يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا آمِنُوا بِاللَّـهِ وَرَسُولِهِ 

(4:136) – O you who claim to believe (to be Muslims)! Acquire IMAN in Allah and His Messenger. 

Do we, Muslims, ever think that how serious this divine command is? If we did acquire this kind of IMAN then this human society will turn into heaven. If we had the conviction that whatever outwardly I say or do will come out in front of everyone on the Day of Judgment – of what actually was in my heart – and I will be held accountable in front of everyone, then, obviously the earth will become heaven. There would be no place for hypocrisy and crime.  

All our efforts for Islamization; all our efforts for enforcing sharia laws will not produce anything positive in real life – as it is the case for thousand years when the dictatorship of kings (misnaming themselves as Khalifas to fool the people) destroyed the divine system established by the Prophet (PBUH). If this kind of IMAN is not acquired first – the kind of IMAN like that girl who refused to pour water in milk during Khalifa ‘Umar’s time and said to her mother: if no one is watching, then Allah is watching. If this kind of IMAN gets into every Muslim’s heart, then crimes will disappear from society

During the period of Abu Bakr (R) a post of the judge was created, and Umar (R) was appointed to this post. Umar (R) told Abu Bakr (R) to abolish this post as no case came before this court for one year. How could any case come before the court? The entire society reflected the deep conviction that people had: in the law of requital; in the accountability of actions – and even in accountability of thoughts; in the Day of Judgment; and in the Hereafter. 

لِّلَّهِ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ ۗ وَإِن تُبْدُوا مَا فِي أَنفُسِكُمْ أَوْ تُخْفُوهُ يُحَاسِبْكُم بِهِ اللَّهُ

(2:284) – Unto God belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth. And whether you bring into the open what is in your minds or conceal it, God will call you to account for it. [Asad] 

If this level of conviction about the accountability in the Hereafter enters the heart of everyone then how could anyone be motivated to commit any crime in such a society?    

If a nation believes and has full conviction in Allah’s Law of Requital then there would be no need for police, or courts, or jails as no one would commit any crime due to deep conviction in the hereafter. This is the kind of revolution that the Quran creates in the hearts of people first. And these are the people who establish the Islamic system and create Islamic society. These are the people who do not think anything bad about anyone, let alone doing bad things to anyone. These are the people who, when they say As-Salaam-o-Alaikum or Wa-Alaikum-As-Salam, then they truly mean peace and security to everyone (“Alaikum” is plural) from the bottom of their hearts whether or not they know them. Won’t that society become a truly Islamic society in which all have deep conviction and true IMAN in the hereafter?

IMAN requires a change of heart; it requires a change in mindset; it requires a deep internal psychological change in the “self” and personality of individuals. The Quran says that if a nation does not do this kind of internal change in heart, then nothing positive will happen to that nation, no matter what it does. The Quran says that unless and until people change their internal mindset there will be no change in the society:

 إِنَّ اللَّـهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ 

(13:11) – Verily, God does not change men's condition unless they change their inner selves. [Asad]

Allah does not alter the condition of a people until they bring about a change in their inner selves. The Quran was explaining this to the Bedouins of Arabia. This issue has been tackled by every philosopher since Plato’s time but no matter how much they try, they are not able to find a way out of this societal conundrum. And they won’t ever find a way out of it, without adhering to this law of Allah pertaining to change.

Imagine, fourteen hundred years ago the Quran is explaining to the most backward and ignorant people of the world how to develop true IMAN. It tells them that one cannot just believe what one sees by one’s eyes. That is of course obvious. It does not require any belief. But it is telling them: what about the force that is operating behind the scene which you don’t see? You see the sun; you see its light; you feel its heat; you see its rise and you see its setting – you see all this but what about the force that is behind its working? Do you notice that? What you see are external signs, not that internal force that is running these gigantic celestial bodies. What to say of those Bedouins even top atomic scientists cannot see that force. You cannot see the energy that powers the sun but you claim that you will accept IMAN in the hereafter only when you see with your own eyes how the dead whom the earth has consumed is brought back to life for questioning? How ludicrous is this demand? So, the Quran wants them to ponder further with an example:

 وَنَزَّلْنَا مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً مُّبَارَكًا فَأَنبَتْنَا بِهِ جَنَّاتٍ وَحَبَّ الْحَصِيدِ ﴿﴾ وَالنَّخْلَ بَاسِقَاتٍ لَّهَا طَلْعٌ نَّضِيدٌ ﴿﴾ رِّزْقًا لِّلْعِبَادِ ۖ وَأَحْيَيْنَا بِهِ بَلْدَةً مَّيْتًا ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ الْخُرُوجُ

(50:9-11) – And We send down from the skies water-rich in blessings and cause thereby gardens to grow, and fields of grain, and tall palm-trees with their thickly-clustered dates, as sustenance apportioned to men; and by [all] this We bring dead land to life: [and] even so will be [man’s] coming-forth from death. [Asad]

It is Allah's Law according to which dead land comes to life due to rain, and a similar law will bring about the resurrection of the dead

One sows the seed in the ground. It seems that the earth ate it. One doesn’t see anything happening. But soon one notices that a shoot peeks out from the seed. What is going on here? Well, the seed had within itself this new life that came out of it while the earth consumed the rest of the seed. Does everyone see how from a tiny seed this shoot turns slowly into a huge tall date tree? All the trees and plants go through this cyclic process and produce tasty fruits and vegetables in order to feed and nourish us all. And nature makes sure this process continues: humans plant seeds, nature produces a harvest. There will be no harvest if the potential was not hidden inside the seeds to produce plants – new fresh life – although the seeds were consumed by the earth.

 قَدْ عَلِمْنَا مَا تَنقُصُ الْأَرْضُ مِنْهُمْ ۖ  

(50:4) – Well do We know how the earth consumes their bodies, for with Us is a record unfailing. [Asad]

We know what the earth consumes from it. You see how a little date seed turns into a big tall tree loaded with layers-upon layers of date fruits. From where does it come from within that tiny seed? The earth did not consume this hidden potential of the seed. All this happens in front of you: the dead earth comes to life; the dry seed comes to life. Similarly, the dead human being whom you bury will acquire a new life. 

This is being explained to the Arab desert Bedouins 1,400 years ago. How practical is this example that even they – in the age of Jaahiliyya – could easily understand! Please note the word “كَذَٰلِكَ” – meaning “the same way”. You see that right in front of you the dead earth becomes alive. Can you deny this? No, of course, no one can deny it. So, yes, humans will be resurrected the same way – كَذَٰلِكَ الْخُرُوجُ. This is that miraculous aspect that the Quran explains itself. So, this Book could not be from anyone other than Allah. 

The Quran explains to Bedouins who were questioning the Prophet (PBUH) about the dead being brought back to life. The Quran says that the dead will become alive the same way as the dead earth becomes alive after rain falls on it. And they will have to answer and be held accountable for their activities – and even for their thoughts – in the hereafter. 

أَلَا إِنَّهُمْ يَثْنُونَ صُدُورَهُمْ لِيَسْتَخْفُوا مِنْهُ ۚ أَلَا حِينَ يَسْتَغْشُونَ ثِيَابَهُمْ يَعْلَمُ مَا يُسِرُّونَ وَمَا يُعْلِنُونَ ۚ إِنَّهُ عَلِيمٌ بِذَاتِ الصُّدُورِ

(11:5) – Oh, verily, they [who are bent on denying the truth of this divine writ] are enshrouding their hearts in order to hide from Him. Oh, verily, [even] when they cover themselves with their garments [in order not to see or hear], He knows all that they keep secret as well as all that they bring into the open - for, behold, He has full knowledge of what is in the hearts [of men]. [Asad]

This is a practical example that beautifully illustrates the point. They could not refute it but used to engage in crooked arguments with the Prophet (PBUH) because otherwise, they will have to change their lifestyle; because otherwise, they could no longer pursue their selfish narrow interests. The Quran says that this is nothing new to only these people. Previous nations did the same thing to their Messengers:

كَذَّبَتْ قَبْلَهُمْ قَوْمُ نُوحٍ وَأَصْحَابُ الرَّسِّ وَثَمُودُ ﴿﴾ وَعَادٌ وَفِرْعَوْنُ وَإِخْوَانُ لُوطٍ

(50:12-13) – [Long] before those [who now deny resur­rection] did Noah’s people give the lie to this truth, and [so did] the folk of Ar-Rass, and [the tribes of] Thamud. and Ad, and Pharaoh, and Lot’s brethren. [Asad]

The denial of life of the hereafter is due to their fear of facing the Law of Requital. Earlier nations motivated by similar mindsets also belied the reality of the hereafter. They all belied Allah’s Messengers. But their denial did not make any difference. The results of their deeds were properly manifested and doom and destruction overtook them.

Allah’s Law confronted them as a stark reality. The reason to tell their story is that these were powerful nations of their times but they didn’t listen to their messengers’ warning – that no matter how powerful a nation maybe if it continues to use its power to exploit and to subjugate the people it will be held accountable and it will be destroyed. These nations didn’t believe their messengers. They didn’t believe in the hereafter. So, they were destroyed. And, now, their ruins tell their stories.

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