Chapter 10: Life of the Next World

The principle of belief in the eternal life of the next world is one of the important points of Islamic conception of cosmos and a fundamental tenet of Islam. A belief in the next world is an essential condition of being a Muslim and anyone who denies that is not a Muslim.

Next to the confession of monotheism, this is the most important doctrine preached by all the Prophets without any exception. The scholastic theologians of Islam call it the doctrine of the Resurrection.

In the Holy Quran we come across hundreds of verses, which in some way or other deal with the Day of Judgement, the life after death, the resurrection of the dead, the great account, the deed-sheets, the heaven, the hell, the eternality of the next world and other questions relating to the world after death. In 12 verses, a belief in the Last Day has been formally mentioned next to the belief in Allah.

The Holy Qur'an has used different expressions to denote the Day of Resurrection. Each one of these expressions is full of Gnostic significance. The Last Day is one of them. By using this expression the Holy Quran wants to draw our attention to two points:

" That human life, and for that matter the entire length of time of the existence of the world, is divided into two periods, each of which may be called a day. The First Day (the period of the duration of this world) will come to an end, but the Last Day (the period of the duration of the next world) is endless. The Qur'an has called this world life the first and the next world life the last. (Vide Surah al-Layl, 92:13 and az-Zuha, 93:4)

" That even now when we are passing through the first period and have not reached the second period and the second day, our success during this day as well as that day depends on our faith, which draws our attention to good deeds and their reaction. We must understand that like us our thoughts, words, deeds and habits also, from the slightest to the biggest, have the first day and the last day. It is not that our words and deeds vanish and are obliterated during the first day. They continue to exist and will have to be accounted for on the Day of Judgement. Therefore we must do our best to put right ourselves, our actions and our intentions, and abstain from bad thoughts and evil deeds. Thus we should always step forward on the way of righteousness and good behaviour, for on our faith depends our bliss on that day. It is man's conduct in this world that makes his life happy or miserable in the next. That is why the Qur'an regards the belief in the next world or the Last Day absolutely necessary for man's prosperity.

Source of Belief in the Life of the Next World

The chief source of belief in the eternal life of the next world is the Divine revelation conveyed to mankind through the Prophets.

Following his recognition of Allah, belief in the veracity of the Prophets and knowing for certain that what the Prophets convey as revelation has really come from Allah and is therefore true, man comes to believe in the Day of Resurrection and the eternal life of the next world. This doctrine has been described by the Prophets as the most important doctrine next to Monotheism.

As such, the degree of the faith a person has in the life of the next world depends, on the one hand, on the degree of his faith in Prophethood and the veracity of the Prophets, and on the other, on the degree of the correctness and rationality of his conception of the Hereafter, and its being free from vulgar and absurd ideas.

In addition to the Divine revelation conveyed by the Prophets, there are some other methods of acquiring belief in the Hereafter. Man through his intellectual and scientific efforts can get to, at least, some strong indications which support what the Prophets say about the next world. These methods are as under:

" Through knowing Allah;

" Through knowing the World;

" Through knowing the spirit and mentality of man.

For the present we do not propose to enter into the discussion of these methods which requires lengthy philosophical and scientific arguments. We intend to confine our attention to considering the method of Prophethood and revelation only. But as the Qur'an itself has in some verses expressly mentioned these methods and in some other verses hinted at them, we will refer to them in a subsequent section under the heading, the Arguments of the Quran in Respect of the Next world. So that the question of eternal life in the next world may become clear from the viewpoint of Islam, it is necessary to consider the following questions:

" Nature of death;

" Life after death;

" Purgatory or Barzakh;

" Resurrection;

" Connection of this worldly life with the life after death, Eternal existence of human deeds in a corporeal form;

" Common and distinguishing features of the life of this world and the life of the next world, Arguments of the Quran in respect of the next world.

Nature of Death

What is death? Is it destruction, annihilation, and non-existence or is it a change, a development and a shifting from one world to another?

This is a question which has always engaged man's attention. Everyone is keen either to find out an answer to it direct or to accept an answer already given.

By virtue of being Muslims we would like to draw the answer to this question from the Holy Qur'an and have faith in what the Qur'an has said in this respect.

The Qur'an has its own explanation regarding the nature of death. It has used the word, 'tawaffi' in this connection.

This word means to receive in full. In 14 verses, the Qur'an has used this expression. All these verses show that from the Qur'anic point of view death means gathering and receiving into custody. In other words man at the time of his death gets into the custody of the Divine authorities, who receive him in full. From this expression the following points may be inferred:

i. Death does not mean annihilation and obliteration. It is just a shifting from one world to another world and from one stage of life to another stage. Human life continues after death, though in a different form.

ii. What actually constitutes man and his self is not his body and his physical and ancillary systems, which gradually decay and decompose in this very world. What really constitutes his personality and ego is that which has been described by the Qur'an as 'self' and occasionally as soul.

iii. Man's soul or his 'self' is the real constituent of his personality. Man is immortal because his soul is immortal. His soul rests and exists at a horizon above the horizon of matter and material things. Although it is an outcome of the evolution of the essence of natural phenomena which is transformed into the soul as the result of its evolution, its horizon is changed and it becomes a thing of another world which is extra-natural. With the death the soul shifts to a different category and class, that is the class of soul. In other words this extra-material reality is taken back and received into angelic custody.

The verses which deal with the genesis and are not concerned with the other worldly life, the Qur'an has advanced the 596 point that man is a reality belonging to an extra-material class. The Quran in respect of Adam, the first man says:

"I have breathed into him of My spirit." (Surah al-Hijr 15:29).

The question of soul and its survival after death is one of the basic teachings of Islam. One half of the undeniable teachings of Islam is based on the doctrine that soul is independent of the body and that it continues to exist after death. All real human values are based on this truth, without which they will be nothing more than a figment of imagination.

All the verses that speak of life immediately after death, a few examples of which we propose to quote, prove that the soul is a reality independent of the body and that it continues to exist even when the body has been annihilated.

Some people think that from the viewpoint of the Quran there exists no soul or spirit. The existence of man comes to an end with his death, after which he neither possesses consciousness nor has he any feeling of joy or pain. At the time of Resurrection man will get a new life and it is at that time alone that he will rediscover himself and the world. But this theory is totally belied by the verses which mention life immediately following death.

The exponents of this theory think that those who believe in the existence of soul or spirit base their claim on the verse:

"Say: The spirit is by command of my Lord." (Surah Bani Israil, 17:55).

They say that although the word, 'ruh' has been repeatedly mentioned in the Quran, yet it means something different from what is called soul. In this verse also it signifies the same thing as meant in other verses.

These people do not know that those who believe in the existence of soul do not base their argument on this verse. There are about 20 other verses, in which soul has been mentioned either absolutely or in the form of a possessive case, an adjectival phase etc. such as Our spirit, My spirit, holy spirit, a spirit by Our Command. Concerning man it has been said:

And I breathed into him of My spirit.

This expression shows that from the viewpoint of the Qur'an there exists a reality superior to the angels and the men and it is this reality which is called the spirit. As a blessing of Allah the angels and the men have this reality described as "by My Command". The verse, I breathed into him of My spirit along with other verses shows that the spirit of man has an extraordinary reality.

Not only many verses of the Qur'an confirm the independent existence of human soul, but this view is also corroborated by numerous reports of uninterrupted chain of transmission in the books of Ahadith as well as by many passages in Nahjul Balaghah (See: Peak of Eloquence, I.S.P. 1984) and the supplications of the holy Imams.

The fact is that the denial of the existence of soul is a filthy Western idea inspired by the materialism of the West. Unfortunately some well-intentioned followers of the Quran have also adopted it.

Now we quote by the way of examples, three out of the four verses in which the word 'tawaffi' (to gather or receive in full) has been used in connection with death. In some of these verses such actions have been attributed to the people immediately after their death as are performed by living persons (such as speaking, wishing and demanding).

(i) "As for those whom the angels took (in death) while they wronged themselves, the angels said to them: In what were you engaged? They said: We were oppressed in the land. The angels said: Was not Allah's earth spacious so that you would have migrated therein? The dwelling of such people will be Hell fire, a terrible destination." (Surah An Nisa', 4:97)

This verse is in respect of those people who succumb to the pressure of their circumstances because they live in an unfavorable environment controlled by their opponents. Their excuse is that their environment being unfavorable to them, they cannot do anything. Instead of trying to bring about a change in their atmosphere and if that was not possible, shift to a better environment, they continue to live in the same corrupt environment and submerge themselves in its quagmire. After extracting their souls the angels of Allah talk to them and say that their plea was unsatisfactory, for they failed to at least emigrate to another environment. The angels remind them that they themselves are responsible for their acts of omission and commission.

The Holy Qur'an tells us in this verse that helplessness in a certain place cannot be a valid excuse unless the way of emigration from it to another place is also closed.

As we see, in this verse death, which is apparently annihilation and termination, has been expressed by the word, tawaffi which signifies receiving into custody. Further, this verse report of a dialogue between the angels and a man after his death. Should the reality of man not continue after his death and should his reality become merely his insensitive and unconscious body, evidently this dialogue would be meaningless. This verse makes it clear that man after leaving this world and this life, can talk with the invisible creatures known as the angels, although with a different set of eyes, ears and tongue.

(ii) And they say:

"When we are lost in the earth, how can we then be recreated? In fact, they have no faith in the Day of Judgement. Muhammad, say: 'The angel of death who has charge concerning you, will cause you to die and afterward to your Lord you will be returned." (Surah as-Sajdah, 32 : 10)

In this verse the Holy Qur'an removes the doubt of those who denied the Hereafter. They asked how they could be raised again when following their death every particle of them would have been totally decomposed and destroyed.

The Qur'an clearly says that the doubt expressed by them is a mere pretext to conceal their obstinacy. Anyhow, replying to their question the Qur'an says that contrary to what they assert, their real personality and their real 'self' are not the things which, as they allege, are lost. Actually they with their entire personality are gathered by the angel of death.

Those who raised this doubt meant by being lost in the earth that when all the parts of their body would have been scattered and every particle of their body would have been decomposed, how would it be possible to recreate and revive it?

The same doubt has been mentioned in some other verses also and there a different answer has been given to this question. There it has been pointed out that the dead body is lost from the viewpoint of man only. No doubt it is impossible for a human being to recollect all its particles, but for Allah Who is Omnipotent and Omniscient, it is not difficult to do so.

In the previous verse the argument of those who deny Resurrection was based on the impossibility of the recollection of the particles of the dead bodies. But here their argument is different and that is why it has been answered differently. Here it has been argued that with the loss of the particles of his body, the real personality of man is also lost and no question of 'I' or 'We' is left. The Qur'an says that contrary to what they think, the real personality of man is never lost, and hence there is no need of finding it again. On the contrary men as well as his personality are gathered by the angels at the time of his death.

The following verse also expressly mentions the continuation of the real personality of man (his soul) after his death, although his body ceases to exist then:

(iii) "Allah receives man's souls at the time of their death. Their souls do not die when they are sleeping. During people's sleep He withholds those souls which He has decreed to die and releases the others for an appointed time. In this, in fact, there is an evidence (of truth) for the thoughtful people." (Surah az Zumar, 39 : 42)

This verse describes the similarity of sleep and death, and inters alia the similarity of waking and resurrection. Sleep is a slight and weak form of death and death is an intense and strong form of sleep. In both these cases the human soul shifts from one state of life to another. The difference is that in the case of sleep man usually does not notice the change and when he wakes up he does not realize that he has actually returned from some journey. In contrast in the case of death everything becomes clear to him.

It may be gathered from all these three verses put together that from the Qur'anic point of view, the nature of death is not annihilation, termination and non-existence. It is only shifting from one state of life to another.

Incidentally the last verse throws light on the viewpoint of the Qur'an about the nature of sleep also. Although physically sleep is the suspension of certain natural faculties, from spiritual point of view it is an escape to the kingdom of heaven. Like the question of death, the question of sleep is also one of those things the true nature of which is not fully known. All that is known in this connection is merely a part of the physical developments that take place in the physical domain.

After Death

Does man immediately after death pass direct to the stage of resurrection and is his case finally decided then and there? Or does he during the period between death and resurrection pass through a special world to be resurrected only on the Day of Resurrection? We know that it is known to Allah only when the Day of Resurrection will arrive. Even the Prophets have expressed their unawareness in that respect.

It is gathered from the Qur'an and numerous reliable reports which have come down to us from the Holy Prophet and the Imams, that no one reaches the stage of Resurrection immediately after death, because that stage will be accompanied by so many upheavals and revolutionary changes in everything known to us, such as the mountains, the oceans, the moon, the sun, the stars and the galaxies. At that time nothing will be left intact. Further, at the time of Resurrection all men of the past and the present will be gathered together. But we see that the world is still intact and probably will remain so for another billion of years. Meanwhile innumerable human beings are still to be born.

Similarly it is gathered from the foregoing and so many other verses of the Quran that no one during the period between death and Resurrection shall remain motionless and unconscious. In other words, man shall not be in a torpid state, feeling neither pleasure or joy nor grief or pain. Immediately after his death man enters a new stage of life, in which he feels everything. Certain things give him pleasure and certain other things give him pain. Anyhow, his pleasure and pain are related to his conduct in this world only. This stage will continue till the Resurrection takes place. At that time so many upheavals will overtake the whole world in a moment that from the farthest stars to our earth everything will be revolutionized. With this that world which is the intermediary stage between this world and the Resurrection will come to an end.

Thus from the viewpoint of the Qur'an the post-death world has two stages or, to be more exact, after his death man passes through two worlds. The world which will come to an end like the present world is called the barzakh or purgatory. The other is the post-resurrection world which shall never come to an end. Now let us briefly discuss these two worlds.

Barzakh or Purgatory

A thing which lies between two other things as a barrier and separates them is called barzakh. The Qur'an has used this word to indicate the life between death and the Resurrection. The Qur'an says:

"Until, when death comes to one of them, he says: My Lord, send me back, so that I may do some good I did not do (in the world). But nay! These are mere words which he utters and behind them is a barzakh until the day of their Resurrection." (Surah al Mu'minun 23:100)

This is the only verse that calls the interval between death and resurrection the barzakh. The Muslim scholars have borrowed this word from here and named the world between death and resurrection the barzakh.

About the continuity of life after death this verse says only that men after their death repent and request their return to the world, but their request is turned down. This verse shows specifically that man after his death has a sort of life. That is why he asks for being sent back to the earthly world, although his request is not accepted.

About the continuity of life after death this verse says only that men after their death repent and request their return to the world, but their request is turned down. This verse shows specifically that man after his death has a sort of life. That is why he asks for being sent back to the earthly world, although his request is not accepted.

There are many verses which indicate that man during the period, between his death and Resurrection is endowed with a sort of life in which he speaks, has feelings of pleasure and pain and can enjoy a sort of happy life. On the whole, there are about 15 verses in the Qur'an which in some way or other speak of a life process, from which it may be gathered that between the period of death and Resurrection man enjoys a full-fledged life. These verses may be divided into several categories.

(i) There are verses which quote some conversations between the righteous or the wicked men on the one hand and the angels on the other. These conversations took place immediately after death. Such verses are many. We have already cited the verse 97 of the surah an-Nisa' and the verse 100 of the surah al-Mu'minun.

(ii) There are some other verses according to which the angels talk to the righteous and tell them to enjoy the bounties of Allah from that time onward. They do not keep them waiting for the Day of Resurrection. The following two verses contain this point:

"They will be received by the angels of mercy with the greetings: Peace be on you! Enter the Garden as a reward for your good deeds." (Surah an-Nahl, 16 : 32)

It was said to him (after his death): Enter paradise. He said:

"Would that my people knew that my Lord had pardoned me and made me of the honoured ones." (Surah Yasin, 36:26 - 27)

In the verses preceding to this verse a conversation of this believer with his people was quoted. He called upon his people to follow the Prophets who invited them towards monotheism in Antioch (Antakiyah). He announced his faith and asked others to listen to him and follow his example. But his people did not listen to him till he died, and went to the other world. When he saw that he was pardoned by Allah and honoured by Him he wished that his people who were still in the mundane world knew how happy he was in the other world. Evidently all this happened before Resurrection for after Resurrection none would be left on the earth.

Incidentally it may be noted that for the righteous after their death there are several paradises, not one single paradise. In the next world they vary according to degree of their inmates' proximity to Allah. In addition to these paradises, there are some other paradises, as reported by the chosen descendants of the Holy Prophet which relate to the world of Barzakh, not to the Day of Judgement. Hence the paradise mentioned in the above quoted two verses should not give the wrong impression that it relates to the Day of Judgement.

(iii) The third group of verses does not report any conversation between the angels and the men. They only describe the happy life of the righteous and the miserable life of the wicked during the period between death and Resurrection. The following two verses belong to this category:

  1. "Think not of those who have been slain in the way of Allah as dead. Nay, they are living with their Lord and are being provided with the means of living. They are jubilant because of that which Allah has bestowed upon them of His bounty, and wish that those who have been left behind join them." (Surah Ale Imran, 3: 169 - 170)

  2. "A dreadful doom encompassed Firawn's folk. They will be exposed to the Fire mornings and evenings and on the Day of Resurrection it will be said: People of Firawn's folk suffer the most awful doom." (Surah al-Mu'nim, 40:45-46)

This verse mentions two kinds of punishment in respect of the Fir'awn's followers. The first is the pre-Resurrection punishment described as a dreadful doom. Fir'awn's men are exposed to the Fire two times every day. The other punishment is the Post-Resurrection punishment described as the most awful doom. On the Day of Judgement an order will be given to throw these people into the Hell. Only in respect of the first punishment the time of morning and evening has been specified.

Interpreting this verse Imam Ali has said that the first punishment is meted out in the Barzakh where the same system of morning, evening, year and month prevails as in this world. In contrast, the second punishment relates to the post-Resurrection world where there is no morning, evening, week, month or year.

In the reports which have come down to us from the Holy Prophet, Imam Ali and other Imams in respect of the Barzakh, much stress has been laid on the life of the believers and the sinners during their stay in the Barzakh.

During the Battle of Badr a number of the prominent leaders of Quraysh were killed. When fighting was over, the Holy Prophet ordered their bodies to be thrown into a well near Badr. Then the Holy Prophet himself went to that well, and putting his head inside the well and addressing the dead said:

"We have found that what Allah had promised to us has come true. Have you also got what He had promised to you?"

Some companions of the Holy Prophet said:

"Prophet of Allah, do you talk with those who have been slain and are dead? Do they hear what you say?"

The Holy Prophet said:

"Now they hear better than you."

From this tradition and other similar traditions we can see that in spite of the separation between the body and the soul with death, the soul does not totally sever its relation with the body with which it was united for years.

On the 10th Muharram Imam Husayn offered his morning prayers in congregation. Then he turned to his companions and delivered a short speech in which he said:

"Be calm and patient for a little while. Death is nothing but a bridge by means of which you cross from the bank of pain and grief to the bank of happiness, honour and vast paradise."

There is a tradition which says that people are asleep. As soon as they die, they wake up. That means that the degree of life after death is higher than that before death. During sleep man's consciousness becomes weak. It is a state between life and death. When man is awake his life is more perfect. Similarly his life in the Barzakh is to some extent more perfect than that in this world.

There are two points worth mentioning here:

i. According to the reports from the Imams, in the Barzakh man is interrogated about his faith and belief only. Other questions are left to the Day of Resurrection.

ii. The meritorious deeds performed by his relatives with the intention that their reward should go to the dead person, make the dead person happy and are to his advantage. If alms and charities whether in the form of endowments or otherwise, are given with the intention that their reward should go to one's departed father, mother, friend, teacher or anyone else, these charities may be regarded as a gift to the deceased person concerned. They make him blissful.

The same is the case with the invocation, asking for Allah's forgiveness, circumambulation of the Ka'bah and the pilgrimage to Makkah and other Holy place if performed on behalf of a dead person. It is possible for the children who have displeased their parents during their lifetime to do something to please them after their death. The other way round is also possible.


The second stage of the eternal life is Resurrection which, unlike the Barzakh, is not an individual affair but shall involve the entire mankind and the whole world. With Resurrection the whole universe shall enter a new stage and a new phase of life. The entire system will be changed.

Where the Qur'an has told us of this great event, it has said that at the time of the Resurrection the stars shall fade, the sun shall lose its brilliance, the oceans shall become dry, everything shall go flat, the mountains shall be obliterated and there shall be screams, yells and violent convulsions all over the world followed by unprecedented changes.

What is gathered from the Quran is that the whole world shall be devastated and everything shall be obliterated. Then a new world shall be born which shall be basically different from the existing world. The new world shall have absolutely different laws and different systems, and shall continue to exist for ever.

In the Holy Quran Resurrection has been given various names, each name representing a certain characteristic of it. As it is the day of which the whole mankind will be gathered together, it is called the Day of Assemblage, the Day of Gathering and the Day of Meeting. As on that day all secrets will be disclosed and all realities will be laid bare it is called the day of unfolding and the day when the hidden thoughts will be searched out. As it is the day that will last forever, it is called the day of eternity. As it is the day when men will be disillusioned and win be repenting and regretting, it is called the day of grief and the day of mutual disillusion. And as the Resurrection is the greatest event and the biggest piece of news, it is called the Great Tidings.