The teaching of the Qur'an that life is a process of progressive creation necessitates that each generation, guided but unhampered by the work of its predecessors, should be permitted to solve its own problems.

(The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam)

Life After Death

All religions and most of the philosophers believe in a life after death. This is not only with the man of modern age but, since time unknown, the life is taken by man as not ending with the death of a body; indirectly they considered the soul as immortal. Over five thousand years ago Egyptians believed in life after death, as a proof of it their mummified bodies, which recently have been dug out from the graves and looking today as fresh. These were buried in graves with their wealth as well as with the food of their liking thousands of years ago. In the graves of some of the Egyptian kings their favourite servants were also buried alive. The kings in their lifetime used to get their graves built in the shape of huge pyramids or by digging out heavy stones in between most secured hills. These graves were equipped with all necessities of life. The walls and roofs of some of the graves in Egypt, as can be seen today, were decorated with colourful paintings; the colours of these paintings still giving a fresh look. 

The Hindus are burning their dead as they do not believe that the soul would need the same body any more. Therefore, they do not give any importance to the dead body and hence burn it. However the Hindus believe vehemently in the immortality of soul. In the past it was their faith that the soul of sinners remain deprived of heavenly grace and these souls go on hovering under the canopy of heaven, assuming different bodily shapes till their redemption. Buddhism brought this concept to its logical end that a soul without a body cannot redeem itself. Hence the concept of transmigration of the soul is now the part of religious belief of Hindus. Before 600 B.C. all the Hindu societies did not subscribe to the concept of the transmigration of souls, though some Hindu ascetics did believe in it. However, the Hindu societies gradually as the time passed started accepting this belief under the impact of Buddhism which flourished in India as the religion of the ruling dynasties for about a thousand years.   

Judaism, Christianity and Islam believe in “life hereafter”. They believe in resurrection of the body on the day of judgement when everyone has to appear before God and will be accountable to Him for his deeds and behaviour in this world, as a result of which he/she will be either rewarded for good conduct during their life on the earth or awarded punishment according to his/her misdeeds. To them Man, therefore, does not perish with death. What happens in the life after death before the period of the day of judgement no one knows.  No traveller of the valley of death comes back to tell us anything about the life in that world. In Islam the place where human soul resides after bodily death is called Barzakh. This is Arabic world which means partition or a barrier. Here the souls reside after leaving human body till the day of resurrection. What happens to a person and what type of life is there after death, the question agitates mind of everyone. Obviously that shows man’s natural belief in some sort of life after death, but surely this belief negates the idea that the death means a total extinction of man.

Our mind always tries to ignore or set aside the idea of death but the fact remains that none of us can escape death, which is a reality and every one of us has, one day, to face it. Modern scientists and thinkers have been working to find out (1) the nature of death as to what is it is not the matter? (2) Does extinction of material body means a total extinction including the soul?  Scientists have failed to find the answer of the first question as death is not a thing which can be brought under some sort of laboratory test. As regards total extinction of man by death the science is faced with doubt, since it has been scientifically proved that the soul has some weight. Several experiments have been made where the human body was weighed at the time of dying a person and then the body was reweighed after the death. Invariably in every case it was revealed that the dead body was lighter than it was before the death. Man is a combination of a body and a soul; since the weight of dead body is less than it was a moment ago when body and soul were together, it is scientifically confirmed that the death of a person is not his/her total extinction. Here the third and the most important question arises that if the soul does not perish with the death of a body, what happens to it after leaving the body - where does it go - is there any other place/world for it to live when soul leaves the bodily residence? This is actually the subject of this thesis, The Concept of Life after Death. The question has been partly answered in the above lines. Let us look further into the subject.

Some people think that man does not want to die and therefore the term ‘life after death’ has been invented as a refuge from the idea of death.  Philosophers like Bertrand Russell call the life after dying as wish-projection to remove the fear of death from the mind of man. This is not something new with the intellect. When the existence of a deity is gone from the mind a chaos takes the place as a result of lacking inner sight to grasp the existence of reality, a thing which our material eye is unable to see. In the ancient world prior to the birth of Judaism two religions emerged between the period 1200 and 500 B.C. These were Zoroastrianism and Buddhism. To the prophets of both these religions the first revelation was oneness of God, as a result of which they framed moral laws and started teachings on moral values, the base of which besides existence of God was to live a life preparing oneself for the world hereafter. The continuity of life after death remained the part of faith among both these religions. The followers of Buddhism also call the death as ‘the emergence of a new birth’.

The moment of death to the dying person is not a moment in the world of space-time. It also does not relate to eternity. It is just a timeless moment - a transit moment - similar to a no man’s land between the borders of two neighbouring states. In the moment of this transition man enters in the world hereafter. The soul jumps out of its earthly cage and reaches at a place unknown to us – rather unthinkable to the mind of man living in the world of space-time.  No one has ever returned to tell the story of that world. The life span of a person is boundless as the soul possesses eternal life. The life can be divided in three stages. Let us study the three stages in man’s life separately as following;

1) Life in the world of space-time.
2) Death and near death.
3) Life after death.

1)  Life in the world of space-time.

Our existence in the world of Space-Time is a short tour of our life and the death is just a moment of it. In this world everyone has a finite living time. One has to pass through three stages during the life, 1) childhood, 2) young age and 3) old age, which is the last leg of our life on earth, after which there is a moment of transition called death - the person then enters into the world hereafter. It is the spirit or soul of the person, which leaves its earthly home in physical world.  The spirit is the essence of a person that enters into another world – an astral plane. The route of our happiness lies in our understanding of the continuity of life. We must be prepared to meet the promised day of death just as one make preparation when going out on a tour. Our hand baggage for the journey to eternal world must contain our good deeds and love with other human beings. In this way you prepare your Heaven while on earth and will carry the same with you to the world hereafter.

Man has a very limited time at his disposal in this world, during which he is given time and liberty to choose his way. During the given time he can choose to earn money and live a luxurious life forgetting about his death. People of this group are worthless for the society. They pass their lives on earth only for themselves - their living and death are just like those of animals. They believe that the life ‘is once’ and therefore every moment of it must be enjoyed. Unconsciously they are afraid of death and avoid even to think of it, seeking pleasure moments of which there is no limit till the death calls on them. There is another group of people, who is God fearing. These people are in majority within every society. They make the best use of their life time on earth by their existence among the society as a useful part of it. They help others and take care of those who are in need. They are the people who have faith in the world hereafter. They acquire pleasure in having a belief to the continuity of life, hence they do not fear to face the death.

2) Death

Confucius (551 – 479 B.C.) said that ‘When I do not know what is life, how could I know anything about death’. During prehistoric period the death was not considered compulsory but the people believed that man was immortal. To them the death was taken as an act of some unseen ill power causing death due to one reason or the other. In the Old Testament it was said that man was made immortal but due to his disobeying God and going to the prohibited tree he was punished by putting death in his nature. But today the death is universally considered as indispensable reality. Despite the fact that the death is indispensable the mind of man is never found ready to accept that he has to die one day. In fact he avoids thinking of his own death even if he had accompanied a funeral of his relative or friend. He is afraid of death and unconsciously suppresses the idea of his own death.

Allama Iqbal, the poet-philosopher, has said: “Maut ik chubhta hua kanta dil-i insane men hai” (The death is a sharp prickling thorn in the heart of human being. More than two thousand years after Confucius the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard observed that ‘death is briefest summary of life, or life traced back to its briefest form’. The question of death remained as top priority in philosophical thinking of Greeks during fourth and fifth centuries B.C. Even during first and second centuries B.C. the question remained unsolved in the mind of man. But after the birth of Christianity the importance of the question of death diminished; the religion had solved this riddle to a great extent. Later Islam dealt with the question of death and the life after death in logical way removing all the possible doubts and confusion in human mind. Another unanimous finding of nearly all great thinkers of the world is that the death is the most important part in the life of human being.

The life of soul is unlimited and the death does not touch the soul or spirit of a person, as said by Iqbal, Farishta maut ka choota hai go badan tera; Teray wujood kay markaz say door rahta hai” (The angel of death simply touches your body; It remains away from the centre of your person). The centre of man according to Iqbal is Khudi (the Self). In this verse we may take it as soul or spirit. The death brings a rejoicing moment to the dying person’s soul. The veil between the physical world of space-time and the world hereafter is removed at the time of death. We see our next abode in front of us at the time of dying. Experiments reveal that in most cases the dying person sees those beloved ones who passed away long time ago. Socrates tells us his views about death in a part of his dialogues entitled “Apology”, wherein he says that ‘death is one of two things. Either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and migration of soul from this world to another. Now if you suppose there is no consciousness but a sleep of him who is undisturbed even by dreams, death is unspeakable gain… Now if death be of such a nature, I say that to die is gain; for eternity is then only for a single night. But if death is the journey to another place, and there, as men say, all the dead abide, what good, O my friends and judges, what can be greater than this?  If indeed when the pilgrim arrives in the world below he is delivered from the professors of justice in this world, and finds the true judges who are said to give judgement there, Medos and Rhadamanthus and Aeacus and Triptolemus … what would not a man give if he might converse with Orpheus and Musacus and Hesiod and Homer?  Nay if this be true, let me die again and again.’1 

Near Death Experience (NDE)

Sociologists have examined near death situation of dying persons in different age groups of poor, middle class and rich people belonging to different societies and have experienced that, with negligible exception, everyone comes across three phases in immediate moment before death. They are as following:

1.      Resistance
2.      Panoramic view of life
3.      Transcendence  

Briefly among the above 1)“Resistance” is but natural. 2) The “Panorama view of life” indicates the existence of life hereafter, in which we are going to get the fruit of what we have sown in our life on earth. Had there been no such possibility no one would have cared at the time of dying as to what he had done during his life. As for 3) “Transcendence” it reveals the existence of reality about which man usually remains doubtful during lifetime.      Mary T. Browne was famous in consoling the unrest minds of patients in extreme illness, most of those whom she visited were closed to death. She has recorded her experience of a number of such patients. In some of these cases the patients mentioned their experience after the surgery or at the time of serious accident, when they passed through a life and death experience. In these cases the persons reported hearing someone declaring them as dead. They were either doctors in the surgery room or the police officers at the scene of the accident. The dying persons narrated their experience to Mary that they felt as if they were floating and could see themselves lying on the operation table or on a stretcher and observed the people moving around their physical body. Some of them saw glimpses of next realm and also at a distance they saw the departed souls of their friends waiting to welcome them. She writes that almost every one of such persons returned to this world as they had not completed their living period on earth. During their short time of staying at the other side they felt a beautiful light enveloping them. Nearly everyone said that the other plane was so pleasant that none of them wanted to go back to the earthly life, as some of them said to Mary personally. However, she said that the life of all these persons was completely changed as they realised the main purpose of the life on earth. She remarks that they understood the sacredness of life and its deeper meaning. They realised that the real purpose of our life on earth is to learn, to grow, to improve, and to serve others.

3) Life after Death

In fact death is an extremely beautiful moment of life. Even Socrates, as stated above has taken death in a pleasant mood. All the existentialist philosophers have hailed the role of death in the life of a person including Søren Kierkegaard, the father of existentialism. I would say that death is an essential ingredient in the philosophy of existentialism. Our life does not end with the death of our body but it is death that opens the door to a larger world for our life, where we enter after a short tour of our earthly life. The life in that world is eternal and wonderful, where there is no fear of death. All the religions of the world advocate an eternal life of the soul after man’s bodily death. Mary T. Brown was also a prominent researcher and psychiatrist in this field. She says, ‘when you sleep you wake up on this side, when you die you wake up on the other side’. In a beautiful couplet Dr. Allama Iqbal says, Maut tajdeed-i mazaq-i zindagi ka nam hai, khwab kay parday men bedari ka ik pegham hai (The death is the renewal of life; It is a message of awakening behind the veil of sleep). 

As we have seen earlier the idea of a life hereafter is inbuilt in the psyche of humans. The belief in other world is so widely admitted in all the ages and among all the religions in the world that we cannot possibly ignore it. In spite of the fact that we cannot prove it scientifically, mathematically or through some sort of laboratory test the continuity of life remains as a truth. Similar is the case with the concept of Heaven, Hell and Barzakh in afterlife, that we can understand them only spiritually. Spiritlessness which is actually the stagnant of spirit is misfortune of man. Such person deprives himself/herself of real pleasure of life in this world and the world hereafter. Eternal life is not our right but each one of us is a candidate for that. They are our good deeds and love for others which makes us candidate to get an eternal life making ourselves able to get benevolence of God on the day of judgement and awarded paradise in the world hereafter.  

Ghulam Sabir

[1] The Four Socrates Dialogues of Plato (translated by Benjamin Lowett, Oxford 1903, reprinted 1949, p.90-91

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