There will be a time on earth when everything that God created will cease to exist. The day of resurrection will be the time when all of mankind will be brought back to their original physical form and every human being, from the past to the present, will be resurrected and examined by the deeds that they performed during their lifetime - this day is called the “Day of Judgment.”
The Quran has devoted almost one-third of its verses to this event, and in one passage we read:
﴾O mankind! If you are in doubt concerning the resurrection, then verily, We created you from dust, then from a drop, then from a clot, then from a lump of flesh [both] shaped and shapeless, that We make it clear for you. And We cause what We will to remain in the wombs for an appointed time, and afterwards We bring you forth as infants: then you attain your full strength. And among you there is he who dies [young] and among you there is he who is brought back to the most abject time of life so that, after knowledge, he knows nothing. And you see the earth barren, but when We send down water on it, it thrills and swells and puts forth every lovely kind [of growth]. That is because Allah is Reality, and it is He Who gives life to the dead, and it is He Who has power over all things, and because the Hour [of Judgment] will come concerning which there is no doubt, and because Allah will raise those who are in the graves.﴿ (22:5-7)
Regarding the Day of Judgment, God states, ﴾Verily We will give life to the dead, and We record all that they send before and that they leave behind, and We have taken account of all things in a clear Book [of evidence].﴿” (36:12) Another verse informs us, ﴾And every soul will be paid in full for its deeds, and He knows best all that they do.﴿ (39:70)
The number of verses in the Quran that deal with life after death and the Day of Resurrection is close to 1,200. This is in addition to a vast number of traditions related from Prophet Muhammad and the twelve imams. This number reveals the importance and significance of life after death and emphasizes that the life of a human being does not end with death, but in fact, continues afterward towards a new life. The Quran calls this life the “true life” as we read, “The life of this world is nothing but diversion and play, but the abode of the Hereafter is indeed Life, had they known!”1
Some people may wonder that if eventually mankind is going to die, then why were people created in the first place?
Humanity was created to be caretakers of the earth; thus, life on earth becomes a test, to maintain and preserve nature; and more importantly, to maintain and preserve our moral natures.
According to Islam, a person will be judged according to the actions that they performed in his or her life. If their deeds were primarily good, then they will enter Heaven (also called 'The Garden' or simply 'Paradise'). However, if one's deeds or actions are mainly evil, he or she will enter Hell (also referred to as 'The Fire'). On the Day of Judgment, everyone will know the fate of everyone else.
Both Heaven and Hell have different levels. The worst of people will be in the lowest depths of Hell, while the best of people will be in the highest parts of Heaven.
Death and the Life After Death
Through religious doctrine, humanity has been shown a glimpse of what we will experience at the moment of death and the life after death. The Quran reveals some of the secrets surrounding the soul, ﴾It is Allah who takes away the souls at the time of their death, and those that die not during their sleep. He keeps those souls for which He has ordained death and sends the rest for a term appointed. Verily, in this are signs for people who think deeply.﴿ (39:42) In another verse, the spirit (soul) has been introduced in the following manner, ﴾And they ask you concerning the spirit. Say, 'The spirit, it is one of the things, the knowledge of which is only with my Lord, and of knowledge, you mankind have been given only a little.'﴿ (17:85)
For the believers, the departure of the soul will be peaceful, God says, ﴾It will be said to the pious: 'O you in complete rest and satisfaction! Come back to your Lord - you yourself well-pleased and also well-pleasing to Him! Enter then among my honored servants, and enter my Paradise.'﴿ (89:27-30)
The Quran reveals that a person who is near death will become aware that he or she is going to die. For those who are destined for Hell, the parting of the soul will be accompanied by severe pain. The moment of death is described in the Quran as, ﴾Nay! When the soul reaches the collarbone, and it will be said, 'Who can cure him and save him from death?' And he, the dying person, will conclude that it is the time of departing, and he is shrouded; the drive on that day will be to your Lord.﴿ (75:26-30)
When the deceased is buried, the soul will accompany their physical body to the grave. The soul will then be questioned therein by two angels concerning their lifetime actions, deeds, and faith. The soul will then remain alongside the body. Although the body will perish, the soul will remain living until the time of one's resurrection on the Day of Judgment.2
Islam believes that before the time of Resurrection and the Day of Judgment, the souls of people in their graves will either live in comfort or distress before ultimately entering Heaven or Hell. This abode is called Barzakh. The life of Barzakh can be described as a small form of paradise or hell. A person's faith, whether good or bad, will determine the atmosphere of Barzakh, namely, pleasant or unpleasant.3
Once, Prophet Jesus sent two messengers to the city of Antioch to call the people towards monotheism and the worshipping of the One God. One of the men of that town embraced the faith and followed the messengers. The king of the land ordered him to be killed. As the righteous man was dying he said, “Verily I have believed in your Lord. So listen to me.” When the disbelievers were about to kill him, he heard a voice which said: 'Enter paradise.' He said, ﴾Would that my people knew what my Lord Allah has forgiven me and made me one of the honored ones.﴿ (36:25-27) The paradise that the man had entered was the small form of paradise called Barzakh.
The descriptions of the small hell and the ultimate Hell are very vivid and painful in the Quran, and one description states, ﴾Evil torment encompassed the Pharaoh [and his people]—the fire: they are exposed to it morning and afternoon [in the Barzakh], and on the day when the Hour will be established [Hell].﴿ (40:46)
Repentance and Forgiveness
Repentance is the giving up of sin and it is the best way of expressing regret for having committed a sinful act. It involves sincerely regretting a particular sin and then resolving never to perform it again. Repentance is the source of and way to success, and in the Quran we are told, ﴾Turn to Allah, O believers, that you may be successful.﴿ (24:31)
No matter how grievous a person's sin may be, God's forgiveness is much greater. No one should be ashamed to turn toward God in repentance for one's shortcomings, as God can erase the sins of whomever He pleases.
The Quran states, ﴾Say, O My servants who have transgressed against themselves, do not despair of the mercy of Allah; verily, Allah forgives all sins. Verily, He is the Forgiving, the Merciful.﴿ (39:53)
Other verses which speak of God's infinite mercy include the following, ﴾Tell My servants that I am the Forgiving, the Merciful﴿ (15:49); ﴾Will they not turn to Allah and ask His forgiveness? Allah is the Forgiving, the Merciful﴿ (5:74); ﴾Your Lord is full of forgiveness for mankind in spite of their wrongdoing.﴿ (13:6)
Despite God's ability to destroy mankind (if He so willed), God possesses the main characteristics of forgiveness and mercy. For this reason, Muslims begin nearly every action, speech, or endeavor with the words, ﴾In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate.﴿4
Repentance is of benefit now and security for the Hereafter. Prophet Muhammad narrated that the act of repenting brings an increase in wealth, protection from danger, and an easing of hardships and difficulties. Furthermore, it has been said that the fastest way to attain closeness to God is to humble oneself before Him and to admit ones wrongdoing. The benefits of repentance for the next life are obvious - entrance into Paradise and safety from the Hellfire.
Repentance will be accepted up until the moment of death. Prophet Muhammad once said that if a person seeks repentance one year before dying, God will accept the repentance; even if a person seeks repentance one day before dying, God will accept it; the Prophet then pointed to his throat and said that even if someone seeks repentance before his soul reaches here (pointing to his throat), even then God will accept it!
Nonetheless, repentance should be done as soon as possible and should not be delayed for surely no one knows how or when one will die. This point has been emphasized again and again in the Islamic traditions and in one such anecdote, Imam Ali has said, ﴾How numerous are the procrastinators who postpone [repenting and doing good deeds] until death overtakes them!﴿5
Repentance should be done privately and secretly. People can establish a direct link to God while seeking repentance without the necessity of a third person interfering or even knowing about it. In fact, if a person commits a sin, he or she is not allowed to let others know about the sin! Prophet Muhammad once said to Imam Ali, “O Ali, blessed is one whom Allah looks upon while one is weeping for a sin that none is aware of except Allah.”6
In addition to not revealing one's own sins, every person must conceal the faults of his brother or sister to preserve that person's honor and the honor of society. That person's faults may be dealt with personally and privately, but it should not be spread among society.
God loves a person who sincerely repents for his or her sin; hence, the repented sin will be considered as if he or she had never committed that sin. Imam al-Baqir said, “He who repents of his sins is as one who has not any burden of sin.”7
However, repentance must be sincere, and ultimately, it is only God who knows who is sincerely regretting his misdeeds and who is just speaking empty words.
A person came to Imam Ali and said, “I seek God's forgiveness.” The Imam replied, “Do you know what asking God's forgiveness is? Forgiveness is a word that stands on six supports. The first is to repent over the past. The second is to make a firm determination never to revert to it. The third is to discharge all the rights of people so that you may meet God quite clean with nothing which to account for. The fourth is to fulfill every obligation which you ignored in the past so that you may now be just with it. The fifth is to aim at the flesh grown as a result of unlawful earning so that you may melt it by grief of repentance till the skin touches the bone and a new flesh grows between them. And the sixth is to make the body taste the pain of obedience as you previously made it taste the sweetness of disobedience. On such an occasion, you may say, 'I seek God's forgiveness.'”8
* Discovering Islam. By: Imam Sayed Moustafa Al-Qazwini. Chapter 6. Islamic Educational Center of Orange County. 3194-B Airport Loop Drive. Costa Mesa, California 92626 U.S.A. Website: www.iecoc.org. Copyright 2001 by Moustafa Al-Qazwini.
1- See Quran 29:64.
2- See Quran 56:1-56.
3- Quran 36:26-27.
4- Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim.
5- Ghurar al-Hikm, p.240.
6- Bihar al-Anwar, v.77 p.63.
7- Wasail al-Shia, v.16 p.74.
8- Nahj al-Balagha (The Peak of Eloquence), sermon #426.