Belief in the Hereafter is one of the most important tenets of Islam. It occupies the central position in the preaching mission of prophets. It is on the foundation of this belief that the pillars of sharī‘ah, virtue and righteousness stand. Prophethood is also based on it. A nabī (prophet) is a nabībecause he actually foretells this nabā’ azīm (great news).1 A rasūl (messenger) is a rasūl because he brings the message of its advent. The Qur’ān is a bearer of warning and glad tidings for this Day. It says that the manner in which people wake up from sleep, the manner in which rain enlivens a dead and desolate terrain, the manner in which a whole human being comes into existence from a mere drop of water, in the same manner mankind will be made to rise one day from their graves. Raising up mankind on that Day would not be of any bother for the Almighty. When the addressees of the Qur’ān expressed their doubt about being re-created and inquired after the being who would enliven these decayed bones, the Almighty replied in the Qur’ān that the very being Who created them the first time would create them again. This whole process is as easy for Him as is uttering a word for us.
The testimonies, indications, sites and events of this day are described both in the Qur’ān and the Hadīth. In the following paragraphs, these details are mentioned:
i. The Testimonies
The first thing is man’s awareness of good and evil. It is because of this awareness that his chiding conscience rebukes him on every evil. It is a small court of justice that is found within every person and which delivers its unbiased verdict at all times. Whether he accepts it or not, a person is able to clearly listen to this verdict after every mistake that emanates from his thoughts and deeds; this continues until he becomes so deeply involved in evil that it completely surrounds his faculties thereby lulling the call of his conscience to sleep. This internal system of rebuke is a testimony of his inner-self and is called the testimony of the rebuking-self. The Qur’ān presents it and tells man that he will not be left unaccountable for whatever he does. He should know that just as there exists a lesser abode of judgement within man, similarly a greater abode of judgement will one day be set up for the whole world; when it takes place, he will be held accountable before his Lord and rewarded and punished accordingly on the basis of his deeds. If a person denies such a day of accountability, then it is like denying himself and playing mischief before one’s conscience.
The second thing is the nature of man by virtue of which he likes justice and dislikes injustice. No doubt, in spite of this dislike he still perpetrates injustice but this is not because he is not able to distinguish justice from injustice or that he likes the latter – it is because he loses his balance and poise by being overcome with desires and emotions. All of us know that a person may want to steal from another person’s house but he would never like someone to steal from his own house; he may kill someone but would never like that anyone take his life or that of his relatives. Similarly, a person may be dishonest in weighing his merchandise for others but would never be happy if others are dishonest with him in this regard. If one asks these thieves, killers and swindlers about their actions they would confess that each of these is a crime and should be eliminated. Thus no one in his senses can regard good and evil to be equal or that both be dealt with in the same manner. The Qur’ān presents these facts and asks the rejecters of the Day of Judgement: “Are We to deal with those who submit to Us as We deal with those who transgress? What is the matter with you? What is this judgement you give?”
The third thing is the incompleteness found both in man and in this world. From whatever aspect these two are seen, it is clearly evident that in every single part of theirs the great power and wisdom of their maker is apparent. In everything there is great meaning, matchless order and sequence, unrivalled mathematical perfection and symmetry, extra-ordinary thoroughness and immense beauty of creativity that astounds one’s intellect. On the other hand, if one tries to understand both of them in their totality, one sees great incompleteness and lack of purpose in them. After this, there can only be two possibilities: first, to regard this world as a meaningless place and come to the conclusion that it is the workmanship of a merry-maker and nothing more; second, to understand it in combination with a Day of Judgement and that eternal kingdom of God which has so vehemently been affirmed and declared by His prophets. What is the verdict of intellect? Every person can comprehend.
The fourth thing is the attributes of God, the effects of which are evident in every speck of this universe. The attributes of providence and mercy in particular need one’s attention. After witnessing the extra-ordinary arrangement made by the Lord of this world to nurture and nourish man, how can a person of intellect think that his Lord will leave him unaccountable and how can it be expected from the merciful and gracious God to not punish people who have made this world a place of oppression and injustice? For this very reason, the Qur’ān has pointed out at a number of places that the Day of Judgement is the consequence of God’s providence and mercy, power and wisdom. After professing belief in God, no one can deny it.
The fifth thing is the manifestation of God’s judgement in this very world. This happened through prophets who were elevated to the status of messengers. The Almighty blessed them with extra-ordinary miracles, helped them through Gabriel and before the actual Day of Judgement set up through these messengers miniature Days of Judgement on this earth. The objective was to prove the existence of God and the Hereafter to the people in the manner scientific facts are proven through empirical evidence in a laboratory. After this, obviously no one is left with an excuse before the Almighty to not accept the truth.
The methodology adopted for presenting this empirical evidence was that these messengers communicated the truth to their people and then declared that they would set up a court of justice for their people on behalf of the Almighty. The reward and punishment on the basis of one’s faith and deeds which they had been informed of would take place for their people in this very world. Just as physical laws are unalterable and manifest themselves come what may, in the same manner, this moral law of God would manifest itself to them once they were left with no excuse to deny the truth. Thus those among the people of the messengers who accepted their calls would attain salvation both in this world and in the next and would dominate their adversaries. And those who rejected these calls would be humiliated and receive divine punishment.
Whenever this prediction was made and about whichever people it was made, it was made in the most impossible and unbelievable of circumstances; however, it is an amazing historical reality that it came true whenever it was made and came true in such a manner that people in fact witnessed God administering justice and the heavens and the earth were filled with His majesty and grandeur.
The Qur’ān has informed us that the last time this miniature Day of Judgement took place was in the seventh century AD. This amazing event of human history occupies extra-ordinary significance because it took place in the light of known history. Thus the minutest of details about it are preserved and all its phases are before us and anyone can witness them by turning the pages of history.
ii. The Signs
When will the Day of Judgement come? The Qur’ān has made it clear that no one except God has knowledge of this. Only He knows when it will come and He has not disclosed this matter even to any of His prophets and angels. However, the signs and portents which will signal its advent are mentioned in the Qur’ān and the Hadīth and also in previous divine scriptures. Some of these signs are very general and others are in the form of specific incidents and happenings. The signs of this first category are not mentioned in the Qur’ān. Only the Hadīth literature mentions them. Of the signs of the second category too, only one is mentioned in the Qur’ān: the onslaught of Gog and Magog. Therefore, this only is the certain sign. Other signs which are generally known in this regard are found in narratives which the scholars of Hadīth technically regard as sahih. Some of these signs have already manifested themselves and others, if their ascription towards the Prophet (sws) is correct, shall definitely manifest themselves in future.
iii. The Events
How would the Day of Judgement come about? The details of what will ensue at the advent of this day are mentioned in the Qur’ān at a number of places. What will happen to the heavens and the earth and what will befall the sun and the moon, the planets and stars and what situation will be faced by the creatures of the earth and how people will emerge from their graves to gather around their Lord is all portrayed in the Qur’ān. A study of pre-Islamic Arabic literature shows that Arabs relished parables more than similes. The Qur’ān while taking this into account has portrayed the picture of the cataclysm that will take place on that day in such a graphic manner that the reader feels and sees all these events happening before him. The sequence of the events which will take place as per the Qur’ān is the following:
a. People will be deeply involved in their life-routine. Some will be on the way, some in the market, some in a meeting and some at their homes and no one will have the slightest inkling that this whole world is about to be disrupted when suddenly the trumpet will be blown and the upheaval of the Day of Judgement will take place. At various places, the Qur’ān has graphically depicted what will happen to the creatures of this earth when this commotion ensues. When after the first earthquake tremor the second tremor comes, the state of the earth will be much like a ship which is being swept by the tumultuous waves around it and whose inhabitants as a result will be trembling with fear with eyes horror-struck and they will be so overcome and stricken by the situation as if the horrific punishment of God has driven them mad.
b. It will be at this time when great disruption in the physical world will begin. Such great commotion will ensue all over this universe that mountains will be crushed to grains, seas will burst forth and all galaxies and heavenly bodies will be displaced and will fuse into one another. So great will this all-embracing upheaval be that minds cannot imagine it and words cannot describe it. This turmoil will continue for a period known only to God.
c. After this, the second phase will begin. In the Qur’ān, this phase has been called the phase in which mankind will be re-created. Thus from this very turmoil a new physical world will emerge. All heavenly bodies including this earth, sun, moon and galaxies made of billions of stars and planets will change into an earth and heavens having new physical laws. According to the Qur’ān, at this juncture, the trumpet will be sounded once again after which mankind will rise from their graves and will advance to the court of justice set up by their Lord for them.
iv. Phases and Abodes
The phases through which a person passes and the abodes in which he is lodged during his journey to meet his Lord are also mentioned in the Qur’ān. Slowly but surely, he is moving to encounter his Lord. The first phase of this journey is death. After a short stay in this world, every single person passes through this phase. There is no escape from it. It can come in the morning and it can come in the evening; one may taste it even before one’s birth or right after birth. It can come in childhood, in youth or in old age at any time and every person has to submit to it whether he likes it or not. According to the Qur’ān at death, the real personality of a person which is called the soul (nafs) by the Qur’ān and which is independent of his body is separated from his mortal being. A specific angel – who has a whole staff of angels – is deputed for this task. He formally comes and claims a person’s soul just as a government official entrusted for collecting something discharges his responsibility.
At this instance, what happens to a person is also depicted in the Qur’ān. The souls of people who have deliberately rejected their prophets even after being convinced of their veracity are claimed by the angels whilst they hit and strike these disbelievers and at this juncture of death they inform them that a terrible torment awaits them because of their evil deeds. On the other hand, people who profess faith in their prophets and are absolutely without any stain of disbelief or polytheism and have also not infringed upon the rights of others or been oppressive in any manner are presented with salutations from the angels and given glad tidings of Paradise.
After this, are the abodes which are called Barzakh, Mahshar, Hell and Heaven.
Barzakh is the boundary beyond which the dead shall be kept till the Day of Judgement. In some Hadīth narratives the word “grave” has been figuratively used for this world. Here mankind will be alive but this life will be without any corporal form. Here, the awareness of the soul, the nature of emotions, observations and experiences will be almost the same as the ones found in dreams. It is evident from the Qur’an that for people whose fate is absolutely clear whether they are the righteous who have remained faithful to God and to their human beings in an exemplary way or are the haughty who have rejected the truth in sheer arrogance, punishment and reward will begin in the world of Barzakh. The reason for this is that taking an account from them will not be required.
The next place people will encounter is the Mahshar. The Qur’ān says that after the trumpet is sounded the second time all mankind will rise from their graves and stand in the Mahshar. Each person will be given a body and a soul. The previous body of each person will be replaced with a new one which will be appropriate for enduring God’s blessings as well His wrath; however, each person will have the same personality at that time as he had in this world.
Mankind on that day will be divided into three groups. The foremost in seeking the truth, the righteous and the wrongdoers. The first and second of these two groups will be given their record in their right hand whilst the hands of the third of these groups will be tied and they will be given their record from behind in their left hands.
At this instance, the accounts of people shall be presented. Witnesses shall be called so that the wrong-doers are left with no excuse to deny their sins. Prophets of God shall also be presented as witnesses. Even the tongues, hands, feet, ears, eyes and skins of people shall bear witness. After this, judgement will be pronounced and people will be sent to Paradise or Hell.
Hell is the worst of abodes according to the Qur’ān. In it, there will be the punishment of the fire. This fire will scorch faces, disfigure looks, pluck off skins and reach the hearts. The necks of criminals will have yokes and their feet will be in chains; everything will become a yearning for them. The greatest punishment will be that sinners will not be able to see the Almighty nor receive any affection from Him. The Almighty will not even like to look at some of them.
Paradise is the abode of the righteous. It is as vast as the universe. It is a place of eternal bliss where in contrast to this world, there is no concept of death with life, sorrow with happiness, worry with satisfaction, hardship with ease and torment with blessings. Its comfort is eternal, its bliss endless and its days and nights unending. Its peace is forever, its happiness will never cease and its majesty is everlasting and its perfection matchless. Here the Almighty will provide His servants with that which eyes have not seen, ears have not heard and which never has any person ever been able to imagine.
With thanks to Monthly Renaissance
Translated by Dr. Shehzad Saleem