Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam who passed away in 632, related:
"Gabriel came to me and said, ‘O Muhammad, live as
you wish, for you shall eventually die. Love whom you desire, for you shall
eventually depart. Do what you please, for you shall pay. Know that the
night-prayeris the honor of a believer, and his pride is being
independant on others.’" (Silsilah al-Saheehah)
If there is only one thing certain about life, it is that
it ends. This truism instinctively raises a question which preoccupies most people
at least once in their life: What lies beyond death?
At the physiological level, the journey that the
deceased takes is plain for all to witness. If left alone to natural causes,
the heart will stop beating, the lungs will stop breathing, and the body’s cells
will be starved of blood and oxygen. The termination of blood flow to the
outer extremities will soon turn them pale. With the oxygen cut off, cells will
respire anaerobically for a time, producing the lactic acid which causes rigor mortis
– the stiffening of the corpse’s muscles. Then, as the cells begin to
decompose, the stiffness wanes, the tongue protrudes, the temperature drops, the
skin discolors, the flesh rots, and the parasites have their feast - until all
that is left is dried-out tooth and bone.
As for the journey of the soul after death, then this is
not something that can be witnessed, nor can it be gauged through scientific
enquiry. Even in a living body, the conscious, or soul, of a person cannot be subjected
to empirical experimentation. It is simply beyond human control. In this
regard, the concept of a Hereafter - a life beyond death, resurrection, and a
Day of Reckoning; not to mention the existence of a Divine, Omnipotent Creator,
His angels, destiny, and so on - comes under the subject of belief in the unseen.
The only way in which man can come to know anything of the unseen world is through
"And with God are the keys of the unseen, none knows them but
He. And He knows whatever there is in (or on) the earth and in the sea; not a
leaf falls, but He knows it. There is not a grain in the darkness of the earth,
nor anything fresh or dry, but is written in a Clear Record." (Quran 6:59)
While what has come down to us of the Torah, the Psalms,
the Gospel - the scriptures revealed to early prophets - all speak of a Hereafter,
it is only through God’s Final Revelation to humanity, the Holy Quran, as
revealed to His Final Prophet, Muhammad, that we learn most about the afterlife.
And as the Quran is, and will forever remain, preserved and uncorrupted by human
hands, the insight it gives us into the world of the unseen is, for the
believer, as factual, real and true as anything that can be learnt through any scientific
endeavor (and with a zero margin of error!).
"…We have neglected nothing in the Book; then unto their Lord
they shall all be gathered." (Quran 6:38)
Coupled with the question of what happens after we die,
is the question: Why are we here? For if there is indeed no greater purpose to
life (that is, greater than simply living life itself), the question of what
happens after death becomes academic, if not pointless. It is only if one
first accepts that our intelligent design, our creation, necessitates an intelligence
and designer behind it, a Creator who will judge us for what we do, that life
on earth carries any significant meaning.
"Then did you think that We created you in vain and that to Us
you would not be returned? Therefore exalted be God, the Sovereign, the Truth;
no deity is there save Him, Lord of the Supreme Throne." (Quran 23:115-116)
If aught else, a discerning person would be forced to
conclude that life on earth is full of injustice, cruelty and oppression; that
the law of the jungle, survival of the fittest, is what is paramount; that if
one cannot find happiness in this life, whether due to an absence of material
comforts, physical love, or other joyous experiences, then life is simply not
worth living. In fact, it is precisely because a person despairs of this worldly
life while having little, no, or imperfect faith in an afterlife, that they may
commit suicide. After all, what else do the unhappy, unloved and unwanted; the
dejected, (desperately) depressed and despairing have to lose?!
"And who despairs of the Mercy of his Lord except those who
are astray?" (Quran 15:56)
So can we accept that our death is limited to mere
physiological termination, or that life is merely a product of blind, selfish
evolution? Surely, there is more to death, and so to life, than this.