What does Islam say about life after death? A primer on what happens in the next world.
The Quran mentions that death is inevitable and cannot be delayed nor advanced. The time of death has been pre-determined for everyone.
When a person dies in this world, only his physical body dies and decays in the ground. His soul, which is his essence, feelings, memories and senses, is transferred into another ghostlike body.
After death, the soul cannot return back. This ghostlike body lives in another dimension, the unseen world, which is beyond our human senses and knowledge.
Here are the stages of death, according to some scholars’ understandings of verses from the Quran and from the words of Prophet Muhammad. (Other scholars might have different interpretations because of the flexibility of some Arabic words, which have metaphorical meanings.)
- The stupors of death: The angel of death either extracts the soul painfully from the wrongdoers or gently from the pious ones, and then transfers the soul into a ghostlike body.
- Misguiding of the devil: The last temptation of the devil is to deceive a dying person with his trickery. The good ones will not fall into temptation.
- Entering the grave: When the body is buried, the soul stays beside the body and sees the horrifying unseen world.
- Squeezing or pressure of the grave: When people leave the gravesite, angels come to squeeze the soul fiercely, making it scream loudly. Few souls are exempted from this punishment.
- Munkar and Nakeer: These two angels come after the squeezing and question the soul about the beliefs of his faith. If the soul does not answer properly and was a wrongdoer in life, then he will be punished in the hellfire of the unseen world until the Day of Judgment or until his sins are purged. If the person was a pious true believer, then he will answer the questions properly and two angels of glad tidings will come to escort him to the Paradise of the unseen world.
- The first blow of the trumpet: Both the seen and unseen worlds will exist until the first blow of the trumpet on the last day, when all living things, including angels and souls, will die. Nothing will be left except the living God.
- The second blow of the trumpet and the resurrection: When the second blow occurs, God will re-create everything and the souls will return to their physical bodies for the Day of Judgment.
- Accounting: Every person will be given his book of deeds and will be asked to judge himself. If a person tries to deny a bad deed, his body’s organs will witness against him. Accounting will be only for those who have both good and bad deeds. The pious ones who have only good deeds will be taken to Paradise without accounting, and the evil ones who have only bad deeds will be taken to the hellfire without accounting.
- Bridge over the hellfire. Everyone must cross the bridge over hellfire, which is said to be sharper than a blade and thinner than a strand of hair. The more good deeds a person has, the faster he will cross over. Some will cross over like a flash of light. Some might take years to cross. Others might fall into the hellfire below.
- The intercession: While the people with only a few sins are taken for their punishment, the prophets and their true successors will intercede for them with the permission of God. By this, God shows His great appreciation to His beloved servants.
- Eternal hellfire and eternal Paradise: On the Day of Judgment, the evil ones will go to the hellfire. Some of the evil ones will be in the hellfire eternally and others might eventually come out of the hellfire after their sins have been purged. The good ones will be taken to Paradise to eternal enjoyment and fulfillment. In Paradise, there are bounties and blessings beyond our imagination and thought. As mentioned in the Quran, the greatest bliss is God’s pleasure.
Safdar Razi is imam of the Islamic Ahlul Bayt Association mosque. He is a member of the Austin Area Interreligious Ministries.