Life, Death and the Hereafter

Khutba delivered in the Milwaukee Islamic Da’wa Center on November. 20, 2009

By Dr. Waheeduddin Ahmed

Life, Death and the Hereafter:

Hamd wa Thana

Allah (T) says in the Quran:                                                                                                     كُلُّ مَنْ عَلَيْهَا فَانٍ

“All that exists on earth will perish”

وَيَبْقَى وَجْهُ رَبِّكَ ذُو الْجَلالِ وَالإكْرَامِ

Save the face of your Lord with its magnificence and glory”

Every now and then our preachers, our scholars and our khateebs remind us of this fact. Sometimes we listen to them inattentively, sometimes we yawn; other times we shake our heads up and down in agreement without particularly moved by what they have said, until it hits us personally, when there is a death in the family; a loved one passes away and a life familiar to us suddenly comes to an end.

Well! last week two members of our Islamic family were snatched away from us by the cruel hand of death. One was our beloved friend Numan Tugan  (alaihi Rahmah) who was a familiar face in this congregation. The other was Dr. Farooki who was afflicted with malaria on a hunting expedition in Tanzania and died. Born in India, educated in England, having practiced medicine in America, he died in Africa, spanning three continents. All this must prompt us to reflect on the question of death in the light of the Quran.

Verily, the knowledge of the hour is with Allah alone. It is He, who sends down rain and He who knows what is in the wombs; nor does anyone know what it is that he will earn  in the morrow; nor does anyone know in what land he is to die. Verily with God is full knowledge and He is acquainted with all things (Qur’an 31:34)

Neither the Late Brother Farooki nor his family nor his friends had any knowledge that he would die in Africa during a visit from another continent. By the same token, we have no choice where we are going to be born, in America? in the thick forest of Africa? or in the dust bowl of Arabia? We cannot choose to be a member of an affluent family or a starving family. We cannot be Black or White by choice. Our fates. our places of birth, our genus and our race are determined for us by our Creator.

Let us now think about our strengths and our prowess as human beings. We are scientists; we are engineers; we are doctors and researchers. We make great strides in all these fields. We probe deep into matter; unfold the secrets of nature; send spacecrafts into the cosmos; station Hubble telescope in space and catch the glimpses of galaxies billions of light years away. We discover cures for hitherto incurable diseases.  We think that we have conquered nature but are our conquests unlimited? Are we not helpless in determining where we are born and how we shall die? Death comes to us suddenly with a mosquito bite, a contemptible, miniscule creature. Our spacecraft takes us far into space but only as far as we are allowed to go, as the Qur’an declares:

“Oh assemblies of jins and humans, if you are able to pass beyond the zones of heavens and earth ,do it by all means but you will never be able to do it without authority  (from Allah).”  Our prowess is only to the extent we are empowered to, by God.

Everything, which is created has two points on the scale of existence: a starting point and an end point. Everything, which has a beginning in time has an ending in time, whether it is man, animal, heavenly bodies, sun, moon planets or stars. The cosmologists say that the universe began with a Big Bang, when a compact ball of energy exploded. With it began the time and the contours of space which are continuously expanding and in which the galaxies, the stars and the satellites are taking shape. The stars are then sinking into Black Hole, in a reversal of the Big Bang process. Thus it seems the universe will come to an end as it is sucked into a Black Hole.

Everything, which is created has a linear dimension on the time scale, with a beginning point and an end point. There is also a lateral dimension, which determines the field of existence — the capacity field. This is the enclosure in which every species’ capacities are confined. This also holds for the cosmos. The satellites and stars confined to their orbits. Every animal has a size limit, which is written into its DNA. A cat cannot grow into a tiger. Men cannot grow to be sixteen feet tall. Our perceptions have their ranges. Man’s vision has a range. He cannot see beyond violet at one end and red at the other, whereas some animals can see what man cannot see and hear what man cannot hear.

Likewise, our intellect has a range too. Human brain is getting bigger as the brain cells increase. We may not have reached the maximum range of our intellect yet, as more discoveries are awaiting us. Our space travel has not reached its farthest point, as our destinations are yonder still but the limit is imminent.

The Unseen (ghaib):

What is imperceptible to our eyes and ears and undetectable by our scientific instruments, the Hubble telescope and what is inconceivable by the regions of our brain fall in a realm, which, in the Qur’anic language is called Ilm- al-ghaib (knowledge of the unseen) Belief in the unseen is a fundamental tenet of Islam. The Qur’an declares in the very beginning:

This is the book in which there is no doubt, a guide for the God-fearing, those who believe in the unseen, establish prayer and spend of what we have provided them with.” ِ

Ghaib means something that cannot be perceived by man howsoever he tries, for instance, the reality of God and the times and places of death. This also means that one must reject the notion that what cannot be seen does not exist. This is the contention of the naturalists, which our faith categorically rejects. Humans live in a very small world of their perception and knowledge. There is an infinite amount of reality beyond the scope of our knowledge.

Apart from perception, imagination and speculation, there is another property of our brain, which is called rationalization. Rationalization is essential for our survival. For instance, driving at a speed of one hundred miles an hour may cause us to lose control and have a fatal accident, so we slow down. This is rationalization. Hearing a smoke alarm, we rationalize that there may be a fire and we take necessary action. However, there are many things we cannot understand, cannot assign the causes and cannot speculate their effects. They are beyond the scope of our rational thinking. There is a death in the family. A young child dies, leaving the old, the mother, the father and the grandparents behind. Why should the young die, leaving the old to linger? Who can give a rational answer? Which branch of science can explain this? Science can often answer the question: how, the death caused by malaria, typhoid and so on but can it answer the question why? The answer does not lie in science but in the concept of Ghaib.

You are driving along on a road, whistling and listening to music, oblivious of what is ahead of you. Suddenly, you make a stupid mistake, causing a near fatal accident but you escape death by the skin of your teeth. You remember that days ago, a friend of yours, a very cautious driver, had got into an accident for no fault of his, hit by a drunk driver and was killed. Why was it that he should die and you survive? What is the rationale? There is none. The answer belongs in the realm of Ghaib.

Let us now look at another aspect of life and death One of our famous Urdu poets said:

Zindagi kya hai anasir men zahoor-e-tarteeb

Maut kya ait inhi ajza ka pareshan hona

What is life? It is the manifestation of order in elements.

What is death? It is the scattering of the very same elements.

Human life is the coming together of some elements in a unique order and harmony and the death is the reversal of that process. Life is order and death is disorder. Our bodies are composed of water, some elements like calcium, magnesium and phosphorous supplied by earth; carbon, supplied by carbon dioxide, a component of air, all compounded into biological matter as energy from the sun (fire) is added. So, they were not far off who said that we were made of water, dust, air and fire. When we die, our bodies disintegrate and revert back to these basic elements, dust to dust, water to water and air to air!

It is He, who brings out the living from the dead and brings out the dead from the living and who gives life to the earth after it is dead and thus shall you be brought out.”

And also:

مِنْهَا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ وَفِيهَا نُعِيدُكُمْ وَمِنْهَا نُخْرِجُكُمْ تَارَةً أُخْرَىٰ ٰ

“From the earth did we create you and into it shall we return you. And from it shall we bring you out once again.”

Rooh (spirit)

Mechanical mixing of elements does not create life. What makes life happen is another mysterious element, which we call Rooh (spirit) but is the Rooh a common element like air and dust? The answer is no, because water can go back to water, air can mix with air and dust can return to dust but Rooh cannot merge with a common pool of Arwah (spirits). It had made an individual different from any other individual that had ever existed but we do not know its nature. The knowledge of it belongs in the realm of Ghaib. The Qur’an says;

وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الرُّوحِ ۖ قُلِ الرُّوحُ مِنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّي وَمَا أُوتِيتُم مِّنَالْعِلْمِ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا

“And they ask you about spirit. Say: The spirit is in the realm of my Lord. Of the knowledge, only a little is communicated to you.”

Creation and resurrection are both in the form of body and soul. Life cannot be sustained without the soul. A living body cannot decompose as long as the body functions are active. You can take a powerful hypnotic drug and sleep for seven days, your flesh will not decompose; only a dead body disintegrates into its elements. The elements go back to their respective pools and the individual ceases to exist on the worldly plain.

Akhirah (Hereafter)

Let us now move to another tenet of our beliefs: Iman bil-akhirah (belief in the Hereafter). The Qur’an describes the God-fearing (Muttaqoon) in the verses already quoted earlier, as those who, among other things, have a firm belief in the Hereafter.

Life after death and the concept of reward and punishment, not only have a spiritual dimension but have an important sociological dimension too. There are two factors, which play a part in a society’s survival: legality and morality. Legality can be administered and enforced — although not completely — by the government machinery, consisting of a police force and a court system. Fear of punishment is a very important deterrent in enforcing legality. However, morality is something, which cannot be enforced by legislative and legal means. Secular societies only lightly recommend it. Greed can very easily strangle morality. The economic crisis we are undergoing today, caused by the devilish avarice of the operatives in finance, banking, oil, insurance and pharmaceutical industries is only the tip of the iceberg. These people do not care about the sick, the poor and the vulnerable. All the laws of the land favor them. No law will ever be written to stop them from devouring mankind’s resources. There will be no patriot act against them and no Guantanamo Bay will ever be awaiting their arrival. What a difference it would have made if these people had a touch of conscience and belief in the Hereafter!

Another argument, which supports the validity of the concept of Akhiah is belief in Divine Justice. When you see people, who are corrupt to the core, doing well in this world, living in luxury, without any apparent difficulties and discomforts, while some others, every bit virtuous, suffering all kinds of calamities: you ask: where is justice? The answer is simple. Divine Justice is never far away. One of the most important attributes of Allah is Adl (justice). We must understand that our life on this earth is only one phase of our spiritual existence. Each individual has his/her share of comfort and discomfort, grief and happiness, pain and pleasure. If it appears that one has a longer span of misfortune in this life, Allah’s justice requires that it must be compensated for on a different plane of existence. It can only happen if there is life after death