Death – the beginning of a new life
Human beings have always wondered about the nature of death. Is it destruction, non-existence, or is it a change, a development and a shifting from one world to another?
The Holy Qur’an has its own explanation regarding the nature of death. It has used the word tawffi when talking about death. This word means to receive in full. In fourteen verses, the Qur’an has used this expression to describe death. These verses show that from the Qur’anic point of view, death means gathering and receiving into custody. In other words, a human being at the time of his death gets into the custody of the Divine authorities, who receive him in full. From this expression, the following points may be inferred:
1. Death does not mean annihilation and obliteration. It is just a shifting from one world to another world and from one stage of life to another stage. Human life continues after death, though in a different form.
2. What actually constitutes man and his self is not his body and his physical systems, which gradually decay and decompose in this very world. What really constitutes his personality and his ego is that which has been described by the Qur’an as “self” and occasionally as “soul”.
3. Man’s soul or his “self” is the real constituent of his personality. Man is immortal because his soul is immortal. His soul rests and exists at a horizon above the horizon of matter and material things. With death the soul shifts to a different category and class, that is the class of soul.
The question of soul and its survival after death is one of the basic teachings of Islam. One half of the undeniable teachings of Islam is based on the doctrine that the soul is independent of the body and that it continues to exist after death. All real human values are based on this truth.
An example of a verse in which the word tawaffi is used for death is Sura az-Zumar, verse 42:
Allah receives man’s souls at the time of their death. Their souls do not die when they are sleeping. During people’s sleep He witholds those souls that He has decreed to die and releases the others for an appointed time. In this there is an evidence for the thoughtful people. (39:42)
This verse describes the similarity of sleep and death, and inter alia, the similarity of waking and resurrection. Sleep is a slight and weak form of death, and death is an intense and strong form of sleep. In both these cases, the human soul shifts from one state of life to another. The difference is that in the case of sleep man usually does not notice the change and when he wakes up does not realize that he has actually returned from some journey. In contrast, in the case of death everything becomes clear to him. Although physically, sleep is the suspension of certain natural faculties, from a spiritual point of view, it is an escape to the kingdom of heaven. Like the question of death, the question of sleep is also one of those things the true nature of which is not truly known.
There are many verses of the Qur’an which indicate that man during the period between his death and Resurrection is endowed with a sort of life in which he speaks, has feelings of pleasure and pain, and can enjoy a sort of a happy life. There are about 15 verses of the Qur’an which in some way or other speak of a life process, from which it may be gathered that between the period of death a d resurrection man enjoys a full-fledged life.
These verses may be divided into several categories:
1. There are verses which quote some conversations between the righteous or the wicked on one hand, and the angels on the other. These conversations took place immediately after death. Examples are verse 97 0f an-Nisa, and verse 100 of al-Mu’minun.
2. There are some other verses according to which the angels talk to the righteous and tell them to enjoy the bounties of Allah from that time onwards. They do not keep them waiting for the day of Resurrection. The following two verses contain this point:
They will be received by the angels of mercy with the greetings: Peace be upon you! Enter the garden as a reward for your good deeds. (16:32)
It was said to him (after death): Enter Paradise. He said: Would that my people knew that my lord had pardoned me and made me of the honored ones. (36:26-7)
3. The third group of verses do not report any conversation between the angels and men. They only describe the happy life of the righteous and the miserable life of the wicked during the period between death and resurrection. The following two verses belong to this category:
a) Think not of those who are slain in the way of Allah as dead,. Nay, they are living with their Lord and are being provided with the means of living. They are jubilant because of that which Allah ahs bestowed upon them of His bounty, and wish that those who have been left behind join them. (3:169-70)
b) A dreadful doom encompassed Firaun’s folks. They will be exposed to the fire mornings and evenings, and on the day of Resurrection it will be said: people of
Firaun’s folk suffer the most awful doom. (40:45-6)
This last verse mentions two kinds of punishment in respect to Firaun’s followers. The first is the pre-Resurrection punishment described as a dreadful doom. They are exposed to the fire twice a day. The other punishment is the post-Resurrection punishment described as the most awful doom. Interpreting this verse, Imam Ali (a) has said that the first punishment will be meted out to the people of Firaun in the Barzakh, where the same system of morning and evening prevails as in this world. In contrast, there is no morning and evening in the world after resurrection.
There are two points worth mentioning about Barzakh:
1. According to reports from the Imams, in the Barzakh man is interrogated about his faith and belief only. Other questions are left to the Day of Resurrection.
2. The good deeds performed by his relatives with the intention that the reward should go to the dead person, make the deceased happy and are to his advantage. If charity is given, with the intention that the reward should go to the deceased, it is regarded as a gift to him. They make him blissful. The same is the case with praying for him, seeking Allah’s forgiveness, tawaf of the Kaaba, pilgrimage to Makkah and other holy places, if performed on behalf of the deceased.
Source: Extracted from the chapter on Eternal Life or life of the next world, from the book Man and Universe by Ayatullah Murtaza Mutahhari.