Hereafter In Hinduism and Islam

I. HEREAFTER IN HIDUISM


Hindus, in general, believe that life does not come to an end with death and a dead person comes back to this world in a form determined by his deeds in his previous life. They also believe in the existence of hell and heaven where one lives after death for a temporary period of time. The ultimate aim in life of a Hindu, however, is said to be absorbed into the Supreme Brahma.

Dying Near the Holy Stream

According to the Hindu scriptures, whatever a man’s life may have been, if he does not die near some holy stream, if his body is not burned on its banks, or at any rate near water regarded as a representative of it, and if some portion of his ashes is not thrown into it, his spirit must wander in misery, unable to obtain the bliss for which he has done and suffered so much. Banaras, the holiest city situated on the bank of the Ganges, is regarded by Hindus as the best place for the cremation of a dead person or throwing his ashes into the sacred river. Bus companies carry the dead to the funeral pyres along the city’s banks; the Banaras post office is swamped with parcels containing ashes from all over India and abroad destined for an unceremonial dump in the river by priests.[1] The ashes of M.K. Gandhi was immersed in the Ganges by his great grandson Tushar Arun Gandhi on January 30,1997; the anniversary of his assassination in 1948. This Hindu practice has recently been popular among some westerners and Japanese who flock every year to the Ganges to dump the ashes of their friends and relatives expecting salvation for them.

Excellences of the Ganges River

Hindus believe that the Ganga (Ganges river) is a divine being which has the efficacy to wash away the sin of those who bathe in its water. This belief led them to believe that it must be beneficial to a man to pass his last moments near this river, or near some water as its representative. In a scripture called the Ganga Bakyahali, the virtues of Ganga have been written as the following: “He who thinks upon Ganga, though he be 800 miles distant from the river at the time, is delivered from all sin, and is entitled to heaven. At the hour of death, if a person think[s] upon Ganga, he will obtain a place in the heaven of Siva. If a person, according to the regulations of the shastras, be going to bathe in Ganga, and die[s] on the road, he shall obtain the same benefits as though he had actually bathed. If a person who has been guilty of killing cows, Brahmans, his guru, or of drinking spirits, touch[es] the waters of Ganga, desiring in his mind the remission of these sins, they will be forgiven.”[2] According to the Skanda Purana, by dying in the Ganges, a person will obtain absorption into Brahma. The same work contains a promise from Siva, saying, ‘whoever dies in Ganga shall obtain a place in his heaven’.

The Bhavishya Purana affirms that if a worm, an insect or a grasshopper, or any tree growing by the side of Ganga, dies in the river, it will obtain absorption into Brahma. According to the Karma Purana, those who consciously die on the banks of the Ganges shall be absorbed into the essence of Brahma; and those who die there unconsciously shall go to the heaven of Brahma. According to the Agni Purana, those who die when half their body is immersed in Ganga water, shall be happy thousands of thousands of ages and resemble Brahma.

These are, in a nutshell, the virtues attributed in Hinduism to the Ganges river. It is because of this that a Hindu wishes to die or efforts are made for him to die or be cremated there.

HereAfter

Hindus believe in the life after death. When the soul forsakes the body, it ascends to heaven to enjoy the reward or sinks into hell to suffer, depending on good or bad deeds accomplished during the earthly life. After a period of reward or punishment, it returns to the earth in a lower or higher position than in the previous life. This succession of life and death goes on until finally it attains that condition wherein it is fit to return to the Supreme Spirit whence it came, and of whom, all unconsciously, it was a part. However low in the scale a soul may be, in due time it will rise to the highest, though the process may extend over millions of years. As all have come out from God, to Him they must eventually return.[3]

Hell

There is very little mention of hell in the Veda. According to the Sri Bhagavata, there are 100,000 hells. Each class of offenders will be cast into one place, where appropriate punishment is given. For example, those guilty of fornication and adultery, and those guilty of stealing children, are to be cast into Tamisra, or the hell of darkness. The proud, who neglect the ceremonies of religion, are to go to Rowrava, where they will be tormented with animals called rums. The glutton is to be cast into a hell of boiling oil. He who disregards the Vedas is to be punished in a hell of burning metal for 3,500,000 years.

Heaven

Hindus believe in the existence of hell and heaven as these are mentioned in their scriptures. There are four kinds of happiness after death. The first or lowest form of blessedness is to enter the heaven of one of the gods. Most of the gods have a heaven of their own, to which they raise their worshippers after death. The second is a temporary deification. By the performance of sacrifice like the aswamedh (horse sacrifice), mortals are said to have attained to the position of Indra, or king over gods. But this position can be held only for a time. At any moment they may be compelled to yield their throne to others who, by virtue of greater austerity or costliness in sacrifice, have proved themselves more worthy of the honour. The third stage is where the inhabitants of a heaven live in close intimacy with its god. The grade and duration of those enter heaven depend on the quality and quantity of good deeds. These three forms of heavenly bliss are terminable, and when the period of enjoyment to which the recipient is entitled has passed, he must be re-born into the world, and endure another trial, starting from a higher level than at the commencement of the previous life. The highest good is absorption into the Divine Being from whom the spirit came, and of whom it is a part.

In some scriptures, there is some description about heaven and its inhabitants. According to the Mahabharata, Brahma’s heaven is eight hundred miles long, four hundred wide, and forty high. Vaikuntha, the heaven of Vishnu is made entirely of gold, and is 80,000 miles in circumference. The heaven of Indra, called Swarga is situated on Mount Meru, the centre of the earth, which is supposed to be somewhere to the north of the Himalayas. The heavens of the other deities are situated near it.

Transmigration

Hindus believe in a succession of lives for each individual, although they freely admit that they bring with them no memory of their past experience. When a parent is distracted with sorrow at the loss of a child, or when his business does not prosper, or tribulation of any kind falls upon him, his first thought is, which of the gods have I offended? What religious duty have I neglected? It nothing specially sinful can be remembered, the reflection comes that the trouble must be a punishment for sin committed in a former birth.

The aim of a Hindu is to break the chain of birth and rebirth that binds him to the earth. Realization of this aim means absorption in the Supreme Brahma. The first step to be taken on this path is for each one to perform his own dharma or righteous duties.[4] Performing dharma or rightful duties only involves abiding by the rules and regulations of the caste system.

A human being, according to Hindu belief, is a human being because in his previous animal form he had done good deeds. Similarly, an animal is an animal because previously as a human being it had accomplished evil deeds. In other words, to be a man or an animal is the consequence of one’s deeds in one’s former form.

 

I. HEREAFTER IN ISLAM


Belief in life after death is a fundamental article of faith in Islam. Even a slight doubt in this article means denying God and makes the very edifice of Islam crumble down. The earthly life becomes meaningless if it is not followed by another life where reward and punishment will be given to individuals based on the deeds accomplished by them in their earthly lives. God is just and His justice requires that one who spent his life obeying His guidance and undergoing various sufferings only for His sake and one who spent his life defying Him must not be treated alike. On the Day of Judgement, therefore, each individual will be called to account for his actions in his earthly life and rewarded accordingly. Those who were good in their previous lives will be given paradise as a reward, whereas those defied divine guidance will be punished in hell.

Life and its Purpose

According to the Qur’an, man was first created from clay. Then after this creation God made man’s progeny from the union of the male sperm and female ovum. The individual that results from this union is given life through breathing into him something of His ruh.[5] This metaphysical element (ruh in Arabic) is called soul or spirit and is immortal and indestructible. This element makes man different from other animals. The differentiating quality of man gives him a limited choice of good and evil. In exercising this choice, he becomes accountable to God. Besides perceptual consciousness, man has been given rational, aesthetic and moral consciousness which guides him in taking a decision relating to any action.

In the scheme of God’s creation, man has been given a very high position. God has placed him in his uncorrupted state even above the angels, but in his corruption man makes himself even lower than the beasts. Man, the noble creation of God, was not created in jest but for some definite purpose and that is to serve God.[6] The worldly life is an opportunity for him to make preparation for the eternal life after death when he will be given the rewards for all his actions accomplished in this world. For him, this world is nothing but a place of trial. If he leads his life according to the guidance given by God through His prophets, he is successful in life and if, on the contrary, he disobeys God and becomes a slave of his passions and desires, he is a failure. While a true believer has as his ultimate aim in life the pleasure of God, a non-believer identifies his main objective the satisfaction of worldly desires.

Death and Treatment of a Dead Person

Death simply means the separation of the material element from the non-material element, soul. The soul departs without being perceived or even felt. Death marks the end of the earthly life and the beginning of the hereafter. Death always produces grief for the members of the family and other relatives and friends, but it may make the dying Muslim feel a kind of happiness when he realizes that he is going to an everlasting world full of bliss and enjoyment.

A Muslim in his death-bed clears the dues, if there remains any, which he might owe to others and asks forgiveness from God for all the sins he might have committed in his life. He always wishes to be his last word the Kalimah, the solemn affirmation of his faith in One God pronouncing: There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad (pbuh) is His Messenger. After a Muslim dies, his corpse is ritually washed with scented water and wrapped in simple and clean white sheets. Then it is taken to a mosque or open place and salat al-janazah (funeral prayer) is offered in congregation attended by the local community. In the funeral prayer, God’s forgiveness and mercy is sought for the deceased person. After the prayer is over, the corpse is taken to the cemetery and buried there.

After death, an interval period called barzakh begins and continues to remain till the Day of Resurrection. When at this stage, the spirit of a human being remains in a state of happiness or otherwise, depending on the deeds accomplished by him in the earthly life.

Hereafter

The concept of hereafter has various features. The earthly life and all that is in this world will come to an end on an appointed day. All the human beings who had lived in this world since the inception will be brought to life. The body of every human being will be reunited with his or her soul. This is called al-ba’th (resurrection). On the Day of Resurrection, all human beings will be presented in the court of God. The entire record of deeds and misdeeds of every man and woman will be presented before Him for judgment. God shall finally adjudge the record of every person. Everyone’s good and bad deeds shall be weighed. One who excels in goodness will be accorded a good reward. One, whose evils and wrongs outweigh his good deeds, will be punished. The reward and punishment will be administered with full justice. Those who emerge successful in this judgment will go to paradise and doors of eternal bliss will be opened to them. Those who will be condemned and deserve punishment will be sent to hell, the abode of fire and torture.

Resurrection

Before the Day of Resurrection, there will be a violent blast This will be followed by a second blast and there will survive nothing except God. Another blast will signal the beginning of the Day of Resurrection. All human beings will present themselves before God. They will be questioned about their actions. Books in which all good and bad acts are recorded will be given to them. Those who will have no good actions in their account will go to hell. Those who did not do any evil action but many excellent deeds will go to paradise. Those who did both good and bad actions, their actions contained in the books will be weighed in a scale.[7] Those whose good actions will exceed their bad actions will go to paradise and those whose bad actions will exceed their good actions will go to hell. However, many Muslims who will not qualify for paradise at the beginning will go to paradise because of intercession of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). After his general intercession, the door of intercession will be opened to other prophets and also to other pious human beings. Beside the general intercession, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) will exercise several other kinds of intercession for a number of people.

Implications of the Beleif in the Hereafter

Belief in the life after death plays a key role in determining the behaviour of a man. If he believes that he will be accountable to God in the hereafter, he will try to do things in a just manner but if he does not believe in his accountability before God, he will always be guided by his self-interest and passions in deciding to do anything. God is just and His justice requires that a person be punished for his sin and rewarded for his good deeds. If a person passes his life committing every kind of evil, with total disregard to God’s command, he cannot escape punishment unless he attains forgiveness of God. Similarly, one who has followed the law of God throughout his life must be rewarded. If a despotic ruler or dictator, for instance, inflicts torture on thousands of people which results in the death of many innocent people,[8] and then dies when he is still in power, how can he escape punishment? If such a person will not be punished in the life to come, where can God’s justice be brought into action? If a person manages to usurp the rights of others, by stealing, fraud, telling lies, etc., and all his crimes remain undiscovered until he dies, how could he escape punishment? How could justice be administered to his victims? There is simply no way we can think of administration of justice by God unless we believe in life after death. Similarly, if a person spends his whole life carefully obeying the divine guidance and always keeps himself away from what has been forbidden by God, and remains on the path of piety and virtue till the end of his life, justice requires that his sacrifice should not go in vain.

Life in this earth is very short for a human being and, therefore, the time span one can have here is not enough for his punishment for evil deeds or reward for his pious actions. Moreover, the entire life span of a man is a period for action. A full account of his action cannot be available until the end of his life. It is possible only after his death to make a judicious judgment about his deeds. Therefore, the record of deeds will definitely be judged in the hereafter. The consequences of the evil deeds will be fire and torture in hell and the reward for good deeds will be in the form of eternal bliss in paradise.

The concept of the hereafter plays a significant role in our lives. To one who does not believe in the Day of Judgment, neither obedience to God is of any advantage, nor disobedience to Him of any harm. He will not be prepared to do any good deed, if it does not serve his interest Similarly, he will not hesitate to accomplish any evil deed, if it serves his interest. A person who believes in the final consequences of his actions, on the other hand, would look upon worldly gains or losses as temporary. To him, all that pleases God is good and all that invokes His displeasure is evil. One cannot, therefore, become a good person without belief in the hereafter. The denial to the Day of Judgment may degrade a person from humanity to a place even lower than that of the lowest of animals.

Hell

Hell is a place where punishment is given in its extreme form. This is the abode of the devil and also of those who deserve it by disobeying God. It is described as an awful place, terribly hot, its fuel are human beings and stones, its drink mixed with blood. The clothes of its inhabitants are made of ever-burning pitch.

The most serious sin is to refuse to accept the din (religion of Islam) prescribed by God or to associate a partner with Him. Whoever commits such a sin will remain in hell for ever. Muslims who committed other sins also will be in hell for sometime but they will be rescued after they have suffered the punishment they deserved. Anyone who has the slightest measure of iman (faith) will be taken out from hell after the punishment is over.

Paradise

Paradise is a place of eternal peace and happiness; it is a place where there will be blessings of God in its utmost form. Those who obeyed God in this world will attain the blessings of paradise. They will always remain there enjoying all kinds of delights. There they will have all that they desire.[9] God says in a Hadith Qudsi[10] : “I have prepared for My virtuous servants what an eye has not seen, nor has an ear heard, nor has come to the mind of man.”[11]

As indicated in the above hadith, for a man of this world, it is difficult to imagine what will be there in paradise for its inhabitants. However, some idea about the bounty of God that will be there has been given in the Qur’an and also in the hadith. Among the things mentioned in the Qur’an are gardens, fountains, rivers, fruits, pure drinks, maidens and youths. According to the hadith, the inhabitants of paradise will be hairless, beardless, with black eyes.[12] They will be youthful, and will grow neither older nor younger. They will eat and drink there, but will not spit, or pass water, or release the bowels, or blow the nose.[13] All superfluities will be discharged, and carried off by perspiration as odoriferous as musk. Paradise will be a shady place full of perfumes where no one will suffer from fatigue. All kinds of delicious fruits and food will be available there. There will be rivers of sweet smelling water, milk, and clarified honey. The delights of paradise are not solely in bodily and sensual pleasures and enjoyment,’ but include spiritual enjoyments too. The highest spiritual delight enjoyed by the inhabitants of paradise will consist in looking at God’s Face.[14] Nothing will be dearer to them than looking at their Lord.[15]



[1] Time, March 24, 1997, pp. 28-29.

[2] Sec Wilkins, 1975, p. 373.

[3] Wilkins, 1975, p. 402.

[4] Jagannathan, p-56

[5] The Qur’an, 32: 7-9.

[6] Ibid., 23:115.51: 56.

[7] The Qur’an, 7: 8.

[8] Two such dictators of this century, namely Joseph Stalin of the former U.S.S.R., and Pol Pot of Cambodia, may be cited here. Each of them Is believed to be responsible for the death of millions of innocent people.

[9] Ibid., 50: 35.

[10] The difference between the Qur’an and the Hadith Qudsi is that in the case of the former, both the statement and the language are of God, but in the case of the latter, the inspiration is divine but the language is of the Prophet.

[11] Mishkat, No. 5612.

[12] Ibid., No. 5638.

[13] Ibid., No. 5620.

[14] The term “Face” here should not be understood in its ordinary sense, It must be recalled that (here is nothing which resembles God. “God’s Face”, therefore, will be something which is far beyond our imagination.

[15] Ibid., No. 5656.