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Examine and comment on Islamic and Hindu beliefs about life after death Essay

Life after death is often a highly charged, debateable topic. Through this essay I will examine the argument that there must be an afterlife to explain morality in this world and refer to The Qur’an for Islam and Bhagavad Gita for Hinduism. This will allow me to conclude that an afterlife can justify morality, as human beings our life’s conduct is dependant on the belief of a good hereafter.

Both religions very foundation rely on the fact that there is an after life, as deeds in this life will be accountable within the next. Although Islam and Hinduism both believe in an after life they teach radically different things about what it is. The Islamic belief is based on a linear time line, meaning that each person will live on this earth once and after that be judged by God.

“The good and the bad deeds of every person will be weighed.” (Qur’an 7:8). This view differs with the Hindu belief as their belief is that to attain Mokhsa (release from the cycle of life) “everyone has to be reborn somewhere or the other to undergo some experience, until the Absolute Being is realised as identical with oneself.” by Swami Krishnananda. The individual must continue to transmigrate between souls to diminish all bad karma in the various lives they had been in to attain complete salvation.

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Belief in “al- akhirah” (life after death) is so crucial to the Islamic faith that any doubts about it amounts to the denial of Allah (God). This view is shared by the Muslim minority.

According to Islamic belief, we have no means of knowing death as a revisiting experience, but Allah (God) has given humanity answers to every question regarding death. The first rhetorical question the Muslim is faced with in the Qur’an is “who will give life to the dead bones?” Islam declares that the Lord will.

In the Qur’an, Allah deepens man’s way of thinking by asking them to reflect on how the rain revives dead earth. “It is Allah Who sends fourth the winds, so that they rise up the clouds, and drive to a land that is dead, and revive the earth therewith after its death…” (Qur’an 35:9)

According to Islam life on this earth is temporary; it is a preparatory stage for the akhirah (life after death) which will be infinite. Life on this earth is meaningless if good actions are not rewarded and bad conduct not punished. In order for an afterlife to exist, there must be some omnipotent being driving this idea forward. I will now be referring to Kant’s idea of the universe being satisfied, wrong has to be punished and good rewarded even if this takes place after death .The moral philosopher, Immanuel Kant argued that morality was the “categorical imperative”. ……”if there is moral law, there must therefore be a law giver.”

Modern society in alliance with Islamic and Kantian Views state that “justice must be served”. An example of this would be if a person commits an offence against humanity he/she has to be imprisoned. We’re then faced with situations where our justice system has failed to act with fairness and impartiality in accordance with what is morally right, this is when the idea of “justice in the afterlife” in religion comes into place.

The current Laws are passed by parliament. The followers of Islam believe the One who determines the rules in this life and delivers the verdict in the after life is the almighty Lord. If we refer back to Kant, that once we die there is an afterlife for the universe to be morally satisfied that good is rewarded and evil is punished, there must be a God who can bring about some sort of Justice.

“He is who controls the heavens and the earth…” (Holy Qur’an 27:60.)

To deny God as the moral law Giver is to deny the only reasonable foundation for the law of morality in both the religions, as in Islam the fundamental belief that the almighty God is the basis of all foundation of all belief within that faith, similarly in the contrasting religion the soul of the individual wishes to have some sort of conclusion in Islam the hereafter and in Hinduism salvation to become one with the creator Brahma. However the factor that differs the two religions is that the concept of the soul, within the religions. In Islam the soul has its own identity of the individual it was given to at the moment of conception it has no relation to its creator other then the fact that the lord was the one who blessed life into it and the soul will be obedient to its creator to the day of judgement.

The concept in Hinduism contradicts this idea as it feels the soul is God in itself as it has to go through a process which will enable the spiritual self to become God himself over the process of time. If justice is not done on earth therefore there must be an after life. The concept of free will argues that humanity has been given guidelines by God. It is up to individuals whether they follow them or not. Some may then argue that God does not care about people as He allows suffering to take place. This is where justice in the hereafter is satisfied, and so that is why there is morality in this world.

“For Muslims not to care about life after death is a serious failing”. Muslims are certain that people die. Doubts have been expressed by non Muslims regarding life after death. They question how Allah (God) can raise men and women after death, but Islam teaches that God can make human beings out of nothing so it is not difficult for Him to raise them again.

“O mankind! If you are in any doubt about the resurrection, then verily, we have created you (i.e. Adam).” (Qur’an 22:5)

The Qur’an goes on further to say that:

“Does man think that we shall not assemble his bones? Yes, surely we are able to restore the very shape of his fingertips.” (Qur’an 75: 3-4).

The Hindu Holy Scriptures such as the Upanishads and the Vedas clearly speak of a God that is associated with classical theism. Although over centuries we have come to know Hinduism as a faith with many gods it primarily has one God.

“By one supreme Ruler is the universe pervaded. Even every world in the whole circle of nature, He is the True God… (- Yajurveda XLI) .Similar ideas are expressed in the Upanishads

“Know Me alone as the creator of all – I am the cause; I am the support of all that exists in the universe. May ye never turn away from me May ye never accept any other God in my place, nor worship Him. “

What we can analyse from these quotes that for God to bring man to his former self is not an impossible task as he has created us he can kill us and restore our very lives.

According to Islam when a person dies on earth he/she will not be restored to life until the day of resurrection. From the time a person dies until resurrection, they remain in a suspended state in Arabic known as “Barzakh”. The dead could be in this state of waiting for thousands of years before being brought back to life. The prophet Mohammed has said “that death is only the beginning of the resurrection.” 1 Islam states that time only exists for those living on earth. Once a man dies he leaves the time zone and a thousand years becomes the blinking of an eye.

Although Islam rejects the notion of the transmigration of souls through various lives like Hinduism, it does state that the soul of each child came into existence ,before the physical birth from the mother’s womb. An example of this is were God made a covenant with Adam and extracted all his descendants from him and God foretold the religion of Islam so that the disbelievers of the faith were left in no doubt that God would resurrect humankind once more on the day of Judgement. 2

Although Muslims are given the day and month of this fateful day they are not however given the year as all the signs leading up to this day must be fulfilled. 3

“The sun will only be a mile away from the earth therefore mankind will be standing in its own perspiration” according to a companion of the Prophet. This has been taken from the Sahih Bukhari (collections of sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.

Then the individual will be punished according to how bad the sin was that they committed. The worse the sin, the more severe the punishment will be. 4

On this day accounting of deeds will begin and each and every person will be given a book that will detail all the good and bad they have done in life. Although certain deeds in life will act as a “backup” to save you from punishment Muslims over the world go to the pilgrimage of Hajj so that their sins can be purged. Hajj is a purification of the soul from sins and a means to gain the Mercy of Allah.

“Keep on doing Hajj and ‘Umrah, for they eliminate poverty and sin just as the bellows eliminate impurities from iron and gold and silver.” (Sahih Bukhari). In Islam, the foundation for a good afterlife is to have faith in the almighty lord and to try to lead a sin free life. Such is the driving force behind the concept in Hinduism be lovingly devoted to whichever Hindu god you are devoted to and similarly be dedicated to various religious ceremonies and rites.

There are different aspects of Hinduism that determine how they lead their lives and what actions they do in order to affect their afterlife.

There is also the factor of the burial procedure that could affect your outcome in the afterlife. The reasoning behind Hindu cremation is that they believe that the human personality is made up of five elements; four of which belong to the body which comes from this world, fire, earth, air, water. By cremating the body, the elements are returned to their respective area, while the soul continues in the afterlife. After death Muslims are buried, because even after death the soul can still feel pain so disposing of the body in any other means is a sin.

When a Hindu devotee dies their soul leaves the body and goes to another world and returns again after spending some time there. Where a person is reborn is determined by their “karma”, the effects of a person’s actions that determine their destiny in the next incarnation. Hindus try to do virtuous acts of conduct so that they will increase their good karma and be reborn higher up in the caste system. This is done in numerous ways. Their initial aim is to worship Brahman (supreme Lord) by thinking about him and reading his Holy books. The Vedas, Smritis, Ramayan and Bhagavad Gita;

Their life should involve praying and making offerings to the various Gods that take form from Brahman originally. There is no specific God that you can worship, whichever you choose is acceptable as it leads to essentially to Brahman.

Hinduism believes in the existence of not one hell and heaven but in the existence of many sun filled heavens and many demonic worlds. 5

In the ultimate sense the purpose of these worlds is to neither punish nor reward the souls, but to remind them of the true purpose of their existence to lead an adequate life according to the Hindu Holy scripture The Vedas.

The process of being born, to grow, die and be reborn again is known as samsara. It is the aim of every Hindu to be freed from this cycle in order to be in the presence of God, or become one with God. Karma is in itself a system of reward and punishment.

The idea of reincarnation is not strictly limited to Hinduism. The idea of reincarnation is also becoming more popular in the West. This concept of reincarnation is summarily described in following verse of the Bhagavad-Gita.

“Just as a man discards worn out clothes and puts on new clothes, the soul discards worn out bodies and wears new ones.” (2:22)

The Hindu concept of reincarnation directly challenges the Islamic and western notion of one life, one heaven, one hell and the final day of judgement. According to the following quote Islam contradicts the belief of transmigration there is the belief that once our hearts stop beating this is the end of our worldly life but the argument of the non-believers is that bring back our forefathers.

“There is not but our worldly life; we die and live (i.e. some people die and others live, replacing them) and nothing destroys us except time.” (Quran, 45:24-26)

Although Islam does primarily reject the notion of reincarnation in the form of another being, there is an exception to this. Islam is split in to 72 various sets and there is one set that does believe in reincarnation, the Druze. The Druze belong to an eleventh century offshoot of Shia Islam, which originated in Egypt.

The similarity with this sect and Hinduism is that it also believes in the transmigration of souls, although this sect calls itself Muslims it denies the Day of Resurrection and the idea of heaven and Hell.

Similarly they believe the body is to return to the elements and the universe is eternal and always will be. The physical body of the ones departed and the burial procedure for Muslims is just the earth accepting what was already its own “To Allah we belong and to Him is our return.” (Chapter 2, verses 153-156.)

This then leads to the point that they do not belief in the message of the prophets of Islam. The Druze sect is not accepted by other major sects of Islam, they suffer from isolation of followers of the same religion.

Although there are exceptions, Islam predominately feels a strong and solid approach to the one Supreme Lord and the Day of Judgement. After examining both religions and their beliefs it seems that both religions have the belief in life after death but a very different approach. There are several cases where Muslims have turned to other religions for the answer to the afterlife.6

Having examined and commented on beliefs on life after death in Islam and Hinduism, thus relating back to the first point of morality, that must exist and be justified in the first place for us human beings to first rationalise that there must be an afterlife. When this is understood then the ideas of different religious views on the afterlife can be understood.

Islam’s belief ties in with the western notion of the standard hell and heaven and you are judged according to your deeds in your life that you have committed. You are resurrected but in the form you died in. Muslims are then weighed for deeds, dependant on that you either go to hell or heaven. You are faced with many obstacles on the way and even though you have primarily been good all your life you still will be punished for the sin. There are also many large signs before the fateful day. For majority of Muslims the belief in the afterlife determines the way they lead their lives whilst alive.

For Hindus however the belief is that you are reincarnated as something else, either in higher caste or lower depending on the good/bad karma. You go through various lives and cycles to balance this karma until you become god (moksha). “I am the Self, seated in the hearts of all beings; I am the beginning, the middle and also the end of all beings.” (10.20 Gita)

The Hindu’s teachings also lay on the principle of morality as they are to be reunited with Mother Nature. In the Hindu religion, righteousness and to be without sin is of more importance, these are the factors whether one goes to Heaven or Hell. The Hindu’s teach, “As it does and as it acts, so it becomes: The doer of good becomes good, and the doer of evil becomes evil.” (Upanishad (4,4,5)) This quote explains that Hinduism has a concept of morality.

Previously I have touched on the lifestyles of both religions Hinduism and Islam. Although they both believe in different outcomes, already while alive they develop a moral attitude in the back of their minds. This life will determine heaven/hell or higher /lower caste depending on what your religious belief is. What we can examine from this is that reward is something we all strive for, so the idea of a better life in the hereafter encourages good conduct in both faiths.

Ultimately no matter what religion you have faith in it seems we rely in a better life in the hereafter. Hindu and Islamic beliefs about life after death seek to explain morality on this Earth. Our actions in this life will determine our post life existence, whether we go to heaven, hell, or are reincarnated. Both religions agree with Kant’s theory that the Universe needs to be satisfied. Worshippers are thus encouraged to strive to maintain their good conduct in this life. Without such explanations Kant explains, morality would be irrelevant. 2932

Notes

1) A story is told in the Qur’an, about a man who doubted Allah’s ability to resurrect a village. Allah caused him to die for a hundred years and when he was resurrected, questioned him as to how long he had “slept”. He replied “A day or part of a day”. Then God said “Look your food has rotted, look at your crops and the dead bones of your animals look how we adjust them and cover them with flesh!” (Qur’an 2:259)

2) “When your Lord drew forth from the loins of the children of Adam, their descendants and made them testify concerning them. (Saying): ‘Am I not your Lord’ they said, ‘Yes, we testify to it.’ (This) in case you say on the Day of Judgement, ‘We were unaware of this’. Or in case you say, ‘It was our ancestors who made partners (with Allah) and we are only their descendants. Will you then destroy us for what those liars did?”[8]

3) The length of the day of judgement will be equivalent to fifty thousand years of this world and this quote can be found in verses (70: 4) Holy Quran.

The Sunni Islamic belief is that:

“On Friday the tenth of Muharram Angel Israfeel will blow a trumpet the sound will be so fearful that the entire universe will self-destruct”. (The day of judgement by the Sunni foundation)

3) “And verily, Hell is the promised abode for them all. It has seven gates: to each of those gates is a specific class of sinners assigned.”

[al Hijr, 15: 43-44]

Murderers:

“And whoever kills a believer intentionally – his recompense is Hell to abide therein forever, and the wrath and the curse of Allah is upon him, and He has prepared for him a great punishment.”

[an-Nisa, 4: 93]

“Verily, of the inmates of the Fire, the one with the easiest punishment will be one who will have a pair of sandals and straps of fire. His brain will boil from them as a kettle boils. He does not see that anyone is suffering a punishment more severe than him, while he is the one with the easiest punishment.”

[Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim]

http://www.shariahprogram.ca/articles/hell-devil-description.shtml

4) Then believers and disbelievers will go to the bridge lying over the fire from hell “the bridge will be of one single hair and be sharp as a sword.” The journey will be of no difficulty to those who lived their life according to Islam.

5) Indralok is the standard heaven to which those who please the Gods through their activities go. The standard hell is Yamalok.

6One example is the 11-month-old Muslim boy from India. He has now been named Balaji, another name for monkey-faced Lord Hanuman.

“He is reported to have a 4in ‘tail’ caused by genetic mutations during the development of the foetus. Iqbal Qureshi, the child’s maternal grandfather, is taking Balaji from temple to temple where people offer money to see the boy. Mr Qureshi says the baby has nine spots on his body like Lord Hanuman and showed them to journalists, reports Indian newspaper The Tribune.” What this quote shows is that there are differences of opinion within a religion as even genetic mutations such as this one have altered the decision in believing in the Day of Judgement for a Muslim man. (http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/fr/607381/posts)

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