Religious Beliefs

What are the main Islamic notions of the afterlife?

Muslim eschatology has much in common with most Christian and some Jewish traditions about the afterlife. Death is not the end of life, but a transition to another level of existence. Muslims believe human beings are accountable for all of their free moral decisions. People are not held similarly responsible for actions with negative consequences but done under duress or in the absence of intent to do evil. Numerous texts of the Qur’an warn of the coming Day of Judgment, the Day of Resurrection, the Hour in which the true quality of everyone’s deeds will be revealed. On the basis of that accounting, individuals will go across a narrow passage of no return called the barzakh (pronounced BARzakh) to one of several destinations. Paradise is called the Garden (janna, pronouned JANnah), a verdant place of repose and delight, an oasis for the just. Heaven is not so much literally a place as a state of being whose principal feature is the vision of God. Qur’anic texts refer to several different levels or degrees of heavenly reward.

Hell, known as the Fire or Gehenna (jahannam, pronounced jaHANnam), represents the state of refusal to acknowledge God’s sovereignty. Some Muslim theologians have taught that Hell is not necessarily a permanent state, since God can always forgive any sin except unrelenting denial of God’s existence. Hell can thus function in a way similar to that of the state of Purgatory in Christian tradition, though Islamic tradition does not have a separate term for that state of purification. Muslim tradition also hints at something like an intermediate state, perhaps similar to the Christian idea of limbo.

Visitors to the tomb-shrine of Shaykh Salim Chishti (sixteenth century), the spiritual director of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, Fatehpur Sikri, India.


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