The afterlife, or the resurrection, is the purpose of most religions. Can we speak of any religion without talking of resurrection and eternity? There is no such religious grouping or even religious sect that does not refer to the next life. For Christians and Muslims, the topic is very interesting and stimulating because when we talk of the afterlife, we also refer to our own existence here on earth. Rick Warren asks this revealing question in his popular book The Purpose Driven Life, which all of us also would like to ask and have an answer: What on earth am I here for?
Yes, what are we here for? This is the question we ask when we talk of the afterlife and the resurrection. When we talk of the resurrection, we have to examine our very existence here on earth. Are we doing good or bad? Are we going to heaven or hell?
Moreover, when we talk of the afterlife, we also expect a happening. What will really happen to me when I die? Aside from the happening (the dying) your mind will also ask after you die what will happen to you? There are many questions here. We like the what, how, why, where, and when answered. But it seems there are really vague answers if we find it somewhere else. The answer only lies in us, in how we were brought up and how we lived our lives.
The purpose of this essay is to dig deeper into the concept of the afterlife and resurrection from both Islam and Christian perspectives.
Muslim and Christian Beliefs
Death is not the end but the beginning of eternity this both Christian and Islam believers agree.
What notions and philosophies do we believe when we talk of the resurrection? Christians always believe that there is a resurrection. And so do others, especially Islam believers. Question of the after-life is a question of faith. All we have is what we learned from religion or faith and from the stories of our folks.
Abraham Lincoln has this to say: Surely God would not have created such a being as man to exist only for a day! No, no, the man was made for immortality. (Warren 2002, p. 36).
The Bible says: If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation had been in vain and your faith has been in vain. (I Cor. 15:13-14).
The resurrection, therefore, is the sole purpose of religion of Christianity and Islam. Without it, theres nothing, no purpose for religion, and no purpose for man. What good are you here for? To live, drink and die? What good is religion if, after we pass on from this life, nothing? If theres no life after death, theres no purpose in living. But the fact is there is a reason for living, and this both Muslims and Christians believe.
The afterlife philosophies (or doctrines) of Christianity and Islam have vast similarities and few contradictions. The Christian Bible and the Qurn point to a single idea and belief: That after our physical bodies die, we will rise again or will be raised again. The question is up to what point? Is the afterlife a literal place or just a state of the soul?
Lets look at Islams concept of life after death.
In their preface to their book, Smith and Haddad (2002) say:
Despite certain variations in interpretation among modernists and traditionalists, the basic message to which all contemporary Muslims attest is that God has created humanity for a purpose, for the continuation of life, and for ultimate accountability. (xiii)
This reference to the afterlife is also the same as the Christian view that the purpose of mans existence here on earth is to be with God in Paradise after the physical death. But when we talk of eternity, we also talk about accountability because how you live here on earth will entirely depend on how and where you will be in eternity. Both religions believe in accountability for human beings.
This is Smith and Haddads interpretation of The Islamic Understanding of Death and Resurrection (p. 5):
There are two events in a mans life here on earth collective time and individual time.
Both Islam and Christianity have a concept of the second resurrection when everyone will be raised from the dead. There is a personal resurrection, i.e., when one dies. While the Qurn talks of cosmic death (supposed to be the end of the world), the Bible tells, in the Book of the Revelation of John, about the second coming. The Second Resurrection will bring everyone to life, and Jesus Christ, in all His glory, will reign for a thousand years.
The Qurn refers to this as after the cosmic death. This is quoted in Smith and Haddad (2002, p. 5): Immediately before the resurrection will come the absolute destruction of the earth and all that lives on it [S 55:26-27]; this cosmic death is, of course, preceded by the death of each individual at the conclusion of his or her ajal (Smith and Haddad, 2002:5).
In Chapter 75 of the Holy Qurn, it says:
Nay, but man desires to continue on as a libertine, asking, When shall be the Day of Resurrection? But when the sight is dazed, and the moon is eclipsed, and the sun and moon are brought together, ten upon that day man shall say, Whither to flee? No indeed; not a refuge! Upon that day, the recourse shall be to thy Lord. Upon that day, man shall be told his former deeds and his latter; nay, man shall be a clear proof against himself, 15 even though he offer his excuses. (Chapter 75: 5-15, Arberry translation)
The above quote of the Holy Qurn refers to the cosmic death.
But for the individual death, Allah will raise every man according to what he has accomplished here on earth.
He it is Who gives life to what is dead; He it is Who has power over all things. Truly the Hour is coming there is no doubt of it when God will resurrect those who are in the graves) [S 22:5-7]. (Smith and Haddad, 2002: 1).
On the other hand, the Christian concept is not far different that everything is for God; the man was created for God, to be with Him in eternity. Everything comes from God alone. Everything lives by his power, and everything is for his glory. (Romans 11:30 [LB], cited in Warren, 2002, p. 53).
God created man so that He can have company in His realm, in His vast kingdom, which is eternity. How we live here on earth will be the deciding factor for our entrance. This is a doctrine for both Islam and Christianity. God has planted eternity in the human heart. (Ecclesiastes 3:11 [NLT], cited in Warren 2002, p. 36).
Jesus Christs words were simple and yet very precise about the resurrection (personal resurrection). His own resurrection was explained by him, laid open to his followers after his death. He allowed the early apostles to experience his own Resurrection when he was still here on earth by appearing to them in body and soul.
When Jesus was still preaching, the Sadducees, those who did not believe in the resurrection, asked him about life after death. They gave an example of seven brothers; the first married and died childlessly, and so was taken to be the wife of the second, and then the third, until all died. The Sadducees tricked him on this question: whose wife will the woman be in the next life?
Jesus said to them, Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. (Luke 20:27-36).
This gives us a concrete view of the resurrection in Jesus explanation that after death, man cannot anymore marry and will live in a different state. We will not be like our physical existence. The soul which is incorruptible will live in eternity.
On the other hand, Islams concept of heaven is this: Heaven, sometimes said to have seven levels, is generally described as a lush garden where the faithful reap the rewards of obedience and morality. Its inhabitants revel in gardens underneath which rivers flow (Koran 4:57, 22:23, etc.), peaceful serenity, cool shade and breezes, rivers of water, milk, and honey, luscious foods and drink (including nonintoxicating wine), luxurious furnishings and clothing, and so forth. While some interpret these images as metaphorical, envisioning a purely spiritual bliss in the presence of God, most tend toward literalistic and corporeal interpretations, while recognizing that the true reality of heaven is beyond earthly comprehension. (Powers, n.d.)
Critically, we can say that this is far from the Christian views of Paradise or heaven. Heaven, as it is often conceived in the Christian way, is for the souls, and souls do not feel earthly, meaning they are not for what is luxurious and tasteful, etc. Catholics believe in the Purgatory as something or stage before the state of being in heaven. Purgatory is the cleansing part of the soul, where before the soul can go to heaven, it has to be cleansed of the slightest, and the smallest of the sin committed. There are Bible passages that refer to Purgatory, but this is for another paper. But this is where Christians Catholics and Protestants differ in their beliefs. This is taken as an aside because afterlife doctrines make some very interesting topics for debate.
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