Joy Forever, Grief Forever
All through the centuries Allah sent down thousands of messengers, dozens of books, and one Message. This central Message has three components. 1) Allah is the Creator and the Master of the universe. He is the One we must worship and obey. 2) He sent down guidance through messengers and books. 3) Just as death is certain in this world, so is resurrection in the Hereafter. Then everyone will face everlasting consequences of their response to Allah’s commands: joy forever or grief forever.
It is this last part that can bring immediate clarity and concentration to our minds and change the call of the messengers from “interesting” to immensely serious and urgent. The messengers do not do philosophy or present theories. They have News for us and it is extremely urgent. That is why the Qur’an refers to the messengers as nadhir (warners) and describes this as their primary mission: “We have sent emissaries only as heralds and warners while those who disbelieve idly argue away so they may refute the Truth by means of it. They treat My signs and what they are warned of as a joke!” [Al-Kahf 18:56]
An unimaginably huge catastrophe is about to befall the humanity. Let it be warned, so it can ward it off. You must drop everything and listen to the messenger with all seriousness. Now.
This is a life-altering message. Anyone who understands and accepts it can no longer remain the same old person who did not understand or accept it. It says that this world is not what it appears to be. This is not our destination; what happens to us here is not our ultimate destiny. Any life lived here on the assumption that this life is all there is to it will be entirely wasted.
We know there are problems in this world. The strong can get away with murder. The weak are oppressed. We yearn for justice and don’t find it. The joys of this life are also both short-lived and mixed with sorrows. We yearn for pure bliss and don’t find it. This message tells us that our desires for justice and unmixed happiness are not in vain. We will get them in the eternal Afterlife. What seems to be an imperfect world is actually a perfect testing ground. The joys and sufferings here are meant to test how we behave under different circumstances in life. Those who lead a life of righteousness and obedience to Allah will taste real joy in the Hereafter. Those who lead a life of disobedience, sin, and corruption will taste real punishment. This message gives us hope when there is no hope. It gives us the strength to be steadfast in the face of the forces of evil. It liberates us from the bondage to here and now. It changes our outlook and consequently our entire life.
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It is impossible for our thoughts and actions to be right and righteous in the absence of belief in the Hereafter. How many people will resist temptations if there are no consequences to be feared for doing so? And for how long? How many will engage in good even though it costs and avoid evil even though it seems to pay? Human beings are driven by rewards and punishments. But the only perfect system of reward and punishment is offered by the Hereafter. Therefore it is impossible to fix this world by ignoring the Hereafter.
There is more. The Qur’an says: “Those who do not believe in the Hereafter, call the angels by the names of females.” [An-Najm 53:27] What has the disbelief in the Hereafter to do with this act? They engage in this conjecture about the angels whom they have not seen and have no sure way of knowing about, because they are not serious. And they are not serious because of their disbelief in the Hereafter. Frivolity and vanity are a side effect of this disbelief. And when they take control of life, the entire life is destined to ruin.
While the disbelief in the Hereafter has no legs to stand on, this world does have the charm that can overcome that disadvantage! The result may be that we continue to profess belief in the Hereafter, yet live as if it does not matter. Or that we even change our beliefs too. It has happened before. Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs, rabbi of the New London Synagogue, writes: “Among many contemporary Jewish theologians there is a marked tendency to leave the whole question of eschatology without discussion, either because they do not believe in the Hereafter at all or because they believe that the finite mind of man is incapable of piercing the veil and it is best to leave the subject severely alone.” And while Orthodox Jews still believe in resurrection, it is with a twist. They believe that when the Messiah (who they think will be a person from the family of King David) comes, the righteous dead will be brought back to life to enjoy life here again. The wicked will not be resurrected. So the Hereafter will be here and there will be no real punishment for the wicked.
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We can now appreciate the emphasis Islam places on remembering death and resurrection. As a Muslim wakes up, he says: “Praise be to Allah Who gave us life after death and unto Him is the Resurrection.” When he goes to bed his prayer is: “O Allah, in Your name do I die and live.” When he begins eating he says: “O Allah, bless us in what You have provided for us and protect us from the Fire.” When he rides he says: “Glory be to Him Who has subjected these to our (use), for we could have never accomplished this (by ourselves). And to our Lord shall we be sent back.” [Az-Zukhruf, 43: 13-14]. So our sleep reminds us of our death and all through the waking hours we keep on refreshing that remembrance. In regular prayers and while reading the Qur’an it is impossible to continue for any length of time without being reminded that this life is temporary and our permanent abode is in the Hereafter. A beautiful dua (supplication) further highlights a Muslim’s concerns: “O Allah, do not make this world our greatest worry, the sum total of our knowledge, and the object of our desires.”
The person who always remembers the Hereafter is like the driver who constantly keeps his eyes on the destination. He is the only one likely to successfully get there.