What do Muslims believe about the afterlife?
Islamic beliefs about the afterlife are very important. Muslims believe in the continued existence of the soul and a transformed physical existence after death. Islam teaches that there will be a day of judgment when all humans will be divided between the eternal destinations of Paradise and Hell.
A central doctrine of the Quran, and one of the most important teachings of Muhammad, is the Last Day, on which the world will be destroyed and Allah will raise all people and jinn from the dead to be judged. The Last Day is also called the Day of Standing Up, Day of Separation, Day of Reckoning, Day of Awakening, Day of Judgment, The Encompassing Day or The Hour.
Until the Day of Judgment, deceased souls remain in their graves awaiting the resurrection. However, they begin to feel immediately a taste of their destiny to come. Those bound for hell will suffer in their graves, while those bound for heaven will be in peace until that time.
The Nature of the Day of Judgment
The resurrection that will take place on the Last Day is physical, and is explained by suggesting that Allah will re-create the decayed body (17:100: "Could they not see that God who created the heavens and the earth is able to create the like of them"?). On the Last Day, resurrected humans and jinn will be judged by Allah according to their deeds. One's eternal destination depends on balance of good to bad deeds in life. They are either granted admission to Paradise, where they will enjoy spiritual and physical pleasures forever, or condemned to Hell to suffer spiritual and physical torment for eternity.
The day of judgment is described as passing over Hell on a narrow bridge in order to enter Paradise. Those who fall, weighted by their bad deeds, will remain in Hell forever. The Quran specifies two exceptions to this general rule:
- - Warriors who die fighting in the cause of God are ushered immediately to God's presence (Surah 2:159 and Surah 3:169); and
- "Enemies of Islam" are sentenced immediately to Hell upon death.
"O soul who is at rest, return to thy Lord, well-pleased with Him, well-pleasing Him. So enter among My servants, and enter My garden." (89:27-30) Paradise (firdaws), also called "The Garden" (Janna), is a place of physical and spiritual pleasure, with lofty mansions (39:20, 29:58-59), delicious food and drink (52:22, 52:19, 38:51), and virgin companions called houris (56:17-19, 52:24-25, 76:19, 56:35-38, 37:48-49, 38:52-54, 44:51-56, 52:20-21). There are seven heavens (17:46, 23:88, 41:11, 65:12).
Hell, or Jahannam (Greek gehenna), is mentioned frequently in the Quran and the Sunnah using a variety of imagery. It has seven doors (Qur'an 39:71; 15:43) leading to a fiery crater of various levels, the lowest of which contains the tree Zaqqum and a cauldron of boiling pitch. The level of hell depends on the degree of offenses. Suffering is both physical and spiritual.
Being a Muslim does not keep one out of Hell, but it is not clear whether Muslims remain in Hell forever. Non-Muslims (kafir), however, will be punished eternally. A Muslim author on IslamOnline.net explains it this way:
"Ultimately, God will remove from Hell those believers whose sins were not forgiven nor atoned for by good deeds in their lifetimes, and they will then enter Paradise. The remaining inhabitants of Hell will stay there eternally." (Islam Online) Other Muslim commentators, noting that Allah can rescue people from hell as he chooses, and that he is merciful and compassionate, have hypothesized that eventually hell will be empty. Alternatively, Hell can be seen as a place of progress where souls are instructed until they are fit to go to heaven:
"Life after death is actually the starting-point of further progress for man. Those in paradise are advancing to higher and higher stages in knowledge and perfection of faith. Hell is meant to purify those in it of the effects of their bad deeds, and so make them fit for further advancement. Its punishment is, therefore, not everlasting." (Muslim.org, an Ahmadiyya website)