Intermezzo – Individual responsibility and the Afterlife

Individual responsibility and the Afterlife in the Qur’an
intermezzo by Mehmet Pacaci

Afterlife is one of the main themes of the Qur’an. The abode in which one will face the retribution of worldly deeds is called akhira. It is the opposite of the prevailing but transient life on earth (al-hayat al-dunya). Akhira is the future and unending period starting after the end of man’s worldly life, (eschaton). For a Muslim, faith in life after death is concomitant with the faith in Almighty God manifested in his creative power. The eschaton is closely related to God’s creative power. God has the absolute power over creation, death and resurrection or recreation; over the beginning and the end. chapter Alpha & Omega

The description of what happens in the Afterlife is full of dramatic images. A strong figurative language is used to describe it. The point is that human beings will ultimately be judged by God in terms of his thoughts and deeds. This is a centerpiece of the Qur’an. Men and women are responsible creatures. God blew his breath in human, made him alive and put him on earth for a limited period of time, as a vice-regent. Human beings have the intelligence and the freedom to make a choice between good and bad. This is an honor that other creatures and even the angels lack.

“We did indeed offer the trust to the Heavens and the Earth…but they refused to undertake it, being afraid thereof; but man undertook it…”33 The Confederates, 72

The credit given to man is the source of his individual responsibility. Human beings will be held responsible for the choices they make.

Earthly life is a test for men and women. Their task is “to strive as in a race in all virtues.” 5 The Table Spread, 48

Will men and women utilize the blessings bestowed onto him in a good way? Or will they waste their blessings, or use them for immoral or superficial goals? God will judge each individual fairly and on the basis of his or her deeds. Ultimately, God is the only and final authority. He will weigh men and women on the Last Day, the Day of Reckoning. This is the day that human beings return to God. On that Day nothing of what they tried to hide during their lives will remain hidden. Those whose Good deeds outweigh their bad ones will be rewarded. Those who failed to live up to their task will be punished.

For a Muslim the ultimate source of good deeds is submitting oneself to God. To refuse believing in God is bad per se. It is the source of all evil. Men and women should be constantly striving to act in the morally right way, and to recognize and shun what is wrong. They should obey God’s morally guiding commands, and persevere on the Right Way.

This holds not only for Muslims but also for Jews and Christians. In the Bible the Last Day is described with images which are very similar to those in the Qur’an. The main difference is that whereas the New Testament Jesus acts as judge, in the Qur’an it is only God who judges. Jesus acts as witness, focusing specially on Christians. Have they acted against the rules Jesus gave them? Or have they lived a life of love and charity as Jesus demanded? In that case they are welcome in paradise. So Jews, Christians and Muslims, indeed the whole of humankind, must be ready to face God for a final reckoning. Of course it is always possible to show remorse and ask for forgiveness, and God is Forgiving. But there is a point of no return. A Day when it is too late to mend one’s ways.

“…to every People a term is appointed: when their term is reached, not an hour can they cause neither delay, nor (an hour) can they advance.” 7 The Heights, 34

When will this Day of Judgment come? How much time do humans have? Nobody knows. The Last Day is something humans have no control over whatsoever. The time (al-sa’ah) determined for individuals as well as societies could be at any moment, and is sure to be unexpected.

Only the all-knowing, omniscient God knows when our last hour will strike. 33 The Confederates 63 All we human beings know is that the Day of reckoning is getting closer and closer every hour, every day. The reckoning is inescapable, inevitable (akhira) and human beings should keep that constantly in mind. The signal for the final hour, the Last Day, is the blowing of the first trumpet. Then life on earth ends. The order of the universe will collapse with catastrophic events. On this Day of Verdict many will be filled with regret. They will try to escape, but in vain. They will get no support from their friends or relatives.

The trumpet will sound again to herald the Day of Resurrection. All men and women will awaken from the dead to face judgment. On this Day God establishes his court. The records of each individual will be opened and each individual will receive the book of his or her own life. Witnesses will be heard. Even the tiniest deeds of the earthly life will be weighed on scale. Those whose life’s deeds weigh heavy are redeemed; they will be welcomed in Paradise. Those who are shown up to be too light are the losers; they will be driven to Hell.

Comments Off on Intermezzo – Individual responsibility and the Afterlife