Death, the greatest mystery of life, has plagued the imagination of mankind since its inception. In this age of questioning and science, the afterlife is as uncertain as waking up in the morning.
Most world religions contain similar doctrine about the afterlife, especially Christianity and Islam.
Christian thought: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotton Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
The foundation of the Christian faith is salvation, gaining eternal life through the one Christians call the Christ. It may not be so common these days, but the old-school preacher used to bring a powerful message, laced with fire and brimstone. If any person did not accept Jesus into their heart as the risen Son of God, he or she would be condemned to hell. Otherwise, heaven’s gates were wide open.
But there is some divided thought about what happens immediately after death. While it is common to hear, “So-and-so has gone on to be with the Lord” at Christian funerals, some teachers of the Bible say no soul moves on to heaven immediately after death. Instead they rest either in their grave or somewhere between heaven and hell.
“Life After Death: A Study of the Afterlife in World Religions” by Farnáz Ma’sumián says a certain parable (Luke 16:19-26) hints at this in-between place:
“It appears that after death, the souls of both the righteous and the wicked would go to Hades (not to be confused with hell) to experience either partial recompense and the wicked would go to Hades to experience either partial recompense, or the beginnings of punishment for their conduct on earth.
They both await general resurrection for a final, binding judgment.”
So what is heaven? Two views of heaven have been accepted among Christians– it is a physical or a spiritual place in which the soul will reside after death. John, the writer of the book of Revelation describes a vision of an earthly heaven in 21: 12-27. He says it is a city with walls “adorned with all kinds of precious stones,” gates made of pearl, and streets made of gold.
But Jesus alludes to an unearthly heaven in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now my kingdom is not from here.”
Resurrection of the body and/or soul is also a topic of discussion in the church. The Bible says when Christ resurrected on earth after the third day in the tomb; he was in the flesh, and then ascended into heaven. However, when Paul describes the resurrection, he emphasizes that only the spiritual body can be resurrected.
Islamic thought: “Every soul will taste death, after we put you to the test through adversity and prosperity, then to us you ultimately return” (Sura 21:35).
According to Ma’sumián, one tradition says that after death, individuals are put to the test by two angels (Munkar and Nakir). The dead are asked three questions: “Who is your god? Who is your prophet? What is your faith?” If the answers are Allah, Muhammad, and Islam, the angels will grant the dead rest until the general resurrection. If the answers are not desirable to the angels, the grave will turn into a torture chamber for the dead until resurrection. Like Judeo-Christian beliefs, there is a final day of judgment that all individuals must endure. On this day, God determines if each individual accepts or rejects the message presented by Muhammad.
Michael D. Coogan, author of “The Illustrated Guide of World Religions,” writes, “The unbeliever rejects the conduct codified in the Quran and Hadith, and thus earns a place in Hell, while the true believer — whose acts conformed to the Prophetic tradition (Sunna)– is brought into paradise.”
A series of events will take place before the Day of Judgment, including the return of Christ. Ma’sumián writes first the Anti-Christ (Al-Djjál) will rule 40 days on earth, and then Jesus Christ will return and rule 40 years, and finally the arrival of The Rightly Guided One (Al-Mahdí).
Paradise, as it is called in the Islamic tradition, seems to be a physical and spiritual place. According to Ma’sumián, it is a place of “material delights” such as adorning gardens, streams of wine, milk, and honey. Paradise is dripping with pleasures, beauty, and endless riches. The righteous ones are clad with fine garments and the temperature is perfect. It is also much like the New Jerusalem of Christian writings, walls made of silver and gold, “soil is saffron and the gravel is pearls and rubies.”
A side-by-side comparison shows that while Christianity and Islam, although separate practices, they come together in many ways in death. Regardless of each religious proposition, life and death are inescapably a part of the same cycle, and one day we all will know what is just beyond the grave.