Recently, after the death of his father, one of us asked me of death and of the Hereafter. We must not wait to think of death until someone we love dies. We must not try to forget death even after we are reminded by the death of someone whom we love. We must remember death always, or often, and we must not leave its remembrance until we die.
When the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) was about to leave this world he consoled his beloved companions (r.a.a.) and said, "I am leaving you with two great teachers. One is a silent one and the other is one who speaks." When he was asked who they were, he said, "The silent one is death. The one who speaks is the Holy Qur'an."
Life after death is not as those who do not know imagine and say it is. Not the tortures of the grave, the interrogation by angels, the punishment, the pain, the crawling creatures, the snakes, the scorpions, the hellfire; not the tombs transformed into rose gardens, the palaces, the gardens, the rivers of Paradise-nothing there resembles the horrors or the beauties of this world of matter. Nothing there resembles what eyes have seen or minds have imagined.
This world of matter consists of space and time and things and beings and flesh of three dimensions. But all these are temporal. Everything that is built is going to be destroyed. Everything that exists wears out, changes, and disappears. Everything that is born, dies. All of this will disappear or will be transformed and stay here, none of it will go to the Hereafter except the ruh, the soul. Allah says:
was yas‘alunaka ‘an ir-ruhi. qul ir-ruhu min amr ir-rabbi.
"And they ask you about the soul. Say: The soul is by the commandment of my Lord [is only in His knowledge]."
(Bani Isra‘il 85)
The soul belongs to al-‘alam al-ghayb-the invisible realm. That is to say, invisible to our material eyes. Even Hadrat ‘Ali (karrama Llahu wajhahu) says:
law kashafa al-ghita'i ma izdadtu yaqinan
"Even when my veils [the curtains of ignorance] lift, my certainty [what I see in reality] does not increase."
Even he, the door to knowledge, is unable to see the real reality within the realm of the soul.
Hadrat Abu Talib al-Makki (r.a.) says, "If the soul knows its Lord [if it is the soul of one who feared and loved Allah and did good deeds], when it leaves the body it soars, ascends, seeking its Lord. In accordance with the deeds and state of the owner of this soul in this world, it becomes finer or less fine matter. If it is finer it soars higher up to the level that is called illiyin, a distance anywhere from the moon to the kursi. The eight paradises mentioned in the Holy Qur'an are in these regions.
"If the soul belongs to a sinner, when it leaves the body it also has no form or shape, yet it is heavy, not with a material weight but with a conceptual one. It sinks, descends in accordance with its weight until the level of asfal al-safilin-the lowest of the low. The seven hells are in these realms. The souls of sinners assume the character of their animal selves. If in this world one was insatiably ambitious, one's soul assumes the character of a pig. If one was arrogant, thinking oneself great and others lowly, it will assume the character of an elephant, and if one was envious and jealous, it will assume the character of a monkey. Each character of different weight will sink lower in accordance with its weight."
Some think that the Hereafter is like this world of matter because Allah Most High addresses man in the language of man. They think in terms of what the word signifies, which is material, while the word itself is of the Essence and immaterial. They base their contention on verses such as:
qul yuhyi alladhi ansha'aha awwala marra, wa huwa ‘ala kulli khalqin ‘alim.
"Say: He will give life to them Who brought them into existence at first, and He is Knower of all creation."
(Ya Sin 79)
a wa laysa lladhi khalaqas-samawati wal-arda bi-qadirin ‘ala an yakhluqa mithlahum? Bala, wa huwal-khallaq ul-‘alim.
"Is not He who created the heavens and the earth able to create the like of them? Yea, and He is the Creator, the Knower.
(Ya Sin 81)
They say that there is a tiny piece of bone at the end of one's spinal column which does not rot and from these remnants, like corn from the planted grain, men will grow on the Day of Judgment exactly as they were when they were in this world.
If we must seek something that exists now and that is the same as the Hereafter, it certainly is not the material form, shape, or body. Perhaps it is the word-if one knew what one was saying, if it was not just noise, barking, growling, howling-for the true word is produced by the soul.
The body changes, ages. Science says that after three years, not a cell remains in one's body that was there before. Yet the essence, the soul, is the same whether one is a baby or an old man. It is that which will be returning to its Lord. It is that which will appear on the Day of Judgment in Paradise or Hell. Otherwise, if someone lost his hand or foot while a child and was thrown into hellfire as punishment for his later sins, would it be just for the sinless hand or foot also to burn? For Allah says
fa-man ya‘mal mithqala dharratin khayran yarah, wa man ya‘mal mithqala dharratin sharran yarah.
"So he who does an atom's weight of good will see it, and he who does an atom's weight of evil will see it."
(Zilzal 7, 8)
And the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) says, "Your deeds, whether good or bad, will be returned to you." The gardens of Paradise, the fires of Hell, are no more and no less than your deeds.
At the time of the mi‘raj, the ascension of the Prophet (s.a.w.s.), Hadrat Ibrahim (a.s.) said, "O Muhammad (s.a.w.s.), tell your people that Paradise is an empty space. There are neither trees nor rivers nor palaces within. The gardens of Paradise, the gifts of Paradise are the words subhan Allahi wal-hamdu lillahi wa la ilaha illa Llahu wa Llahu akbar. Tell them to repeat these words often."
Your existence in your afterlife and in the tomb, purgatory, the Day of Judgment, Hell and Paradise, are neither of this world nor resemble anything in this world. You will be in the shape of your sirr, your essence, and the realm within which you will find yourself will be the realm of the concepts, the meanings of your life and actions. Allah says:
"On the day when hidden things are manifested...."
Also, we believe that for the common man this world is nothing but an illusion, a dream, not reality. How could the reality of the Hereafter be the re-creation of an illusion, or have any resemblance to it?
The Prophet (s.a.w.s.) says, "Men are asleep. They wake up only when they die." The only way that we can know the Hereafter here is by following the order of the Messenger of Allah-mutu qabla an tamutu, "Die before you die"-so that we can see the reality of our eternal self and the reality of Eternity.
Allah knows best.
Shaykh Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi al-Halveti