The belief in the Day of Judgment was among the major themes of the early messages of Quran that strengthened the principle of human responsibility.
Consequences and outcomes change human actions and behavior. This concept has evolved into a science called eschatology. Quran perfected this science and reached the peak in emphasizing the belief in a life after death where people reap what they have planted in this present life. “The day when man will see the deeds which his hands have sent forth.” [78:40]
Quran used a very descriptive discourse in order for people to believe in the hereafter as if they see it before their eyes while they are still in this life. Let us examine how Quran introduced the Day of Judgment and brought its abstract concept closer to the understanding of the common and ordinary human beings.
First, I will explore the dynamic presentation of the concept of “baath”بَعْث or resurrection after death in Quran. Since prophecy made the belief in the hereafter a major theme of its project, Quran captured and recorded for us the artful and thoughtful presentations of prophets. They took into consideration the evolution of human intellect and experience over time. They respected their societies’ level of mental abstraction and formulated their presentations accordingly in order to get the desired response.
The concept of “baath” or resurrection has been argued through these recurrent questions: What will happen to us after death? Are we going to be resurrected after death, and how? Although these questions were asked repeatedly, they were answered differently depending on the historical period in which they were asked.
When the level of abstraction is low, the answer will come in a very tangible way. Look at the story narrated in Qur’an of the man who passed by a destroyed town before the time of Jesus. He raised the question: How shall Allah bring this town back to life? “Or take the similitude of the one who passed by a village all in ruins to its roofs. He said: How shall Allah bring it to life?” [2:259]
Allah caused him to die for one hundred years. Then Allah resurrected him and brought together the bones of his dead donkey before his eyes, covered them with flesh, and the donkey was brought back alive and well. “And look at your donkey; and that We make of you a sign unto the people, look further at the bones, how We bring them together and clothe them with flesh.” [2:259] At that point the man declared: “I know that Allah has power over all things.” [2:259]
In the days of Jesus where extreme materialism prevailed in the society; and belief was only confined to the seen, felt, and calculated; overwhelming signs were needed for people to see resurrection possible. Those who witnessed them stood helpless and speechless. Jesus was given the privilege, the honor, and the permission to create and to breathe life into his creation. “And behold! You make out of clay the figure of a bird, by my leave, and you breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by my leave.” [5:110]
Jesus was also given the divine permission to heal the sick and resurrect the dead and bring them back to life. “And you heal those born blind and the lepers by my leave, and behold! You bring forth the dead by my leave.” [5:110]
The objective of Jesus was to show his people that materialism is limited and cannot explain everything in this existence. They had to go to a higher horizon and a bigger model of interpretation that are above and beyond the tangible in order for life after death to become more intelligible. After all, Jesus was himself a sign that shocked materialism and took its structure from its foundations. The fact that his mother, Mary, conceived him without a man was a demonstration of the possibility of the metaphysical i.e., beyond the physical and the material. You cannot believe in Jesus if you are totally materialistic. As you can see the evidence had to be very big and tangible in order for the question of the resurrection after death to be answered appropriately.
Compare these answers to the one given to a similar question raised at a different historical moment- during the days of Mohammad. “And he makes comparisons for Us, and forgets his own creation: He says: Who can give life to bones and decomposed ones?” [36:78]
The answer was completely different. At the time of Mohammad, humanity has accumulated more knowledge and experience. Humanity was invited to reach a higher horizon in utilizing mental faculties, including reason, to formulate abstract concepts from the stimuli received from the external world through sensation and perception.
In order to answer this question, Qur’an encouraged the one who asked to just look around and he will find the Universe replete with signs that indicate the rise of life after death. “The same Who produces for you fire out of the green tree, when behold! You kindle you own fire.” [36:80]
Quran is saying that humanity must enter into a new era and elevate itself into a new level of thinking. Signs in the form of physical miracles are not difficult for Allah to demonstrate, but humans are asked to refer to their observations, process them using their highest level of abstract thinking, and then deduce the governing ideas and beliefs. “They say: Why is not a sign sent down to him from his Lord? Say: Allah has certainly the power to send down a sign: But most of them understand not.
There is not an animal on the earth or a being that flies on its wings, but communities like you.” [6:37-38]
“O mankind! If you have a doubt about the resurrection, consider that We created you out of dust, then out of sperm, then out of a leech-like clot, then out of morsel of flesh, partly created and partly uncreated, in order to show you; and We cause whom We will to rest in the wombs for an appointed term, then do We bring you out as babies, then that you may reach your age of full strength, and some of you are called to die.” [22:5]
In the next article, we will explore another Quranic approach and presentation of the Day of Judgment.
By Dr Walid Khayr