Jazib Mehmood, Student Jamia Ahmadiyya International Ghana
Recently, Arnold Schwarzenegger expressed his views on the afterlife. Or rather, he expressed what he evidently believes to be the only possible view concerning life after death. He asserted that anyone who believes that something happens to us after we die is a “liar”.
He also said that he believed heaven to be a “fantasy”. According to him, “When people talk about, ‘I will see them again in heaven,’ it sounds so good, but the reality is that we won’t see each other again after we’re gone. That’s the sad part.” (https://uk.news.yahoo.com/arnold-schwarzenegger-says-heaven-fantasy-110230840.html)
While his stance on the afterlife may differ from the beliefs held by billions of individuals worldwide, one can certainly understand why he may have come to harbour such beliefs.
Today, it is difficult to grasp the true concept of life after death since it has been muddled by some very strong imaginations. Therefore, when we think of heaven or paradise, images of material comforts spring to mind, with no carnal pleasures denied. No one would work, and there would be constant enjoyment for us all.
Not very long ago, the popular TV show The Good Place touched on this subject. While it certainly did not lack imagination, it presented the views of good and evil as philosophers and thinkers believe and elaborately described what might go on after we die, as the show’s writer Michael Schur described in his book How to Be Perfect. To its credit, at the end of the show, we come to realise that a life of complete, barren enjoyment is not heaven but hell.
Is this all for nothing?
However, despite the fact that our confused versions of heaven are nothing close to the truth, can we believe that there is nothing after this life? Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra states that even reason cannot accept this idea. He writes in his book, Ahmadiyyat or the True Islam:
“Can we suppose for a moment that God has created this delicate and perfect system of the universe and all that there is in it for the service of man, merely so that man may eat and drink and explore the secrets of nature for the brief space of three or four score years and then forever pass into obscurity and nothingness?
“Reason spurns such an idea, and human nature recoils from it. The fact that there is a universe requires that man’s life should have a purpose higher than, and beyond mere eating and drinking and leading a more or less circumscribed existence in this world.” (Ahmadiyyat or the True Islam, p. 308)
The Holy Quran rejects such a notion. Allah the Almighty states:
أَفَحَسِبْتُمْ أَنَّمَا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ عَبَثًا وَأَنَّكُمْ إِلَيْنَا لَا تُرْجَعُونَ فَتَعَالَى اللَّهُ الْمَلِكُ الْحَقُّ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا هُوَ رَبُّ الْعَرْشِ الْكَرِيمِ
Translating this verse, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra writes:
“Then, do you imagine that We have created you as a mere pastime and that you will not have eternal life and opportunities of eternal development after death? That surely is not so, for God is the High and the True Monarch, Who has created all things with a purpose. He is the one God and possesses attributes which command purity and respect. [Surah al-Mu’minun, Ch.23:V.116-117]” (Ibid., p. 309)
What does Islam say about the afterlife?
Islam places great emphasis on the afterlife and even requires Muslims to believe in the Day of Judgement as one of the six articles of faith. (Sahih Muslim, Hadith 8)
While Islam has elaborated greatly on this subject – perhaps more than any other religion – it is important to note that the bottom line is that we just do not know the precise nature and form of what will happen to us after we die. To this end, the Holy Quran states:
فَلَا تَعْلَمُ نَفْسٌ مَا أُخْفِيَ لَهُمْ مِنْ قُرَّةِ أَعْيُنٍ جَزَاءً بِمَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ
“And no soul knows what joy of the eyes is kept hidden for them, as a reward for their good works.” (Surah as-Sajdah, Ch.32: V.18)
Likewise, the Holy Prophetsa stated that Allah the Almighty had told him that:
“I have prepared for My righteous servants, such things as no eye has ever seen, no ear has ever heard of, and nobody has ever thought of.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Hadith 4780)
Therefore, whatever hints we have about the afterlife – if they are not derived from the Holy Quran or the traditions of the Holy Prophetsa – they are mere conjectures of our imagination.
What is the reality of heaven and hell?
Since so much is said on this subject, sifting through all these theories is no easy task (another reason for disbelieving in their existence entirely). However, the Promised Messiahas has eloquently described the Quranic concept of life after death in his remarkable work, The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam.
Commenting on the Islamic belief of man’s ignorance of the hereafter, he states:
“God has described all those bounties as hidden, the like of which is not to be found in this world. It is obvious that the bounties of this world are not hidden from us and we are familiar with milk, pomegranates and grapes etc. which we eat here.
“This shows that the bounties of the next life are something else and have nothing in common with the bounties of this life, except the name. He who conceives of the conditions of paradise in the terms of the conditions of this life has not the least understanding of the Holy Quran.” (The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, pp. 134–135)
Rather, he writes:
“According to the Holy Quran, Hell and Heaven are both reflections of a man’s life, and are not something new that comes from outside. It is true that in the Hereafter, they will be manifested physically, but they will be reflections of the spiritual conditions of man in this life.
“We do not conceive of Heaven as containing material trees, nor of Hell as full of brimstone and sulphur. According to Islamic teachings Heaven and Hell are the reflections of the actions that a person carries out in this world.” (Ibid., p. 157)
This brings us back to something else Mr Schwarzenegger said, “We don’t know what happens with the soul and all this spiritual stuff that I’m not an expert in, but I know that the body as we see each other now, we will never see each other again like that.” (www.insider.com/arnold-schwarzenegger-what-happens-when-you-die-heaven-fantasy-2023-6)
Here, his thoughts are remarkably close to what Islam teaches us. Islam does not support the idea of the same body, as we know it, ascending to the heavens. Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra, explaining this Islamic principle in his book Introduction to the Study of the Holy Quran, writes:
“The Quran teaches that on a man’s death, his soul enters a new universe and assumes a new body. That body is different from the physical body that is adjusted to the requirements of this life. It is a new kind of spiritual body possessing peculiar faculties for the perception of God’s beautiful attributes.” (Introduction to the Study of the Holy Quran, p. 315)
Will we see each other again?
Given that things will work differently in the afterlife, a valid question arises: will I see my loved ones again? Islam says that Allah is the Master of the Day of Judgement, so the final decree rests with Him alone. But despite Mr Schwarzenegger’s pessimistic views on the subject, Allah the Almighty makes a promise in the Holy Quran:
وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَاتَّبَعَتْهُمْ ذُرِّيَّتُهُمْ بِإِيمَانٍ أَلْحَقْنَا بِهِمْ ذُرِّيَّتَهُمْ وَمَا أَلَتْنَاهُمْ مِنْ عَمَلِهِمْ مِنْ شَيْءٍ كُلُّ امْرِئٍ بِمَا كَسَبَ رَهِينٌ
“And those who believe and whose children follow them in faith – with them shall We join their children. And We will not diminish anything from the reward of their works. Every man stands pledged for what he has earned.” (Surah At-Tur, Ch.52:V.22)
Apart from this, one can certainly pray to be joined with the righteous. Hazrat Abrahamas and his grandson Hazrat Josephas, the Holy Quran tells us, prayed for this specifically. (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.102; Surah ash-Shua‘ra, Ch.26: V.84)
Explaining this principle of the Holy Quran, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa, states:
“As far as the meeting of people from different levels of Paradise is concerned, different places and stages of Paradise have been mentioned in the Quran and the Hadith, but there is no mention of any obstacles in the meeting of those who live in these different places and levels of Paradise.
“[…] Apart from this, it is also worth mentioning that the separation of the permanent residence of the people of different levels in Paradise is another matter, and it is another thing for those of different levels to mix with each other, about which there is no mention of any kind of obstacle in the Quran or the Hadith. Rather, the Holy Quran has stated the following fact about the people of Paradise:
لَهُمْ فِيهَا مَا يَشَاؤُونَ
“‘They will have therein what they wish for.’ (Surah an-Nahl, Ch. 16: V. 32)
“[…] Thus, these verses prove that if the heavenly dwellers of different ranks want to meet any of their loved ones, then their wish shall be fulfilled in Heaven.” (Al Hakam, 9 September 2022, Issue 234, p. 6)