Man, with no “mentionable” history before birth, has been given the faculties of hearing and seeing [ad-Dahr 76:2], two eyes and a tongue, and a pair of lips [al-Balad 90: 8-9], as well as the capacity to reason and discern between right and wrong in using his freedom of will. Given freedom of will, judgment is inevitable. The human being must give an account of his conduct and must face the consequences of how he lives his life. Obviously, to be judged fairly, this judgment must be made only after his earthly life has come to an end, and only by the One who gave this life, who knows everything, and who is All-powerful and All-just. Only then can man be judged fairly, and duly rewarded and punished, for everything-from his innermost thoughts to the consequences of his conduct that extend far and wide, and beyond his life for generations to come. “What, did you think that We created you in mere idle play, and that you would not be returned to Us? But, high exalted is God, the King; the True! There is no god but He, the Lord of the Noble Throne (al-Muminun 23: 115-116).
A person’s ultimate destiny, therefore, lies in the life to come, in the Akhira. Everyone will be judged there by due process of justice, fairly and equitably, mercifully and kindly. No one will be wronged or dealt with unjustly even by an atom’s weight. Surely God shall not wrong so much as an atom’s weight [an-Nisa 4: 40]. “This is only what you had sent forth, you are being recompensed only for what you had done before (al-Kahf 18: 49). Thus, everything in our lives is being recorded. Even the smallest of incidents will be replayed before our eyes on the Day of Judgment. That Judgment will be final and one from which there will be no escape. Paradise will be the reward for excellence in doing good, while Hell-fire will be the penalty for those who were ungrateful and indulged in evil: “The parable of the Paradise promised to those who are conscious of God [is that of a Garden] through which running waters flow: [but, unlike an earthly garden,] its fruits will be everlasting, and [so will be] its shade. Such will be the destiny of those who remain conscious of God -just as the destiny of those who deny the truth will be the fire” (ar-Rad 13: 35).
The delights and pleasures of the Hereafter, as well as the penalty for those who condemn themselves to darkness and the wrath of Allah are described in such great detail in the Quran that almost one quarter of it is related to the Akhira. This is what the Prophet came to convey and this is what instills meaning and purpose to our lives. “It is He who has created death and life that He may test which of you is best in deed” (al-Mulk 67: 2). The Quran further explains that man’s role on earth is to live as his Creator desires him to live: in surrender and worship to Him alone. This is not because Allah in any way needs his worship, but because man needs to worship only his Creator and none else so that his own nature is not perverted and corrupted, and so that he does not live in opposition to his intrinsic character. Only by so living, will his earthly life be set on the right path and he will prosper, bringing him peace and happiness
The Objective of Life
When the lifestyle of one who is working solely for the material gains of this world is compared with that of a person who is striving for the everlasting rewards of the Hereafter, there is seemingly very little difference. In both cases, each person is seen to be striving to maintain a quality life. The Quran, however, states that the two parties are far from equal: “Is then the one who believes equal to the man who is a transgressor and wicked? Not equal are they” (as-Sajda 32: 18). And in another verse, “To him who desires only this fleeting life, We grant him only here and only as much as We please, only to whomever We will: but in the end We consign him to Hell” (al-Isra 17: 18). The true Believer may achieve worldly gains but he realizes that true contentment will only come when the ultimate reward of Paradise and the pleasure of his Lord is achieved: “Verily, that which is with Allah is best for you, if you, but knew all that which is with you is bound to end, whereas all that which is with Allah is everlasting” (an-Nahl 16:95-96).
Remember that your personal destiny and, therefore, the end of all your life’s pursuits, lie in the Akhira, but the road to that destiny lies in Dunya, in this world. Indeed the achievements made during the time of the Prophet were the results of full participation in this world — neither withdrawing nor retiring from it — for the sake of the life to come. The Prophet and his Companions planned for this world as though they were going to stay here forever but equally they sought the rewards of the Hereafter as though death was close at hand. It is this delicate balance that you must strive to achieve in your approach to life. The Prophet Muhammad said: “This Din or way of life is easy. But if anyone overdoes it, it gets the better of him. So keep to the right course, approximate perfection, rejoice, and ask for help in the mornings, the evenings, and some of the later part of the night (Bukhari). In death, we are compelled to return to God. In life, however, we can choose to draw closer to God voluntarily by living our lives according to His Will. In this way, we have the opportunity to meet Allah and gain His pleasure even before we leave this world. Those who fail to use the bounties of Allah to earn His pleasure during this life, will forever regret their mistakes for the cessation of life brings the cessation of opportunities for redemption and salvation, as the Quran warns: “When death comes to one of them, he says ‘My Lord, let me return, let me return to life, so that I may act righteously in whatever I have left behind.’ Nay, it is but a meaningless word he utters; for behind them now is the barrier of death until the day they shall be raised up..” (al-Muminun 23: 99-100).
Though death is certain, we tend to forget from time to time our meeting with our Lord. This forgetfulness, although part of human nature, can make us stray from our true mission in life: “If anyone withdraws himself from Allah’s remembrance, Most Gracious, We appoint for him an evil one to be his intimate companion” (az-Zukhruf 43: 36). Forgetfulness, however, can be overcome by remembering Allah in all of life’s activities, as the Quran again declares: “Those who fear Allah, when a thought of evil from Shaytan assaults them, bring Allah to remembrance -whereupon, lo! They see aright” (al-Araf 7: 201). Additionally, we are urged in the Quran to make the following supplication: “Our Lord take us not to task if we forget or make mistakes. Our Lord lay not upon us a burden like that which you laid on those before us. Our Lord, make us not bear burdens which we have no strength to bear. Pardon us, and forgive us, and have mercy on us. You are our Lord Supreme: Help us against people who deny the truth” (al-Baqara 2: 286).
Know that to fear death from which there is no escape is foolish. Having no fear of what is going to happen after death, though it is within our power to change it in our favor, is reckless. Allah reminds us in the Quran, “Do not throw yourself into destruction with your own hands” (al-Baqara 2: 195). For, no effort to please Allah will be left unrewarded, while every effort made to seek the pleasures of this world will come to naught. Moreover, the Prophet reminded us that nothing will go with us to our graves except our deeds and that constant reminder of death will assist in keeping our indulgence in Dunya in perspective: `”Remember often the terminator of pleasures [i.e. death]” (Tirmidhi). He also advised that we should take time to attend janaza or funeral prayers, as well as visit the graves of those who have made the transition into the Next-life, for these too will serve as reminders of our eventual fate: “He who expects to meet God should visit the graves for they remind us of the Hereafter.” (Muslim).
One of the worst punishments the Quran describes is reserved for those who remain forgetful of Allah. On the Day of Judgment Allah will not speak to them. He will not even look in their direction. In this world they will claim to belong to Allah but they are heedless of His commands. On the Day that matters most, there will be a wall between them and Allah. His mercy and His compassion will be overflowing, but not for them. “Behold those who barter away their bond with Allah and their pledges for a trifling gain – they shall not partake in the blessings of the life to come; and Allah will neither speak unto them nor will He cleanse them of their sins; and grievous suffering awaits them” (Ali Imran 3: 77).
Seeking Allah’s Mercy
The abundance of Allah’s rahma or mercy will not come without pure actions. Pure actions, however, when performed, will make you deserving of Allah’s mercy. This, in turn, will enable you to earn the delights of janna and His pleasure. The Quran proclaims: “Call on Him with fear and longing. Surely, Allah’s mercy is ever near to the doers of good” (al-Araf 7:56). The Messenger of God also said: “No one will be saved [from the Hell fire and admitted into Paradise] by his deeds alone.” When asked, “Not even you, O Messenger of God!” He said, “Yes, not even me, unless Allah covers me with His mercy. So, do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately in the morning, in the afternoon and during part of the night. Always remember moderation and always abide by moderation. Thus, you will reach your destination.” (Bukhari, Muslim).
Be reassured that Allah is not a vengeful God, ready to punish, but rather, one who is full of mercy and compassion. He, Himself has declared: “My mercy encompasses all things” (al-Araf 7:156). Likewise, consider, the manner in which our actions are recorded in His scale of justice, as explained by the Prophet: “Allah records the good deeds and the bad deeds thus: If anyone intends to do a good deed but does not actually do it, Allah writes it down with Him as a full good deed. If he intends it, and does it too, Allah writes it down with Him as ten to seven hundred times that good deed, or many times over. If anyone intends to do a bad deed but does not actually do it, Allah writes it down with Him as a full good deed. When he intends a bad deed and does it as well, only then Allah writes it down as one bad deed” (Bukhari, Muslim). Thus, as long as our actions are worthy and deserving of Allah’s mercy, His mercy will not be denied to us.
Seeking Allah’s Forgiveness
The decision to live our lives for the sake of Allah is no guarantee that we will not forget Allah and commit mistakes for “All children of Adam are sinners, but best among sharers are those who constantly repent” (Tirmidhi). Imam Bukhari recorded that even the Prophet, though he was sinless, “sought Allah’s forgiveness 70 times a day.” We should therefore, constantly seek the forgiveness of Allah for every single sin, small or great. Allah says: “Ask forgiveness from your Lord, then turn towards Him in repentance; He will loosen the sky over you in abundance, and He will add strength unto your strength” (Hud 11: 52). Whatever the magnitude of our misdeeds, Allah is always ready to respond with an even greater amount of pardon. Therefore, never despair of the mercy of Allah, in seeking His forgiveness, even for those sins committed repeatedly: “O My servants who have transgressed against themselves, despair not of Allah’s mercy; for Allah forgives all sins, surely He is the all-forgiving, the Mercy-giving” (az-Zumar 39:53). Thus, as long as there is hope there remains opportunity for redemption and salvation. Be aware, though, that the best form of repentance involves a firm resolve to reform and do better. The Messenger of Allah said: “Remain conscious of Allah and Fear Him wherever you are, and follow a bad deed with a good deed which will wipe it out, and behave well towards people” (Tirmidhi).