In Islaam there is no support for the Hindu belief in reincarnation or the transmigration of souls wherein souls inhabit new bodies after bodily death. Some of those who embrace this doctrine believe in a principle known as Karma, that the deeds which a person accumulates in this life will determine the state in which he will be reborn. If he was bad, he is reborn in the womb of a woman from a lower level of society (caste) and he has to do good deeds so that he may be reborn on a higher level. If, on the other hand, he was good, he is reborn in the womb of a higher caste woman as a pious or holy man and continues to be reborn to successively higher caste women more pious and holy until he reaches perfection as a member of the Brahmin caste. When he becomes perfect, the cycle of rebirth ends with his soul dissolving and reuniting with the world soul, Brahma, in a process known as “Nirvana”.
According to Islaam and all divinely revealed religions, when a person dies on earth he will not be reborn until the Day of Resurrection. After the destruction of the world, all of mankind will rise up from the dead to be judged by Allah, the only God worthy of worship and the Greatest of Judges. From the time a man dies until he is resurrected, he remains in a suspended state known in Arabic as the “Barzakh”. “”It should not seem strange to think that someone who died thousands of years ago, may be waiting for thousands of years before finally being brought back to life’, because the Prophet ﷺ had said that everyone’s death is the beginning of his resurrection. Time only exists for those living on earth. Once a man dies, he leaves the time zone and a thousand years becomes a blinking of an eye. Allah illustrated that reality in a story which He related in Surah al-Baqarah about a man who doubted Allah’s ability to resurrect a village; to bring it back to life after its death. So Allah caused him to die for a hundred years and when he was resurrected, questioned him as to how long he had “slept”. He replied, “A day or a part of a day.” Similarly people who awaken from long comas often think that little or no time has passed. Often one sleeps for hours yet on awakening he feels as though he had only just closed his eyes. So there is no point in trying to imagine waiting for centuries in the Barzakh, because time in that state has no relevance.
Although Islaam rejects the notion of the soul’s continuous rebirth, it does, however, recognize that the soul of each child came into existence prior to its birth on earth.
The Prophet ﷺ related that when Allah created Aadam, He took a covenant from him in a place called Na’maan on the day of ‘Arafah, then He extracted from him all of his descendants who would be born until the end of the world, generation after generation, and spread them out in front of Him in order to take a covenant from them also. He spoke to them face to face saying: “Am I not your Lord?” and they all replied, “Yes, we testify to it.” Allah then explained why He had all of mankind bear witness that He was their creator and only true God worthy of worship. He said, “That was in case you (mankind) should say on the Day of Resurrection, “Surely we were unaware of all this. We had no idea that You, Allah, were our God. No one told us that we were only supposed to worship You.” Allah went on to explain that it was also in case you should say: “It was our ancestors who made partners (with Allah) and we are only their descendants; will You, then destroy us for what those liars did?” This was the Prophet’s ﷺ explanation of the Qur’anic verse in which Allah said:
|“When your Lord drew forth from the loins of the children of Aadam, their descendants and made them testify concerning themselves. (Saying): ‘Am I not your Lord’ They said, ‘Yes, we testify to it.’ (This) in case you say on the Day of Judgement, ‘We were unaware of this’. Or in case you say, ‘It was our ancestors who made partners (with Allah) and we are only their descendants. Will you then destroy us for what those liars did?”
The verse and prophetic explanation confirm the fact that everyone is responsible for belief in God and on the Day of Judgement excuses will not be accepted. Every human being has the belief in God imprinted on his soul and Allah shows every idolator during the course of his life, signs that his idol is not God. Hence, every sane human being is required to believe in God beyond His creation and not manifest in it.
The Prophet ﷺ then went on to say, ”Allah then placed between the two eyes of every human a flash of light showing their Iman and showed them all to Aadam. Aadam was awed by the sight of all these countless numbers of beings with flashes of light between their eyes so he asked Allah, “0 Lord, who are they?” Allah told him that they were all of his descendants. Aadam then began looking closely at one whose flash of light amazed him, then he asked who he was and Allah said, “That is a man called Daawood from the last of the nations among your descendents.” Aadam then asked how old he was and when Allah informed him that he was sixty, he said, “0 Lord, increase his age by taking forty years from my age.” But when Aadam’s life span reached its end and the angel of death came, he said, “Is there not forty more years of my life still remaining?” The Angel replied, “Did you not give them to your descendent Daawood?” Aadam denied that he had done so and his descendants denied their promise to Allah. Aadam later forgot his covenant to Allah and so did his descendants and they all fell into error.” Aadam ate from the forbidden tree due to his forgetting his promise to Allah and Satan’s deceptive prodding, and most of mankind have ignored their responsibility to believe in God and worship Him alone, and have fallen into the worship of the creation.
Following that, the Prophet ﷺ said, “Allah then pointed to some of the descendants which He had extracted from Aadam and his children and said, “I have created these people for Paradise and they will do the deeds of the people of Paradise. “He then pointed to the rest and said, “/ have created these people for the Hellfire and they will do the deeds of the inhabitants of Hell.” When the Prophet ﷺ said that, one of his companions asked, “O Messenger of Allah, what then is the point of doing good deeds?” The Prophet ﷺ replied, “Verily, if Allah created one of His servants for Paradise, He helps him do the deeds of the people of Paradise until he dies doing one of their deeds, then He places him in Paradise because of it. But if He created a man for the Hellfire, He helps him do the deeds of its inhabitants until he dies doing one of their deeds, then He puts him in the Fire because of it.”[10 ] This statement of the Prophet ﷺ does not mean that people have no free will or choice between good and evil, for if that were so, the judgement, reward and punishment would all be senseless. Allah’s creation of a person for Paradise is His creation of a person knowing full well before his creation that he will be among the people of Paradise due to his choice of faith over disbelief and good over evil.
If someone sincerely believes in Allah and tries to do good, Allah will give him many opportunities to improve his belief and increase his good deeds. Allah will never cause sincere belief to be wasted even if the believer falls off the path, He will help him back on it. Allah may punish him in this life when he goes off the right track to remind him of his errors and wake him up to make amends. In fact, Allah will be so merciful as to take the life of the sincere believer while doing a good deed, thereby insuring that the believer will be among the fortunate dwellers of Paradise. If someone, on the other hand, disbelieves in Allah and rejects righteousness, Allah then makes evil deeds easy for him. Allah gives him success when he does bad and that encourages him to do more evil until he dies in such a sinful state and is flung into the everlasting Fire because of his evil deeds.
Since Allah made all human beings swear to His Godhood when He created Aadam, this oath is printed on the human soul even before it enters the fetus in the fifth month of pregnancy. So when a child is born, it has with it a natural belief in Allah. This natural belief is called in Arabic the “Fitrah”.[11 ]If the child were left alone, it would grow up aware of Allah in His unity, but all children are affected by the pressures of their environment whether directly or indirectly. The Prophet ﷺ reported that Allah said, ” I created My servants in the right religion but the devils made them go astray.”[12 ] The Prophet ﷺ also said, “Each child is born in a state of “Fitrah”, but his parents make him a Jew or a Christian. It is like the way an animal gives birth to a normal offspring. Have you noticed any (young animal) born mutilated before you mutilate them?”[13 ] So, just as the child’s body submits to the physical laws which Allah has put in nature, its soul also submits naturally to the fact that Allah is its Lord and Creator. But its parents try to make it follow their own way and the child is not strong enough in the early stages of its life to resist or oppose its parents. The religion which the child follows at this stage is one of custom and upbringing and Allah does not hold it to account or punish it for this religion. When the child matures in youth and clear proofs of the falsehood of its religion are brought to it, the adult must now follow the religion of knowledge and reason.”[14 ] At this point the devils try their best to encourage him to stay as he is or to go further astray. Evils are made pleasing to him and he must now live in the midst of a struggle between his Fitrah and his desires in order to find the right road. If he chooses his Fitrah, Allah will help him overcome his desires even though it may take most of his life to escape, for many people enter Islaam in their old age although most tend to do so before that.
Because of all these powerful forces fighting against the Fitrah Allah chose certain righteous men and revealed to them clearly the right path in life. These men whom we call prophets were sent to help our Fitrah defeat its enemies. All the truths and good practices present in societies around the world today came from their teachings, and if it were not for their teachings, there would be no peace or safety in the world at all. For example, the laws of most Western countries are based on the “Ten Commandments” of Prophet Moses, like “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not kill” etc., even though they claim to be “secular” governments, free from the influence of religion.
Thus, it is man’s duty to follow the way of the prophets since it is the only way which is truly in harmony with his nature. He should also be very careful not to do things simply because his parents and their parents did it, especially if knowledge reaches him that these practices are wrong. If he does not follow the truth, he will be like those misguided people about whom Allah says in The Qur’aan,
|“If they are told to follow what Allah has revealed, they say: ‘No, we will continue to follow what we found our foreparents doing!’ Even though their foreparents did not comprehend anything nor were they rightly guided.”
Allah forbids us from obeying our parents if what they want us to do is against the way of the prophets. He said, in the Qur’aan,
“We advise man to be good to his parents, but if they try to make you do in My name what you know to be false, do not obey them.”
Those who are fortunate to be born in Muslim families must be aware that all such “Muslims” are not automatically guaranteed paradise, because the Prophet ﷺ warned that a large part of the Muslim nation would follow the Jews and Christians so closely that if they entered a lizard hole Muslims would climb in after them.[17 ] He also said that before the Last Day some Muslims would actually worship idols.[18 ] All of these people will have Muslim names and consider themselves Muslims, but it will be of no benefit to them on the Day of Judgement. Today, there are Muslims all around the world praying to the dead, building tombs and masjids over graves and even performing rites of worship around them. There are even some who claim to be Muslim and worship ‘Alee as Allah.[19 ] Some have turned the Qur’aan into a good luck charm which they hang on chains around their necks, in their cars or on key chains etc. Therefore, those born into such a Muslim world who blindly follow whatever their parents did or believed, have to stop and think whether they are simply a Muslim by chance or a Muslim by choice? Is Islaam what their parents, tribe, country, or nation did or does, or is it what the Qur’aan teaches and what the Prophet ﷺ and his companions did?
The covenant which every man made to Allah during pre-creation was that he would recognize Allah as his Lord and not direct any form of worship to others besides Him. This is the essential meaning of the “Shahaadah” (declaration of faith) which everyone must make in order to become a full fledged Muslim; laa elaaha illAllah (there is no god worthy of worship but Allah) also known as “Kalimah at- Tawheed the statement of Allah’s Unity. Bearing witness to God’s unity in this life is only a confirmation of the primordial declaration made in the spiritual state. But the question which remains is: How is the covenant to be fulfilled? The covenant is fulfilled by sincerely believing in Tawheed and putting that belief into practice in daily life. Tawheed is put into practice by avoiding all the acts of Shirk (setting up partners with God) and by closely following the last messenger whom Allah sent as a practical and living example of life based on the principle of Tawheed. Because man has declared that Allah is his Lord, he must then consider righteous deeds to be only those defined by Allah and His Prophet ﷺ as being righteous, and evil deeds likewise. In so doing, the principle of Tawheed is put into practice mentally. This method is important because a deed may seem good when it is in fact evil. For example, it has been said that when a poor man wants a king to do something for him, it is better for the poor man to get a prince or someone near to the king to speak on his behalf. Based on that it is further said that if one really wants Allah to answer his prayers, he should pray to the Prophet or a saint to ask Allah for him because he is dirty with the many sins he commits daily. This may seem logical, but both Allah and His Prophet (SAW:) have clearly told man to pray directly to Allah without any intermediaries.[20 ]
Therefore, the covenant with Allah can only be fulfilled by a Muslim by choice, regardless of whether his parents were Muslims or not, and the application of the covenant is, in fact, the implementation of the principles of Islaam itself. Man’s Fitrah is the basis of Islaam, so when he practices Islaam in its totality, his outer actions and deeds come into harmony with the very nature in which Allah created man’s inner being. When this takes place, man unites his inner being with his outer being which is a key aspect of Tawheed. The result of this aspect of Tawheed is the creation of the truly pious man in the mould of, Aadam, to whom Allah made the angels bow and whom Allah chose to rule the earth. Because, only man who lives Tawheed can judge and rule the earth with true justice.
1 This belief has been adopted by some heretical Isma ‘ilite Shi-ite sects like the Druze of Lebanon and the Nusayrites (Alawites) of Syria. (See Shorter Encyclopedia of Islaam, pp.94-5. 454-4).
2 Karma primarily means action, work or deed. In its secondary sense it signifies the effect of an action, or the sum total of ‘effects’ of past actions. Thus, it is stated in the Chandogya Upanishad (Veda) that those whose past deeds have been good will after death be reborn from the womb of a Brahman woman. Whereas those whose deeds have been evil will be reborn from the womb of an outcaste woman (See. Dictionary of Religions, p. 180).
3 Lit. a partition. Allah said, “(They will remain in falsehood) until when death comes to one of them, he will say, ‘O my Lord send me back that I may do the good deeds I neglected.’ By no means! It is only words which he says. Behind them is a partition (Barzakh) until the day they are
raised up.” (Surah al-Mu’minoon 23:99-100).
4 Surah al-Baqarah, 2:259.
5 The 9th of the 12th lunar month known as Dhul-Hijjah.
6 Surah al-A’raaf, 7:172-173.
7 This is from a Saheeh (authentic), narration of lbn Abbaas collected by Ahmad,
see al-Albaanee’s Silsilah al-Ahaadeeth as-Saheehah, (Kuwait: ad-Daar as-
Salaf’eeyah and Amman: al-Maktabah al-lslaameeyah. 2nd ed., 1983) vol.4, p. 158,
8 Surah al-A’raaf, 7:172-3.
9 From an authentic narration of Abu Huruyrah collected by at-Tirmidhee (Saheeh, see footnote 221, p. 241, of al-‘Aqeedah at-Tahaaweeyah, 8th ed., 1984) edited by al-Albaanee)
10 From an authentic narration of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab collected by Abu Daawood (Sunan Abu Dawood, (English Trans.,) vol. 3, p. 1318, no. 4686) and at-Tirmidhee and Ahmad. (See footnote 220, p. 240 of al-Albaanee’s authentication of al-Aqeedah at-Tahaaweeyah (8th ed.. 1984).
11 Al-‘Aqeedah at- Tahaaweeyah, (8th ed.. 1984) p.245.
12 Sahih Muslim (English Trans.), vol.4, p. 1488, no.6853.
13 Collected by Muslim, (Sahih Muslim (English Trans.), vol.4, p. 1398. no. 6423)
and al-Bukhari (Sahih Al-Bukhari (Arabic-English), vol.8. pp. 389-90. no.597).
14 Al-‘Aqeedah at-Tahaaweeyah, (5th ed.: 1972). p.273.
15 Surahal-Baqarah 2:170.
17 Narrated by Abu Sa’eed al-Khudree and collected by al-Bukhari and Muslim (Sahih Al-Bukhari (Arabic-English), vol.9, pp.314-5, no.422 and Sahih Muslim (English Trans.), vol. 4, p. 1403, no. 6448).
18 Narrated by Abu Hurayrah and collected by al-Bukhari and Muslim. (Sahih Muslim (English Trans.), vol. 4, p. 1506, no. 6944 & 6945 and Sahih Al-Bukhari (Arabic-English), vol. 9, p. 178, no. 232).
19 The Nusayris of Syria and the Druzes of Palestine and Lebanon.
20 Allah has said in the Qur’aan:
“And your Lord says: ‘Call on Me; I will answer your prayer'” (Surah al-Ghaafir, 40:60).
and the Prophet ﷺ said, “If you ask in prayer, ask only Allah: and if you seek help, seek it only from Allah.”(Reported by Ibn ‘Abbaas and collected by at-Tirmidhee. See An-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith, (English Trans.), p.68).