afterlife


afterlife
(ma‘ad, lit. ‘return’):
   The Qur’an provides a graphic account of a physical afterlife that is going to occur to everyone, either in Paradise or in Hell. Al-Ghazali objects to philosophers such as al-Farabi and Ibn Sina because their account of the afterlife is of something entirely spiritual, while the Qur’an describes the afterlife as a very corporeal realm. There are two difficulties with this objection, and one actually occurs to al-Ghazali when he analyzes the afterlife from the perspective of Sufism. Some religious language is to be taken literally, and some only allegorically, and perhaps the afterlife should be interpreted in the latter way. Careful examination of the Qur’anic verses mentioning women or houris might note their ordering in the text, since this reveals a transition from the material to the more spiritual. In the first Meccan period (from the first to the fifth year of the Prophet’s mission, 612–17 ce) we find references to very desirable young ladies awaiting the virtuous as part of their reward, but by the time of the Medinan period (622–32 ce) the language has changed to such an extent that they are identified as ‘purified spouses’ (2.25, 3.15 and 4.57). The pagans of Mecca needed the crude physical language used during that period, it might be argued, while by the time of the Medinan revelations a more refined and spiritual form of description could be used. This accords with the role of religion in al-Farabi’s philosophy of language, where religion is explained in imaginative language and imagination is important to motivate us given that we are material creatures. We can gradually perfect our thinking, and one can see this happening with the changing role of the houris. At first they were described in ways that would resonate with an audience motivated by material images and appetites, but once the public became more refined in its thinking, no doubt due to the influence of religion, it could be told about houris’ real and more spiritual nature. Thinkers like Ibn Rushd pushed the envelope even further. On his account, the afterlife is not only not physical, it is not even personal or individual. According to his Aristotelian psychology, when the body dies the intellect blends together with other immaterial intellects into one thinking thing, brought together through their contemplation of an abstract subject matter.
   See al-Farabi; al-Ghazali; Ibn Rushd; Ibn Sina; interpretation; psychology
   Further reading: al-Ghazali 1997/2000; Ibn Rushd 2007; Leaman 2006a; McAuliffe 2001–6

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

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