We wanted to write an article about the issue of burial and burning of the human body after death in Hinduism and Islam. What is preferable environmentally, philosophically and religiously, burning or burial? But the nature of the topic led us to highlight the philosophy of life and death and the concept of resurrection in world religions. And this is the first part of this series of articles. However, we will talk in the next parts about burning and burial: negatives and positives.
Reality of Death
Death is a cosmic intuitive fact. There is no dispute among the people of the world around this natural phenomenon. Every wise person in the world, theist and atheist, believer and non-believer, has believed in this reality unanimously. No sound person can deny this fact. If we suppose that someone rejects this reality, the death itself will convince him someday when he would be between the claws of the death and in few seconds would turn into a motionless dead body and without sign of life. Does the sun need any proof when it is shining in the middle of the sky?
Fate of the Human Body after Death
The question is what is the fate of the human body after death? Is the decay, decomposition and the spread of the elements of the body into the dust the last stage of the body? The destiny of the body after death, or more specifically the fate of the body of human being after death is an agreed upon fact. There is no much disagreement between the followers of religions in the world around the fate of the dead body. Majority of the people believe that disintegration, decomposition and decay is the common phenomenon of the dead body, be it a human being, an animal or a plant. The period of decomposing process may differ from one limb to another, some of the body parts take two weeks or more, while others take one month or two. Probably, disintegration of some limbs is sooner than others; the brain and flesh are faster in decaying than the bone and hair. This fact is also agreed upon between the theists and atheists. However, it is worth mentioning that Muslims believe that the earth does not consume the bodies of the prophets and apostles and their bodies are unharmed and they are as fresh in their graves as they were during the lifetime.
Is the end of human body the end of the person? Does the human being end only when it becomes a prey of death and when his body decays and decomposes? This is the case wherein people became divided into two parties: the first; the followers of the religion in general believe in the life after death that includes; Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus and others in general. However, the concept of the Hereafter in Islam is more accurate, more detailed, more explained and defined than in Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism.
The second party claims that a person ends with his death and just after the body decomposes the person becomes nothing. The story ends as soon as the death seizes the origin of life from the body. This is what the atheists believe as they do not believe in the concept of hereafter or the life after death. According to their belief, there is no judgment day, there is no re-birth and there is no existence of soul apart from the body. Some Arabs during the period of revelation of the Glorious Qur’an were doubtful about the concept of resurrection on the Day of Judgment, and they were called Ad-Dahriyyun (materialists), At-Tabi`iyyun (naturalist).(1) The Qur’an has addressed their doubts and dealt with their questions in a plain and clear manner.
Qur’an and the Deniers of Resurrection
The Glorious Qur’an has mentioned the questions and the arguments of deniers honestly in a convincing and simple framework. This is the greatness of Islam that the logic conversation was recorded and preserved in the text of the Qur’an and the conversation is as fresh and new as it was fourteen centuries ago.
A Logic Conversation about Resurrection
We note in the text of the Glorious Qur’an on the subject of resurrection that it does not mention the people in person or their particular names; rather, it refers to the question itself and then refutes it in a unique and logical style. The wisdom behind this is that the Glorious Qur’an has many miraculous aspects including its brevity, comprehensiveness, perfection and absoluteness.
The Glorious Qur’an is not bound with persons and specific characters, rather, it is free from the limitation of time, place, country or persons. That is why it has addressed the doubt itself directly that is in fact, the refutation of similar misconceptions in anytime, anywhere, every time and everywhere, whether now or before fourteen centuries ago, or after thousand years after. And this is one of the signs of the greatness of the divine revelation.
“When we are bones and crumbled particles, will we [truly] be resurrected as a new creation?” (Al-Israa’ 17:49)
“Who will give life to bones while they are disintegrated?” (Ya-Sin 36:78)
It was narrated that Ubayy ibn Khalaf came to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) carrying in his hand obsolete and decayed bones to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) then he smashed them by his hand scattering them in the air and then said in mocking style: “O Muhammad! Do you think that God will bring these decayed bones back to life? The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) answered: “Yes, God will cause your death then He will bring you back to life and He will admit you the hellfire.(2)
The Glorious Qur’an refutes the misconceptions by reminding them of the evident power of God in the universe. Also it is not appropriate for the quality of justice to leave a person free without accountability for what he has done in this world whether good or bad and could not get the reward or escape the punishment.(3)
The Glorious Qur’an says:
Does man think that he will be left neglected? Had he not been a sperm from semen emitted? And made of him two mates, the male and the female. Is not that [Creator] Able to give life to the dead? (Al-Qiyamah 75:40)
Moreover, the Glorious Qur’an in Surat Yasin in its last verses has mentioned the opinions of the deniers of the resurrection or returning life to the dead bodies on the Day of Judgment for accountability, then the verses refuted their doubts with strong, logical and plain proofs. One of the Muslim philosophers; Abu Yusuf Ya`qub ibn Ishaq Al-Kindi (805-873) interpreted those verses in a philosophical style. As it would be presented in the following lines.(4)
The Glorious Qur’an says:
Say, “He will give them life who produced them the first time; and He is, of all creation, Knowing.” [It is] He who made for you from the green tree, fire, and then from it you ignite. Is not He who created the heavens and the earth Able to create the likes of them? Yes, [it is so]; and He is the Knowing Creator. His command is only when He intends a thing that He says to it, “Be,” and it is. So exalted is He in whose hand is the realm of all things, and to Him you will be returned. (Yasin 36:79-83)
These verses draw attention of the wise and intelligent people to some cosmic and natural phenomena that take
place in our daily life but we do not pay attention to them.
Creation of the Human Being from Semen
In fact, the natural phenomena that take place in our daily life say something significant or they give us some important messages. Our bodies came into existence and were made after they did not exist and resurrection means coming back to life after death thus if a thing can be created from nothing then bringing a dead body to life after dissolution and decaying is more possible and easier than creating it for the first time.
Furthermore, we see in our daily life that something is produced from something that has totally different nature and characteristics, such as the emergence of fire from a green tree, creation of human being and animal from a drop of semen and bringing the chicken from the egg what is the relation between the semen and the human being? What is the relation between the chicken and the egg? If He brings human beings from semen and chicken from the egg, then He will resurrect the dead bodies easily, especially when He informed us about this fact in His divine revelation and told that He will resurrect the dead bodies of the human being for their accountability.(5)
Anyway, the previous lines have proved that the resurrection of the dead bodies is not impossible; rather, it is an easy matter for the power of Allah the Almighty. The opponents of resurrection have no proof for their claim except the suspicion, illusion or surprise at the issue of resurrection. This is about the faith of afterlife and the possibility of resurrection as was stated in the Qur’an and we will talk in the next part of this series about the burial in Islam and cremation in Hinduism.
1) Muhammad `Abdul-Karim Ash-Shihristani, Al-Milal Wan-Nihal, edited by Ahmad Fahmi Muhammad, Dar Al-Kutub Al-`Ilmiyyah, Beirut, second edition, vol. 3, 1992, p. 652.
2) See: Abul-Barakat `Abdullah ibn Ahmad ibn Mahmud An-Nasafi, Madarik At-Tanzil Wa Haqa’iq At-Taweel, Dar Al-Kalim At-Tayyib, Beirut, vol. 3, 1998, 113.
3)`Abdul-Haleem Mahmud, At-Tafkir Al-Falsafi fil-Islam, Dar-Al-Ma`arif, Egypt, second edition, 1989, p. 56.
4) Rasa’il Al-Kindi Al-Falsafiyyah, edited by Muhammad `Abdul-Hadi Abu-Reedah, Dar-Al-Fikr Al-`Arabi, 1950, pp. 56-57.