Immortality (isl.)

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(Arab. Khulud, Turk. Ölümsüzlük)

Probably the most common view of immortality in Islam is a view that compares transient life on earth with eternal life in the hereafter. According to the Qur’an, human death marks the end of earthly life. ‘Every soul will taste death’ (3:185). No one has been promised eternal life or immortality in this world. Since the meaning of earthly life is focused on the eternal afterlife, the fleeting life essentially constitutes a test in which the human individual must choose between good and evil (21:34‑35). While the precise meaning of the eternity or infinity of the afterlife likely remains open to interpretation, such a life has the appearance of infinity to the residents of paradise and the residents of hell alike. A fundamental value frequently mentioned in the Qur’an is the belief in the hereafter. Immortality as an element of the afterlife associated with resurrection, the final judgement and corresponding reward or punishment, and that applies to the good and evil persons alike, is not a value as such and is not specifically attained. Still, the Qur’anic doctrine of the immortality cannot be interpreted alone in the sense of immortality of the soul alone if one considers that Judgement Day, which in a certain sense marks the beginning of life in the hereafter, means the resurrection of the body.

Where the possibility of resurrection of the body is concerned, the Qur’an quite clearly rejects any possible doubt and emphasises that God, who already created all things from nothing, has the power to reawaken the decayed human body to new life (36:78‑83). Expressed symbolically, this means that just as God has the power to revive the earth after its demise, He can recreate the decayed human bodies that have reverted to earth. For as the Qur’an says: “He brings the living out of the dead and brings the dead out of the living” (30:19).

In contrast to this, the Qur’an does not contain an equally clear doctrine about the nature and immortality of the soul. Even where it notes the existence of a soul, breathed by God into humankind, it also emphasises that human knowledge is limited with regard to the question of the nature of the soul (38:72; 17:85). In Islamic thought, this circumstance led to the development of various points of view – from the dualistic approach, based on the assumption that the soul is an immaterial substance, to the assumption of a material soul. While philosophers such as Ibn Sina (Avicenna; d. 1037), for instance, were of the view that the soul is discrete, independent of the body and immaterial, some theologians held that the soul consisted of subtle matter (aldschism allatif). Al‑Ghazali (Algazel; d. 1111.), on the other hand, took the philosophical justifications and added a theological one, namely that the soul cannot be material because it was created by God. Accordingly, in al‑Ghazali’s disputes with the philosophers, the issue is not whether the soul is a substance independent of the body but rather whether life after death entails physical existence or not. Overall, in Al‑Ghazali’s view, no philosophical proof can refute the possibility, clearly contained in the Qur’an, of the resurrection of the body. Taking all these circumstances into consideration, from an Islamic perspective the most plausible approach can be summarised as holding that the soul is separated from the body in death and then reawakened and reunited with it in the afterlife.

Mehmet Sait Reçber

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