By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan for New Age Islam
29 December 2016
God created humans as eternal beings. Human life consists of two parts: firstly, the pre-death period; and secondly, the post-death period. The first extends over a very short period of time, while the latter will continue for eternity.
Other than man, all beings in this world function completely according to the law of nature. They compulsorily do what the law of nature has destined for them. But man’s case is different. In possessing freewill man is an exceptional being. He makes his future according to his free choice. He can use this freedom, but he can also misuse it. He can avail of the opportunities that he is provided with, but he can also foolishly allow them to go waste. This fact is referred to in the Quran in different ways.
The Quran (95:4-5) says: “We have indeed created man in the best of mould, then We cast him down as the lowest of the low.”
This is a kind of warning to man that invites him to seriously reflect on his present and his future. This Quranic verse means that God created man with great potential, but by under-utilizing his potential, man makes himself the worst case of failure.
Man’s personality has two sides to it—body and soul. Scientific research tells us that the nature of these two is entirely different. Man’s body is temporary, while his soul is eternal. The soul is a non-material reality. Man’s soul is beyond physical laws, while, in contrast, his body is subordinate to these laws and is also continuously subject to disintegration.
Biology tells us that the human body consists of miniscule cells. Every moment, vast numbers of these cells disintegrate and die. Our digestive system is like a cell-producing factory. It is continuously engaged in supplying cells so that the body maintains its continued existence. In this way, every few years we receive an entirely new body, but our soul continues without any such change. Hence it is said: Personality is changelessness in change.
An enormous blunder we make is ignoring the unchanging part of ourselves—our souls—while doing everything we can to pander to the ever-changing part of ourselves—our bodies. We devote all our attention to improving what is temporary in us, while we think and do nothing about the welfare of our eternal aspect—our souls. Because of this, when after a limited span of time people die, their temporary bodies get destroyed forever, along with all their many achievements and material possessions, while their eternal being or soul must now face the post-death stage, bereft of all the material progress that they may have achieved while on Earth.
It is this that the Quran refers to as man’s failure. It is the most terrible form of failure that man is born with great potentials but misuses them, or does not use them at all, and then has to pay the price for this in the post-death period of his life that carries on forever.
Man is unique in his capacity to think. In the enormous universe, only man is capable of conceptual thinking. Seen in this way, man’s personality has two components: the non-thinking body, and the thinking soul. Those people who use their potential only within the material sphere may seem to make their non-thinking component of their life very attractive and alluring, but they do nothing at all for the progress of the thinking sphere of their life. In other words, they spend their entire life before death pandering to their bodily or physical desires, but they completely ignore their intellectual and spiritual development. When death overtakes such people, they die the death of animals. They have wasted their life beautifying their bodies, and so they enter the next phase of life—the post-death phase—bereft of real progress, where they will have to face nothing but utter loss.
Man is also exceptional in having the concept of ‘tomorrow’. Everything else in the universe, including all animals, only live in the today, in the now. It is man alone who has an awareness of the tomorrow and who, making it his target, plans his life accordingly. In other words, while all other beings live in the present, man is unique in also living in the future.
According to the Quran, those people are truly at loss who use their potentials only to acquire ephemeral material things and do nothing for building their future. Their life before death may, on the face of it, appear to be happy, but in the life after death they will be the ones who will despair. This is because in the life after death the thing that will be of use will be one’s intellectual and spiritual progress, not material progress in the worldly sense.
Every person has within him limitless desires. In the same way, every person also has within him limitless abilities, using which he can fulfill his desires to a limitless extent. But everyone ends up using only so much of his abilities as can provide him some temporary relief in the limited world before death. Finally, every human being takes along with him all his abilities and enters the eternal world after death, where he will spend an unhappy life eternally because in the pre-death period of life he did not make use of his abilities for the sake of this second, eternal, period of his life, the life after death.
Given this, then, what man ought to do is to plan his life in such a way that his abilities are used for the sake of building his eternal future in the life after death. He should understand his potentials and use them in such a manner that he can derive beneficial results from them in the eternal life after death. He must save himself from a tragic fate in the Hereafter, where all he might be able to say is: “Alas! I was a miserable case of missed opportunities.”
The right way to plan one’s life is that in the life before death one must remain content with only those material things that one needs and use the major portion of one’s time and abilities in such a way that one enters the life after death with a purified personality, being ushered into the perfect world after death so as to lead a blessed life there.
There is just one principle for success in both the life before death and the life after death. And that is, to make oneself a ‘prepared personality’.
A ‘prepared personality’ in the materialistic sense is a means for progress in this world before death. In contrast, a ‘prepared personality’ in the spiritual sense is one that will be useful in that phase of life that comes after death and that lasts forever.
A ‘prepared personality’ in the materialistic sense is someone who has acquired professional qualifications. He is someone who has business skills. He is popular among people. He hankers after immediate gains. And so on.
But the sort of ‘prepared personality’ that is required for success in the post-death period of life is one that avails the opportunities that are available in this world for spiritual and intellectual development. Only such a personality will have any value in the life after death.
A person with this sort of personality uses his intellect to discover Truth. In the midst of a jungle of doubts he stands on certainty. He has made God his sole concern. Overcoming the love for one’s self, he has adopted the path of devotion to God. Surrounded by negative conditions, he is able to maintain his positive thinking. Instead of becoming a desire-oriented person, he has become a God-centred person. He follows the path of principle, instead of opportunism. He saves himself from hate and cultivates concern for and commitment to the welfare of all human beings. Such a person, despite having freewill, has adopted the path of surrender to God.