Representation by Images
What is the teaching of the Quran as to the state of man in his life after death, is the next question which offers itself for solution.
Representation by images
The state after death is not altogether a new state; it is in fact a complete representation, a full image of our spiritual state in the present life. Here the good or bad conditions of the deeds or beliefs of a man are latent within him and their poison or panacea casts its influence upon him secretly, but in the life to come they shall become manifest and clear as daylight. An idea of it, although a very imperfect one, may be had from the manner in which a person sees in a dream the embodiment of whatever is predominant in his temperament. When he is due for an attack of fever, he may see in a dream flames of burning fire, whereas he may find himself in floods of water when he is about to catch cold.
When the body is prepared for a particular disease, a dream may often disclose the embodiment of the conditions giving rise to it. From the manner in which internal conditions are represented in physical forms, in dreams, we can have an idea of the embodiment of the spiritual conditions of this world in the life to come. After our earthly course is ended, we are translated to regions where our deeds and their consequences assume a shape, and what is hidden in us in this world is there unrolled and laid open before us. These embodiments of spiritual facts are substantial realities, as even in dreams, though the sight soon vanishes away, yet so long as it is before our eyes it is taken to be reality. As this representation by images is a new and a perfect manifestation of the power of God, we may as well call it not a representation of certain facts, but a new creation brought about by the powerful hand of the Creator. With reference to this, the Quran says
Thus the Lord describes the heavenly blessings that the righteous shall enjoy in the next life as having been kept secret because, not being like anything contained in this world, no one knows aught about them. It is evident that the things of this world are not a secret to us; we not only know pomegranates, grapes, milk, etc., but frequently taste of them. Consequently, these things could not be called secrets. The fruits of paradise have, therefore, nothing in common with these except the name. He is indeed ignorant of the Holy Quran who takes paradise for a place where only the things of this world are provided in abundance.
It may be added here, in explanation of the verse quoted above, that Prophet Muhammad said that heaven and its blessings are things which "the eye hath not seen, nor hath ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive of them." But of the things of this world we cannot say that our eyes have not seen them, or that our ears have not heard them, or that our minds have not conceived of them. When God and His Prophet tell us of things in heaven which our senses are not cognizant of in this world, we should be guilty of cherishing doctrines against the teachings of the Quran if we supposed rivers flowing with the milk which we ordinarily drink here. Can we, moreover, consistently with the idea of heaven, suppose herds of cows and buffaloes reared in paradise and numerous honeycombs hanging on trees with countless bees busily engaged in collecting honey and hosts of angels busy day and night in milking these cows and getting honey and pouring them continuously into streams to keep them running? Are these ideas in keeping with the teachings of the verses which tell us that this world is a stranger to the blessings of the next world? Will these things illumine the soul or increase the knowledge of the Lord or afford spiritual food as the heavenly blessings are designed to do? It is, no doubt, true that these blessings are represented as material things, but we are also told that their source is spirituality and righteousness.
The following verse, which may ordinarily be misunderstood, is far from describing the heavenly blessings as being identical with the worldly things:
Now the context clearly shows that the fruits which the righteous are said to have tasted here do, by no means, signify the fruits of trees or the things of this world. The verse in fact tells us that those who believe and do good works prepare a paradise with their own hands for themselves, with their faith for trees and their good deeds for fruits. It is of the fruits of this garden that they are spiritually made to taste here and of the fruits of the same will they eat in the next life; only the spiritual fruits of this life will be transformed into palpable and more delicious fruits in the next life. But, as they will have already tasted of them spiritually in this life, they will be able to identify the fruits of that life with those of this and, witnessing the close resemblance between the two, will cry out : "these are the fruits which were indeed given to us in the former life."