The Situation of Man in the Intermediate Realm
4:5:12 2023-09-24 150

The present existence of an intermediate realm and of separate destinations there for the virtuous and the wicked is a well-founded religious belief. There can be no doubt that after death the spirits of men the only element within them that is truly essential are transferred to the vast expanse of the non-material world.

Just as the spirit appears in man's body and material form after it has been fashioned to completion, the spirit retains its attachment to the body as long as the body retains the capacity for a harmonious relation with the spirit. Once this capacity vanishes as a result of external factors so that the union of spirit and body is sundered, the spirit separates from the body and pursues its existence under a different order and set of conditions.

What we mean by this order is the intermediate realm, the first stage reached by man after his migration from the world. He pauses there in the course of his journey to the meeting with Allah. He enters a realm with its own specific characteristics and properties, remaining there until the coming of resurrection.

A further change then brings about the transformation of the intermediate realm, and man enters the plain of resurrection, the next stage in his journey toward Allah.

A limit or boundary separating two things is called barzakh in Arabic, which explains why the intermediate realm that separates the temporary and evanescent life of this world from the eternal life of the hereafter is also called barzakh. Life there is characterized by the liberation of the spirit from the fetters of the material body. The spirit is no longer harassed by passion and instinct, and thanks to the absence of time and space, the horizons of man's vision are vastly enlarged. In just the same way that there is no question of time or space in the world of dreams, in the intermediate realm, too, man can observe and examine everything in a single instant.

The Qur'an says: "The intermediate realm extends from now until the time of resurrection"(23: 100).

In the same connection, the Qur'an describes the state of the martyrs after their death:

"Do not imagine those who have been killed in Allah's path to be dead; rather they are alive and receive sustenance in the presence of their Lord"(3:169).

The verse refers, of course, to willingness to defend the sanctity of Islam and the Qur'an, to the virtue of heroically resisting the unbelievers and atheists even to the point of attaining martyrdom. This is the highest point the believer can reach: the desire to sacrifice himself for the sake of his pure goals and thereby to join the caravan of martyrs.

He regards it as a great duty to guard Allah's religion and to strive for the implementation of the commands of the Qur'an, and he therefore exerts great effort to secure the security and survival of the religion of Allah. Such a protector of the true faith must necessarily begin by purifying himself and avoiding all kinds of pollution by sin and disobedience to Allah. It is only then that he may properly return his soul the loftiest trust which he has been given to Allah, its true owner, while fighting for the sake of His religion. He will then receive the reward of life everlasting in the company of Allah's chosen elite.

The Qur'an says:

"Allah has bought the properties and souls of the believers in exchange for paradise. They are to strive in the path of Allah, destroying the enemies of religion or themselves being killed. This is a firm promise of Allah, binding upon Him, contained in the Torah, the Gospels and the Qur'an, and who is more faithful to his promises than Allah? O believers, rejoice in this transaction, for it truly guarantees great happiness" (9:111).

The Qur'an also draws attention to the punishment being suffered before the occurrence of resurrection by those bound for hellfire:

"Hellfire has already encompassed the unbelievers"(9:49).

After death, the spirits of the virtuous will rejoice in liberation from the constricting cage of this world, they will delight in their ability to roam freely through the infinite. Life on the earthly plane is concerned only with the limited amount of matter that is visible on the surface of the earth. By contrast, the spirits of the virtuous know no limitation of space or time as they continue their upward ascent. Each in accordance with its rank advances joyfully to its specific station and degree, and everywhere it enjoys unhindered access. The eyes of the blessed witness pure and uncontaminated sources of eternal beauty in comparison with which the beauties of this world are slight and inconsequential.

The spirit is no longer subject to the limits imposed on it by a weary, heavy body; it is not accompanied by the broken and suffering countenance of old age.

Nothing exists here for the righteous servants of Allah except beauty, luminosity, love, familiarity and affection, and pure, sincere friendship with the servants and friends of Allah.

The Qur'an promises those who have made obedience to divine command their guiding principle in this world that they shall enjoy the company and fellowship of Allah's chosen elite.

The companionship of those upon whom Allah has bestowed His blessings in full measure is indeed a source of great pride for the virtuous.

This is the promise contained in the Qur'an:

"Those who obey the commands of Allah and His Messenger shall be resurrected together with, and enjoy the company of, those upon whom Allah has bestowed His kindness and favor in full measure the prophets, the sincere devotees, the martyrs and the righteous. What noble and precious companions they are!"(4:64).

It should be remarked, of course, that enjoying the company of Allah's chosen elite does not imply equality with them in terms of spiritual station and degree. While being in close contact with them, the virtuous will enjoy Allah's favor and blessings to an extent commensurate with their own ranks and degrees of closeness to Allah. Not everyone will enjoy an equal share, in just the same way that not everyone attains the same degree of ascent.

One of the companions of Imam al-Sadiq, upon whom be peace, relates that he once posed him the following question:

"O descendant of Allah's Messenger! When the true believer finds himself on the threshold of death, is he grieved by the taking of his soul?"

The Imam answered:

"Never! When the messenger of death comes to take his spirit, he is at first distraught. But then the angel consoles him and says: 'O friend of Allah, do not distress yourself. I swear by the Lord Who sent Muhammad as His Messenger that we will treat you more kindly and gently than your father. Open your eyes and look at us.'

"Then the Messenger of Allah and the other preceptors of religion will appear before him, and the angel entrusted with the task of taking his soul will say to him: 'This is the Prophet and the leaders of religion who will be your friends and companions.'

"He will then open his eyes partly, and hear Allah calling him as follows:

O soul that has found tranquillity in the protection of Muhammad and his pure family, now return to your Lord. You have accepted as truth the authority of the Imams, and because of this you are now happy. Be certain that you have also earned thereby the pleasure of your Lord. Come now and be the companion of My chosen elite, and take up the abode that has been prepared for you in paradise everlasting.'

"Nothing could be more desirable for the believer at that moment than for his soul to take flight and receive all that it has been promised.


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