|..So the unbelievers say: This is a strange thing. What! When we die and become dust (shall we be resurrected?). That is a return far from our understanding! (50:2-3)
By: Siraj Islam Mufti, Ph.D
According to the Islamic worldview man is a representative (Khalifah) of God on the earth. In order to fulfill this tremendous responsibility, man has been endowed with appropriate faculties and a great potential, along with the subjugation of nature for him. But all this is bestowed as a trust (Amanah) such that he is responsible for its proper utilization and, at the end, will be held accountable for it, and answerable to Allah, his Creator and Lord.
As such, a major and recurring theme of the Quran is the human resurrection in the eternity of the Hereafter. The essentiality of this concept cannot be overemphasized. It is on the answerability in the Hereafter that the Islamic system centers all human actions. A Muslim’s foremost duty is to uphold the ‘truth’, work for that which is ‘good’ and eliminate that which is ‘wrong.’ In order to achieve this, the center of all his activities should be God and his every motion should be directed towards seeking guidance from Him. And he should be convinced that he will be rewarded for his actions, some of these rewards are in this world, but the most complete reward is given only in the Hereafter.
Thus the concept of the Hereafter is a very logical phenomenon. As well as essential to direct and reform humankind for its own good, proceeding in accord with the good for human society, and in harmony with the rest of nature. If this sense of answerability in the Hereafter is lost from someone, his life becomes devoid of the moral basis of actions, as well as a search for the ultimate good and righteousness; and so also, the hope and certainty that the ultimate justice will be rendered by the Lord Almighty. Because of this, a person who does not believe in the Hereafter cannot be considered Muslim (submitting to the will of God).
In this article we will dwell on some verses of the Quran from chapter 50, Surah Oaf. This surah belongs to the early Makkan period – a period that was wholly devoted to expounding the basic Islamic postulates. Accordingly, the whole surah carries severe warnings – such that it would awaken a person from his deep slumber, and he should become vigilant, and duly cognizant of his responsibility and his conduct in life. In view of its importance, the Prophet Mohammad used to recite this surah often in his Friday khutbah (sermon).
It deals with aspects of eschatology Ð the coming future when this life is done, telling of the agony of death and giving examples of terrifying scenes from the Hell, thus pointing to the inevitability of the Hereafter and of the human accountability there. Consider, for example, the following verse from this Surah. “Throw, throw into Hell every contumacious Rejecter (of Allah)! Ð Who forbade what was good, transgressed all bounds, cast doubts and suspicion; who set up another god beside Allah: throw him into a severe penalty.’ His companion will say: ‘Our Lord! I did not make him transgress, but was (himself) far astray.’ He will say: ‘Dispute not with each other in My Presence: I had already in advance sent you Warning. The Word changes not before Me, and I do not the least injustice to My Servants” (50:24-29).
Then, reflect on a contrasting scene from the Heaven: “And the Garden will be brought nigh to the Righteous Ð no more a thing distant. (A voice will say:) ‘This is what was promised for you Ð for everyone who turned (to Allah) in sincere repentance, who kept (His Law), who feared (Allah) Most Gracious unseen, and brought a heart turned in devotion (to Him): Enter you therein in Peace and Security; This is a day of Eternal Life!’ There will be for them therein all that they wish Ð and more besides in Our Presence” (50: 31-35).
Such scenes of the Hell and Heaven are repeatedly and variously described in the Quran in order that the conscience of a man becomes alive and the lesson becomes ingrained in his psyche, imbuing his senses with sensitivity, molding his mind and his soul; and correspondingly his actions, towards righteousness, such that he constantly works for success in the eternity of the Hereafter.
In addition to the above, other evidence in support of its claim of resurrection is presented. Since the Quranic examples are taken from the immediate environment of man, a most common example is the human observation of nature. Man observes that the once dry land with the rain gives rise to vegetation that grows, which in due course of time becomes dry stubble and to all intents and purposes is dead; but with the next rain it becomes alive again. Such will be the human resurrection, it says. For an example from this Surah: “And We sent down from the sky rain charged with blessing, and We produce therewith gardens and grain for harvests; and tall (and stately) palm trees with shoots of fruit stalks, piled one over another Ð as sustenance for (Allah’s) Servants Ð and We give (new) life therewith to land that is dead: thus will be the resurrection” (50:9-11).
A quite logical argument is also made: That since God created humans in the first place, he could recreate them; resurrection cannot be more difficult than the original creation. For example, Ayah 15 of this Surah: “Were We then weary with the first Creation, that they should be in confused doubt about a new Creation.”
With reference to this specific Surah it may be said, that it came at a time when the Prophet had just started his mission, and the people were perplexed and amazed at the concept of resurrection and accountability; and would argue, that it is an impossibility and something that the intellect would not accept. Their question was, how it could be possible that when humans are dead, their particles scattered through the earth, and then after thousands of years they will be brought back?
Thus the surah starts as follows: “Qaf; By the glorious Quran. But they wonder that there has come to them a Warner from among them. So the unbelievers say: ‘This is a strange thing. What! When we die and become dust (shall we be resurrected?). That is a return far from our understanding!” (50:1-3).
That a Warner came from among them is a reasonable and natural phenomenon and should not be a cause for alarm because he would share in whatever is happening to them, would go through emotions like them, and thus would understand them. And speaking their language, communicate with them and guide them effectively and would be able to tell them whatever changes are needed Ð in order to remove the excesses they commit, and reform their conduct so that they should not suffer from its bad consequences.
Actually, this wondering was not only regarding the mission of the Prophet, but also it emphasized the question of life after death and human responsibility in the Hereafter. The answer to the question of life after death is provided in the next verse. “We already know how much of them the earth takes away: With us is record well guarded” (50:4).
We will deal with an explanation of this verse in the remainder of this article.
Modern discoveries have shown that the DNA from plant and animal remains that have been naturally preserved in rocks, from millions of years ago, could be living, and, therefore, could be subjected to genetic manipulation. For a better common understanding, I often quote the characterization from the movie ‘Jurassic Park.’ It shows that dinosaurs of the Jurassic era Ð 135,000,000 to 180,000,000 years ago, were recreated through genetic manipulation of their DNA from cells carried by mosquitoes that fed on them.
Therefore, when the human body succumbs to the natural course of weathering and decays, and is no more than mere dust, then from some remnant cells – even if there is one viable cell from among billions of body cells, then, at least theoretically, it would be possible to recreate a human being from it. This, because each of the body cells carries the same information, and, as further explained below, all of this information is available in each of these cells. Thus the Creator Lord, Allah who knows all about how much of our bodies will decay, and what will be left of us, tells in the Quran: “We already know how much of them the earth takes away.”
The storehouse of information in the cells is DNA, variously composed into genes, which are carried by the chromosomes. There are 23 sets of chromosomes in each human body cell; one of these sets comes from the mother, the other from the father. These sets get separated and divided in the formation of sperm and egg cells, which during reproduction reunite to form a fertilized egg. The fertilized cell then keeps on multiplying during growth, and as the cells multiply and develop into specialized body organs, they get differentiated from each other; the genes whose function is required in a particular cell of an organ get turned on, while those whose function is not required, are turned off in that specific organ. And such is the case in all other organs. But since they started from the same fertilized cell, all of the original information is still there, and available in each and every one of the body cells.
Recently a publicly funded Human Genome Project Consortium in association with a private company, Celera Genomics announced that, after 10 years of arduous research, they were able to determine the sequence of the entire 3 billion letters, or base pair units of DNA in the 23 human chromosome sets. And, that this genetic information was contained in approximately 34,000 genes.
Now, after the gene analysis is done, the information gathered is saved, and stored as libraries in computers so that could be utilized for numerous future uses Ð from correcting genetic disorders to effecting desired changes, etc. If humans could make use of their God-given intelligence and come up with such information for their use, what about the One who created them? Thus he tells us in the Quran: “With us is a record well guarded.” Thus even if, supposing our bodies were completely decayed with no viable DNA left, resurrection would still be possible. Because, our blueprints are already there, well preserved with our Creator Lord, and whenever He wants it, He will recreate us.
The beauty of the Quran is that it is the only word authentic word of Allah, and is available to us for all times, intact in its original form, and to the exclusion of any human addition. It is from the Eternal One who created us and the whole universe, is All Wise, has Absolute Knowledge and is Free from All Limitations. Therefore, as our knowledge increases, we come to better understand many a phenomena described in the Quran, that were not understood or were fuzzy at the time of its revelation 1,400 years ago. Many examples of this could be quoted that would require much more than the limited scope of this article, but much could be gleaned from the writings of current Islamic scholars. A good reference to start with is the study by a French surgeon, Maurice Bucaille, in a book named “The Bible, The Quran and Sciences” and a recent article entitled, “Do You Know This Book?“
Worth mentioning is Bucaille’s great surprise that “the Quran most definitely did not contain a single proposition at variance with the most firmly established modern knowledge, nor did it contain any of the ideas current at the time on the subjects it describes. Furthermore, however, a large number of facts are mentioned in the Quran which were not discovered until modern times. É Modern man’s findings concerning the absence of scientific errors are therefore in complete agreement with the ‘Muslim exegetes’ conception of the Quran as a book of revelation. It is a consideration which implies that God could not express an erroneous idea.”
Siraj Islam Mufti, Ph.D. is a researcher and free-lance journalist