Death and the nature of afterlife, have always been mysterious to human beings. Everybody is willing to either find it out himself or to have faith in what has been said and discovered about it. Muslims seek the answer in the Quran, the holy book they believe in. In Quranic thoughts, death is nothing but the transfer of the human soul from the natural universe to the spiritual world, going back to the one who created it all, i.e., God; “Indeed we belong to Allah, and to Him do we indeed return” (2:156).
According to the Holy Quran, death is no inexistence or destruction, But a threshold to the next stage of life and existence. However, it is noteworthy that what forms the exact nature of humankind is not the physical and material composition that disintegrates and gets destroyed after death; in fact, our real self is made up of our soul that is seized and released from the captivity of the body and then returns to its origin, the Divine presence, God.
Therefore death in the Islamic viewpoint happens when the immortal soul or self of a human cuts its attachment and relationship from the body and consequently, the body perishes while the soul continues its life without it.
“Say: You will be taken away by the angel of death, who has been charged with you. Then you will be brought back to your Lord” (32:11).
Now one might wonder what happens to us after death; are we going to begin our lives in the hereafter right away, or we will experience a different temporary stage of life that lasts up until the Day of Judgment?
Muslims get the information about this issue, through revelations received by the last Prophet, Muhammad (PBUH), in verses of the Quran. Based on what has been revealed to our prophet, the afterlife does not begin right after we die. Human beings will enter an intermediate world called “Barzakh” in which they would feel, see and hear everything differently; there would be things they enjoy and ones they suffer from, based on their deeds in this earthly life. In short, man will go through two different stages of life after death; one temporary that is to come right after death, and one that lasts forever and will never end.
“…And ahead of them is a barrier until the day they will be resurrected” (23:100).
Literally speaking, “Barzakh” is a barrier that stands between two things; Quran, however, introduces it as an interval between the death of a man and the forthcoming hereafter (Ma’ad); a stage at which human leads either a blissful or miserable life, based on his deeds on earth.
The second stage of eternal life starts on the Day of Judgment (Yawm Al-Hisab). Unlike “Barzakh”, at which humans enter individually after death, this occurs to all the beings and the whole universe at the same time; every being starts a new permanent stage of life.
“And you will see the angels surrounding the Throne, celebrating the praise of their Lord, and judgment will be made between them with justice, and it will be said," All praise belongs to Allah, the Lord of all the worlds” (39:68).
Near the time of resurrection, all beings will cease to exist after hearing the first blow of the Horn (Israfil’s Horn). Then there will be a second blowing, and all Creation from the beginning till the end of time will be resurrected. People will be coming out of their graves in their physical bodies, standing and waiting, severely worried, under the sun to be judged by their Lord and to see rewards and retributions for their benevolent and malevolent actions in the earthly life.
“And when the Trumpet is blown, behold, there they will be, scrambling from their graves towards their Lord” (36:51).
That day humans will be either granted admission to enter Paradise, where they will enjoy spiritual and physical pleasure, or sentenced to suffer spiritual and physical torment in Hell forever.
“[To the righteous it will be said], O soul at peace! Return to your Lord, pleased, pleasing! Then enter among My servants! And enter My paradise” (89:27-30).
“... and whoever disobeys Allah and His apostle, indeed there will be for him the fire of hell, to remain in it forever” (72:23).
The nature of Heaven and Hell has been analogously described in the Quran many times. However, there are verses that say:
“No one knows what has been kept hidden for them of comfort as a reward for what they used to do” (32:17).
Accordingly, What Heaven and Hell are really like is far beyond our comprehension and so cannot be explained to us unless they are allegorical.
In fact, the earthly affairs of mankind here are not separable from those of hereafter; that is the otherworldly destiny of a man is determined by himself in this world. Many verses of the Quran indicate that the same good or bad deeds man commits in this life, will return to him, as their own reward or punishment, on the day of requital. People will live with the embodiment of their good or evil deeds, which are going to be their eternal companions.
One of the common features of this earthly life and the hereafter is that they are both real and actual; in other words, human beings are aware of themselves and what belongs to them in both worlds. There are joy and pleasure, suffering and pain, or happiness and misery in both lives. In both worlds, human possesses a physical body and particular instincts. Nevertheless, there are basic differences too.
The reproduction, childhood, youth, senescence, and death we experience here will not exist in the hereafter. Here is the place of action while the hereafter is where we should pay for what we have done and compensate for our deeds. Life in this world is followed by death whereas we will lead an eternal life in the other world. Quran says:
“The life of this world is nothing but a diversion and play, but the abode of the Hereafter is indeed Life, had they known” (29:64).
Man’s perception will be heightened in the afterlife, and he will realize the truth of everything -every action or every being- more vividly. “[It will be said], You were certainly oblivious of this. We have removed your veil from you, and so your sight is acute today” (50:22).
In this earthly life, the man easily gets bored and tired of everything; he is always seeking what he does not have, and once he finds it he soon feels jaded and starts looking for something else. It seems as though he has lost something he can hardly find. In the hereafter, however, he will find what he has always longed for and what he has been attached to deep in his nature; that is Allah, the Lord of the universe.
Knowing themselves as the true Muslims and real Arabs, ISIS wanted to establish an Islamic State in which Islam rules. They attacked thousands of places several times, held many as slaves, mostly women and children, and murdered thousands, whether army forces or ordinary people. Although the focus of their activities was in Iraq and Syria, surely you remember what they committed in France and other countries far from Iraq and Syria. On their opposite side were Iraqi and Syrian forces who were also Muslim and Arab and finally overcame ISIS.
Two groups of Muslims are in war. Which side was true? We shed light on some terms to clarify the issue.
The last prophet (PBUH&HP) was an Arab and began his mission in an Arab country. The language of the Quran and Islamic rituals is Arabic, too. This has led to the fusion of terms such as Islam, Muslims, and Arabs. But there are about 1.8 billion Muslims and about 400 million Arabs in the world. So, not all Muslims are Arab. Like anyone else in the world, Arabs can choose their religion. There are Arabs with religions other than Islam or even ethnic Arabs. So not all Arabs, but many of them, are Muslim.
Anyone who believes that: 1. there is no true god but Allah, 2. Allah has sent prophets to guide humankind, and 3. the day of judgment is true and will come, and pronounces the testimonies of faith (Shahaadatain) is a Muslim [i].
These are the gates to the world of rationality and peace. The world designed for a perfect version of life; in which no room has been arranged for violence. But ISIS forces, who claimed to be Muslim, oppressed many countries and two of them in particular and killed many innocent people. They had not tasted faith; they only used Islamic coverage to reach their goals.
You can find some pictures of ISIS dead forces with a spoon in their pocket. They believed that after their death, they will meet Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) and will eat with him in heaven. Poor fools! I think if they did not die on time, they would not catch that meal and they had to wash the dishes.
Therefore, we should differentiate between a Muslim and a Muslim believer.
“The Bedouins say: We have faith. Say: You do not have faith yet; rather say: We have embraced Islam; for faith has not yet entered into your hearts.” (49:14)
Any believer is a Muslim, but not all Muslims are believers.
Saying some words turns you into a Muslim and the rules of Islam runs for you. But the faith is saying what you believe by heart and showing this in your deeds. So, having faith is a higher stage after accepting Islam. A Muslim believer tries to be fully acquainted with Islam and the logic behind its rules and adapt every aspect of life with Islamic teachings.
The nature of all divine religions has been the same, i.e., surrendering to God and obeying Him in all aspects. There have only been little differences in some formalities. Like other religions, although Islam emerged in a particular locality, it was not restricted to that.
Verily, this Qur'an is a reminder for humankind throughout the world. (81:27)
The religions and instructions brought by prophets to people were in accordance with the capacity and level of understanding of different eras. But Islam is the last religion and was brought by the last prophet (PBUH&HP)[ii]. There will be no other religion after that. So, Islam must be an all-inclusive religion, containing all the necessities of human beings until the end. Islam is the continuation of the previous religions and completes them.
It has been traditional for God to appoint a religious leader for people at all times to guide them and clarify the Devine instructions.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) has marked the correct path of Islam forever in one of the most famous and important Islamic narrations (thaqalain): “Verily, I am leaving behind two precious things among you: The Book of God and my kindred, my household. As far as you take hold of these two, you will never go astray. For indeed, the two will never separate until they come to me by the Pond (of al-Kawthar on the Judgement's Day).”  Prophet Muhammad and the twelve Imams (AS) after Him are leaders of Islam. But now that the twelfth Imam is absent, how should we determine the correct path?
Three sources to the pure Islam;
Islam 1: Quran and authentic narrations from Imams.
Islam 2: Interpretations of Islamic jurisprudents of Islam 1.
Islam 3: The manner of Muslim public.
If we base our opinion towards Islam on Islam 3, it will result in a many-colored or contradictory type of Islam; because we observe different beliefs and customs in Muslim nations.
The best way is following the Islamic jurisprudent who are best familiar with Islam and can take us as near as possible to the truth of Islam.
Anything belonging or referring to Islam which agrees to its basis can be called Islamic. It can be an Islamic government, an Islamic rule, Islamic food, etc.
The actions of nations, groups, and important figures claiming to be Muslim should not form our opinion about Islam. We should be fully familiar with Islam and based on this recognition, decide if something is Islamic or not.
Imam Ali (AS) says: “Truth is not recognized by figures; Know the truth, you will recognize its followers.” 
[i]. See “The Islamic axioms”
[ii]. See “Is Muhammad (PBUH&HP) the Last Prophet?”
- Wassail Al-Shi’a, v.27, p.34; Bihar Al-Anvar, v.2, p.100
- Bihar Al-Anvar, v.40, p.126
The foundation of each person’s life is the faith they have in what they believe. Like other belief systems, there are some “ Islamic axioms”- basic principles or self-evident truths- whose acceptance is regarded as the leading entry to this religion.
Unlike Saint Augustine’s [i] claim that says: “I believe in order to understand,” which shows a lack of reason in at least some sects of Christianity, in Islamic reasoning, rational thinking is a priori and prerequisite for the realization of faith.
In Islam, faith is nothing beyond human’s reason and understanding; in other words, the axioms of this religion are the fundamental principles that are rational by themselves and can be ascertained by people’s common sense. So stepping into the stage of this faith depends on the submission that is gained through preliminary investigation of its axioms.
Additionally, faith is not accepted in Islam unless these doctrines are freely investigated and understood by every individual either commonsensically or intellectually, so Imitation is not permitted at this stage. Consequently, the basic principles or doctrines of Islam are defined as axioms that have to be testified on the verge of converting to Islam.
One might wonder what these axioms are. The most certain and evident of them are monotheism (Tawhid), prophethood (Nubuwwah) and the afterlife (Ma'ad), which are innate in human’s nature separately. ‘Tawhid’ or monotheism is the most fundamental religious knowledge that holds God exists, is The Only One and independent of the entire creation. It declares the unity and uniqueness of God as the only creator and sustainer of the universe.
The realization of this concept (the existence and oneness of God) is before the other two (prophethood and afterlife), that is its acceptance leads to the affirmation of them rationally.
Prophethood is God's blessing and favor that is bestowed on an individual chosen by Him to convey His message. Every prophet states that all he receives is from Allah and for the well-being of humanity. He confirms what was revealed before him and what may be revealed by a future prophet.
Thus the revealed message is always the same in essence and purpose, and it cannot deviate from prior or future revelations. Prophets are needed for conveying God's instructions and guidance to humankind. Without this knowledge, we would be unable to answer the fundamental questions of our existence either here in this world or the world that is to come.
Information about the afterlife, as the third fundamental axiom in Islamic teaching, is provided by the prophets whose truth we have testified. They have told us to have faith in the continued existence of human beings after death and that there will be a day of judgment when all humans will be held accountable for their actions and divided between the eternal destinations of Paradise and Hell.
In brief, Islam is the religion of rational thinking that encourages its followers to individually investigate and question the truth of its doctrines before accepting them, to reach firm belief through common sense or intellect; this makes them submit to God’s commands willingly and contently.
[i]. An early Christian theologian and philosopher.