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.
Having accepted monotheism as the first and most fundamental Islamic axiom, here we are to investigate prophethood or prophecy as the second most important one which is based on a monotheistic worldview. This axiom illustrates God’s mercy by sending prophets to humankind as mediators in order to convey His message and guide people towards what is good.
Prophets are chosen messengers of God for humans to guide them through a virtuous life in order to reach eternal bliss. According to this principle, human’s life would be disrupted, and he would not know the purpose of his existence unless he received clear and practical instructions and directions for his life either in this world or hereafter. So the need for prophets is that of guidance which leads human beings through their path to perfection.
The necessity of prophethood becomes evident by accepting the existence of God, His Oneness, and the fact that He has not abandoned us to find our way by ourselves. In other words, prophethood is undeniable if one finds the need for prophets and the possibility of being guided by them on the one hand, and believes in the flawlessness of God and His Perfection on the other; in fact, God has provided every creature with all the blessing and mercy based on their capabilities.
As it was mentioned before, the belief in prophethood roots in human’s monotheistic worldview; that is God as the necessary being is gracious and guides every creature to perfection. This guidance, which is received through the revelation of God, includes all the beings from the tiniest particles to the biggest stars and the most excellent creatures that are human beings.
As a matter of fact, it is God’s status as the Lord of the universe that requires him to send revelation to everything in the world according to their capacity. Now one might wonder what the nature of God’s revelation is and how this communication with God takes place.
Revelation is the natural ability to navigate, which exists within every creature and is like a spiritual light that helps them find their way. The grades and degrees of this ability differ in accordance with each being’s capacity and their level of awareness; that is the revelation sent to humankind is not like the one sent to plants or animals.
In other words, what animals and plants are capable of, is totally different from that of humankind, and so is the one between ordinary people and prophets who receive God’s most supreme revelation. Thus, the revelation received by prophets is the same as normal inspirations by nature; however, its degree is determined based on the creatures’ position in the universe.
Furthermore, revelation is nothing like the other perceptions of human beings; we notice the things around us with our senses, solve mathematical problems with the help of wisdom and understand other matters using our conscience or nature, but the revelation is a divine reception from God to guide humankind.
The first question that arises about the characteristics of prophets is if they are ordinary people like others or not. In fact, they are ordinary in the human being nature of needs (from food, sleeping, having children, dying ...etc.) but extraordinary in receiving revelation and telling us the message from God, being accompanied with miracles, infallibility from committing sins or making the slightest mistakes and fighting against idolatry, superstitions, injustice, and cruelty.
The most prominent characteristic of prophets that distinguishes them from the other people, either ordinary ones or geniuses, is the supreme revelation and guidance prophets can get from God through the unseen world. However, this kind of revelation does not exclude them from the rest of human beings; it just makes them perfect role models to teach and guide us further to the straight path.
One of the other most important attributes of prophets is their innocence (Ismah) and infallibility which is defined as the fact that they never, at any point of their lives, committed sins, nor did they approach any kind of disobedience, mistakes, or forbidden things.
They maintained their innocence throughout their everyday lives among people; therefore they proved their infallibility and eligibility necessary for prophethood. This innocence also made prophets infallible either in receiving the revelations from God or conveying the orders and messages that were revealed to them to their nations exactly, without missing or adding anything that would mislead them.
God supported His Prophets with miracles, which were supernatural events that took place based on the power of Allah - and not prophets- to prove their truthfulness and neutralize the objections and the obstinacy of the deniers.
The other proof that distinguishes prophets from people who are endowed with brilliant minds that have developed advanced philosophies is the miracles they brought forth, which is far from magic and the concept known to popular culture. A Miracle is actually something beyond the reach of people, natural causes, and the physical laws we are all familiar with. Although beyond human’s capacity, miracles are possible and not against humans’ reason.
When the miracle becomes clear, there can be no doubt either in the message or the one who brought it forth.
After accepting the necessity and importance of prophethood through rational thinking, we need to testify to the existence and truth of certain prophets to whom God granted miracles and whose advent the previous prophets prophesied.
All prophets brought and taught people the same message and doctrines. These doctrines were gradually sent to humankind based on their capacity and talent, until the chain of prophethood came to an end by the coming of the last prophet, Muhammad (PBUH&HP). He is our final prophet, and no prophet will be born after him. The religion of Islam, as well as all other religious doctrines, was completed and sent to people through his miracle, Quran, so there is no need for another messenger from God.
God sent His message, the same message, to humankind through different prophets. But what are the reasons for this renewal:
One reason for God to repeat his message by sending new prophets is the distortion of His teachings by the people of earlier ages. The generations before Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) were not mature and wise enough to record and preserve their holy book and religious lessons.
So the message would normally be changed, distorted or destroyed by them. Accordingly, the message had to be renewed.
The second one is the incapability of the people to receive the whole completed message sent by God due to their lack of maturity and intellectuality; therefore they had to be guided through the right path, little by little and step by step.
The third and the last reason is the need of humankind for people to preach and interpret God’s message. The people before Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) had not reached the appropriate level of wisdom, awareness, and civilization to be capable of proselytizing, teaching, preaching, and sometimes changing their religious lessons according to their needs and situations.
However, by the development and growth of science and people’s awareness and maturity, this could be possible for them. As a result, one of the necessities of finality is the human’s social maturity to the extent that he is able to protect and preserve his religious and scientific legacies and to preach and teach them himself.
In conclusion, Abrahamic religions have always been the same, from the beginning till the end of the time and all the prophets have tried to encourage people to accept the same doctrine and religion. Their main roles and responsibilities were to receive God’s revelations and teach and interpret them for humankind.
The need for these roles, however, was finalized by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) by whom the whole religion and doctrine were sent since people had the talent, capability, and maturity necessary for the acceptance and preserving God’s message. What’s more, people had become sensible and mature enough to interpret the prophet’s teachings by themselves.
“Muhammad is not the father of any man among you, but he is the Apostle of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets, and Allah has knowledge of all things” (33:40).
Based on some Islamic narrations, God has sent as many as 124000 prophets to humankind throughout history in different lands; the first of whom was Prophet Adam (AS), and the last divine prophet was Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
What do you think was the primary purpose for which the prophets were raised? God says in the Holy Quran:
“O Prophet! Indeed, We have sent you as a witness, as a bearer of good news and as a warner. and as a summoner to Allah by His permission, and as a radiant lamp” (33:45-46)
“Certainly We sent Our apostles with manifest proofs, and We sent down with them the Book and the Balance, so that mankind may maintain justice;” (57:25)
According to the verses above and many other verses in the Quran [i], prophets were all sent to awaken the inner prophet within each person (i.e. people’s reason), guide them to the right path and invite them to monotheism (worshipping the only One God), which would ultimately lead to their well-being and salvation here in this world and also the hereafter. In fact, no one can deny the effective role prophets had in different aspects of people’s lives in history, as Will Durant puts:
“There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion. France, the United States, and some other nations have divorced their governments from all churches, but they have had the help of religion in keeping social order” .
Now you might wonder, “if God is One and all the prophets were sent to bring us closer to Him, then why would He send different religions?”
From the Quranic point of view there is No such thing as different religions, but rather “all Prophets irrespective of the fact whether they had or did not have an independent code of law, had the same mission and preached the same message” . Quran says:
“Indeed, with Allah religion is Islam, and those who were given the Book did not differ except after knowledge had come to them…” (3:19)
So, why would God send as many as 124000 prophets?
The answer is God’s message had to be renewed and developed according to the requirements of the time, the environment and also the people to whom God’s prophets were sent. Based on the stage of human development in each time and environment, a preaching or law-giving prophet [ii] would come to restore the divine message which had previously been changed, destroyed or distorted by people.
As stated above, people’s intellectual immaturity was the main reason why God renewed his message and developed it over time. However, by the advent of Islam and revelation of the holy Quran, humanity had passed the period of its childhood and had become mature enough to preserve its intellectual heritage, i.e., the religion of God. One thing that proves human’s maturity at the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) is that literacy had become more common among people.
That is why the Prophet’s (PBUH&HP) main miracle is not of anything physical, material and time-dependent, instead, it is a book which is made of words understandable for people of all times. In other words, God, then, guides people and shows them His signs using words (Quran) not by events like parting the sea (led by prophet Moses) or healing the blind or the sick (led by prophet Jesus). God’s message, accordingly, was revived through the revelation of the holy Quran and hence, Muhammad (PBUH&HP) was the last prophet of God.
It is noteworthy that the majority of divine prophets were the preaching ones who would interpret and spread the teachings of the law-giving prophets. But now that God has provided all requirements for humans to achieve their individual and social perfection giving them His book of guidance and wisdom to think, and people have reached a higher intellectual stage and become mature enough to interpret God’s message [iii], there won’t be a need for a new prophet.
At this age of knowledge, the religious scholars are capable of applying the general principles of Islam to the requirements of the time and place and deducing the rules of religious laws :
“The scholars are the inheritor of prophets” Imam Sadiq .
It is clear from what has been discussed above that the intellectual maturity of human has played an essential role in the finality of prophethood in several ways:
It has enabled man to receive his evolutionary program all at once and not by stages,
It has enabled him to keep the celestial Word of God (Quran) unaltered,
It has enabled him to interpret the revealed word of Allah, preach and propagate the teachings of religion and apply the religious principles to all the changing circumstances .
The last mentioned task is now performed by religious experts (Mujtahid) and is named Ijtihad meaning striving and making an effort to deduce the divine laws of Islam from the reliable sources and proofs.
The finality of prophethood does not mean that humanity is now able to dispense with religion. It is the need for prophets and the revelation of God that has ceased to exist, which is only because God’s message has been immune to any sort of alteration or distortion since the advent of Islam:
“Indeed We have sent down the Reminder, and indeed We will preserve it” (15:9)
This message is indestructible, and all people of next generations can have a recurring experience when dealing with it, irrespective of time.
However, God has never left the earth devoid of His guidance, and Imams as the successors of the Holy Prophet (PBUH&HP) have played the main part in maintaining humans’ spiritual connection with God from then on.
[i] “Certainly We raised an apostle in every nation [to preach:] ‘Worship Allah, and shun fake deities.’ Among them were some whom Allah guided, and among them were some who deserved to be in error. So travel over the land and observe how was the fate of the deniers” (16:36). Also see: (7:59, 7:65, 7:85 and 7:73)
[ii] The messengers of God where either law-giving, who would be sent with a noble message and guidance and whose number did not exceed the fingers of one hand, or preaching who would spread and propagate the teachings of the law-giving ones.
[iii] "We ought to present you with the principles and you ought to arrive at specific conclusions from them." Imam Sadiq (AS) 
[iv] the holy Quran, the tradition of the holy prophet and 12 infallible Imams (Sunnah), consensus (Ijma`), and reason (`Aql)
- Mand and Universe
- Wasail al-Shia, Bab 6, Hadith 51, 52
- al-Kafi, vol. 1, p. 32, Hadith 2