Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research

The Reality of the Afterlife

As Muslims we have a strong conception of the afterlife, but sometimes we become too attached to what is in front of us. Faatimah Knight reminds us that when we get in moments of anxiety and stress, it’s so important to ask ourselves: Are we thinking as people who believe this life is part of a much longer life? Or are we operating as people who believe this is the only life we have and we need to get much out of it before we pass?

Pre-Islamic Arabs sought eternality in temporality

Pre-Islamic Arabs did not have a clear conception of life after death. This affected what they thought about life and ultimately, how they behaved in the time that they felt they were given. They had a sense of eternality as it related to nature since they were in a desert which is a large expanse, and from the desert they could see the clarity of the stars in the universe. However they did not have a sense of eternality as it related to themselves.

A desire to taste eternality

Although the pre-islamic Arabs did not have a strong concept of the eternal soul, they craved eternality. They wanted to experience something of eternality, and to get as much of life as they could.

Just like today where we find people who do very extreme sports because they want to feel their most alive, pre-islamic Arabs wanted to feel their most alive and have a taste of what it meant to be free or without bounds.

Giving in to a hedonistic lifestyle

This desire of pre-islamic Arabs to taste eternality led many of them to engage in what we would consider hedonistic behaviour. Excessive drinking of alcohol, excessive partying, and extramarital relations for example. They’d be engaged in a lot of excess, and yet they were still pessimistic.

Poetry of suffering

Even though the pre-islamic Arabs were engaging in these extreme experiences, they had a pessimistic concept of life which they documented in their poetry. In their poems the pre-Islamic Arabs talked about how life was inevitably going to end, and how after death there was nothing else. They weeped about the things that will inevitably pass. And so they engaged in these extreme experiences to feel more alive. Interestingly, we find a parallel today in many aspects of our culture.

The Islamic concept of life and eternality

As Muslims we have a strong concept of the afterlife. We recognize that the worldly life is important, but it is a small part of our overall life. After we pass, our soul goes on to another phase of existence. We do not cease to exist after death, and so we don’t have to feel this constraint to fit everything into a lifespan of 70-80 years.

When we’re experiencing moments of intense anxiety, hopelessness, or stress, we can remind ourselves that this life is not all there is. We can ask ourselves, how much does this matter, in the balance of eternality and a never-ending life?


Faatimah Knight

Faatimah Knight holds a Bachelor of Arts in Islamic Law and Theology from Zaytuna College and a Master of Arts in Religious Studies from Chicago Theological Seminary. Her research interests include Islam and modernity, gender in the Islamic textual tradition, usul al-fiqh, metaphysics, and religion in public life. She is a research fellow at Yaqeen Institute and the Digital Editor for Renovatio, the Journal of Zaytuna College. She has an independent blog at faatimahknight.com