Qur'an 7:172 recounts the establishment of what is sometimes known as ''the Primordial Covenant'' at a ''time before time'' when all souls implicit in the loins of Adam were asked by God, ''Am I not your Lord?'', to which they replied, ''Yes, we testify!'' The qur'anic assumption is clearly that humans in this life need to recognise and remember the divine truth they have already acknowledged. In this there is a resonance with other doctrinal topics such as the living out by humans of a destiny measured out (qadar) by God, as well as, in some falsafa and Sufi systems, the reawakening and development of qualities already implicit in the soul, a process that can lead to a saintly life which, although still lived in this world, is a sign of the life which the blessed will enjoy in the world to come.
The Islamic concept of time is frequently less linear than that of the Christian and Jewish traditions. However, it is marked by a similar concept of an exnihilo creation and the destruction of the present world, with the intervening time being the unfolding of history. In addition, Islamic concepts of temporality include the idea of a pre-time (azal) in which the events of the future are determined and anticipated, a beyond-time or timeless realm (la zamcin), and a post-eternity (abad), which entails the realm of the afterlife.
The concept of a return to God - both personal and collective - is qur'anic (7:29). In this understanding, return (ma'aad) is both the process of return and the destination itself: the life to come. These ideas were particularly elaborated within philosophical and mystical approaches to Islamic theology which stressed personal transformation as the key epistemological method. According to this spiritual model, all human life in this lower world (dunyaa) is viewed as a path of return. One may either consciously and spiritually participate in this process (voluntary return), or face an unavoidable physical death and bodily resurrection at its end (compulsory return).1 Such an approach to eschatological teachings accepts their literal truth while positing further levels of Being accessible to correspondingly profound verifications of ultimate reality. Works by Muslim theologians who explicated the inner dimensions of religious teachings envision life as a process through which a person continually shapes his or her own soul, so that after death in the intermediary state (barzakh) this soul continues to exist as an imaginal form. At the archetypal level of the intermediate state this form of the soul is existentially real, as are the represented forms of human actions and all of the other eschatological symbols. This intermediary stage is comparable to a sleep from which one will be awakened at the resurrection, just as the present life also resembles a dream in comparison to the subsequent stages.2
Eschatology, while specifically addressing the end of things, is implicit during our passage as individuals through the life of this world. In answering the "why" question of creation with varying emphases, it structures a range of responses to the human condition. For example, if asked about the purpose of life, a Muslim scholar might reply with the qur'anic verse, ''Indeed I have only created jinn and human beings in order to worship Me'' (51:56). This supplies a deonto-logical ethic in which obedience to the revealed law results in reward in the afterlife and fulfils the purpose of life. This, however, has not been the only Muslim response to this question. In a well-known passage, Ibn 'Arabi responded to the same issue by citing a tradition that God had said, ''I was a hidden treasure and I wanted to be known, and therefore I created the universes.''3 In this case the ultimate human purpose is gnosis ('irfan) or realisation (tahqiq) of the divine element immanent in all creation. Both positions are rooted in alternate qur'anic principles, one stressing the divine transcendence (tanzih), and the other emphasising immanence (tashblh),both uphold the concept of a chosen return to God, but one is implicitly dualistic while the other suggests a more humanistic orientation and an active participation in the eschatological project. These varying perspectives also displayed themselves in broader ethical perspectives on issues such as the ultimate source of evil.
Was this article helpful?