Death And Resurrection, edited by the Vista
It can be a deeply fascinating thing to look at at the way that different religious traditions view the subject of death and resurrection. This particular small book is written from the point of view of a very conservative Muslim, and the end result is something that is easy enough to understand but definitely not easy to approve of. This book provides a straightforward but rather chilling look at death and resurrection from the point of view of mainstream traditional Islam, which bases its authority on two sources. The first is the Koran, which is short and if somewhat problematic at least something which has a genuinely 7th century origin. The second is the hadiths, which claim an uninterrupted chain going back to early days but which end up being much like the Talmud in being full of human reasoning and attempts to make that human reasoning appear more ancient and therefore more legitimate. Be that as it may, there is a lot more than it said regarding speculations about the Muslim afterlife in the hadiths than among the Koran itself, which is comparatively restrained in contrast. Unsurprisingly, the authors of this book do not wish to be restrained but have a lot of speculative matter to relate about the afterlife.
This book is a short one of only about 40 pages or so and it contains two parts. The first part contains speculations on death and the second one contains speculations on the afterlife, written by two different authors but whose approaches nevertheless frequently coincide. The first section of the book is more ethical and contains some interesting material, including a view of the importance among Muslims for remaining true until death and in making a particular prayer one’s last words. The second essay has contents that are more far-reaching, including views about Muslim purgatory and hell and some discussion of the symbolic meanings of how one’s character is to become known after death. Admittedly, some of these materials are humorous, as when there is a discussion about the comfort of the grave relating to the moral character of the deceased, and the colorful description of the torments of the unrighteous. The book isn’t a competitor to Dante’s Inferno or Purgatory in terms of its writing skill but it’s at least aiming at the same sort of imaginative reading experience, that’s for sure. And there isn’t even a hint of seventy virgins or anything like that which is among the view things that Westerners would know about the Islamic afterlife.
Is there anything that can be learned about the Muslim view of death and resurrection for someone who does not view either the Koran or especially the hadiths as authoritative? As is frequently the case in religious writings, the authors quote that which they consider to be authorities and those who would disagree are left without much to interact with. One can certainly critique the perspective of the author’s from one’s own religious traditions and note that there appears to be at least three different groups of people being spoken of here, namely unbelievers, poor believers, and righteous believers. The hadiths do not appear to contain a great deal of content that the authors wish to present regarding other peoples of the book who are not polytheists nor adulterers, for example. It does appear as if there is a major fault like that exists within Muslim thought between seeking to pit the world of Islam against unbelievers while simultaneously recognizing the debt they owe to older monotheistic faiths that they copied from if do not often appeal to. The book appears unable to square the circle between conviction of Muslim superiority and the claims of Muslim tolerance, and between the dubious credibility of the hadiths as well as the dependence on that source for the book’s contents as a whole.