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Religion Library: Shia Islam

Afterlife and Salvation

Written by: Anna Akasoy

Sunnis and Shiites agree regarding the basic features of afterlife and salvation. After their death, individuals remain in a state of limbo in between life and death. In their graves, two angels, Munkar and Nakir, question them about their principles of faith. Whereas in the Sunni tradition the two angels only ask about someone's god, religion, and prophet, in the Shiite tradition the interrogators also enquire about the Imam a person has believed in. Shiites confirm that it is Ali. After this initial test, people sleep in their graves until bodily resurrection takes place and they are assessed according to their deeds and sent to hell or paradise.

Before the Day of Judgment, the world comes to an end amidst apocalyptic events. Islamic beliefs regarding these events comprise many elements in different variants and not always result in coherent expectations. The signs of the approaching end of the world are transformations of nature (such as the sun rising in the West), political conflicts, moral decay, and physical afflictions. The Mahdi will not only have the same name as Muhammad, but also—like him—will bring a revelation to restore truth and destroy earlier religions.

In Ismaili versions of human history, Muhammad ibn Ismail is the prophet-speaker of the last era, which brings the end of history. All established religions, laws, and social orders are abolished and the spiritual truth that had been hidden as inner or secret knowledge prevails. As in Shiite tradition more generally speaking, the arrival of the Mahdi also means the punishment of unbelievers. As in other apocalyptic traditions, astrological concepts often underpinned Islamic eschatology. The turn of a century was a likely candidate for the arrival of the Mahdi. Claims of individuals that they restore Islam are known from both Sunni and Shiite context; the latter are often characterized as following a Shiite model.

Like Sunnis, Shiites believe that everybody is going to be assessed on the Day of Judgment according to their deeds. The modern commentator of the Quran, al-Tabatabai, explains along the lines of the earlier exegetical tradition that there are exoteric and esoteric aspects of the Day of Judgment. The outer dimension focuses on God's role as Creator and master over humankind. "The human species is His creation and human beings are His servants who must obey His commands and prohibitions; and the prophets are the bearers of His messages, the conveyors of the laws and regulations which He has sent to mankind and has demanded that mankind obey."


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