RELIGION LIBRARY

Sunni Islam

Beliefs

Afterlife and Salvation

Like Judaism, but unlike Christianity, Islamic belief does not include a concept of original sin. According to the Quranic version of the story of Adam and Eve and their fall from the garden, both disobeyed God at the behest of Iblis, an evil jinn who convinced them to disobey God. Subsequently, according to the text, Adam repented and was forgiven, but he and Eve were nevertheless cast out of Eden. The idea of Eve's sin remaining an essential aspect of human character, awaiting a redemptive savior, does not exist in Islam. According to Muslim belief, each individual person who is mentally sound and has reached the age of maturity will ultimately be held accountable for his or her own behavior.

Six core beliefs of Islam
  1. Reality of one God
  2. Existence of angels of God
  3. Authority of the books of God
  4. Following the prophets of God
  5. Preparation for the Day of Judgment
  6. Supremacy of God’s will

Accountability, reward, and judgment are essential elements of Sunni belief. One of the six articles of faith that characterize the Sunni creed is a belief in the Day of Judgment (yawm al-qiyama). The afterlife and the Day of Judgment (which affects all people) are both central tenets of the faith. As such, Sunni eschatology has both an individual and a collective component.

With the exception of martyrs, each individual is subjected to a period of reckoning after death. The time between an individual's death and the Day of Judgment that occurs at the end of time is called the barsakh, or interval. There is no clear or exact order of events, but in general, it begins with angels questioning a soul about its belief and faith.  There are also scriptural allusions to a bodily resurrection, but again, there is no single interpretation of these verses. In general, Sunni belief countenances the notion of a new reality during and after the Day of Judgment, when the world as it is currently known will end and individuals will be sent to Heaven or Hell, each of which is eternal.

Heaven is envisioned as a paradise, whereas hell is full or torment and suffering. The Quran emphasizes God's clemency and acceptance of repentance, and scripture tends to balance out images of heaven and hell, often having one set of verses immediately follow the other to contrast the reward and punishment meted out by God at the end of time.  For example, Sura 88 gives elaborate descriptions of those in hell, who have no relief from unrelenting suffering, and it is immediately followed by a description of people in heaven who are in luxurious surroundings.

Salvation is generally understood to be solely a result of the individual's relationship with God, and includes no concept of an intermediary or redeemer.  Because there is one hadith that describes Muhammad declaring that each prophet will intercede with God on behalf of his community of the Day of Judgment, some Sunnis believe in the efficacy of intercession. 

A central tenet of Sunni belief is that God welcomes repentant sinners and that his compassion far exceeds his punishment. For this reason, there is no sense of a one-to-one account of bad or good deeds; God can forgive anything he wills, in whatever fashion he wishes. For this reason, even the most sinful penitent is admonished, in the Quran and the hadith, never to despair of God's mercy.

In addition to the good deeds and religious obligations performed during one's lifetime, there are other influences on a person's afterlife - namely the supplications of righteous offspring, charitable endowments that continue even after an individual's death (a waqf, or pious endowment), and the religious knowledge one passed on to others during his or her life. In this sense, a soul in the barsakh can still benefit from relationships forged in life.


Study Questions:
     1.     What does Sunnism believe about original sin?
     2.     What happens during barsakh?
     3.     Does salvation depend solely upon the individual? If not, what other factors can affect it?
     4.     Describe the afterlife, as viewed by Sunnism.

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