Belief In The Hereafter And The Concept Of Rebirth

Belief In The Hereafter And The Concept Of Rebirth

Is there any difference between the Islamic belief in the hereafter and the Hindu concept of rebirth? If any, what is it? Does Islam accept the concept of re-birth? If it doesn’t, why?

The belief in the hereafter and rebirth agrees on one point only i.e. human life doesn’t end with death. According to the Islamic belief the earth is a place for work. The trial and judgement occur after death that is in the other world and the reward or punishments are based on a human being’s deeds in this world. Looking from a matter based universe and its peculiar conditions and viewing with the limitations of five senses, it is impossible to imagine how the hereafter is. However Islam teaches that those who lived a virtuous life in accordance with the divine instructions will be rewarded with the eternal heaven with all its joy and comforts. It also warns people who disobey God and lead a sinful life about the hell. The rewards or punishments in the hereatter will be meted out after meticulous trial and judgement based on justice. However it is foolish to think that the trial and judgment in the hereafter will be like their name-sakes in this world. Yet the one who was rewarded will know on what virtues he was rewarded like the one who was punished will know for what sin was he punished. It is only then – in the light of this knowledge – that the rewards or punishments become the rewards for their deeds.

Quite different from this, according to the Hindu concept of rebirth, the birth after death occurs in this world itself. This concept says that those who did not observe dharma (virtue) will be born again after death in the form of animals, Sudras, or the low class ‘Chandalas. If one observed dharma (virtue) he will be reborn as Brahmin, Kshatriya or Vaisya. Regarding this a few things need to be explained.

  1. If punishment is implemented on the accused, without explaining or convincing him of the reasons, it will be totally unjust. If somebody is beaten as punishment, or imprisoned, or sentenced to death, the crime which invited the punishment must be explained to the concerned person. It is a basic requirement of justice. The punishment must be implemented only after trial and judgment. But people like the Sudras or Chandalas was never subjected to trail. They don’t know the sins of their previous birth which resulted in their present status. If the present status is the result of the deeds in the previous birth, shouldn’t they know of those deeds? The Brahmins and Kshatriyas also do not know of their good deeds in the previous birth which resulted in the present life as Brahmins and Kshatriyas. For this reason the concept of rebirth is against the concept of deed and reward theory i.e., against the beliefs in reward and punishment based on the deeds.
  2. According to the concept of re-birth the sinner in the second life will be lowly and mean and their life, consequently, will be lowly and mean. There will be no virtue in his life, and hence the third life will be meaner and lowly and the intensity of lowliness goes on increasing in the succeeding births. Sinners become bigger sinners in each succeeding birth. For them refinement is impossible. Besides, a sinner can become a beast in the next birth. Can this beast become human later on? What were the newly born human beings in the previous birth? For what virtue were they born as human beings? With the concept of re-birth, all these problems remain unresolved.
  3. The concept of re-birth is not mentioned anywhere in the Vedas. It is mentioned and explained only in the Upanishads. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan writes: “The Brahmana assumes births and deaths only in the next world. In the Upanisads the beliefs is transformed into the doctrine of rebirth in the world. (Indian Philosophy PP.249)

So it becomes clear that the concept of re-birth is not based on scriptures.

  1. The re-birth is mentioned in the Upanishads. Everybody can clearly understand that its purpose was to justify the caste system and to perpetrate the discrimination and cruelty practised in the name of castes.

Chandogyopanishad, where the rebirth is mentioned, says: 

“Among them, those who have good residual results of action here, quickly reaches a good womb, the womb of a Brahmans, or of a Kshatriya, or of a Vaisya. But those who have bad residual results of action quickly reaches an evil womb, the womb of a dog or of a hog or of a Chandala.” (Chapter 5, Para 10, Verse 7)

Such thoughts have created a feeling among the upper caste people that they were born as Brahmina or Kshatriyas as rewards for their virtues in the previous birth, and hence they have every right for their present privileges. It has also created the feeling that the lower caste people became so as fruits of their deeds in the previous birth; and they are looked down as mean and lowly as bitches and sows. So the theory of rebirth has actually cemented all the dirty aspects of caste system and justified them in the name of religion.

  1. Dr. Radhakrishnan writes: “While the conceptions of Karma and rebirth are unquestionably the work of Aryan mind, it need not be denied that the suggestions may have come from the aborigines, who believed that after death their souls lived in animal bodies. (Indian Philosophy Vol. I, PP. 136)
  2. Like the Semitic religions, the Vedas of the Hindu religion also talks of the hereafter. Mention has been made to the hereafter in Rig Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda.   

For instance.

“Oh God, who satisfies our desires. We propitiate you for your greatest bounty. We praise you for knowledge, peace on the earth, and for shanti in the hereafter” (Sama Veda, Agneya Kandam: 1-10-3)

Adharva Veda exhorts man and wife to think of the world hereafter, and to do virtuous deeds.

Anwarabnedha manusamrabhedha metham Lokam Shradhadhana Sachande (6:12:3).

Like the Vedas, the Upanishads and Puranas contain a number of references to the world hereafter, to heaven and hell.

About hell after death Ishovasyopanishad has the following verse:

“Sunless are those worlds and enveloped in blind gloom were to all they in their passing hense resort, who are slayers of their souls.”  (Mantra: 3)

About the heaven Kadopanishad says:

“In Heaven there is no fear whatsoever. You are not there (O, death), nor is one afraid of old age. In that heaven-world (One) rejoices having crossed both hunger and thirst, and getting beyond all sorrow.” (1:1:12)

Manusmrithi’s author writes: 

“In the hereafter no parents are available for help; issues, wife and relatives are of no use. Only the virtuous deeds (dharma) are there for help.” (4:239)

“A creature is born and dead alone. It’s enjoyment of good deeds in heaven, and experience of bad deeds in hell, are also alone.” (4:240)

Bhagavat Geeta has also stressed on heaven and hell. A few verses from the Gita are given below: 

“We have heard, O Janardana, that inevitable is the dwelling in hell of those men in whose families religious practices have been destroyed.” (Chapter 1, verse 44)

“But if thou (Arjuna) refusest to engage in this righteous warfare, then, forfeiting their own Dharma and honour, thou shalt incur sin.” (Chapter 2, verse, 33)

“Dying thou gainest heaven; conquering thou enjoyest the earth; Therefore, O son of Kunthi, arise, resolved to fight.” (Chapter 2, verse 37)

All these verses reveal that since the Vedic period people had faith in the world hereafter. Dr. Radhakrishnan writes that “they had no special doctrines about life after death, though some vague conceptions about heaven and hell could not be avoided by reflective minds. Rebirth is still at distance. The Vedic aryans were convinced that death was not the end of things. (Indian Philosophy) 

Rahul Sanknithyaya wrote that the Rishis of Vedas believed that there was another world different from this one, and they also believed that the virtuous would go there after death. They would live there in joy. The under world is dark hell where the evil ones will go (Viswadarsanangal, page 552).

So the theory of rebirth is both unislamic and non-Vedic; created to preserve the degenerate caste system. The belief in the hereafter, heaven and hell is Islamic as well as Hinduite. The Vedas have approved of it.

[Dialogues on God, Creed and Scripture by Sheikh Muhammad Karakunnu, p. 73-77]

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