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Life after death in Hinduism
1. Concept of rebirth in Hinduism – Reincarnation or Transmigration of the Souls

Most of the Hindus believe in the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, which is called ‘Samsara’.

‘Samsara’ or the doctrine of rebirth is also known as the theory of reincarnation or of transmigration of the soul. This doctrine is considered to be a basic tenet of Hinduism. According to doctrine of rebirth, differences between individuals, even at the time of their birth are due to their past karma i.e. actions done in the past birth. For example if one child is born healthy while another is handicapped or blind, the differences are attributed to their deeds in their previous lives. Those who believe in this theory reason that since all actions may not bear fruit in this life, there has to be another life for facing or reaping the consequences of one’s actions.

It is mentioned in the Bhagvad Gita

“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless.”
(Bhagvad Gita 2:22)

The Doctrine of Re-birth is also described in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

“As a Caterpillar which has wriggled to the top of a blade of grass draws itself over to a new blade, so does the soul, after it has put aside its body draws itself over to a new existence.
(Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:4:3)

2. Karma – The law of Cause and Effect:

Karma means act, deed, action or activity and refers not only to action undertaken by the body but also to those undertaken by the mind. Karma is actually action and reaction or the law of cause and effect. It is explained by the saying, “As we sow, so shall we reap”. A farmer cannot sow wheat and expect rice to grow. Similarly, every good thought, word or deed begets a similar reaction which affects our next life and every unkind thought, harsh word and evil deed comes back to harm us in this life or in the next life.

3. Dharma – Righteous Duties:

Dharma means what is right or righteous duties. This includes what is right for the individual, family, the class or caste and also for the universe itself. In order to achieve good karma, life should be lived according to Dharma, otherwise it will result in bad karma. Dharma affects both, the present life and the future as well.

4. Moksha – Liberation from the Cycle of Rebirth:

Moksha means liberation from the cycle of rebirth or of ‘Samsara’. The ultimate aim of every Hindu is that one day the cycle of rebirth will be over and he will not have to be reborn again. This can only happen if there is no karma to cause an individual to be reborn i.e. it looses its good and bad karma.

5. Rebirth is not mentioned in the Vedas:

The important point worth noting is that the doctrine of rebirth is not postulated, propounded nor even mentioned anywhere in what are considered to be the most authentic Hindu scriptures i.e. the Vedas. The Vedas make no mention of the entire concept of transmigration of souls.

6. Punarjanam does not mean cycle of rebirth but means Life after Death:

The Common word used for the doctrine of rebirth is ‘Punarjanam’. In Sanskrit ‘Punar’ or ‘Puna’, means, ’next time' or ‘again’ and ‘Janam’ means ‘life’. Therefore ‘Punarjanam’ means ‘next life’ or ‘the life hereafter’. It does not mean coming to life on earth again and again as a living creature.

If one reads many of the references to Punarjanam in Hindu Scriptures besides the Vedas, keeping the life in the hereafter in mind, one gets the concept of the next life but not of rebirths or of life again and again. This is true for several quotations of the Bhagvad Gita and Upanishad which speak of Punarjanam.

This concept of repeated births or of cycle of rebirth was developed after the Vedic period. This doctrine was included by humans in subsequent Hindu scriptures including the Upanishad, Bhagvad Gita and the Puranas in a conscious attempt to rationalize and explain the differences between different individuals at birth and the different circumstances in which people find themselves in, with the concept that Almighty God is not unjust. So to say that since God is not unjust the inequalities and differences between people are due to their deeds in their past lives.

Islam has a rational answer to this which we shall discuss later InshaAllah.

7. Life after Death in the Vedas:

There is reference to life after death in the Vedas. It is mentioned in:

Rigved Book no. 10, Hymn no. 16 verse no. 4

“The unborn portion, burn that, AGNI, with thy heat; let thy flame, thy splendour, consume it; with those glorious members which thou hast given him, JATAVEDAS, bear him to the world (of the virtuous)”
(Rigved 10:16:4)

The Sanskrit word ‘Sukritam u Lokam’ means ‘the word of the virtuous or region of the pious, referring to the hereafter. The next verse i.e.

Rigveda Book 10 hymn 16 verse 5 says:

“… Putting on (Celestial) life, let the remains (of bodily like) depart: let him, JATAVEDAS be associated with a body.”
(Rigveda 10:16:5)

This verse too refers to a second life i.e. life after death.

8. Paradise – Swarga in the Vedas:

'Swarg’ i.e. Paradise, is described in several places in the Vedas including.:

Atharva Veda Book 4 hymn 34 verse 6 (Devichand)

“May all these streams of butter, with their banks of honey, flowing with distilled water, and milk and curds and water reach thee in domestic life enhancing thy pleasure. May thou acquire completely these things strengthening the soul in diverse ways.”
(Atharva Veda 4:34:6)

Atharva Veda Book 4 hymn 34 verse 6 (Ved Pra.)

“Having pools of clarified butter, stocks of sweet honey, and having exhilarating drinks for water, full of milk and curds, may all these streams flow to us in the world of happiness swelling sweetly. May our lakes full of lotuses be situated near us.”
(Atharva Veda 4:34:6)

It is mentioned in Atharvaveda

“Bereft of physical bodies, pure, cleansed with the wind, brilliant, they go to a brilliant world. The fire does not cause burning in their male organ. In the world of happiness they get plenty of women.
(Atharva Veda 4:34:2)

It is mentioned in Atharvaveda:

May the realised ones, first of all, take the vital breath under their control from the limbs in which it has been circulating. Go to heaven stay firm with all the parts of your body. Attain the world of light and emancipation, following the path of the enlightened ones (your predecessors)”.
(Atharva Veda 2:34:5)

It is mentioned in Atharavaveda

“O both of you, start to accomplish it, make determined effort to accomplish it. Those having unflinching faith attain this abode of happiness. Whatever ripe offerings you have made in fire of sacrifice, may both, the husband and wife, stand united to guard them with care.
(Atharva Veda 6:122:5)

It is mentioned in the Rigveda:

“O Aila, the loud-sounding clouds, these divines say to you, since you are indeed subject to death, let your progeny propitiate your revered cosmic forces with oblations, then alone you shall rejoice (with me) in heaven”
(Rigveda 10:95:18)

9. Hell – ‘Nark’ in the Vedas

‘Nark’ or ‘Hell’ is also described in the Vedas and the Sanskrit word used is ‘Narakasthanam’.

It is also mentioned in Rigveda:

“May the bounteous fire divine, consume them with his fiercely glowing sharp jaws like flames, who disregard the commandments and steadfast laws of most venerable and sagacious Lord.
(Rigveda 4:5:4)

Life after death in Islam "THE HEREAFTER"
1. Live once in this world and then be resurrected in the Hereafter

It is mentioned in the Qur’an

How can ye reject the faith in Allah?
Seeing that ye were without life,
And He gave you life; Then will He cause you to die,
and will He again bring you to life; And again to Him will ye return.
(Al Qur’an 2:28)

Islam states that a human being comes into this world only once, and after he dies, he is again resurrected on the day of judgement. Depending on his deeds he will either dwell in heaven i.e. Paradise or he will dwell in hell.

2. This Life is a test for the hereafter

It is mentioned in the Qur’an

He who created Death and Life,
that He may try which of you is best in deed;
And He is the exalted in Might, oft- forgiving
(Al Qur’an 67:2)

This life that we lead in this world is a test for the hereafter. If we follow the commandments of the Almighty Creator and we pass the test, we shall enter Paradise i.e., which is Eternal Bliss. If we do not follow the commandments of our creator and fail the test then we shall be put into hell.

3. Full Recompense on the Day of Judgement:

It is mentioned in the Qur’an

Every soul shall have a test of death.
And only on the Day of Judgment shall
you be paid your full recompense.
Only he who is saved far from the fire and admitted to the Garden
will have attained the object (of life).
For the life of this world is but goods and chattels of deception.
(Al Qur’an 3:185)

4. Paradise – Al Jannah

Al-Jannah i.e. paradise is a place of perpetual bliss. In Arabic, ‘jannat’ literally means ‘the Garden’. The Qur’an describes paradise in great detail, such as gardens underneath which rivers run. It contains rivers of milk unchanging in flavour and rivers of purified honey. In paradise is fruit of every kind. No fatigue shall be felt in paradise neither shall there be any idle talk. There shall be no cause of sin, difficulty, anxiety, trouble or hardship. Paradise shall thus have peace and bliss.

Paradise is described in several verses of the Qur’an including:

1.Surah Ale Imran Chapter 3 verse 15
2.Surah Ale Imran Chapter 3 verse 198
3.Surah Al-Nisa Chapter 4 verse 57
4.Surah Al Maidah Chapter 5 verse 119
5.Surah At-Taubah Chapter 9 verse 72
6.Surah Al-Hajr Chapter 15 verses 45-48
7.Surah Al-Kahf Chapter 18 verse 31
8.Surah Al-Hajj Chapter 22 verse 23
9.Surah Al-Fatir Chapter 35 verses 33-35
10.Surah Yasin Chapter 36 verses 55-58
11.Surah Al-Saffat Chapter 37 verses 41-49
12.Surah Al-Zukhruf Chapter 43 verses 68-73
13.Surah Al-Dukhan Chapter 44 verses 51-57
14.Surah Muhammad Chapter 47 verse 15
15.Surah Al-Tur Chapter 52 verses 17-24
16.Surah Al-Rahman Chapter 55 verses 46-77
17.Surah Al-Waqiah Chapter 56 verses 11-38

5. Hell – Jahannam

Hell is a place of torment where evil-doers undergo the most terrible pain and suffering caused by being burnt by hellfire, a fire whose fuel is men and stones. Further, the Qur’an states that as many times as their skins are burnt, the residents of hell shall be given fresh skin so that they feel the pain. Hell is described in several verses of the Qur’an including:

Surah Al-Baqarah Chapter 2 Verse 24
Surah Al-Nisa Chapter 4 Verse 56
Surah Ibrahim Chapter 14 Verses 16,17
Surah Al-Hajj Chapter 22 Verses 19-22
Surah Al-Fatir Chapter 35 Verses 36,37

6. Logical Concepts for differences in different Individuals

In Hinduism, the differences in two individuals at birth is explained by stating past karma i.e. actions of the previous life, as the cause of the differences. There is no scientific or logical proof or evidence of the cycle of rebirths.

How does Islam explain these differences? The Islamic explanation for these differences in different individual is given in Surah Mulk:

‘He who created death and life,
that He may try which of you is best in Deed;
And He is the Exalted in Might; oft-forgiving.
(Al Qur’an 67:2)

This life that we live is the test for the hereafter.

1. Concept of Destiny – Qadr in Islam

‘Qadr’ is the concept of Destiny. Certain aspects of human life are predestined by our Creator Almighty Allah. For example, where and when will a person be born, the surroundings and conditions in which he will be born, how long will he live and where and when he will die. These are predetermined by the Creator.

2. Concept of Destiny in Hinduism

Concept of Destiny in Hinduism is somewhat similar to that of Islam

3. Present Conditions are a test

There are several verses in the Qur’an which clearly specify that our Creator Almighty Allah tests us in several different ways

It is mentioned in the Qur’an:

“Do men think that they will be
left alone on saying, “we believe”,
And that they will not be tested?”

(Al Qur’an 29:2)

“Or do ye think that ye shall enter the Garden (of Bliss)
without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you?
They encountered suffering and adversity, and were shaken in spirit that
even The Messenger and those of faith who were with him cried:
“When (will come) the help of Allah?”
Ah! Verily, the help Of Allah is (always) near!

(Al Qur’an 2:214)

“Every soul shall have a taste of death
And we test you by evil and by good by way of trial -
to Us must ye return.”

(Al Qur’an 21:35)

“Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger,
some loss in goods or lives, or the fruits (of your toil),
but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere.”

(Al Qur’an 2:155)

And know ye that your possessions
And your progeny, are but a trial
And that it is Allah with whom lies
Your highest reward.

(Al Qur’an 8:28)

4. Judgement will be based on the facility provided

Each human being undergoes a test in this world. The test an individual undergoes differs from person to person, depending upon the comforts and the conditions in which Allah puts an individual. He passes His judgement accordingly. For example if a teacher sets a difficult examination paper, the correction is usually lenient. On the other hand if the teacher sets an easy examination paper, the correction is strict.

Similarly some human beings are born in rich families while some others are born in poor families. Islam instructs every rich Muslim, who has a saving of more than the Nisaab level, i.e. 85 gms of Gold, to give 2.5% of his excess wealth in obligatory charity every lunar year. This called the system of ‘Zakaah’ in Islam. Some rich persons may be giving the minimum required charity; some may be giving less than what is required while others may not be giving at all. Thus for a rich man, he may get full marks in Zakat i.e. charity, some may get less, some may get nil. On the other hand, a poor person who has a saving of less than 85 gms of gold gets full marks in Zakat, because he does not have to give this compulsory charity. Any normal human being would like to be rich and not poor. Some may appreciate the rich people and sympathise with the poor, not knowing that the same wealth may take that person to hell if he does not give charity and due to this wealth falls prey to temptations of character, while poverty for the poor man may be an easy path to paradise if he follows the other commandments of Almighty God. The converse may be true. A wealthy man may earn paradise by his philanthropy and humility, while a poor person who covets luxuries and hence resorts to unfair means to get them may be in trouble on the Day of Judgement.

5. Children born with congenital defects are a test for their parents

Some children are born healthy while others are born handicapped or with a congenital defect. Irrespective of whether a child is born healthy or handicap, in Islam he is Masoom i.e. sinless. There is no question of the child being handicapped due to a carried forward baggage of past sins from ‘a previous life’. Such a belief will not inculcate a charitable attitude in others. Others might say that the child deserves his birth defects or the handicap since it is a result of his ‘bad karma’.

Islam states that such handicaps are a type of test for the parent whether they are yet thankful towards their Creator or not. Do they retain their patience? Do they continue to persevere?

There is a famous saying that a person was sad because he had no shoes to wear until he saw a person who had no feet.

It is mentioned in the Qur’an:

And know ye that your possessions
And your progeny, are but a trial
And that it is Allah with whom lies
Your highest reward.

(Al Qur’an 8:28)

Allah (swt) may be testing the parents whether they yet are thankful to their Creator or not. May be the parents are righteous and pious and deserve Jannah. If Allah wants to give them a higher place in Jannah, He will test them further, e.g. by giving a handicap child. Yet if they are thankful to their Creator, they will deserve a higher reward i.e. the Jannatul Firdous.

There is a general rule that the more difficult the test, higher the reward. To pass graduation in Arts and Commerce is relatively easy and if you pass you are called as a graduate without any special title but if you graduate in the field of medicine which is comparatively a much more difficult examination, besides becoming a graduate you are also called as a doctor and the title Dr. is put in front of your name.

In the same way Allah (swt) tests, different people in different ways, some with health, some with disease, some with wealth, some with poverty, some with more intelligence, some with less, and depending upon the facility He gives the individual, He tests accordingly.

Thus the main reason for the differences in the human being is that this life is a test for the hereafter. Life after death is mentioned in the Qur’an as well as the Vedas.

Individual differences are not due to transmigration of souls or ‘Samsara’, These beliefs were added on in subsequent scriptures like the Upanishad, Bhagvad Gita and the Puranas. The repetitive cycle of birth and death, birth and death, was unknown and unheard of in the Vedic period.

English translation of verses of the Glorious Qur’an is taken from Abdullah Yusuf Ali

In the subsequent articles in the present series, we shall InshaAllah study the similarities between the concept of worship and between other teachings in Islam and in Hinduism.

And all praises are for the One and Only God and Creator Allah, who alone is worthy of devotion, complete submission and worship.