“The Abode of the Hereafter and Meeting the Almighty” – the Most Fundamental Objective of Human Life and Movement
A Special Meeting with the Beloved and the Pleasure of His Divine Company
In our previous discourse, we pointed out that human life within this material world is a form of existential movement that is intertwined with hardship and adversity. This individual movement takes place within a larger parameter and context i.e. the general movement of the entire material universe. In turn, the general movement of all creation is invariably headed towards the “Realm of Manifestation”, wherein reality and truth will finally reveal itself with all its grandeur and glory. This final realm is the only plain of existence in which all creatures will universally experience true cognizance of God’s divine presence.
Given the above, we may seek to analyze the possible relationship that exists between this explanation and the more sublime interpretation put forth by spiritualist scholars with reference to mankind’s meeting with the Almighty. As such, we can go on to ask whether or not these two points of view are mutually contradictory? Or whether there exists a way to reconcile both opinions?
Based on our interpretation of relevant verses within the Holy Quran, mankind’s meeting with the Almighty is an event that will be universal in nature. All people, without exception, will meet their Creator on that destined day. However, this meeting will be a welcome and longed-for incident for one section of the human family, while being a source of utter anxiety and agony for the other. Given this fact, let us reanalyze the said Quranic verses in order to see whether they hold any denotative or connotative indication informing us about a special and exclusive meeting that spiritualist scholars believe will occur between God and His most pious servants; a meeting impatiently yearned for by all saintly and righteous individuals and accompanied by a unique and unparalleled degree of euphoric pleasure that can come only from being within God’s divine company.
For us to properly engage in such a reanalysis, we must first present our reader with an introductory and pre-requisite discussion.
Denotative Meanings, Connotative Indication and the Use of Indirect Semantic Association
When speaking to one another, we transfer our purpose and intention to our audience through specially chosen words that are designed to convey certain pre-determined meanings. However, sometimes the intended meanings of the words used by us are different from the literal meanings that these words primarily convey. For example, we might say that a person is “open hearted”, indicating that this person freely expresses his warm feelings and kind emotions towards others. This meaning is obviously different from the literal denotation conveyed by the words “open” and “hearted”. In one way or the other, allegorical, metaphorical and other connotative indications are all instances of indirect semantic association. Due to the presence of such an association between two meanings, the mind quickly transfers from the first to the second. Within the lamentation ceremonies of Imam Husayn (as), many orators utilize such connections between various ideas in order to emotionally influence their audience. For instance, a skilled orator begins by speaking about Islamic laws that strongly prohibit Muslims from willfully harming even the most insignificant of God’s creatures, then He suddenly starts to narrate the tyranny and cruelty suffered by Imam Husayn (as) and his sacred household. Sometimes such a mental transfer from one meaning to another can prove very useful, because it helps to prepare the mind to better comprehend the actual intended meaning. The employment of indirect semantic association is a significant rhetorical trope and the Holy Quran has also utilized this literary technique.
At times, we find the Holy Quran speaking about a certain very important matter, then suddenly its text transfers to another seemingly unrelated issue. For instance, within the following Quranic verses, the Almighty talks about the various bounties bestowed by Him upon humanity:-
وَتَحْمِلُ أَثْقَالَكُمْ إِلَىٰ بَلَدٍ لَّمْ تَكُونُوا بَالِغِيهِ إِلَّا بِشِقِّ الْأَنفُسِ ۚ إِنَّ رَبَّكُمْ لَرَءُوفٌ رَّحِيمٌ
“And they bear your burdens to towns, which you could not reach except by straining yourselves. Indeed your Lord is most kind and merciful.”
وَالْخَيْلَ وَالْبِغَالَ وَالْحَمِيرَ لِتَرْكَبُوهَا وَزِينَةً ۚ وَيَخْلُقُ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
“And horses, mules and donkeys, for you to ride them, and for pageantry, and He creates that which (you utilize but) do not (yet realize or) know.”
However, after having noted these bounties, He abruptly shifts to a different topic altogether which apparently seems to have no connection with the past two sentences:-
وَعَلَى اللَّهِ قَصْدُ السَّبِيلِ وَمِنْهَا جَائِرٌ ۚ وَلَوْ شَاءَ لَهَدَاكُمْ أَجْمَعِينَ
“With Allah rests guidance to the straight path, and some of the paths are devious, and had He wished He would have guided you all.”
In this final verse, God declares that it is His duty to show the right path to His servants. Nevertheless, some of the paths that lie before us, and which we often adopt, are actually deviant and serve only to lead us astray. God does not guarantee that we will reach prosperity and success if we choose paths other than the one He has guided us to take. Indeed, if He so wished, He could have made good-guidance involuntary for all human beings, forcing them to tread upon the right path or invariably leading them to true prosperity and success no matter which path they voluntarily chose to undertake. However, Divine will does not favor mandatory guidance. Instead, the Almighty bestowed mankind with free-will and ordained that humanity must voluntarily follow the path of righteousness and truth.
In these above mentioned Quranic verses, talk of travelling, transportation and destinations prepares the mind to consider and meticulously ponder upon a more sublime issue; an issue that is abruptly unveiled within the third of these Quranic statements. It is as if the Almighty seeks to say, “O’ human being, not dissimilar to your travels in this material world, there also exists another destination that you must reach, and I must show you the way to get there. However, mere guidance in this regard is not enough, for you must voluntarily choose to tread upon this path and remain steadfast upon it until you finally reach its promised conclusion”.
Similarly, God addresses humanity within the Holy Quran and says:-
وَجَعَلَ لَكُم مِّنَ الْفُلْكِ وَالْأَنْعَامِ مَا تَرْكَبُونَ
“And made for you the ships and the cattle such which you ride”.
لِتَسْتَوُوا عَلَىٰ ظُهُورِهِ ثُمَّ تَذْكُرُوا نِعْمَةَ رَبِّكُمْ إِذَا اسْتَوَيْتُمْ عَلَيْهِ وَتَقُولُوا سُبْحَانَ الَّذِي سَخَّرَ لَنَا هَٰذَا وَمَا كُنَّا لَهُ مُقْرِنِينَ
“That you may sit on their backs, then remember the blessing of your Lord when you are settled on them, and say: Immaculate is He who has disposed this for us, and we [by ourselves] were powerless to accomplish this (feat).”
Thus, the Almighty reminds us that whenever we mount our respective vehicles and modes of transport, we must ponder upon our inherent weakness and utter dependence upon God, and express gratitude towards the gifts and amenities that He has bestowed upon us. In fact, mere infelt gratitude is not enough, rather we must articulate our thankfulness out loud by saying, “Immaculate is He who has disposed this for us, and we [by ourselves] were powerless to accomplish this (feat).”
Then, in the subsequent Quranic verse, the Almighty teaches us to say:-
وَإِنَّا إِلَىٰ رَبِّنَا لَمُنقَلِبُونَ
“And to our Lord, surely, we must return!”
Through this verse, and after having prepared our thoughts accordingly, God transfers our minds to the most crucial of ideas; the fact that we are locked in an existential and inevitable journey that is headed back towards the Almighty. The transference of our contemplation from thinking about everyday commutation and worldly journeys to the existential and transcendental voyage of man towards his Maker represents an instance of indirect sematic association being successfully applied. In this particular case, God explicitly highlights the target-meaning that He wishes to invoke within our minds. This is because most people are ignorant towards such sublime notions, and without the pre-existence of such a thought within their imaginations the intended semantic association would not have worked. God, in His endless benevolence, removes this ignorance by clearly mentioning his true intention, and by doing so, creates the necessary grounds for the said association to perform its designated task. Therefore, the transference of the mind from one meaning to another, especially in cases where the second meaning is more important and profound, constitutes an act of divine mercy and a gift from God to His servant. However, we must remember that the opposite might also sometimes occur i.e. the transferring of a person’s mind from a higher meaning to an ignoble one. This commonly occurs in individuals whose minds are polluted with base and petty ideas.
Interestingly, in some other places within the Holy Quran, God has refrained from explicitly implementing such a mental transference Himself, even though room for it did indeed exist. For instance, the Quran says:-
وَعَلَامَاتٍ ۚ وَبِالنَّجْمِ هُمْ يَهْتَدُونَ
“And the landmarks [as well]—and by the star they are guided.”
It is a well-known fact that stars played a pivotal role for guiding travelers as they tried to find their way in the deserts and on the seas. Similarly, the position of the North Star helped determine the direction of the Ka’bah for ritual prayers within Islam. In the above Quranic verse, God has emphasized the part played by stars in guiding human-beings in their worldly travels and affairs. As such, He could have continued by posing this question: “O’ human-being, what tools will you use to find your way through the dark and confusing corridors of life?” Then, He could have finished off by unveiling the correct answer: “Indeed, God must guide you here as well”. Nevertheless, for astute minds, accustomed to deep thought and deliberation, this semantic association occurs automatically without requiring any additional stimulus. It is rational, acceptable and indeed desirable for the mind to shift from apparent guidance, by way of celestial bodies like the sun, the moon and the stars, to existential and spiritual guidance by way of God’s prophets and the Imams.
The Inseverable Relationship between Literal and Anagogic Meanings
Such transfer from apparent meanings to more profound and primary ones is by no means an error. Although, this second set of meanings does not represent a literal and denotative interpretation of the text being handled. In fact, it is an anagogical or esoteric interpretation which, within narrated traditions, is signified by terms such as “Tāwīl” and “Bāṭin”.
At this point, we must be cautious of a very dangerous threat. People with ulterior purposes exploit such narrated traditions in order to force certain exegeses upon the Holy Quran’s sacred text while abrogating its apparent and literal meanings. As such, they insist that the anagogic meaning is the only correct and true meaning of the verse in question, and that its literal signification holds no value at all. During the times of the Infallible Imams (as), the original adherents of such ideas were either extremist Shia zealots or people with atheistic inclinations.
For example, the Holy Quran says:-
“And maintain the prayer”
The group under scrutiny declared that the true meaning of this verse were simply: “Adhere to the Wilāyah (or spiritual and temporal authority) of Imam Ali (as)”. As such, there was no need to perform ritual prayer! This was obviously an appalling instance of corrupt interpretation.
In truth, when the Holy Quran says, “…and by the star they are guided”, it does not seek to declare that Ali ibn Abī Ṭālib is the rightful Imam. Rather, it seeks to indicate that this star is a gift of guidance from God. However, there exists an even greater divine gift; the allegorical star that serves to banish darkness away from the human soul and illuminates human life. The first of these meanings is the literal and apparent one and it must be accepted and acknowledged. Nevertheless, the mind can transfer itself from this meaning to another one by pondering upon a simple question: “Is it possible that God, who created the sun, the moon and the stars in order to prevent us from losing our way in the wilderness, has now abandoned us without guidance in our existential journey which represents the very purpose of our creation?” Therefore, while the word “star”, within the aforementioned verse, is not intended to literally mean Imam Ali (as), its literal denotation does bear allegorical indication towards a more essential and profound instance of divine guidance which manifests itself in the person of the Infallible Imam. In reality, the correct interpretational methodology is the one employed by some Quranic exegetes who incline towards Islamic mysticism. In their exegetic works, they start off by correctly interpreting the apparent and evident denotation of the verse in question. Only after having done so, do they move on to present certain deeper meanings, while promptly confessing that these secondary meanings are themselves based upon allegorical indications stemming from the verse’s primary denotation.
There is a story about Hashām ibn Ḥakam in which he confronts a Mutazilite scholar. While interrupting one of his lectures, Hashām addresses the scholar and asks, “Do you have eyes and ears? Do they ever make mistakes?” The Mutazilite elder replies in the affirmative to both questions. Then, Hashām poses a follow-up query, “How do you discern and determine whether they have worked correctly or not?” The old teacher responds, “I use the intellect that God has bestowed upon me”. Upon hearing this, Hashām rhetorically states, “God has furnished you with a means to determine right and wrong from amongst what you see and hear, but you believe Him to have failed in providing you a tool with which you could discern correct beliefs from erroneous ones?!” What Hashām sought to achieve through this polemic was to transfer the old sage’s mind to the issue of Imamate and its natural necessity.
In short, there is no objection in the employment of allegorical indication in order to convey the mind of an audience from one set of meanings to another set of connotations; connotations that are more sublime, more insightful and more effective than the denotative meanings themselves. However, this does not mean that the denotation of the text or speech in question stands annulled or abrogated. Neither can one claim that the author or speaker only intended to articulate connotative and allegorical meanings, while the literal dimension of their words was merely redundant and meaningless.
“A Universal Meeting” by Denotation and “A Special Meeting” by Connotation
Having understood the above discussed principle, we can now return to our original conversation. As mentioned earlier, human life represents existential movement taking place within the context of a larger all-inclusive movement in which the entire universe is irrevocably journeying towards God. On the Day of Judgement, it will become totally evident that the Almighty was the only real potent force driving everything in existence, and on that fateful day human-beings will experience true and unfiltered cognizance of His divine presence. This constitutes the denotative meaning, alongside a literal interpretation, of the message conveyed by relevant Quranic verses.
Knowing and comprehending these facts should cause the human mind and intellect to automatically arrive at some obvious connotative implications. If, according to the Holy Quran, a universal meeting with God is indeed inevitable, should we not strive to make this meeting special and ideal for ourselves? Should we not labor to render it a union of a lover with his long lost beloved? Does it make any sense for us to allow this meeting to turn into an event marked by supreme torture and unbearable agony for our souls? What logic exists in us entering the Hereafter in a manner whereby we find ourselves addressed in the harshest of terms, with our Most Merciful Lord commanding us to shout up?
اخْسَئُوا فِيهَا وَلَا تُكَلِّمُونِ
“Be gone in it, and do not speak to Me!”
Should we present ourselves at His divine court in a circumstance that calls upon Him to treat us like lowly and ignoble beasts, casting us into the bowels of Hell? If the entire objective of our creation is the Afterlife, then why should we satisfy ourselves with this temporary and superficial world? What possible rationale hinders us from making the Hereafter the primary goal and purpose of all our efforts and the focal point of all our attentions?
The instinctive blossoming of these vital questions, alongside the answers that our intellect provides for them, represents the mental transference of our mind from the idea of an inescapable “universal meeting” to the possibility of a “very special and cherished one”.
There are numerous verses in the Holy Quran that speak of mankind’s eventual meeting with the Almighty. Another such verse is as follows:-
فَمَن كَانَ يَرْجُو لِقَاءَ رَبِّهِ فَلْيَعْمَلْ عَمَلًا صَالِحًا وَلَا يُشْرِكْ بِعِبَادَةِ رَبِّهِ أَحَدًا
“So whoever expects to encounter his Lord – let him act righteously, and not associate anyone with the worship of his Lord.”
Quranic exegetes who have interpreted these “encounters” and “meetings” as special and exclusive ones reserved only for God’s most virtuous servants, have probably done so in order to highlight the transfer that takes place when the human mind moves from the literal denotation of these Quranic verses to their anagogic and allegorical connotations.
The Nature of the Hereafter and Our Opportunity
Anyhow, the nature of the Hereafter and the Day of Judgement are vividly described within the Holy Quran. Firstly, the Hereafter represents the realm of “universal return” towards the Almighty:-
ثُمَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكُمْ تُرْجَعُونَ
“…then you will be brought back to your Lord.”
وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّكُمْ إِلَيْهِ تُحْشَرُونَ
“…and know that toward Him you will be mustered.”
Similarly, the Day of Judgement is the hour in which the entire material universe will collapse and disintegrate:-
وَالْأَرْضُ جَمِيعًا قَبْضَتُهُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ وَالسَّمَاوَاتُ مَطْوِيَّاتٌ بِيَمِينِهِ
“…the entire earth will be in His fist on the Day of Resurrection, and the heavens, scrolled, in His right hand.”
يَوْمَ نَطْوِي السَّمَاءَ كَطَيِّ السِّجِلِّ لِلْكُتُبِ
“The day We shall roll up the heaven, like rolling of the scrolls [meant] for writings.”
Furthermore, the Almighty’s supreme and unchallengeable authority will completely manifest itself during the Hereafter:-
لِّمَنِ الْمُلْكُ الْيَوْمَ لِلَّهِ الْوَاحِدِ الْقَهَّارِ
“To whom does the sovereignty belong today? To Allah, the One, the All-paramount!”
وَالْأَمْرُ يَوْمَئِذٍ لِّلَّهِ
“…and all command that day will belong to Allah.”
Given that God has uniquely blessed us by informing us of these imminent realities through the Holy Quran, should we not strive to enter that world triumphantly? Logic and good reason dictate that we should consider success and prosperity in the realm of the Hereafter as our primary and most important goal. Therefore, we must live this worldly life, which is inherently intertwined with hardship and toil, in a manner that wins us the good pleasure and divine proximity of our Lord in the Afterlife. If we do so, then we would find ourselves to have secured a most-supreme treasure that cannot be compared to anything in existence.
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Naḥl, Verse 7
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Naḥl, Verse 8
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Naḥl, Verse 9
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Zukhruf, Verse 12
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Zukhruf, Verse 13
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Zukhruf, Verse 14
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Naḥl, verse 16
 The Holy Quran, Surah Al-Baqarah, verse 43
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Naḥl, verse 16
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Muminūn, verse 108
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Kahf, verse 110
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Sajdah, verse 11; The Holy Quran, Surah al-Jāthīyah, verse 15
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Baqarah, verse 203
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Zumar, verse 67
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Anbiyā, verse 104
 The Holy Quran, Surah Ghāfir, verse 16
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Infitār, verse 19