The Soul’s Journey After Death

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abridgement of ibn al-Qayyim’s Kitaab al-Ruh

They will ask you about the spirit. Say, “The spirit is at the behest of your Lord. You have been given only a little knowledge” (al-Isra 85)

‘The living go on and the dead do not.’… Allah! What an extraordinary expression and what an even stranger position to take. When somebody dies, our sorrow and tears, our weeping and mourning soon cease. We say to ourselves, The living go on and the dead do not,’ and put the dead person out of mind on the premise that he is dead and at rest. We forget or pretend to forget that he is in fact in even greater need of us than the living. He faces the future all alone, hidden away in the domain of the earthworms, buried under the earth in a desolate grave. He was in the light and now he is in darkness. He was surrounded by beauty and spaciousness and now he is enclosed in narrowness and gloom. He was in bliss and he now is in torment.

All this, however, is measured by criteria which are completely different from those that we, the living, use. We cannot perceive these things with our eyes or our inner senses or even our ears. The dead person is completely aware of them, but according to the criteria of the Next World. What are those criteria? What is death? What is life in the Next World …the world after death? Questions, many questions come to mind.

I have read more than one book on this subject, but I consider my basic source in what I say here to be the Kitab ar-Ruh by Ibn al-Qayyim which is based on the Qur’an, the Sunna, Traditions and what the greatest scholars have said. However, before reading Ibn al-Qayyim, we must first know who Ibn al-Qayyim was, and whether he is a reliable source.

I will here present some of what I have read about Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya in a magisterial thesis submitted to Azhar University by Dr. Husayni `Ali Ridwan. In it he points out that Ibn al-Qayyim’s real name was Muhammad b. Abi Bakr b. Sa`id b. Hariz az-Zar’i, and then ad-Dimashqi. His title was Shamsu’d-din, and his kunya was Abu `Abdullah. How then did he come by the name Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya? His father was the director of a school called al-Jawziyya which was located in the Damascus Wheat Market and for that reason he was called “Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya” or “Ibn al-Qayyim”. He is not the same as Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawzi who died in Baghdad in 597 A.H.

Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya was born into a scholarly and virtuous family in 691 AH/ 1292 A.D. At that time Damascus was a centre of literature and thought. Many schools were located there and he studied and graduated under the protection, direction and sponsorship of his father. He was particularly influenced by his Shaykh and teacher Ahmad b. Taymiyyah, and also by Ibn ash-Shirazi amongst others.

When he had reached maturity and had become a scholar of weight and reputation, he started to teach at al-Jawziyya and had many students, including ibn Kathir. He was looked to as a model in both youth and middle-age, by reason of the fact that he went out of his way to pass on to others the knowledge he had been given by those who came before him.

From his youth onwards he was constantly striving, tireless in his examination of everything around him, brilliant. Throughout his life, he remained an example of humility. He was calm and convivial, constant in worship, getting right to the core of the deen, a living example of the meaning of scrupulousness. He was courageous about stating the truth, no matter what the consequences.

I have put together all these qualities by which his personality was distinguished and the effect they must have had is clear when we look at the impact of his character on history and his unique achievement in the various fields of knowledge, literature and culture.

After memorizing the Noble Qur’an, he set about memorizing hadith and then turned to poetry, studying language through the different periods of poetic development. Then he immersed himself in the field of Islamic culture, paying particular attention to legal judgements. He collected books and extracted all that could be extracted from them. He took a long time over the books he wrote, taking great pains in his research and accuracy so that he would produce definitive, appropriate, coherent works for people from which nothing had been left out. For that reason people were hungry for his words and his books were widely read.

Our forbears considered him, after his teacher Ibn Taymiyyah, as the Greatest Scholar, the Shaykh of Islam and the Muslims, the Seal of the Certain, the heir of the knowledge of the mujtahids, the leader of the intellectual renaissance in the 8th century and the saviour of the Islamic world.