Copyright © By Dr. Adel Elsaie, Book Title: "History of Truth, The Truth about God and Religions"
9.6 Life and Death in the Quran
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Water and Origin of life
The Vegetable Kingdom
The Animal Kingdom
Life before Adam
No other subject has caused so much turmoil throughout history than that of life and death. Philosophers and scientists approached life and death with so many concepts and assumptions. Any discussion on life and death without considering the Creator in this process is just a waste of time. This is like a group of laymen gathering around an engineer to discuss his invention, and their conclusion is that they understand the invention more than the inventor himself. This is the kind of scientific joke that some scientists and their followers are publicizing in the name of fighting superstitions. But death is unseen; no one ever died for a long period of time and returned back to tell the world what happens after death. And since death is unseen, then any discussion about it is pure guesswork. Consequently death is subject to imagination and guesswork because no one can prove otherwise. This subject of guesswork is stated in the Quran as follows:
Surah 18, Ayah 51 "I called them not to witness the creation of the heavens and earth, not (even) their creation, nor is it for me to take as helpers such as Lead (men) astray"
So Allah tells us that people will come and present ideas and hypotheses about the creation of the universe and life, and those people were not helping God in His Grand Design. Their arrogant ideas served the purpose of confusing the average person. The above Ayah is one of the prophecies of the Quran, and we can see the result of this prophecy very vividly in our present time. The theory of evolution and the self behaving universe are mere human guesswork and assumptions that cannot be proved.
It is a known fact that a living human body consists of water, many chemicals and a soul. But what is the soul? Is it in the brain that thinks? Is it in the heart that pulses? Is it in the hands or feet? Where is it and what is it? What does it look like? Scientists attempted to weigh a body before and after death to know if the soul has weight. They found a minute decrease in the weight. Who knows if the scale is exact enough? Who knows if some chemical phenomena happen at the moment of death and reduced the weight?
No one knows about the soul except its Creator. And may be this is just one of the eternal divine challenges a human will never face. And if we donít know about something inside our bodies, how then can we claim we know all the secrets of this entire universe? We are supposed to search, study, examine, and observe; but if we come to a limit or a wall then we have to realize that there are many things beyond our comprehension and in the end we are limited creatures. The human brain is limited but it has a very serious function. Its main purpose is supplying us with a choice to select alternatives, and to differentiate between the good and evil. But this brain is designed to acknowledge the unseen, which only can be told to us by God. Thus if we want to know the unseen, then our only choice is to learn from the Creator of the unseen. This is our only way to know any unseen matter whether it is the soul, the Angels, or life and death.
Water and Origin of life
The Quran refers to the origin of life in a very concrete statement as follows:
Surah 21, Ayah 30 "Do not the unbelievers see that the heavens and earth were joined together (as one unit of creation) before We clove them asunder? And We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?
The Quran states that every living thing is made of water (as its essential component) or that every living thing originated in water. These two possible meanings are strictly according to our present knowledge. About 70 percent of the surface of earth is still covered with water. This shows the predominance of water on our globe. Apart from the fact that protoplasm, the building block of living matter, is a liquid or semi-liquid, there is the fact that man and animals show, in their embryological development, organs indicating the watery origin of their original habitat. The protoplasm consists of about 80 to 85 percent water. Also chemical compounds necessary for life such as protein, fat and DNA consist of 25 percent water.
There is no life without water. We look for water on other planets as a tool in determining the possibility of life. We now know that earth is the only planet in our known solar system that has water. This is due to its appropriate distance from the sun that allows water to exist as a liquid. If we were closer to the sun, water would evaporate, and if we were further away from the sun, water would turn into ice. It is also known that water vapor originated from volcanic action in the early history of the earth. That water vapor condensed into huge clouds that surrounded the earth and then caused huge amounts of rain to fall. This in turn caused flooding engulfing the earth for millions of years yielding huge pits that became the oceans.
The Vegetable Kingdom
There are many Ayat in the Quran that refer to the rain that makes vegetation grow. Fruits and vegetables are mentioned in the Quran as a sign of creation for the believers:
Surah 6, Ayah 99 "It is He Who sendeth down rain from the skies: with it We produce vegetation of all kinds: from some We produce green (crops), out of which We produce grain, heaped up (at harvest); out of the date-palm and its sheaths (or spathes) (come) clusters of dates hanging low and near: and (then there are) gardens of grapes, and olives, and pomegranates, each similar (in kind) yet different (in variety): when they begin to bear fruit, feast your eyes with the fruit and the ripeness thereof. Behold! in these things there are signs for people who believe"
Each fruit - whether it is grape, olive or pomegranate - varies in flavor, shape, and size. Believing in God implies both understanding and spiritual feeling. Understanding is a higher faculty than knowledge, and believing is a higher faculty than understanding. Allah asks us to look at the fruits, as they are signs for the believers. Unbelievers eat fruit without thinking, while the believers eat the same fruit and praise God for His favors, and thank Him for His bounty. Our Creator will ask everyone on the Day of Judgment whether we gave thanks for the many glorious gifts He bestowed upon us throughout our lives.
The Quran also details the reproduction in the vegetable kingdom that can be either sexual or asexual. Only the former can be termed "reproduction", because this defines a biological process that results in a new individual identical to the one that gave it birth. Asexual reproduction is quite simply a multiplication process. It is the result of the fragmentation of an organism that has separated from the main plant and developed in such a way as to resemble the parent plant. A simple example of this is a cutting taken away from a plant, and placed in suitably watered soil, can be regenerated by growing new roots.
Sexual reproduction in the vegetable kingdom is carried out by the unifying of male and female parts on a same plant or one located on another plant. This is the form that is mentioned in the Quran:
Surah 20, Ayah 53 "..and (God) has sent down water from the sky." With it have We produced diverse pairs of plants each separate from the others"
Surah 36, Ayah 36 "Glory to Allah, Who created in pairs all things that the earth produces, as well as their own (human) kind and (other) things of which they have no knowledge"
Surah 51, Ayah 49 "And of every thing We have created pairs, that ye may reflect"
The pairs or couples mentioned in the above Ayat, and many others, mean two accompanying each other like married couples. Fruit is the end product of the reproduction process of superior plants that have the most highly developed and complex organization. The stage preceding the fruit is the flower, which has male and female organs (stamens and ovules). Fruits therefore imply the existence of male and female organs. This emphasizes the meaning of the above Ayat in the Quran.
These Ayat, and many others, emphasize the importance of the concept of pairs through all creation - in man, in animals, in plants, and also in things not yet discovered.
The Animal Kingdom
Many Ayat describe the creation of certain species of the animal kingdom with the purpose of making man reflect upon the divine Beneficence extended to him. These Ayat are quoted basically to provide an example of the way in which the Quran describes the harmonious adaptation of creation to manís needs; it relates in particular to the case of people who live in rural and desert areas.
The reference in the Quran to the reproduction in the animal kingdom is given as a general statement:
Surah 53, Ayah 45-46 "That He did create the pairs, - male and female, From a sperm-drop when lodged (in its place);"
The "pair" in the above Ayah is the same as that expressed above in the Ayat that deal with reproduction in the vegetable kingdom. Here the sexes are given. The detail that is absolutely remarkable is the precision with which it is stated that a small quantity of liquid is required for reproduction. The word itself signifying "sperm" is used for man, which will be presented when discussing embryology.
Allah states that animals and birds exist in communities like human communities:
Surah 6, Ayah 38 "There is not an animal (that lives) on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but (forms part of) communities like you. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they (all) shall be gathered to their Lord in the end."
The above Ayah states that animals and birds form communities like those of the human beings. They also will be resurrected in the Day of Judgment. The Justice of Allah will prevail over all living creatures including animals and birds. The animals will be judged and then turned to ashes again. There are no statements in the Quran about the extent of judgment of animals in the Hereafter. Why? That is Godís business.
Animal behavior has been closely investigated in recent decades with the result that genuine animal and bird communities have been shown to exist. It has only been recently shown that the mechanisms that preside over this kind of organization have been discovered for certain species. The most studied and best-known case is undoubtedly that of bees.
When neurological biologists wish to provide striking examples of the extraordinary organization directing animal behavior, the most likely referred to animals are the bees and the birds (especially migratory birds). Whatever the case, there is no doubt that these groups constitute a model of highly evolved organization. In the Quran, bees are the subjects of long Ayat:
Surah 16, Ayah 68-69 "And thy Lord taught the Bee to build its cells in hills, on trees, and in (men's) habitations; Then to eat of all the produce (of the earth), and find with skill the spacious paths of its Lord: there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colors, wherein is healing for men: verily in this is a Sign for those who give thought"
Allah refers to the bees as following His way in humility, like all other creation, such as the stars, the earth, the trees, etc. All His creations follow His way with the exception of those consumed by excessive arrogance, as is the case with some humans and jinn.
The beeís instinct is due to Allahís teaching. Bees have remarkable nervous organization that supports their behavior. It is known that the pattern of the beeís dance is a means of communication with other bees; in this way, bees are able to convey to their own species the direction and the distance of flowers from which nectar is to be gathered.
Allah states that Prophet Solomon, son of Prophet David, has been taught the language of birds and ants.
Surah 27, Ayah 18-19 "At length, when they came to a (lowly) valley of ants, one of the ants said: "O ye ants, get into your habitations, lest Solomon and his hosts crush you (under foot) without knowing it." So he smiled, amused at her speech; and he said: "O my Lord! so order me that I may be grateful for Thy favors, which thou hast bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I may work the righteousness that will please Thee: And admit me, by Thy Grace, to the ranks of Thy righteous Servants."
In the grand scheme of the world, the ant may be neglected or even crushed by people who mean no harm. Yet, by its wisdom it carries on its own life within its own atmosphere, and makes its own contributions in the balance of life on earth. So there is room for the humblest people to contribute in the spiritual world.
Birds are frequently mentioned in the Quran. They appear in the lifeís story of Abraham, Joseph, David, Solomon, and Jesus. Two other Ayat highlight the birdís strict submission to the Will of Allah:
Surah 16, Ayah 79 "Do they not look at the birds, held poised in the midst of (the air and) the sky? Nothing holds them up but (the power of) Allah"
Surah 67, Ayah 19 "Do they not observe the birds above them, spreading their wings and folding them in? None can uphold them except (Allah) Most Gracious"
The above Ayat stress the extremely close dependence of the birdís behavior on the Divine Will of God. The degree of perfection attained by certain species of birds with regard to coordinating their movements is mind-boggling. The curvature of the birdís wing provides the upward lift required to overcome the downward pull of gravity. The design of airplane wings has benefited over the years from studying of the wings of birds.
There is no explanation of instinct in many birds and animals. How is it possible for such complicated instinctive knowledge to develop and be passed from one generation to the others? Their intelligence comes from the Utmost Intelligence, and their wisdom came from the Utmost Wisdom of Allah.
There is one Ayah in the Quran that addresses the source and the constituents of cattle milk.
Surah 16, Ayah 66 "And verily in the cattle (too) will you find an instructive sign. From what is within their bodies, between excretions and blood, We produce, for your drink, milk, pure and agreeable to those who drink it"
Milk is a secretion (making and giving off useful chemical compounds) in the female body, like other secretions but more specialized. Is it not wonderful that the same food, eaten by males and females, produces in the latter the wholesome and complete food called milk? Then, when cattle are tamed and specially bred for milk, the supply of milk is vastly greater than the need of their young and lasts for a longer time than during the period of breast-feeding. Cattle milk is also a wholesome and agreeable diet for man. Yet it is a secretion like other secretions, between the excretions (removal of waste) that the body rejects and the precious blood stream that circulates within the body.
The way this Ayah has been translated and interpreted is personal, because even modern translation or Arabic interpretation does not reflect the true scientific miracle of this Ayah. It is well known fact however, that a translator, however expert, is liable to make human mistakes in the translation of a highly specialized scientific Ayah, unless he happens to be a specialist in the discipline in question.
A literal translation to the above Ayah may be as follows:
Surah 16, Ayah 66 "And verily in the cattle there is a lesson for you. We give you to drink of what is inside their bellies, coming from a conjunction between the contents of the intestine and the blood, a milk pure and pleasant for those who drink it"
This translation is very close to the one given in the Muntakhab, 1973, edited by the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, Cairo, which relies on its support on modern physiology. From a scientific point of view, physiological notions must be called upon to grasp the meaning of this Ayah.
The substances that ensure the general nutrition of the body come from chemical transformations that occur along the length of the digestive tract. These substances come from the contents of the intestine. Most digestion takes place in the small intestine. Once digestion is complete, the process of absorption begins. The digested food leaves the small intestine and enters the bloodstream to reach each cell in the body. The small intestine is a very long coiled tube that takes up very little space. Its inner lining has many tiny folds. Both the length and the folds increase the surface area of the small intestine. Thus there are more places where the digested food can be absorbed. The constituents of milk are secreted by the mammary glands. The products of food digestion, carried by the blood stream, nourish the mammary glands. Blood therefore plays the role of collector and conductor of what has been extracted from food, and it brings nutrition to the mammary glands, the producers of milk, as it does to any other organ.
Here the initial process, which sets everything else in motion, is the bringing together of the contents of the intestine and the blood at the level of the intestinal wall itself. This very precise concept is the result of discovery made in the chemistry and physiology of the digestive system.
Yet in one short statement in the above Ayah, a precise description of the source and constituents of milk is presented. No one can dare to think that this knowledge was available to an unlettered Arab in the desert in the seventh century. So, again, how did he know that? Who told him that? The only logical answer is the Creator of the milk and the digestive system. All the Praise and Glory be to Allah.
Life before Adam
The Quran refers to life forms before Adamís creation in a fascinating discussion between Allah and His Angel, as follow:
Surah 2, Ayah 30 "Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: "I will create a vicegerent on earth." They said: "Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief and shed blood? Whilst we celebrate Thy praise and glorify Thy holy (name)?" He said: "I know what you know not"
Allah informed the Angels that He will create man on earth. They wondered and referred to a previous creation that had shed blood. This was not an objection to Godís Will. It was a surprise that Allah would create man with free will, which may ultimately lead to mischief on earth. It would seem that the Angels, though holy and pure, and endued with power from Allah, represented only one side of the purpose of Creation. We may imagine them without passion or emotion. If man was to be endued with emotions, these emotions could elate him or destroy him. The power of will or choosing is dominated by emotions, such that man may steer his own course. We may assume the Angels had no independent will of their own. Their perfection, in other words, reflected Allahís perfection, but could not elevate them to the dignity of vicegerency. The utmost vicegerent is he who has the power of initiative himself, but whose independent action always reflects precisely the will of God.
The Angels in their one-sidedness saw only the consequence of mischief and blood shedding by this new creation. In humility and true devotion to Allah, they were surprised. One must not imagine the least trace of jealousy, as they are without emotions. We know that the Angels have no way of foreseeing the future, which only belongs to God. So the question arises: How were they able to reference the acts of mischief and bloodshed? It must be from their previous or present knowledge, but not from knowledge of the future. Their statement could only mean one thing. They were referring to animals or other creatures on earth that existed before Adam that were killing each other. Their reference to these creatures before the creation of man coincides with our knowledge of the fossil record. And God knows the Best.
Philosophers and scientists have many concepts of life and death. A vast amount of superstition as well as imaginative and psychological literature has grown about life and death. But the simplest and the truest religious concept are stated here in few words. And, there is only one fact about death that is stated in the Quran as follows:
Surah 67, Ayah 2 "He Who created death and life, that He may try which of you is best in deed"
Death and life are both creations of God as a means of testing human deeds. Death is put before life, and is, therefore, not merely a negative state to life. Death, then, is the state before true life begins and is the state in which life as we know it ceases to exist. Creation of death and life, like any other creation, is not without purpose with respect to man. We can barely understand the states before or after our present life. But our present life is clearly given to enable us to strive by good deeds to reach a more noble state.
As one studies the Quran, one feels that Allah gives answers to many questions that linger in oneís mind. He gives examples to make a difficult concept of the unseen closer to human grasp. For example, resurrection is made analogous to a land that seems dead in the winter, and as rain falls in the spring, it is brought back to life:
Surah 50, Ayah 9-11 "And We send down from the sky rain charged with blessing, and We produce therewith gardens and grain for harvest. And the tall (and stately) Palm-trees, with shoots of fruit-stalks, piled one over another. As sustenance for (Allahís) servants; And We give (new) life therewith to land that is dead: thus will be the resurrection."
This similarity between the resurrection and the process of bringing life out of dead land is repeated in many other verses. But how many people notice the tiny plants when they are returned to life and start turning green? How many people relate this process to the resurrection and the Day of Judgment? How many people watch this resurrection of the plants with humility and reflection? Humans see resurrection at least once every year and most are idle to this miraculous process.
Death is also treated in the same fashion. Some people claim that there are no facts in this life except what we can see when we are awake. Yet, these same people die and return to life every day. They move from one state, with its governing laws, to a different state, with completely different laws each day without knowing or thinking about it. Allah Says:
Surah 39, Ayah 42 "It is Allah that takes the soul (of men) at death; And those that die not (He takes) during their sleep: those on whom He has passed the decree of death, He keeps back (from returning to life), but the rest He sends (to their bodies) for a term appointed. Verily in this are signs for those who reflect"
The similarity between death and sleep is made obvious in this Ayah. When man is awake, he sees physical things in our space and time. But when he sleeps, he moves to another world not subject to any known laws. He moves beyond space, time and gravity. He does not feel the passing of time. He may sleep in the dark and see the sunlight, or sleep during the day and see the dark night in his dream. He does not even know the duration of time that he slept.
During sleep, man is completely isolated and separated from the physical world. He sees with his eyes closed! He walks and runs with his feet in bed! He falls down from a mountain, yet there is not a single injury to his body. He cries with tears and laughs without noise during his dreams. He travels in an airplane, crosses continents and oceans in few seconds. This movement from a physical state to a spiritual state is a Mercy from the Merciful. He graced us with the perception that when we sleep, we move to a spiritual world; and when we wake, He returns our souls back to our bodies.
Why? For man to understand death; for man to become familiar with his next state; for man to know that the physical laws are not the only laws in the world; for man to believe in his Creator. And all that happens every night. So we see death every night as we see resurrection every spring. Yet, there are those who deny these obvious facts.
The real mystery of life and death, sleep and dream is a fascinating puzzle, but, then again, Allah gave us pieces to this puzzle. His Mercy brings many abstract religious concepts to human level and comprehension:
Sleeping is a vivid example of death.
Bringing life to the land in the spring is a vivid example of resurrection.
The best life on earth is a vivid example of heaven.
Earthly fire is a vivid example of hellfire.
What is sleep? As far as human life is concerned, it is the cessation of the working of the nervous system. Yet, other human functions, such as digestion, growth, and the circulation of blood, continue, possibly at a different pace. The mental processes are also suspended in sleep except those that deal with recollections, which are present vividly in our subconscious. But there are other kinds of dreams in which the dreamer sees things as they actually happen, backwards or forwards in time, or in which gifted individuals see spiritual truths otherwise invisible to them. How can we explain this? It is stated in the above Ayah that our souls go to a plane of spiritual existence analogous to physical death. In poetic imagery, "Sleep is the twin brother of Death."
During sleep or "minideath", our souls are, for a period of time, released from the bondage of flesh. Allah reclaims them during this time. If, as some do, we are to die peacefully in sleep, our souls do not come back to the physical body that, then, decays and dies. If our time to die has not yet dawned allowing us to fulfill our lives according to Godís Will, our souls return to our bodies, and we resume our functions in life.
If we are to contemplate these concepts, we can clearly see many spiritual truths:
That life and death are not the only elements of our existence.
That in our bodily life, we may be dead in the spiritual world, and our bodily death may be our awakening to the spiritual world.
That death is only a short visit to the grave.
That our nightly sleep, besides performing the function of rest in our physical life, gives us a foretaste of what we call death, which does not cease our personality.
That the resurrection is very similar to our daily rising from sleep.
That sleep is analogous to death.
That this life is not the true eternal life. It will end by death.
That death is not an eternal process. It will end by the resurrection.
Allah calls every living human in this world dead, i.e. man is destined to death. For that, Allah addresses the Prophet by saying:
Surah 39, Ayah 30 "Truly thou wilt die (one day), and truly they (too) will die (one day)." The literal translation of this Aya is "Truly you are dead, and truly they (too) are dead"
The above Ayah was intended for the Prophet and his companions, who were alive during the time of the revelation. So why did Allah refer to them as dead? He is reminding humanity of their destiny. The above Ayah is unfathomable to anyone who assumes that he is still alive. When a human is born, the arrow of death is released simultaneously. This arrow searches for the human throughout his life. In one instance, the search is over, the arrow of death finds its companion, and the human dies.
Why should death be an important aspect of our life? Because human life is based, wrongly, on greed, which is the continuous passion for seeking an increase in wealth, position, the number of followers or supporters, mass production and mass organization. This greed affects most people as it affects entire societies or nations. The greed in manís nature may be limitless if not controlled; the more we receive, the more we want. This obsession distracts us from the true purpose of life. Peopleís rivalry in such things aggravates the situation. To a certain point, it may be good and necessary. But when it becomes an obsession and a competition for the gain of more materialistic things, it leaves no time for higher and noble planes of existence. And most humans, when they are engulfed in this piling up process, deny that they have reached a critical state, and always justify their actions. And this ugly case of greed is justified as a means for achieving a noble purpose for humanity!
The piling up scenario continues until one lays down for a long nap in the grave, forgetting exactly just what he fought for. The true reality will then be clear before you. And Who can explain this better than Allah:
Surah 102, Ayah 1-2 "The mutual rivalry for pilling up (the good things of the world) diverts you (from the more serious business). Until you visit the graves"