In the physical world returning to the point of origin in a cyclic system is an observable phenomenon –be it in the rising of the sun, in the alteration of day and night, in seasonal changes, in the water cycle, in wind and oceanic currents, in the cyclic movements of the heart, or in the spin movement of the Cesium particles at subatomic levels.
Similarly in the spiritual world, every created object must come to an end and return to its point of origin, which is the Creator, Al-Khaliq: AllahSWT. He is the Eternal, Al-Ṣamad; He is the Everliving, Al-Qayyum:
And invoke not any other ilah (god) along with Allah: La ilaha Illa huwa. Everything will perish save His Face (Him). His is the Decision; to Him you (all) shall be returned. [Sûrah Al-Qasas, 28:88]
He is the B a d î ‘, the Primal Origin of all creations; to Him is due the origin of the heavens and the earth:
[He is] the Primal Origin [badî ‘] of the heavens and the earth… [Sûrah Al-Baqarah, 2:117]
To Allah belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth; to Allah do all matters go back [for just judgment]. [Sûrah Âl-‘Imrân, 3:109]
From a philosophical point of view, the lessons from these natural processes make the Final Return a logical proposition. For mankind, life on earth is a journey, a journey back to our Creator.
“Did you think … that you would not be brought back to Us?” [Sûrah Al-Mu’minûn, 23:115]
Our Life Journeys
Mankind’s Life Journey started with AdamAS. Prophet AdamAS, the father of mankind, was created out of lifeless ‘dirt’ (‘sticky clay’) in Paradise. He was sent to the earth as Allah’s Khalîfah [caretaker] to teach Tawhid [the absolute uniqueness and sovereignty of our merciful Creator and Provider] and to carry out His Commands. After living many years with Hawwa (Eve), Adam passed away. He was buried in the grave, his body going back to the very dirt [earth elements] it was created from. In the grave his body and soul have been in a state of Interregnum, waiting to be revived on the Day of Resurrection.
The children [descendants] of AdamAS start their journey in their mothers’ womb; once born they pass through various stages of life. After spending a relatively short segment of their eternal journey on earth, they die and leave this world through the phenomenon of death, thus entering Interregnum, where they too (like Adam and all those who have passed away after him) are waiting to be revived and to complete the cycle:
How can you disbelieve in Allah? Seeing that you were [once] lifeless and He gave you life. Then He causes you to die, then again He will bring [you] to life (on the Day of Resurrection), and then unto Him you will return. [Sûrah Al-Baqarah, 2:28]
So, (O Muhammad) turn aside from them (those who dispute Resurrection Faith) and wait: verily, they (too) are waiting. [Sûrah Al-Sajdah, 32:30]
The earthly lifespan of a person is bounded by the events of birth and death, which are separated by years on a timeline, on which we calculate our longevity. One’s earthly life is to be considered a probationary period, a period of preparation for the Final Return. Each life is comparatively short, but nevertheless is an important part of our eternal journey, a journey that is real and earnest!
“Life is real, life is earnest. And the grave is not its goal.”
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “A Psalm of Life,” Stanza 2)
Life is not without a purpose: its purpose is to fulfill the duties of Allah’s Deputy (khalîfah) in this earthly life:
“Did you think that We created you without any purpose…?” [Sûrah Al-Mu’minûn, 23:115]
As we walk on our personal timelines, we eventually come to a ‘gate’ which serves as a turnstile able to revolve only in a forward direction; it is prevented from a backward turn by a barrier mechanism. Passing through this turnstile ends one’s earthly time. That gate opens into what is called Barzakh in Arabic —in English, Interregnum.
…Before them is a Partition (barzakh) till the Day when they are raised up. [Sûrah Al-Mu’minûn 23:100)
The Day they see the angels, that Day no joy will there be to the defiant sinners. Rather, [the angels] will say [to them]: A barrier (ḥijran) bars you. [Sûrah Al-Furqân 25:22]
At the end of his timeline, every living human creation must pass through that gate of death in return to the Primal Source to await Allah’s final just judgment. From the beginning to the end, as we walk on that timeline, we pass through several stations that are guarded by angels who have been appointed by Allah’s Command.
Anticipating the Gate
The guards at the Turnstile Gate are angels, who visit the person who has finished the limited time given to him and who has reached the end of his timeline. These are the angels who are charged with the responsibility of taking away the soul from the body, and they discharge their responsibility without fail:
And He is the Irresistable (Supreme) over His servants, and He sends over you guardian angels until, when death comes to one of you, Our messengers take him —and they do not fail (in their duties). [Sûrah Al-An‘âm, 6:61]
The angels of death do not return empty handed. The assigned angel will return with the soul of the person to their Lord:
Say, “The angel of death who has been assigned for you will take your soul [as predestined]; then you will be brought back to your Lord.” [Sûrah Al-Sajda, 32:11]
No worldly protection can save anyone from the angel of death. Those of us who run away from fighting injustice out of anticipating repercussions, those who run away from fighting the enemy of Islam out of fearing death —they need to know that none can run away from the inevitable, even if they seek shelter in a fortified lofty tower:
Wheresoever you may be, death will overtake you even if you are in fortresses built up strong and high… [Sûrah Al-Nisâ’, 4:78]
Life and Death are Decreed
Decrees are divine injunctions; no one can change them except Him –if He so wills. The Holy Qur’an mentions five Decrees that are absolutes, far removed from human knowledge and intervention. They include the knowledge of the Hour, the knowledge of the weather and climate change, that of the creation in the mother’s womb, a person’s sustenance, and the place of his death:
…No person knows what he will earn tomorrow, and no person knows in what land he will die. Verily, Allah is All-Knower, All-Aware (of things) [Sûrah Al-Luqman, 31:34]
The Decrees are pre-recorded in a book, called the ‘Book of Decrees,’ preserved in the Presence of AllahSWT. This record is also called the “Preserved Tablet (Al-Lauḥ Al-Maḥfûẓ)”:
Rather, this [Qur‘an] is a glorious Heavenly Recitation (qur‘anun) [that you receive, O Prophet, and] in a [Heavenly] Tablet (lauḥ) [it is] well-preserved (maḥfûẓ). [Sûrah Al-Burûj 85:21-22]
Know you not that Allah knows all that is in the heavens and the earth? Verily it is all in a Book (kitâb)…. [Sûrah Al-Ḥajj, 22:70]
The knowledge in the Creator’s Book is unknown to the creation, therefore it is called the “Knowledge of the Ghaib” or the hidden knowledge. Human knowledge derives from Divine Knowledge, but it is very limited. Men know the fleeting present, but have no concrete knowledge of the future. In contrast, Allah’s Eternal Knowledge is comprehensive without any barrier of time. He knows the past, the present, and the future:
…He knows what happens to them (His creatures) in this world, and what will happen to them in the Hereafter. And they will never encompass anything of His Knowledge except that which He wills… [Sûrah Al- Baqarah, 2:255]
And with Him are the keys of the Ghaib (all that is hidden), and none knows them but Him. And He knows whatever there is in the land and in the sea; not a leaf falls, but He knows it. There is not a grain in the darkness of the earth, nor anything fresh or dry, but that it is written in a Clear Record. [Sûrah Al-An’am, 6:59]
According to a hadith, the Book of Decrees was written fifty thousand years before the creation of the heavens and the earth. (Ṣaḥîḥ Al-Muslim 2653)
In the Book, all events of the past, present and future, involving the universe and the creations, have been recorded: this record is the pre-registration of future events that a human creation will carry out, unknown to himself –since he has not come into existence yet– but known to AllahSWT. The recorded actss are not an arbitrary decision by AllahSWT, but they are the recordings of what a human creation will do with his free will, when he comes into existence; he/she will, in fact, do exactly what has been written in the Book of Decrees. The concept of a ‘pre-recording of future events’ is best understood from the following hadith of the Holy ProphetSAW:
…And by Allah, a person among you may do deeds of the Fire, till there is only a cubit or (‘an arm-breadth’) distance between him and the Fire but then that writing (which Allah has ordered the angels to write) proceeds, and he does the deeds of the people of Paradise and enters it; likewise, a man may do the deeds of the people of the Paradise till there is only a cubit or two left between him and Paradise, and that writing proceeds, and he does the deeds of the people of the Fire, and he enters it. (Ṣaḥîḥ Al-Bukhari 6594)
In the Hadith, what was written by the angels, as dictated by AllahSWT, was from Allah’s Eternal Knowledge of what the person will in fact do out of his own free will, not out of him following a script forced upon him. So, one’s final destination –the Fire or Paradise– is decided on the basis of our final actions, and, since the totality of acts have already been recorded, one’s Record can be understood as the pre-recording of his life’s journey, pointing to his future destination.