Is death a complete mystery? No-one has come back from death to relate his experience, so we might think there is no way of knowing what happens after we exit the world of the living. I’m not counting near death experiences because that’s what they are, “near death” experiences, and not death, i.e. real death. I believe that it is not a completely mystery, just as it’s not a mystery to figure out what distant planets, millions of light years away, or strange phenomena such as a black hole could be like.
It is possible to use our intellect, and the reliable testimonies from men and women who were identified as prophets or saints. We are in possession of thousands upon thousands of words of testimony from these men and women. These are women and men who firstly testified that they were in possession of a very special type of knowledge that transcends the knowledge obtained through direct observation or through rational deduction. We are speaking here about knowledge of a realm that transcends the physical world, and that can be referred to as metaphysical. But I’m not claiming here that the words of any con-artist psychic are to be relied upon. I have very strict conditions as to what the qualifications of a true prophet or saint should be. These qualities can be summarized as follows: Coherence, Consistence, Personal Integrity, Selflessness and Relevance.
Coherence: Their testimony must make overall sense, and all aspects of their testimony must support a central theme. Every single element of their testimony supports the central theme that they espouse.
Consistence: Every dimension of their lives, publicly and privately, when young and when old, reflects a consistent adherence to the ideas, ideals and values they espouse.
Personal Integrity: Absence of harmful or predatory behavior, dishonesty and hidden agendas in their lives.
Selflessness: Clear evidence of a life led in the service of others. Their life as a whole or in part was lived to generally cause an improvement in the existence of others, as opposed to primarily operating in fulfilling their own immediate personal goals.
Relevance: Clear evidence that their overall approach addressed the issues and the problems that faced their societies and humanity as a whole.
If I apply these basic qualifications to any fortune-teller, spiritualist, medium, psychic or clairvoyant alive today, probably all of them will fail the test in some way or another. This leaves us then with the famous historical personalities that played a central role in the established religious or spiritual orders in existence today.
The overwhelming majority of mankind alive today adheres to one of six religious or spiritual traditions, namely Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Animism. Atheists or Secularist traditions have been excluded because they exclude any meta-physical thinking from their worldview. So let’s consider the six great religious traditions. Between the first three mentioned, there is a great deal of overlap. The first three also are adhered to, to various degrees of commitment, by about half of humanity. It is also important to note that there is a high overlap between the first three, which I will refer to as the Abrahamic traditions. The overlap between the Abrahamic traditions occurs in the following areas: Reliance on revealed texts, commonality of the vast majority of the historical exponents of the central themes. These personalities include the men and women like Abraham, Moses, Mary, Jesus and Muhammad. There is therefore a great deal of coherence between these three. All three places a supreme, singular deity at the centre of their worldview, and seek to cultivate human behaviour that is in conformance of such a deity. They all embrace core values such as love, compassion and good, while shunning injustice and evil.
A questioner may question this position, by pointing at the vast animosity that exists between the three, but I would request a focus on the commonalities instead of the differences. After all, just because Rome, or the USA, or Britain or France experienced civil wars, does not mean that Rome or the USA, Britain or France does not represent a very central tradition. The wars and the infighting take place often on peripheral issues, which detracts from the sameness that really exists between people. In addition, 10 million people died in World War 1, and in 50 Million died in World War 2, when all the nations at war were essentially advancing secular goals, but this does not make the espouser of secularism deny the validity of core secular values.
There is virtually no contradiction in the core message of the Abrahamic protagonists. You can take the authenticated words of Moses, Jesus or Muhammad, and you will find that, when compensating for reasonable errors that crept in, in the process of transmission over many, many centuries, the core values are essentially the same.
Their coherence, consistence, personal Integrity, selflessness and relevance make the Abrahamic tradition’s protagonists the most reliable sources of revealed knowledge. As I mentioned earlier, we are in possession of thousands of pages of information that form part of the legacy of these protagonists. It is within this legacy that I am very confident of finding answers to the greatest question I have, namely “What happens when I die?” To deal with the discrepancies and minor contradictions, that will inevitably surface, I will resort to sound, rational thinking to guide the way forward.
There may still be some of you that find the reliance on men and women who claimed to be in receipt of “revealed” knowledge as nonsense. The sceptic may question how a divine being can communicate with a mortal person. To you, I want to put forward the following analogy. Given the sharing of correct mutual protocols, or mutual codes, two remote computers can very effectively share information. Given the sharing of the correct sharing of the same electromagnetic wave lengths, those two computers can share the same information, even without a visible connection. Given the correct encryption protocols between two computers, those two could share information, without it being detected by any other computer. What if a human mind, which is the most complex object in the universe, under special conditions, could become a decryption device that allowed for the receipt and un-coding of special information from a remote mind? This is exactly how I understand divine revelation. To disprove divine revelation, you will have to do more than just reject the proposed technology through which it occurs. If you do that, you are the same as the cave man calling a wi-fi network nonsensical magic. On those who try to disavow revelation, you have a task, no less than finding the message to be nonsensical.
We are now in a position to attempt to answer the initial question, “What happens to us when we die?”
In the Islamic tradition, death has been related to sleep. Al-Bara’ reported that whenever Allah’s Messenger (Muhammad) (ﷺ) went to bed, he said: ” O Allah, it is with Thine Name that I live and it is with Thine Name that I die.” And when he got up he used to say:” Praise is due to Allah, Who gave us life after our death (sleep) and unto Thee is resurrection” (Sahih Muslim 2711, In-book reference : Book 48, Hadith 80, USC-MSA web (English) reference : Book 35, Hadith 6549).
حَدَّثَنَا عُبَيْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ مُعَاذٍ، حَدَّثَنَا أَبِي، حَدَّثَنَا شُعْبَةُ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ أَبِي السَّفَرِ، عَنْ أَبِي بَكْرِ بْنِ أَبِي مُوسَى، عَنِ الْبَرَاءِ، أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم كَانَ إِذَا أَخَذَ مَضْجَعَهُ قَالَ ” اللَّهُمَّ بِاسْمِكَ أَحْيَا وَبِاسْمِكَ أَمُوتُ ” . وَإِذَا اسْتَيْقَظَ قَالَ ” الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي أَحْيَانَا بَعْدَ مَا أَمَاتَنَا وَإِلَيْهِ النُّشُورُ ” .
This is our first important clue as to what happens when we die. In this authenticated report from the Prophet, may peace be upon him, we learn that death is akin to sleeping. Let us discuss the implications of this report.
Every night, we experience death in a lesser form. We lay down, and, at some point lose consciousness. Our senses shut down, and we are removed from any further voluntary action in the world. This is exactly the experience that we can therefore contemplate when losing consciousness for a last time at the time of death. Now, there may be much dread about the painfulness of dying, but the process of dying is not painful, though the cause may be. The cause of death could be heart failure, drowing, or blood loss, which all may be painful, but the pain stops at the point where the nervous system becomes inactive. Pain is after all felt and transmitted through the nervous system. Death does not have to be painful. Death on an operating table, while under anesthesia is not painful, while death through a sudden massive trauma could be painful for a second or so. Death is the deepest sleep possible, so it is felt as a supreme, ultimate relaxing of all muscles.
The three Abrahamic traditions (with Judaism somewhat questionably so), support the idea of a resurrection of all humanity after death. This is understood to will be taking place as a grand singular event after all humanity have passed from the physical world. The grand event of resurrection will not only restore every person that ever lived, but will also restore him with all his earthly memories restored intact. Many versus in the Quran refer to this resurrection. One of these being ‘They will say, “O woe to us! Who has raised us up from our sleeping place?” [The reply will be], “This is what the Most Merciful had promised, and the messengers told the truth” (Quran 36:52). Another verse states “And [that they may know] that the Hour is coming – no doubt about it – and that Allah will resurrect those in the graves” (Quran 22:7). The New Testament also supports this view with verses such as “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40). In the Old Testament, we find the following words: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).
It is here that the atheist raises his biggest objection, claiming that it is impossible for a person, once dead and decomposed, to be regenerated, while maintaining all memories of his earthly existence. In verse 78 of chapter 36 in the Quran, God speaks and directly quotes the sentiments of the skeptics in the words: “He says: ‘Who will give life to bones while they are disintegrated?’’’
Let is therefore engage with this extraordinary claim made by our religious traditions. Can every person be resurrected completely, with all his or her earthly experiences intact? How can this be possible? This is certainly a colossal feat. It means that every voluntary action, ever performed is carefully recorded during our lives. Not only is every action ever undertaken recorded in the minutest of detail, but our very biological composition is carefully saved for future regeneration. How can this be possible?
To enter into this discussion, we have to consider the very constructed nature of man and his actions. From science, we have learnt that we are all composed of atoms. Atoms bond to form molecules. The most complex molecules are organic molecules. Organic molecules are the molecules that combine to form our organs. A living organism possesses trillions of molecules that function in various organs to form a functioning living system. The most complex molecule within a living organism if its DNA molecule. This molecule contains a detailed plan for the regeneration of the organism. In theory for now at least, it is possible to make a complete replica of a person, if you can obtain a perfect DNA molecule of that person. However, we will not argue that DNA of each person will be preserved in atomic form until the grand resurrection. We cannot do this simply because DNA may not survive the long time that may elapse from the time of death to the time of resurrection. I am however bringing in the concept of DNA as a perfect plan for the resurrection of a person in another way. This will be a more complicated process, which I will explain as follows.
There are some concepts that need to be explained firstly. The first of these is the absolute conservation of energy in the universe through the first law of thermodynamics. Wikipedia states that “The law of conservation of energy states that the total energy of an isolated system is constant; energy can be transformed from one form to another, but cannot be created or destroyed” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_law_of_thermodynamics). Matter is of course closely related to energy through Einstein’s equation E=mc2, which means that mass and energy are mutually convertible. It also means that mass (represented by matter or atoms or molecules) is convertible to energy.
A second concept that needs to highlighted here is the concept of Quantum Entanglement. This concept, is at present an active area of research within quantum physics, and refers to the instantaneous mimicking of the properties of quantum particles over vast distances (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_entanglement). These distances could be much as millions of light years away. Wikipedia states “It thus appears that one particle of an entangled pair “knows” what measurement has been performed on the other, and with what outcome, even though there is no known means for such information to be communicated between the particles, which at the time of measurement may be separated by arbitrarily large distances” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_entanglement).
A third concept that needs to be highlighted here is the concept of the Higgs Boson. The Higgs Boson was discovered in recent years by thousands of scientists who used data collected at the Large Hadron Collider, near Geneva, Switzerland. The Higgs Boson, in layman terms, refers to an unusual kind of field that exists throughout the universe, and which causes existing particles to acquire mass instead of new massless particles being formed (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higgs_boson). This means that mass is really an “acquired” property when particles are acted upon by the all-pervasive Higgs Boson. The Boson itself has no mass of its own, but “gives” mass to some particles that interact with it in special way. If you remove the Boson, you remove the property of mass.
Postulating the Preservation of an Individual and his or her life record…
Using the above scientific breakthroughs, we can now postulate a possible way in which our very beings are preserved for some future day (or moment) of resurrection. We are composed of atoms and particles, in constant motion. Every quantum particle in the universe can be exactly accounted for, from the first law of thermodynamics. My DNA molecule is nothing but billions of particles possessing unique properties and in a unique relation to one another. Though quantum entanglement, each of these billions of particles can influence billions of particles somewhere else in the universe, thus creating an identical equivalent of my DNA particles somewhere else in the universe. All that is needed is for an encryption-decryption device somewhere in the universe to summon those billions of particles to realign themselves to recreate my DNA. But if this can be postulated to regenerate DNA, then certainly it can be postulated to recreate the entire me. My aim is not to prescribe the process of resurrection, only to advance its plausibility in the light of modern quantum physics.
I have shown how it is plausible that our very beings can be regenerated at a future date. How can we postulate the complete preservation of all memory of our voluntary actions performed during our lives? Our voluntary actions are integrally connected to our conscious minds. Should our brain be resurrected, using the possible suggested route explained in the previous paragraph then we can also suggest that all memories could be resurrected along with our overall resurrection. After all, memories, according to science is nothing else but fine physical imprints deep within our brains.
I have shown that, at the very least, resurrection is not implausible. The sacred scriptures proclaim it as a promised fact and science cannot rule it out, based on the latest developments within quantum physics and cosmology. I remind you of the stringent qualifications that were required for those godly individuals who came to testify about the future resurrection.
Back to the initial question as to what happens to us when we die.
The scriptures establish two facts, firstly that death will be similar to entering a deep sleep, and secondly, that our very beings, including all our earthly memories will be regenerated at some distant future point.
So what happens from the time of death, to the time of resurrection? The scriptures mention numerous reports about experiences after dying. Often they speak about experiences in the grave. However, not every person that dies ends up in a grave. Some bodies are cremated or vaporized in other forms. So it is not really reasonable to refer to experiences, whether positive experiences or negative experiences “in the grave”. In fact, claiming this will create a discrepancy with regard to those who never end up in a grave. The lengthy torment spoken of by some religious traditions seems to also contradict a direct holy text. The Quran after all states: “And on the Day when He will gather them, [it will be] as if they had not remained but an hour of the day, [and] they will know each other. Those will have lost who denied the meeting with Allah and were not guided” (Quran 10:45). And hour is not enough to fit in all the punishment that is contemplated for the grave by some people.
Here is a rational proposed experience that conforms better to the holy texts. Using the analogy of deep sleep, which the texts relate to death. Once we die, we enter a deep sleep. When a person falls asleep, time stops as it were for that person. If you go to bed at 9:00 at night, enter a deep, satisfying sleep, and then awake at say 5 am the next morning, how much time have you perceived (while asleep)? The few people that I have asked, agree with me that it really feels only like a few moments. We awake at 5 am, clearly not having perceived the eight hours that we slept, as eight hours. It feels more like a few minutes. The eight hours have gone by as a few minutes. Time, namely the eight hours, has literally been shrunk to a few minutes. We can apply the same to death. When we depart from this life, our very next consciousness experience, which will, based on the text above (Quran 10:45), seem like an hour or so after we died, will be our regeneration into our former form. We will suddenly awake, regenerated, with memories and all, to face our new existence.
A follow-up post will explore the events that will transpire after we are regenerated.