Every human is accountable to God for his or her actions and intentions. “Every person’s fate is fastened to their neck and on the Day of Resurrection, We shall bring out an open book, saying, ‘Read your own book. You, yourself, can sufficiently read it’” (17:13-14)
Some claim this is the cause of the “culture of death” with which Islam imbues its followers, by which we mean an incessant focus by some Muslims on paradise and the life after death. This has been brought up especially in relation to suicidal Muslim militants who strap bombs on their chests and murder innocent people so they can have “seventy-two virgins” in paradise.
But Islam’s vivid end-time theology doesn’t exist so that Muslims can blow themselves up. Instead Islam exhorts its followers to live a righteous life on earth.
For example, the eighty-third chapter of the Qur’an begins with this passage: “Woe to the cheaters, who demand full measure when they receive from people, but short them when they measure or weigh for them. Don’t they think they’ll be resurrected for a trying day, the day when humankind will stand before the Lord of the universe?” (83:1-6). This means that a Muslim businessman who is cognizant of the afterlife would never even fathom misstating company earnings in order to inflate the stock price and line his pickets with ill-gained money. He would always remember God’s question: “Do they not think that they will be called to account?” On Judgment Day, all scores will be settled; all disputes will be mediated; all injustices will be corrected.
The presence of evil in the world makes the existence of a final day of reckoning a necessity. If we believe that God is ultimately just, it is impossible for so much injustice to exist in the world without some accountability. This does not mean Muslims must simply acquiesce to any injustice they see. Far from it. Islam demands Muslims right any injustice toward any human being, Muslim or otherwise, as mentioned by verses of the Qur’an such as this one: “Believers, be supporters of justice, as witnesses to God, even if it be against yourselves, or your parents or relatives; whether one be rich or poor” (4:135). If Muslims shirk this responsibility, then corruption will be widespread on earth. In fact if Muslims fail to fight injustice, they will be called to account by God for this failure on the day of judgment. Therefore, an injustice against anyone anywhere is an affront to every Muslim everywhere.
Since the hereafter is so strongly focused upon in Islam, the faith has a rich and colorful belief system about the end-time that includes angels, trumpets, terror, and fire. The Qur’an declares: “Their reckoning has drawn near for humanity, yet they turn away in heedlessness” (21:1). The day of judgment has signs, and the prophetic traditions are full of various events that must occur before the end of days. Many have come true, and others are yet to be fulfilled. In Muslim belief, the day of judgment will be preceded by a trumpet blast made by the angel Israfeel. This blast will render dead all that was alive, including the angels. The only one left will be God, who will then raise Israfeel from the dead, and he will blow on the trumpet a second time, which will herald the final day. For those who did not live righteous lives, the Qur’an tells us, it will be a day of unimaginable terror. In fact, it is this day that guides the conduct of Muslims on earth. For example, the Prophet Muhammad told us that on this last day, there will be someone who will have an enormous amount of good deeds, yet he has cursed and harmed some people during his life. These people will then come to him asking or their retribution. The only thing he can give them is his good deeds, and when they run out, the sins of those he harmed will be given to him. As a result, he will be condemned to hell. This story expresses the utmost importance of being good to others on earth, because we will be accountable. The Qur’an is full of vivid imagery on the day of judgment, to constantly remind us that we will be brought forth before God for judgment. This is one such passage:
When the sun is rolled up, and when the stars fall lusterless,
and when the mountains are blown away, and when the pregnant
camels are neglected, and when the wild beasts are herded, and
when the oceans are flooded, and when the souls are matched,
and when the infant girl who was buried alive is asked for what
offense she was killed: And when the pages are opened, and when
the sky is stripped, and when the blaze is fired up, and when
paradise is brought near, each soul will know what it has brought
These verses are read both in the ritual prayers … and personally by Muslims in their homes and mosques.
On the day of judgment, Muslims believe everybody received a book recording their deeds on earth—the writings of the angels who sit on the shoulders of each person. People who get the book presented to them in their right hand are sent to a life of eternal bliss in paradise. If, on the other hand, the book of deeds is presented behind the person’s back in the left hand, the person will cry: “Oh, if only I hadn’t been handed my record and never knew what my account was. Oh, if only that had been the end! My property has been of no avail to me, my power has passed from me” (69:25-29) Then, the command of God will be given: “Seize him and bind him, and let him burn in the blaze” (69:30-31).