This article is written in response to Sam Harris’s “This Must Be Heaven” .
I have been thinking of the issue of afterlife for quite a while now, and I read various articles about it written both from the religious (particularly Islamic) and scientific point of view. In particular I recently read Robert Lanza’s account of death and afterlife, the main idea of which is that we never really die. I also saw your talk titled “death and the present moment”, in which you assert that we live in nothingness once we die. It is vey interesting to see that you have brought up this article too. I think that this article is very informative, for me at least. Before reading this article I did not know about psychedelics or their ability to induce states to the human consciousness that you have talked about. Similarly, since I am not a neuroscientist by profession, I do not know what really constitutes a near death experience even though I have read about it before and its asserted connection with some possible afterlife. I also do not know that if it is an extremely honest thing to correlate a near death experience with an actual death experience. I have personally never had a spiritual experience of the sense you have stated, by your use of psychedelics, or the ones that are reported by spiritual masters of various religions (like Islam, Christianity and Hinduism etc.). So hearing or reading an account of that is also a new experience for me.
I have nonetheless become quite concerned about this never ending discussion about afterlife, existence of God, human freedom and morality etc. The reason for this is that since we obviously live in a time where our world is extremely globalized in the sense that everything that happens in the world nowadays, an account of that spreads across the globe within a blink of an eye. We know everything about so many cultures now that nothing is really a secret. And we tend to get affected, in good and bad ways, by whatever is happening around us. I think that it has become important that we discuss and try to solve matters that affect humanity. Religion, I believe, is the most important of such matters.
I believe that it is irrelevant if either I or you or Alexander win or loose a debate. I think what is important is to find the truth, no matter what it is. To this end, it would be very interesting to actually know, beyond blind belief, that whether God, and consequently afterlife, exists or not. This is not that easy of an expedition to undertake. Specially, after having read your article I tend to appreciate more the limits of clinical trials of near death experience. And even if a near-perfect near death experience were to be conducted, a smart guy like you could justifiably argue about the authenticity of that. Indeed, to quench the thirst of intellectual curiosity is a difficult job to undertake. The conclusion we are left with at the moment, however, is that an after life may or may not exist. I believe that given our our current knowledge of such matters, this is the most rational stance.
But let’s not shy away from what Islam has to say on this. And that too in full knowledge of what is happening around us. This is to say that let us see as to what Islam has to say in spite of what happened to Malaala Yousafzai very recently. This is also very important to understand because not only that, like all other religions, Islam claims to be the true religion of God, it is extremely blunt about the falsity of other religions. I also think that it is important because Islam, as a religion, is under tight scrutiny in the West. You, Sam Harris, are, in point of view, the harshest and worst critic of Islam at the moment. Indeed, the points you raise in some of your books and articles are hard to be refuted. This includes the all time open issue of the existence of God. Islam, nonetheless, is not a secret religion. Everything about Islam is now available on the Internet. This also includes, the rules on jihad (with sword) and apostasy laws. Islam needs to be discussed. I believe that this would not be a futile effort and despite the fact that many people are strongly opinionated about the various doctrines they like to believe in or otherwise, I believe that even among them there is a large number of people who are openminded viz a viz faith literacy. And that whether a person believes in one doctrine or the other, I believe that it is not a bad idea to be faith literate.
Recently I came across a book on Islamic spirituality named “Irfan”, which literally means wisdom. This is one of the various books I have read on religion and spirituality. I believe that as far as Islamic spirituality is concerned, this is the most comprehensive book I have read so far. It has two volumes and the first one has also been translated to English. The facebook page of the book can be found here. The table of contents of the book include, and is not limited to (1) Proof of existence of God (Allah). (2) The important relationship between God and human beings. (3) The answer to the question that if God exists then why can He not be felt or known. (4) The thoughts of famous European scholars and scientists in relation to the identity of God. (5) An eye opening discussion on the reality of soul. (6) The relation between soul and breathe. (7) The comparison between science and religion. (8) The explanation of the Quranic verse that, “verily only in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find peace”. (9) The rationale behind the eternity of human soul. (10) Reality of dreams and the difference between the dreams of common and virtuous people. (11) A discussion on the psychospiritual organs of human beings. (12) Origin of mesmerism and hypnotism. (13) Purpose of life and need for remembrance of Allah. (14) A discussion on telepathy. (15) The reason behind fear in the heart of believer at the time of death. (16) On the false idea of some people that sufism is only a conglomeration of various superstitions, thoughts and ideas. (17) On invocation of jinns, angels and souls. (18) And various chapters on polytheism, atheism, Hinduism and other religions. (19) On Jehad (20) Meditation.
The book contains many more chapters. I have just listed here a few for the purpose of brevity. Overall, the book covers almost every aspect of Islamic spirituality. The purpose I have introduced it here is not to counter argue with Sam or Alexander (about atheism or Christianity, so to say). The purpose, thus, is also not to prove a supremacy of the book or the Islamic belief system as well. The purpose is to inform the keen reader, who may be a Muslim or a non-Muslim about the existence of such a book on Islamic spirituality. The book obviously addresses jihad along with other aspects of Islam, such as what constitutes worship and a way of life. The book extensively deals with souls and jinns. The keen reader may then form a more clear opinion about Islam. The book was first published in 1942. Another purpose behind citing this book is that many a times I read about spirituality in an atheistic sense, specially on the blogs of Sam Harris, he explicitly defies the connections of the term with medieval superstition and connects it to some normal, natural breathing practice. The idea behind advocating such spirituality and meditation is primarily to empty one’s mind. Such meditation, for instance, can be done by breathing in the word “Tea” and breathing out “Spoon”. Islamic meditation, on the other hand, is done, for instance, by breathing in “Allah” and breathing out “Hoo”. The idea behind both is to get peace of mind. But proponents of Islamic spirituality consider it only as one of the many secondary or even tertiary benefits. The primary purpose is to attain proximity to God. And the spiritual experience, of which Sam Harris is skeptical, and which I have never had to be honest, is only a secondary byproduct.
I nonetheless find it interesting and important to share this information for so many reasons. Some of them can be gleaned from the paragraphs above. I think that it is time that we, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, study Islam more thoroughly as it is playing pivotal role in shaping modern history. I believe that we all should agree that Islam is an important religion even if some of us do not consider it to be true.
If you found an error, highlight it and press Shift + Enter or click here to inform us.