Disbelievers claim that it is impossible to understand certain issues through wisdom. Death, rising from the dead and the Hereafter, they claim, are amongst them.
We can draw parallels between these concepts and the phenomena of sleep and dreams. One who insistently denies that he will rise from the dead after death and constantly escapes from the thought of death, is in fact not aware that he experiences death every night in his sleep and likewise rises from the dead in the morning when he wakes up. The account provided by the Qur'an of sleep is of great help in understanding the subject. God describes sleep in the Qur'an as follows:
God takes back people's selves when their death arrives and those who have not yet died, while they are asleep. He keeps hold of those whose death has been decreed and sends the others back for a specified term. There are certainly Signs in that for people who reflect. (Surat az-Zumar: 42)
It is He who causes you to be (like) dead at night, while knowing the things you perpetrate by day, and then brings you back to life (wakes you up) again, so that a specified term may be fulfilled. Then you will return to Him. Then He will inform you about what you did. (Surat al-An'am: 60)
In the verses above, the state of sleeping is referred to as "death". No significant distinction is made between "death" and sleep. What, then, happens during sleep that has astonishing similarities with death?
Sleep is the departure of the human soul from the body that it occupies while it is awake. In dreaming, on the other hand, the soul acquires a totally different body and starts to perceive a totally different setting. We can never discern that this is a dream. We feel fear, regret, and pain, we become excited, or experience pleasure. In our dreams, we feel very assured that what befalls us is real and we often give the same responses as we give when we are awake.
If it were technically possible to intervene from outside and tell the dreamer that what he saw were mere feelings and illusions, he would simply ignore this warning and even think that he was being "mocked". However, in reality, these perceptions have no material correlates in the external world and what we experience in our dreams is the sum of the images and perceptions which God projects to our souls.
The most important point we need to keep in mind is the fact that the same divine law still applies when we wake up. God, in the Qur'an, affirms that dreams are under His will and control as stated in the verse: "Remember when God showed them (the unbelievers) to you in your dream as only a small band. If He had shown them to you as a great army, you would have lost heart and quarrelled about the matter; but God saved you. He knows what your hearts contain." (Surat al-Anfal: 43). The verse, "Remember when God made you see them as a few when you met them, and also made you seem few in their eyes. This was so that God could settle a matter whose result was preordained. All matters return to God." (Surat al-Anfal: 44) provides clear evidence that the same law applies to daily life. The fact that the perceptions and images we have of matter are entirely subject to the will and creation of God and that apart from them, there is no existence in the external world is stated in the following verse:
There was a sign for you in the two parties which met face to face, one party fighting in the Way of God and the other disbelievers. You saw them as twice their number with your own eyes. God reinforces with His help whoever He wills. There is instruction in that for people of insight. (Surah Al 'Imran:13)
Just as is in the case of dreams, what we experience in the course of daily life and matters we assume to exist externally are images projected to our souls by God, along with the feelings He makes us perceive simultaneously. Images and actions pertaining to our bodies as well as those of other beings exist because God creates the related images and perceptions frame by frame. This fact is explained in the Qur'an:
You did not kill them; it was God Who killed them; and you did not throw, when you threw; it was God Who threw: so He might test the believers with this excellent trial from Him. God is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (Surat al-Anfal: 17)
The same divine law applies to the creation of the Hereafter and the images and perceptions related to it. When death comes, all relations with this world and the body are broken. The soul, however, is eternal because God breathed His Spirit into it. Everything relating to life, death, resurrection and the life of the Hereafter consists merely of numerous perceptions felt by the eternal soul. That is why, in terms of basic reasoning, there is no significant distinction between the creation of this world and that of paradise or hell. Similarly, transition from this world to the Hereafter is no different from waking up from sleep and proceeding with daily life.
With resurrection, a new life begins in the Hereafter with a new body. Once the perceptions pertaining to paradise or hell are projected to the soul, the individual starts to experience them. God, the Creator of infinite images, voices, odours, tastes and feelings pertaining to this life, will, in like manner, create infinite images and feelings of paradise and hell. The creation of all these is easy for God:
...When he decides on something, He just says to it, 'Be!' and it is. (Surat al-Baqarah: 117)
Another fact to be noted is that just as life in this world appears in sharper relief than dreams, so does the Hereafter as compared to life in this world. Likewise, just as dreams are short compared to this life, so also is this life as compared to the Hereafter. As known, time is not static, as earlier supposed, but it is a relative concept. This is a fact which is verified by science today. In dreaming, an event assumed to go on for hours, lasts only for a few seconds. Even the longest dream is of only a few minutes duration. Yet, the one who has the dream assumes he has most probably spent days experiencing it. Reference is made in the Qur'an to the relativity of time:
The angels and the Spirit ascend to Him in a day whose length is fifty thousand years. (Surat al-Ma'arij: 4)
He directs the whole affair from heaven to earth. Then it will again ascend to Him on a Day whose length is a thousand years by the way you measure. (Surat as-Sajdah: 5)
Similarly, a person spending long years in this world actually lives a short life based on the time concept in the Hereafter. The following conversation during the judgement in the Hereafter is a good example of this:
He (God) will say, 'How many years did you tarry on the earth?' They will say, 'We tarried there for a day or part of a day. Ask those able to count!' He will say, 'You only tarried there for a little while, if you did but know! Did you suppose that We created you for amusement and that you would not return to Us?' (Surat al-Mu'minun: 112-115)
Since this is the case, it is evident that risking one's eternal life in return for this temporary one is an unwise choice. This becomes more clear when one considers the shortness of the worldly life in comparison to the Hereafter.
To sum up, the thing we call matter and assume to have an external existence is nothing but sensations projected to man's soul by God. A person believes that his body belongs to himself. However, the body is also nothing but an image which God projects to man's soul. God changes the images whenever he wishes. When the image of the body suddenly disappears and the soul starts to see new illusions, in other words, when one dies, the veil over the eyes is removed and then one realises that death is not disappearance as one had believed. This is stated in the Qur'an as follows:
The throes of death come revealing the truth.That is what you were trying to evade! The Trumpet will be blown. That is the Day of the Threat. Every soul shall come attended by one who will drive it on, and another to testify against it. One will say: 'You were heedless of this, so now We have stripped you of your covering and today your sight is sharp.' (Surah Qaf: 19-22)
Disbelievers thereby attain a better comprehension of the truth:
They will say, 'Alas for us! Who has raised us from our resting-place? This is what the All-Merciful promised us. The Messengers were telling the truth.' (Surah Ya sin: 52)
From then on, the disbeliever starts to experience great regret-the greatest of all regrets.