Pre to Re-Birth: The Four Forms of Life in Islam

Here are two powerful verses that needs a mention for this topic.

Quran 2:28 ~ How can you disbelieve in Allah? Seeing that you were dead and He gave you life. Then He will give you death, then again He will bring you to life (on the Day of Resurrection) and then unto Him you will return. 

Quran 30:40 ~ Allah is the one who created you, then provided for you, then will cause you to die, and then will give you life. Are there any of your "partners" (idols, saints) who does anything of that? Exalted is He and high above what they associate with Him. 

With that as a context here are the four forms of life collated from The Quran and teachings of The Prophet (pbuh). Read below to know how are the other three forms of life different than our life in this world.

Form #1 : Life as a Soul, before Birth

Quran 7:172 ~ And (remember) when your Lord brought forth from the Children of Adam, from their loins, their descendants and made them testify to themselves (saying): "Am I not your Lord?" They said, "Yes! We testify." Lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection, "Verily, we have been unaware of this." 

The next verse indicates the excuse we might possibly give to Allah, if we went astray in this world, as a result of following our father's footsteps.
Quran 7:173 ~ Or lest you should say: "It was only our fathers took others as partners in worship along with Allah, and we were (merely their) descendants after them; will You then destroy us because of the deeds of men who practiced falsehood?"

With that context, here's how it all unfolded before we were brought to life in this world.
  1. When Allah finished conceptualizing the entire universe He created souls, each one of us. The soul of every person who will be born after Prophet Adam (a.s.) till the last person before the world is destroyed was created. 
  2. Then Allah gathered all the souls together, and he asked everyone, "Am I not your Lord?" All the souls unanimously said "You are our Lord. We testify." ~ Quran 7:172 ... Understanding this is key because in this one verse Allah snubs His creation by suggesting that we must not break our promise after being sent to this world. 
  3. Post this covenant He said when we are sent down into this world, each one of us should worship only Him. He also added we should follow His commandments that He will send via His Messengers and Prophets (see #3 here) and laid the rules to test mankind and jinns. 
  4. Then later Allah fashioned Prophet Adam (a.s) from sounding clay and breathed life into him. Subsequently He offered His obligatory duties to the heavens, the earth, the mountains and Prophet Adam (a.s). Only Prophet Adam (a.s) accepted the offer while others declined. See detailed explanation of Quran 33:72 here.
As the souls were created before bodies they used to meet one another. The Prophet (pbuh) said,
Souls are troops collected together and those who familiarised with each other (in the heaven from where these come) would have affinity, with one another (in the world) and those amongst them who opposed each other (in the Heaven) would also be divergent (in the world). ~ Muslim 45/204

In stage #2 when the souls have entered bodies (come to the physical realm) they may recognize one another from the past - see another hadith here. Quite sure this has happened with each one of us, i.e. when we meet a person for the first time in this world we experience an instant connect. We feel a sort of deep admiration and likeness for some people and also a kind of repulsion with some other people.

Form #2 : Physical Life in this World

Quran is a book of signs, full of evidences for those who want to believe. It outlines how one should lead life based on the commandments and teachings of The Prophet (pbuh). However here's one core message from the Quran for mankind and jinns. Other key messages from Allah here.
Quran 51:56 ~ I created the jinn and men only to worship Me.

In addition there many miracles from the Quran and Sahih Hadiths but we will limit to two miracles for this section. These are from the very early stages when the creation of life begins.

Baby's Gender: Father is responsible for it 

Until recently, it was thought that the gender of a baby was influenced by mother, when the fetus is in womb. Or at least, it was believed that the sex was determined by the male and female cells together. But Quran clearly states that masculinity or femininity is created out of "a drop of sperm". Here are the two verses that highlights father's role on this aspect; whether a new born is a boy or a girl. Scientifically this has been proven.

Quran, 53:45-46 ~ He has created both sexes, male and female from a drop of semen which has been ejected. 
Quran, 75:37-39 ~ Was he not a drop of ejaculated sperm, then a blood-clot (clinging in mother's womb) which He created and shaped, making from it both sexes, male and female?

Soul attached to fetus around the fourth month of pregnancy

Quran 23:13-14 ~ Then We placed him as a Nutfah (mixed drops of the male and female sexual discharge) in a place of rest (womb), firmly fixed. Then We made the Nutfah into a clinging clot, and We made the clot into a lump [of flesh], and We made [from] the lump, bones, and We covered the bones with flesh; then We developed him into another creation.
The last sentence "... then We developed him into another creation" means the time when the lifeless lump of flesh is given life by Allah. The approximate time of this event, i.e. around 4th month of gestation, is substantiated by this saying of The Prophet:

Each one of you is collected in the womb of his mother for forty days, and then turns into a clot for an equal period (of forty days) and turns into a piece of flesh for a similar period (of forty days) and then Allah sends an angel and orders him to write four things, i.e., his provision, his age, and whether he will be of the wretched or the blessed (in the Hereafter). Then the soul is breathed into him. ~ Bukhari 82/1

Post puberty the deeds on the man/woman are written down or recorded by the two angels (Kiraman Katibin), as described in The Quran. With all this Allah reminds man again and again of his lowly and inferior origins, of his first and subsequent creation, in order to cull his arrogance and reinforce his belief in Allah's absolute power of creation and resurrection. 

So long as we keep reminding ourselves of how we were created, how we were born, and how we came into existence from nothing, to ultimately grow bigger and take the shape of a functioning human being from the merger of two tiny cells, we will perhaps be able to stop doubting how Allah will put us back together in the Akhirah, day of resurrection, when the Hour is established.

Form #3 : Life After Death, Inside the Grave

Post burial we are brought to life once again inside the grave. The life in the grave is different from his life in this world; it is a special kind of life in Al-Barzakh (the interval between his death and the Day of Resurrection) which is not like his life in this world, where he needs food and drink. It is a special kind of life wherein one will repay or will get repaid (in part) for his deeds. However those who realize they turned a blind eye to Allah's commandments, while they were in the world, will instantly regret.

Quran 23:99-100 ~ Until, when death comes to one of them (those who join partners with Allah), he says: "My Lord! Send me back. So that I may do good in that which I have left behind!" No! It is but a word that he speaks, and behind them is Barzakh (a barrier) until the Day when they will be resurrected.

After death the record of the person is sent either to the heavens or deepest part of earth depending on the deeds he/she has done. The Quran describes these stations/records as Sijjin which is an evil person's record and Illiyin which is the record of a good person - more here and here.

Once a body is put to rest and the grave covered, two angels descends inside the grave and will ask the person 3 fundamental questions: Who is your Lord? What is your religion? Who is your Prophet?Depending upon how the person has responded and depending on his deeds in the world, the grave will be either one of the gardens of Paradise or one of the pits of Hell.
Aishah (ra) said: "I asked the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) about the torment of the grave, and he said, 'Yes, the torment of the grave is real.'" Aishah (ra) said: "After that I never saw the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) offer any prayer but he would seek refuge with Allah from the torment of the grave." ~ Nasai 13/130

It is reported that The Prophet (pbuh) used to seek refuge with Allah from the following 4 fitna after every prayer. One of them was seeking refuge from the torment of the grave.
"O Allah! I seek refuge with Thee from the torment of the Hell, from the torment of the grave, from the trial of life and death and from the evil of the trial of Masih al-Dajjal" ~ Bukhari 6375 | Muslim 5.162 | Tirmidhi 3604 | Nasa'i 5518

After the fundamental questions, the believer is questioned about how he spent his life, and also about the way he earned and spent his wealth. Some of the other reasons for this punishment include laziness in purifying oneself after urinating, creating mischief amongst the people, backbiting, bad behavior towards one’s family members, and making false allegations.

While there are many stories of the grave that can be covered, but due to brevity we will close this section with the following hadith. Reinforces that life exists (though in different form) inside the grave.
The Prophet (pbuh) said: "I passed by the grave of Musa (Moses), peace be upon him, and he was praying in his grave." ~ Nasai 20/36

Form #4 : Re-Birth, on The Day of Resurrection

There are lot of narrations that describes the minor and major signs before the coming of Qiyamah. In this section we will cover particularly what happens on the day of resurrection. But before we get into details here's a verse from The Quran that says Qiyamah will certainly come.
The Day when We will fold the heaven like the folding of a (written) sheet for the records. As We began the first creation, We will repeat it. (That is) a promise binding upon Us. Indeed, We will do it. ~ Quran 21:104

And elsewhere it goes on to say,
The day when they see it (Qiyamah), it will seem (to them) as if they had lived (in this world) only an evening or a morning... ~ Quran 79:46

A similar verse that is related, Allah will ask His slave when they are resurrected,
"How many years did you stay on the earth?"  They will say: "We stayed a day or part of a day...." ~ Quran 23:112-113

Thus when we are raised on Qiyamah, we will feel we barely spent time while we were alive, even though we might have lived for a 100 years. Compare this with us getting up from 7 hours of sleep but we have a feeling that we slept just a little while ago. A quick summary of how that day will look like.
  1. One day of Qiyamah is equivalent to 50,000 years ~ Quran 70:4 | Muslim 12/28
  2. The first person to be raised up on Qiyamah will be Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Everyone will be raised bare-footed, naked and not circumcised. The first to be dressed on that day will be Ibrahim (a.s). ~ Bukhari 60/29
  3. Every soul will be attached to their bodies. The unique identifier being our tailbone. ~ Muslim 54/178
  4. Most of us will be horrified on that day. Quran 22:2 states, "The Day you shall see it, every nursing mother will forget her nursling, and every pregnant one will drop her load, and you shall see mankind as in a drunken state, yet they will not be drunken, but severe will be the Torment of Allah."
  5. As the sun will be blazing hot and there will not be any shade, except the shade of Allah, only seven types of people will get the opportunity to be under the shade of Allah.
  6. Each one of us will be given our records. Those whose good deeds are more they will get their deed register in the right hand and those whose bad deeds are more than the good ones will get their deed register on the left hand. ~ Quran 56/7-11
  7. The people will be called by their father’s names. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “You will be called on the Day of Resurrection by your names and the names of your fathers, so choose good names for yourselves.” ~ Abu Dawud 4948
  8. Allah will give The Prophet (pbuh) the right to intercede on the behalf of a believer. 
  9. We all will stand in front of Allah to get judged based on how we conducted ourselves in the world and *if* we complied with the covenant we originally gave when we were first created (see Pre-birth #1 above).
More details about Qiyamah is available here.

To Summarize 

  • 1st life form: Pre-Birth ― As a soul when we were first created in the heavens. We had senses.
  • 2nd life form: Birth ― Our life in this world. 
  • 3rd life form: Post death ― Our life in the grave. We will have senses. 
  • 4th life form: Re-Birth ― Our resurrection on The Judgment Day. An everlasting life.

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