Reincarnation, as viewed by Islam

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Reincarnation, as viewed by Islam
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The reality of the Resurrection consists in this: the spirit, after having been separated from the body -by the will of God- is once again returned to that body in which it had lived previously; in order to experience, in another realm of existence, the reward or punishment elicited by his actions on earth.
'certain groups within different religions, and others outside the pale of all religion, deny the notion of Resurrection such as it is found in heavenly-inspired religions, but have accepted the principle of reward and punishment of actions, doing so in connection with the idea of reincarnation (tanasukh). They claim that the spirit attaches itself to a foetus, through the unfolding of whose life the spirit returns to this earth, going through the stages of childhood, maturity and old age; but, for one who had been virtuous in his previous life, a sweet life results, while for those who were wicked in their previous lives, a wretched life lies in store.

It must be understood that if all human souls traverse the path of reincarnation forever, there can be no place for the principle of Resurrection; while by both intellectual and traditionally transmitted evidence, belief in the Resurrection is an obligation. Indeed, it must be said that those who believe in reincarnation do so because they are incapable of conceiving of the Resurrection in a proper manner, and so have replaced it with the idea of reincarnation.

It must be understood that if all human souls traverse the path of reincarnation forever, there can be no place for the principle of Resurrection; while by both intellectual and traditionally transmitted evidence, belief in the Resurrection is an obligation. Indeed, it must be said that those who believe in reincarnation do so because they are incapable of conceiving of the Resurrection in a proper manner, and so have replaced it with the idea of reincarnation. There are extensive discussions regarding the falsity of this belief, and its incompatibility with Islam; we summarize some of these arguments below.

1. The soul of man attains at death a certain degree of completion. Thus, to be attached once more to a foetus requires, according to the principle of necessary harmony between the soul and the body, a descent of the soul from a degree of completeness to a degree of deficiency, and a return from a state of actuality to one of potentiality-something which contradicts the normal principle of the order of the created universe, an order based upon the movement of things towards their perfection, from potentiality to actuality. 1

2. If we accept the fact that a soul, after being separated from a body, finds itself joined to a different, living body, this would imply a plurality of souls within a single body, and a twofold personality; whereas such a phenomenon is clearly at odds with the perception that each person's conscience yields, that of possessing a single personality. 2

3. Belief in reincarnation, in addition to being contrary to the principles of order in the universe, can also be used by oppressors and opportunists as a means of legitimizing themselves, by claiming that their power and privilege are the consequences of their previous lives of virtue and rectitude; and that the misfortunes of the oppressed are, likewise, the consequences of their previous lives of wickedness. By such means they attempt to justify their evil actions and the inhuman injustices of the society over which they rule.

Belief in reincarnation, in addition to being contrary to the principles of order in the universe, can also be used by oppressors and opportunists as a means of legitimizing themselves, by claiming that their power and privilege are the consequences of their previous lives of virtue and rectitude; and that the misfortunes of the oppressed are, likewise, the consequences of their previous lives of wickedness. By such means they attempt to justify their evil actions and the inhuman injustices of the society over which they rule.

To conclude this discussion on reincarnation, it is necessary to answer a questions which is: According to a clear Qur'anic description, past communities were subject to transformation (maskh)-some persons became pigs, others monkeys:

Say, "Shall I inform you of [what is] worse than that as penalty from Allah? [It is that of] those whom Allah has cursed and with whom He became angry and made of them apes and pigs and slaves of Taghut (false deities and arrogant powers). Those are worse in position and further astray from the sound way."(Sura al-Ma'ida, 5:60) 3

If reincarnation is false, how could such transformations occur?
The answer is as follows: Transformation differs fundamentally from reincarnation as commonly understood. For, according to reincarnation, the spirit is joined, after separation from one body, with another body, or to a foetus; whilst in transformation, the spirit does not become separate from its body-rather, it is simply that the appearance and form of the body is transformed, so that the person is able to see his sins in the form of monkeys and pigs, and suffer thereby. In other words, the soul of a person who was a sinner does not descend from the state of humanity to that of animality. For, were such the case, the persons so transformed would not be able to grasp their suffering and punishment as such, whereas the whole point of this kind of transformation, as the Qur'an says, is that it be an exemplary punishment for sinners. 4

Transformation differs fundamentally from reincarnation as commonly understood. For, according to reincarnation, the spirit is joined, after separation from one body, with another body, or to a foetus; whilst in transformation, the spirit does not become separate from its body-rather, it is simply that the appearance and form of the body is transformed, so that the person is able to see his sins in the form of monkeys and pigs, and suffer thereby.

In this regard, Taftazani says:

'The true import of reincarnation is that souls of human beings become attached, after their separation from their respective bodies, to other bodies for the sake of governing over and possessing them, in this very world; it does not mean that the appearance of the body changes, as is the case in transformation.' 5

'Allama Tabataba'i also says:

'People who have been transformed are those who, while retaining their human spirit, are transformed as regards their form; transformation does not mean that the human soul is transformed also, becoming the soul of [for example] a monkey.'6
1· It must be borne in mind that the spirit of man will be attached to a complete body at the Resurrection; there is here a clear incompatibility with the idea of reincarnation, which would have the spirit attach itself to a foetus.
2. See 'Allama Abu Mansur Hasan al-Hilli, Kashf al-murad fi sharh tajrid al-i'tiqad (Qom, 1413/1992), maqsad 2, fasl 4, mas'ala 8; and Sadr al-Din al-Shirazi, al-Asfar al-arba', vol. 9, p. 10.
3. See also Sura al-A'raf, 7: 166: 'We said unto them: Be ye apes despised'.
4. We said unto them: Be ye apes, despised. And We made it an example to their own and to succeeding generations, and an admonition to the God-fearing, (Sura al-Baqara, 2:65-66)
5. Mas'ud b. 'Umar al-Taftazani, Sharh al-maqasid (Istanbul, 1305/
1886), vol. 3, p. 337.
6. Allama Tabataba'i, al-Mizzan, vol. 1, p. 209.
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Do not let your brother be stronger than you are in your amity for him.