This week, All Things Considered is talking with leaders from different faiths about their perspectives on the afterlife. NPR's Robert Siegel spoke with Mufti Asif Umar, a Muslim scholar and imam of the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis, about what Muslims believe and about his own beliefs.
Umar, the 29-year-old son of Indian immigrants, said Muslims believe that when a person dies, two angels appear and ask that person three questions about his or her faith. Those questions, Umar says, have correct answers.
On what happens when one answers the questions
Once these questions are answered [correctly], then [the person] will be shown by those two angels their place in paradise. A door will open inside their grave, and it will be said to them that, "Yes, you have answered correctly." And this will be the abode that will be prepared for them once the judgment day is over.
So the place of the grave will then be a source of comfort to that person. Just as a mother holds her child very close to her, that sense of comfort that the child feels — this is the sense of comfort that a believer will feel inside his or her grave.
[If the questions are not answered correctly], the grave will tighten on them so much and ... the ribs will be crushed. ... That's if a person was a disbeliever.
On how a person's good and bad deeds will be weighed
There are sayings of the Prophet Muhammad which mention that each person will be asked certain questions, like, "How did you spend your life and how did you spend your youth? How did you earn your wealth and how did you spend it?"
And they will have to answer in front of God. And then, at the same time, the different acts will be judged. For example, the first thing that God will judge a person on will be their prayers. Did they pray to God? Did they pray to only one god?
Whatever good deeds the person has, versus their bad deeds, we believe that they will be put in a scale. So if the good deeds outweigh the bad deeds, then they will be considered successful, whereas if the bad deeds outweigh the good deeds, then they will be punished.
On what ultimately happens to someone sent to the hellfire
The only sin that Muslims believe is not forgivable by God is the sin of associating partners with him. So, for those who committed many sins in this world, but they still had the belief in one God in their heart, they may face some time in the fire of hell, but eventually we do believe that it is possible to be removed from the hellfire after serving their punishment.
There's actually a saying, again of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, which mentions that the last person to be taken out from the hellfire who has just an atom's weight of belief in their heart, even the lowest of paradise for that last person will be 10 times larger than this world, and its valuables will be 10 times more valuable than everything contained in this world from its beginning until its end.
So if that's the lowest paradise, one can just imagine how large the greatest paradise would be.
On whether virgins await people who die as martyrs
Anyone who dies as a true martyr in Islam, will, of course, enjoy the pleasures of paradise. And one of the pleasures of paradise is maidservants, and ... any type of desire that one wants to fulfill in paradise, one will get to enjoy. And this is what God has mentioned in the Quran.
But again, when we're talking about a martyr, we're not talking about someone who has committed an act against innocent people ... for example, a suicide bomber. This is not the belief in Islam at all. It's completely against the teachings of Islam.
On meeting loved ones in the afterlife
For those of our loved ones who will be fortunate to be in paradise, if we are fortunate to be in paradise as well ... they will be able to meet up with each other. And just as in this world a group of friends gets together and sits down [and] has a nice conversation, inhabitants of paradise will be able to get together and have these types of conversations, in their palaces or in their abodes that God has prepared for them. ...
Whatever the soul wishes for and desires in paradise, then that will be there.
On how paradise might look
In the Quran, God does give some descriptions of paradise. But even by the descriptions, we can't imagine how the certain things that have been described in paradise — how beautiful they are. Or we can't imagine how severe the torment of the hellfire is.
There are certain verses in the Quran which describe torments of the hellfire, and some beautiful descriptions of paradise. But even by those descriptions, we cannot imagine the true beauty of it until one actually sees it.
All Things Considered is collecting stories all week about what you think happens when you die. To join the conversation, please use the comments below or send a message on Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook using the hashtag #nprafterlife.
Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.