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Death, Resurrection, and Human Destiny

Death, Resurrection, and Human Destiny: Christian and Muslim Perspectives

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Death, Resurrection, and Human Destiny
    Book Description:

    Death, Resurrection, and Human Destiny: Christian and Muslim Perspectivesis a record of the 2012 Building Bridges seminar for leading Christian and Muslim scholars, convened by Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury. The essays in this volume explore what the Bible and Qur?an-and the Christian and Islamic theological traditions-have to say about death, resurrection, and human destiny. Special attention is given to the writings of al-Ghazali and Dante. Other essays explore the notion of the good death. Funeral practices of each tradition are explained. Relevant texts are included with commentary, as are personal reflections on death by several of the seminar participants. An account of the informal conversations at the seminar conveys a vivid sense of the lively, penetrating, but respectful dialogue which took place. Three short pieces by Rowan Williams provide his opening comments at the seminar and his reflections on its proceedings. The volume also contains an analysis of the Building Bridges Seminar after a decade of his leadership.

    eISBN: 978-1-62616-055-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Participants
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xx)

    In his final year as Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams convened the eleventh annual Building Bridges seminar for Christian and Muslim scholars, on the theme of “Death, Resurrection, and Human Destiny.” The seminar lasted from April 23–25, 2012; the first day was dedicated to public lectures at King’s College London while the second and third days consisted of private sessions at the Canterbury Cathedral Lodge for the group of some thirty invited seminar participants.

    This record of the seminar closely follows the structure of its three days. The Preface draws on comments made by Rowan Williams in introducing...

  6. Preface
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  7. Part I: Surveys

    • Death, Resurrection, and Human Destiny in the Bible
      (pp. 3-24)
      N. T. WRIGHT

      The classic Christian belief about God’s ultimate destiny for his human creatures is the resurrection of the body. Many are therefore surprised to discover that belief in resurrection hardly features in the Old Testament at all. By the time of Jesus it was, in fact, a topic of controversy among different Jewish parties, with the conservative Sadducees rejecting it, the more radical Pharisees embracing it, and other Jewish groups and individuals remaining ambiguous or opting for some form of Platonism.¹

      The controversy between Pharisees and Sadducees highlights a key element in the biblical vision of life beyond the grave, and...

    • Death, Resurrection, and Human Destiny: Qurʾānic and Islamic Perspectives
      (pp. 25-42)

      Most of us would agree that love and death are the biggest stories in our lives. Both consume our beings in different ways for, as one popular poem expresses it, “One takes your heart, the other takes its beat.” Yet, while we think frequently about love and death, they both come to us uninvited and we find ourselves ready for neither, certainly not for death.

      The question of what happens to us beyond death is one of the most engaging issues for humankind and forms a key theme in both Christianity and Islam. Whether it is understood as part of...

    • Death, Resurrection, and Human Destiny in the Islamic Tradition
      (pp. 43-60)

      Islamic tradition is defined here as consisting of extra-Qurʾānic sources—the ḥadīth corpus, containing the statements of the Prophet Muḥammad; thetafsīror exegetical works; and ethical or edifying literature that provides moral counsel and guidance for the educated Muslim. Since these genres include a prodigious amount of material and it would be impossible to do full justice to it, I will restrict my discussion to selective primary sources and attempt to provide a broad overview of some of the major themes included under the topics of death, resurrection, and human destiny, particularly in the premodern literature.

      The constant remembrance...

    • Death, Resurrection, and Human Destiny in the Christian Tradition
      (pp. 61-78)

      Any survey of Christian belief about death, resurrection, and human destiny in the Christian tradition has to be selective by necessity. In his essay in this volume examining the biblical material, N. T. Wright reminds us of the centrality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ for Christian hope, and reminds us that the eschatological expectation of the earliest Christians did not necessarily coincide with what later generations of Christians believed. We need to note further that the later division of Christianity, between the Greek East and the Latin West, and the fracturing of Western Christianity at the Reformation, also gave...

    • Dying Well: Christian Faith and Practice
      (pp. 79-98)

      I have been invited to reflect on actual Christian practice today, rather than on what “should” be believed and practiced. My reflections cannot convey the wealth of Christian practices around dying, which vary across the world, across denominations, and even within a single congregation. I take “the West” as my context, in which the wider culture is simultaneously secularized, such that for many people and institutions the church is barely a reference point, and also multifaith, in which health care governs most dying, and in which the term “spirituality” has more currency than “faith.”

      “Everything in town goes on as...

    • A Muslim’s Perspective on the Good Death, Resurrection, and Human Destiny
      (pp. 99-110)

      Before we even discuss death and what comes after, let alone attempt to analyze what might be a good death from a Muslim perspective, it’s worth raising the difficult question of the horror of death and the consolation and hope that religion provides against it. At least since Plato in the European metaphysical tradition and in the foundational scriptures of what became the Abrahamic faiths of the Near East, one of the central roles of philosophy and religion was to make sense of and overcome death, the corruption and annihilation of the flesh. We see death as an end, a...

    • Death and the Love of Life: A Response to Sajjad Rizvi
      (pp. 111-116)

      “Your young people love life,” said Mullah Omar of the Taliban in Afghanistan about the youth of the West; “our young people love death.” In Europe too, less than a century ago, a fascist general during the Spanish civil war exclaimed, “¡Viva la muerte!” (“Long live death!”). Though the terrorist ideologue and the fascist general were good at moving young men to wreak havoc on others and destroy themselves, they were bad interpreters of the religious traditions with which they are associated, Islam and Christianity.

      The Christian faith is a religion of life.¹ In the Gospel of John, Jesus says,...

    • Reflections
      (pp. 117-122)

      In the following reflections, I shall comment on six themes that have emerged during the course of today’s discussion, and that I hope may be explored more fully in the course of this seminar.¹

      I shall begin with practical and pastoral questions around death and dying raised by Harriet Harris and Sajjad Rizvi. It struck me very strongly, listening to them both, that there was a question about how and whether weownour death. We live in a culture where “ownership” is often seen as the most significant relationship we ever have to anything, and I suspect that some...

  8. Part II: Texts and Commentaries

    • I Corinthians 15
      (pp. 125-128)

      ¹Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, ²through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.

      ³For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, ⁴and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures,...

    • St. Paul on the Resurrection: I Corinthians 15
      (pp. 129-142)

      Corinth was one of the most important cities in the ancient world. Straddling the narrow isthmus between the southern mass of the Peloponnese and the famous city of Athens to the north and on to the mountains, connecting to Europe, Corinth had two harbors: Cenchreae, facing east across the Saronic Gulf toward the eastern Mediterranean and Asia, and Lechaeum to the west, at the end of the Corinthian Gulf leading to Italy. Across the four miles of a narrow land bridge was built thediolkoscauseway to transport cargo, or even smaller ships, to avoid the long, dangerous sea voyage...

    • Selected Qur’ānic Texts
      (pp. 143-152)

      ¹Exalted is He who holds all control in His hands; who has power over all things; ²who created death and life to test you and reveal which of you does best—He is the Mighty, the Forgiving.

      35Every soul is certain to taste death: We test you all through the bad and the good, and to Us you will all return.

      ⁵People, [remember,] if you doubt the Resurrection, that We created you from dust, then a drop of fluid, then a clinging form, then a lump of flesh, both shaped and unshaped: We mean to make [Our power clear] to...

    • Selected Passages from al-Ghazālī’s The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife
      (pp. 153-160)

      1. Know that the heart of the man who is engrossed in this world and is given over to its vanities and harbours love for its appetites must certainly be neglectful of the remembrance of death. Thus failing to recall it, when reminded of it he finds it odious and shies away. (7)

      2. The Emissary of God (may God bless him and grant him peace) once went out to the mosque and noticed a group of people talking and laughing. “Remember death!” he said. “By Him in Whose hand lies my soul, if you knew what I know you would laugh...

    • Al-Ghazālī on Death
      (pp. 161-166)

      “Who speaks for Islam?” is, in interfaith discussions as in the general assessment of what is normative in history and Islam’s present-day reality, a question that must be variously answered. Traditional Catholicism could title Aquinas the “Angelic Doctor” and set a magisterial seal of approval on his oeuvre; but for Islam, the decentered nature of religious authority into a madrassa-based establishment in some respects resembling the rabbinate, has always militated against the emergence of a unanimous Muslim vote. Still, to judge by the number and geographical extent of manuscript copies of his work, and the very widespread acknowledgment of his...

    • Selected Passages from Dante’s The Divine Comedy
      (pp. 167-178)

      “THROUGH me you pass into the city of woe:

      Through me you pass into eternal pain:

      Through me among the people lost for aye.

      Justice the founder of my fabric mov’d:

      To rear me was the task of power divine,

      Supremest wisdom, and primeval love.

      Before me things create were none, save things

      Eternal, and eternal I endure.

      All hope abandon ye who enter here.”

      At hearing which downward I bent my looks,

      And held them there so long, that the bard cried:

      “What art thou pond’ring?” I in answer thus:

      “Alas! by what sweet thoughts, what fond desire


    • The Afterlife as Presented by Dante Alighieri in The Divine Comedy
      (pp. 179-186)

      Dante Alighieri, born in Florence in 1265, was not only a poet but also a political leader in his native city, from which he was exiled by opposing political factions in 1301. His great poemThe Divine Comedynarrates his journey through life as an exile longing to return home, mirroring humankind’s own journey from exile.¹ Expelled from earthly Paradise, the Garden of Eden, after the original sin of the first human parents, Adam and Eve, this exiled humanity longs to return home to God. Dante situates his vision of the journey from this life on earth to life after...

    • Selected Passages from Journey to the Afterlife
      (pp. 187-194)

      THE time lapse between death and burial should be short; after the death the deceased should be buried as soon as possible. The body should not be kept for too long unnecessarily. Postmortem should not be allowed; the Prophet (PBUH¹) said “Breaking a bone of a dead person is like breaking a bone of a living person” (Tirmidhi). It is against the dignity of a Muslim.

      Immediately after the death, preparations are made for washing the body, shrouding, the funeral prayer and the burial.

      To wash (ghusl) the dead body is a communal obligation (fardun kifayah). Someone from the community...

    • Muslim Funerals
      (pp. 195-202)

      Islamic funeral rituals are performed in a set order prescribed and demonstrated by the Prophet Muḥammad (PBUH¹), from whom they have been passed down from generation to generation, remaining unchanged over the past fourteen centuries. As well as connecting Muslims to their glorious past, Islamic funeral rituals, which are performed in the same way throughout the world, are an enactment of Islam’s doctrinal, moral, and social teachings concerning death, ultimate human destiny, the dignity of the deceased, and the need to care for the bereaved and unite Muslims everywhere in a profound sense of solidarity. These rituals give the faithful...

    • Contemporary Funeral Liturgy in the Church of England
      (pp. 203-220)

      The following material is from the Church of England’s website, from the section on baptisms, weddings, and funerals.¹ It is reproduced here with minor presentational adaptations and has been arranged in four sections:

      Funerals: Some introductory remarks.

      The Funeral Service: An explanatory outline of the funeral service.

      The Funeral Service: The funeral liturgy fromCommon Worship, including a range of options at various points in the service. This constitutes most of the material presented here.

      Notes on the Funeral Service.

      There is much else on the website that can be explored—including, for example, the rather different funeral liturgy in...

    • Christian Funerals
      (pp. 221-230)

      The several purposes of a Christian funeral are succinctly set out in the introduction that the minister gives to theCommon Worshipservice of the Church of England (printed earlier): “to remember before God our sisterN; to give thanks for her life; to commend her to God … ; to commit her body … ; and to comfort one another in our grief.” Remembrance, thanksgiving, commendation, committal, and consolation are distinguishable activities, and at least some of the verbs associated with them have different objects—most obviously, it is the dead who are commended and the living who are...

    • Conversations in Canterbury
      (pp. 231-240)

      This volume consists mainly of edited versions of the various papers and responses to papers that were prepared before the seminar and delivered in either public or private sessions in the course of its three days. However, a great deal of the seminar was naturally given over to unscripted discussion and conversation. On the first day of the seminar, lectures were delivered at King’s College London in sessions open to the public, with opportunity for questions to the speakers from a large audience. Video recordings of these sessions are available on the Building Bridges website.¹ For its second and third...

  9. Afterword
    (pp. 241-244)

    Talking about death, resurrection, and judgment helps us see more clearly what we really believe about God and about ourselves. The reflections in this book will, I hope, help to explain how and why this is so. If we truly believe that God is (literally) indescribably holy, living in the absolute integrity of love and justice, we shall approach our encounter with him in a spirit that is sober, even somber: “who shall stand when he appeareth?” asks the prophet Malachi (3:2). We cannot but expect the pain of a contact between what is holy and what is compromised, weak,...

  10. Personal Reflections on Death
    (pp. 245-258)

    The following contributions by seminar participants, printed here anonymously, were written before the seminar in response to the question: In your experience, what resources has your faith given you for responding to the deaths of others and/or the prospect of your own death?

    My grandmother sought to teach me her faith throughout her life, but it was her death which finally convinced me. In working through my grief about losing her, I examined the evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus and I found that brought me a real sense of consolation and hope. As someone studying ancient history,...

  11. A Decade of Appreciative Conversation: The Building Bridges Seminar under Rowan Williams
    (pp. 259-274)

    “In the months following that appalling catastrophe,” explained Rowan Williams, reflecting on his decade as convenor of the Building Bridges Seminar, “my predecessor … believed it necessary to draw together as many as possible of the representatives of Christianity and Islam who were willing to engage seriously with each other about mutual understanding and cooperation in a very fragile global situation.‭”¹ In January 2002, as one response to the catastrophic 9/11 attacks on the United States, Archbishop George Carey, with cohosts Prime Minister Tony Blair and HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, invited thirty-eight Christians and Muslims to...

  12. Index
    (pp. 275-288)