A Place Between Two Places: The Qur'an's Intermediate State and the Early History of the Barzakh
For those who believe in a future resurrection of the body, there naturally arises the question of what happens after death but before the end of time. This condition is the intermediate state. For most Muslims, the intermediate state is called the barzakh. It is a fantastical and frightening time in the grave, often equated to Purgatory in Christianity. Muslims throughout history and today have discussed this belief and expressed it in many forms. In the theological turmoil of the early Islamic Middle Ages, it even became a touchstone of orthodoxy: to be a true Muslim was to believe in the barzakh. But where does the medieval/modern belief in the barzakh come from? While the word barzakh does appear in the Qur'an three times, it is never explained there in detail. The Qur'an's primal audience is expected to understand this word without further comment. Using the methodologies of comparative religion and oral compositional forms (ring structure, chiasms, parallelisms), this project aims to show what the Qur'an meant by barzakh in the 7th century. A long study will be given on the Qur'an's eighteenth sura, al-Kahf. Fifteen other suras will be examined as well. I will argue that the Qur'anic barzakh is an eschatological cosmology designed specifically to nullify saint cults and the cult of the divine Christ by putting the dead into a sleep state. From here, the belief in the barzakh will be shown passing through early Islamic history and culminating in the distinctive eschatological claims of the Islamic Middle Ages.
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