What does Imam Ahmed Al Hassan PBUH say about Karma?
“I am the owner of my karma.
I inherit my karma.
I am born of my karma.
I am related to my karma.
I live supported by my karma.
Whatever karma I create, whether good or evil, that I shall inherit.”
-The Buddha, Anguttara Nikaya V.57 – Upajjhatthana Sutta
The Sanskrit word karma literally means “action” or “deed” and this explains something important about the way it works: it is determined by our own actions, in particular by the motives behind intentional actions. Whatever you do, good or bad, will eventually come back to you. It is like a law of nature. And like ripples on a pond, karma tends to continue in many different directions once it is set in motion. You’ve likely heard of this concept before. The term “karma” and its relative term “reincarnation” are almost exclusively associated with Eastern religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Taoism. But it doesn’t begin or end there.
The belief in reincarnation dates as far back as the ancient Egyptians and Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato all held a belief in spiritual rebirth or transmigration of the soul.
But did you know that these ideas are also present in the teachings of Islam?
Although the modern Muslim scholars refute the concept of karma and reincarnation, the evidence is hidden in plain sight. The Holy Quran states,
“And you were dead, and He brought you back to life. And He shall cause you to die, and shall bring you back to life, and in the end shall gather you unto Himself.” (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:28)
What this Surah describes sounds a great deal like samsara. Buddhists and followers of Hinduism both believe that all creatures are caught in samsara – the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. What determines our status in this chain is our Karma, past and present. Our past actions affect us either positively or negatively and our present actions will affect us in the future. So what, exactly, is the beholder of karma? Followers of Hinduism believe in the existence of a soul, which is eternal, invisible, imperishable, and unchanging. It exists beyond the grasp of the mind and the senses. Hindus call it Atma or Atman, the breathing one who is deep inside and the witness to all that happens.
This eternal entity transmigrates based on the law of karma, each with its own unique destiny based on the thoughts and actions committed over its lifetimes. Buddhists believe in an energetic force called Alaya-vijnana, which causes rebirth. Only this “store consciousness” continues in the cycle of rebirth. The Buddhist take on karma can be understood through the metaphor of a garden. Like seeds in a garden, your actions are planted in the “Store Consciousness,” ready to be watered and grow due to causes and conditions. This can happen when conditions are ‘right’ in your current life or continue on during the cycle of rebirth. For any seeds that do not bloom in your current life, they still continue on in your consciousness. Buddhists and Hindus may use different terms to describe it but the concept is the same. They are speaking about the soul. It is an eternal energy, a consciousness, which never dies. In Islamic tradition the soul is called the “Ruh” and it is differentiated from the “Nafs” or ego.
When Imam Ahmed Al Hassan (pbuh) was asked if the concept of reincarnation is true, he (pbuh) answered,
“It is true. The soul never dies.“
The journey of the soul is, in fact, never ending. The soul inhabits one body after another during its evolutionary journey guided by its karma. You might assume that a soul, which incarnates in a human form, will come back in a human body in the next life and never reincarnate as a lower species.
However, according to both Buddhist and Hindu doctrines, this is simply not the case. Gautama Buddha taught that rebirth does not necessarily take place as another human being, but as an existence in one of six different realms. These realms of rebirth include Deva (the heavenly), Asura (the demigod), Mansuya (the human), Tiryak (the animals), Preta (the ghost), and Naraka (the residents of hell). Hindus believe in a similar arrangement.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna explains,
“When one dies in the mode of goodness, he attains to the pure higher planets. When one dies in the mode of passion, he takes birth among those engaged in fruitive activities; and when he dies in the mode of ignorance, he takes birth in the animal kingdom.” -Bhagavad-gita 14.14-15
According to Krishna, karma is generated only in human life. The lower species are burning up “bad karma,” and gradually rising towards a human birth. The residents of the heavenly planets are using up “good karma” before falling again to human life on earth.
Imam Ahmed Alhassan (pbuh) has revealed that both Gautama Buddha and Krishna were, in fact, prophets of God. Considering that, it is no surprise that we find the same concept of transmigration of the soul between human and animal bodies in the Holy Quran.
Surah Al-Mai’da chapter 5, verse 60 states,
“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. Those are worse in position and further astray from the sound way.”
The Holy Quran confirms that some souls, based on their own bad deeds, will return in the bodies of animals rather than humans. A huge revelation considering the fact that most Muslims do not ascribe to these beliefs. The topic of reincarnation is, in fact, controversial within the Muslim faith and the most influential Islamic document about reincarnation was hidden for centuries.
The long hidden manuscript called “Al Haft Al Shareef” relays a conversation between Imam AlSadiq (pbuh) and his companion Al Mufaddal ibn Umar al-Gaafi. In the manuscript, Imam Al Sadiq (pbuh) cites the evidence for reincarnation from the Quran, Sunnah and Ahadith. The doors of the manuscript talk about the different forms of reincarnation. The soul, which transmigrates from human to animal, is called a Maskh and the soul, which reincarnates from human to human form, is Naskh. Imam Al Sadiq (pbuh) reveals a much deeper significance to this process and the tale of how it came to be. The story traces back to the creation of Adam (pbuh) and Iblis. God created Iblis and his seed from Fire and the souls of Adam and his seed were created from light and the shadows and their bodies were created from clay. When God took his covenant upon Adam and his seed, He said to the prophets, vicegerents and close ones,
“I shall Veil myself with the Human Veils, so when I call you to Adam, make him your Qibla for I made Adam My Qibla. And I shall command Iblis and his Seed to prostrate to him but he shall be too proud and will disobey along with his Seed, so my Punishment shall become incumbent on them. And I am Allah and there is no God but I,I do not wrong anyone or punish them except with a reason and proof.” – Al Haft Al Shareef, Door 10
So when God called upon them, the close Angels, the prophets, the righteous ones and the believers all prostrated to Adam and made him their Qibla, the direction, which must be faced. But when God called upon Iblis and his seed to prostrate to Adam, he refused.
“So Allah created from the Disobedience of Iblis the Hell Fire. And He created from the Disobedience of the Seed of Iblis the Maskh (Transformation/Reincarnation into an Animal or such lowly things). So Iblis looked at the Maskh and said “What is this?” Allah said `You and your seed shall be installed in these In the Slaughtered, And Ridden, And Eaten and Drunk, And in every Species and Sex…” Then Allah made Iblis and his Seed wear the Bodies just the same as He made Adam and his Seed wear Bodies. And from there they resembled the humans (in body) and their Maskh (transformation/ reincarnation form became hidden) when they all wore the Bodies. And a man might meet you in his Body while you think he is a human, but in reality he is a monkey or pig or dog or bear.” – Al Haft Al Shareef, Door 10
It is important to note the role of karma in this process. The Maskh is a creation of his own volition. A soul’s own intentional actions determine its rise and fall. It would be incorrect to think of reincarnation in lower life forms as a punishment. In fact, the amazing thing about karma’s effect on reincarnation is that it enables God’s mercy to be bestowed. The Holy Quran states,
“And indeed We will make them taste of the Lower Penalty of this (life) prior to the supreme Penalty, in order that they may return.” – The Holy Qur´an 32:21
The soul, which has committed bad deeds, takes the form of a lesser being in order to cleanse itself before the final judgment.
Hindus believe that, once in the body of a lower species, the soul cannot exercise free will and is more or less condemned to a “sentence.” Like a criminal who tries to illegally enjoy life by circumventing the law rather than following it, the soul must atone for its mistakes. Then, through gradual purification by suffering, the soul can rise again to the human platform.
It is impossible to ignore the striking similarities between Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic teachings about karma and the ongoing cycle of birth, death and rebirth. But what happens when this cycle comes to an end?
The goal, for Buddhists, is to reach the state of nirvana or enlightenment. Nirvana literally means “quenching” or “blowing out,” in the way that the flame of a candle is blown out. What this actually refers to is an extinction of ignorance and earthly suffering. The Buddhists believe, once you have obtained the state of nirvana you stop accumulating bad karma because you have transcended it. You spend the rest of your life and sometimes future lives working off the bad karma, which has already accumulated. Once you have fully escaped the karmic cycle, you achieve Paranirvana, the final nirvana, in the afterlife. Just like the Buddhists, the ultimate goal for Hindus is to reach the end of the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. The Hindus call it Moksha, which means liberation. One can break the cycle of rebirth by breaking free of the bonds of karma.
Karma entangles us and keeps the soul revolving in the cycle of repeated birth and death. Only pure spiritual activity can free us from the cycle. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna explains,
“Those engaged in full devotional service, at once transcend the modes of material nature. Thus being engaged in devotional service and always meditating upon Me, who has fixed his mind upon Me, for him I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death, but those who are not faithful on the path of devotional service cannot attain Me, but return to birth and death in this material world.” – Bhagavad Gita 14.26,9.3,12.6-7
Hindus believe that when a person achieves moksha, he ultimately achieves unity with the Supreme Being. The goal in Islam is the same – to transcend the trappings of this worldly existence in favour of a return to God. Imam Jafar Al Sadiq (pbuh) said,
“…Did you not hear Allah’s words: ‘That to thy Lord is the final Goal.” (The Holy Qur´an 53:42) “For if a man knows his Lord then he has reached the Goal that was desired of him and is more Aquainted with Allah than the Oneness and Knowing. But Handcuffs and Shackles have been put on the Short Comers but whoever has reached and known these Degrees that I have read to you has become emancipated from Slavery, and the Chains and Shackles have been raised off of him…” – Al Haft Al Shareef, Door 13.
Imam Ahmed Al Hassan (pbuh) said:
“Free your minds, my children. Free it of all chains.”
It is our own thoughts, intentions, and deeds, which keep us chained to this world. And it is within our power to become free. Throughout time, God has been teaching us about the journey of the soul through his messengers. Pieces of the truth have been scattered across the world and many different voices have delivered the same message and it is a message of truth. For the soul is infinite and its final destination is up to us. And the first step on the road back to God is to believe.