Beings outside the material world
For Muslims creation is more than just things that are made of matter such as human beings, animals etc. There exist other beings which are outside the material or physical world.
Because they are not of physical or material form they cannot be understood by human beings. Nor can they be depicted in any way because to do so confines them to a form and is therefore false.
Angels and Jinn
Of these beings there are two identifiable types, angels and jinn. Angels are understood to be the messengers of Allah such as the angel Jibril who revealed the Qur'an to Muhammad.
Role of Angels
Muslims believe angels to be creatures of light which exist everywhere throughout the universe and are constantly interacting with human beings, especially when a person prays or is otherwise in contact with Allah in a conscious way.
Angels appearing to human beings
Although it is very rare, some people are occasionally able to see angels. In these instances of revelation the angel usually appears in human form as the angel Jibril did when appearing to Muhammad . These may be specially chosen people or sometimes other people in times of great trial.
Muslims believe that each person has two angels designated to keep a record of their deeds, good and bad . These angels also play the role of guardians or protectors. It is customary for Muslims to turn to the right and two the left at the conclusion of prayers to bless their two companion angels.
Angels named in Qur'an
The Qur'an names a number of angels and designates specific purposes to each. Perhaps the most prominent is Jibril who is the messenger bringing the word of Allah to those who are the chosen ones. At the time of death the angel Azra'i l will be present at the side of the person dying to receive their soul as it leaves them . The angel Israfi l has the role of calling all souls of the Day of Judgment . The angel Mika'il has the special role of guarding places of worship but also generally looks after believers and worshippers. The angels Munker and Nadir have the role of the questioners of souls . Finally there is Iblis who is the devil .
The rebellion of Iblis
At the time of creation, Iblis disagreed with Allah's decision to appoint Adam to look after the created world. The oppositions of Iblis to the will of Allah came from a sense that Iblis considered himself to be a superior creature. This led to the punishment of Iblis and the development of a great animosity from Iblis towards all human creatures. This explains the efforts of Iblis in constantly trying to lead people away from following Allah. This action is a kind of revenge against the punishment of Allah.
Finally in the world of other beings there exist spirits known as jinn. On one hand jinn are regarded as neither possessing good or evil tendencies yet it practice they are often associated with evil . Like angels the jinn are believed to have their own free will. However, it is believed that angels will never part from the wishes of Allah. Iblis is regarded as the leader of the jinn who are described in the Qur'an as being made of fire. While both angels and jinn are outside the material world, they have the capacity to influence the world of matter and in particular the people they come into contact with.
In Islamic belief, human life on earth is a test and the outcome of this test determines the fate of the person for eternity. Muslim's believe in a life after death which is known as "akhirah" which is Arabic for the last or the final.
Human beings experience all kinds of situations and states in life- they may be rich or poor, healthy or sick, physically powerful or weak, intelligent or unintelligent. The circumstances or the situation are totally irrelevant. Each individual is called to respond positively to the will of Allah and submit to it. Their choice to do so or to refuse to do so is the key factor in their destiny.
Will of Allah
Muslims believe that everything that takes place is the will of Allah and there is nothing they can do about it. However, they also believe that they have been given free will in order to respond to those things and it is this response that is important.
Mortal life and eternal life
Life is understood to be divided into two parts. The first part is the mortal and temporary human life , the second part is the eternal life which follows death. Given the comparative brevity of human life it is the eternal life which really matters.
Test of character
The mortal human life is believed to be a test of character , of a person's capacity to deal with pleasant and unpleasant occurrences and most importantly of the basic orientation of a person's life. In other words it is a test of whether a person is basically honest, kind, caring etc or basically dishonest, selfish and cruel.
Omniscience of Allah
Given that Allah is all knowing , there is no possibility of feigning good character. A person's motives are clearly seen by the insight of Allah.
Personal responsibility for actions
Muslim belief holds that each person is entirely responsible for their own actions and therefore for their own salvation. In this sense they earn their own salvation through their response to the test which is human existence.
The actions of an individual have no impact whatsoever on Allah, nor is it possible to bribe or induce Allah to regard a person with favour.
Every thought and action recorded
Every action and every thought in a person's lifetime is recorded and will be revealed at the time of judgment . This record is kept by the two guardian angels which are assigned to each person. The record is kept not for the benefit of Allah who already sees and knows everything about a person, but for the benefit of the individual who will then see themselves as they really are.
The opportunity to pass the test is limited to a person's earthly life. Once they have died they face judgment and nothing can be done to alter their fate. Muslims believe that Allah has sent witnesses to each generation to show them clearly what is right and wrong and what is expected of them. Therefore there can be no claim of ignorance or uncertainty.
Forgiveness is available for all people during the course of their lifetime. Evil actions or intentions can be forgiven by asking Allah for forgiveness. Unfortunately, pride prevents many people from being prepared to acknowledge their own failings and their need for forgiveness.
Day of Judgment
Muslims believe that those who die before the Day of Judgment will have their souls taken by the angel Azra'il to "barzakh". This is a place of waiting between the moment of death and the Day of Judgment. Barzakh means barrier. It is impossible for someone to cross back into life once they have reached Barzakh.
Images of the end of the world
The Qur'an provides vivid apocalyptic images of the end of the world including boiling oceans, explosions of fire storms etc. At this time people buried in tombs will come to life and they will be asked what has kept them away from Allah.
Paradise and Jahannam
The reward, known as Paradise is described in the Qur'an as a kind of oasis in the desert . It also includes a vision of peace and love 'They will hear no unworthy talk there, or any mention of sin, but only the cry "peace, peace"' (surah 56:25-6).
For those who fail the test, the punishment is known as jahannam . The Qur'an describes this as a place of fire and hot winds, of torture and torment.
Free will and destiny
While it is hard to reconcile the existence of such a horrible place with the image of a loving God, it is important to recognise that free will demands that there be the possibility for those who are utterly determined to live outside of Allah's love to do so. The Qur'anic image of jahannam is little more than a stark reminder of the reality of an eternity separated from the love of Allah.
Muslims do not believe that the descriptions of the after-life are intended to be taken literally. They recognise that existence in the after-life is of a completely different order to human life. There are no longer any physical restrictions and any conditions experienced during their mortal life will no longer apply.
The human mind is not capable of fully comprehending the nature of life after death, either in terms of eternal life in the presence of Allah or the pain of an eternal separation from Allah. The descriptions in the Qur'an are understood as symbolic representations which help people to have some limited understanding of the nature of the after-life.
Omniscience of Allah
Muslims understand that Allah is all knowing. There is nothing that exists, has existed or will exist that is not known by Allah. Allah knows everything about the past, the present and the future concerning all things.
The knowledge of Allah is detailed and complete in every respect even to the smallest detail of the most intricate of nature's designs.
Will of Allah
Muslim's also believe that nothing happens by chance or randomly. It all happens by design, with a purpose and it is Allah the creator who determines what will happen. The idea that all things happen through the plan of Allah is called "Al-Qadr" which literally means destiny.
This knowledge of Allah and the purpose of Allah in creation gives rise to the issue of free will. If all happens according to the plan of Allah and Allah already knows what will happen then how can free will or freedom of choice exist?
Free will absolutely retained
Muslims believe that while our destiny is already known to Allah , it is our free will and our choice which determines it . Each person is given the freedom to choose and Allah respects this free will absolutely. Allah already knows how that freedom will be exercised but given that this knowledge is hidden from human beings their choice remains free.
In upholding the belief in the freedom of choice , Muslims are rejecting any notion of fate . Fate by definition renders the person helpless and they become an object of the actions of others rather than the subject of their own choices and decisions. Fate is not compatible with free will and as such is rejected by Muslim beliefs.
Muslims also believe that as Allah is the only possible source of any help or benefit that it is pointless to turn to help from anything or anyone else . This amounts to superstition and is rejected by the Qur'an as a form of idolatry.