The Treatment of Death in Beowulf and the Quran

Death is both inevitable and certain. However, most people tend to live as if they are going to be in the world forever. True to everyone is that God is responsible for taking people out of this world. In both the Qur’an and Beowulf, the theme of death features prominently. The Qur’an asserts that every soul is certain to die (Quran, 21:35) while Beowulf begins with death whereby the poet describes the lavish burial-at-sea of a Danish king known as Shield Sheafson. The funeral scene in Beowulf tells how a man dies and is buried, which reflects on his life on earth.

Shield Sheafson is described as still thriving when his time comes and crosses over into the Lord’s keeping. Mourners stretch his body in his boat laid out by the mast with treasures piled upon him and prestigious gear (26-37). In Beowulf, the poet alludes that “whichever one death fells must deem it a just judgment by God.” (440-441). It is true in Beowulf that death comes to everyone upon God’s decree just like in the teachings of the Holy Qur’an. Therefore, there is nothing mortal that man can indulge in to avoid such an eventful fate.

Both the Qur’an and Beowulf remind humankind that no matter how famous or brave an individual may be, no one is sure of their time of death. Beowulf, for instance, was not aware that he would face death in the hands of the dragon. Consequently, the awareness of death is a constant in both the Quran and Beowulf. In Beowulf’s setting, warriors kill their enemies and watch as they die, which inspires readers to keep their eventual death constantly in mind for the purpose of doing good to humanity for remembrance by those who survive (Puchner et al. 2012, 16)

The notion of life after death is alive in the Islamic culture and Beowulf’s setting. Beowulf tries to remember his long reign over the Geats and how he brought terror upon his neighbors. He reminisces how he behaved in a just and honest manner thus thinks that God would not be angry with him in the next life. Such thinking shows that the Geats’ culture believed in life after death. Beowulf goes on to thank God for the last glance at the gold treasure, which life bestowed upon him. Beowulf trades his life for such wealth. Further, to show that Beowulf will live after death, the poet notes Beowulf’s wishes of a barrow to make sure that people remember his great deeds.

Regarding life after death, the Qur’an states that Allah will raise all the dead. It notes that a day will come when God will destroy the whole universe and raise the dead to stand before him in judgment. Therefore, the judgment day will mark the beginning of a new life rather than the end as each person will be rewarded according to their deeds on earth. Just like Beowulf believes that he would live even after his death, the Qur’an teaches its believers that human beings have a spirit given by God, like a seed from which higher form of life springs. When a person is alive, their deeds shape the spirit and when the physical body dies, the spirit remains to take life after death.

The Qur’an notes that Allah has ordained death among the people but will make the same people grow into what they do not know (56:60-61). The bad spirits are said to torment in hell from the fire that Allah will kindle rising over the hearts (104:5-6). Therefore, in both Beowulf and the Qur’an, the world is depicted as an inseparable part of a continuum consisting of life, death, and life thus providing relevance and context to life. Life in the world begets the kind of life an individual will have after they die, which presents a fundamental belief according to the Islamic and the Scandinavian culture portrayed in the Beowulf (Hamilton 1946, 312).

The treatment of death and life after an individual dies is not treated in a separate chapter or stanza in both Qur’an and Beowulf, rather concerning life in the world. The Quran talks about the Al-Dunya and Al-Akhira, symbolizing the nearer and the further life. The references on the afterlife appear on nearly every single page of the holy book and are repetitive in Beowulf. In the Quran, God creates people, gives them life, takes it, and restores it back to the individual upon death (30:40). The belief in life after death in both Beowulf and the Quran is evident as the Quran tells believers to get mindful of God, whom they shall meet on the last day. Beowulf, on the other hand, anticipates that God would not be angry at him since he was an honest and just person while on earth and thus will live even after his death.

The belief in the afterlife is very fundamental to Islam and forms the basis upon which Muslims should be reminded of their existence. As a result, being inattentive to the afterlife or to the prospects of coming to judgment on the last day represents the signs of anonbeliever (32:14). Additionally, the notion of afterlife increases a believer’s sense of responsibility regarding their actions in life. Therefore, the details and principles of religion should be evident within the frameworks of synergy between the afterlife and the conception of life. During the Day of Resurrection, God will show mercy and justice to those who suffered for the His sake and the sake of humanity.

For the people who abused God’s bounties and cared nothing for life to come will be miserable due to their ignorance. The Quran notes that the worldly life prepares an individual for the eternal life after death. The people who deny the afterlife are said to become slaves of their desires and passions, however, if they decide to ask for forgiveness at their deathbed, then the Lord will not listen to them. As such, to guarantee life after death, then an individual should live peacefully with fellow mankind. To get the assurance of the afterlife, one should give up their vices, help fellow human beings, and settle their disputes based on equality and justice.

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