Speakers at the interreligious dialogue session on “death”. From left: Rabbi Mordechai Abergel, Mr Gerald Kong (moderator), Ustazah Lina Sakina bte Salim and Sister Theresa Seow.

Christopher Khoo

Jews believe in reincarnation. Muslims believe that the prayers of a “righteous child” can spiritually benefit a deceased parent. Christians believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection opened up eternal life to people.

These interesting nuggets of information about the Abrahamic faiths were conveyed to participants of an interreligious dialogue held at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd on Oct 4.

The session, which saw representatives speak on the topic of death in their respective traditions, was the third in a series this year organised by the Archdiocesan Catholic Council for Interreligious Dialogue (ACCIRD). The other two sessions handled topics concerning birth and marriage.

Rabbi Mordechai Abergel, the Chief Rabbi of Singapore, shared that to Jews, each person has a mission and purpose in life. If he does not fulfil these completely, he will continue to be reincarnated as a human being until he does.

The soul has to observe 613 commandments in Judaism, Rabbi Abergel explained. “Over successive lives, the soul has to observe all these … commandments perfectly.” This can go on for “over hundreds or even thousands of years” until the soul has fulfilled its purpose.

“There is no concept of eternal damnation” in Judaism, he said.

After death, prayers help a soul disconnect from its physical life and get further reunited with the divine. Judaism forbids the cremation of the body as it doesn’t “allow for this process of disconnection”, the Rabbi explained.

Ustazah Lina Sakina bte Salim, a docent with the Harmony Centre, an initiative of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), shared that for Muslims, death is not the absolute end of one’s existence.

One dies only by the “permission of Allah”, and the soul may experience comfort or misery based on his past deeds, she said.

The dead can receive spiritual rewards in the afterlife in various ways, she added, one of which is if a “righteous child … continues to pray for your pardon, to pray for mercy for you [and for] your well-being in the afterlife”.

Another aspect is if the deceased has donated assets for people to use after his death, such as donating land for mosques or religious schools. Yet another is if people continue to benefit from knowledge that the deceased had imparted in his lifetime, she said.

Canossian Sister Theresa Seow, Vice Chairperson of ACCIRD, shared the Christian belief that death came into the world because Adam and Eve sinned against God. However, “death is contrary to God’s plan” for man, she said. Jesus freely suffered death in “complete and free submission” to His Father’s will and by His death and resurrection, opened heaven to people.

For the Catholic Church, “cremation is acceptable and … should occur after the funeral Mass”, she said. The remains “should not be scattered” but buried in the ground, at sea or entombed in a columbarium. 

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