Questioning the dead in their graves and keeping believers in bliss and disbelievers in Hell

Q: I learned from some Muslim scholars that a dead person comes to life in the grave, answers the questions of the angels, and is punished if they had shown Kufr (disbelief) and deviation from Islam during their lifetime. As a Muslim who believes in the principles of Islam, I found no evidence in the Qur'an on the punishment or the questioning in the grave. Allah says, (It will be said to the pious believers of Islamic Monotheism): "O (you) the one in (complete) rest and satisfaction! "Come back to your Lord well-pleased (yourself) and well-pleasing (unto Him)! "Enter you then among My (honoured) slaves, "And enter you My Paradise!" (Surah Al-Fajr, 89: 27-30). According to my understanding, a soul returns to its Lord after it comes out of the body; it does not remain with the body in the grave to live in bliss. Allah also says, They will say: “Our Lord! You have made us to die twice (i.e. we were dead in the loins of our fathers and dead after our life in this world), and You have given us life twice (i.e. life when we were born and life when we are Resurrected)! (Surah Ghafir, 40: 11). This Ayah also entails that death occurs twice, once at the time before creation, and once again at the time of death. I also perceive that life occurs twice, once in the mother's womb and the other time at Resurrection. There is no reference in the Ayah to the punishment in the grave, as Allah says, They will say: “Woe to us! Who has raised us up from our place of sleep.” (Surah Yassin, 36: 52). This entails (Part No. 3; Page No. 441) that the disbelievers were asleep in the grave, which contradicts the idea of punishment. In the end, Your Eminence, I would like a satisfactory answer to my inquiry as you have always done.


A: First, the evidence on the rulings of Shari`ah are established through the Qur'an as well as the authentically established Sunnah reported from the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), whether in the form of verbal expression, actions or approval, as Allah orders us in general to apply the texts of the Qur'an and the Sunnah that reached us. Allah says, And whatsoever the Messenger (Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم) gives you, take it; and whatsoever he forbids you, abstain (from it). (Surah Al-Hashr, 59: 7). The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) never spoke out of his own desire, but according to the Wahy (Revelation) revealed to him by Allah, as Allah says, Nor does he speak of (his own) desire. It is only a Revelation revealed. He has been taught (this Qur’ân) by one mighty in power [Jibrîl (Gabriel)] (Surah Al-Najm, 53: 3-5) Following him (peace be upon him) in what was revealed to him is a sign of Iman (Faith) in Allah and loving Him, and eventually leads to being loved and forgiven by Allah, as Allah says, Say (O Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم to mankind): "If you (really) love Allâh then follow me (i.e. accept Islâmic Monotheism, follow the Qur’ân and the Sunnah), Allâh will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allâh is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." (Surah Al-'Imran, 3: 31) Allah orders us to obey the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), and clarifies that this obedience is part of the obedience to Allah, as He says, Say (O Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم): "Obey Allâh and the Messenger (Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم)." But if they turn away, then Allâh does not like the disbelievers. (Surah Al-'Imran, 3: 32) He also says, O you who believe! Obey Allâh and obey the Messenger (Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم), and those of you (Muslims) who are in authority. (And) if you differ in anything amongst yourselves, refer it to Allâh and His Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم), if you believe in Allâh and in the Last Day. That is better and more suitable for final determination. (Surah Al-Nisa', 4: 59) (Part No. 3; Page No. 442) He also says, He who obeys the Messenger (Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم), has indeed obeyed Allâh, but he who turns away, then we have not sent you (O Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم) as a watcher over them. (Surah Al-Nisa', 4: 80) There are many other Ayahs in the Qur'an which order us to obey the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), follow him and apply what was authentically reported from him, as it is considered proof by which the rulings are confirmed, whether in 'Aqidah (creed) or practice. The Qur'an is also proof by which the rulings are confirmed, whether explicitly or implicitly, according to the rules of the Arabic language and the way the Arabs comprehend it. Second, the punishment of the disbelievers in their graves is reasonably possible and the Qur'an provides evidence in this regard where Allah says, ...while an evil torment encompassed Fir‘aun’s (Pharaoh) people. The Fire, they are exposed to it, morning and afternoon. And on the Day when the Hour will be established (it will be said to the angels): "Cause Fir‘aun’s (Pharaoh) people to enter the severest torment!" (Surah Ghafir, 40: 45-46) This is clear proof of the punishment in the grave by fire, as there is neither morning nor evening on the Day of Judgment. His saying at the end of the Ayah, And on the Day when the Hour will be established (it will be said to the angels): “Cause Fir‘aun’s (Pharaoh) people to enter the severest torment!” refers to a lesser punishment before the Day of Resurrection, which is the punishment in the grave. Fir`aun, his family, and other disbelievers are in the same rank according to the ruling and the justice of Allah. This is also referred to in Allah's saying, So leave them alone till they meet their Day, in which they will sink into a fainting (with horror). The Day when their plotting shall not avail them at all nor will they be helped (i.e. they will receive their torment in Hell). And verily, for those who do wrong, there is another punishment (i.e. the torment in this world and in their graves) before this; but most of them know not. (Tafsir At-Tabarî). (Surah Al-Tur, 52: 45-47). (Part No. 3; Page No. 443) This proves that the disbelievers receive minor punishment before the Day of Resurrection, which can be generally applied to what afflicts them in their lifetime and in their graves before being resurrected to receive the major punishment. It is authentically reported from the Prophet (peace be upon him) that he used to seek refuge from the punishment in the grave in his Salah (Prayer) and ordered his Sahabah (Companions) to do the same. It is also authentically reported that after he (peace be upon him) offered Salat-ul-Kusuf (Prayer at the time of a solar eclipse), he gave a Khutbah (sermon) to the people asking them to seek refuge with Allah from the punishment in the grave. He also sought refuge with Allah from the punishment in the grave three times in Baqi' Al-Gharqad when he (peace be upon him) was putting one of his Sahabah in the Lahd (a crevice on the side of a grave facing the direction faced for Prayer). If the punishment in the grave had not been authentically reported, the Prophet (peace be upon him) would not have sought refuge from it or asked the Sahabah to do so. He (peace be upon him) clarified that Allah's saying, Allâh will keep firm those who believe, with the word that stands firm in this world (i.e. they will keep on worshipping Allâh Alone and none else), and in the Hereafter. And Allâh will cause to go astray those who are Zâlimûn (polytheists and wrong-doers), and Allâh does what He wills. (Surah Ibrahim, 14: 27) includes both supporting a believer and letting a disbeliever down when each of them are questioned in the grave; a believer is guided to the correct answers (Part No. 3; Page No. 444) and enjoy bliss in their graves, whereas a disbeliever hesitates and is punished in the grave. This is going to be mentioned later in the Hadith reported from Al-Bara' ibn 'Azib (may Allah be pleased with him). The evidence on the punishment in the grave also includes what was mentioned in the two Sahih (authentic) Books of Hadith (i.e. Al-Bukhari and Muslim), from Ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (peace be upon him) once passed by two graves, and said, "They (the inhabitants of those graves) are being punished, and it is for minor things. One of them never saved himself from being soiled with his urine, while the other was used to slandering people." He then took a green leaf of a date-palm tree, split it into two pieces, and fixed one on each grave. He then said, "I hope that their punishment may be lessened until they (the leaves) become dry." There are many narrations reported recurrently from the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) which prove that the dead are questioned in their graves, and either blessed or punished, according to their 'Aqidah and deeds. This is undoubted; no disagreement was ever reported from the Sahabah (may Allah be pleased with them) on this. Thus, Ahl-ul-Sunnah wal-Jama'ah (those adhering to the Sunnah and the Muslim mainstream) declared its authenticity. One of the narrations about this is what was narrated by Imam Ahmad in his Musnad, Abu Dawud in his Sunan, and Al-Hakim and Abu `Uwanah Al-Isfirayiny in their Sahih books of Hadith, from Al-Bara' ibn `Azib (may Allah be pleased with him) that he said, We were attending a funeral in Baqi' Al-Gharqad when the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) came and sat with us. We remained silent while he (peace be upon him) was digging the grave, until he said, "I seek refuge with Allah from the punishment in the grave." He repeated it three times, and then he said, (Part No. 3; Page No. 445) "When a believer is about to depart this world and move on to the Hereafter, there comes down to them from heaven angels with white faces like the sun, and they sit around them as far as the eye can see. They bring with them shrouds and perfumes from Jannah (Paradise). Then, the Angel of Death comes and sits by their head, and he says, ‘O good soul! Come forth to forgiveness from Allah and His pleasure.’ Thus, the soul comes out easily like a drop of water from the mouth of a water skin. When he seizes it, they do not leave it in his hand for an instant before they take it and put it in that shroud with that perfume, and there comes from it a fragrance like the finest musk in the world. Then, they ascend to heaven. Whenever they pass by any group of angels, they inquire, ‘Who is this good soul?’ They say, ‘It is so and so, the son of so and so', calling them by the best names by which they were known in the world, until they reach the nearest heaven. They ask for it to be opened to them; it is opened; and (the soul) is welcomed and accompanied to the next heaven by those who are closest to Allah, until they reach the seventh heaven. Allah then says: ‘Record the book of My slave in ‘Illiyyun (in the seventh heaven), and return them to Earth, for from it I created them; to it I will return them; and from it I will bring them forth once again.’ The soul is returned to the body, and two angels come who make the person sit up and they ask them, ‘Who is your Lord?’ They say, ‘Allah.’ They ask, ‘What is your religion?’ They say, ‘My religion is Islam.’ They ask, ‘Who is this man who was sent among you?’ They say, ‘He is the Messenger of Allah.’ They ask, ‘What did you do?’ They say, ‘I read the Book of Allah and I believed in it.’ Then a voice calls out from heaven, ‘My slave has spoken the truth, (Part No. 3; Page No. 446) so prepare for them a bed in Jannah; clothe them from Jannah; and open for them a gate to Jannah.' Then there comes to them some of its fragrance, and the grave is made wide, as far as they can see. Then there comes a man with a handsome face, elegant clothes and a good fragrance, who says, ‘Receive the glad tidings that will bring you joy this day.’ They say, ‘Who are you? Your face is one which brings glad tidings.’ He says, ‘I am your righteous deeds.’ They say, ‘O Lord, hasten the Hour so that I may return to my family and my wealth.’ On the other hand, when a disbeliever is about to depart this world and move to the Hereafter, angels come down to them from heaven with black faces, bringing sackcloth, and they sit around them as far as the eye can see. Then the Angel of Death comes and sits by their head, and he says, ‘O evil soul, come forth to the wrath and anger of Allah.' Then the soul disperses inside the body, and comes out cutting the veins and nerves, like a skewer passing through wet wool. When he seizes it, they do not leave it in his hand for an instant before they take it and put it in that sackcloth, and there comes from it a stench like the foulest stench of a dead body on the face of the earth. Then they ascend to heaven. Whenever they pass by any group of angels, they inquire, ‘Who is this evil soul?’ and they say, ‘It is so and so, the son of so and so', calling them by the worst names by which they were known in the world, until they reach the nearest heaven. They ask for it to be opened to them, but it is not opened.” Then the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) recited Allah's saying, ...for them the gates of heaven will not be opened, and they will not enter Paradise until the camel goes through the eye of the needle (which is impossible). (Surah Al-A'raf, 7: 40). Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) then says, 'Record (Part No. 3; Page No. 447) the book of My slave in Sijjin in the lowest earth, and return them to the earth, for from it I created them; to it I will return them; and from it I will bring them forth once again.’ So the soul is cast down.” Then, he (peace be upon him) recited Allah's saying, ...and whoever assigns partners to Allâh, it is as if he had fallen from the sky, and the birds had snatched him, or the wind had thrown him to a far off place. (Surah Al-Hajj, 22: 31) Then the soul is returned to the body, and two angels come who make that person stand and they ask them, ‘Who is your Lord?’ They say, ‘Oh, oh, I don’t know.’ They ask, ‘Who is that man who was sent among you?’ They say, ‘Oh, oh, I don’t know.’ A voice calls out from heaven, ‘Prepare for them a bed in Hellfire and open for them a gate to Hellfire.’ There comes to them some of its heat and hot winds, and the grave is constricted until their ribs are squeezed. Then, there comes to them a man with an ugly face, shabby clothes, and a foul stench, who says, ‘Receive the bad news, for this is the day that you were promised.’ They inquire, ‘Who are you? Your face is one which forebodes evil.’ He says, ‘I am your evil deeds.’ They say, ‘O Lord! Do not let the Hour come.’” Third, it is not impossible that the angels question the dead in their graves and that the dead answer them or fail to do so, according to their deeds in life. It is not unlikely (Part No. 3; Page No. 448) according to the great Power of Allah and the wonders of the natural laws of the universe that the believers are blessed in their graves and the disbelievers punished therein. A person who examines the universe carefully will discover the prevalence and perfection of the Will of Allah, and the originality of His creation. It becomes easy for a person to believe in the authentic texts narrated about questioning the dead, their bliss, or punishment. It is authentically reported that Allah (Exalted be He) returns the soul to the dead body after it is buried, so that they lead a life of the Barzakh (period between death and the Resurrection). This life enables them to hear the questions, answer them if they can, and make them feel bliss or punishment. Hadiths were previously mentioned about this. Allah has His own ways in managing the affairs, which cannot be understood by our weak minds; we just have to acknowledge that it is possible, even if we cannot explain them and realize their reality and causes. If a person is unable to do anything or to understand it, they should think of themselves as inadequate, not question the knowledge, wisdom, and power of their Lord. The Ayahs mentioned in the question do not contradict questioning the dead and their bliss or punishment in the graves. As for Allah's saying, (It will be said to the pious believers of Islamic Monotheism): "O (you) the one in (complete) rest and satisfaction! "Come back to your Lord well-pleased (yourself) and well-pleasing (unto Him)! "Enter you then among My (honoured) slaves, "And enter you My Paradise!" it is (Part No. 3; Page No. 449) addressed to people at the Day of Resurrection, not when the soul comes out of the body in this world, as Allah mentioned in the same Surah, Nay! When the earth is ground to powder. And your Lord comes with the angels in rows. And Hell will be brought near that Day. On that Day will man remember, but how will that remembrance (then) avail him? (Surah Al-Fajr, 89: 21-23), until He says, (It will be said to the pious believers of Islamic Monotheism): "O (you) the one in (complete) rest and satisfaction! The questioning and the bliss or punishment in the grave takes place after the burial of the dead and before resurrection on the Day of Judgment. As for Allah's saying, They will say: “Our Lord! You have made us to die twice (i.e. we were dead in the loins of our fathers and dead after our life in this world), and You have given us life twice (i.e. life when we were born and life when we are Resurrected)! Now we confess our sins" it is a notification made by Allah of the saying of the disbelievers while they are in Hellfire; they were dead before their soul was blown into them; then they came to life when Allah blew their soul into them until their life came to an end; then they became dead again as their life came to an end until the blowing of the Trumpet on the Day of Resurrection; and then they come to life again on the Day of Resurrection. Thus, they live twice and die twice. Their death while in the grave is not an obstacle to their being questioned, ability to answer, bliss or punishment. Allah returns their souls to them in a way that enables them to hear the questions and answer them, feel the bliss or the punishment, as previously mentioned in the Hadith narrated by Al-Bara'. This life is not one of the two lives (Part No. 3; Page No. 450) mentioned in the Ayah, but it is a special life called life of Barzakh, the reality of which is known only by Allah. As for Allah's saying, They will say: “Woe to us! Who has raised us up from our place of sleep.” what is meant by their place of sleep is their graves in which they were dead, not asleep. Their death does not hinder them from hearing the angels, feeling the bliss or the punishment according to their 'Aqidah and deeds, according to the previously mentioned Hadith narrated by Al-Bara' ibn `Azib (may Allah be pleased with him). It is not necessary to mention questioning the dead, their bliss or punishment in their graves in every situation; it is enough to do so in some Ayahs or Sahih Hadiths.May Allah grant us success. May peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family, and Companions!

Tags: