The Journey of the Soul
by Sheikh Suhaib Hassan
Throughout history, all aspects of the unseen have fascinated man. He has especially attempted to explore and understand the phenomenon of the soul – that mysterious power which activates the human body. Many questions were asked, but only a few answers were available. During the lifetime of the Prophet (saws) the Jews of Medina sent their allies, the Makkan infidels, to the Prophet (saws) to ask about the soul. In reply to their questions, the following Qur’anic verse was revealed:
“They ask you [O Muhammad (saws] concerning the Ruh (Soul). Say: ‘It is one of the things, the knowledge of which is only with my Lord. And of knowledge, you (mankind) have been given very little.”
[Qur’an Al-Israa 17: 85]
Because so little knowledge was available, most Muslim scholars considered any discussion concerning the soul to be ‘taboo’ and so this avenue of knowledge remained almost closed within scholastic circles. The most famous of the few work written on this subject was entitled “Kitab Al-Ruh” by Ibn Al-Qayyim.’ Contrary to his normal approach of scholarly research, guided by the Qur’an and authentic Sunnah, in this book he relied heavily on weak and spurious reports attributed falsely to the Prophet (saws) by transmitters such as Ibn Abi Al Dunya and Abu Nu’aim. Later scholars argued that Ibn Al-Qayyim was too great a scholar to have written a book so largely based on fabricated narrations, and so concluded that he could not have been the author. Others argued that he must have written it before he met the great author and teacher, Sheikh Ibn Taymiyya, who had a profound effect on him and shaped his later works, which were always based on the Book of Allah and the authentic Sunnah.
In my short and humble contribution to the subject of the Soul, I have endeavored to rely on authentic sources alone. Due to the nature of this topic, I seek Allah’s forgiveness for any deviation from the truth on my part and I pray to the Almighty to accept this meager effort. And may Allah shower His blessings upon our Prophet Muhammad (saws) and his progeny.
Suhaib Hasan (Safar 1416 AH)
“They ask you [O Muhammad (saws] concerning the Ruh (Soul). Say: ‘It is one of the things, the knowledge of which is only with my Lord. And of knowledge, you (mankind) have been given very little.”
[Qur’an Al-Israa 17:85]
The soul is a creature of Allah. It is blown into every human being when it is just a foetus of 120 days old, it remains in contact if not inside the human being throughout its life on earth, and at the point of death it departs from the body to reside in the heavens. Like everything else in the universe it is a creation of Allah, but as the above Qur’anic verse informs us, mankind has been given only limited knowledge concerning it. When a body is given a soul, life begins. And when the soul leaves the body, life ends and death begins.
During their journeys through this universe, the soul and its body travel through four different worlds:
1. The womb – where the soul joins its body.
2. This world – where we all live for a limited period only.
3. The grave – a ‘Barzakh’ period.
4. The Hereafter – The final destination of all human beings.
Each world is greater than the last, and the final world of the Hereafter is eternal and the most important. It is difficult for us as human beings living amidst the hubbub of worldly life to comprehend the sheer futility of this world and the permanence of the Hereafter. Thousands of dead are buried around us every day, but we find it impossible to envisage the new stage of the journey upon which they have embarked. To the living, the grave is simply an empty and dark hole in the ground; to the dead, it is their window into either Paradise or the Fire. And it is precisely because they cannot comprehend the next life that the majority of human beings refuse to believe in and obey Allah.
In this situation, we are like the foetus in the womb of its mother. Consider the unborn child whose only home for nine months is a dark and cramped place where it receives nourishment, warmth and space to grow. Suppose we could speak to the unborn child; what would we say when describing the world waiting for it outside? We would talk to it about the clouds, the mountains, the trees and the oceans. We would talk of a spectrum of colours, smells, tastes and textures. We would mention the thunder of trains, the roaring of planes, the speed of cars. We would describe flowers, birds and animals; a world of lush gardens, cascading rivers, valleys and plains. An enormous world of huge deserts, massive oceans and vast landscapes. a bustling world filled with noise, movement and numerous nationalities of people speaking a variety of languages
Would the little infant curled up in it’s mother’s womb understand the message? Indeed not. The womb is the only place he knows and to imagine the outside world would be beyond his comprehension. In the same way, our life in this world is temporary and like it or not, we will have to leave it to enter the world beyond the grave. Just because we cannot envisage or see the world of the Barzakh does not mean that it does not exist.
What is the Soul ?
The Qur’an and Sunnah give us only a limited knowledge concerning the soul. From it we can say that the Arabic words ‘Ruh’ and ‘Nafs’ are both used, sometimes interchangeably, for the soul. Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim wrote in his scholarly work “Kitab al Ruh”,
” Ruh is an entity which differs totally from the physical body. It is a subtle, ecclesiastical, enlightened living and moving body which penetrates into the depths of the organs and flows into them like the water in the rose or the oil in the olive or the fire in the coal. As long as these organs remain able to accept the impressions of this subtle body, the ‘Ruh’ remains attached to these organs and provides them with feeling and movement. But when these organs are spoiled because of the dominance of diseased elements upon it, and they are no longer able to accept the impressions of the soul, it leaves the body and heads towards the world of the souls. “
There is some difference in the way the words ‘Ruh’ and ‘Nafs’ are used. The ‘Ruh’ is the subtle spirit, which resides in the heavens and needs a physical body to carry it on the earth. When this spirit is given a body, life begins and it is described as ‘Nafs’. The word ‘Nafs’ is used in a number of ways by the Qur’an, all of which imply the meaning of a soul with a body.
1. ‘Nafs’ meaning “Self.”
“You know what is in my self but I do not know what is in Your self”
(Qur’an Al-Ma’ida 5:116)
2. ‘Nafs’ meaning “Blood”.
“The (insect) which has flowing Nafs (blood).”
3. Nafs as a strong force in man, which can push him either towards good or evil. The concept of ‘Nafs al Ammara bis Su’ (‘Nafs’ which encourages evil) and ‘Nafs al Lawwama’ (‘Nafs’ which blames) and ‘Nafs al Mutmainna’ (‘Nafs’ which is contented) are discussed in the next chapter.
Two deaths and two lives
The Qur’an mentions two deaths and two lives given to us by Allah
“How can you reject faith in Allah, seeing that you were dead and He gave you life. Then He will cause you to die, then He will bring you to life, then to Him will be your return.”
(Qur’an Al-Baqarah 2: 28)
“They will say: Our Lord, twice have You given us death and twice have You given us life…”
(Qur’an Al Mumin : 11)
When the soul is first created it has no physical body and is considered to be a dead creature. In this state it is referred to as ‘Ruh’, and this is the first death as even death is created by Allah.
“He is the one who created Death and life in order that He may try which of you is best in deeds , and He is the Exalted, the Forgiving.”
(Qur’an Al Mulk 67: 2)
The Qur’an also tells us that all the souls of mankind were created before the creation of Adam and were asked to testify to the Lordship of Allah.
“When your Lord drew forth from the loins of the children of Adam their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves: ‘Am I not your Lord?’. They said, ‘Yes, we do testify.’ This lest you should say on the Day of Judgement: ‘We were not aware of this.’ “
(Qur’an Al A’raaf :272)
The first life begins when the soul is breathed into an embryo in the womb of its mother, and now the soul is referred to as ‘Nafs’. The word Nafs is also used for ‘blood’, and so women who are in a state of post-natal bleeding are known as ‘Nufasaa’. As long as blood surges healthily through the body, there will be life in that body.
Abdullah ibn Mas’ud reported that the Messenger of Allah (saws) said:
“Indeed the creation of each one of you is brought together in his mother’s belly for forty days in the form of a seed, then he is a clot of blood for a similar period, then a morsel of flesh for a similar period. An angel is then sent to him who blows the breath of life into him…”
(Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Scholars of Islam have concluded from this hadeeth that because the angel of life blows the soul into the fetus when it is 120 days old, abortion on very strict medical grounds is permissible only before the fetus is 4 months old. Once life has been blown into the fetus it becomes a living creature and to terminate its life is murder.
The second death occurs when the soul leaves the body at the end of its appointed time on earth.
“Every Nafs (soul) shall taste death…”
(Qur’an Aal Imran 3: 185)
The Nafs dies and is buried, while its soul soars up to the heavens. That is why the Prophet (saws) taught us:
“At death, the eyes follow the departing soul, so close the eyes.”
The second life will be the eternal life beginning on the Day of Judgement when the bodies will be resurrected and their souls will be blown into them once again.
The Different States of Each Nafs
- NAFS AL-MUTAMAINNA – the Satisfied Soul.
- “0 you satisfied soul. Return to your Lord pleased with yourself and pleasing to Him. Enter among My servants. And enter My paradise”.(Qur’an Al Fajr 89: 27-30)
- NAFS AL AMMARA BIS SU’ – the soul that dictates evil.
- “And I do not free myself from blame. Indeed the human self is inclined to evil, except when my Lord bestows His Mercy (upon whom He wills). Indeed my Lord is Forgiving, Merciful.”(Qur’an Yusuf : 53)
3. NAFS AL LAWWAMA – the Self-reproaching soul.
“I do call to witness the Resurrection Day. And I do call to witness the self-reproaching Soul.”
(Qur’an Al Qiyamah: 1-2)
The noblest of the souls is the satisfied soul, which at its last moments on earth will receive the glad news from its lord of “Enter among My servants and enter into my Paradise.” In contrast is the soul, which inspires evil and disobedience. And between these two extreme states is the self-reproaching soul, which checks its actions and blames itself when it commits evil. Most souls hover between these different states depending on the person’s faith and actions.
1. Nafs Mutmainna
The Qur’an explains how one can achieve the noble state of the satisfied soul.
“Indeed, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction.”
(Qur’an Al-Ra’d 12: 28)
The Qur’an is the voice of Al-Rahman just as music is the voice of Satan. If the evil-inspiring soul finds solace in music, dance and its paraphernalia, the satisfied soul finds its peace and consolation in the Qur’an, prayer and the company of the righteous. The satisfied soul has such a deep conviction in Allah and the Last Day that never is it upset by the sorrows or demands of this world.
During his return from a Jihad expedition, the Prophet (saws) once sat down to rest under the shade of a tree far from his devout companions. A Makkan called Chawrath bin Al Harith saw his golden chance and came forward with his sword drawn: “0 Muhammad. Who is going to save you from me now?” Calm and un-fearing, the Prophet (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) stood tall and replied simply, “Allah!”. The man was surprised into confusion by this simple answer and unconsciously dropped his sword. The Prophet (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) immediately picked up the sword and asked, “Tell me who will save you now?”. The man quietly answered, “There is no god worthy of worship but Allah.”
Illness, financial worries, loss of property or death of dear ones does not cause the satisfied soul to wail, curse or lament. Whenever it faces any problems it simply say, “To Allah we belong and to Him we shall return” and faces the misfortune with patience and trust in its Lord.
Such are the souls described in the Qur’an;
“Be sure, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, some loss of goods or lives or fruits of your toils. But give glad tidings to those who are patient. Those who say, when afflicted by calamity: “To Allah we belong and to Him we shall return.
(Qur’an Al Baqarah 2: 155-156)
The satisfied soul believes that all happiness and sorrow is by the decree of Allah. It therefore feels no need to lament at misfortunes or to boast at success.
“No misfortune can happen on earth or to your soul but it is written in a decree before We bring it into existence. That is truly easy for Allah. In order that you may not despair over matters that pass you by, nor exult in favors bestowed upon you, for Allah loves not the vain boasters.”
(Qur’an Al Hadid 57: 22-23)
No worldly anxieties upset the satisfied soul. If it fails to acquire something for which it has struggled for many years, it will accept its destiny and remember the following words of the Prophet of Allah (saws):
“What has reached you was never meant to escape you and what has escaped you was never meant to reach you.” (Muwadih by Al-Khateeb Al-Baghdadi)
The satisfied soul seeks its nourishment in Dhikr (the remembrance of Allah), prayer, fasting, Zakat and Hajj. It relies heavily for support on the branches of faith, the highest of which is to say and believe in ‘There is no god worthy of worship except Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah’, and the lowliest of which is to remove an obstacle from the path. Angels are present to strengthen this soul and to bless and greet it when it departs this material life, when it is resurrected and when it is admitted into the gardens of paradise. Their greeting to it is the greeting of a Muslim to his fellow Muslim: ‘Peace be unto you’;
“And those who feared their Lord will be led to the Paradise in crowds; until they arrive there, its gates are opened and its keepers will say: ‘Peace be upon you! Well have you done. Enter here and dwell forever.”
(Qur’an Az Zumar 39: 73)
2. Nafs ammara bis su’
In contrast this soul which earns the company of Satan because it ignores the remembrance of Allah.
“The one who withdraws himself from the remembrance of the Merciful, We appoint for him a Satan to be a companion to him.”
(Qur’an Az-Zukhruf 43:36)
Satan’s cohorts and tunes surround the evil soul day and night. It drives from one satanic act to other. You will see it lying and cheating, wasting time on leisure and sports, frequenting cinemas and concerts, listening to music and dancing.
As one contemporary writer said, “The godless society’s motto is ‘work and play’, while the motto of the god-conscious society is, ‘work and pray’ “!
- Nafs Lawwama
The self-reproaching soul succumbs to evil inspirations but then regrets its actions and reproaches itself for being weak and vulnerable. These feelings of remorse cause it to turn back to Allah, to repent sincerely, and to receive spiritual solace. It is better for each Nafs to blame itself whenever it commits a wrong. If not, it will find itself being blamed from all those around it. Consider how the self-reproaching soul is mentioned with the Day of Resurrection in the Qur’an.
“I do call to witness the Resurrection Day. And I do call to witness the self-reproaching soul.”
(Qur’an Al Qiyarnah : 1-2)
There is a common factor between these two entities, which is that both are courts of justice. The Nafs al Lawwama is an inner court of justice within each person; when he acts wrongfully. his conscience or soul reprimands him, and it is then up to him to pay heed to it or to ignore it. Besides placing an inner court of justice within each person, the Creator has also prepared a larger Court, which will operate on the Final Day and will mete out justice to all of mankind.
Consequences Of Iman
Student studies hard for his final examinations, researching in libraries, practicing past papers and revising his notes because he wants a university degree, which will help, advance his career.
A businessman invests much of his time, energy and money into a commercial venture in the hope of large profits in the future.
A farmer ploughs his land, sows it, waters it and tends it regularly in the hope of a good harvest.
They all know that success does not come down on a plate but has to be achieved through hard work. Man does certain things in life for certain results, and he avoids other acts because of their consequences. An adult will not put his hand into a naked flame because he knows that fire burns, but a child will do so as he is unaware of the consequences.
The most important Belief and Knowledge that should dictate our actions is that Allah Almighty exists, that He is the Creator and Provider, and that none can benefit nor harm us except with His permission. If a person’s Iman (faith) in Allah is firm and unyielding, he will be able to direct all his worship and obedience to Allah and will feel no fear of false deities or worldly powers.
Consider the encounter of Pharaoh’s court magicians with Prophet Musa as described in the Qur’an. Before meeting the Prophet, they pleaded with Pharaoh for a substantial reward were they to defeat Musa in a duel using magic.
“So the sorcerers came to Pharaoh and said, ‘Of course we shall have a suitable reward if we win.”
(Qur’an Al-A’raaf :113)
Pharaoh accepted their plea and promised them not only a reward but also positions at court. When the encounter with Musa began, the magicians realized quickly that while their own display was simple magic, Musa’s display was extraordinary and much more than any human could conjure up. So overawed were they by Musa’s miracles that they all fell down in sajda (prostration) saying,
“We believe in the Lord of the Worlds. The Lord of Musa and Harun,”
(Qur’an Ta Ha : 70)
Pharaoh was stunned by their declaration of faith in Allah and shouted :
“Have you believed in Him before I gave you permission? Be sure, I will cut off your hands and your feet on opposite sides, and then I will crucify you on trunks of palm trees. So shall you know which of us can give the more severe and lasting punishment.”
(Qur’an Ta Ha : 71)
These threats did not frighten the magicians. These men who had just been begging Pharaoh for more gold coins now became so fearless because of their faith in Allah that they answered him back easily.
“Never shall we prefer you over the Clear Signs that have come to us and Him who has created us. So decree whatever you wish to decree. For you can only decree concerning the matters of this world. We have believed in our Lord; may He forgive us our faults and the magic to which you did compel us, for Allah is the Best and forever abiding”.
(Qur’an Ta Ha : 72-73)
What You Sow you will Reap.
The man who believes that there is no afterlife and that he will not be accountable in a divine court becomes a slave of this world. He hankers after its comforts and luxuries, and will break any laws that stand between him and success. In his desperate quest for more wealth, he will refuse to differentiate between halal and haram. The tyrants and criminals of this world operate in the same manner. If to achieve their goals requires murder and violence, then so be it. The Bosnian Serbs were among the twentieth century’s worst examples of barbarity and tyranny; led by a pathological lust for more land, their evil knew no bounds.
In contrast is the man who believes in Allah and in the questioning of the Last Day. He fears his Creator’s wrath and desires his Lord’s favors. Certainty of belief in paradise and hell guides his entire life, not just the moments spent in prayer. To him this world is merely a short journey, the destination of which is the Hereafter. Thus he directs most of his efforts towards earning Paradise and devotes only part of his time to earning his bread in this world. He is constantly aware of his divine mission to call the misguided people around him to Islam and so he buries himself in da’wah work.
Belief in the Hereafter is the catalyst which stimulates the souls seeking a better future and its importance has been emphasized in the Qur’an repeatedly. The true believers have been described as those who have firm faith in the Hereafter, because that will be the true life.
“What is the life of this world but amusement and p lay? But indeed the home of the Hereafter is the true Life, if only they knew.”
(Qur’an Al Ankabut : 64)
The Ultimate Success is not in amassing fortunes, being famous or having a fantastic career, but success is in escaping the fires of hell.
“Every soul shall taste death, and only on the Day of Judgement will you receive your full recompense. The one who is saved from the Fire and admitted into Paradise will have attained success, for the life of the world is nothing but the goods of deception.
(Qur’an Aal Imran : 185)
The Messenger of Allah (saws) declared that wise is the man who reminds himself constantly of the accountability on the Day of Resurrection and so works hard for the life succeeding death. And stupid is the man whose only concerns are the transient desires and comforts of this life.
The Prophet (saws) also described this world as a farm for the ‘Akhira.’ (Hereafter). Whatever you sow in this world, you shall reap in the Hereafter. In order that people may not become complacent that the Day of Judgement is far away in the distant future, he advised each person to remember that his Judgement will begin on the day he dies
Experiences of the Soul after Death
The New World of Barzakh begins when the person’s soul leaves his body and his short life on this earth comes to an end. The dying man experiences things which cannot be comprehended by the people around him. As his soul leaves his body through his nostrils, his eyes follow his soul. For this reason, the Prophet (saws) advised the people to close the eyes of the deceased to make his appearance less ghastly. Allah Almighty says about this moment of dying.
“Then why do you not intervene when the soul (of the dying man) reaches the throat. And you are at that time looking . We are nearer to him , but you do not see. And why do you not, if you are exempt from accountability, call back the soul if you are truthful?”
(Qur’an Al-Waqiah 83-87)
As the person dies and enters a New World, a window into the ‘Akhira’ is opened for him to allow his soul to view Heaven and Hell. Death is a time of truth and the lies with which disbelievers surround themselves in this world are exposed. These lies include the denial of the existence of Allah, rejection of the punishment of the grave, and denial of the Day of Judgement.
So when death comes to the disbelievers and they feel the heat of the raging fires of hell, they begin to plead for a second chance on earth to do good. But all their pleading is in vain.
“Until, when death comes to one of them, he says, ‘O my Lord. Send me back to life. In order that I may do good deeds in the things that I neglected.’ By no means! It is but a word he says. And before them is a barzakh until the day they are raised up.”
(Qur’an Al Mu’minun ; 99-100)
The journey of the soul from the earth to heaven where it meets its Lord is described vividly in the following hadith:
Al-Bara b. ‘Azib said: We went out with the Prophet (saws) to the funeral of a man of the Ansar and came to the grave. It had not yet been dug, so Allah’s Messenger (saws) sat down and we sat down around him quietly. He had in his hand a stick with which he was making marks on the round. Then he raised his head and said, “Seek refuge in Allah from the punishment of the grave; saying it twice or thrice. He then said, “When a believer is about to leave the world and go forward to the next world, angels with faces white as the sun come down to him from heaven with one of the shrouds of paradise and some of the perfume of paradise and sit away from him as far as the eye can see. Then the angel of death comes and sits at his head and says, ‘Good soul, come out to forgiveness and acceptance from Allah.’ It then comes out as a drop flows from a water-skin and he seizes it; and when he does so they do not leave it in his hand for an instant, but take it and place it in that shroud and that perfume, and from it there comes forth a fragrance like that of the sweetest musk found on the face of the earth. They then take it up and do not bring it past a company of angels without their asking, “Who is this good soul?’ to which they reply, ‘So and so, the son of so and so’, using the best names by which people called him on the earth. They then bring him to the lowest heaven and ask that the gate should be opened for him. This is done, and from every heaven its archangels escort him to the next heaven until it is brought to the seventh heaven, and Allah who is great and glorious says, ‘Record the book of my servant in Illiyyun and take him back to earth, for I created mankind from it, I shall return them into it, and from it I shall bring them forth another time.’ His soul is then restored to his body, two angels come to him, and making him sit up say to him, ‘ Who is our Lord’ He replies, ‘My Lord is Allah.’ They ask, ‘What is your religion?’ and he replies, ‘My religion is Islam.’ They ask, ‘Who is this man who was sent among you?’ and he replies, ‘He is Allah’s Messenger.’ They ask, ‘What is your knowledge?’ and he replies, ‘I have read Allah’s Book, believed in it and declared it to be true.’ Then one cries from heaven, ‘My servant has spoken the truth, so spread out carpets for him from paradise, and open a gate for him into paradise.’ Then some of its joy and its fragrance comes to him, his grave is made spacious for him as far as the eye can see, and a man with a beautiful face, beautiful garments and a sweet odor comes to him and says, ‘Rejoice in what pleases you for this is your day which you have been promised.’ He asks, ‘Who are you, for your face is perfectly beautiful and brings good?” He replies, ‘I am your good deeds.’ He then says, ‘My Lord, bring the last hour; my Lord, bring the last hour, so that I may return to my people and my property.’
But when an infidel is about to leave the world and proceed to the next world, angels with black faces come down to him from heaven with hair-cloth and sit away from him as far as the eye can see. Then the angel of death comes and sits at his head and says, ‘Wicked soul, come out to displeasure from Allah.’ Then it becomes dissipated in his body, and he draws it out as a spit is drawn out from moistened wool. He then seizes it, and when he does so they do not leave it in his hand for an instant, but put it in that hair-cloth and from it comes forth a stench like the most offensive corpse found on the face of the earth. They then take it up and do not bring it past a company of angels without their saying, ‘Who is this wicked soul?’ to which they reply, ‘So and so, the son of so and so’, using the worst names that he was called in the world. When he is brought to the lowest heaven request is made that the gate be opened for him, but it is not opened for him. (Allah’s Messenger (saws) then recited, ‘The gates of heaven will not be opened for them and they will not enter paradise until a camel can pass through the eye of a needle.’ Allah who is most Great and Glorious then says, ‘Record his book in Sijjin in the lowest earth,’ and his soul is thrown down. (He (saws) then recited, ‘He who assigns partners to Allah is as if he had fallen down from heaven and been snatched up by the birds, or made to fall by the wind in a place far distant.’ His soul is then restored to his body, two angels come to him, and making him sit up say to him, ‘Who is your Lord?’ He replies, ‘Alas, alas, I do not know.’ They ask, ‘What is your religion?’ He replies, ‘Alas, alas, I do not know.’ They ask ‘Who is this man who was sent among you?’ He replies, Alas, alas, I do not know.’ Then one cries out from heaven, ‘He has lied, so spread out carpets from hell for him, and open a gate for him into hell.’ Then some of its heat and hot air comes to him, his grave is made narrow for him so that his ribs are pressed together in it and a man with an ugly face, ugly garments and an offensive odor come to him and says, Be grieved with what displeases you, for this is your day which you have been promised.’ He asks ‘Who are you, for your face is most ugly and brings evil?’ He replies, ‘l am your wicked deeds.’ He then says, My Lord, do not bring the last hour.’
In a version there is something similar containing this addition:
“When his soul comes out every angel between heaven and earth and every angel in heaven invoke blessings on him, and the gates of heaven are opened for him, no guardians of a gate failing to supplicate God that his soul may be taken up beyond them. But his soul, i.e., the infidel’s, is pulled out along with the veins and every angel between heaven and earth and every angel in heaven curse him, and the gates of heaven are locked, no guardians of a gate failing to supplicate God that his soul may not be taken up beyond them.”
(Ahmad transmitted it)
The person who answers the questions correctly and is destined for paradise will feel that his grave is expanding and becoming a garden of paradise. The angels will tell him gently, “Sleep like the sleep of a bride.”
But the person who fails to answer the questions correctly will feel the grave closing in on him and a door into hell will be opened for him. His mortal body will decompose and eventually disappear into the ground, but his soul will continue to feel the punishment it earned in its life on earth. The punishment of the grave is the first hurdle the person has to overcome after death, and if he overcomes it easily, the rest of his trial on the Day of Judgement will be similarly easy. For this reason, the Messenger of Allah (saws) used to recite the following du’aa frequently :
“My Lord, I seek refuge in You from the punishment of the grave, and seek refuge in You from the torture of the hell fire, and I seek refuge in You from the trials of the false messiah, and I seek refuge in You from the trials of living and dying.”
Zaid b. Thabit narrated that the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) and his Companions were passing through a belonging to the Banu An Najjar when the Prophet (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) mount shied and almost unseated him. They were close to a few graves in which |olytheist were buried, so the Prophet (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) said, “These , , people are being tortured in their graves, and were it not that you would stop burying your dead, I would ask Allah to let you hear the punishment in the grave which I can hear.”
The Soul’s Journey in Brief
1. To sum up the evidence, it is clear that the souls of all people, believers and unbelievers, are taken up to the heavens at the time of death by angels and presented to Allah Almighty.
2. The record of the believer’s deeds is placed in a high place in heaven called Illiyyin and the sinner’s record is thrown into the lowest earth known as Sijjin.
“Nay! Truly the record of the evil-doers is preserved in Sijjin. And what will explain to you what Sijjin is? A register inscribed. Nay! Truly the record of the pious is preserved in Illiyyin. And what will make you know what Illiyyin is? A Register inscribed. To which bear witness those nearest to Allah (i.e. the angels).”
(Qur’an Al-Mutaffifin :7-9, 18-21)
3. The souls are returned to their bodies temporarily for questioning by the angels.
4. When the soul returns, the dead person is able to hear the retreating footsteps of the men who came to bury him. This is an exception to the general rule in the Qur’an that the dead cannot hear the living.
“Verily, you cannot make the dead to hear, nor can you make the deaf hear the call when they flee, turning their backs.”
(Qur’an An Naml v 80)
“Nor are alike the living and the dead. Verily, Allah makes whom He will hear, but you cannot make those in the graves hear.”
(Qur’an Fatir v. 22)
5. The blessed soul is taken to the heavens where it is changed into a bird and eats freely from the fruits in paradise. It rests in a state of peaceful sleep while the cool breezes of paradise flow gently over it. In contrast is the sinner’s soul, which is thrown with contempt into the lowest earth to feel the savage heat and stench of hell. Both kinds of soul reside in the same places as their Records of deeds.
6. The torture of the grave is for the soul, but if Allah Wills, it can also be felt by the body. The human body has to decay and decompose into the ground, but as the punishment of the grave is for the soul, it can continue until the Last Day.
Common Questions Answered
1. Groups of Muslims claim that the questioning in the grave is proved only by hadeeth literature and not by the Qur’an. To reply to them, consider the following verse of Surah Ibrahim :
“Allah will keep firm those who believe, with the Word that stands firm in this world and in the Hereafter. And Allah will cause the wrongdoers to go astray. and Allah does what He wills.”
(Qur’an Ibrahim : 27)
The first stage of the Hereafter is the time of Barzakh, the period between death and resurrection. The Prophet (saws), as narrated by Al-Baraa bin Aazib, explained that the believers will be aided in standing firm with their answers in the grave when the angels Munkar and Nakir come to question them, while the wrong-doers will falter at this critical time.
2. The same group of Muslims claim that the punishment or bliss of the grave are also proven only from hadeeth and not from the Qur’an. Our reply is that the punishment of the grave is mentioned in a number of Qur’anic verses:
(a) Pharaoh and his followers have been exposed to the Fires of Hell every morning and evening since their deaths, and they will continue to suffer in this manner until the Day of Resurrection. On that day they will actually enter the fire.
“The Fire; they are exposed to it morning and evening. And on the Day when the Hour will be established, it will be said: Cause Pharaoh’s people to enter the most severe torment.”
(Qur’an Ghafir 40: 46).
(b) “Because of their sins they were drowned, then (immediately) were made to enter the Fire, and they found none to help them without Allah.”
(Qur’an Nuh : 25)
The disbelievers from the people of Nuh were drowned and then immediately thrown into the Fire. According to Arabic grammar, the letter ‘fa’ in this verse indicates immediacy. As the Day of Judgement is still in the future, the punishment, which began, immediately after Nuh’s people drowned must be the punishment in Barzakh.
(c) “And among the Bedouins around you (0 Muhammad), some are hypocrites and so are some among the people of Madina. They exaggerate and persist in hypocrisy. You know them not, but We know them. We shall then punish them twice, and thereafter they shall be brought back to a severe torment”.
(Qur’an Al Tawba : 101)
Abdullah bin Abbas explained in his tafseer of this verse that the disbelievers and hypocrites would be tortured twice before their chastisement on the Day of Judgement. The first will be a wretched life on this earth, and the second will be in Barzakh.
“And if you could see when the wrong-doers are in the agonies of death while the angels are stretching forth their hands saying, ‘Deliver your souls! This day you shall be recompensed with the torment of degradation because of what you used to utter against Allah other than the truth.”
(Qur’an Al An’am : 93)
A disgraceful punishment is promised the day their souls leave their bodies. The use of the word ‘today’ indicates that the torture will be immediate, and as such cannot be referring to the Day of Judgement but to the time in the grave.
“And if you could see when the angels take away the souls of the disbelievers, they beat their faces and their backs, (saying) ‘Taste the punishment of the blazing Fire. This because of that which your hands had sent forward. And indeed, Allah is not unjust to His slaves.”
(Qur’an Al Anfal: 50-51)
“Then how will it be when the angels will take their souls at death, beating their faces and their backs?”
(Qur’an Muhammad 27)
Both the above verses speak of a beating by the angels immediately after death.
3. The rewards and bliss of the grave are also mentioned by the Qur’an. For example, the story is told of a man who warned a prophet that his enemies were plotting to kill him. When the disbelievers realized that the man had betrayed them, they punished him and viciously put him to death. Immediately after his death the man was told to enter paradise and when he saw the luxuries and wonders of paradise, the man wished he could tell his people about his happy fate.
“It was said to him (when the disbelievers killed him): ‘Enter Paradise’. He said: ‘Would that my people knew that my Lord has forgiven me and made me one of the honored ones.”
(Qur’an Ya Sin : 26-27)
The real Paradise will reveal all its favors and wonders on the Day of Judgement, but this man received only a taste of paradise in his grave which gave him such rapturous joy.
“Those whose lives the angels take while they are in a pious state, saying to them, ‘Peace be upon you, enter Paradise because of the good which you used to do in the world”.
(Qur’an Al Nahl : 32)
“Think not of those who are killed in the Way of Allah as dead! Nay! They are alive, with their Lord, where they have provisions. They rejoice what Allah has bestowed upon them from His bounties. Rejoicing for the sake of those who have not yet joined them but are left behind (not yet martyred) that on them no fear shall come nor shall they grieve.”
(Qur’an Al Imran : 169-170)
The life of the martyrs is not like the life on earth. The Messenger of Allah (saws) explained this further in the following narration.
“Their souls are in the crops of green birds which are in lamps suspended from the Throne of Allah, which fly where they wish in Paradise and then return to these lamp. Their Lord looks on them and asks whether they desire anything, and they ask in reply what they wish when they can go where they like in Paradise. He asks them three times, and when they see they will not be left until they ask something, they tell their Lord that they wish Him to return their souls to their bodies so that they may be killed in His path again. Then when He that they lack nothing they are left without further questioning.”
(Transmitted by Muslim)