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1,001 Sayings and Deeds of the Prophet

Life in the Grave

For most of what Islam has to say about what happens to a human being after he or she passes away we must look to the Prophet Muhammad and his extraordinary insights into what happens after everything fades to black.

If you thought the Compassionate’s description of what He intends to do to unbelievers and sinners when he gets His hands on them was about as bad as it could get, you haven’t read His Messenger’s account of what will be done to them when they die.

Don’t try to make sense of what you are about to read, and don’t let it give you nightmares.

The whole death thing starts innocently enough. Forty days before a person dies, a leaf with the soon-to-be-deceased’s name on it falls from a tree in Paradise just beneath Allah’s throne. Izra’il, the angel of death picks it up and schedules a pick-up forty days hence.

Even believers, the Prophet said, will be taken aback when Izra’il comes a knocking. When he shows up on their doorstep, even after they have been warned of his coming by the Messenger of God, they will still ask him: “Who are you?”

Be that as it may, the last person the soon-to-be-departed will see is not the angel of death, but two angels who have been patiently and anonymously recording his or her bad and good deeds. These two angels, in the blink of an eye, will present the soon-to-be-deceased with their lifetime of good and bad deeds.

With this-was-your-life formalities out of the way, the person’s living, thinking, seeing, able-to-feel-pain soul will sink into the ground where they died; but not before Izra’il has finished extracting it from the still warm body, drawing it out like rough cotton through the eye sockets.

Like birth, death in Islamic traditions is meant to be a painful transition. Satan will offer a believer in Allah’s good books to relieve him or her of some of the pain caused by Izra’il appalling soul extraction method. On the threshold of Paradise, if the poor tormented soul can’t stand the pain and accepts Satan’s offer to reduce its suffering, it’s a U-turn to Hell for it and its owner come Judgement Day.

If the extracted soul is meant to go to Hell it will be given a glimpse of life in the grave and its final destination come Judgement Day. The horror-struck soul will then briefly escape Izra’il’s grip and will fly to heaven and try all seven doors to the seven levels only to be turned back by the angels guarding the entrances to Paradise.

It will be forced to return to Izra’il who will then stuff it back into the already decaying corpse and the reconstituted soul-body combo will begin its new life in the grave.

The believers who died literally in Allah’s good books will be provided with a spacious grave complete with curtains and a bed. An unbeliever, or a believer who died while in Allah’s bad books, will be confined to a cramped space with walls constantly closing in on them making every breath a laboured one.

After the living dead have settled into their zombie-like existence, two black-skin, blue-eyed angels by the name of Munkar and Nakir will burst into their graves and start questioning the decaying remains, which will sit up, as to its religious beliefs for forty days non-stop.

Narrated Al-Bara bin 'Azib:

The Prophet (p.b.u.h) said, "When a faithful believer is made to sit in his grave, then (the angels) come to him and he testifies that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and Muhammad is Allah's Apostle. And that corresponds to Allah's statement: "Allah will keep firm those who believe with the word that stands firm ... "(14.27).

Bukhari 23.450

The point of this questioning is lost on many, since the Koran states that a believer enters Paradise based on their records of good and bad deeds, or at Allah’s discretion.

The corpse will not only be asked about Allah’s revealed truths but also whether it ever said anything bad about His Messenger. If it only said good things about him during its living breathing life above ground, all is forgiven (or so it would seem).

Narrated Anas:

Prophet Muhammad said, "When a human being is laid in his grave and his companions return and he even hears their footsteps, two angels come to him and make him sit and ask him: 'What did you use to say about this man, Muhammad?'

He will say: 'I testify that he is Allah's slave and His Apostle.'

Then it will be said to him, 'Look at your place in the Hell-Fire. Allah has given you a place in Paradise instead of it.'"

Prophet Muhammad added, "The dead person will see both his places. But a non-believer or a hypocrite will say to the angels, 'I do not know, but I used to say what the people used to say!'

It will be said to him, 'Neither did you know nor did you take the guidance (by reciting the Quran).'

Then he will be hit with an iron hammer between his two ears, and he will cry and that cry will be heard by whatever approaches him except human beings and jinns."

Bukhari 23.422

The interrogation over, the occupant of the grave will continue to get twice daily visits, until Judgement Day, from another angel. He has not come to chat, but to open those curtains with that pleasing or horrifying view.

Narrated Abdullah bin Umar:

Allah's Apostle said, "When anyone of you dies, he is shown his place both in the morning and in the evening. If he is one of the people of Paradise; he is shown his place in it, and if he is from the people of the Hell-Fire; he is shown his place there-in. Then it is said to him, 'This is your place till Allah resurrect you on the Day of Resurrection.'"

Bukhari 23.461

Bedwetters beware! Even a minor sin, or a sin that is only in the mind of the observer such as an involuntary discharge of urine, can lead to an agonizing life in the grave?

Narrated Ibn Abbas:

Allah's Apostle passed by two graves and said, "Both of them (persons in the grave) are being tortured, and they are not being tortured for a major sin. This one used not to save himself from being soiled with his urine, and the other used to go about with calumnies (among the people to rouse hostilities, e.g., one goes to a person and tells him that so-and-so says about him such-and-such evil things)."

The Prophet then asked for a green leaf of a date-palm tree, split it into two pieces and planted one on each grave and said, "It is hoped that their punishment may be abated till those two pieces of the leaf get dried."

Bukhari 73.78

God’s Messenger said that “we would faint in terror if we could hear the screams of those being tormented” in their graves, which would explain why dogs sometimes howl for no apparent reason.

Narrated Aisha:

Two old ladies from among the Jewish ladies entered upon me and said' "The dead are punished in their graves," but I thought they were telling a lie and did not believe them in the beginning.

When they went away and the Prophet entered upon me, I said, "O Allah's Apostle! Two old ladies" and told him the whole story.

He said, "They told the truth; the dead are really punished, to the extent that all the animals hear (the sound resulting from) their punishment."

Since then I always saw him seeking refuge with Allah from the punishment of the grave in his prayers.

Bukhari 75.377

It was only after Aisha repeated the Jewish ladies' tale of horror to God’s Messenger that he began to seek refuge from life as an undead in his prayers. Could it be that the entire concept of life in the grave was the Prophet's take on an old wives' tale?