The Islamic Hereafter
Life in the Grave
The Koran has little to say about what happens when a person dies except that Allah will decide when his or her time is up.
6.2 It is He Who created you from clay, then decreed a term [for you] and another set term with Him, but still you doubt.
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 Islamic folklore or traditions.
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.
In the hadiths, Izra'il is simply referred to as the angel of death, as in the following hadith about his failed attempt to get Moses to accompany him.
Narrated Abu Huraira:
The angel of death was sent to Moses and when he went to him, Moses slapped him severely, spoiling one of his eyes.
The angel went back to his Lord, and said, "You sent me to a slave who does not want to die."
Allah restored his eye and said, "Go back and tell him (i.e. Moses) to place his hand over the back of an ox, for he will be allowed to live for a number of years equal to the number of hairs coming under his hand." (So the angel came to him and told him the same).
Then Moses asked, "O my Lord! What will be then?"
He said, "death will be then." He said, "(Let it be) now."
He asked Allah that He bring him near the Sacred Land at a distance of a stone's throw.
Allah's Apostle (p.b.u.h) said, "Were I there I would show you the grave of Moses by the way near the red sand hill."
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.
How Izra’il gets his claws on the dearly departed's terrified soul does not conform exactly to what Allah revealed about the soul leaping towards the throat at the moment of death; but then again, folklore and revealed truths seldom do.
56:83 Would that, when the soul leaps to the throat,
56:84 And you are, then, waiting;
56:85 While We are closer to him (the dead man) than you, but you do not see.
56:86 And would that, not being subject to judgement,
56:87 You are able to bring them (the souls) back, if you are truthful!
56:88 However, if he (the dead man), is one of those who are favoured;
56:89 The ease and delight and Gardens of Bliss are his.
Like birth, death 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. It will be sorry it could not stand the pain just a while longer. A small sample of what it can expect:
56:90 But if he is one of the Companions of the Right;
56:91 Then “Peace upon you”, from the Companions of the Right.
56:92 However, if he is one of those who denounce and err;
56:93 Then he will be served boiling water,
56:94 And will be scorched by the Fire.
56:95 That is indeed the certain Truth.
56:96 So, glorify the Name of Your Lord, the Great One.
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 on 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 of heaven 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 as to their religious beliefs for forty days non-stop – to what end I do not know, since the Koran states that a believer enters Paradise based on their records of good and bad deeds, or at Allah’s discretion.
One question the angels will ask will lead to the corpse incriminating itself: “bear witness against themselves”, revelation 7:37.
7:35 “O Children of Adam, when Messengers from you own people come to you reciting to you My Verses – then those who fear God and mend their ways have nothing to fear, and they will not grieve.”
7:36 But those who deny Our Revelations and reject them arrogantly – those are the people of the Fire; therein they shall abide forever.
7:37 For who is more unjust than he who fabricates lies about Allah or denies His Revelations? Those will get their share of the punishment ordained for them. When Our Messengers (the angels, messengers of death) come to take their souls they will say: “Where are those upon whom you called besides Allah?” They will say: “They have left us”, and they will bear witness against themselves that they were unbelievers.
The corpse will not only be asked about Allah’s Revelations but also whether it ever said anything bad about the Prophet. If it only said good things about him during its living breathing life above ground, God's Messenger said, all is forgiven (or so it would seem).
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."
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."
Life in the grave for unbelievers and other sinners will be uncomfortable in the extreme. God’s Messenger said that “we would faint in terror if we could hear the screams of those being tormented” in their graves.
If this claustrophobic agonizing existence which combines both physical and psychological terrors to achieve an unprecedented level of horror and pain were not god-inspired, then the Prophet Muhammad would probably be remembered today as one of the greatest sadistic minds the world has ever known.
For some Islamic scholars, this life in the grave as described by God’s Messenger was too much even by Koranic standards, and they looked to the Koran for a reason to modify the Prophet's horrific descriptions. They found it, they believe, in verse 23:100.
23:99 Yet, when death visits one of them, he says: “Lord, bring me back (to the world);
23:100 “That perchance I might act rightly with respect to what I have omitted.” No, it is just a word he is uttering; and behind them is a barrier till the day they are raised from the dead.
These soft-hearted scholars of the Koran have interpreted “barrier” as meaning unconsciousness. For these compassionate interpreters of the Will of Allah, the interrogation by Munkar and Nakir will not last more than forty days and then the object of their suspicions will sink into blissful unconsciousness until awaken on Judgment Day.
In the Encyclopedia Britannica description of the Islamic death experience martyrs and prophets won’t be subjected to the interrogation by Munkar and Nakir but will be admitted directly into Paradise:
The souls of believers are then gently drawn out and carried to the seventh heaven, but the souls of unbelievers are ripped out of their bodies and hurled down to Earth before they can reach the gates of heaven.
This is not the view of the majority of eminent Islamic scholars according to Yahiya Emerick. In Emerick, and his like-minded, learned colleagues’ scenario, everyone, even the Prophet Muhammad and the lesser Prophet Jesus, who as mentioned in a previous chapter was taken body and soul to Heaven, must spend time in the grave awaiting Judgment Day.
Allah will cause Jesus to die, along with all other human being still walking the earth, after Jesus has successfully lead Allah’s army of uncompromising air-breathing believers against the forces of evil, the unbelievers, in the apocalyptic battles that will mark the End-of-Days. He will survive another forty years after having defeated the forces of evil, marry, have children, and on his death be buried next to the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad there to await Judgement Day in the company of the greatest Messenger of them all
The Prophet Muhammad, like the other Prophets who will be joining Allah on Judgment Day, and martyrs in the cause of Islam will enjoy a restful and relaxing life in the grave. In addition, God’s Messenger will be visited every day by angels bringing him the blessing of the believers still walking the earth.
The Prophet Muhammad will be allowed to intercede on behalf of a finite number of believers whom Allah has condemned to the torments of Hell. The believers for whom he will intercede are those who have said the most “the peace and blessings of God be upon him” whenever his name is mentioned.
Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah's Apostle said, "For every prophet there is one (special invocation (that will not be rejected) with which he appeals (to Allah), and I want to keep such an invocation for interceding for my followers in the Hereafter."
Two hadiths about why other Prophets will be reluctant to use their power to intercede thereby leaving God's Messenger the believers' sole champion on Judgement Day:
Narrated Abu Huraira:
We were in the company of the Prophet at a banquet and a cooked (mutton) forearm was set before him, and he used to like it. He ate a morsel of it and said, "I will be the chief of all the people on the Day of Resurrection. Do you know how Allah will gather all the first and the last (people) in one level place where an observer will be able to see (all) of them and they will be able to hear the announcer, and the sun will come near to them.
Some People will say: Don't you see, in what condition you are and the state to which you have reached? Why don't you look for a person who can intercede for you with your Lord?
Some people will say: Appeal to your father, Adam.' They will go to him and say: 'O Adam! You are the father of all mankind, and Allah created you with His Own Hands, and ordered the angels to prostrate for you, and made you live in Paradise. Will you not intercede for us with your Lord? Don't you see in what (miserable) state we are, and to what condition we have reached?'
On that Adam will reply, 'My Lord is so angry as He has never been before and will never be in the future; (besides), He forbade me (to eat from) the tree, but I disobeyed (Him), (I am worried about) myself! Myself! Go to somebody else; go to Noah.'
They will go to Noah and say; 'O Noah! You are the first amongst the messengers of Allah to the people of the earth, and Allah named you a thankful slave. Don't you see in what a (miserable) state we are and to what condition we have reached? Will you not intercede for us with your Lord?
Noah will reply: 'Today my Lord has become so angry as he had never been before and will never be in the future myself! Myself! Go to the Prophet (Muhammad).
The people will come to me, and I will prostrate myself underneath Allah's Throne. Then I will be addressed: 'O Muhammad! Raise your head; intercede for your intercession will be accepted, and ask (for anything) for you will be given."
Narrated Abu Huraira:
One day some meat was given to the Prophet and he said, "On the Day of Resurrection Allah will gather all the first and the last (people) in one plain, and the voice of the announcer will reach all of them, and one will be able to see them all, and the sun will come closer to them."
"The people will go to Abraham and say: 'You are Allah's Prophet and His Khalil on the earth. Will you intercede for us with your Lord?' Abraham will then remember his lies and say: 'Myself! Myself! Go to Moses."
A few revelations, which on the surface (no pun intended) would appear to contradict some of the Prophet’s disclosures about what happens at the time of death, unless they are about Judgement Day.
6:61 He is the Supreme Ruler over His servants, and He sends guardians (angels) to watch over you, so that when death overtakes any one of you, Our Messengers (the angels) carry him off; and they do not fail [to perform their duty].
6:62 Then they are brought back to Allah, their true Master. Truly the judgement is His and He is the Fastest Reckoner.
32:10 They say: “What, if we stray aimlessly in the land, shall we be created anew?” Indeed, they disbelieve in the Encounter of their Lord.
32:11 Say: “The angel of death, who was charged with you, will carry you off; then you will be returned to your Lord.”
The pre-Islamic Arabs were a practical, sceptical people; gods, as far as they were concerned, did not have conversations with mortals. To try to convince them, Allah tells His Messenger to remind them who revealed the Torah to Moses, the Book in revelation 6:91; if you believe in one, you have to believe in its follow-up, the Koran.
6:91 They do not show proper regard for Allah’s Greatness when they say: “Allah has not revealed anything to a mortal.” Say: “Who revealed the Book which was brought by Moses as a light and guidance to mankind? You put it in scrolls which you reveal, while you conceal much. And [now] you are taught (in the Koran) what neither you nor your fathers knew.” Say: “Allah [revealed it]. Then leave them to revel in their nonsense.”
Those who believe in a Hereafter also believe in the Koran!
6:92 And this is a Book which We revealed. [It is] blessed and confirms what preceded it, that you may warn therewith the Mother of Cities (Mecca) and those around it. Those who believe in the Hereafter believe in it and observe their prayers.
You will not have to wait until death overtakes you to begin experiencing Allah’s terrorizing merciless Wrath if you have imputed falsehoods to Him or scorned His Revelations.
“In the throes of death” Allah reveals, angels, striking a somewhat horrifying stance under the circumstances, will inform the wrongdoers of what awaits them.
6:93 And who is more unjust than he who imputes falsehoods to Allah, or says: “It has been revealed to me”, while nothing was revealed to him; or one who says: “I will reveal the like of what Allah has revealed?” If you could see the wrongdoers in the throes of death, and the angels, with arms outstretched, saying: “Give us your souls. This day you receive the punishment of humiliation for what you used to say untruly about Allah, while scorning His Revelations.”
You are not really dead during your time in the grave but you will be at the beginning of the Last Day when the Trumpet is first blown, and then brought back from the dead i.e. resurrected when the angel Israfil blows his trumpet a second time (see Answering Your Questions about Judgement Day). What Allah will say when these poor souls are resurrected:
6:94 You (the following is said to them when they are resurrected) have come to Us one by one, just as We created you initially, and you have left behind what We granted you. We do not see with you your intercessors whom you claimed were [Allah’s] partners. Certainly what held you together is now cut off, and that which you claimed has failed you.
Of all the things He could say to them about what they did to offend Him to deserve the horrible punishment He has in store, it is perhaps not surprising that it is their associating other gods with His Greatness. Wrapping up Life in the Grave the way Allah might.
6:95 Allah is truly the Cleaver of the grain and the date-stone; He brings out the living from the dead and the dead from the living. That is Allah; how then were you perverted?