The Islamic Hereafter
Life in the Grave
22:7 And that the hour is coming, no doubt about it; and that Allah raises up those who are in their graves.
The Koran has little to say about what happens when a person dies except that Allah will decide when his or her time has come.
6.2 It is He Who created you from clay, then decreed a term [for you] and another set term with Him (Allah is referring to Judgement Day, not eternity, Fakhry), but still you doubt.
For most of what Islam has to say about what happens when a human being passes away, we must look to the sayings (Traditions) of the Prophet Muhammad. If you thought the Compassionate’s description of what He intends to do when he gets His hands on unbelievers and sinners was about as bad as it could get, you haven’t read His spokesman’s account of what will happen when they die. Don’t try to make sense of what you are about to read, and don’t let it give you nightmares.
According to the Traditions, the whole death thing starts innocently enough. Forty days before a person dies, a leaf inscribed with the soon-to-be-deceased’s name 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, Muhammad said, will be taken aback when ‘Izra’il comes 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 their 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 die, but not before ‘Izra’il has finished extracting it from the still-warm body, drawing it out like rough cotton through an eye socket. Because the soul desperately tries to get out via a natural opening, the mouth, Izra’il extraction method seems unnecessary cruel.
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, in Islamic traditions, death—except for martyrs are admitted directly into Paradise no questions asked (3:169 And do not think those who have been killed in the Way of Allah as dead; they are rather living with their Lord, well provided for)—is meant to be a painful transition. Satan will offer believers in Allah’s good books some relief from the pain caused by ‘Izra’il appalling soul-extraction method. If the poor tormented soul can’t stand the pain and accepts Satan’s offer to reduce its suffering, it’s a U-turn from the threshold of Paradise to Hell come Judgement Day. Many will be sorry for not standing the pain just a while longer.
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 fly to heaven to try all seven doors to the seven levels of Paradise, only to be turned back by the angels guarding its entrances. It will be forced to return to ‘Izra’il, who will then stuff it back into its corpse where the reconstituted soul-body combo will begin its new life in the grave.
The believers who die in God’s good books will be provided with a spacious grave complete with curtains and a bed. An unbeliever, or a believer who dies 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-skinned, 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 God’s discretion. One question asked by the angels will lead the corpse to incriminate 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.
For a believer, self-incrimination is not necessarily a bad thing.
4:135 O believers, be upholders of justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves, your parents or kinsmen. Whether rich or poor, Allah takes better care or both. Do not follow your desire to refrain from justice. If you twist [your testimony] or turn away, Allah is Fully Aware of what you do.
5:8 O believers, be dutiful to Allah and bearers of witness with justice; and do not let the hatred of a certain group drive you to be unequitable (sic). Be equitable; that is nearer to piety, and fear Allah. Allah is indeed Fully Aware of what you do!
5:9 Allah has promised those who believe and do the good deeds they shall have forgiveness and a great reward.
5:10 But those who disbelieve and deny our Revelations those are the people of Hell
The corpse will not only be asked about Allah’s Revelations but also whether it ever spoke ill of Muhammad. If only praise and prayer were expressed during its living, breathing life above ground, God’s spokesman declared that all will be forgiven; Paradise it is!
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 grave’s occupant will continue to receive a twice-daily visit from another angel until Judgement Day. He has not come to chat, but rather to open those curtains with either a 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 to the extreme, especially for convincing liars.
Narrated Samura bin Jundub:
The Prophet said, "I saw (in a dream), two men came to me."
Then the Prophet narrated the story (saying), "They said, 'The person, the one whose cheek you saw being torn away (from the mouth to the ear) was a liar and used to tell lies and the people would report those lies on his authority till they spread all over the world. So he will be punished like that till the Day of Resurrection.'"
Yahiya Emerick, convert and author of the bestseller The Complete Idiot's Guide to Islam, writes: "God’s Messenger said that if we could hear the screams of those being tortured in the grave we would faint in terror." If this claustrophobic, agonizing existence that combines both physical and psychological terrors to achieve an unprecedented level of horror and pain were not god-inspired, Muhammad would probably be remembered today as one of the most sadistic minds the world has ever known.
For some Islamic scholars, life in the grave as described by God’s spokesman was too much, even by Allah’s standards, and they looked to the Koran for any reason to modify Muhammad’s horrific descriptions.
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 scholars interpreted “barrier” as referring to a state of unconsciousness. They maintain that the interrogation by Munkar and Nakir will last no more than forty days, at which time the object of their suspicions will sink into blissful unconsciousness until awakened on Judgement Day.
All of Allah’s messengers and believers will enjoy a restful and relaxing life in the grave. In addition, God’s greatest and ultimate spokesman will be visited every day by angels bringing him the blessings of believers still walking the earth. Muhammad will be allowed to intercede on behalf of a finite number of believers whom Allah has condemned to the torments of Hell. These lucky believers destined to be saved are those who have said the most “the peace and blessings of God be upon him” whenever his name is mentioned.
The following revelations appear to contain contradictions of Muhammad’s disclosures regarding death, unless they are referring to 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.”
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” angels, striking a somewhat horrifying stance under the circumstances, will inform the wrongdoers of the agony that 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.”
Those waiting in the grave are not truly dead, but they will be at the beginning of Judgement Day when the first of two trumpet blasts by the angel Israfil will cause real death, and its follow-up blast will bring them back to life. (More about the blowing of the trumpet in the next chapter.) Allah will say to these poor resurrected souls who associated other gods with His Eminence.
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.
Having brought “the dead from the living” and confined them to hollows in the ground, Allah will begin Judgement Day by bringing out “the living from the dead,” and away we go.