The Questioning in the Grave: Death is not the End

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(part 1 of 2) Description:  What happens to a person after death . Objective: ·         To understand that the grave is the first stage of t...

(part 1 of 2)

Description: What happens to a person after death.
Objective:
·       To understand that the grave is the first stage of the life in the Hereafter.
Arabic Terms:
·       Hadith - (plural – ahadith) is a piece of information or a story.  In Islam it is a narrative record of the sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad and his companions.
·       Sahabah - the plural form of "Sahabi," which translates to Companions.   A sahabi, as the word is commonly used today, is someone who saw Prophet Muhammad, believed in him and died as a Muslim.
·       Barzakh - intermediate stage between this life and resurrection. 
·       Ghayb - the unseen, the invisible, or the unknown.
QuestioninginGrave1.jpgThe grave is the abode of the body after death and death is something we will all experience.  There is no denying this or hiding from it.  Death will come to each and every one of us.  Some will die earlier in their lifespan than others, according to the will of Allah but everyone who lives will die at his appointed time, whether he is amongst the pious or wicked.  Therefore it is important that each and every one of us understands what will happen after we die.  We die and we are buried but that is not the end, on the contrary it is just the beginning.
“Every soul shall taste death...” (Quran 3:185)
The prophets of Allah called their people to worship One God, Allah the Almighty, and they also taught the people to believe in life after death.  It was thought of as an extremely important concept, so much so that failure to believe in it rendered all beliefs meaningless.  In accordance with this, one of the 'pillars of faith' is belief in life after death.  This life is often referred to as the Hereafter, and the first stage of the Hereafter is life in the grave.
In an authentic hadith Prophet Muhammad said, “The grave is the first stage of the Hereafter …”[1]  With this in mind it is important to remember that this worldly life is a series of trials and tests that determine our place in the Hereafter.  All actions are recorded and they form the basis of any punishment or reward a person is destined to receive. 
“This is because of that (evil) which your hands have sent before you.  And certainly, Allah is never unjust to (His) slaves.” (Quran 3:182)
“This is the Paradise which you have been made to inherit because of your deeds which you used to do (in the life of the world).” (Quran 43:72)
Life in the grave is often referred to as life in the Barzakh.  Barzakh literally means an obstacle, hindrance or something that separates one thing from another such as this following description in the Quran:
“He has let loosed the two seas (the salt water and the sweet) meeting together. Between them is a barrier (Barzakh), which none of them can transgress.” (Quran 55:19-20)
As such it is a barrier that cannot be crossed except by the permission of Allah.  In the context of life and death, Barzakh is the period between a person's death and his resurrection on Judgment Day.  The very nature of life in the Barzakh is a matter of theghayb and thus its details are known to Allah alone.  However Allah did reveal some matters of the ghayb to Prophet Muhammad and he in turn conveyed those things to us.
After any burial Prophet Muhammad would remind his companions to ask forgiveness for their brother or sister, and to ask Allah that they remain steadfast at the time of questioning.[2]  This was because Prophet Muhammad said that what comes after the burial could be very difficult indeed.   After informing his sahabi that the grave is the first stage of the Hereafter, Prophet Muhammad said, “…if one finds salvation (at this stage) the succeeding (stages) become easy for him, and if he does not find salvation in it, what follows this stage is very hard upon him.” Prophet Muhammad’s beloved wife Aisha recalls that the Prophet used to regularly seek refuge with Allah from the torment and tribulations of the grave.[3]  And it is understood by the scholars of Islam that the tribulations refer to the questioning. 
Thus it would be pertinent for us to follow his example and seek refuge with Allah from being punished in the grave.  Prophet Muhammad himself, in a relatively long but very descriptive and informative hadith explains very clearly what will happen before the questioning.  It was a subject that the sahabah were very interested in and they describe themselves as sitting like birds, meaning they were quiet and still, when listening to Prophet Muhammad talk about the life in the grave.[4]
When the believing slave is about to depart this world and enter the Hereafter, there come down to him angels with white faces like the sun, and they sit around him as far as the eye can see.  They bring with them shrouds from Jannah (Heavenly Abode) and perfumes from Jannah.  Then the Angel of Death comes and sits by his head, and he says, ‘O good soul, come forth to forgiveness from Allah and His pleasure.’ Then it 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 on the face of the earth.  Then they ascend and they do not pass by any group of angels but they say, ‘Who is this good soul?’ and they say, ‘It is So and so the son of So and so’, calling him by the best names by which he was known in this world, until they reach the lowest heaven.  They ask for it to be opened to them and 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.  Then Allah says: ‘Record his place in the book, and return him 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 his soul is reunited with his body and there come to him two angels who make him sit up.
To be continued in Lesson 2.


Footnotes:
[1] At Tirmidi, Ibn Majah
[2] Abu Dawood
[3] Saheeh Al-Bukhari
[4] Abu Dawood, Iman Ahmad

The Questioning in the Grave (part 2 of 2): Your Place until the Day of Judgment

Description: A continuation of lesson 1 including the questions asked in the grave.
Objective:
·       To understand the nature of the questions asked in the grave.
Arabic Terms:
·       Hadith - (plural – ahadith) is a piece of information or a story.  In Islam it is a narrative record of the sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of Allah be upon him, and his companions.
QuestioninginGrave2.jpgThe scene for the disbelievers is very different.  The angels come to a disbeliever “…with dark faces, bringing sackcloth, and they sit around him as far as the eye can see.  Then the Angel of Death comes and sits by his head, and he says, ‘O evil soul, come forth to the wrath of Allah and His anger.’  Then his soul disperses inside his body, and then 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 and they do not pass by any group of angels but they say, ‘Who is this evil soul?’ and they say, ‘It is So and so the son of So and so’, calling him by the worst names by which he was known in this world, until they reach the lowest heaven.  They ask for it to be opened to them and it is not opened.”  Then Allah records his place as being in the lowest depths of hell.
Once the soul has been reunited with the body, the dead person is visited in their grave by two angels.   In an authentic hadith Prophet Muhammad tells us that these angels are black and blue and named Munkar and Nakeer.  The angels will ask three questions that will affirm a person’s faith and at the same time lay bare their piousness or wickedness.  This is a very important stage because it sets the scene for the whole of a person’s life in the Hereafter.  The angels ask who is your Lord, what is your religion and who is your Prophet? Or as in some ahadith it is said that the question will be who is this man who was sent amongst you?  As you can see these questions concern matters of faith.  If a person answers, my Lord is Allah, my religion is Islam, my prophet is Muhammad … a voice calls out from heaven, “My slave has spoken the truth, so prepare for him a bed from Paradise and clothe him from Paradise, and open for him a gate to Paradise.” If the deceased does not know the correct answer to the questions, then a voice calls out from heaven, “Prepare for him a bed from Hell and clothe him from Hell, and open for him a gate to Hell.  ”
The questioning confirms exactly what a person has understood since the moment of death.  Good really will be rewarded and evil will be punished.  And thus the believer is immediately rewarded with an opening that appears in his grave.  Through the opening the person can see the grandeur and bounties waiting for him in Paradise.  His good deeds will come to him in the form of a well-dressed, handsome , finely perfumed man.  The grave will be widened as far as the eye can see, it will be well-lit and filled with greenery; he will long to tell his family of his good fortune.  The believer will sleep peacefully in his grave.  Prophet Muhammad mentioned in a hadith that the believer will be told to look at his place in the Hellfire and understand that it has been exchanged for a place in Paradise.  “So he will look at them both.  Then his grave will be widened for him to a distance of seventy cubits, and it will be filled with greenery until the Day of Resurrection”. 
In contrast, grave of the disobedient will be filled with darkness.  The disbeliever’s punishment begins with his bad deeds taking the form of a repulsive looking man and an opening through which he can see the ugliness of Hell. 
Reward and punishment are mighty motivators and the thought of spending an unspecified amount of time being punished even before the Day of Judgment arrives is a fearful thing.
The Prophet said “When any one of you dies, he is shown his eternal abode every morning and evening.  If he is one of the people of Paradise, then he is one of the people of Paradise, and if he is one of the people of Hell, then he is one of the people of Hell, and he is told, ‘This is your abode until Allah raises you on the Day of Resurrection.”
Imagine hearing those words.  This is your abode until Allah raises you on the Day of Resurrection.  This is a moment that could either be filled with joy or despair for the time may be long or short, as Allah wills.  We have been warned and events of that day have been clearly set out for us.  Those of us who are wise will take heed.

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Jama Masjid: The Questioning in the Grave: Death is not the End
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