Allahl al-Sunnah wa Al-Jama’ah agree that each person will be questioned after his death, whether he is buried or not. Even if a person were eaten by carnivorous animals or burnt to ashes and thrown into the air or drowned in the sea, he or she would be questioned about his or her deeds, and rewarded with good or evil depending on his or her deeds in life. Both the body and the soul together experience punishment or reward.
Ibn al-Qayyim said, “The early Muslim community and its prominent scholars held that after death, a person is either in bliss or torment both physically and spiritually. After its separation from the body, the soul endures a state of happiness or punishment. At times, when the soul rejoins the body, both of them receive torture or joy. On the Day of Resurrection, the souls will be returned to the bodies and they will rise from their graves and stand before the Lord of the worlds. The Muslims, Christians, and Jews, all believe in the resurrection of the body.
Al-Maruzi related that Imam Ahmad said, “The punishment in the grave is a reality, and only he who is misguided or wants to misguide others denies it.”
Hanbal said, “I asked Abu Abdallah about the punishment in the grave. He said, ‘These are the sound hadith and we believe in them and affirm them. We affirm everything that comes from the Prophet, peace be upon him, with a sound chain of narrators. If we were to confirm a report as being from the Prophet, peace be upon him, and then reject it or oppose it, we would be denying the Word of Allah, “Whatever the Messenger gives you, take it”.’ I asked him, ‘Is the punishment of the grave a reality?’ He said, ‘Yes, it is a reality. The people are punished in their graves.’ I heard Abu Abdallah saying, ‘We believe in the punishment of the grave, in Munkar and Nakir (the two questioning angels), and that the deceased will be questioned in their graves.’ The Qur’an states that ‘Allah will establish in strength those who believe in the Word, that stands firm in this world and in the Hereafter,’ Qur’an 14.27 that is, in the grave.”
Ahmad ibn al-Qasim said, I asked, ‘O Abu Abdallah! Do you believe in Munkar and Nakir and what is related concerning the punishment of the grave?’ He said, ‘Glory to Allah. Yes, we do confirm that and we declare so.’ I said, ‘This expression that you use, is it Munkar and Nakir? Or do you call them, “The two angels?”‘ He answered: ‘Munkar and Nakir.’ I said, ‘They say, “There is no mention of Munkar and Nakir in the hadith”.’ He replied, ‘Of course there is. There is Munkar and Nakir’.”
Al-Hafiz said in Al-Fath, “Ahmad ibn Hazm and Ibn Hubairah are of the opinion that the questioning is addressed to the soul only, without its returning to the body. The majority of Muslim scholars, however, disagree with them. They say, ‘The soul is returned to the body or some of it, as is confirmed by the hadith. Had the punishment been directed at the soul only, there would not be concern for the body. The scattered parts of a body should pose no problem, for Allah is able to give life to any part of a body, and then address the questioning to that particular part. Likewise, He is able to gather all its parts easily’.”
Those who hold that the questioning will be addressed only to the soul say that if one were to examine the body in the grave at the time of the questioning, one will notice no trace of its sitting or any other movement. One will also notice that the grave is neither more narrow nor spacious. Similar is the case of those who are not buried in any grave, e.g., the people who are crucified. To counter this objection, it is maintained that it is not impossible. Rather, in physical life we find a similar example, namely, sleeping. A sleeping person experiences both pleasure and pain, but his companion cannot notice any of its effects on him. In fact, even a person who is wide awake also feels pain and pleasure when he hears or thinks of his painful or pleasant experiences, but its effects cannot be noticed. Considering the unseen in the light of what is seen or guessing about life after death in terms of the present life is the mistake of this fallacious thinking.
Obviously Allah has screened the sights and sounds of the other world from man, and with our limited physical faculties, we are incapable of perceiving the vast kingdom of heavens, unless Allah wills it.
The opinion of the majority in this respect is supported by various hadith. The Prophet, peace be upon him, for example, told us, “the deceased hears the sound of their footsteps”; “his ribs are altered because of the embrace of the grave”; “the sound of his voice resounds when the angel strikes him with a hammer”; “he is struck between his ears,” or “they (the two angels) will cause him to sit up.” All these hadith refer to various bodily conditions. We will mention here some of the sound hadith concerning this subject.
Zaid ibn Thabit reported, “The Prophet, peace be upon him, was going with us toward the dwellings of Banu an-Najjar. He was riding a pony, which spooked and he nearly fell off. He found four, five, or six graves there, and asked, ‘Which of you knows about those lying in these graves?’ Someone said, ‘I do.’ Thereupon the Prophet, peace be upon him, asked, ‘In what state did they die?’ He replied, ‘They died as polytheists.’ He said, “These people are passing through an ordeal in the graves. You would stop burying your dead in the graves if you heard the torment in the grave that I hear. If it were not for this fact, I should have certainly made you listen to it.’ Then turning his face toward us, he admonished, ‘Seek refuge with Allah from the torment of Hell.’ They replied, ‘We seek refuge with Allah from the torment of Hell.’ He said, ‘Seek refuge with Allah from the torment of the grave.’ They said, ‘We seek refuge with Allah from the torment of the grave.’ He warned, ‘Seek refuge with Allah from temptations both visible and invisible.’ They replied, ‘We seek refuge with Allah from temptation (fitnah) in every visible and invisible form.’ Then he added, ‘Seek refuge with Allah from the temptation of the Dajjal.’ They said, ‘We seek refuge with Allah from the temptation of the Dajjal’.” (Muslim)
Qatadah reported that Anas ibn Malik said, “The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, ‘When a human is laid in his grave and his companions return and he hears their footsteps, two angels will come to him and make him sit and ask him, “What did you say about this man, Muhammad, may peace be upon him?” He will say, “I testify that he is Allah’s servant and His Messenger.” Then it will be said to him, “Look at your place in Hell-Fire. Allah has exchanged for you a place in Paradise instead of it”.’ The Prophet, peace be upon him, added, ‘The dead person will see both his places. As for a non-believer or a hypocrite, he will respond 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 seek guidance from those who had knowledge.” Then he will be hit with an iron hammer between his two ears, and he will cry and that cry will be heard by all except human beings and jinns’.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Al-Bara ibn ‘Azib reported: The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, ‘When a Muslim is questioned in his grave, he bears witness that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.’ According to one report, the verse, ‘Allah will establish in strength those who believe with the Word, that stands firm in this world and in the Hereafter’ (Qur’an 14.27) was revealed concerning the punishment of the grave. The deceased will be asked, ‘Who is your Lord?’ He will say, ‘Allah is my Lord and Muhammad is my Prophet.’ That is what is meant by the statement of Allah, ‘Allah will make firm those who believe with a firm statement in this life and in the hereafter’.” (Al-Bukhari, Muslim, and Sunan)
Ahmad and Abu Hatim reported that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “When a deceased person is laid in his grave, he hears the sound of the footsteps of people as they go away. If he is a believer, the prayer will stand by his head, the fasting will be to his right, alms to his left, and all other good deeds of charity, kindness to relations, and good behaviour will be by his feet. The deceased will be questioned by the angels at his head. The prayer will say, ‘There is no entrance through me.’ Then he will be questioned by his right side where fasting will say, ‘There is no entrance through me.’ Then he will be questioned by his left side where charity will say, ‘There is no entrance through me.’ Then he will be questioned by his feet where the good acts of voluntary charity, kindness to relations, and good behaviour will say, ‘There is no entrance through me.’ Then they will say to him, ‘Get up.’ And he will get up. The sun will appear to him and it will begin to set. Then they will ask, ‘This man who was among you, what do you say about him? What is your testimony about him?’ The man will say, ‘Let me pray.’ The angels will say, ‘You will pray. Answer our question. What do you think about this man who was among you? What do you say concerning him? What do you testify concerning him?’ The deceased will say, I bear witness that Muhammad was the Messenger of Allah who brought the truth from Allah.’ The deceased will be told, ‘According to this you lived, died, and according to this you will be resurrected, if Allah wills.’
“Then a door to Paradise will be opened for him. He will be told, ‘This is your place in Paradise and what Allah has prepared for you.’ At this the desire and happiness of the deceased will increase. His grave will be enlarged 70 arms-length and his grave will be lit up. His body will change to his original form and his spirit will be placed in a bird dangling by the trees of Paradise in a nice breeze.” The Prophet, peace be upon him, added, “That is what is meant by the statement of Allah, ‘Allah will establish in strength those who believe with the Word that stands firm, in this world and in the Hereafter’.” He also mentioned the unbeliever and said, “His grave will be compressed, so that his ribs will be crushed together. About this the Qur’an says, ‘Verily, for him is a narrow life and We will resurrect him blind on the Day of Resurrection’.” Qur’an 20.124
Samura ibn Jundub reported, “The Prophet, peace be upon him, after the prayers would turn toward us and ask us, ‘Did any one of you have a dream?’ If someone had, he would relate it. Upon hearing it the Prophet, peace be upon him, would say, ‘Whatsoever Allah wills (is done).’ One day he questioned us saying, ‘Did anyone of you have a dream?’ They answered, ‘No.’ Then the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, ‘But I saw tonight two men. They came to me. They held my hand and took me to the holy land. We came across a man lying down, and behold, another man was standing over his head, holding a big rock. Behold, he was throwing the rock at the man’s head, crushing it. The rock rolled away and the thrower followed it and brought it back. By the time he reached the man, his head was restored to its normal state. The thrower then did the same as he had done before. I asked my two companions, “Who are these two people?” They said, “Proceed!” So we proceeded and came to a man lying flat on his back and another man standing over his head with an iron hook. Behold, he would put the hook in one side of the man’s mouth and tear off that side of his face to the back of the neck and similarly tear his nose from front to back and his eye from front to back. Then he turned to the other side of the man’s face and did just as he had done with the other side. As soon as he tore one side, the other side returned to its normal state. Then he returned to it to repeat what he had done before. I said to my two companions, “Who are these two people?” They said to me, “Proceed!” So we proceeded and saw a hole like an oven, narrow at the top and wide at the bottom, and fire burning in it. In that oven there were naked men and women, and behold, flames of fire were reaching them from underneath, and when it reached them, they would be raised high until they were close to the mouth of the oven. Then the fire subsided and they went back inside it again. I asked, “Who are these?” They said to me, “Proceed!” And so we proceeded and came to a river of blood. And behold, in the middle of the river was a man standing, and on the bank there was one who had many stones. The man who was in the river would try to leave but the other man would throw rocks into his mouth so that he would return to where he was. Every time the former tried to leave, the other would throw rocks into his mouth. Then he would return to where he was. I asked, “Who are these people?” They replied, “Proceed! Proceed!” We proceeded until we came to a man with a repulsive appearance, the most repulsive appearance you ever saw in a man! Beside him there was a fire and he was kindling it and running around it. I asked my companions, “Who is this (man)?” They said to me, “Proceed! Proceed!” So we proceeded until we reached a garden of deep green dense vegetation, bedecked with all sorts of spring colours. In the middle of the garden there was a very tall man. I could hardly see his head because of his great height. And around him there were more children than I had ever seen before. I said to my companions, “Who is this?” They replied, “Proceed! Proceed!” So we proceeded until we came to a huge majestic garden, greater and better than I have ever seen! My two companions said to me, “Go up,” and I went up.’
“The Prophet, peace be upon him, added, ‘So we ascended until we reached a city built of gold and silver bricks. We went to its gate and asked the gatekeeper to open the gate. It was opened and we entered the city. There we found men with one side of their bodies as handsome as the most handsome person you have ever seen, and the other side as ugly as the ugliest person you have ever seen. My two companions ordered those men to throw themselves into the river. Behold, there was a river flowing through the city, and its water was as white as milk. Those men went and threw themselves in it and then returned to us after the ugliness of their bodies had disappeared and they turned in the best shape.’ I said to them, “I have seen many wonders tonight. What is the meaning of all that I have seen?”
They replied, “We will inform you. As for the first man you came upon whose head was being crushed with the rock, he is the symbol of the one who studies the Qur’an and then neither recites it nor acts on it, and sleeps, neglects the enjoined prayers. As for the man you came upon whose mouth, nostrils, and eyes were torn off from front to back, he is the symbol of the man who goes out of his house in the morning and tells so many lies that it spreads all over the world. And those naked men and women whom you saw in the oven, they are the adulterers and the adulteresses, and the man whom you saw in the river of blood is the usurer. As for the man by the base of the tree, he was Abraham. As for the children around him, they are the children of the people. (The narrator added, “Some Muslims asked the Prophet. peace be upon him, ‘O Messenger of Allah! What about the children of pagans?’ The Prophet, peace be upon him, replied, ‘And also the children of pagans’.”) And the man whom you saw near the fire kindling it and going round it, is Malik, the gatekeeper of Hell.”‘
“The Prophet, peace be upon him, added, ‘My two companions explained, “The men you saw half handsome and half ugly were those persons who had mixed an act that was good with another that was bad, but Allah forgave them.” The first house is the common believer’s house. As for this house, it is the house of martyrs. I am Gabriel and this is Michael. Now, raise your head.”
When I raised my head, I saw a palace that looked like a cloud. They said, “This is your home.” I said, “Let me enter my house.” They said, “You still have some life to complete on earth. Upon completing it, you may come to your home”.’ (Al-Bukhari)
Ibn al-Qayyim explained, “This is a text that pertains to the punishment of barzakh, for a vision by the Prophets is like revelation demonstrating the reality.”
Al-Tahawi reported from Ibn Mas’ud that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “A person was ordered to be lashed a hundred times in his grave. He continuously asked Allah to decrease his punishment until only one lash remained. His grave was totally filled by fire. When the fire was removed, he regained consciousness and asked, ‘Why was I lashed?’ He was told, ‘You offered a prayer once without proper purification, and you passed by an oppressed person but you did not help him’.”
Anas reported, “The Prophet, peace be upon him, once heard a voice from a grave. He asked, ‘When did this one die?’ They said, ‘He died during the pre-Islamic era.’ He was pleased to hear that and remarked, ‘Had I not feared that you would stop burying your dead, I would have asked Allah to let you hear the punishment of the grave’.” (Reported by Nasa’i and Muslim)
‘Abdallah ibn ‘Umar reported, “The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, ‘This is (Sa’d ibn Mu’azh), for whom the Throne (of Allah) moved. The doors of Heaven were opened for him and seventy thousand angels participated (in his funeral prayer). (His grave) was compressed and later on was expanded for him’.” (Nasa’i)