Continuing from our previous entry in this series, I would like to draw the reader’s attention to the following verses in the Holy Quran which emphasize the fact that the human body is reduced to nothing but bones and dust after death:
أَيَحْسَبُ الْإِنسَانُ أَلَّن نَجْمَعَ عِظَامَهُ
Does man think that We cannot assemble his bones (Surah 75:3)
أَيَعِدُكُمْ أَنَّكُمْ إِذَا مِتُّمْ وَكُنتُمْ تُرَابًا وَعِظَامًا أَنَّكُم مُّخْرَجُونَ
“Does he promise you that when you die and have become dust and bones that you shall be brought forth?” (23:35)
The reader may also refer to the following verses in the Holy Quran (17:49, 17:98, 23:82, 36:78, 37:16, 37:53, 56:47, and 79:11).
One of the arguments put forward by the opposing camp is that the body of Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him) was preserved after death to such an extent that the jinn who were laboring under his command believed he was still alive:
فَلَمَّا قَضَيْنَا عَلَيْهِ الْمَوْتَ مَا دَلَّهُمْ عَلَى مَوْتِهِ إِلَّا دَابَّةُ الْأَرْضِ تَأْكُلُ مِنسَأَتَهُ فَلَمَّا خَرَّ تَبَيَّنَتِ الْجِنُّ أَن لَّوْ كَانُوا يَعْلَمُونَ الْغَيْبَ مَا لَبِثُوا فِي الْعَذَابِ الْمُهِينِ
So when We decreed upon him (Solomon) death, nothing informed them of his death except a worm of the earth knawing away at his staff. So when he fell down, the jinns saw clearly that if they had known the unseen, they would not have stayed in the humiliating torment. (34:14)
In analyzing this particular verse, it is noteworthy to mention that the term Daabbatul Ard (worm of the Earth) has been mentioned elsewhere in the Holy Quran:
وَإِذَا وَقَعَ الْقَوْلُ عَلَيْهِمْ أَخْرَجْنَا لَهُمْ دَابَّةً مِّنَ الْأَرْضِ تُكَلِّمُهُمْ أَنَّ النَّاسَ كَانُوا بِآيَاتِنَا لَا يُوقِنُونَ
And when the Word is fulfilled against them, We shall bring forth for them a Beast of the Earth, which will speak to them because mankind believed not with certainty in Our Signs (27:82)
It is quite interesting that most translations of the Qur'an translate Daabbah as “worm” in 34:14, referring to the “worm” which knawed away at the staff of Prophet Solomon, but translate the exact same word as “beast” in 27:82 referring to the beast that shall come forth in the End Times with the ability to speak to mankind.
In fact, the word Daabbah may also refer to a human being, not only in a figurative sense, but also linguistically, since it means any kind of moving creature or animal. It is especially used to connotate evil and “beastly” human beings, as Allah Most High says elsewhere in the Quran:
إِنَّ شَرَّ الدَّوَابِّ عِندَ اللَّـهِ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا فَهُمْ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ
Verily, the worst of beasts [ad-Dawaabb] in the sight of Allah are those who disbelieve, so they shall not believe (Surah 8:55)
The “talking” Beast of the Earth as mentioned in 27:82 is in fact an evil human being that shall make people receive a “mark” on their snouts (noses). A similar concept is mentioned in the Jewish and Christian scriptures. This Beast of the Earth shall be either a false prophet, false god, or someone who shall be associated with the Dajjal (Antichrist), or perhaps even a term the Holy Quran has used to refer to the Antichrist himself, and Allah knows best. It is said that this “Beast” shall appear to the people at forenoon according to an authentic Hadith, and his appearance is described as one of the ten major signs of the Hour. Incidentally, the Hadith of Tamim al-Dari concerning the shipwreck on the island in which the Dajjal is imprisoned mentions a hairy Beast (Daabbah) named Al-Jassaasah who is associated with the Dajjal.
Returning to our discussion of 34:14, based on what has already been explained about the meaning of Daabbah (beast), it is therefore not unreasonable to say that the beast or worm referred to in this verse is not a literal worm but refers to an evil human being. The worm of the Earth knawing at the staff of King Solomon (peace be upon him) is therefore a figurative expression that refers to his successor, a miserable ruler, who presided over the decline of Solomon's mighty kingdom. Historically speaking, this “worm of the earth” is therefore a reference to Rehoboam. For more information about Rehoboam, consult the Jewish Encyclopedia's entry on him. It was during this person's rule that the Davidic Kingdom was partitioned into two (the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah), and this is what is symbolized by the “knawing” away at the staff of Solomon. Elsewhere in the Holy Quran, this same worm of the earth who occupied the throne of Solomon is mentioned as a trial, and referred to as a Jasad or mere body (see Surah 38:34)
As for the Jinn who labored under King Solomon, constructing altars, basins, images, cauldrons, (Surah 34:13), they were the strangers who were sent from Lebanon as a tribute from the King of Tyre as mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (2 Chronicles Chapter 2). The Jewish Encylopedia says: “Tyre is first heard of under King Hiram, who furnished to his friends David (II Sam. v. 11) and Solomon (I Kings v. 1), for their building operations, wood from Mount Lebanon and skilled working men ("Sidonians,"ib. v. 6), for which aid he received not only payment in grain (ib. v. 11), but also land concessions in Galilee (ib. ix. 11). Solomon's chief architect, Hiram, also, was a Tyrian (ib. vii. 13=II Chron. iv. 11). Tyrian ships in Solomon's service sailed even from the ports on the Red Sea (ib. ix. 27-28).”
So the death of King Solomon only became apparent to these laborers when Rehoboam ascended the Throne and under him the great Davidic Kingdom began to crumble. Had they had knowledge of the unseen, and known that this would happen, they would not have tarried in such a humiliating punishment of hard labor.
To summarize, this verse has nothing to do with the opposing side's contention that it is a proof that the bodies of the Prophets are preserved after death. The falling of Solomon refers to the crumbling of his kingdom after him because of the worm of the earth, a miserable ruler Rehoboam or Jeroboam who succeeded him to the throne and who presided over the partition of the great Jewish kingdom and its relapse into idolatry.
However, if the traditional story of King Solomon dying while leaning on his staff and that because his body did not decay the people and particularly the Jinn who labored under him thought he was still alive, this is still not a proof because there is no mention in the divinely-revealed texts regarding the exact duration of time it took for the worm to knaw away at the staff enough for it collapse. Essentially, this is a very weak argument presented by the opposing side which is ambiguous and subject of differing interpretations.
Another proof presented by the opposing side that the bodies of the Prophets do not decay after death is the Hadith of the Prophet (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam):
مَا مِنْ أَحَدٍ يُسَلِّمُ عَلَيَّ ، إِلَّا رَدَّ اللَّهُ عَلَيَّ رُوحِي حَتَّى أَرُدَّ عَلَيْهِ السَّلَامَ
“No one sends greetings of peace upon me except that Allah returns my soul to me so that I respond to him with Salaam.” (Sunan Abi Dawud; Hadith #2041)
It is argued that the Prophet's body must be preserved in his grave in order for his soul to return to it to reply to the greetings of Salaam.
However, this Hadith is weak due to Inqitaa (disconnection) because it is not proven that the narrator Yazid b. Abdullah b. Qusait heard from Abi Hurairah (Allah be pleased with him).
Even if the Hadith is accepted for the sake of argument, it does not actually mention anything about the earthly body of the Prophet (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) being preserved from decay. It would be understood as referring to a matter of the Barzakh (the intermediary world that is separate from this Dunya).
This therefore wraps up our response to all the possible arguments of the opposing side regarding the decay of the bodies of the Prophets (peace be upon them) after death.