In the Name of Allah; the Gracious, the Merciful
Salutations of peace and prayers upon our beloved Prophet Muhammadﷺ and upon his family and progeny
What is the reality of the thawâb (reward) and the adhâb (punishment) in the Qabr (grave)? Many Muslims believe that the matters of the unseen that we have been informed of by the beloved Prophetﷺ concerning the life in the Qabr is literally inside the burial plot that is dug for the corpse in the Earth. Those with a bit more tact will say that everything mentioned about the reward and punishment in the Qabr is literally taking place in the burial plot but our eyes have been screened to it. From those matters of the unseen that have been conveyed by the beloved Prophetﷺ concerning the life in the Qabr is its expansion and constriction and the coming of the two Angels Munkar and Nakîr to make the inmate of the Qabr sit up while they question him or her. However, it is my view, and that of other ‘Ulamâ’ that the unseen affairs of the Qabr, such as the rewarding or punishing of its inmate, is in the parallel dimension known as Barzakh. It is obvious that the burial plot which is dug into the Earth for the corpse to be placed in is part of this Dunyâ, while the soul of the deceased leaves this Dunyâ forever and can never return to it. An age old controversy has been whether the reward or punishment in the Qabr is meted out to the soul, the body or both. The most logical answer is that it is only the soul that is either rewarded or punished for a number of reasons. Firstly, the corpse of the deceased remains in this world, and as I’ve already mentioned, the affairs of the afterlife have nothing to do with this world. The very definition of mawt (death) is the permanent separation of the soul and its body. Allâh Most High says in the Suhuf-e-Mutahhara (Qur’ân) that He takes the soul at the time of death and withholds it from returning to this world (Sûra 39:42); He says that there is a Barzakh (barrier) which prevents the soul of the deceased from returning to this world (Sûra 23:99-100); and He says that it is forbidden for a township to return to this world once it has been destroyed (Sûra 21:95). These are the essential proofs from the divine Revelation that all the affairs of the unseen which affect the deceased in the Qabr have no relation to this Dunyâ. Now as I’ve alluded to earlier, the dilemma is that the burial plot dug for the corpse is obviously part of this Earth and therefore something that is in this Dunyâ. This means we have to re-examine the reality of the Qabr as not only the name for the burial plot wherein the corpse is placed, but also the technical term that refers to a period or state experienced by the soul after death but before the resurrection. Purgatory is probably a better description of this meaning of Qabr than merely “grave” which makes one immediately think of the burial plot dug in the Earth for the corpse to be laid to rest. Hence it is more precise to say that the reward and punishment that occurs in the Qabr are from the affairs of the Barzakh, a parallel dimension that is separate from this Dunyâ. The narrations which speak of the reward and punishment of the Qabr in corporeal terms are an indication that the disembodied soul is somehow given physical sensation or a transitory “body”. It is futile to speculate too much on this subject, as we have limited knowledge about the reality of the soul or Rûh (spirit). But what is definite is that the unseen affairs of the Qabr affect the soul and not the earthen corpse, because the corpse remains behind here in the Dunyâ while the soul is taken away into another realm or dimension.
From the well known Ahadîth about the affairs of the Qabr; that the Qabr becomes illuminated for the good soul, that it becomes full of greenery and transformed into a lush garden, but for the evil soul it becomes a fire, and inside the Qabr windows are opened displaying both the Janna and Jahannam. It is evident that these things do not happen inside the burial plot where the corpse is laid to rest. Hence the only alternative is to admit that in all these instances Qabr is referring not to the burial plot but to another dimension known as the Barzakh. In another Hadîth:
عَنْ جَابِرٍ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ ـ صلى الله عليه وسلم ـ قَالَ : إِذَا أُدْخِلَ الْمَيِّتُ الْقَبْرَ مُثِّلَتِ الشَّمْسُ لَهُ عِنْدَ غُرُوبِهَا فَيَجْلِسُ يَمْسَحُ عَيْنَيْهِ وَيَقُولُ : دَعُونِي أُصَلِّي
It was narrated from Jabir that the Prophet (ﷺ) said: “When the deceased enters the grave, the sun is made to appear as if it is setting. He sits up, wipes his eyes and says: ‘Let me pray.’” (Sunan Ibn Mâja)
Now it is obvious that the sun cannot appear inside a closed grave that is dug in the Earth. This is a strong indication that the particular unseen affair of the Qabr mentioned is concerning the soul, not the corpse, and takes place in a parallel dimension, i.e., ‘Âlam al-Barzakh.
Those who insist that the reward and punishment of the Qabr takes place literally in the burial plot where the corpse is placed, which is in this Dunyâ and in this time, have to explain the fate of those deceased individuals who for one reason or another are not buried in graves. Here I am referring to the un-Islamic custom of cremation, as well as the rare instances when a person’s body is destroyed, such as in an explosion or eaten by a carnivorous animal. In all these and similar instances, there is no corpse to bury in a grave, and nothing that can even remotely be called a “body”. This proves that the reward and punishment of the Qabr affect the soul only and not the body. Even in general, we know and Islam teaches us that the corpse of the deceased gradually decomposes into nothing more than dust and bones, while the unseen affairs spoken of concerning the Qabr necessitate some sort of corporeal existence for the deceased. This is where we derive the concept of the soul acquiring physical sensation after death or a transitory body that is not the same earthly body from this Dunyâ.