Friday, August 13, 2010

Part 2: DEATH IS NOT THE END OF JOURNEY - Islamic Perspective in Brief.

8. From the Layman’s Desk: DEATH IS NOT THE END OF JOURNEY-


In the name of Allah, Most Beneficent, Most Merciful.

We noted above in Part 1, that when the body perishes, the soul does not perish. We also noted that though the body perishes it remains in Allah’s knowledge and thus both body and soul remain either in the state of bliss or punishment in Barzakh depending upon proclivity that the soul acquired along with its body during its life on earth. The dead are alive in graves with the kind of life that is unknown to us. This is the reason that Islamic scholars have termed ‘Death’ as a migration from one house to another. A word of caution: When we say the soul does not perish it should not be construed that it is eternal. As Imam Ghazali (rah.) says: You can call the soul eternal only in the sense that it is a matterless form since it has no quantity and being indivisible it does not exists materially (Al Madnun Bihi…) .


At the time the souls are in Barzakh, their abodes may differ. The souls of the prophets (peace be upon them all), are at the Most High Places, at different levels of the heaven, as was witnessed by the Holy Prophet (sallal laahu alaihi wassallam) during his Night Journey. The souls of the pious believers are free to roam. Hafiz Ibn Abi Dunya (823-4/894 c.e.) narrates from Malik bin Anas ®: A Hadith has reached me the souls of the Muslims are free. They go where they desire. Generally, some souls are by their graves, some by the fountain of Zam Zam, some are in the wind between the sky and the earth, some in the skies beneath the Arsh in lanterns of ‘Noor’. Imam Sayuti (1445-1505 c.e.) states in Sharh as-Sudoor that Imam Abu Umar bin Abdul Birr states: “It is commonly known that the souls of the Martyrs are in Paradise and the souls of the Muslims are close to their graves. According to Mujahid, the souls of the martyrs are at the gate of Paradise. The souls come and come and go as they desire. In fact, from the Sharh as-Sudoor also, we learn that the places of the souls differ according to their rank. It is to be noted that the soul is not like the body that it cannot occupy more than one place. A pious soul could be in Illiyin (high places) and at the same time be at the grave to reply to the greetings. Ibn Qayyim mentions a hadith, saying: "This Hadith expresses the speed of the dead’s soul’s movement from the Throne to the Earth, and then from the Earth (back) to its place, and for this Maalik and other Imams said ‘the soul is set free, and goes wherever it wishes.‘ Furthermore, what people see of dead peoples’ souls and their coming to them from far away places is something known by people in general, and they do not doubt it".

The case of the martyrs of Islam is also unique.  'Mutwatir’ (recurrent) accounts have come down to us by truthful and reliable narrators of the prophetic traditions, Islamic literature and eye-witnesses about the bodies of the martyrs who sacrificed their life in the way of Allah. Their bodies did not decompose and the colour of the skin did not change. Their bodies still bled and when positions of their hands went back to their original position if it were changed. Musk of smell emanated from graves. The bodies were growing beards too, and were not devoured by animals or birds and remained intact despite remaining in the desert and being exposed to the harsh climatic conditions for years. The holy Qur’an points out to the life of Barzakh while focussing on the state of the martyrs:

Allah says in the Holy Qur’an: “And say not of those who are slain in the way of Allah: ‘They are dead’. Nay, they are living though you perceive it not.” (2:154)

This is further emphasized to wipe out any doubt about their “living”, by the fact of their being provided for:

“Think not of those slain in Allah’s way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance from their Lord. They rejoice in the bounty provided by Allah” (3:169-170).

The martyrs in the cause of Truth are not dead. They are alive in a much beautiful and joyous life than that on this material earth. The rank unique to the martyrs is that their soul will be able to roam about in Paradise and enjoy its fruits even before the Resurrection and Judgment Day. Abdullah ibn Masood reports that the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) said: Their souls are within green birds, having lanterns suspended from the Throne, roaming freely in Paradise as they please, then taking shelter in those lanterns. ( Reported by Muslim)

The second Caliph of Islam, Hadrat Omar ®, agreed that the souls of the martyrs are in Paradise, and yet they are greeted at their graves in the manner the other people who have passed away are greeted. The Holy Prophet (Sallal laahu alaihi wassallam taught us to greet them, and the companions used to greet the martyrs of the battle of Uĥud.

It needs to be clarified here such an abode of the martyrs’ souls is just temporary, since after the Resurrection and the Judgment Day they will enjoy greater bliss when they enter their homes that have been prepared for them in Paradise. This is also the case of other souls who will either enter Paradise or Hell for ever after giving their accounts on the Judgment Day that occurs after the Resurrection. Again, regarding the martyrs there are a couple of exceptions. Those who failed to discharge their debts in the world or when someone stole something before the distribution of booty and was later killed in the battle, or something else, their souls are detained in the graves.

So what else happens in Barzakh?

We need to state cursorily here, that in the Muslim world, ibn Qayyim al-Jauziya’s (1292-1352 c.e.) book, Kitab ar-Ruh, ranks among the best books on the Islamic understanding of the Soul’s Journey After Death. He has, as we have seen already, covered many aspects about the soul in his book which is based on the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah and the doctrine of the Salaf (not to be confused with Salafi sect) and the Four Imams. It establishes without doubt that the dead hear the living and know of them.

Ibn Qayyim says in Kitab Ar-Ruh on page 54 : Other than this, Prophet (sallal laahu alaihi wassallam) has taught his Ummah to say Salaam to the dead by addressing them (directly) i.e. O Momineen may peace be upon you. This type of addressing is only done to a person who can hear and understand you otherwise this address would have been as if its addressed to someone who is not present and cannot hear (which of course is false). It has come as “Tawatur (i.e. definitely known)” from Islaaf that dead recognize those who visit them and also get happy on their visit. He then goes on to cite the sayings of the Salaf to prove that the dead can hear. According to him, "Your mind should not be so narrow as to not accept that the soul is in Paradise going wherever it pleases, and yet hears the greeting of a Muslim to him at his grave, and then goes down to answer it. The soul is another matter than the body.”

Those who say that the dead cannot hear commonly quote verse 22 of Surah Fatir of the Holy Qur’an. Let’s check this out: The verse says: “Nor are the living equal with the dead. Lo! Allah maketh whom He will to hear. Thou canst not reach those who are in the graves.” (35:22)

Now in order to appreciate this verse fully, we need to go back at least to verses 19, 20 and 21:
“The blind man is not equal with the seer.” (35:19).
“Nor is darkness (tantamount to) light.” (35:20)
“Nor is the shadow equal with the sun’s full heat.” (35:21)

So what do we find? We find contrast between the blind and the seer; between darkness and light; and between the shadow and the heat of the sun. Similarly, there is a contrast even in verse 22 – the contrast between the living and those who are dead in the graves. In the ordinary course of nature, everyone knows that the dead cannot hear. So why state the obvious? Allah provides the answer in the same verse by saying that He makes whom He will to hear. That is, guidance is given by Allah and the dead who is in the grave is bereft of the guidance. Therefore, it is clear as the crystal that in verse 35:22, there is a contrast between the living (believers) and the dead (disbelievers). The disbelievers are bound to remain confined to the torments of the graves and there is no question of making them hear, especially since in their worldly life they had been deaf and had rejected the Truth. With Allah, everything is possible and it is by His grace that He makes whoever He wishes to hear. The believers, therefore, reap the rewards according to their ranks and this reward include the faculty of hearing in the grave.

The great Mufassareen such as Imam Suyuti and Ibn Kathir have categorized the statement as allegorical. Imam Suyuti (Rah.) says that it is an allegorical statement (an-Nafi Ja'a ala m'ana al-Majaz). and the actual meaning of it is that "They cannot listen to Guidance (Ma'naha Sama` Huda) i.e. they are dead and they cannot be guided now". Ibn Kathir, explains in his tafsir of 35:22 : The wordings of the verse “but to those who are in graves you cannot make them hear," imply that `just as the dead cannot benefit from guidance and the call to truth after they have died as disbelievers and ended up in the graves, so too you cannot help these idolators who are decreed to be doomed, and you cannot guide them.”

Scholars point out to Ibn Qayyim's section "That the Hearing of the Dead is Real" in Al-Ruh (Madani ed. 1984) p. 59: "The actual meaning of these verses (35:22 and 27:80 –i.e. from Surah Naml) is: You cannot make those hear whom Allah does not wish to hear, for you are only a Warner. That is: Allah has only given you the ability to warn, for which he has made you responsible; not that of making those to hear whom Allah does not wish to hear."

According to at-Tabari, "And all these examples Allah set forth regarding the Mu'min and Eemaan; Kaafir and al-Kufr." Even Imam Qurtubi says that "Kuffar are those who are dead owing to the Kufr of their heart." Even other Mufassareen such al-Baidawi and Ibn Abi Hatim adopt this meaning. In short, the meaning was considered metaphorical, i.e. 'Majaazi'.

However, if Allah wills, He can even make the disbelievers and the polytheists hear in the graves as happened in the case of the polytheists who were slain in the Battle of Badr. It is narrated with multiple chains in Sahihayn (i.e. Bukhari and Muslim) that on order of Prophet (Peace be upon him) a well was dug for the dead of Badr, after which Prophet (sallal laahu alaihi wassallam) stood nearby and called them out as: “Ya Fulan ibn Fulan (i.e. O Son of so-and-so”) wa-Ya Fulan ibn Fulan, have you not found what your Lord had promised with you to be correct? As for me, I have found the promises of my Lord to be (perfectly) correct...Umar listened to the words of Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) and said: Allah's Messenger, how do they listen and respond to you when they are dead and their bodies have decayed. Thereupon he (the Holy Prophet sallal laahu alaihi wassallam) said: By Him who has sent me with truth, what I am saying to them, even you cannot hear more distinctly than they, but they lack the power to reply. This is the Agreed upon prophetic tradition for which one may refer Sahih Bukhari Volume 5, Book 59, Number 314; and Sahih Muslim, Book 040, Number 6869 for more details. (Please also note how the dead persons are being addressed as “Ya” in the hadith: "O Abu Jahl Ibn Hisham! O Umayya Ibn Khalaf! O `Utba ibn Rabi`).

Again, Abu Nu`aym Al-Isbahani has mentioned with his chain of transmission from `Ubayd Ibn Marzuq who said: "A woman of Medina, named Umm Mihjan, used to sweep the mosque, then she died. The Prophet was not told of this event. Thereafter, he passed over her grave and queried: "What is this?" Those present replied: "Umm Mihjan." He said: "The one who swept the mosque?" They answered: "Yes." Thereupon the people lined up and prayed for her. Then he addressed her: "Which work of yours did you find more favoured?" They exclaimed: "O Messenger of Allah, can she hear you?" He replied: "You cannot hear better than she does." Then it is mentioned that she answered him: "Sweeping the mosque." The chain of transmission in this hadith is interrupted. There are others more like it. Ibn Hajar mentions her in al-Isaba (8:187) that she was a black woman Mihjana also named Umm Mihjan, who used to sweep the masjid in Madinah Munawwara and that she is also mentioned in the sound hadith but without being named.

Islamic scholars have pointed out about Aisha ® reaction in this connection: It is narrated concerning `A'isha ® , when she heard the hadith about the dead hearing, she denied it and said: "How does the Prophet say something like that when Allah has said: "You cannot make those to hear who are in the graves" (35:22). While her opinion does not affirm the hearing of the dead as Ibn Taymiyya notes in his Legal Opinions (Fatawa) and in other places, we have no excuse for following it. For the question necessarily concerns a well-known matter of faith which no one has permission to deny. In fact `A'isha has also narrated that the Prophet said, as Ibn Rajab has noted in Ahwal al-Qubur: "Surely they know now that what I said to them is true." This narration of hers supports those which say that the dead hear, for if it is possible for a dead man to know, surely it is possible for him also to hear. Therefore, to affirm that they do know is necessarily also to affirm that they hear.

Ibn Qayyim’s teacher and mentor, ibn Taimiyya (1263-1328 c.e.), who is held in the highest esteem among those who deny the faculties of the soul in the grave, was asked if the dead are aware of the living who visit them. Ibn taimiyya replied : “There is no doubt that they are aware of the living that visit them.” And Ibn Taymiyyah quoted the following Hadith in his support: “The proof of dead awareness comes from two Sahih Books of Bukhari and Muslim in which Rasool Allah (sallal laahu alaihi wassallam) said that when people have buried a dead person and leave for home, the dead can hear the thumps of sandaled feet of those who leave.” (Majma al-Fatawa by Ibn Taimiyyah, vol. 24, page 362)

To continue Insha Allah


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