What Are the Trials After Death?

08 August, 2016
Q After the death, a Muslim stays in the grave until the day of resurrection where he either experiences bliss or punishment depending upon his deeds in this world. But, when a Hindu dies, his body is burned and his ashes are spread into the river. My question is, where does a Hindu spend his time until the day of resurrection and how does he experience the punishment or bliss in the mean time?

Answer

Salam Dear Brother,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

Every religion has its own concept of the spiritual transformation of the soul undergoes after death. In fact the twin sources of Islam, namely the Quran and the Sunnah have more to say on the spiritual journey of humans after death than the scriptures of other religions.

They lay a great deal of emphasis on the need for humans never to lose sight of the fact that they have to appear before God on a Day of Judgment after their death, and account for the actions they did while living in this world.

Allah says in the noble Quran what means:

{Every soul shall have a taste of death: and We test you by evil and by good, by way of trial. To Us must you return.} (Quran 21:35)

{Every soul shall have a taste of death: and only on the Day of Judgment shall you be paid your full recompense.} (Quran 3:185)

Humans living on earth are complex beings in the sense that they are a combination of a body and soul.

 There are atheists or materialists who deny the existence of soul just as they deny the existence of God. But those who follow a religion necessarily have to accept the spiritual dimension of human existence.

Islam – indeed every religion worth the name – insists on the reality of the soul. As long as we are alive on earth, our body and soul are in a state of ‘togetherness’.

The body is understood to have come from the earth and the soul from God. Death is a passage or movement of the soul to another dimension; or just a transition from one level of existence to another.

Death separates the soul from the body, and the body returns to the earth undergoing a process of decay or decomposition. With death the soul becomes free as it were, from the constraints of the body and enters a new phase of its journey toward its Creator.

We have no way of knowing when, where or how we are going to die.

{Verily the knowledge of the Hour is with Allah (alone). It is He Who sends down rain, and He Who knows what is in the wombs. Nor does anyone know what it is that he will earn on the morrow: Nor does anyone know in what land he is to die. Verily with Allah is full knowledge and He is acquainted (with all things)} (Quran 31:34) 

{Wherever you are, Death will find you out, even if you are in towers built up strong and high!} (Quran 4:78)

Indeed, all the Prophets of God have taught their people of the truth of life after death. Besides, man’s reason and logic as well as his moral consciousness, support the reality of life after death.

The ironies and paradoxes of the world can only be meaningfully resolved through the Hereafter, especially because Allah Almighty is supremely just and merciful. 

After death the body is buried, but the soul – of the Muslim as well as of the Jew, Christian, Hindu etc. – lives on in a state of sleep in Barzakh, (literally “Partition”) which is somewhat of a space-time interval between death and resurrection. The Akhira or Hereafter begins with death, and the reward or punishment due to a soul – no matter it is Muslim or not – begins in the grave. Allah says in the Quran what means:

{(In Falsehood will they be) until, when death comes to one of them, he says: “O my Lord! send me back (to life), in order that I may work righteousness in the things I neglected” – By no means! It is but a word he says – Before them is a partition till the day they are raised up. Then when the trumpet is blown, there will be no more relationships between them that day, nor will one ask after another!

Then those whose balance (of good deeds) is heavy – they will attain salvation: but those whose balance is light, will be those who have lost their souls; in Hell will they abide. The Fire will burn their faces, and they will therein grin with their lips displaced.} (Quran 23: 99-104)

Soon after burial, the soul in Barzakh feels it is still with the body in the grave and experiences bliss or pain. This happens regardless of whether the body remains intact in the grave, or was cremated and consumed by the fire, scattered abroad as dust in the air etc.

Punishment in the grave is the norm because, people after their death are normally buried in the grave. We should remember that Allah Almighty is our Creator and it is He alone who gives rewards and punishments in whatever way He decides. And if He decides upon a mode of punishment in the grave for the sinful souls, He can devise it as He pleases. He says in the Quran what means:

{Does not man see that it is We Who created him from sperm? yet behold! he (stands forth) as an open adversary! And he makes comparisons for Us, and forgets his own (origin and) Creation: He says, “Who can give life to (dry) bones and decomposed ones (at that)?” Say, “He will give them life Who created them for the first time! for He is Well-versed in every kind of creation!- “The same Who produces for you fire out of the green tree, when behold! You kindle therewith (your own fires)! “Is not He Who created the heavens and the earth able to create the like thereof?” – Yea, indeed! for He is the Creator Supreme, of skill and knowledge (infinite)! Verily, when He intends a thing, His Command is, “be”, and it is!} (Quran 36:77-82)

The foregoing means that as Allah Almighty wills, He can easily bring back to life a dead and decomposed body or a body that was burnt to ashes. Moreover, the punishment in the grave (or the experience of bliss, for that matter) need not happen to a real body in a real grave. It is enough if the soul has a dream or nightmare to experience the bliss or the punishment as in life.

It is also noteworthy that the scholars have mentioned of a similarity between experiences of the grave and dreams.

In dream-states one may have extreme sensations of pleasure or pain with the same intensity as in real life. Thus it is quite understandable how dead persons have blissful or tormenting experiences “in the grave” soon after burial, no matter their bodies were buried or burnt and the ashes immersed in the river.

I hope this helps answer your question.

Salam and please keep in touch.

About Professor Shahul Hameed
Professor Shahul Hameed is an Islamic consultant. He also held the position of the President of the Kerala Islamic Mission, Calicut, India. He is the author of three books on Islam published in the Malayalam language. His books are on comparative religion, the status of women, and science and human values.