By Zawjah Farid
There is no standard size. Unlike, say furniture, its finish doesn’t really matter. And most importantly, it is of no greater use later than the remains it carries. Who is bothered with its colour or shape anyway? What really mattered was the thriving person inside it – the casket – now, no more.
This strange journey begins in rather ‘grave’ circumstances, literally! Its reality strikes home with the clearly audible, retreating footsteps of those who have just buried you; your loved ones, your colleagues, your friends; the fast fading sound of their heels once they’ve turned their backs towards you is no music to ears……. Let’s rewind a little to where it all begins.
A Vista Opening Up
Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, an American revert, relates in an interview to Islamic Information Service how a near-death experience brought him close to Islam.
When death is imminent, one’s entire life plays before one’s eyes prompting one to ponder over all the wrongs committed and all the rights omitted; it also ushers one to think about “what now?”, “what next?” and “where am I heading?”. Thus, looming death temporarily opens up a vista; an array of unanswered questions pop up where one suddenly thinks about the real purpose of life, about the Creator and about life in this world, if there’s any left that is.
Sheikh Hamza opines that some of those lucky enough to survive make use of this opened vista in venturing to find out the truth, to find Allah SWT and to adopt His deen, while most, let the feeling fizzle out, returning back to their old ways with this new lease of life; or squarely put, back to square one!
What he found strange though, was that the feelings that overtook him so very near death were most lucidly described by the ahadeeth of our Prophet SAW!
Into another Realm
"When the funeral is ready and the men carry it on their shoulders, if the deceased was righteous it will say, 'Present me (hurriedly),' and if he was not righteous, it will say, 'Woe to it (me)! Where are they taking it (me)?' Its voice is heard by everything except man and if he heard it he would fall unconscious." (Bukhari: Narrated Sayyidina Abu Sa'id Al-Khudri RA, Vol.2, Book 23, No. 400)
Days die, nights die. Winters and summers die. Leaves die, fields die; yet nothing matches the transition of hazrat-e-insaan (man) into the next realm of existence. Wrinkles, white hair and recurring illnesses all sound alarm bells in varying tones, yet, man is never really prepared to go – until the thirst of haalat-e-naza dries up his throat; even then, he hopes to hold on a little more – a few quick goodbyes, some last instructions and pressing final glances.
At death, the soul begins to move up from the toes towards the head. True knowledge, ofcourse, emanates from Divine sources. The apparent physiological full-stop where the heart quits beating, the lungs renounce breathing and rigor mortis sets in, seems the same in dying people. But, the departure of the soul is totally different for a believing and a non-believing person. This is where the actual journey of the Hereafter begins; this is where the stark contrast between a doer and delayer becomes apparent:
|Angels with bright faces descend from the heavens and greet: “O peaceful soul, come out to forgiveness from God and His pleasure” (Hakim) and the believer looks forward to his meeting with Allah SWT (Bukhari).||Dark angels descend to pull out the wicked soul with tidings of boiling water and other torments (Ibn Majah, Ibn Kathir). Nothing is more hateful to him than what lies ahead (Bukhari) and it is asked to come out to the displeasure of Allah SWT.|
|The soul comes out of the body with as much ease as water out of water-skin, or like ‘opening of a bottle of musk’ (Ahmed).||“And if you could see when the angels take away the souls of those who disbelieve (at death); they smite their faces and their backs, (saying): ‘taste the punishment of the blazing fire.” (Al-Anfal 8:50). The soul is pulled out with a chastisement simulated by silk threads pulled over thorns.|
|The good soul is then shrouded in musk on its ascent to the heavens and greeted with the best of names it had in this life.||The evil soul, shrouded in foul smell is inquired about with the worst names it had.|
|Its ‘book’ is then recorded in “Illiyeen” (Al-Mutaffifin 83:18) and the soul is returned back to earth for questioning in the grave. It then remains in this state of aalam-e-barzakh till the Day of Judgment||Its ‘book’ is recorded in “Sijeen” (Al-Mutaffifin 83:7) and the soul returned to the body for a fearful questioning session.|
The Encounter with Munkir and Nakeer
At the very first station in the journey into the Hereafter – the grave – the soul is made to sit to answer questions from two fear and awe-inspiring angels. The exchange would be along the following lines (Ahmed, Abu Dawud):
|Question: Who is your Lord?|
|Believing soul: Allah SWT||Disbelieving soul: Alas, alas, I do not know|
|Question: What is your religion?|
|Believing soul: Islam||Disbelieving soul: Alas, alas, I do not know|
|Question: What do you say about this man (the Holy Prophet SAW)?|
|Believing soul: He is the true Messenger of Allah SWT||Disbelieving soul: Alas, alas, I do not know|
|Question to the believing soul: How did you get to know this?|
|Reply: I read Allah’s SWT Book (the Holy Quran) and believed|
“A voice thus calls out to the believing soul from the heavens: ‘My slave has replied correctly and spoken the truth. Spread out for him floorings of Paradise, adorn him with clothes of Paradise and open a door for him from Paradise’. Thus, that door is opened, and he feels the fresh and sweet smelling breeze of Paradise…” (Sayyidina Bara’ bin Aazib RA, Ahmed, Abu Dawud)
The believer’s grave is made capacious and filled with light. He is shown what would have been his abode in Hell, had he been a sinner; he is shown his actual abode in Paradise morning and evening. With excitement and anticipation the believer keeps inquiring “When will the Hour (of Resurrection) come?”… (At-Tirmidhi).
At a totally divergent plane, having failed his test, a voice calls out (on behalf of Allah SWT) to the disbeliever “He has lied, so spread out floorings of Hell for him, make him wear the garments of Hell and open for him a portal of Hell.” Thus, he would feel the fierce heat and flames of Hell and be continuously visited by its scorching air.
The wicked one’s grave is then made narrow, so much so that his ribs become intertwined and he would be struck with an iron hammer with a force that could crumble a mountain; he would scream thus, that his shriek would be heard by everything between east and west, except jinns and humans. (Sayyidina Bara’ bin Aazib RA, Ahmed, Abu Dawud).
The disbeliever would be shown his place in Hell, morning and evening and he would cry out in fear and despair: “My Lord, do not bring the last Hour”.
The punishment and torment in the grave is no less haqq than any article of faith. The Prophet SAW once took the green leaf of a date palm tree, tore it into two and fixed one on each of two graves whose inmates were facing aazab-e-qabr. People asked: "O Allah's Apostle! Why have you done so?" He replied, "I hope that their punishment may be lessened till they (the leaf) become dry." (Narrated: Sayyidina Ibn-e-Abbas RA; Bukhari, Vol.2, Book 23, No.443).
In another instance, Sayyidina Zaid bin Thabit RA related how, when the Prophet SAW and his Companions RA were once passing by graves of some polytheists, his ride suddenly bolted. The Prophet SAW said: “These people are being tortured in their graves, and were it not that you would stop burying your dead, I would ask Allah SWT to let you hear the punishment in the grave which I (and this horse) can hear.” (Muslim)
It is very unfortunate that despite our verbal belief in the Hereafter and its various stations, we assume the dead in their graves to be like logs only or worse, decomposed bones, with no sense of feeling whatsoever. Ahadeeth report on the contrary: Sayyidina Abu Talha RA relates that twenty four bodies of pagan Quraish leaders were thrown into a well at Badr. The Prophet SAW stood next to the well and called out each one’s name saying “O so and so, son of so and so. Don’t you wish you had followed Allah SWT and His Messenger SAW? Because we have found true what our Lord promised us. Have you found true what your lord promised you?” Sayyidina Umar RA said: “O Messenger of Allah, you are addressing bodies with no souls?” The Prophet SAW replied: “By Him who holds Muhammad’s SAW life, you do not hear better than they, but they cannot reply”. (Ar-Raheeq ul Makhtum: agreed upon, Mishkat; Bukhari)
Stepping into the Hereafter
“A dark cloud, black like a shield, will rise on you…….and a crier will call, ‘O you people! The judgment of Allah is here’…..two men will have unfolded cloth (to buy and sell) but will not have time to fold it back……and a man will milk his camel but will not be able to drink from it in the least.” (Kanzul Ummal 3055).
There are many signs of the Hour; some are minor (alaamat-e-sughra) and some major (alaamat-e-kubra). One thing is for sure though: it will come suddenly.
The part of the journey that starts at the Hour and takes us into the life of the Hereafter is one of thousands of years (but lighter than prescribed salah for the believers). Who can venture to enclose it in a few pages? One can only catch some glimpses of it:
The Trumpet Blows
The first person to hear it will be plastering his pond, but will die forthwith…. (Muslim 7307).
Sayyidina Abu Huraira RA asked the Prophet SAW, what is the sur (trumpet)? He SAW replied: “A horn…..Its circumference is so large as to encompass the heaven and earth” (Al-Fitan wal Malahim, Ibn-e-Kathir).
Hazrat Israfil is holding it to his mouth; he doesn’t blink, waiting for the command, ready to blow its “terrifying blast”. There will be a blast of death and then one of revival. In between the two, Allah SWT would call out: “To whom does the dominion belong today?” Absolute silence would follow. He will repeat the question two more times. Again, silence, prolonged silence. So, Allah SWT would Himself answer: “To Allah, The One, The Dominant.”
“The Trumpet will be blown, and all who are in the heavens and all who are on the earth will swoon away, except him whom Allah wills. Then it will be blown a second time, and behold they will be standing, looking on (waiting)”. (Az-zumar 39:68)
Assembly in Rows
People will be assembled in three rows – a row of riders, one of pedestrians, and those unfortunate souls who would be walking on their faces. And in this unusual tread of theirs, the people of the last row would even be trying to evade bumpy ground, garbage and thorns (while walking on their faces!) (Tirmizi 3142, Ahmad 2/354). Thus, all humans ever created will be gathered in a great plain. The heat would be scorching and the conditions unbearable, except for those whose hearts would be at peace, given protection in Allah’s SWT shade.
Scales: The Reckoning & Intercession
The judgment process would then begin. Some would be given their accounts in their right hands, and others, from behind their backs. The guilty will be fearful of looking at their book of deeds, anxious, apprehensive of what they might find inside.
Scales of justice will be set in place and reckoning will commence with the weighing of deeds. No soul will be wronged in anything, even if it be the weight of a grain of mustard-seed. People will be taken aback about how closely they had been observed in the world and how even the minutest of detail has been recorded. “Then those whose scales are heavy, they are the successful. And those whose scales are light – so those are they who have lost their souls; in Hell they shall abide” (Al-Mu’minun 23: 102-103).
Even though Allah SWT, the Merciful will let a single paper bearing the tashhud outweigh ninety nine scrolls of bad deeds of a man of the ummah (Tirmizi 2639), we must never take the reckoning lightly, as a hadith narrated by Sayidah Ayesha RA spells out that those whose accounts will be questioned or scrutinized will not be able to go unpunished (Bukhari, Muslim).
The deeds weighed and the scales measured, judgment would be passed against each soul. Then intercession would be allowed. Our Holy Prophet SAW holds a unique position in this regard: “I am the first to intercede and the first whose intercession will be accepted.” (Tirmizi, Ibn Majah).
Al-Kauthar - the pond with vessels like the stars of heaven, its drink, whiter than milk and sweeter than honey, its shores are hollow pearl – the hawd of RasulAllah SAW; he who drinks from it once will not be thirsty again (Kanz-ul-Ummal, Muslim, Ahmad). Not everyone, though, would be allowed to satiate their thirst from it. Those who turn away from the sunnah of the Prophet SAW, will not be permitted its drink (Tafsir-e-Qurtubi).
(Ibn-e-Kathir opines in Al-Fitan wal Malahim that the Pond comes before the Sirat but he also mentions that a hadith of Tirmizi indicates to the contrary i.e. the Sirat precedes the Pond – Allah SWT knows best)
After the dispersal from the place of gathering, people will end up at the darkness of the dreaded pul-e-sirat – the bridge over Hell (Ibn-e-Kathir). At this point, the distinction between the believers and hypocrites would manifest itself. The former would race ahead, their light running before them and the latter would be left behind, pleading with the believers to slow down so that they can borrow some light (“were we not with you?”); a wall would be built between them to deprive the hypocrites. (Al-Hadid 57: 12-14). People would be given light commensurate with their deeds: some would have light like the palm tree, some equal to their big toes – now shining, now going off. At the sirat, sharp like the sword’s edge and slippery, they will be told: “proceed according to your light”. Thus, some will go through (in a flash) like the shooting star, some like wind, some like the blinking of an eye, some like the camel’s irregular walk. Those who will get deliverance will praise Allah SWT (Mustadrak Haakim). “But, the men and women who will slip will be many that day” (Narrated by Sayyidinah Anas ibn Maalik RA, Bayhaqi). And this is no ordinary slip, mind you…. it’s the fall into Hell.
After crossing the bridge, the faithful will be purified before their entry into Paradise.
Ultimate Glee: The Gardens of Paradise
Paradise is synonymous to perpetual bliss. It is the believer’s ultimate prize; the epitome of unspeakable, unthinkable happiness. It has a hundred ranks, between each, the distance of a hundred years (Tirmizi). Its castles, rivers, trees and food are unlike anything seen or tasted. Humans have been gifted with only a snapshot of the real thing through the Holy Quran and ahadeeth – our senses cannot grasp the entirety, yet. Therein are trees whose shadow a fast rider cannot overshoot in a hundred years, and breathtaking rivers called baydaj, baraq, sayhan and jayhan; therein are fruits, the size of which we cannot fathom and lofty stations of wasila and firdaws; therein are springs, fountains and comfortable couches and what to say of its gleeful gatherings, fragrance, beauty and light (Al Fitan wal Malahim, Ibn-e-Kathir). Words run short. Seeing is believing….. inshAllah its magnificence would be revealed to us in the Hereafter.
“The first batch to enter Paradise will have faces shining like the full moon……” (Bukhari 3327)
Ultimate Gloom: The Valleys of Hell
“Death” would have been killed. What is left would be pure torment.
O Allah SWT save us from the valley of lamlam – the other valleys in Hell seek refuge in Allah from its heat (Kanz ul Ummal); save us from the well of hubhub – the abode of tyrants (Mustadrak Haakim 4/597); save us from wayl – where disbelievers fall for forty years to reach its bottom and sa’ud – the mountain with an ascent of seventy years, a drop and then ascent all over again, forever (Ahmad 4/85). O Allah SWT save us from the snakes and scorpions, fire and heat; never let us drink water that boils in our stomach and never let us make a morsel of the dreaded zaqqum. (“You verily will eat of the trees of zaqqum…..and drink boiling water on top of it” - Al-Waqi’ah 56: 52, 54). O our Gracious Lord, save us from falling into Hell altogether. Ameen sum ameen, ya Rabb-al-Aalameen.
Where do we go from here?
The Hour has come for the one who dies.
Sayyidah Ayesha RA narrated: whenever villagers came to the Prophet SAW to ask about the Hour, he looked at the youngest of them and said, “If he lives, then before he grows old, your Hour will come” (Muslim 7335); “your” Hour thus indicating ‘death’, where the questioner’s time would have expired (Ibn-e-Kathir).
Maulana Taqi Usmani in his book “Zikr o Fikar” quotes work done by Dr. Raymond A. Moodi, an American PhD in Philosophy, regarding the experience of 150 people who had been declared “clinically dead” and then revived through resuscitation, heart massage etc. (“Life After Life”, “The Light Beyond” and “Reflections on Life After Life”). In general, what was felt in common by these people includes:
a) an over-powering feeling that they have left their own body and are looking, from a distance, at doctors working to revive it, (some of them even tried to talk to the doctors, but in vain),
b) moving through a dark, long tunnel,
c) coming across dead relatives and friends,
d) meeting a “being of light” who directs them to take a very lucid tour of their entire life in a matter of a few seconds and asks them (albeit non-verbally) ‘what do you have to show me that you have done with your life?’. Many of them saw a barrier between their worldly lives and death, as if their time is not yet up. The majority felt “weightless” in their voyage and that time has stopped somehow i.e. they felt that they have been freed from the fetters of time. These people also admitted that it is very difficult to explain what they experienced as all words known to them are three-dimensional while what they felt was somehow ebbing into an another dimension.
An additional study of one thousand subjects revealed that many saw a beautiful city of lights, which they described as Paradise and some clearly saw Hell, where one person described people in a deep, dark pit of fire, crying and shrieking helplessly, begging for water.
Dr. Moodi has elucidated in detail why what these people saw could neither be the impact of drugs nor the result of any particular set of beliefs (many of them being non-believers or atheists). He also states that such a large number of people from varying strata and areas could not be lying or hallucinating.
Mufti Taqi explains that since medical science only believes in things that can be felt through the five senses, they have not been able to discover the “soul” in our bodies or explain its reality. They may never even be able to do so as the Holy Quran tell us that humans have been given very little knowledge about the soul. But we know through the Quran and Sunnah that life is the strong relationship between body and soul, and death is the breaking up of this relationship. When one is awake, the binding between our soul and body is at its strongest and we are able to make use of all our senses. When asleep, this bond weakens because one becomes oblivious to one’s surroundings and we are unable to employ our faculties of thought as when we are awake. But even then, the relation is strong enough to feel any affliction to the body: if you prick someone who is asleep with a needle, he would wake up due to the pain. Going progressively down into a weaker union between the body and soul is the state of unconsciousness where people’s bodies are cut up in anesthesia, yet they don’t feel a thing – they are devoid of most signs of life other than a beating heart and breathing lungs. Moving further on, at times people fall extremely ill and go into a state of shock (sakta) where all obvious signs of life vanish – the heart stops beating, the patient stops breathing, the blood pressure fades away and the body’s temperature becomes precariously low; but, there is still some life left in them. This is when doctors use artificial respiration and resuscitation techniques to make an effort to revive the patient. Some survive, others don’t. At this weakest level of bonding between the body and soul, where the latter is quite liberated of the former, one cannot rule out people journeying with their souls to the border between this material world and the reality beyond.
Hazrat Taqi comments that since these people had not actually died, what they saw could be glimpses of the other side but not actual happenings after death because there was some life left in the deep recesses of their minds. For one, their observations could be mind’s play. Secondly, could they have properly employed limited vocabularies to explain these out-of-the-world feelings? Further, did they remember everything accurately? Thus, though the observations they made are neither to be trusted nor to be made a basis to take a peek into life after death (we only rely on the Holy Quran and the sayings of our Holy Prophet SAW), yet, they do go on to prove what Islam has already stated categorically: life is not limited to this worldly one, there is another aalam beyond it and we cannot attempt to explain it while imprisoned in the material chains of limited dimensions – what we will face there is beyond the measures of time and space we’ve become used to in this world (“…and verily, a day with your Lord is as a thousand years of what you reckon” – Al-Hajj 22:47)
So, what is this aalam and what are its requisites? What kind of preparation do we need to succeed there? Answers to these kinds of questions that cannot be replied through our senses and intelligence alone, were brought forth by Prophets AS. So, whoever endeavors to succeed there must follow the shariah presented by RasulAllah SAW – this would not only help in unraveling the secrets of the other aalam but also illuminate its path of success.
The journey that begins at the grave ends either at Paradise or Hell. It depends on our endeavors, right here, in this world, in this life, to make this sojourn a pleasant, beautiful one or one wrought with pain and remorse. After all, the Hour has come for the one who dies!