LIFE AFTER DEATH
Barring lunatics and young children, there is no one who does not know what death is. There are several definitions and descriptions of death – scientific and non-scientific. The simplest one is “to cease to live”. To live, a living thing has to inhale and exhale, and if it ceases to do it, it is dead.
To come back to our subject, life after death is called barzakh which is the place where souls live before going to Paradise or Hell. To my limited knowledge, there is only one Aayat [verse] in the Holy Qur’an which speaks of barzakh. It is aayat 100 of Suratul al-Muminun [Chapter 23]. There are several aahadith about it. I have culled a few from the many. The Qur’anic verse states: ‘“When death comes to one of them, he/she says: My Lord! Send me back so that I may do good in that which I have left behind’. No! it is just a word that he/she speaks and behind them is barzakh until the day when they will be resurrected.”
The angelIzraeel has been assigned by Allah Subhaana wa t’aala the task of extracting life from the living at the pre-destined time in the pre-destined manner.
What happens after one dies is described by different religions in their own way. Here, let us see what Islam says.
Before the advent of Islam in Arabia, Arabs were pagans, worshippers of several gods and goddesses. They did not believe in the life after death. The warning given by the Holy Prophet (pubh) that Allah will be angry if human beings do not thank Him, they accepted. That the well-to-do should help the needy, they accepted. What they were unable to, and refused to accept, was belief that there is life after death. They felt that to believe in life after death was beyond the dignity of the Arab race. They, therefore, pooh-poohed the idea of life after death as something meant to console widows, grieving mothers, the poor, the down-trodden and slaves. They declared, in short, that the idea of life after death with its offer of reward or punishment was a delusion. They considered death to be the end of existence. They were of the opinion that only gods and goddesses did not die, but live for ever. Besides them, there were poets whose poems in praise of gallant heroes who continued to live after their death in the minds and hearts of people after their departure. They scoffed at the idea that dry bones buried deep in earth would ever be brought to life. What the pagan Arabs thought and said many present-day so-called rationalists think and say. Be that what it may, let us examine what Islam says about life after death.
Beginning of the final journey
When a Muslim hears the news about the demise of another Muslim or witnesses the death of another Muslim, he/she says Inna Lillahi wa Inna Ilaihee Raji’oon (From Allah we come and to Him we will return). The dead body is so placed that the head faces the qiblah. It is washed and shrouded in two unstitched pieces of cloth.
The body is carried to the graveyard for burial after it is washed and shrouded in two new unstitched pieces of white cloth and the prayers are said before burial. As regards weeping of the bereaved, spontaneous tears are allowed, but loud and demonstrative weeping is forbidden. The body is then carried to the graveyard and buried.
According to a Hadith narrated by Sayyidina Anas [R] and reported by Imam Bukhari [R] when a human being is laid in his or her grave and when his or her associates retreat forty steps from the grave, two angels descend from the heaven and make the dead sit in the grave and ask him/her three questions:  Who is your Rabb [God Almighty];  Who is yourRasool [Prophet] and  to which faith do you belong? If the person answers correctly, that his/her Rabb is Allah Subhaanahu Wa Ta’ala; his /her Rasool is Muhammad [pbuh] and that his/her religion is Islam, he or she is shown his/her place in Paradise. If he or she fails to give the right answers, his or her punishment commences and he/she is shown his/her place in Hell.
As regards the punishment one gets in the grave if he or she had led a wicked life, here is aHadith narrated by Sayyida Asma bint Abi Bakr [R] who said that once the Holy Prophet [pubh] stood up and delivered a sermon on the punishments in the grave. The sermon made people weep profusely. It is for this reason that Muslims are advised to recite this du’a [invocation] very often:
“Allahhumma innee ‘a’oodhu bika min ‘adhabil qabr, wa ‘adhabin naar, wa min fitnatil mahya wal mamaat wa min fitnatil Masih ad-Dajjal” (O Allah! I seek refuge with you from the punishment of the grave and from the punishment of Hell-fire and from the fitnah [trials and afflictions] of life and death and from the fitnah of Al Masih ad-Dajjal, Messiah the Imposter).
When the Angel Israfeel will be directed by Allah Subhaana Wa ta’ala to blow once again for the second time the Trumpet, the Day of Resurrection dawns and the dead are given life so that they may be questioned about their life on earth. (For details please peruse my booklet entitled Youmul Qiyamah.)