Of life after death

Published March 29, 2012

THE concept of accountability and those of sawab-i-jariah, isal-i-sawab, the Day of Judgment, and Heaven and Hell play an important part in Islamic theology. There is an interesting link between all of these concepts and that of the period immediately following life after death, i.e. barzakh (a purgatory of sorts).

The literal meaning of barzakh is ‘barrier’. The term barzakh is applied to three aspects of life after death: the time during which the body rests in the grave, the interim period between death and resurrection, and the place in which the soul, now the main instrument of existence, will abide during this time. This period forms a barrier between this life and resurrection, when the dead will be raised again (23:99-100); judgments will be passed and intercession will take place.

When the angel is commanded to draw out the soul of a person, the door to asking for forgiveness is now closed (4:18). If the person in the throes of death is a good believer, then the angel is instructed to convey the greeting of God to him (33:44, 36:58), and the soul leaves the body with great facility. The soul also meets close relatives who come to greet him, hears and replies to the greeting of the visitor to the grave and informs the old inmates about the latest developments in the world.

After burial, or its equivalent, the soul will be returned to the body temporarily, to face those questions, the answers to which will determine the future, permanent abode of the soul. The Prophet (PBUH) said that whoever is successful in the first, most difficult stage of the grave, will find the later stages to be easy (Tirmizi). Two angels appear and ask questions like, “Who is your Lord? What is your faith? What is your opinion about the man (the Prophet) who was raised up amongst you? And, how did you come to know about all this?”

When all the correct answers are given, it is proclaimed from the heavens, “Lay out the carpet of Paradise for him and dress him in the robe of Paradise and open a door for him in the direction of Paradise”. A door is opened through which enter the fragrant breezes of Paradise and its pleasant sights become visible (Abu Dawud).

The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Your deeds are presented to the prophets and to your parents on Friday. They are pleased by the good in them and the brightness of their faces increases. So fear God and do not give pain to your dead” (Tirmizi).

A person asked the Prophet (PBUH) as to what was due to his father after he had died. The Prophet replied: praying for him, sending istigfar (asking for forgiveness), honouring his promises and keeping in touch with his relatives (Abu Dawud).

Some of the most highly elevated souls will be those of the martyrs, of whom there are two categories: those who have succumbed to certain ailments and calamities, and those who have died fighting actively in the cause of God. For example, those who died due to a plague, intestinal ailments, drowning, being trapped in a collapsed building, or in self-defence, family, possessions or guarding the faith, or fighting for his rights and a woman who died in childbirth, are all martyrs (an-Nasai). They will be rewarded in the Hereafter. The martyrs who died in the cause of God, have a unique spiritual status in barzakh. The Quran says, “… they are alive and with their Lord is their provision.” (3:169). There is the belief that after a person dies, his destiny cannot be changed because the door for any further deeds, good or bad, is now closed and his record book is sealed. But one cannot ignore the concepts, mentioned in several hadiths, of sawab-i-jariah and isal-i-sawab. The former is an act done during one’s lifetime, which merits continuous reward, such as digging a well, planting a tree or building a school or a mosque, or imparting knowledge. It can also be the good deeds, taught by a person to someone, if they continue to perform them and spread their benefits.

Isal-i-sawab is doing any good act with the intention of sending its benefit as a gift to a dead person. Reciting istigfar is the best gift. It can also be the prayers said for a dead person by family, friends or the spiritually elevated. In all these ways, one’s record can be bettered and one can reap these benefits till the end of time. The believers will be forgiven a great deal of their sins because of the prayers of the living.

Ibn Sireen said that the soul resides in the house of truth therefore, whatever it relates in a dream, is true. Muhammed Zauqi Shah in his book, Barzakh, says that the grave-dweller will repent that he did not give more importance to his deeds than to his relatives, friends and worldly wealth. If the sole pleasure of the soul in this world was remembrance of God, then barzakh will be blissful. Zauqi Shah says that it does not make sense to sacrifice the immortal soul for the pleasures of the mortal body.

Barzakh is also the time during which some benefit can still be reaped from what one did in the world and also from the gift some people would like to send to the dead. It is also like a waiting room in which the persons concerned will get a foretaste of what is in store for them in eternal life.

The writer is a Quran scholar who writes on contemporary themes.

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