In his will to Imam Hasan (peace be upon him), Imam Ali (peace be upon him) said, "My son, know that you have been created for the next world and not for this world, and for annihilation and not for stay, for death and not for life; you are in a transient place, a place which is a path to the Hereafter... You are driving away a death from which no one can run away and which none of its seekers can miss. It has to be experienced, so beware lest it catches up with you while you are in a bad state." (Nahjul Balagha, Letter 31)
As the Holy Infallibles constantly reminded us, our departure from this world is imminent. It is but a transitory place, a mere passage to our permanent abode, while the Hereafter is for eternity – beginning with life in the grave, followed by the stage of Barzakh, continuing on until the Day of Judgment (Qiyamat), until we can finally enter Paradise and/or Hellfire.
Each of these phases of life has different effects, occurrences, and outcomes, all depending on our deeds and beliefs in this short and temporal world. Yet for most of us, the next world is too frightful to even think about, and such fear is often coupled with a general lack of awareness of what exactly we will encounter once the soul disconnects with the material body and enters a whole other dimension of life. The vital question we must ask is: Do we plan to take the life of the Hereafter as it comes when it is our turn to lie some six feet under the ground, or will we, as intelligent beings, acquaint ourselves with its reality before we get there?
Just as we care to make sure beforehand that we know exactly where we are going for any journey we embark upon, let us gain insight into the most important of all journeys that awaits us after we die. Indeed, along with increasing our remembrance of what the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) called "the demolisher of desires" (death), our Imams have directed us to be aware and reminisce over that which we will experience when we enter the next world, so that we may properly prepare and strengthen ourselves for it: "O son, increase your remembrance of death, of that which overcomes it, and of that which you will return to after death such that when it comes to you, you will have taken heed of it and strengthened yourself for it, and you will not let it overcome you by surprise so that it bewilders you." (Ibid.)
While this article will focus on life inside the grave, it will be followed shortly by an article on life in Barzakh, and a third one on the Day of Judgment and its aftermath.
Terror of the Grave
Imam Ali says, "O servants of Allah! The state in the grave of a person whose sins are not forgiven is more horrifying than death itself. Fear its (the grave's) narrowness, its squeezing, its imprisonment and its loneliness. Verily the grave calls out daily: 'I am the house of loneliness, the house of terror and worms.' The grave is like a garden of Paradise for a good-doer, while it is like a dungeon of hell for the evil-doer. Allah tells His enemies He will send ninety nine serpents in their graves that will tear their flesh and smash their bones, and this punishment will continue till the Day of Judgment. If one such serpent exhales towards this earth, all the plants and trees will be destroyed. O servants of Allah! Your souls are tender, and your bodies delicate; you cannot confront any ordinary serpent of this world, how then will you face them?"
The above tradition is enough to cause one to shudder, but let us not forget that for a good-doer, "the grave is like a garden of Paradise." In fact, the very first good news given to a true believer in the grave is: "The Most Merciful God has forgiven you and all those who participated in your burial."
Sayyed ibne Taoos relates from the Holy Prophet that he said the first night in the grave is the most fearful and difficult night for the dead person, and thus Sadqa should be given for his or her safety. If this is not possible, then two units of prayer should be recited: in the first unit, after Surah al-Fatiha, recite Surah Tawheed twice, and in the second unit after Surah al-Fatiha, recite Surah Takathur ten times. After finishing the prayer, the following du'a should be recited: Allaahumma sallay a'la Muhammadinw wa aale Muhammadin wab atha thawaabaha ilaa qabre dhaalikal mayyite [name of the deceased person]. Allah will immediately send one thousand angels to the grave of the dead person with attires of Paradise, and expand his grave until Qiyamat, while for the one who performs this Salat, Allah will offer him great rewards and exalt his position forty times.
The other Salat to be recited on the first night of burial is as follows: Two rak'at Salat such that in the first rak'at after Surah al-Hamd, recite once Ayatal Kursi, and in the second rak'at after Surah al-Hamd, recite ten times Surah al-Qadr. After finishing the Salat, say: Alla humma salli 'ala Muhammadin wa Ali Muhammad wab'ath thawabaha ila qabri [name of the deceased person].
Squeeze in the Grave (Fishare Qabr)
Shaikh Kulayni has narrated from Abu Baseer that he asked Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him), "Is anybody spared from the squeezing in the grave?" The Imam replied: "May God save. Very few people escape from the pressure in the grave."
Allama Majlisi has mentioned in Bihar al-Anwar and Haqqul Yaqeen that all Muslims have the unanimously agreed belief that the squeezing in the grave and both rewards and punishments therein are true facts. He has shown through reliable traditions that it will be experienced by the same worldly body in which the deceased had lived, as will the questioning in the grave. Of course, this punishment is inflicted only on those who have earned it through their sins, and the degree of pressure will also depend on the severity if these sins.
The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy family) is reported to have said that the squeezing of the grave is the expiation of the sin of wasting and not appreciating the bounties granted by God. Some of the other reasons for this punishment include laziness in purifying oneself after urinating, creating mischief amongst the people, backbiting, bad behavior towards one's family members, and making false allegations.
Questioning in the Grave
Shaikh Abbas al-Qummi has stated in his book Manazelul Akhera that one of the principal factors of Shia Islam, belief in which is obligatory, is the questioning in the grave by the angels Munkar and Nakeer. The questions will pertain to one's beliefs (Aqaid) and deeds (Amaal), and will be put to every believer as well as non-believer; only infants, the mentally disabled, and those of lesser intellect are exempt from it. The two angels with voices like thunder and eyes like lightening will ask the following questions:
- Who is your Lord?
- Who is your Prophet?
- What is your Religion?
- Who is your Imam?
The person is also questioned about his prayers, his fasts, the Holy Pilgrimage (Hajj), Zakat, Khums and his love for the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them all). Imam Zainul Abedeen (peace be upon him) says that after the questioning about the beliefs of Islam, the person is questioned about how he spent his life, and also about the way he earned and spent his wealth.
If the deceased is able to give correct answers, a gate is opened near his head, and his grave is widened as far as he can see. The period of Barzakh (which will continue until the Day of Resurrection) passes with ease and the angels proclaim to him, "Sleep thou like a newly wedded bride." (Al-Kafi) However, if the deceased is unable to give correct replies, a door of the hell of Barzakh will open for him, and a breath from the breaths of hell will fill his entire grave.
The questioning in the grave will therefore be a cause of happiness for the believer, proclaiming an era of eternal happiness. He will confidently give testimony to the Oneness of the One God and the Messengership of His Beloved Messenger, see the beautiful faces of the angels, and smell the fragrance of the gardens of Paradise accompanying them. That is why such angels have been named "Mubashir and Basheer" (announcers of good tidings).
On the contrary, unbelievers in their grave will see the beginning of their pains and divine punishment, opening their eyes to the misfortune and torture that lies ahead of them. The very arrival of the angels will terrorize such deniers, and this is why these angels are named "Munkar and Nakeer" (the abhorring ones).
It is mentioned in Bihar al-Anwar that a man was questioned about his beliefs in the grave. He was able to successfully respond, until one question was put to him: "Do you remember that on such day you had seen a person was being oppressed but you did not go to help him? You saw that his honor was being trampled upon and his wealth taken. You were in a position to help him but you did not do so." The man was silent and unable to reply. Indeed, it is obligatory upon believers to help the oppressed, and as the man failed to fulfill this responsibility, the angels told him a punishment of a hundred lashes has been ordered for him. Then they inflicted the first lash which filled his entire grave with fire.
The story serves to remind us that containing true beliefs in the heart is not sufficient if deeds are lacking, and that we must not take lightly a single obligatory deed commanded by our Lord.
The Only Companion
"Until when death comes to one of them, he says: My Lord, send me back so that I may do some good I did not do (in the world). But Nay! These are mere words which he utters and behind them is a Barzakh until the Day of their Resurrection." (Qur'an 23:100)
We hear it time and again – after a person dies, his/her only companion will be his/her deeds. Shaikh Saduq has narrated from Qais bin Aasim that once he went to the Holy Prophet along with a group of people from the tribe of Tameem. He submitted, "O Messenger of God! Give us some admonition by which we may be benefitted, because most of the time we remain roaming in forests and deserts (and have few chances of visiting your honor)." The Holy Prophet gave them a number of admonitions, one of them being: "O Qais! It is necessary for you to have a companion to be buried in the grave. That companion will be alive whereas you will be dead. So if that companion is a nice and kind person, he will keep you in a respectable condition. If he is a bad person he will leave you there in your grave in total solitude, without any help or assistance. Also remember this companion will be necessarily with you in the grand gathering (Hashir) on the Day of Resurrection. You will be asked only about him, so it is very essential for you to select a good companion. If he is a good person he will make you happy, but if he is a corrupt fellow he will terribly frighten you. This companion is your aamal (deeds)."
Allama Majlisi in his Mahasin quotes Imam Baqir and Imam Sadiq that when a believer dies, six figures enter his grave along with him. Out of these, one is more illuminated, pure, and fragrant than the others. One stands on the right side, the second on the left, the third in front, the fourth near the head, the fifth near the legs, and the one more illuminated shelters on the head. From whichever side the wrath of Allah comes, the figure on that side defends the body. The one who is more illuminated asks these other figures: "May Allah bless you all, who are you?" The one on the right side says, "I am the prayers (Salat) which he recited in his lifetime." The one on the left side says, "I am the charity which he gave while alive." The one standing in the front says, "I am his fasts he undertook." The one near the head says, "I am the Hajj and Umrah which he performed in his life." The one standing near the legs says, "I am the kindness which he performed with his brother believer." Then all these faces turn towards the more illuminated one and ask it as to who it is. He replies, "I am the love for the Ahlul Bayt which he carried in his heart." (Manazelul Akhera)
Some Beneficial Acts
Shaikh Sadooq stated whoever fasts for nine days in the month of Sha'ban, Munkar, and Nakeer will deal with him gently and courteously during questioning.
One of the benefits narrated by Imam Muhammad Baqir for a person who remains awake on the night of 23rd of the month of Ramadan and offers one hundred units of prayer is that Allah removes fear from his heart during the questioning, and a light shines forth from his grave which illuminates the whole world.
The Holy Prophet said applying dye has four benefits, one of which is that Munkar and Nakeer shy away from him in the grave.
A person who recites Surah Yaseen before going to bed and Salaatul Laylatul Raghaib (the first Thursday night of the month of Rajab), will be saved from the terror of the grave.
If a person fasts for twelve days in the month of Sha'ban, Allah will send 70,000 Angels daily to his grave.
If a person visits an ailing man, Allah appoints an Angel for him who accompanies him in his grave until Qiyamat.
Ayatollah Dastghaib Shirazi has listed some of the many Amaals that protect one from the squeeze in the grave:
- Imam Ali says a person who recites Surah Nisa every Friday will remain safe from the squeeze in the grave.
- It is narrated that if a person recites Surah Zukhruf, Allah will save him from the reptiles of the earth and the squeeze in the grave.
- A person who recites Surah Qalam in obligatory or supererogatory prayers will remain safe from this punishment.
- Imam Sadiq says if a person dies between the sunset of Thursday and the sunset of Friday, Allah will exempt him from this punishment.
- Imam Ali al-Ridha (peace be upon him) says if a person gets up in the last part of the night and recites Salatul Layl, Allah will save him from the squeeze in the grave and grant him immunity from the fire of hell, and will increase his age and sustenance.
- The Holy Prophet says if a person recites Surah Takathur before going to bed, Allah will grant him freedom from this punishment.
- To put Jareedatayn (two wet sticks or panches) along with the dead body in the grave. It is narrated that so long as the sticks remain wet, the dead person is saved from chastisement.
- A person who recites ten rak'at of Salat on the 1st of Rajab, such that in every rak'at after Surah al-Hamd he recites three times Surah Tawheed, he will be saved from the squeezing in the grave.
- Reciting Surah Mulk on the grave is an act which saves the dead man from punishment in the grave. Allama Qutubuddin Rawandi relates from Ibn Abbas, who says that once a person pitched a tent on a ground not knowing that there was a grave beneath it. Thereafter he started reciting Surah Mulk. Suddenly he heard a voice saying that the Surah gives salvation. He related this incident to the Holy Prophet, who replied, "Verily, this Surah frees a person from the punishment in the grave". Shaikh Kulayni also narrates from Imam Baqir who said that the recitation of Surah Mulk saves one from the punishment in the grave.
- To keep Khake Shifa (the mud of the grave of Imam Hussain) in the shroud (kafan), or to rub it on the parts of prostration (Sajda).
It is highly recommended to visit the shrines of the Ahlul Bayt and to recite their Ziyarats, especially the Ziyarat of Imam Ridha, after each prayer. Shaikh Abbas al-Qummi mentions in Manazelul Akhira that Haji Ali Baghdadi had the honor of meeting with Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his reappearance). Among other questions, he said to the Imam, "In the year 1269 AH, when we went for the pilgrimage to the shrine of Imam Ali al-Ridha, we met a nomadic Arab who was a native of Najaf. We invited him for a meal and asked him his views regarding the reward of the love of Imam Ridha. He replied, 'Paradise', and said, 'For the past 15 days, I have been from the wealth of Imam Ridha, do Munkir and Nakeer have the nerve to come near me? The food which I consumed from the table of Imam Ridha has turned into my flesh and blood." He asked Imam Mahdi whether his claim was true. Imam replied, "Yes, it is true. Imam Ridha himself will come and save him from the questioning in the grave. For verily, by Allah! My Grandfather is a Zamin (surety) Imam."