Punishment in the Grave – Some Comments


by Khaleel Joomye

One of the core belief of traditional hadithic islam is the existence of a ‘life’ in the grave where dead people will be either punished or rewarded after a series of questions about the identity of God, the prophet and the religion followed. It is surprising that the clear and complete book of God, the Quran does not speak a word about it. I will try, in this paper to investigate if this belief is founded according to the Quran, the sole scripture upon which muslims should judge.

 

When we read the Quran from cover to cover, it becomes clear that judgement day is after resurrection. The sequence is: death – resurrection – presentation before God and assembly – Judgement – Requital.  In many verses God does not speak of all the steps. Hence we may find in some verses death and requital only, death and judgement only, or death and presentation before God but an analysis of all the verses in relation to this subject shows that the sequence is always respected. For example, we would never come across a sequence when requital after death comes before judgement or presentation before God. It is illogical that our Wise and Just God punishes or rewards people after death before they are being judged. In fact God will inform us of our deeds after resurrection.

 

58:6 The Day when God resurrects them all, then He informs them of what they had done. God has recorded it, while they have forgotten it. God witnesses all things.

64:7 Those who rejected claim that they will not be resurrected. Say: “Yes, by my Lord, you will be resurrected, then you will be informed of everything you have done, and this is easy for God to do.”

79:34/35 Then, when the great blow comes. The Day when man remembers all that he strove for.

81:12/13/14 And when Hell is ignited. And when the Paradise is made near. Every soul will know what it had done!

82:4/5 And when the graves are laid open. Then the soul will know what it has brought forth and what it has left behind.

89:23/24 And Hell on that Day is brought. On that Day man will remember, but how will the remembrance now help him? He says: I wish I had worked towards my life!

99:1-8 When the earth rumbles and shakes. And the earth brings out its mass. And man will say: What is wrong with her? On that Day it will inform its news. That your Lord had inspired her to do so.  On that Day, the people will be brought out in throngs to be shown their works.  So whoever does the weight of an atom of good will see it. And whoever does the weight of an atom of evil will see it.

It is that day which disbelievers think won’t happen. God has never blamed man for not believing in the doom of the grave. In different occasions, the disbelievers questioned the existence of a resurrection after being dust and bones.

 

13:5 And if you are surprised, then what is more surprising is their saying: “Can it be that when we are dust, we will be created anew!” These are the ones who have rejected their Lord, and they will have shackles around their necks, and they are the dwellers of the Fire, in it they will abide.

17:49/50/51 And they said: “When we are bones and fragments, will we then be resurrected to a new creation?” Say: “Even if you be stones or metal.” “Or a creation that is held dear in your chests.” They will say: “Who will return us?” Say: “The One who initiated you the first time.” They will shake their heads to you and say: “When is this?” Say: “Perhaps it is near.

27:67/68 And those who rejected said: “When we have become dust, as our fathers, shall we be brought out?” “We have been promised this, both us and our fathers before. This is nothing except fictional tales of old!”

34:7 And those who rejected said: “Shall we lead you to a man who will tell you that after you are dismembered you will be created anew?”

37:16/17/18 “Can it be that after we die and become dust and bones, that we are resurrected?”  What about our fathers of old?” Say: “Yes, and you will be humbled.”

50:3/4 “Can it be that when we are dead and we become dust, that we come back later?” We know which of them has become consumed with the earth; and We have with Us a record which keeps track.

56:47-56 And they used to say: “After we die and turn to dust and bones, we will get resurrected?” “And also our fathers of old?” Say: “The people of old and the later generations,” “Will be summoned to a meeting on a predetermined Day.”                 “Then you, O rejecting strayers,” “Will eat from the tree of Bitterness,” “Filling your bellies therefrom,” “Then drinking on top of it boiling water,” “So you will drink like diseased camels!” Such is their share on the Day of Recompense.

79:6-12 On the Day the ground shakes. It will be followed by the second blow. Hearts on that Day will be terrified. Their eyes cast down. They say: Shall we be returned to live our lives. Even after we were crumbled bones? They said: This is an impossible recurrence.

We can see that disbelievers have rejected resurrection. God has never refuted their statement of becoming dust and bones. All these verses are as many opportunities for God to include the punishment in the grave but still not a single word is mentioned about that. Instead God confirms that we will be dust and bones and from that state He will recreate us.

 

7:25 He said: “In it you will live and in it you will die, and from it you will be brought forth.”

10:34 Say: “Are there any from those whom you have set up as partners who can initiate the creation and then return it?” Say: “God initiates the creation and then returns it.” How are you deluded!

36:78/79 And he puts forth an example for Us, while forgetting his own creation! He says: “Who can resurrect the bones while they are dust?” Say: “The One who has made them in the first place will resurrect them. He is fully aware of every creation.”

71:17/18 “And God made you grow from the earth as plants.” “Then He returns you to it, and He brings you out totally?”

80:21/22 Then He made him to die and buried him. Then if He wishes He resurrects him.

And finally the verse which confirms that we will be dust and bones

 

75:3/4 Does man think that We will not gather his bones? Indeed, We were able to make his fingertips.

Still some may point out that, from these verses, we cannot conclude that the punishment in the grave does not exist as this has not been explicitly said. Let us then continue our exploration of the Quran to see if we can gather other clues which will enable us to decide.

 

What we see is that God says that disbelievers will find this period very short.

 

10:45 And the Day He gathers them, it will be as if they had stayed but an hour of a day. They will get to know one another. Losers will be those who have denied meeting God, and they have not been guided.

The people who are more liable to get the punishment, if it exists, will be disbelievers. We should ask ourselves, why will the disbelievers find this period unnoticed if it is supposed to be a period of suffering?

 

30:55/56/57 And the Day the Hour is established, the criminals will swear that they have remained only for an hour! Thus they were deluded. And those who were given knowledge and faith said: “You have remained according to the decree of God until the Day of Resurrection; so this is now the Day of Resurrection, but you did not know.” So on that Day, the excuses of those who transgressed will not help them, nor will they be allowed to return.

The other question here is why will the disbelievers make excuses only on the day of Resurrection but not in the grave where they are supposedly punished? Moreover, the disbelievers on this day will ask why they have been woken up from their resting place!

36:51/52 And the horn will be blown, whereupon they will rise from the graves massing towards their Lord. They will say: “Woe to us! Who has resurrected us from our resting place? This is what the Almighty had promised; and the messengers were truthful!”

On this day, they will acknowledge that the messengers were truthful. They will then regret and will prefer to be dead and that death after the present life should have been permanent.

 

69:25/26/27 As for him who is given his record in his left, he will say: “Oh, I wish I never received my record,” “And that I never knew my account,” “I wish the end had been final,”

78:40 I have warned you of a retribution which is close, the Day when man will look at what he has brought forth and the rejecter will say: I wish I were dust!

Therefore God has made it clear that disbelievers will not be punished in the grave. They would like to return to that state which is compared to a rest or deep sleep. This is confirmed in 39:42

 

39:42 God seizes the souls at the time of their death; and for those that have not died, during their sleep. He then keeps those that have been overtaken by death, and He sends the others back until a predetermined time. In that are signs for a people who will think.

God repeats in other verses that our retribution will be on the day of resurrection

 

2:85 But then here you are killing each other and expelling a group of you from their homes; you act towards them with evil and animosity. And if they come to you as prisoners, you ransom them while it was unlawful for you to expel them! Do you believe in part of the Book and disbelieve in part? The punishment for those among you who do so is humiliation in this worldly life, and on the Day of Resurrection they will be delivered to the most severe retribution. God is not unaware of what you all do

Did God forget the punishment in the grave here? Is it another occasion missed by God to include the doom of the grave in his book? Or is the truth completely different?

 

3:85 And whoever follows other than submission as a system, it will not be accepted from him, and in the Hereafter he is of the losers.

6:30 And if you could see them when they are standing at their Lord; He said: “Is this not the truth?” They said: “Yes, by our Lord,” He said: “Then taste the retribution for what you have rejected.”

The disbelievers thus recognize the truth after resurrection and not in the grave when supposedly questions are asked.

 

24:25 On that Day, God will pay them what they are owed in full, and they will know that God is the Truth Manifested

37:21 This is the Day of decisiveness that you used to deny.

39:15 “Therefore, serve whatever you wish besides Him.” Say: “The losers are those who lose their souls, and their families, on the Day of Resurrection. Indeed, such is the real loss.”

39: 24/25/26 As he who saves his face from the terrible retribution on the Day of Resurrection. And it will be said to the transgressors: “Taste for what you have earned.” Those before them have denied, and thus the retribution came to them from where they did not perceive. So God made them taste the humiliation in this worldly life, but the retribution in the Hereafter is far greater, if only they knew.

Here again only two circumstances of retribution are mentioned: in this worldly life and the hereafter – no retribution in the grave.

40:16/17 The Day when they will be exposed. None of them will hide anything from God. To whom is the sovereignty on this Day? To God, the One, the Supreme. Today, every soul will be recompensed for what it had earned. There will be no injustice today. Truly, God is swift in reckoning.

54:6/7/8 So turn away from them; the Day will come when the caller will announce a terrible disaster. With their eyes humiliated, they come out of the graves like scattered locusts. Hastening towards the caller, the rejecters will say: “This is a difficult Day.”

74:8/9/10 So when the trumpet is sounded. That will be a very difficult Day. Upon the rejecters it will not be easy.

86:8/9/10 For He is able to bring him back. The Day when all is revealed. Then he will not have any power or victor.

It becomes clear that God has to create us again for requital. Suffering or reward is dependent on brain functions through neural impulse, neurotransmitters and modulators of pain or well-being. Human, made from organic matter, as repeatedly reminded in the Book, cannot feel if he is brain dead. Our brain should thus function again through a resurrection, with all the other organs like a heart to pump blood to it, a lung to bring oxygen, a kidney to expel waste and all the other organs, for us to experience the wonders or the damnation of the hereafter. The skin will also be reconstructed as it bears numerous receptors of touch, pressure and pain that forward impulses to the brain in order to make us feel.

 

4:56 Those who have rejected Our revelations, We will admit them to a Fire. Every time their skins are cooked, We replace them with other skins that they may taste the retribution. God is Noble, Wise

This verse confirms that to feel punishment we must have our sensors intact. How can we taste punishment if our skin is disintegrated and turned to dust under the earth?

Furthermore, the Quran describes in hundreds of verses what hell and paradise will be like but not a single one is mentioned about the alleged punishment or reward of the tomb.  Crushed ribs, seventy snakes, tightening or broadening of the grave are only found in dubious secondary sources. It is queer that the Quran does not give a single description of one of muslims’ core belief!

After all these verses which disprove the existence of the doom of the grave and the absence of verses that prove its existence, hadith mongers cite one single verse that for them points to the punishment of the grave

 

40:46 The Fire, which they will be exposed to morning and evening, and on the Day when the Hour is established: “Admit the people of Pharaoh into the most severe of the retribution.”

Firstly it should be noted that nowhere in that verse, reference is made to a punishment in the grave. Instead, it confirms that the retribution will be when the Hour is established. Secondly it is worth noting that the fire of Hell will be ignited only after the Hour.

 

81:1-12 When the sun implodes. And when the stars cannot be seen.  And when the mountains are made to move.     And when the reproduction is ended. And when the beasts are gathered. And when the seas are made to boil. And when the souls are paired.  And when the girl killed in infancy is asked, For what crime was she killed? And when the scripts are displayed. And when the heaven is removed.  And when Hell is ignited.

It implies that Pharaoh’s presentation to the fire will also be after resurrection and not in the grave. It is interesting to note that Pharaoh himself does not have a proper grave but has been mummified as a sign for the world and exposed in a museum.

So where does this belief come from?  Again it comes from Islamic secondary sources and hearsays.  Muslims today have thrown clear verses of God behind their backs and judge with hadith instead of Quran. These are hearsays written decades after the demise of the prophet without his approval and confirmation, orally transmitted through generations. We know that hearsays get distorted when passed orally from person to person. On top of that, we all agree that most of them were fabrications but supposedly some super men with super powers managed to distinguish those which are authentic by relying on the judgement they made on dead men in the chain of transmission! Not to mention that most of the ahadith are ahad (with a single transmitter), thus completely in defiance of the Quranic imperative of a minimum of two witnesses for any statement to be valid. This is how strange concepts like doom of the grave have entered Islam through the back door. Many ancient people believed in a ‘life’ in the grave and buried their relatives with their personal belongings. This idea also made its way into Judaism, not through the Torah of course, but through jewish secondary fabrications. It was during the Second temple period (500BC to 70AD) that the idea of the tomb being a place of punishment for the wicked dead arose. Before that, this notion was strange to the jews who only described the tomb or ‘sheol’ as a place for the dead. This belief entered Islam with the “Isra’iliyats” – these hadith brought by jewish converts, borrowed from jewish theology (or mythology) and ascribed to the prophet or his companions. One of them is particularly striking.

 

Sahih Bukhari Book 23 hadith 454:  Narrated Masruq: ‘Aisha said that a Jewess came to her and mentioned the punishment in the grave, saying to her, “May Allah protect you from the punishment of the grave.” ‘Aisha then asked Allah’s Apostle about the punishment of the grave. He said, “Yes, (there is) punishment in the grave.” ‘Aisha added, “After that I never saw Allah’s Apostle but seeking refuge with Allah from the punishment in the grave in every prayer he prayed.”

 

Strange how the prophet should wait for a reminder from a jewess to ask protection from the torment of the grave which is, by the way, a prayer never seen in the Quran. The book of Allah has given us many prayers for guidance, to seek protection from evil and hell-fire, to ask God for bounties in this life and the hereafter but not a single prayer about protection or bounties in the grave. This is very queer for a book that deems itself to be complete and clear.

 

Another hadith which is clearly a fabrication says

 

Zirr bin Jubaish reported from Ali [may Allah be pleased with him] that he said: “We were still in doubt concerning the torment of the grave, until ‘the mutual rivalry diverts you” was revealed’.” Tirmidhi Book 44 Hadith 3355 Even if this hadith is credited as weak, it is often put forward as a ‘proof’ of the punishment in the grave. Let us have a look at the mentioned surah and see if that points to an ounce of punishment in the grave

 

102:1-8 Hoarding has distracted you. Until you visit the graves. No, you will find out. Then again, you will find out. No, if only you had the knowledge of certainty. You would then see Hell. Then you would see it with the eye of certainty. Then you would be questioned, on that Day, about the blessings.

Nowhere, the chapter points to the torment of the grave. On the contrary, this surah confirms that we will see hell with the eye of certainty on the day when we will be questioned for our deeds that is after doomsday and resurrection when hell will be ignited. Nowhere, it is understood that you will see hell when you go to the grave. Instead it is the distraction of hoarding that will stop. Again, this is pure speculation and a nice try from hadith fabricators. It is also interesting to note the inconsistency between the two reports. One by Ali who heard about it but was not sure till revelation of surah 102 and the other by Aisha who had never heard of it till a Jew came to inform her and then she got a confirmation from the prophet!

 

Scholars should stop feeding people with guesswork and speculations and start using their reasoning as commanded by God in the Quran. The “grave problem” illustrates the real grave problem of Islam today, that of abandoning the book of God for spurious hadiths.

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About Farouk A. Peru
I am a human being in the world, blogging my existence. My thought systems may be found in my website: www.farouk.name

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