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Punishment in the Graves

Question: What is the Islamic stance on punishment in graves? Does not this
belief negate the idea of God being just?

Answer: The information regarding punishment in graves mainly appears in


some Ahadith ascribed to the Holy Prophet (sws). It needs to be appreciated
that these traditions do not add to the beliefs. These only help explain the
religious sources: the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah. We need to study these
Ahadith in the light of the Holy Qur’an, which is the real yardstick in
religious matters. I would like you to appreciate that in this context ‘grave’
does not stand for the ‘ditch’ in which we bury the dead rather it connotes
the life after death and before the Judgment Day namely Barzakh. The Holy
Qur’an refers to this life in various places (36:52, 40:45-6, 2:154, 9:101 for
example).
The life of Barzakh is neither identical to the life in this world, nor is it like
life in the Hereafter. This we cannot fully comprehend like most other
matters regarding the life after death and the Hereafter. We only know that
some of the individuals experience a different kind of life and are rewarded
or punished by their Lord in Barzakh but we do not know in what form this
reward or torture is executed. The Holy Qur’an itself has made it clear that
we do not and cannot comprehend this phenomenon and it has not provided
extensive information on the subject. It says:
And call not those who are slain in the way of Allah ‘dead’. Nay, they
are living, only on perceive not. (2:154)
It would, therefore, be wise to avoid imagining details of the matter and to
be content with the information made available by the Almighty.
The Holy Qur’an informs us that those who live a life of submission to God
and sacrifice their lives, necessarily merit success in the Hereafter and will
be rewarded right after their death. It says:
Think not of those, who are slain in the way of Allah, as dead. Nay,
they are living. With their Lord they have provision. (3:169)
The Holy Qur’an has only provided this brief information It says that they
are not dead like others rather they are being rewarded. This treatment is
exclusive for the martyrs, the Messengers, Prophets, and other pious people
who lived lives of piety and righteousness.
A similar but contrasting fate as that of the Shuhada (witnesses to the truth)
awaits those who were not only clear rejecters of what they understood to be
the truth but lived a life which was evident of their hatred for it, as, for
instance, the rejecters and enemies of the Messengers of Allah. These
people, contrary to the Shuhada, are subjected to God’s punishments
immediately after their worldly deaths. The Qur’an says:
The Fire; they are exposed to it morning and evening; and on the day
when the Hour comes [it will be said]: Cause Pharaoh’s folk to enter
the most awful doom. (40:46)
The fate of those whose status is not clear is left to be decided undecided till
the Hereafter. It will be then when their status will be ascertained and
rewards and punishments will be declared. Many verses of the Holy Qur’an
indicate to this (36:52 for example).
Now remains the position of the Ahdith, which refer to the punishment in
grave. As stated earlier these Ahdith must be analyzed in the light of the
Holy Qur’an and should only be accepted if found in conformity with the
Qur’anic information on the subject. A thorough analysis of these Ahdith
shows that these refer specifically to the addressees of the Messenger of
Allah and we have seen that the Holy Qur’an has justified their chastisement
in the grave. It would not be possible to generalize this punishment and
reward for it would be a clear contradiction to the Qur’anic assertion that the
fate of people will be ascertained after the process of accountability in the
Day of Judgment.