What does the spirit do in the grave?
Following death, the spirit is taken to the Presence of God. If it led a
good, virtuous life and refined itself, the angels charged with taking it to
the Presence of God wrap it in a piece of satin and take it, through the heavens
and all inner dimensions of existence, to His Presence. During this journey,
angels welcome it in every mansion or station it passes and ask: “Whose spirit
is this? How beautiful it is!” The angels conveying it introduce it with the
most beautiful titles it had while in the world, and answer: “This is the spirit
of the one who, for example, prayed, fasted, gave alms, and bore all kinds of
hardship for God’s sake.” Finally, God Almighty welcomes it and tells the angels:
“Take it back to the grave where its body is buried, so that it can answer the
questions of Munkar and Nakir, the interrogating angels.”
Whatever misfortune we experience is the result of our own sins. If believers
are sincere but cannot always refrain from sin, God, out of His Mercy, allows
misfortune to strike so that they may be purified. God may subject them to great
agony during death either to forgive their still unpardoned sins or to promote
them to higher (spiritual) ranks, but then takes their spirit very gently. If,
despite all misfortunes and death agonies there are still some sins that have
not been forgiven, these people are somehow punished in the grave and are thus
freed from punishment in Hell. In addition, since the grave is the first station
on the journey toward eternal life, where everyone will be rewarded based on
their words and deeds, it also features a preliminary interrogation by two angels
into the what kind of life the deceased lead. And almost everyone, except Prophets,
is subjected to some suffering.
It is recorded in reliable books that ‘Abbas, the uncle of the Prophet, upon
him be peace and blessings, desired very much to see ‘Umar in his dream after
the latter had died. When he saw him 6 months later, he asked him: “Where were
you until now?” ‘Umar replied: “Do not ask me that! I have just finished accounting
(for my life).”
Sa‘d ibn Mu‘adh was among the greatest of the Prophet’s Companions, may God
be pleased with them all. When he died, the Archangel Gabriel, upon him be peace,
told God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings: “The Divine Throne trembled
when Sa‘d died.” Innumerable angels took part in his funeral. After Sa‘d, may
God be pleased with him, was buried, the Messenger said in amazement: “Glory
to God! What (will happen to others) if the grave squeezes (even such people
In the grave, everyone is questioned by the angels Munkar and Nakir. They
ask: “Who is your Lord? Who is your Prophet? What is your religion?” and many
other questions. If the deceased believed in God and His Prophets, upon them
be peace, and in the other essentials of belief, they can answer these questions.
Otherwise, they cannot. The questions continue with their deeds in the world.
The spirit’s relationship with the body differs according to which world
it inhabits. In this world the spirit is confined within the prison of the body.
If the evil-commanding self and bodily desires dominate it, the spirit inevitably
deteriorates and spell the person’s final doom. If the person uses his or her
will-power in the way taught by God and disciplines the evil-commanding self
and “nourishes” the spirit through belief, worship, and good conduct, and is
not enslaved by bodily desires, the spirit is refined, purified, and furnished
with laudable qualities. This will bring happiness to the person in both worlds.
After burial, the spirit waits in the intermediate world between this one
and the Hereafter. Although the body decomposes, its essential particles—called
in a hadith ajb al-dhanab, which literally means coccyx—do not rot. We do not
know whether ajb al-thanab is a person’s genes or something else. Whatever it
is, however, the spirit continues its relations with the body through it. This
part also serves as a foundation upon which God will rebuild or re-create us
on the Day of Judgment. God will make this part, which is formed of the body’s
essential particles or atoms or all of its other particles that have already
mixed into the soil, conducive to eternal life during the final destruction
and rebuilding of the universe, and will use it to re-create us on the Day of
The intermediate world is the realm where the spirit feels the “breath” of
the bliss of Paradise or the punishment of Hell. If we led a virtuous life in
the world, our good deeds (e.g., prayers, recitations, acts of charity) will
appear as amiable fellows. Also, windows onto heavenly scenes will be opened
for us and, as stated in a hadith, our grave will become like one of the gardens
of Paradise. However, if some of our sins still remain unpardoned, regardless
of how virtuous we were, we may suffer some punishment in the intermediate world
so that these final sins will be forgiven and we can deserve Paradise. If we
did not believe and indulged in sin, these facts will assume the forms of bad
fellows and vermin. We will see scenes of Hell, and our grave will become like
one of the pits of Hell.
Can any information be taken from a dead person?
When we are alive, our spirit suffers pain and feels joy and happiness. Although
the spirit feels pain apparently through the nervous system and uses this extremely
complicated system to communicate with all parts of the body, scientists still
do not understand the interaction between the spirit and the body, especially
the brain. Any bodily failure that causes death can make the nervous system
stop operating. However, it has been established scientifically that certain
brain cells live on for some time after death. Scientists try to receive signals
from these cells after the person has died. If they succeed in doing so and
can decipher those signals, it will be useful, especially in criminology, in
solving unsolved crimes. For example, the Qur’an tell us how, during the time
of Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, God revived a dead person, who identified
When Moses said to his people: “God commands you to sacrifice
a cow” ... they sacrificed her, a thing they had scarcely done. And when you
killed a living soul, and disputed thereon—God disclosed what you were hiding—so
We said: “Smite him with part of it”; even so He brings to life the dead, and
He shows you His signs, that haply you may have understanding. (2:67, 72–3)
As the spirit suffers pain and feels happy, and as it continues its relation
with the body (via those essential bodily particles that do not rot) in the
intermediate world, it is meaningless to discuss whether the spirit, the body,
or both will enjoy Paradise or suffer Hell.
Since the spirit lives the worldly life together with the body and shares
all its joys and sorrows, God will resurrect people both bodily and spiritually.
The Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama‘a agree that the spirit and the body will
go either to Paradise or Hell together. God will build bodies in forms unique
to the Hereafter, where everything will be alive:
This life of the world is but a pastime and a game.
Lo! the home of the Hereafter, that is life if they but knew (29:64).
What gifts can we send to the spirit after death?
Spirits in the intermediate world will see and hear us, provided God allows
this. If He does, He may permit some saintly people to see, and hear, and communicate
Our account is not closed after we die. If we leave behind good, virtuous
children, books or institutions from which people continue to benefit, or if
we have raised or contributed to raising those who benefit others, our reward
continues to increase. If we leave evil behind, our sins continue to multiply
as long as our evil continues to harm others. Therefore, if we want to help
our beloved ones who have gone to the other world, we should do good deeds.
If we help the poor, take part in Islamic services, lead a good and virtuous
life, and especially spend to promote Islam and the good of Muslims and humanity
at large, we will cause their reward to increase.