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Punishment of the Grave

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Punishment of the grave (Arabic: عذاب القبر) consists in postmortem hardships and pressures suffered by humans in the world of barzakh (the intermediary world between this world and afterlife). According to hadiths, punishments of grave are occasioned by acts such as gossiping, carelessness about cleanliness and uncleanliness, a man’s mistreatment of his wife, mistreatment of one’s family, and taking the prayers lightly. On the other hand, punishments of the grave are removed by pilgrimage to Imam al-Husayn's shrine, being buried in Najaf, love of the Prophet’s household, dying between Thursday noon and Friday noon, and so on.

Except Dirar b. 'Umar, a student of Wasil b. 'Ata', all Muslims unanimously believe in punishment of the grave. To prove such punishment, theologians have made recourse to the verse, “They will say, ‘Our Lord! Twice did You make us die, and twice did You give us life’.”[1] There is a dispute over whether one’s imaginal body suffers the punishment or one’s this-worldly body does so, but the majority of theologians believe that punishment of the grave is suffered by one’s body in barzakh.

Muhammad b. Isma'il al-Bukhari, a Sunni scholar, cites a hadith from the Prophet (s) in his book, Sahih, to the effect that a deceased person would be punished when his or her relatives and friends cry for him or her. According to Yahya b. Sharaf al-Nawawi, a commentator on Sahih Muslim, the hadith has been interpreted away by Sunni scholars, since punishment of the dead on account of the living’s weeps would be at odds with verse 18 of Sura al-Fatir according to which no bearer shall bear another’s burden. Moreover, according to Ayisha, this hadith was not accurately transmitted from the Prophet (s).

The Notion

Punishment of the grave consists in hardships and pressures suffered by man after death. The world of grave is the same as the world of barzakh, which begins since the burial of the dead and lasts until the day of resurrection. In hadiths, instances of punishment of the grave are mentions such as the heat of fire, pressure of the Earth, being bitten by insects, and enormous horror.

According to a hadith from Imam al-Sadiq (a) cited in Man la yahduruh al-faqih, punishment of the grave is not limited to those who are buried in the Earth. Indeed, it includes all those who die, even if they are not buried under the ground. Moreover, according to another hadith from Imam al-Sadiq (a) cited in Bihar al-anwar, most humans suffer punishment of the grave. In some supplications transmitted from the Infallibles (a), the suppliant takes refuge to God from punishment of the grave. Based on certain hadiths, when the Prophet (s) buried his daughter Ruqayya, he prayed for the removal of her punishment in the grave. In her will to Imam ʿAli (a), Fatima al-Zahra (a) asked him to recite the Qur'an and supplicate to God over her grave after her burial.

In collections of hadiths, there are sections in which hadiths concerning punishment of the grave are compiled. In the section on “states of barzakh and the grave and its punishment and interrogation and other pertinent amtters” of his Bihar al-anwar, Allama al-Majlisi cited 128 hadiths in this regard.

Occasions of Punishment of the Grave

According to a hadith transmitted in 'Ilal al-shara'i' from Imam ʿAli (a), punishment of the grave is occasioned by gossiping, urination, and a man’s withdrawal from his wife. In a footnote in Bihar al-anwar, a man’s withdrawal from his wife is interpreted as misconduct and mistreatment, and urination is interpreted as carelessness about cleanliness.

In reference to these hadiths, Shaykh 'Abbas Qumi believes that much of punishment of the grave arises from these three factors. Other things that might occasion such punishment include:

  • Mistreatment of one’s family: according to a hadith from the Prophet (s), the reason for Sa'd b. Mu'adh’s punishment in the grave was his mistreatment of his family.
  • Taking the prayer lightly: according to a hadith cited in 'Ali Mishkini’s al-Mawaʿiz al-ʿadadiyya, indolence in performing the prayers leads to the tightness and pressure of the grave.
  • Wasting God’s blessings: according to a hadith, a believer’s punishment in the grave is an expiation of the blessings he has wasted.

Moreover, based on hadiths, punishment of the grave is occasioned by gossiping, not being protected by the guardianship of the Infallible Imams (a), failure to help the oppressed, and saying the prayers without wudu' (ritual washing). In the book Jami' al-sa'adat, if one’s mother is not satisfied with him, his throes of death and punishment of the grave will be more intense.

Alleviation of Punishment of the Grave

In books of hadiths, factors are mentioned which contribute to alleviation of, or emancipation from, punishment of the grave, including:

  • Love of the Prophet’s Household (a): according to a hadith from the Prophet (s) in Bihar al-anwar, love of the Prophet (s) and his Household is useful on seven occasions, one of which is in the grave.
  • Recitation of the Quran: there are hadiths about virtues of Quranic suras to the effect that recitations of certain suras remove punishment of the grave, including the persistent recitation of Sura al-Zukhruf and Sura al-Nisa' on each Friday and recitation of Sura al-Takathur when sleeping.


Other cases that lead to the alleviation or removal of punishment of the grave include:

  • Performing the full ruku' in the prayer
  • Dying between Thursday noon and Friday noon
  • A woman’s tolerance of her bad-tempered or poor husband
  • A woman’s renouncement of her right to the mahr (dower) in favor of her husband
  • A child’s good deeds after his or her parents’ death.

According to Imam Khomeini in his book, Sharh chihil hadith, the criterion for how long punishment of the grave would last is the extent of one’s this-worldly attachment and one’s love of this world. Accordingly, the less the worldly attachment the wider the grave (or barzakh) and the shorter the stay therein.

Does the weep over the dead cause punishment of the grave?

In Sunni sources of hadith, a hadith is attributed to the Prophet (s) to the effect that a deceased person would be punished in the grave when his or her family and relatives cry for him or her. The hadith was transmitted by the Second Caliph and his son 'Abd Allah b. 'Umar. However, Aisha said that they did not accurately transmit the hadith from the Prophet (s), since what the Prophet (s) had actually said was: “the deceased person is punished for his sins in the grave, while his close ones are crying for him at the time.” According to al-Nawawi, a commentator on Sahih Muslim, Sunni scholars dispute over how this hadith should be interpreted. Some take it to pertain to those deceased persons who willed that people cry for them after their death, while others believe that punishment of the dead because of what the survivors do does not square well with the verse, “No bearer shall bear another’s burden.”

Punishment of the barzakh body or worldly body?

There is a controversy over whether punishment of the grave is suffered by the worldly body or by a barzakh body. According to the majority of theologians and philosophers, upon death the human soul will attach an imaginal body (a body resembling the worldly body, except that it lacks its matter and its features such as weight and mass). Nevertheless, Sayyid al-Murtada and Sadid al-Din Himmasi al-Razi, two Imami theologians, allegedly hold that upon death the soul returns to the physical body, and the pressure of the grave is experienced by the worldly body. According to 'Abd al-Razzaq Lahiji, those who believe that the soul does not survive the physical death hold that punishment of the grave is solely experienced by the body, but those who believe that the soul survives the physical death maintain that upon death the soul returns to the body, and punishment of the grave is either experienced by the soul only or by the soul and the body both.

According to Abu l-Hasan al-Ash'ari, the founder of Ash'arite School, there is a dispute among Muslims as to punishment of the grave. In his view, the majority of Muslims believe in such punishment, while he attributes the denial of this punishment to Mu'tazilites and Khawarij. In his Tabaqat al-Muʿtazila, Ibn Abi l-Hadid quotes Qadi-l-Qudat as saying that since Dirar b. 'Umar, a student of Wasil b. 'Ata', did not believe in punishment of the grave, the view came to be attributed to all Muʿtazilis, while they generally endorse such punishment, with only a few of them having doubts about punishment of the grave. However, the majority of Muʿtazilis who believe in punishment of the grave attribute it to the soul rather than the physical body.

Quranic Evidence

According to what 'Allama al-Majlisi has quoted from Shaykh al-Baha'i, the following verse has been adduced in books of theology as evidence for punishment of the grave: “They will say, ‘Our Lord! Twice did You make us die, and twice did You give us life’.”[2] The argument runs as follows: the first death is in this world and the second death is in the grave, and the first case of giving life is in the grave and the second case is on the day of resurrection. According to ʿAllama al-Majlisi, some Quranic exegetes such as ʿAbd Allah b. ʿUmar Baydawi and Fadl b. Hasan al-Tabrisi in his Jawami' al-jami' interpret the above verse as follows: the first death is before the formation of the sperm and the second is after its formation. The first account is also attributed to Fadl b. Hasan al-Tabrisi in his Majma' al-bayan and to Fakhr al-Razi.

ʿAllama al-Majlisi has also interpreted the term “wretched life” in the Quranic verse “But whoever disregards My remembrance, his shall be a wretched life, and We shall raise him blind on the Day of Resurrection” as punishment of the grave.

Moreover, in Majmaʿ al-bayan (written in sixth/twelfth century) some exegetes are quoted as saying that in the verse “We will punish them twice, then they shall be consigned to a great punishment” one of the two punishments is that of the grave and the other is that of the resurrection. According to 'Allama Tabataba'i, a Shiite exegete of the Quran (d. 1981), the verse “the Fire, to which they are exposed morning and evening. On the day when the Hour sets in, Pharaoh’s clan will enter the severest punishment” implies that Pharaoh’s clan would be exposed to the fire first, and then they would enter the fire, where the former can be interpreted as punishment of the grave and the latter as punishment after the resurrection.

Bibliography

Punishment of the grave has been discussed in books such as Shaykh ʿAbbas Qumi’s Manazil al-akhira (Stations of the afterlife), Muhammad Shuja'i’s ʿUruj-i ruh (The ascent of the spirit), and Niʿmat Allah Salihi Hajiabadi’s Insan az marg ta barzakh (Man from death to barzakh). Moreover, independent works have been devoted to punishment of the grave, including:

  • Tahqiqi Qurʾani wa-riwayi darbara adhab qabr (A Quranic and hadith-based investigation of punishment of the grave) by Mahdi Farbudi, which was published in 2007.
  • ʿAlam qabr: raz buzurg (The world of grave: the great mystery), by Jabir Ridwani.

Notes

  1. Qur'an 40:11.
  2. Qur'an 40:11

References

  • The material for this article is mainly taken from عذاب قبر in Farsi WikiShia.