Every living creature that walks the Earth will one day leave this life. We are all going to die someday; maybe sooner, maybe later, but it will happen to you, to me, to everyone else. No matter how much we learn or gain or understand, it will all be over with our last breath. Death is the greatest fact of life and the thing which many people fear the most. (Read Qur’an, 56:83-87)
As Muslims, we know and believe that God gave us life, and we know what He wants us to do with it. We have also learned that our death date is fixed and will come for us whether we are ready for it or not.
But what happens to us when our body dies? Where are our souls? What do we experience. These are the questions everyone wants to know the answer to. Islam is very clear on this issue. You will die, yes, but you will live again, in a new form, in a new reality. (Read Qur’an, 56:60-62)
“Every soul will taste of death. In the end, you will be brought back to Us.” (Qur’an, 29:57)
Islam teaches that there are four definite stages for every human life.
- The first is our existence in the wombs of our mother. There the flesh is united with a Ruh, or spirit (Qur’an, 15:29 and 32:9). According to a saying of the Prophet Muhammad, Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, this joining to create life takes place sometime around the 120th day of the feteus’s growth [4 months]. (Qur’an, 23:13-14)
- The second stage is our life on Earth (in the Dunya, or world). We are born, grow as children into adults and then reach old age where we gradually decline in strength and awareness. Although some people die in their youth and others live longer than most, it is a time of testing for all who make it past the age of puberty.
- The third stage begins after our death. When we breathe our last gulp of air and close our eyes for the last time, we cross over into the first stage of the next life. We enter into the peace or the punishment of the grave.
Allah once said to His beloved Prophet Muhammad,
“My servant draws closer to Me through the religious duties I placed upon him. My servant than continues to draw closer to Me with voluntary (good actions) until I love him. When I love him, I become his ears for hearing, his eyes for sight, his hand for work and his foot for walking. If he then asked Me for anything, I would surely grant it to him and when he asks for My protection, I will surely give it to him. I don’t hesitate in anything I do as must as I hesitate in taking the life of My believing servant. He hates death and I, (Allah), hate to hurt him.” (Bukhari)
Your Unique Soul
That part of us which is released the moment our physical body dies is the real “you”. It is your soul which makes up your essence, your individuality. Everything you are about, your deeds, your intentions, your beliefs and convictions and your nature and demeanor are contained in your soul. The Ruh you were given before birth was transformed by your individuality and has now become customised by you. It is a part of your Nafs, or real-self, or lower-self, if you will.
The Angel of Death
When you die your soul is taken from your body by the Angel of Death (Qur’an, 79:1-2). If you were a good person, it is gently drawn out from the flesh. If you were a bad person, then your soul is ripped violently from it. (Qur’an, 47:-27-28)
You are then made to hover near your body and can see and hear the scene around you, but you cannot communicate with the living. You will see the people mourning your death, you see yourself being buried and you hear the footsteps of the people when they leave your grave. Prophet Muhammad said about this:
“When the coffin (al-daffin) is ready and people lift it above their shoulders, if the body is that of a virtuous person, it urges ‘Take me ahead, take me ahead’. But if it is the body of a wrong-doer, it says, ‘Curses! Where are you taking ?’ Its screams are heard by everything except humans, and if they could hear it, they would faint.” (Bukhari)
What Happens in The Grave
Abu Hurayra reported that the Prophet of God, Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, said: When a deceased person is buried in the grave, two angels appear before him, both having black (faces) and blue (eyes). One is called Munkir and the other, Nakir.
They will demand, ‘What do you have to say about Muhammad?’ And the reply will be ‘He is the servant of Allah and His Messenger. I witness there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is His servant and Messenger.’ To this the grave will be expanded to 4900 square feet and it will be illuminated. The person will say ‘I want to tell my family about this’ but the angels will say ‘Go to sleep’. Only Allah will resurrect him from his resting place.
But if that person were a hypocrite (munafiq), he would reply, ‘I heard people saying something, so I repeated it, but I don’t really know.’ And the two angels will reply, ‘We knew you would answer this way’. They will command the earth to compress him and it will crush his ribs together. That person will not be relieved of the torment until Allah resurrects him from his resting place.
What Happens To The Soul?
Your soul is no longer a physical part of your body although it remains near it. Then a strange thing happens. The two angels Prophet Muhammad talked about will ask you the following questions: Who is your Lord? What was your lifestyle (deen)? Who is your prophet?
If you were a believer in Allah, and followed the teachings of your Prophet Muhammad, then you will answer the questions correctly. Your environment will then be softly lighted and your sleep in the spiritual dimension will be made roomy and comfortable and you will sleep gently until the Day of Judgement (the length of two units of prayer – 2 rak`ah).
But if you were a rejecter, a disbeliever and a horrible person who did not believe in Allah, or a hypocrite, the angels will become horrifying to you. They will strike you. They will cause your soul’s resting place to squeeze in on you until you feel suffocated. Then you will be tormented and in agony until the Day of Judgement. This is called the punishment of the grave. Prophet Muhammad, Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, advised us to ask Allah to save us from it. (Qur’an, 39:15)
The Waiting Room – Barzakh
This period between your death and being raised up on the Last Day is called Barzakh, or the Partition. When I first learned about this 'waiting' I imagined a room full of souls, stacked on shelves and in safekeeping, like the room of dreams described in Roald Dahl’s book BFG. It is up to Allah where He keeps the soul of each person – in the grave or in fluttering birds in Paradise. Prophet Muhamamd said the Barzakh was the first step on the way to the next life and whoever found safety there would have an easy time later on. (Refer to Tirmidhi and Qur’an, 23:100)
- The fourth and final stage of our existence begins when the end of our world has come. The appointed angel, Israfeel, will sound the trumpet and fantastic events will engulf the globe. The Earth will be destroyed in a grate catastrophe before it is transformed into a new Earth. Every human being alive at that time will swoon and die instantly. This is called the Last Day (Yawm ul-Akhir). (Read Qur’an, 20:102-104; 79:13-14; 81:1-14)
Read More On Life After Death:
Dua: Closing The Eyes of The Departed
The Muslim Way To Console & Deal With Death
16 Things To Do When A Person Is Dying