When is a deceased person who has to undergo a post-mortem examination questioned by the angels of the grave?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
As-salāmu ‘alaykum wa-rahmatullāhi wa-barakātuh.
The questioning in the grave is from the beliefs of the Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jamā’ah. Imam al-Ṭaḥāwī raḥimahullah states in his renowned work on Islamic Doctrine titled al-‘Aqīdah al-Ṭaḥāwiyyah:
“We believe in the punishment in the grave for those who deserve it, and in the questioning in the grave by Munkar and Nakir about one’s Lord, one’s religion and one’s prophet, as has come down in the hadiths from the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and in reports from the Companions, may Allah be pleased with them all.”
The Prophet ﷺ described the nature of the interrogation in the grave in a lengthy report narrated by Sayyiduna al-Barā’ raḍhiallahu anhu. He narrates:
“We went out with the Prophet ﷺ for the funeral of a man from among the Ansar. We came to the grave and when (the deceased) was placed in the grave, the Prophet ﷺ sat down and we sat around him, as if there were birds on our head. In his hand he had a stick with which he was scratching the ground. Then he raised his head and said,
“Seek refuge with Allah from the torment of the grave”, two or three times. Then he said,
“When the believing slave is about to depart this world and enter the Hereafter, there come down to him from heaven angels with white faces like the sun, and they sit around him as far as the eye can see. They bring with them shrouds from Paradise and perfumes from Paradise. Then the Angel of Death comes and sits by his head, and he says,
‘O good soul, come forth to forgiveness from Allah and His pleasure.’ Then it comes out easily like a drop of water from the mouth of a water skin. When he seizes it, they do not leave it in his hand for an instant before they take it and put it in that shroud with that perfume, and there comes from it a fragrance like the finest musk on the face of the earth. Then they ascend and they do not pass by any group of angels but they say, ‘Who is this good soul?’ and they say, ‘It is So and so the son of So and so, calling him by the best names by which he was known in this world, until they reach the lowest heaven. They ask for it to be opened to them and it is opened, and (the soul) is welcomed and accompanied to the next heaven by those who are closest to Allah, until they reach the seventh heaven. Then Allah says: ‘Record the book of My slave in ‘Illiyoon in the seventh heaven, and return him to the earth, for from it I created them, to it I will return them and from it I will bring them forth once again.’
So his soul is returned to his body and there come to him two angels who make him sit up and they say to him, ‘Who is your Lord?’ He says, ‘Allah.’ They say, ‘What is your religion?’ He says, ‘My religion is Islam.’ They say, ‘Who is this man who was sent among you?’ He says, ‘He is the Prophet ﷺ.’ They say, ‘What did you do?’ He says, ‘I read the Book of Allah and I believed in it.’ Then a voice calls out from heaven, ‘My slave has spoken the truth, so prepare for him a bed from Paradise and clothe him from Paradise, and open for him a gate to Paradise.’ Then there comes to him some of its fragrance, and his grave is made wide, as far as he can see. Then there comes to him a man with a handsome face and handsome clothes, and a good fragrance, who says, ‘Receive the glad tidings that will bring you joy this day.’ He says, ‘Who are you? Your face is a face which brings glad tidings.’ He says, ‘I am your righteous deeds.’ He says, ‘O Lord, hasten the Hour so that I may return to my family and my wealth.’ But when the disbelieving slave is about to depart this world and enter the Hereafter, there come down to him from heaven angels with black faces, bringing sackcloth, and they sit around him as far as the eye can see. Then the Angel of Death comes and sits by his head, and he says, ‘O evil soul, come forth to the wrath of Allah and His anger.’ Then his soul disperses inside his body, then comes out cutting the veins and nerves, like a skewer passing through wet wool. When he seizes it, they do not leave it in his hand for an instant before they take it and put it in that sackcloth, and there comes from it a stench like the foulest stench of a dead body on the face of the earth. Then they ascend and they do not pass by any group of angels but they say, ‘Who is this evil soul?’ and they say, ‘It is So and so the son of So and so, calling him by the worst names by which he was known in this world, until they reach the lowest heaven. They ask for it to be opened to them and it is not opened.” Then the Prophet ﷺ recited (interpretation of the meaning):
“For them the gates of heaven will not be opened, and they will not enter Paradise until the camel goes through the eye of the needle” [al-A’raaf 7:40]
He said: “Then Allah says, ‘Record the book of My slave in Sijjeen in the lowest earth, and return him to the earth, for from it I created them, to it I will return them and from it I will bring them forth once again.’ So his soul is cast down.” Then the Prophet ﷺ recited the verse (interpretation of the meaning):
“And whoever assigns partners to Allah, it is as if he had fallen from the sky, and the birds had snatched him, or the wind had thrown him to a far off place” [al-Hajj 22:31]
He said: “Then his soul is returned to his body, and there come to him two angels who make him sit up and they say to him, ‘Who is your Lord?’ He says, ‘Oh, oh, I don’t know.’ They say, ‘What is your religion?’ He says, ‘Oh, oh, I don’t know.’ Then a voice calls out from heaven, ‘Prepare for him a bed from Hell and clothe him from Hell, and open for him a gate to Hell.’ Then there comes to him some of its heat and hot winds, and his grave is constricted and compresses him until his ribs interlock. Then there comes to him a man with an ugly face and ugly clothes, and a foul stench, who says, ‘Receive the bad news, this is the day that you were promised.’ He says, ‘Who are you? Your face is a face which forebodes evil.’ He says, ‘I am your evil deeds.’ He says, ‘O Lord, do not let the Hour come, do not let the Hour come.’” (Musnad Aḥmad)
By default, all humans will be questioned in the grave regardless if they passed away as Muslims or not. However, the questioning of a Muslim in the grave will be to honour him and manifest his Imān, whereas, the questioning of those who died without Imān will be to disgrace them and manifest their Kufr.
Based on different narrations, the Ahl al-Sunnah have enumerated those who will not be questioned in the grave. They involve the Prophets, the martyrs, those who died in a plague, those who die from a stomach illness, those who pass away on Jumu`ah, those who recite Surah al-Mulk every night and the students of knowledge. Conversely, children will be questioned in the grave but an angel will dictate the answers to the children.
With respect to when the questioning occurs, the famous Ḥanafī jurist Imām Muḥammad al-Bazzāzī raḥimahullah states his renowned Fatwa work ‘al-Fatāwā al-Bazzāziyyah’:
“The questioning will take place wherever the deceased permanently settles, to the extent, if a person is devoured by a predator, the questioning takes place in the stomach of the predator. Thus, if a person is preserved in a coffin/box for a number days in order to be transferred to another location, he will not be questioned until he is buried.”
Imām al-Ṭaḥṭāwī raḥimahullah further adds:
“The questioning in the grave takes place in the final physical worldly abode for the corpse.” In another place he writes:
“The most common opinion on when the questioning takes place is when the deceased is finally buried…Questioning is assured even if it occurs in the stomach of a predator or on the seabed (in the event of somebody drowning)”
Mullā `Alī al-Qārī raḥimahullah answers a common objection as to why the ‘Aḥādīth only mention questioning in the physical grave in a graveyard; He states that the graves have been specified in the ‘Aḥādith as because they are the customary place where a person ends up. He further argues that the word ‘Qabr’ translated commonly as the grave/pit in a graveyard need not refer to the actual pit, rather, a person’s Qabr is his final physical abode in the world wherever it may be.
Therefore, it is clear from the above that a person is not questioned until their body reaches its final and permanent physical abode in the world, wherever that maybe. Thus, a person who has to undergo a post-mortem will not be questioned until their body is buried in the ground even if that takes a number of weeks.
And Allah Ta’ālā Alone Knows Best
Mufti Faraz Adam,
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