Islamic Concept of the Soul and Barzakh

Soul is from the matters of the unseen and nothing can be said in its explanation without established proofs from the Book and the Sunnah. The knowledge required for our welfare in this world and the Hereafter has been conveyed to us by the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam), and there is no need to seek any goodness beyond that. The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) said: “There is nothing that will take you closer to Paradise but that I have enjoined it upon you, and there is nothing that will take you closer to Hell but that I have warned you from it.” [Musnad ash-Shafi’e and others] 


The Jews asked Allah’s Messenger (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) about the soul and in reply the Qur’aan said: “They ask you concerning the soul. Say that the soul is from Allah and you have not been given knowledge of it except a little.” [Soorah al-Isra (17): 85]

The Soul is a creation of Allah, whose function is to bring life to the human body. It remains with the human body throughout the life and departs at death. After which the souls are either held in Paradise or punishment. There is no returning back of the souls of the righteous people from Paradise, and no escaping of the souls of evildoers from the punishment of the grave. Therefore, pious or evil, the souls do not return to this world, neither to take revenge nor to assist the living. Neither is there any concept in Islam, which explains that justice is dependant upon the soul’s coming back and setting things aright. Islam teaches that Allah is responsible to see that every being gets its due right and injustice does not go unpunished.

Journey of the Soul after Death

Death

Death occurs when the soul separates from the human body and enters the realm of ‘Barzakh’, which is the period between one’s death and the Hereafter.

Appearing of the Angels

(a) The Believing Soul: Angels with faces shining bright like the sun descend from the Heavens, carrying a shroud and fragrance of Paradise and sit away from him as far as the eye can see. The Angel of Death then approaches and says: “O good soul, come out to Allah’s forgiveness and pleasure.” The soul then comes out as gently as a drop from a water-skin, and he seizes it. Within the blinking of an eye, the other Angels take the soul and put it in the shroud and fragrance. There will then come from the soul, a fragrance like that of the sweetest musk found on the face of Earth.

(b) The Disbelieving Soul: Angels with black faces come down to him from the Heaven with hair-cloth and sit away from him as far as an eye can see. The Angel of death comes to him and says: “O wicked soul, come out to the displeasure from Allah. The soul becomes scattered in the body, and the Angel of Death draws it out as violently as a spit is drawn out from moistened wool. He then seizes it, and when he does so, the other Angels do not leave the disbelieving soul in his hand for an instant, but put it in that hair-cloth and from it comes forth a smell like the most offensive corpse found on the Earth.

Ascending to the Heaven

(a) The Believing Soul: The Angels ascend the believing soul to the Seventh Heaven and every group of Angels they pass asks: “Who is this good soul?” to which they reply: “So and so, the son of so and so.” using his best names by which people called him on the Earth. Then the believing soul is presented before Allah. Allah, the Great and Glorious, says: “Record the Book of My servant in the Illiyyoon and take him back to Earth, for I created mankind from it, and I shall return them to it, from it I shall bring them forth again.”

(b) The Disbelieving Soul: The Angels take the disbelieving soul up to the Heaven and do not bring it pass a company of Angels without their saying: “Who is this wicked soul?” to which they reply: “So and so, the son of so and so.” Using the worst names that he was called in the world. When he is brought to the lowest Heaven, request is made for the gate to be opened for him, but it is not opened for him. Allah, who is most Great and Glorious, then says: “Record his Book in Sijjin (the lowest place) and his soul is thrown down to Earth.”

Questioning in the Grave

(a) The Believing Soul: The Soul is temporary restored in the body. Two Angels come to it and ask: “Who is your Lord?” He replies: “My Lord is Allah.” They ask: “What is your religion?” He replies: “My religion is Islam.” They ask: “Who is this man who was sent among you?” and He will reply: ” He is the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam).” They ask: “What was the source of your knowledge?” He replies: “I have read Allah’s Book, believed in it and declared it to be true.” Then one cry is heard from the Heaven: “My servant has spoken the truth…”

(b) The Disbelieving Soul: Angels approach the disbelieving soul for questioning, but he can barely answer their questions by saying: ‘Alas! I do not know…’

The Abode and Companion

(a) The Believing Soul: Some of the joys of Paradise and its fragrance come to him and his grave is made spacious for him as far as an eye can see. A man with a beautiful face, beautiful garments and sweet odor comes to the righteous slave and says: “Rejoice in what pleases you, for this is your day which you have been promised.” He asks: “Who are you?” He replies: “I am your good deeds.” He then says: “My Lord, bring the Last Hour; my Lord bring the Last Hour, so I may return to my people and my property.”

(b) The Disbelieving Soul: Some of the Hell’s heat and hot air comes to him, his grave is made narrow for him such that his ribs interpenetrate into each other. A man with an ugly face, ugly garments and an offensive odor comes to him and says: “Be grieved with what displeases you, for this is your day which you have been promised.” He asks: “Who are you? For your face is most ugly and brings evil.” He replies: “I am your wicked deeds.” He then says: “My Lord, do not bring the Last Hour.”

From the above we know how the soul is taken out of the human body upon death and presented before Allah. If the soul is righteous, it enjoys the bounties of Allah and if it is wicked, it suffers the torment of the grave, which is very severe and none can escape its anguish and suffering. The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) said: “This Ummah will be tried in its grave. If it were not for the fear that you might not bury your dead, I would pray to Allah to make you hear what I hear.” [Saheeh Muslim]

Uthman Ibn Affan (radhiallahu anhu) used to cry until he wet his beard, if he was to stand on a grave. He was told: ‘You mention the Heaven and the Hell-Fire and you don’t cry, but when you mention the grave, you burst in tears!’ He said: ‘I heard the Prophet of Allah (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) saying: “The grave is the first stage of the Hereafter, whoever passes it will be at ease afterwards, and if he does not succeed in it, he will be in worst of conditions.” I also heard him saying: “Never have I seen a sight more horrifying than that of grave.”

To the living, the grave is simply an empty, dark hole in the ground, but to the dead it is a window into either Paradise or Hell, where he faces the realities of the Hereafter all by himself. The grave is a place of solitude, and there is no greater isolation than this! What can be a bigger isolation for someone, than being separated from parents, family, and relatives? One leaves back all his possession and wealth and is put in the grave, under gravel and sand? Nothing accompanies the dead in his grave except his deeds, Allah’s Messenger (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) said: “Three things follow a dead man, two of which will return and one will remain with him. His people, his property and his deeds follow him but his people and property return, while his deeds remain with him.” [Saheeh al-Bukharee (8/ 521)]

At this time, if one’s deeds are good and righteous, they become for him a good company. Allah’s Messenger (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) said: “(After the questioning) a man with a beautiful face, beautiful garments and sweet odor comes to the righteous slave and says: “Rejoice in what pleases you, for this is your day which you have been promised.” He asks: “Who are you? For your face is perfectly beautiful and brings good.” He replies: “I am your good deeds.” He then says: “My Lord, bring the Last Hour; my Lord bring the Last Hour, so I may return to my people and my property.” Regarding the evildoer, he (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) said: “… a man with an ugly face, ugly garments and an offensive odor comes to him and says: “Be grieved with what displeases you, for this is your day which you have been promised.” He asks: “Who are you? For your face is most ugly and brings evil.” He replies: “I am your wicked deeds.” He then says: “My Lord, do not bring the Last Hour.” [Saheeh al-Jami as-Sageer, 1/1676]

All this and the Hereafter has still not commenced for us. So, let this be a reminder for all to prepare for death by doing good deeds in accordance to the Qur’aan and the Sunnah, even if it means to give a trifle in charity. Allah’s Messenger (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) said: “Protect yourself from the Hellfire, even by a part of a date (that is given in charity).” [Saheeh al-Bukharee]

After clarifying the good and evil in this world, Allah, the Exalted, has given every man a free will to choose between them. It is up to the individual, whether he takes enough good deeds to accompany him in his grave, or he chooses to carry the burden of evil deeds. This choice of evil and good is only valid as long as one is alive. As death approaches, all deeds come to an end and the person becomes weak and helpless; so helpless that after death he is in need of the living to give him ghusl, shroud him, place him in his grave and make Du’aa for his forgiveness. Allah’s Messenger (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) said: “When the coffin is ready (for its burial) and people lift it on their shoulders, then if the deceased is a righteous person he says, ‘Take me ahead,’ if he is not a righteous one, then he says, ‘Woe to it (me)! Where are you taking it (me)!’ And his voice is audible to everything except human beings; if they heard it they would fall down unconscious.” [Bukharee (2/ 462)]

After knowing the realities of death, how helpless and weak man becomes after death, and how he faces the realities of the Hereafter and witnesses the great Power of Allah – Can a Muslim, who believes that Allah alone has the Power to benefit and harm, accept that a dead man’s soul can come back to this world and help the living? Or after witnessing the Power of Allah the dead would dare to scare the living, harm them, possess them or demand offerings from them?

Barzakh forbids any Return

Allah and His Messenger (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) have clearly defined to us journey of the soul after death and the abode of both, the disbelieving souls and the righteous souls. This period between the death and the Hereafter is known as ‘Barzakh’. Linguistically, ‘Barzakh’ means a veil, barrier or partition between two things.

Ibn Abbas (radhiallahu anhu) defines Barzakh as a Hijab (a partition of veil). Al-Qurtubi, in his exposition states: ‘The Barzakh is a barrier between two things. It is the stage between this world and the other world – from the time of death until the time Resurrection. Thus, whoever dies enters the Barzakh”

[See al-Qurtubi’s Tafseer, vol.12, p.150] Once the soul enters the realm of Barzakh, there is no return for it back into the world as is clearly known from the Qur’aan and the Ahaadeeth of Allah’s Messenger (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam).

Allah says regarding the evil soul: “when death comes to one of them (who joins partners with Allah), he says: “O My Lord! Send me back to life. In order that I may do good deeds in the things that I neglected. By no means! It is but a word he says. And before him is a Barzakh until the day they are raised up.” [Soorah al-Mu’minoon (23): 99-100]

This verse reveals the condition of the disbeliever upon death; when he faces the realities of the Hereafter, he wishes to return back to the world and mend his mistakes, in order to avert the punishment. But he is plainly refused and confined in the grave and punished for his sinful actions because he has entered the Barzakh. It is impossible for him to escape the strong Guardian Angels of Allah and return back to this world.

The abode of the righteous soul is Paradise, the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) said: “The soul of a believer is a bird eating from the trees of Paradise until Allah restores it to its body on the Day of Resurrection.” [An-Nasa’ee, Ibn Majah and others. Authenticated by Shaikh al-Albanee Sharh al-Aqeedah at-Tahaawiyyah (p. 455, footnote: 1)]

It is unlikely that the righteous soul, who is surrounded by the bounties of Allah, would leave the blessings of Allah and come to the world.

Allah’s Messenger (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) said: “No servant who has good in store for him with Allah and dies ever wants to return to the Earth – even if he were to have the whole world and everything that is in it – except for the martyr. That is due to what he sees in the nobility of martyrdom. Verily, he would like to return back to the Earth, in order to be martyred another time.” [(Saheeh) Saheeh Sunan at-Tirmidhee (1341)]

But as the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) informed, even the martyr is refused the permission to return, he (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) said: “The souls of the martyrs live in the bodies of green birds who have their nests in chandeliers hung from the throne of the Almighty. They eat the fruits of Paradise wherever they like and then nestle in these chandeliers. Once, their Lord cast a glance at them and said: “Do you want anything?” They said: “What more can we desire? We eat the fruit of Paradise wherever we like.” Their Lord asked them the same question thrice. When they saw that they would be continued to be asked and not left (without answering the question), they said: “O Lord, we wish that You may return our souls to our bodies so that we may be slain in Your cause once again. When He (Allah) saw that they had no need, they were left (to their joy in Heaven).” [Saheeh Muslim (4651)]

These and many other proofs from the Qur’aan and the Sunnah deny the concept of the soul’s return, and thus there remains no doubt that souls of the dead do not return back to the world.

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