Belief in the punishment of the grave is mentioned several verses and hundreds of ahadith. All the prophet's companions and Sunni scholars generally agree on the phenomenon.
The famous Maliki commentator Imam Qurtubi said:
الايمان بعذاب القبر وفتنته واجب، ... وهذا مذهب أهل السنة ... وأنكرت الملاحدة ومن تمذهب بمذهب الفلاسفة عذاب القبر وأنه ليس له حقيقة
"The belief in punishment of the grave and its trial is mandatory (wajib) … this is the belief of Sunni Madhab … but some heretics and those who followed them from amongst philosophers denied punishmentof the grave and said it is not true." (at-Tadhkirah, pp. 137-139)
In this article, I will elaborate on this concept and present the authentic traditional proofs for it.
The Qur'anic Evidences
There are a number of Quranic evidences clearly state the punishment of the grave is a reality - whilst other Quranic verses could be interpreted to suggest it.
Allah says concerning Pharaoh and his followers:
النَّارُ يُعْرَضُونَ عَلَيْهَا غُدُوًّا وَعَشِيًّا ۖ وَيَوْمَ تَقُومُ السَّاعَةُ أَدْخِلُوا آلَ فِرْعَوْنَ أَشَدَّ الْعَذَابِ
"they are exposed to the Fire morning and evening. And the Day the Hour comes (it will be said), 'Make the people of Pharaoh enter the severest punishment.'" (Qur'an 40:46)
The above verse states that before the Day of Judgement, people of Pharaoh were being punished and exposed to Hell day and night, but when the Day comes they will be sent to the severest punishment. Such a period of punishment is to be between the death and the resurrection, i.e., the grave.
وَلَوْ تَرَى إِذِ الظَّالِمُونَ فِي غَمَرَاتِ الْمَوْتِ وَالْمَلآئِكَةُ بَاسِطُواْ أَيْدِيهِمْ أَخْرِجُواْ أَنفُسَكُمُ الْيَوْمَ تُجْزَوْنَ عَذَابَ الْهُونِ بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَقُولُونَ عَلَى اللّهِ غَيْرَ الْحَقِّ وَكُنتُمْ عَنْ آيَاتِهِ تَسْتَكْبِرُونَ
"And if you could see when the wrongdoers are in the overwhelming pangs of death while the angels extend their hands, (saying), 'Discharge your souls! Today you will be awarded the punishment of (extreme) humiliation for what you used to say against Allah other than the truth and (that) you were, toward His verses, being arrogant." (Qur'an 6:93)
The verse states Angels tell wrongdoers after taking their souls "Today you will be awarded the punishment." Thus what does come in the day of death except for the grave?
وَلَوْ تَرَى إِذْ يَتَوَفَّى الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ الْمَلآئِكَةُ يَضْرِبُونَ وُجُوهَهُمْ وَأَدْبَارَهُمْ وَذُوقُواْ عَذَابَ الْحَرِيقِ ... كَدَأْبِ آلِ فِرْعَوْنَ ۙ وَالَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ
"And if you could but see when the angels take the souls of those who disbelieved... They are striking their faces and their backs and (saying), 'Taste the punishment of the Burning Fire.' … (Theirs is) like the custom of the people of Pharaoh and of those before them." (Qur'an 8:50-52)
Allah also says in a similar verse:
فَكَيْفَ إِذَا تَوَفَّتْهُمْ الْمَلَائِكَةُ يَضْرِبُونَ وُجُوهَهُمْ وَأَدْبَارَهُمْ
"Then how (will it be) when the angels take them in death, striking their faces and their backs?" (Qur'an 47:27)
After (إذ) the death of the disbelievers, the angels of punishment start striking their faces and their backs as they did to the people of Pharaoh, in the verse above. The proposition (إذ) means immediately after something and what comes immediately after the death except the grave.
Allah states about the disbelievers:
حَتَّى إِذَا جَاءَ أَحَدَهُمُ الْمَوْتُ قَالَ رَبِّ ارْجِعُونِ، لَعَلِّي أَعْمَلُ صَالِحًا فِيمَا تَرَكْتُ كَلَّا إِنَّهَا كَلِمَةٌ هُوَ قَائِلُهَا وَمِنْ وَرَائِهِمْ بَرْزَخٌ إِلَى يَوْمِ يُبْعَثُونَ
"(For such is the state of the disbelievers), until, when death comes to one of them, he says, 'My Lord, send me back that I might do righteousness in that which I left behind.' No! It is only a word he is saying and behind them is a barrier until the Day they are resurrected." (Qur'an 23:99-100)
The verse states about life after death that is followed by the resurrection. During this period, the disbelievers are asking to return back to live a righteous life, it does not make sense if they complain and suffer needlessly. They must have seen their wrong deeds and the punishment they face.
Allah says concerning the hypocrites:
مِمَّنْ حَوْلَكُم مِّنَ الأَعْرَابِ مُنَافِقُونَ وَمِنْ أَهْلِ الْمَدِينَةِ مَرَدُواْ عَلَى النِّفَاقِ لاَ تَعْلَمُهُمْ نَحْنُ نَعْلَمُهُمْ سَنُعَذِّبُهُم مَّرَّتَيْنِ ثُمَّ يُرَدُّونَ إِلَى عَذَابٍ عَظِيمٍ
"And among those around you of the Bedouins are hypocrites, and (also) from the people of Madinah. They have become accustomed to hypocrisy. You, (O Muhammad), do not know them, (but) We know them. We will punish them twice (in this world); then they will be returned to a great punishment." (Qur'an 9: 101)
There are two kinds of punishments in this world mentioned in the verses, commentators attribute one of them to the physical and psychological suffering as Allah says "And whoever turns away from My remembrance - indeed, he will have a depressed life" (Qur'an 20:124) and the second worldly punishment is the punishment in the grave.
وَلاَ تَحْسَبَنَّ الَّذِينَ قُتِلُواْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ أَمْوَاتاً بَلْ أَحْيَاء عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ يُرْزَقُونَ، فَرِحِينَ بِمَا آتَاهُمُ اللَّهُ مِن فَضْلِهِ وَيَسْتَبْشِرُونَ بِالَّذِينَ لَمْ يَلْحَقُوا بِهِم مِّنْ خَلْفِهِمْ أَلَّا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ، يَسْتَبْشِرُونَ بِنِعْمَةٍ مِّنَ اللَّهِ وَفَضْلٍ وَأَنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُضِيعُ أَجْرَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ.
"And never think of those who have been killed in the cause of Allah as dead. Rather, they are alive with their Lord, receiving provision, rejoicing in what Allah has bestowed upon them of His bounty, and they receive good tidings about those [to be martyred] after them who have not yet joined them that there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve." (Qur'an 3: 169-171)
The verse above states concerning the martyrs who will be living a happy life after death waiting for those martyrs who have not yet been killed to join them. This period must be in this world as the other martyrs have not yet been martyred. If this proves the happiness of some and their life before the resurrection of their bodies, their status goes to the other wrong does as the reward and punishment are intertwined.
In the story known as the "the man of Yaseen" (صاحب ياسين) when advised his people to follow the Prophets, they tortured him severely to death. Allah narrates his story after being martyred saying:
قِيلَ ادْخُلِ الْجَنَّةَ ۖ قَالَ يَا لَيْتَ قَوْمِي يَعْلَمُون، بِمَا غَفَرَ لِي رَبِّي وَجَعَلَنِي مِنَ الْمُكْرَمِينَ
"It was said (to him), "Enter Paradise." He said, "I wish my people could know how my Lord has forgiven me and placed me among the honoured." (Qur'an 36:26-27)
Such an event certainly happened after his death in this life and before the resurrection and so it proves the bliss after the death.
There are some verses that can be interpreted to be likely speaking of punishment in the grave but they are open to conjecture (Dhani ad-Dalalah). I include here only one of them:
يثَبِّتُ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا بِالْقَوْلِ الثَّابِتِ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَفِي الْآخِرَةِ ۖ وَيُضِلُّ اللَّهُ الظَّالِمِينَ ۚ وَيَفْعَلُ اللَّهُ مَا يَشَاءُ
"Allah keeps firm those who believe, with the firm word, in worldly life and in the Hereafter. And Allah sends astray the wrongdoers. And Allah does what He wills." (Qur'an 14: 27)
Most of the commentators as well as some narrations of the companions confirm that "Allah keeps firm those who believe, with the firm word, in worldly life" when are asked by the two angels (su'al al-Malakian).
Mutawatir (narrated in a vast number of ahadith)
The prophetic tradition is binding in the shari'a, and it is transmitted to us via tawatur or ahad. Tawatur is when it is carried by large numbers with the impossibility of error or mistake, anything else is termed ahead. The former is naturally certain; the latter not.
The following are some authentic ahadith concerning the punishment of the grave:
In commenting on the first mentioned verse above, the Prophet (saw) said:
إنَّ أَحَدَكُمْ إِذَا مَاتَ عُرِضَ عَلَيْهِ مَقْعَدُهُ بِالْغَدَاةِ وَالْعَشِيِّ إِنْ كَانَ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْجَنَّةِ فَمِنْ أَهْلِ الْجَنَّةِ وَإِنْ كَانَ مِنْ أَهْلِ النَّارِ فَمِنْ أَهْلِ النَّارِ يُقَالُ هَذَا مَقْعَدُكَ حَتَّى يَبْعَثَكَ اللَّهُ إِلَيْهِ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ
"When anyone of you dies, he is shown his seat (in the Hereafter) morning and evening; if he is amongst the inmates of Paradise (he is shown the seat) from amongst the inmates of Paradise and if he is one from amongst the denizens of Hell (he is shown the seat) from amongst the denizens of Hell, and it would be said to him: That is your seat until Allah raises you on the Day of Resurrection (and sends you to your proper seat)." (the nine books of hadith)
Abu Bakrah (ra) narrated:
مرَّ النَّبِيُّ ـ صلى الله عليه وسلم ـ بِقَبْرَيْنِ فَقَالَ " إِنَّهُمَا لَيُعَذَّبَانِ وَمَا يُعَذَّبَانِ فِي كَبِيرٍ أَمَّا أَحَدُهُمَا فَيُعَذَّبُ فِي الْبَوْلِ وَأَمَّا الآخَرُ فَيُعَذَّبُ فِي الْغِيبَةِ
"The Messenger of Allah (saw) passed by two graves, and he said: 'They are being punished but they are not being punished for anything major. One of them is being punished because of urine, and the other is being punished because of backbiting.'" (the six books of hadith)
The Prophet (saw) said:
عَذَابُ الْقَبْرِ حَقٌّ
"the punishment of the grave is a fact." (Sahih al-Bukhari 1372, Sunan an-Nasa'i 1308)
The Companions (ra) and Sunni Scholarship
Punishment of the grave is generally regarded as a mutawatir by meaning belief. It has been mentioned clearly in the Qur'an, the Sunna, by the companions (ra) and Muslim scholarship thereafter.
The rejection of the concept by isolated scholars was a later development amongst some Shi'a sects and a few Mutazilite scholars though most in these groups accepted the notion.
Zarkashi, al-Bahr al-Muhitt.
Bayhaqi, 'Ithbat 'Adhab al-Qabr'.
Kittani, 'Nadhim al-Mutanathir min al-Hadith al-Mutawatir'.
'as-Sahih al-Musnad fi 'Azaab al-Qabr wa Na'imuh'.
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