There are two views Sunni scholars put forward. Whilst the majority of scholars argue both body and soul experience punishment or bliss, a group of distinguished scholars claim it is only the soul that experiences these.
The First Group of Scholars
The scholars who limit these experiences only to the soul include Ibn Hazm (Dhahiri jurist, d. 456 A.H), Ibn al-Jawzi (Hanbali jurist and commentator, d. 597 A.H), Ibn 'Aqeel (outstanding Hanbali jurist, d. 694 A.H.) and some others.
For a detailed discussion of their argument, read this answer.
The Second Group of Scholars
The majority of scholars from the schools of law as well as those from the theological schools confirm the experience relates to both the body and the soul. How life is given to the body in the grave is quite different from the process we experience when a child is born. This life is a contingent life give for specific reasons, in this case for the purpose of questioning in the grave and is akin to how Allah gave life to certain people cited in the Qur'an and in narrations of previous nations.
To illustrate, Allah narrates a story saying:
أوْ كَالَّذِي مَرَّ عَلَى قَرْيَةٍ وَهِيَ خَاوِيَةٌ عَلَى عُرُوشِهَا قَالَ أَنَّىَ يُحْيِـي هَـَذِهِ اللّهُ بَعْدَ مَوْتِهَا فَأَمَاتَهُ اللّهُ مِئَةَ عَامٍ ثُمَّ بَعَثَه
"Or (consider such an example) as the one who passed by a township which had fallen into ruin. He said, "How will Allah bring this to life after its death?" So Allah caused him to die for a hundred years; then He revived him." (Qur'an 2:259)
وَكُنتُمْ أَمْوَاتاً فَأَحْيَاكُمْ ثُمَّ يُمِيتُكُمْ ثُمَّ يُحْيِيكُمْ ثُمَّ إِلَيْهِ تُرْجَعُونَ
"You were lifeless and He brought you to life; then He will cause you to die, then He will bring you (back) to life, and then to Him you will be returned." (Qur'an 2:28)
Some scholars argue the first life is birth and the second life is life after death before returning to Allah when resurrected, as the verse sequences them: lifeless (before birth), then life (with birth), then lifeless (with death), then life (in the grave) then returning back to Allah (with the resurrection).
Imam Tabari commented on this verse and said:
عَنْ سُفْيانٍ ... قَالٌ : يُحَيِيكُمْ فِي الْقَبْرِ
"Sufyan narrated … He said: He (Allah) brought you to life in the grave." (Tabari, Jami' al-Bayan, Vol. 1. p. 419)
Zamakhshari, the famous Mutazilite commentator, d. 538 A.H., noted:
فَإِنْ قُلْتَ مَا الْمُرَادُ بِالْإِحْيَاءِ الثَّانِي ؟ قُلْتُ يَجُوزُ أَنْ يُرَادَ بِهِ الْإِحْيَاءُ فِي الْقَبْرِ .
"If you ask: what is the second bringing back to life? I would answer, it may mean the re-living in the grave." (Zamakhshari, al-Kashaf, Vol. 1, p. 249)
In a long hadith, of which I will cite a part, the Prophet (saw) described in detail what will happen to those in the grave:
وَتُعَادُ رُوحُهُ فِي جَسَدِهِ وَيَأْتِيهِ مَلَكَانِ فَيُجْلِسَانِهِ فَيَقُولاَنِ : مَنْ رَبُّكَ
"His (the dead) soul will be restored to his body, two angels will come to him, make him sit up and ask him: Who is your Lord?" (Sunan Abi Dawud 4753, al-Mustadrak, Ahmed, Ibn Majah, Nasa'i, Abd ar-Razaq)
The Prophet also narrated about Allah (swt) when a soul is elevated to Him:
يَقُولُ الرَّبُّ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ : رُدُّو عَبْدِي إِلَى مَضْجَعِهِ فَإِنَِّي وَعَدْتُهُمْ أَنَِّي مِنْهَا خَلَقْتُهُمْ وَفِيهَا ٱُعِيدُهُمْ وَمِنْهَا أُُُخْرِجُهُمْ تَارَةً أُخْرَى ... فَيَأْتِيهِ مَلَكَانٍ ... فَيُجْلِسَانِّهِ ثُمَّ يُقَالُ لَهُ مِنْ رَبُّكَ ؟
"Allah says, 'return my slave (his soul which was elevated) to his bed (grave) because I promised them that I created them from it (the earth), into it I will return them and out of it I will return them back (by the resurrection).' Then two angels come to him … they will make him set, then they will ask him: Who is your God?" (Tabari, Tahdhib al-Athar, Vol, 1, p. 174)
Al-Hafidh Abu Na'eem said concerning the authenticity of this hadith:
هَذَا الْحَديثُ مُتَّفَقٌ عَلَى عَدَالَةِ نَاقِلِيهِ - وَرُوَاتُهُ عَلَى شَرْطَيْ الْبُخَارِيِّ وَمُسْلِمِ
"Scholars agree the narrators of this hadith are trustworthy. (They even meet the criteria of Bukhari and Muslim)." (Ibn al-Qaym, ar-Ruh, p. 70)
These hadiths refer to the return of the soul to the dead body in an incomprehensible way that gives him life, different from the previous life, suitable for his case. They also prove the sitting of the body for questioning.
The Prophet (saw) also commented that disobedient Muslims were being punished for their major sins:
فأَتَيْنَا عَلَى رَجُلٍ مستلق لِقَفَاهُ ، وَإِذَا آخِرِ قَائِمٍ عَلَيه بِكلُوبٍ مِنْ حَديدٍ ، وَإِذَا هُوَ يَأْتِي أحَدَ شِقِّيِ وَجْهِهِ فَيُشَرْشِرُ شِدْقُهُ إِلَى قَفَاهُ ، وَمِنْخَرُهُ إِلَى قَفَاِهُ ، وَعَيْنِهِ إِلَى قَفَاهُ ، ثُمَّ يَتَحَوَّلُ إِلَى الْجَانِبِ الْآخِرَ ، فَيَفْعَلُ بِهِ مِثْلُ مَا فَعَلًّ بِالْجَانِبِ الْأَوَّلَ ، فَمَا يَفْرُغُ مِنْ ذَلِكَ الجَانِبُ حَتَّى يَصِحُّ ذَلِكً الْجَانِبُ كَمَا كَانَ ، ثُمَّ يَعُودُ عَلَيه ، فَيَفْعَلُ مِثْلُ مَا فَعَلَ فِي الْمَرَّةِ الْأُوْلَى
"So we proceeded and came to a man lying in a prone position and another man standing over his head with an iron hook, and behold, he would put the hook in one side of the man's mouth and tear off that side of his face to the back (of the neck), and similarly tear his nose from front to back, and his eyes from front to back. Then he turned to the other side of the man's face and did just as he has done with the first side. He had hardly completed that (second) side when the first returned to its normal state." (Bukhari, Hadith 1546)
The Prophet also said in another narration concerning the dead person in the grave:
وَيُضَيَّقُ عَلَيْهِ قَبْرُهُ حَتَّى تَخْتَلِفَ فِيهِ أَضْلاَعُهُ
"His grave will be compressed so that his ribs will be crushed together." (Sunan Abi Dawud 4753)
This hadith, as well as many others, refer to physical punishment and not only spiritual or immaterial punishment.
In a narration of the companion Ibn Mas'ud (ra) regarding what happens to people after death, he observed:
فَإِذَا وُضْعٍ فِي قَبْرِهِ أُجْلِسَ وَجِيءَ بِالرُّوْحِ وَجُعِلِتْ فِيه
"When he is put in his grave, (the angel will) sit him up and the soul would be brought to reenter him." (al-Hallal, Sharh as-Sunnah, cited in Suyuti, Sharh as-Sudur, p. 126)
Abu Hanifah (the founder of Hanafi madhhab, d. 150 A.H.) said:
وسُؤَالُ مُنْكَرٌ وَنَكِيرٌُ حَقُّ كَائِنٌ فِي الْقَبْرِ ، وَإِعادَةُ الرُّوحِ إِلَى الْجَسَدِ فِي قَبْرِهِ حَقٌّ وَضَغْطَةُ الْقَبْرِ وَعَذَابُهُ حَقُّ كَائِنٌ لِلْكَفَّارِ كُلُّهُمْ وَلِبَعْضِ عُصَاةِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ .
"The interrogation of munkar wa nakeer (the two angels of the grave) is true in the grave. The return of the soul to the body in the grave is true. The pressure of the grave and its punishment is true. All of these matters happens to all the disbelievers and some of the disobedient Muslims." (Abu Hanifah, Sharh al-Fiqh al-Akbar, p. 291)
Regarding the revival of bodies in the grave, Qadi Abdul Jabbar (a Mutazilite Shafi'i theologian, d. 415 A.H.) said:
فَاعْلَمْ أَنَّه تَعَالَى إِذَا ٱرَادُ تَعْذِيبَهُمْ فَلاَبُدً مِنْ أَنْ يُحَيِّيَهُمْ لِأَنَّ تَعْذِيبَ الْجَمَادِ مُحَالٌ لَا يُتَصَوَّرْ .
"Know that if Allah wants to punish them, it is necessary to bring them to life because punishing the non-living things is impossible and unimaginable." (Qadi Abdul Jabbar, Sharh al-'Usul al-Khamsah, pp. 731-732)
Ibn Taymiyyah (a Hanbali jurist and theologian d. 728 A.H.) said:
الْعَذَابُ وَالنَّعِيمُ عَلَى النَّفْسِ وَالْبَدْنِ جَمِيعًا بِاِتِّفَاقِ أَهْلِ السُّنَّةِ وَالْجَمَاعَةِ .
"Ahl as-Sunnah wa al-Jama'ah unanimously agree that punishment and bliss would be on both spirit (nafs) and body." (Majmu' al-Fatawa, Vol. 4, p. 282, Vol. 4, p. 262)
عَودُ الرُّوْحِ إِلَى بَدَنِ الْمَيِّتِ فِي الْقَبْرِ لَيْسَ مِثْلَ عَوْدِهَا إِلَيه فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْياَ
"The return of the soul to the body in the grave is not similar to its return to it in our present life" (Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu' al-Fatawa, Vol. 4, p. 274)
He also added:
وَأَنَّ الرّوحَ تَبْقَى بَعْدَ مُفَارَقَةِ الْبَدَنِ مُنَعَّمَةً أَوْ مُعَذَّبَةٌ ، وَأَنَّهَا تَتَّصِلُ بِالْبَدَنِ أحيانًا ، فَيَحْصُلُ لَهُ مَعَهَا النَّعِيمُ وَالْعِذَابُ
"The soul continues, after the death of the body, to feel bliss or punishment. It is connected with the body occasionally, so the body may also taste pain or pleasure." (Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu' al-Fatawa, Vol. 4, p. 284)
Ibn Hajar argues:
الْعَذابُ عَلَى الرُّوْحِ وَالْجَسَدِ لَكِنّْ حَقِيقَةً عَلَى الرُّوحِ وَيَتَأَلَّمُ الْجَسَدُ مَعَ ذَلِكً وَيَتَنَعَّمُ مَعَ ذَلِكَ لَكِنْ لَا يَظْهَرْ أثَرُ ذَلِكً لَمِنْ يُشَاهِدُهُ مِنْ أهْلِ الدُّنْيا
"The Punishment occurs on the soul and the body (metaphorically) but in reality, (it occurs on the soul and the body feels the pain as well as the bliss it receives. The impact of this does not appear (on the body) for those living people who watch)" (Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari, Vol. 6, p. 301)
Whilst Suyuti stated:
وَمَحَلُّهُ الرُّوحُ وَالْبَدَْنُ جَمِيعًا بِاِتِّفَاقِ أهْلِ السُّنَّةِ وَكَذَا ٱلقَوّلُ فِي النَّعِيمِ ...
"The Sunnis agree that both body and soul receive (the punishment) as well as the bliss" (Suyuti, Sharh as-Sudur, p. 181)
Taftazani, a Maturudite Shafi'i jurist d. 792 A.H., argued Allah may have created in some parts of the body, some kind of life that allows the body to feel pain or pleasure. But the body itself does not necessarily move. (Taftazani, Sharh al-Maqasid, Vol. 5, p. 117)
Bukhari in his Sahih put a heading: 'Chapter on what has been narrated concerning the punishment of the grave.' He did not put a heading as he usually does when he wishes to summarise his understanding if he held a position on whether the punishment or pleasure is for the body and soul or soul alone. Ibn Hajar commented on this saying:
وَكَأَنَّهُ تَرَكَهُ لِأَنَّ الْأدلةَ الَّتِي يَرْضَاهَا لَيْسَتْ قَاطِعَةٌ فِي أحَدِ الْأَمْرَيْنِ فَلَمْ يَتَقَلَّدْ الْحُكْمُ فِي ذَلِكً وَاِكْتَفَى بِإِثْبَاتِ وُجُودِهِ
"He may have left that because the satisfactory evidence he desires for each view is not decisive. Thus he did not issue a ruling on this issue and only evidences its existence." (Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari, Vol. 4, p. 443)
The argument for both groups are probable, but the view 'both bodies and souls experience pleasure and pain' is more likely to be correct due to the evidence presented. But the how of such life is unknowable to us. Allah knows best.
Tabari, Jami' al-Bayan fi Tafseer al-Qur'an
Tabari, Tahdhib al-Athar
Ibn al-Qaym, ar-Ruh
al- 'Itibi, al-Hayah al-Barzakhiyah
Suyuti, Sharh as-Sudur
Abu Hanifah, Sharh al-Fiqh al-Akbar
Qadi Abdul Jabar, Sharh al-'Usul al-Khamsah
Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu' al-Fatawa
Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari
Taftazani, Sharh al-Maqasid
Great answers start with great insights. Content becomes intriguing when it is voted up or down - ensuring the best answers are always at the top.
Questions are answered by people with a deep interest in the subject. People from around the world review questions, post answers and add comments.
Be part of and influence the most important global discussion that is defining our generation and generations to come