Reward and Punishment of the Grave (Azaab al-Qabar wa Na'eemuh)
Reward and punishment in the grave is an Islamic theological concept explaining events occurring in the grave. It covers the period between death and the Day of Judgment, where the souls (and the body for a group of scholars) experience torment or bliss in the grave. So, the grave is either a place of comfort and peace or a place of torment, pain and distress until the day of judgement. It is similar to the Christian belief in purgatory, a phenomenon between death and the day of judgement.
Jurists and theologians state punishment of the grave are one of the unanimously agreed upon beliefs. This belief is mentioned in hundreds of ahadith and a number of Quranic verses. Whilst some Mutazalite scholars such as Dirar as well as a number of Shiite sects rejected the concept, Muslim philosophers generally did not discuss it.
Abu Hanifah (the founder of Hanafi madhab, d. 150 A.H.) said:
وَسُؤَالُ مُنْكَرٍ وَنَكِيرٍ حَقٌ كَائِنٌ فِي اَلْقَبْرِ، وَإِعَادَةُ اَلْرُوحِ إِلَى اَلْجَسَدِ فِي قَبْرِهِ حَقٌ، وَضَغْطَةُ اَلْقَبْرِ وَعَذَابُهُ حَقٌ كَائِنٌ لِلْكُفَارِ كٌلِهِمُ وَلِبَعْضِ عُصَاةِ اَلْمُؤْمِنِين.
"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 are true. All of these matters happen to all the disbelievers and some of the disobedient Muslims." (Abu Hanifah, Sharh al-Fiqh al-Akbar, p. 291)
Did Any of the Companions (Sahabah) Reject Azaab al-Qabar?
The prophet's companions (ra) and Sunni scholarship unanimously agree on the punishment of the grave. None are known to have rejected the notion. Ijma' (consensus) of the companions is generally binding on Muslims as it only occurs when the issue originates with the Prophet (saw). Hundreds of hadiths were narrated by over 40 companions (ra) discussing azaab al-qabar with no disagreement by any companion. It seems compelling that the concept was taught by the Prophet (saw).
Evidences for Azaab al-Qabar
The belief in the punishment of the grave is a basic belief amongst Sunnis. It has been stated clearly in the Qur'an, the Sunna, by the prophet's companions (ra) and Muslim scholarship over the centuries. Centuries later, the concept was rejected by some sects of Shiites such as al-Ismailiyyah and al-Nusayriyyah as well as some individuals from Mutazalite backgrounds whilst Muslim philosophers generally did not discuss it.
One of the key Qur'anic evidences appears in the story of Pharaoh:
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 Prophet commented on this verse by saying:
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)
Does Azaab al-Qabar apply to both Body and Soul?
There are two views on this issue. The first view states punishment and bliss are experienced only by the soul, this view was stated by Ibn Hazm, Ibn Aqeel and others; the second view, which was adopted by the majority of the scholars, states both body and soul experience punishment and bliss in an incomprehensible manner different to our worldly life. Both views are supported by evidence, but the latter view appears to be more persuasive with stronger evidences.
Did Scholar Ibn Hazm Reject Azaab al-Qabar?
Imam Ibn Hazm did not reject punishment of the grave accepting it fully. He rejected the notion the body experiences punishment as he believed only the soul (ruh) is punished and rewarded. Ibn Hazm's position is stated clearly in his famous book 'Al-Fasl fi al-Milal wa an-Nihal':
ذَهَبَ ضِرَارُ بِن عَمْرَةٍ اَلْغَطَفَانِيّ أَحَدُ شُيُوخِ اَلْمُعْتَزِلَةِ إِلَى إِنْكَارِ عَذَابَ اَلْقَبْرِ وَهُوَ قَوْلُ مَنْ لَقِيّنَا مِنْ اَلْخَوَارِجِ ... فِتْنَةُ اَلْقَبْرِ وَعَذَابُه وَالْمَسْأَلَة إِنَّمَا هِيَ لِلْرُوحِ فَقَطْ بَعْد فِرَاقِه لِلْجَسَدِ.
"One of the scholars of Mu'tazilah called Dirar ibn Amrah al-Ghattafani rejected the punishment in the grave, but this is the view of Khawarij. … the fitnah (trial), punishment and questioning are done to the soul only after it leaves the body." (Al-Fasl fi al-Milal wa an-Nihal, Vol., p. 113)
How Does Ibn Hazm justify only the Soul experiences Punishment?
Ibn Hazm argues only the soul experiences punishment or bliss in the grave citing multiple evidences. The majority of scholars opposed this view arguing 'both body and soul experience punishment or bliss'.
One of Ibn Hazm's main arguments comprised:
قَالُوا رَبَّنَا أَمَتَّنَا اثْنَتَيْنِ وَأَحْيَيْتَنَا اثْنَتَيْنِ فَاعْتَرَفْنَا بِذُنُوبِنَا فَهَلْ إِلَىٰ خُرُوجٍ مِّن سَبِيلٍ
"They will say, 'Our Lord, You made us lifeless twice and gave us life twice, and we have confessed our sins. So is there any exit?'" (Qur'an 40:11)
Ibn Hazm argued the two lives are birth in this world and resurrection on the Day of Judgement, whilst the two deaths are before birth (where humans were in nihility) and after worldly life. Thus if there is a life for bodies in the grave, the verse would be 'You made us lifeless three times and gave us life three times.'
Muslim Philosophers on Azaab al-Qabar
Historically Muslim philosophers (from al-Kindi, al-Farabi to Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd) didn't pay much attention to life in the grave. None discussed this issue. Their concerns related to attributes of the soul and its relationship with the body as well as their destiny.
Mutazilites on Azaab al-Qabar
Mutazilites accept belief in the azaab al-qabr however some Mutazalite individuals like Dirar ibn Amr and Bishr al-Mirisi rejected the notion. Mutazalites generally condemn their views and attribute them to the Jahmiyyah whom these two individuals later joined. Some Sunni scholars incorrectly thought Mutazalites rejected this belief.
One of the Mutazalite theoretical and historical books 'Fadl al-I'tizal wa Tabaqat al-Mu'tazilah' was written by three of the most outstanding Mutazalite scholars: Al-Balkhi (d. 348 A.h.), Qadi Abdul Jabar (d. 415) and Al-Jashmi (d. 494). It argues:
فَصْلٌ فِي تَشْنِيعِهِم عَلَيْنَا بِذِكْرِ عَذَابِ اَلْقَبْرِ وَمُنْكَرٍ وَنَكِيرٍ ... إِنَ هَذَا اَلأَمْرَ إِنَمَا أَنْكَرَهُ أَوَلًا ضِرَارُ بِنْ عُمَرُو، وَلَمَّا كَانَ مِنْ أَصْحَابِ وَاصِلْ، فَظَنُوا أَنَ ذَلِكَ مِمَا أَنْكَرَتْهُ اَلْمٌعْتَزَلَةُ، وَلَيْسَ اَلأَمْرُ كَذَلِكَ.
"A chapter on their reproach on us in the matters of azaab al-qabar and munkar wa nakeer (the two angels of the grave) … This notion (of azaab al-qabr) was firstly rejected by Dirar ibn Amr. People thought he was one of the Mutazalites because he was one of the friends of Wasil (the founder of Mutazalite theological school), but it is not the case." (Qadi Abdul Jabar, Faddl al-I'tizal wa Tabaqat al-Mu'tazalah, p. 201)
Shiites on Azaab al-Qabar
Shiites adhere to two views regarding punishment or reward of the grave. The majority agree with Sunnis whilst Ismailis, Nusairis and others who believed in metempsychosis rejecting it. Metempsychosis is where the happy or sad life a man will experience after death would be through a new body he will inhabit. This will continue until the soul ends with ultimate happiness with angels or ultimate sadness becoming a non-living thing.
Is Rejection of Punishment of the Grave Kufr?
Scholars disagree about the disbelief (kufr) of a Muslim who denies punishment of the grave due to the usul (principles) they adopt. Some differentiate between the belief and the believer; as the rejection of the punishment of the grave is kufr but its adherent is not necessarily a kafir. Abu Hanifa, the founder of the Hanafi Madhhab, argued:
"مَنْ قَالَ لَا أعْرِفُ عَذَابَ اَلقَبْرِ فَهُوَ مِنَ الجَهْمِيَةِ اَلهَالِكَةِ لِأَنَهُ أَنْكَرَ قَوْلَهُ تَعَالَى:" سَنُعُذِبُهُمْ مَرَتَيّنِ
"Whoever says that he does not believe in punishment of the grave, he is one of the astray sects of al-Jahmiyah because he rejects what Allah says 'We will punish them twice.' (Qur'an 9:101)" (Abu Hanifa, Alfiqh al-Awsatt, p. 137)
Other scholars adhere to the notion of bid'ah that does not lead to kufr because it is not one of the principles of faith. Imam Ahmed, the founder of the Hanbali madhhab, said:
عَذَابُ اَلقَبْرِ حَقٌ، لَا يُنكِرُهُ إِلَا ضَالٌّ مُضِلٌّ
"The punishment of the grave true and it is only rejected by those who are misled or misleaders (ddall)." (Ibn al-Qayym, ar-Ruh, p. 77)
Avoiding Azaab al-Qabar
Muslims can avoid the punishment of the grave through rituals and good deeds. There are many ahadith citing specific acts that help: supplicating against azaab al-qabar, reading Surat al-Mulk, jihad for Allah's sake and performing mandatory and voluntary rituals.
Sunni scholarship, as well as most Muslim sects, accepted the notion of torment and bliss in the grave, however, they differ on the nature of such concept.
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 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.
Torment can be alleviated in a number of ways including prayers of the living. The belief is similar to the Christian notion of purgatory, an intermediate state after physical death for expiatory purification.
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Zarkashi, al-Bahr al-Muhitt
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Abu al-Hassan al-Ash'ari, Risalah ila Ah lath-Thaghr
Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu' al-Fatawa
Ibn al-Qaym, ar-Ruh