Punishment of the grave: A Quranic perspective
By: A. Muhammad

The concept of the "punishment of the grave" finds its roots in hadith, but does not have any Quranic authorisation. All what the proponents of this concept rely on to add Quranic legality is an incorrect interpretation of one Quranic verse. This will be analysed together as well as the hadith which promotes this concept.

Hadith that promote punishment of the grave

There are a number of hadith that promote the "punishment of the grave". They all contain violations of the Quran. The following hadith is taken as a case in point:

he Messenger of Allah said, "When the dead person is buried, two black-blue angels come to him, one called al Munkar and the other called al Nakeer, and they say to him: 'What had you used to say about this man?' So he says what he used to say: 'Allah's slave and His Messenger, I bear witness that none has the right to be worshipped except Allah and that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger.' So they say: 'Verily we knew that you (would) say that.' Then his grave is widened for him to the extent of seventy cubits by seventy, then it is made light for him, then it is said: ' Sleep.' So he says: 'I should go to my family and inform them.' So they say: 'Sleep as the newly married sleeps whom no-one awakes except his favorite wife.' Until Allah raises him up from that place of sleep. And if he is a hypocrite (munaafiq), he says: 'I heard the people saying something so I said it too, I don't know.' So they say: 'We knew that you (would) say that.' So it is said to the earth: 'Crush him', so he is crushed until his cross over and he remains in the state of torture until Allah raises him up from that resting place." (Narrated by Abu Hurairah: Al-Tirmidhi.)>>>>>

Other hadith about the same topic elaborate further and contain more details, however the hadith above is a good representation in promoting the concept of the
"punishment of the grave".

Violations with the Quran, and other hadith absurdities:

1- It is stated in the Quran that when the body dies, the soul leaves the body and goes to God:

God takes back people’s souls at the time of their death and also those who have not died during their sleep. Then, He retains those for whom death is decreed and sends the others back for a specified term. In this are signs for people who reflect.

As for the body, it decays and becomes dust. Nothing remains in the grave except dust and bones. How can anyone be tortured in the grave when his body no longer exists and his soul is not in the grave but with God?

2- The Quran states that all humans will be summoned on the Day of Judgement in order to be judged equitably by God and subsequently be given their due punishment or reward.
How would it be an act of justice from God who is the "Best Judge" (10:109) to commit people to punishment (in the grave) before Judgement Day when their trial is meant to take place?
Punishment before conviction is injustice. Equally, conviction before trial is injustice. The punishment of the grave would eradicate the concept of justice and would render the Day of Judgement meaningless!

The Quran states categorically that it is God alone who will judge all humans, but as per the hadith we see that it was two angels who, not only judged the dead person in his grave, but also dished out the punishment/reward!

4- The Quran states that no one knows the 'ghayb' (the unseen and the future) except God:

No one in the heavens and the earth knows the ghayb (unseen) except God.

In another verse, Prophet Muhammad was commanded by God to specifically declare to the people that he does not know the ghayb:

[6:50] I (Muhammad) do not say to you that I possess the treasures of God. Nor do I know the ghayb. Nor do I say to you that I am an angel. I simply follow what is revealed to me." Say, "Is the blind the same as the seer? Do you not reflect?"

And in yet a third verse, Prophet Muhammad was commanded by God to declare to the people that he does not know what will happen to himself nor to anyone else:

[46:9] Say (O Muhammad), "I am not any different from other messengers.
I have no idea what will happen to me or to you. I only follow what is revealed to me. I am no more than a clear warner."

It follows that the hadith above, and other similar hadith, which go to great lengths in prophesying what will happen to people after they die, clearly violate the truth of all three Quranic verses above (27:65,
6:50 and 46:9).

Not everyone who dies is buried in a grave, some are cremated, some are frozen on the tips of mountains (e.g. unsuccessful climbs), some are blown to pieces in aviation accidents, some drown in the sea and others die in many other ways. If the wicked were to receive a punishment in their grave, what about the wicked who were never placed in graves? Are they to be the lucky ones who escape the "punishment of the grave"?

We read in the above hadith that the dead believer was rewarded with a widening of his grave to the extent of seventy cubits by seventy, then he was sent to sleep! Considering that the physical body, which was merely a shell to house the soul for the duration of life on earth, decays and becomes dust, what benefit is the widening of the grave for what is no longer of the physical world? As for those who still cannot comprehend these matters, why don't they make sure that their dead are buried in spacious graves so as to save the angels the trouble? Needless to say, the rationale of such hadith is naive at best, and absolutely absurd for all who care to reflect!

The suggestion that the believer will sleep in his grave until God raises him from the grave (which is outrageously likened to a bride waking up her newly wed husband), violates the Quranic truth once again. The Quran tells us that the righteous believers are not sleeping in their graves but alive and being provided for in Heaven:

[3:169] Do not think that those who are killed in the cause of God are dead; they are alive at their Lord, being provided for.

[2:154] Do not say about those who are killed in the cause of God, "They are dead." For they are alive, but you do not perceive."

[36:26-27] It was said, "Enter Paradise." He said, "I wish my people would know about what my Lord has forgiven for me, and that He made me among the honoured."

The words of God clearly say that the righteous believers are alive and being provided for in Paradise, they are not sleeping in a "widened" graves!

Misinterpretation of Quranic words:

[40:46] The Fire! It will be displayed before them morning and evening and on the Day of Resurrection: "Admit Pharaoh's people into the most severe punishment."

To provide support for the theory, and failing to find the words "punishment of the grave" anywhere in the Quran, the proponents of the "punishment of the grave" state that 40:46 endorses this concept. However, there is just one detail they seem to have overlooked; the words in 40:46 do not mention directly or indirectly the grave! In addition, the concept of a conscious existence in the grave after death, is not substantiated in 40:46 nor in any other Quranic verse.

Indeed the souls of the wicked will be shown the fire morning and evening, but nothing in this verse states that this will happen in the grave, nor that their souls will be in the graves in the first place. On the contrary, by virtue of the verdict of 39:42, we know that all souls after death will be with God and not in the graves.


Following the above analysis, it can be concluded that the concept of the "punishment of the grave" is not endorsed by the Quran and in actual fact, violates Quranic truth on various levels.