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

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. According to a hadith narrated by Abu Huraira in Al-Tirmidhi, it is claimed that the messenger of God said:

After the dead person is buried, two angels come to him, one called al Munkar and the other called al Nakeer, and interrogate him. If he says the correct answers his grave is widened for him to the extent of seventy cubits by seventy, then it is made light for him for his comfort, then he is told to sleep until Allah raises him. But if he is found to be a hypocrite, 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.

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 of the Quran

1- It is stated in the Quran that God takes the 'nafs' (self) at time of death and also when people sleep:

God takes back the 'anfus' (selves) at the time of their death, and also of those who have not died during their sleep. Then He retains those for whom He has decreed death and sends the others back for a specified term. In that are signs for people who reflect. 39:42

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 'nafs' (self) is not in the grave but with God?

2- The Quran states that all humans will be judged fairly on the Day of Judgement.
How would it be an act of justice from God, 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 compromise 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:

Say, "God knows best how long they remained." To Him belongs the unseen of the heavens and the earth. It is due to Him that you see and hear. They have none besides Him as an ally, and He allows none to share in His Judgment. 18:26

However, as per the hadith hadith, it is two angels who, not only will judge the dead person in his grave, but will also decree the punishment and the 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. 27:65

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

I (Muhammad) do not say to you that I have at my disposal the treasuries of God, or that I know the unseen (future, etc), nor do I say to you that I am an angel. I follow nothing other than what is revealed to me." Say, "Is the blind the same as the seer? Do you not reflect?" 6:50

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:

Say (O Muhammad), "I am not a novelty among the messengers,
nor do I know what will happen to me or to you. I follow nothing other than what is revealed to me. I am no more than a clear warner." 46:9

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 are eaten by wild animals. 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 nafs (self), for the duration of life on earth, decays and becomes dust, what benefit can the the widening of the grave provide for what is no more than scattered dust?
If a wide grave is truly a blessing for the dead, wouldn't it be beneficial for people to 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 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 Paradise:

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

They are the ones whom the angels take back in a state of righteousness, saying, "Peace be upon you. Enter Paradise in return for what you used to do. 16:32

And do not say about those who are killed in the cause of God, "They are dead!" No, they are alive, but you do not perceive." 2:154

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." 36:26-27

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

8- The Quran consistently tells us that the concept of 'Time' is a dimension only of the physical universe we live in. Outside this physical universe, there is no such thing as 'Time' in the sense we perceive it. In an existence void of 'Time' there is no meaning to such terms as yesterday or tomorrow, nor do the words 'waiting' and 'delaying' have much meaning.

Various Quranic verses elude to this reality such as those that state that people in the Hereafter will realise that the seemingly long years they lived on earth, were in reality no more than a day or part of a day (23:113).
Other verses speak about events on Judgement Day, which for us is a future event, and are worded in the past tense. God does not make grammatical mistakes! These verses are deliberately worded in that manner to indicate to us that outside the bubble we live in (physical universe), there is no such thing as future and past.

Scientific theories have only caught up with this reality in the beginning of the 20th century when the theory of relativity was put forward. The subsequent theory of the Big Bang confirmed that at the initial moment of creation (Big Bang), space, matter and also 'Time' were all created. Before the Big Bang there was no space, no matter and no 'Time'.

Since 'Time' is a dimension only of the physical universe, it follows that outside the physical universe, there is no 'Time'. Once we die and we are detached from the physical universe, we would not be subject to such things as 'waiting' or 'passage of time'.
We have seen in point 7 above that those destined to Paradise are not in a waiting stage, nor are they sleeping in graves, but they have already been admitted into Paradise as soon as the angels put them to death.

Likewise, we have Quranic verses that tell us that the wicked disbelievers are not 'waiting' in their graves or anywhere but have already been admitted to the fire of Hell upon death. The following verse speaks of the wicked people of Noah who have already been admitted (past tense) to Hell:

Because of their sins, they were drowned and
admitted into a Fire. They found for themselves no helpers besides God. 71:25

In Sura 16 we read how the angels, while putting the wicked ones to death, they tell them
"enter the gates of Hell".

Those whom the angels take back in a state of wronging themselves
will submit and say, "We did not do anything wrong!" Not so! God is Knowledgeable of what you used to do. So enter the gates of Hell wherein you shall permanently remain. What a miserable home for the arrogant! 16:28-29

And in Sura 8, we read the same scenario: as the angels put the disbelievers to death, they tell them,
"taste the punishment of the Fire":

If you could see when the angels take back those who disbelieved; beating their faces and their rear ends: "
Taste the punishment of the Fire." 8:50

When we read verses from 68 to the end of Sura 39, we find that all the events of Judgement Day are worded in the past tense. These are not grammatical errors but very deliberate words from God to tell us that the whole event has happened already.
All the above verses refute the false concept of dead people existing in their graves in a 'waiting period', be they believers or disbelievers.

It remains to incorporate the concept of Judgement Day into this framework.
According to the above verses, people get to their destination, be it Paradise or Hell, upon dying. There is no waiting for the rest of humanity to join them. This immediately begs the following questions:

- How can those who died ahead of us be admitted to Paradise or Hell
before Judgement Day?
- Does that mean they are admitted to Paradise or Hell before being judged?
- Since the Quran speaks of only one Judgement Day, do those who die not have to wait for all humans to die when Judgement Day takes place for everyone?

There may seem to be a contradiction somewhere, but in fact there is none.
To ask such questions indicates that we are asking questions about the non-physical existence, but asking them with the mentality of the physical world!
We must understand that the rules are different.
It is like person A asking person B a question, yet the 2 of them speak different languages! The result is that neither the question from A will make sense to B, nor will the answer from B makes sense to A.
If we are able to free our minds from the 'Time' trap mentality, and think of our life on earth as it is portrayed in the Quran, a mere illusion, encased in what appears to us as a linear passage of time, we would have a better understanding of this seemingly paradoxical situation.
Let us look at the following words:

Every self tastes death and it is only on the Day of Resurrection that you will be paid your rewards in full. Whoever is nudged away from the Fire, and admitted into
Paradise, has indeed won. The worldly life is no more than the enjoyment of delusion. 3:185 (also in 57:20)

The underlined words tell us that our life on earth, which seems very real to us, is no more than an illusion! How can that be? The nearest example would be to think of a dream we have in our sleep. While we are dreaming, the dream seems very real to us. We do not find out that it was an illusion until we wake up.
Could it be that we don't find out that this whole life on earth was an illusion, like the Quran tells us, until after we die?
Why else would God tell us that this life on earth is an illusion?
Why else would God tell us that the Hereafter is the 'real' life as opposed to the 'illusion' of the earthly life?

This worldly life is no more than fun and play, while the Abode of the Hereafter is the real life if they only knew. 29:64

Note how the verse ends with the words "if they only knew"!

Recently, there has been a number of notable scientists who are in fact presenting a case not any different from the input of 3:185 and 57:20.
What their theory suggests is that our life on earth is no more than a simulation of an event that has already taken place.
Since we are delving in the realm of the 'ghayb' (unseen/unknown), there will always be more questions than answers. Our knowledge is limited, so we can only go by the Quranic evidence at hand. The Quranic verses tell us that, not only are we living in a bubble bound by 'Time' but that the whole event may have already happened in a flash, and that what we are experiencing is no more than a re-run, or a playback of the event, and it is being played at an exaggerated slow speed.

Once the delusion (life on earth) is over, there is no waiting, there is no past, no future. Once we cross over, we will not find some people have died and some are still on earth, we will find that everything has already happened.
The outcome of all that is that, strange as it may sound, the whole human race is already in either Paradise or Hell. That is why God speaks of life on earth as an illusion in a number of verses:

The worldly life is no more than the enjoyment of delusion. 57:20

Verses 68 to 75 of Sura 39 are very significant in affirming this truth. These verses speak about the events on Judgement Day. Each one of these verses are worded in the past tense. Sadly, many translators of the Quran changed the tense of these verses from the past to the future tense! By doing so, they destroyed the significance of God's deliberate use of the past tense in telling us that it all already happened.
Out of last 8 verses of Sura 39, only one sentence is worded in the present tense:

And you see the angels surrounding the
Throne, glorifying their Lord with praise. 39:75

The reason the above sentence is in the present continuous tense is that, unlike all the events in the 8 verses which speak of an event that has already happened, the above sentence in verse 75 speaks of an act that continues to happen etrenally. That being the glorification of God by the angels.

As mentioned in the introduction of this article, the proponents of the "punishment of the grave" quote one Quranic verse which they claim to provide Quranic evidence for the "punishment of the grave":

The Fire: they are displayed before it morning and evening, and on the Day the Hour comes to pass: "Admit Pharaoh's people into the most severe punishment."

They state the following:
1- The wording of the verse indicates a time period that is between death and the Hour (Day of Judgment). This is the period during which the human being lies in his grave awaiting the Hour.
2- The words also indicate that just be seeing their place in the Fire morning and evening, will be a great torture for the disbelievers, which is what the "punishment of the grave".

The analysis of 40:46
The first observation derived from this glorious verse is that the disbelieving people of Pharaoh will be displayed before the fire, rather than the fire being displayed before them. Is there a difference between the two phrases? Indeed there is, and a very important difference in fact.
Before explaining the difference, it is important to remember that everything in the heavens and the earth is alive. In the following verse we read that not only is everything is alive, but that they all prostrate to God as well:

Do you not see that to God prostrates all who are in the heavens and who are in the earth, as well as the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, the creatures and many among the people? 22:18

The Fire (Hell) is also alive and is spoken of in the Quran as an entity with awareness. In 50:30 the Fire speaks:
That is the Day when We say to Hell, "Are you full?" and it (the Fire) will say, "Are there any more?" 50:30

And in 67:8, Hell is enraged:
It (Hell) almost bursts with rage. 67:8

It is now necessary to point out the difference between the wording of two verses:

"We presented Hell on that Day, in clear display, to the disbelievers whose eyes were veiled from My remembrance, and they were unable to hear." 18:100

2- "They (Pharaoh's people) are displayed before it (Fire) morning and evening." 40:46

The difference between the above two verses is regarding: who is displayed before who? And as a result, who is the viewer in each case.
If A is displayed before B, it is B who is the viewer and the one witnessing the event and the display and not A.

In 18:100, we read that Hell will be displayed before the disbelievers. Just by viewing the horrors of Hell, the disbelievers will suffer great grief.
In contrast, in 40:46, it is Pharaoh's people who are displayed and shown to the Fire. They (Pharaoh's people) do not see anything. It is their image that is being displayed to the Fire.
The deduction we derive from the contrasting wording of the two verses above is that the words in 40:46 do not speak of a "punishment of the grave", nor do the words of the verse state that the viewers are the people of Pharaoh.