"Our Dialogue" 6th Edition Rev

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The Hadith mentions the opposite of all this in the case of a non-believer. At the end, we are told that his grave is made too narrow for him that his ribs almost crack. That is the hard life mentioned in the Qur'an

All this applies to people who are buried, cremated, drowned or eaten up by wild beasts. It is easy for Allah to resurrect these in the same way as He resurrects those who are buried.

• Death: Misguidance by Satan in the grave

Is it a fact that Satan tries to lead us astray while we are alive, putting all sort of temptation in our way. Is it true that he will also try to misguide us in the grave, at the time of our first questioning by angels about what we had done in this life?

It is certain that the Prophet, peace be upon him, has described the grave as either a garden of heaven, or a pit of fire. A person who has gone through life trying to do every good thing that Allah has ordered us to do, and seeking to win Allah's pleasure by voluntarily doing much of what we are recommended to do, will find his grave a garden of heaven, because Allah's reward to him starts there. The grave will be a pit of fire for anyone who has gone through life disobeying Allah in every respect, totally rejecting to acknowledge the Oneness of Allah and the message of the Prophet, peace be upon him. To determine which type a person will have, he is questioned by angels. If his answers are satisfactory, he will enjoy his stay in the grave. If not, he is made to taste the fire there. How all this is done is something beyond our perception. We do not attempt to give it any particular shape or form, because it does not affect in any way our acceptability of faith or our discharge of our duties in this life. What we also know from the Prophet's guidance is that this life is a test which comes to end at death. When we die, we cannot influence the outcome of our test. The Prophet, peace be upon him, has pointed out three ways through which the reward of any dead person may be increased. These are: "A continuing act of charity, a useful contribution to knowledge and a good child who prays for his deceased father [parent]."

When we are questioned by the angels after we die, we are not continuing with our test. That test has been completed when the curtain of death has fallen on us. We are no longer on life's stage. We cannot influence the outcome. Hence, Satan has no sway on us. What happens, however, is that a person who has managed in this life to resist the temptation of Satan and maintain his way of obedience to Allah will be able to give the right answers to the angels. The questions he is asked have been put to him repeatedly, in one form or another in his life and he has always given the right answers to them. There is no reason why he cannot give the same answers to the angels when he is questioned by them.

On the other hand, a person who does not give the right answers to that questionnaire is one who has not been used to giving such answers in this life. When the angel asks him: "Who is your Lord? What is your religion?", he is unable to give the answers he used to give in this life. He gives the parrot like answers which fit in with the practical attitudes he used to adopt when he was alive. If it was his practice to follow his desires making of them a lord to be worshipped, he would answer that his desire was his Lord. Giving such an answer is not because of mis-guidance by Satan in the grave, but the result of being misguided in this life. It is here and now that we go through this test. It is here and now that the result is determined. What we face after we die is simply the record of what we have done here and all that is based on that record.

• Death: Mourning

When a member of the family dies, what sort of mourning is allowed?

Different societies have different customs and traditions associated with death in the family. In non-Islamic societies, there are visible signs of mourning which are supposed to convey grief. People, especially women, should wear black for a certain period, according to the degree of their relation with the deceased. Men may wear a black tie, etc. In certain communities, death is marked by loud crying and tearing of clothes, etc. All this is forbidden in Islam. This does not preclude that people may grieve for their deceased and they may express their grief with shedding tears. This sort of crying must not be accompanied by wailing. That is un-Islamic.

The maximum period of mourning for a woman is three days, if the deceased is a very close relation to her, but not her husband. In other words, mourning for a deceased father, son or brother may be only over a period of three days, after that, she must show her acceptance of Allah's verdict.

We have a report of two cases of the Prophet's wives, Umm Habibah and Zainab. The first lost her father, Abu Sufian, and the other lost her brother. After three days, in each case, each of them requested perfume to wear. Both of them said that they had no desire whatsoever to wear perfume, but they had heard the Prophet saying: "It is not lawful for a woman who believes in Allah and the day of judgment to be in mourning for any deceased person for over three nights, except for her husband when the period of mourning is four months and ten days." As you realize, this is the length of the waiting period of a widow. During her waiting period, she must not wear make-up.

• Death: Predetermined by Allah - the proper sense

Can we say that those who died in communal riots met their death as predetermined by Allah? If not, why?

Of course these deaths have been predetermined by Allah. Indeed, every death is so predetermined. How else can you describe a man's death in car accident, or by drowning, or in a fire? I feel that the word "predetermined" does not seem to carry its proper sense to you. When we say that a death is predetermined, it does not mean that Allah has caused the events leading to it. Allah does not cause the car accident which kills a driver. Indeed, one of the two drivers causes the accident by making a serious mistake. The death of anyone who is killed, as a result, is predetermined by Allah in the sense that He has willed that those people die at the particular moment. Every person's life-span is determined by Allah, when he is still a fetus in his mother's belly.

Allah also knows how every person is to meet his or her death. He does not, however, intervene to cause an accident, fire or a disturbance. It is people who do that and their actions lead to their natural results. Allah has set natural phenomena in operation. He has made fire burn almost all types of objects. He has enabled water to drown a person who swallows it and does not swim. When a person is burned, Allah does not cause his burning, except in the sense that He has given the fire the quality of burning. He does not pick a person up and throw him in the fire to cause his death. When that person happens to be in the midst of fire, he is burnt. Allah has determined his life-span and has known the cause of his death.

• Death: Questioning the cremated after death

It is authentically reported that when a person is buried after death, angels come to question him about his faith. How does this occur if the deceased has been cremated, drowned or fed to the vultures?

You seem to accept that a person who is dead and buried may be asked by angels and he may answer them. Perhaps you find it easy to imagine the possibility of the deceased person's spirit being returned to his body to face this questioning. But can anyone tell us how this happens? If you think about it very carefully, you will inevitably end up saying that it is something Allah does, and it is easy for Him, because He is able to accomplish His purpose, whatever it is. Fine, the same applies to a person whose body is cremated, drowned, eaten up by wild beasts or birds of prey. Why should it be any different? It is easy for Allah to reassemble that person and give him his spirit back to answer questions, if a return of the spirit is necessary for the purpose.

The simple answer is that we do not know how all this happens. It is a matter about which Allah has chosen not to give us details. With respect to any such matter, we simply accept the Qur'anic statement or the Hadith which we may have established to be authentic as it is. We simply accept it at its face value. We know that Allah is able to accomplish His purpose. He will certainly do it and it is undoubtedly easy for him. Why should the questioning of a deceased person be more difficult if he has been drowned than if he is simply buried? If the body of a deceased person has been cremated, it is still easy for Allah to bring him back to life. Why should it be any more difficult than his creation in the first place? There remain the ashes of his body. What was he before he came to life in the first place? A male sperm and a female egg? What was he before the same egg was produced by his mother, or before the male sperm was produced in his father's body? We need only think about the creation of man to accept everything that the Prophet has told us about what takes place after the end of this life of ours as correct. We may not be able to imagine it, but we know that it is certainly easy for Allah. If so, then there is no difficulty in getting the angel to question a deceased person whose corpse has been cremated or eaten up by fish, beast or bird of prey.

• Death: Questions on death and burial

What should a dying person, if in his senses, do? What should anybody attending him do? What should be done by the family of the deceased? When the death occurs, what prayer is offered? Must the deceased be buried in a specified graveyard, or could he be buried in a residen­tial area? What are the duties of the family of the deceased before and after burial?

If death approaches and the person is able to speak, he should say the declaration that he believes in the Oneness of Allah. This is the one known as "the kalimah" in many Muslim countries. If he says it by himself, well and good. If not, then anyone who is attending him should try to get him to say it. If the dying person is unable to speak, he may make the declaration mentally. If you are attending a dying person, you must not insist on him saying the declaration, because he may be in pain or may not be in full control of his powers. Insistence may cause him to say something unbecoming. If he did it once, that is well and good. You do not try to make him say it again unless he speaks of other things. In this case, you say the declaration again to him, implying that he should say it, so that his last word be the declaration. Although some scholars are of the view that the full declaration is to be prompted to the dying person, most of them say that it is suffi­cient to prompt him to say: "There is no deity save Allah."

It is recommended to make him lie down facing the qiblah [which should be as he is turned to his right).

It is also recommended to read the surah entitled "Ya'Seen" in front of a dying person, not after his death. When the death is confirmed, his eyes should be closed and he should be covered. His family should immediately start preparing for his burial. He should be washed and wrapped before offering the special prayer for the deceased (i.e. Janazah prayer) and burying him. His debts should be paid off as soon as possible from his own property. If he dies insolvent, his debts may be paid from the zakah funds of the Muslim community.

His family should show patience and pray Allah to reward him for their acceptance of His will with patience and perseverance. The Prophet recommends us to say this supplication when we suffer the death of a close relative: "To Allah we belong and to Him we return. My Lord, reward me for my tragedy and compensate me with better than I have lost." (Related by Ahmad and Muslim).

It is recommended to inform the deceased's relatives and friends of his death. It is permissible to weep for his loss, without shouting or wailing. No woman may wear mourning clothes for any relative for more than three days. The only exception is her hus­band for whom she may be in mourning dress throughout her mourning period, which lasts four months and ten days, unless she is preg­nant when it lasts until her delivery.

Preparing for burial starts with washing the deceased which is a duty incumbent upon the Muslim community. If some of them fulfill it, the others are released of their duty. If none of them washes the body of a deceased Muslim, all of them incur a sin. Washing is with water. It is sufficient to wash the deceased once, but is more preferable to wash his or her body three times with soap and water. If any impurity has fallen on the body of the deceased, it should be removed first. Only those who are needed for the washing should attend and they do not publicize any secret they may find out. The deceased should be undressed but his private parts should remain covered during washing. When the washing is finished, the body is dried with a clean dress or cloth other than his wrappers. Some perfumes are used before the body is wrapped in full. It should be noted here that a fighter who is killed in battle by non-believers need not be washed. He is to be wrapped in his own clothes and buried.

It is a community duty to have the deceased person wrapped in clean dresses or clothes, preferably white in color. It is recom­mended to have three layers for a deceased man and five for a deceased woman. Silk may not be used to wrap a deceased man with, but it is permissible as wrapper for a deceased woman. Although most scholars discourage that.

Prayer for the deceased (i.e. Janazah prayer) is preferably led by his nearest relative. Prayer for the deceased consist of four glorifications of Allah, i.e. takbeer, with the imam only saying "Allahu Akbar" loudly. After the first one, the imam and everybody else, reads AL-Fatihah. After the second one, we read the greeting to the Prophet which we normally say in the second part of Tashahhud in ordinary prayers. After the third one, we offer a supplication on behalf of the deceased praying Allah to forgive him all his sins and to admit him into heaven. After the fourth, we have a general supplication for all Muslims.

The deceased is then taken for burial. People should walk quietly without reading anything loudly, even though it may be from the Qur'an or glorification of Allah. The grave should be deep enough to prevent any bad smell coming out and to stop animals digging the body up. It is recommended that when the grave is filled up, it should be elevated from the ground by not more than 25 to 30 cm, so that it is known to be a grave. Elevating it higher is not permissible. It is by far preferable to bury Muslims in grave­yards, although it is permissible to bury a dead person at home. Following the Prophet's Sunnah is more preferable. He ordered the burial of his companions in the graveyard known as "Al Baqee".

Offering condolences to the family of the deceased is recommended. It is discouraged for the relatives of the deceased to stay at a particular place to accept condolences. These should be offered when the relatives are met.

It is also recommended to visit graves and graveyards. When you arrive at the grave of a deceased relative, you stand at the head of the grave and pray for the dead person. Most scholars agree that it is also permissible for women to visit graves, but they are forbidden from wailing and crying loudly.

• Death: Recitation for a deceased

If one recites a surah or passage of the Qur'an and finishes with supplication to Allah to forgive a deceased relative, is his action correct or not? Two Islamic magazines published in India have given opposite views on this issue. What is the best way of doing something to benefit a deceased relative?

If you finish your recitation of the Qur'an with supplication, that is perfectly in order. Any act of worship may be accompanied by a prayer or supplication. If you mention a deceased relative in your prayer, requesting Allah to forgive him and to admit him into heaven, then such a prayer is answered. You may do this at any time, even during your obligatory prayers, or after you have finished them, during a day of fasting, or just before you finished your fast or when you worship at night, or indeed at any other time. Obviously, when you have offered an act of worship, whether it is obligatory or voluntary, then your prayer stands a better chance of being answered, because it follows a good action on your part. As for prayer for a deceased person, we do that in the special prayer known as janazah, which follows the death of a person, just before the deceased is buried. We can continue to pray for him or her at any time. Evidence supporting this may be drawn from the hadith in which the Prophet is quoted to have said: "When a human being dies, all his actions come to an end, except in one of three ways: a continuing act of charity, a useful contribution to knowledge and a dutiful child who prays for him."

The disagreement in these two magazines you have mentioned may not be on whether supplication for a deceased person is appropriate or not, but on the particular case of praying Allah to pass on the reward of your recitation of the Qur'an to him.

This is something over which scholars have different views. Therefore, if a person does it, we should not object to his action. Indeed, we hope that Allah may accept his prayer and reward the deceased person.

You can be of benefit to a deceased person by praying for him, giving sadaqah and asking Allah to reward it to him, etc. If he did not do the pilgrimage in his life, you may do it on his behalf. You can pray Allah as often as possible to forgive him and admit him into heaven.

• Death: Speedy funeral and burial

Is it necessary to speed up the preparation for burial, or can the body be kept at home for some time to allow people who are coming from distant places to attend the funeral?

It is a well known tradition throughout the Muslim world that when a person dies, arrangements for his funeral and burial start without delay. If the death occurs in the morning, the deceased is often taken to the mosque for prayer at the time of Dhuhr or Asr. If he dies in the evening, he is sure to be buried before midday the following day. And this is considered a gesture of doing what is right for the deceased person.

There is a Hadith to support this attitude. Al-Bukhari relates on the authority of Abu Hurairah who quotes the Prophet as saying: "Speed up the funeral; if it is one of a good person, you are only taking that person to a good prospect. If otherwise, then he is no more than an evil you are putting off your shoulders." Some scholars understand this Hadith as an instructions to walk fast when taking the body to be buried, while others take it to mean speeding up the preparations for prayer and burial. This latter view is supported by other Hadiths. The first one is related by At-Tabarani on the authority of Abdullah ibn Umar who says: "I heard Allah's messenger, peace be upon him, say: When anyone of you dies, do not keep his body. Be speedy when taking him to his grave." Another Hadith related by Abu-Dawood quotes the Prophet as saying: "It is not right that the corpse of a Muslim is kept at home with his family."

• Death: Time of death

In some Muslim communities, when someone is very sick or dying, people sit beside him and read some verses from the Qur'an. Does this benefit the sick or dying person? May I also ask whether crying loudly near a deceased person is bad for him [the deceased]? A scholar in my community says it must be avoided. Please comment.

When someone is felt to be dying, it is recommended that his relatives or friends or other people sit nearby and read the Qur'an, particularly surah 36, entitled Ya'Seen. He or she should be prompted [ not coerced, lest some ungrateful words are uttered] to say the sentence "La Ilaha Ila Allah", which means "there is no deity save Allah". If he says it once, we should not urge him to say it again, unless he says something else, then we try to make him say that sentence again, so that it is the last thing he says in his life. Reading the Qur'an helps the dying person by reminding him of Allah and the hereafter. If he is conscious and can understand what is being read, he finds it easier to go through the difficulty he is facing. If he says the declaration of the Oneness of Allah as the last thing he says in his life, then he has a great chance to find that his sins are forgiven.

It is strongly discouraged to cry loudly or wail for a dying person. Needless to say, the dead person is not responsible for what others do to express their grief. In other words, if his women relatives wail after they realize that he has died, he is not punished for what they do. It is they who bear the responsibility for their action. Having said that, I must add that it is very important that a Muslim accepts what Allah has willed with resignation and submission. People are certainly grieved by the death of their close relatives, but their grief can be expressed in silent crying, praising Allah and declaring submission to his will, supplicating for the deceased to be forgiven, praying that he is admitted into heaven. Wailing is not the mark of submission to Allah's will. If anything, it is more of a protest and a Muslim does not protest against Allah's will.

• Death: Torment in the grave — without accountability?

If accountability is to take place on the day of judgment, why has the Prophet, peace be upon him, taught his companions to seek refuge with God from the torment of the grave? Is it a punishment given without accountability?

One of the supplications the Prophet, peace be upon him, taught to his companions and his followers is to seek refuge with God against the torment in the grave. This is an established fact. Certain people will be subjected to this torment, although what nature it will take is not given in detail. In Verse 46 of Surah 40, the situation of the people of Pharaoh is described, and they are said to be “Brought before the fire morning and evening, and on the day the hour strikes, (an order will be given) ‘Put the people of Pharaoh to the severest punishment’.”

It is clear from this verse that the “bringing before the fire” takes place repeatedly, every morning and every evening until the day of judgment, or the day “when the hour strikes” when the actual punishment is meted out. This is then, one aspect of the torment that is given before the resurrection on the day of judgment. It is actually viewing the punishment, rather than experiencing it.

Is this a punishment inflicted before the reckoning? We need to understand that the reckoning is not made to establish whether a person is a non-believer, a hardened sinner or an obedient servant of God. God knows the outcome of everyone’s test in this life. He does not need to wait until the day of judgment to do the reckoning and establish status of anyone. The reckoning is for the benefit of people who will be made to see all their deeds they did in this life and to realize their situation. They will then realize that if they are punished, it is because of their own deeds, and if they are forgiven and admitted to heaven, [it is Allah’s grace.]

• Death: Traditions that follow

In our part of the world, when a person dies, particularly in old age, his family follows a number of traditions such as bring a number of people from a local Qur'anic school to read the Qur'an near his grave. They take turns in order to maintain a 24 hour Qur'anic recitation until the following Friday. The deceased's family believes that by so doing, they prevent the angels from questioning their relatives in the grave until Friday when Allah forgives him. The reciters are well catered for with food and drink and clothes, and given some money at the end of their task. Other duties are also fulfilled at particular intervals, such as the third, tenth and fortieth days of the death of the person concerned. If the deceased has some married sons, their fathers-in-law are duty bound to bring clothes to all member of the deceased person's family. Every Thursday and on anniversaries of the death of the person concerned, his more dutiful children serve food to a number of poor people who are called in to recite the Qur'an on his behalf. Could you please comment on these traditions.

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