Ghazali on remembering death IV
True life is after death
وَمَا هَٰذِهِ ٱلۡحَيَوٰةُ ٱلدُّنۡيَآ إِلَّا لَهۡوٞ وَلَعِبٞۚ وَإِنَّ ٱلدَّارَ ٱلۡأٓخِرَةَ لَهِيَ ٱلۡحَيَوَانُۚ لَوۡ كَانُواْ يَعۡلَمُونَ
The present life is nothing but sport and amusement. The true life is in the abode of the Hereafter, if only they knew. [29:64]
The ayah is saying that true life is not this life. What is this life then? It is a series of trials and tests, as you have in a factory when they test a product over a period of time to see if it meets the quality standard for fire and safety. They expose the product to different things – heat, water, pressure etc and establish if it can endure these well. Life is similar, we are tested to see our quality, sincerity, commitment and character.
The Hereafter is good for those who strived for goodness. Those who did not work hard for the akhirah but only for the dunya will receive what they wanted in the dunya. Ghazali compares death to a gateway to the afterlife. It is not a state of non-existence, rather death is the start of a new chapter, which is life in barzakh which connects us to the life of the Hereafter.
Life in barzakh
During their life in barzakh, the souls of some deceased will be able to pay visits to friends and family. Their souls will be roaming, with varying freedoms and restrictions. They will have some freedoms while others will remain trapped where they are. After death we have a new life. That is our real life. Those who doubt this, cannot be convinced, until they die, they will see the reality of death and life of barzakh. They will regret not doing anything about it in this life, but it will be too late.
Philosophers usually try to answer questions of existence and the reason for our being and if there is life after death. They have argued that there is not clear evidence for life after death, but it was safer to assume there was life after death and prepare for it, than arrive with no preparation.
Torture in the grave
There are two views even in Sunni traditions whether there is torture in the grave for sinners. The vast majority say it is a fact based on strong evidence from the Quran and Sunnah. A minority dismiss it saying the narrations are weak and the verses in the Quran are unclear. However, the evidence is too strong to dismiss it. In the hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him), as narrated by Abu Sa’eed, said:
The grave will either be a garden from the gardens of Paradise or a pit from the pits of Hellfire. [Tirmidhi]
For those who dismiss life after death, or reward and punishment in the grave, they should ponder the ayah in Surat Al Imran:
وَلَا تَحۡسَبَنَّ ٱلَّذِينَ قُتِلُواْ فِي سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ أَمۡوَٰتَۢاۚ بَلۡ أَحۡيَآءٌ عِندَ رَبِّهِمۡ يُرۡزَقُونَ
And never think of those who have been killed in the cause of Allah as dead. Rather, they are alive with their Lord, receiving provision [3:169]
Ibn ‘Umar narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) looked at the people of the well (the well in which the bodies of the pagans killed in the Battle of Badr were thrown) and said:
“Have you found true what your Lord promised you?” Somebody said to him, “You are addressing dead people.” He replied, “You do not hear better than they but they cannot reply.” [Bukhari]
The companions wondered why the Prophet (peace be upon him) was talking to the corpses and he replied that their hearing was just as sharp as that of the companions who were alive, but they could not reply.
The concept of resurrection was hard for the Quraysh at that time to comprehend. They thought that death was the end. In our time, many people believe that after death we just vanish into non-existence.
Death is a resurrection. Whoever dies, his resurrection has been established.
As mentioned in Daylami, death is a minor qiyama for the one who dies and the Day of Resurrection is the major day of reckoning for all humanity, when their records will be read.
Ghazali says there are plenty of narrations that say the soul does not die, only the body dies. Only Allah knows the nature of the ruh.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) warned us of the punishments of the grave. Ibn ‘Abbas narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) once passed by two graves and said:
حَدَّثَنَا عُثْمَانُ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا جَرِيرٌ، عَنْ مَنْصُورٍ، عَنْ مُجَاهِدٍ، عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ، قَالَ مَرَّ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم بِحَائِطٍ مِنْ حِيطَانِ الْمَدِينَةِ أَوْ مَكَّةَ، فَسَمِعَ صَوْتَ إِنْسَانَيْنِ يُعَذَّبَانِ فِي قُبُورِهِمَا، فَقَالَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم ” يُعَذَّبَانِ، وَمَا يُعَذَّبَانِ فِي كَبِيرٍ ”، ثُمَّ قَالَ ” بَلَى، كَانَ أَحَدُهُمَا لاَ يَسْتَتِرُ مِنْ بَوْلِهِ، وَكَانَ الآخَرُ يَمْشِي بِالنَّمِيمَةِ ”. ثُمَّ دَعَا بِجَرِيدَةٍ فَكَسَرَهَا كِسْرَتَيْنِ، فَوَضَعَ عَلَى كُلِّ قَبْرٍ مِنْهُمَا كِسْرَةً. فَقِيلَ لَهُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ لِمَ فَعَلْتَ هَذَا قَالَ ” لَعَلَّهُ أَنْ يُخَفَّفَ عَنْهُمَا مَا لَمْ تَيْبَسَا أَوْ إِلَى أَنْ يَيْبَسَا ”.
“These two persons are being tortured not for a major sin (to avoid). One of them never saved himself from being soiled with his urine while the other used to go about with calumnies (to make enmity between friends).” The Prophet then took a green leaf of a date-palm tree split it into (pieces) and fixed one on each grave. They said. “O Allah’s Apostle! Why have you done so?” He replied. “I hope that their punishment might be lessened till these (the pieces of the leaf) become dry.” [Bukhari]
In Surat Ghafir, Allah Almighty says that Fir’awn and his followers will be exposed to fire in the day and night:
ٱلنَّارُ يُعْرَضُونَ عَلَيْهَا غُدُوًّۭا وَعَشِيًّۭا ۖ وَيَوْمَ تَقُومُ ٱلسَّاعَةُ أَدْخِلُوٓا۟ ءَالَ فِرْعَوْنَ أَشَدَّ ٱلْعَذَابِ ٤٦
A terrible punishment engulfed Pharaoh’s people; they will be brought before the Fire morning and evening. On the Day the Hour comes, it will be said, ‘Throw Pharaoh’s people into the worst torment’. [40:45-46]
Firaun and the punishment of his followers are exposed to the fire in the morning and evening in their graves, as the Day of Judgement has not yet arrived. On the Day of Judgement their punishment will increase. This ayah is talking about adhab al qabr (punishment of the grave).
The Qabr can be a piece of Jannah or a piece of hell according to your records.
Imam Ghazali mentions narrations concerning 99 vipers which strike and bite and spew venom into the bodies of disbelievers in the grave. The narrations are not the highest level of authenticity but are strong nonetheless.
Allah has warned us to be prepared for the Day of Judgement:
يَوْمَ تَجِدُ كُلُّ نَفْسٍۢ مَّا عَمِلَتْ مِنْ خَيْرٍۢ مُّحْضَرًۭا وَمَا عَمِلَتْ مِن سُوٓءٍۢ تَوَدُّ لَوْ أَنَّ بَيْنَهَا وَبَيْنَهُۥٓ أَمَدًۢا بَعِيدًۭا ۗ وَيُحَذِّرُكُمُ ٱللَّهُ نَفْسَهُۥ ۗ وَٱللَّهُ رَءُوفٌۢ بِٱلْعِبَادِ ٣٠
˹Watch for˺ the Day when every soul will be presented with whatever good it has done. And it will wish that its misdeeds were far off. And Allah warns you about Himself. And Allah is Ever Gracious to ˹His˺ servants. [3:30]
وَٱتَّقُوا۟ یَوۡمࣰا تُرۡجَعُونَ فِیهِ إِلَى ٱللَّهِۖ ثُمَّ تُوَفَّىٰ كُلُّ نَفۡسࣲ مَّا كَسَبَتۡ وَهُمۡ لَا یُظۡلَمُونَ
Beware of a day when you are returned to God and every soul will be paid in full for what it has earned, and none will be wronged. [2:281]
وَوُضِعَ ٱلْكِتَـٰبُ فَتَرَى ٱلْمُجْرِمِينَ مُشْفِقِينَ مِمَّا فِيهِ وَيَقُولُونَ يَـٰوَيْلَتَنَا مَالِ هَـٰذَا ٱلْكِتَـٰبِ لَا يُغَادِرُ صَغِيرَةًۭ وَلَا كَبِيرَةً إِلَّآ أَحْصَىٰهَا ۚ وَوَجَدُوا۟ مَا عَمِلُوا۟ حَاضِرًۭا ۗ وَلَا يَظْلِمُ رَبُّكَ أَحَدًۭا ٤٩
And the record ˹of deeds˺ will be laid ˹open˺, and you will see the wicked in fear of what is ˹written˺ in it. They will cry, “Woe to us! What kind of record is this that does not leave any sin, small or large, unlisted?” They will find whatever they did present ˹before them˺. And your Lord will never wrong anyone. [18:49]
We should not be laid back about preparing nor should we be pessimistic. Sometimes we take the peel not the core of the Quran. Sometimes more important than the reward is to apply the Quran to our lives and live it. It is like your nutrition. It nurtures your mind and your heart and it gives you the energy that you need.
In Surah Ar-Rahman Allah Almighty says Kulu man alayha fan, that the only thing that will remain is Allah:
كُلُّ مَنْ عَلَيْهَا فَانٍۢ
وَيَبْقَىٰ وَجْهُ رَبِّكَ ذُو ٱلْجَلَـٰلِ وَٱلْإِكْرَامِ
Every being on earth is bound to perish.
Only your Lord Himself, full of Majesty and Honour, will remain ˹forever˺. [55:27-8]
Everything that is in creation will perish and including the angels, and even Israfil after he has blown the Trumpet will die.
In Surat Az Zumar, Allah Almighty states:
وَنُفِخَ فِي ٱلصُّورِ فَصَعِقَ مَن فِي ٱلسَّمَٰوَٰتِ وَمَن فِي ٱلۡأَرۡضِ إِلَّا مَن شَآءَ ٱللَّهُۖ ثُمَّ نُفِخَ فِيهِ أُخۡرَىٰ فَإِذَا هُمۡ قِيَامٞ يَنظُرُونَ
“And the Trumpet will be blown, and all who are in the heavens and all who are on the earth will swoon away, except him whom Allah wills. Then it will be blown a second time, and behold they will be standing, looking on (waiting)” [39:68]
يَوْمَ تُبَدَّلُ ٱلْأَرْضُ غَيْرَ ٱلْأَرْضِ وَٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتُ ۖ وَبَرَزُوا۟ لِلَّهِ ٱلْوَٰحِدِ ٱلْقَهَّارِ ٤٨
˹Watch for˺ the Day ˹when˺ the earth will be changed into a different earth and the heavens as well, and all will appear before Allah—the One, the Supreme. [14:48]
Stations in life
Ghazali says we have different stations in life on our journey and we can go up from one level to the next, from the level of desire and basic instincts, to imaan and then up and up until you reach the levels of the angels, as we do in Ramadan, when we feel lightness in our body, heart and soul. Then you become close to Allah. The closer you are to Allah, the lighter and happier you will feel and the better you will be.
The closest to Allah are always engaged in tasbih of Allah like the angels around the throne of Allah. The more we engage in glorifying Allah, the closer we are to Him. The angels never stop doing this.
Mankind can be lower than the animal if he follows his desires, or higher than the angels if he is engaged in dhikr and obedience. Where are we on the scale? We fluctuate all the time, depending on the seasons and what we have done. This is why we have the Shariah and the messengers and divine books were sent to guide us how to pass this test and overcome the obstacles we will face. All humans will go to the lower grades, they are in loss, except those who believe and do good deeds. The highest of these levels is to recognise the beauty of Allah and His majesty.
Mankind can experience the ascension of his to heaven during salah and when he is engaged in dhikr or plummet down to the level of Shaytan if he follows his whims.
Three spiritual fires
There are three types of spiritual fire in the akhirah. The first is being separated from desired things – the pain experienced by the one who was attached to dunya and is disconnected from it. Just as you miss those you love and what you left behind when you travel, or food when you fast. The one who prefers the Hereafter is more prepared for their departure, even if not fully prepared. The second fire is the fire of humiliation. The shame of being exposed. The third is the fire of regret and not having done more.
How to be saved from the fire
Ramadan and fasting is not just about abstaining from food and drink and sexual relations, but trains us to become a better person – kinder and more patient, more controlled. It helps us not be too attached to worldly things. Meanwhile, if you don’t want to feel the shame of being exposed then do not do anything that would embarrass you if it was exposed to others. No one said it would be easy, but we need to do our best. One of the righteous people said to his daughter, if his book were to be read in public he would not feel ashamed. It is a good reminder to be careful what we do.
Shaykh Haytham Tamim – Thursday Hadith Class 2nd March 2023
Umar ibn al-Khattab reported: We were sitting with the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, one day when a man appeared with very white clothes and very black hair. There were no signs of travel on him and we did not recognize him. He sat down in front of the Prophet and rested his knees by his knees and placed his hands on his thighs. The man said, “O Muhammad, tell me about Islam.” The Prophet said, “Islam is to testify there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, to establish prayer, to give charity, to fast the month of Ramadan, and to perform pilgrimage to the House if a way is possible.” The man said, “You have spoken truthfully.” We were surprised that he asked him and said he was truthful. He said, “Tell me about faith.” The Prophet said, “Faith is to believe in Allah, His angels, his Books, His Messengers, the Last Day, and to believe in providence, its good and its harm.” The man said, “You have spoken truthfully. Tell me about excellence.” The Prophet said, “Excellence is to worship Allah as if you see Him, for if you do not see Him, He surely sees you.” The man said, “Tell me about the final hour.” The Prophet said, “The one asked does not know more than the one asking.” The man said, “Tell me about its signs.” The Prophet said, “The slave girl will give birth to her mistress and you will see barefoot, naked, and dependent shepherds compete in the construction of tall buildings.” Then, the man returned and I remained. The Prophet said to me, “O Umar, do you know who he was?” I said, “Allah and his messenger know best.” The Prophet said, “Verily, he was Gabriel who came to teach you your religion.” [Muslim]
عن عُمَر بْن الْخَطَّابِ قَالَ بَيْنَمَا نَحْنُ عِنْدَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ ذَاتَ يَوْمٍ إِذْ طَلَعَ عَلَيْنَا رَجُلٌ شَدِيدُ بَيَاضِ الثِّيَابِ شَدِيدُ سَوَادِ الشَّعَرِ لَا يُرَى عَلَيْهِ أَثَرُ السَّفَرِ وَلَا يَعْرِفُهُ مِنَّا أَحَدٌ حَتَّى جَلَسَ إِلَى النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَأَسْنَدَ رُكْبَتَيْهِ إِلَى رُكْبَتَيْهِ وَوَضَعَ كَفَّيْهِ عَلَى فَخِذَيْهِ وَقَالَ يَا مُحَمَّدُ أَخْبِرْنِي عَنْ الْإِسْلَامِ فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ الْإِسْلَامُ أَنْ تَشْهَدَ أَنْ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ وَأَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ وَتُقِيمَ الصَّلَاةَ وَتُؤْتِيَ الزَّكَاةَ وَتَصُومَ رَمَضَانَ وَتَحُجَّ الْبَيْتَ إِنْ اسْتَطَعْتَ إِلَيْهِ سَبِيلًا قَالَ صَدَقْتَ قَالَ فَعَجِبْنَا لَهُ يَسْأَلُهُ وَيُصَدِّقُهُ قَالَ فَأَخْبِرْنِي عَنْ الْإِيمَانِ قَالَ أَنْ تُؤْمِنَ بِاللَّهِ وَمَلَائِكَتِهِ وَكُتُبِهِ وَرُسُلِهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَتُؤْمِنَ بِالْقَدَرِ خَيْرِهِ وَشَرِّهِ قَالَ صَدَقْتَ قَالَ فَأَخْبِرْنِي عَنْ الْإِحْسَانِ قَالَ أَنْ تَعْبُدَ اللَّهَ كَأَنَّكَ تَرَاهُ فَإِنْ لَمْ تَكُنْ تَرَاهُ فَإِنَّهُ يَرَاكَ قَالَ فَأَخْبِرْنِي عَنْ السَّاعَةِ قَالَ مَا الْمَسْئُولُ عَنْهَا بِأَعْلَمَ مِنْ السَّائِلِ قَالَ فَأَخْبِرْنِي عَنْ أَمَارَتِهَا قَالَ أَنْ تَلِدَ الْأَمَةُ رَبَّتَهَا وَأَنْ تَرَى الْحُفَاةَ الْعُرَاةَ الْعَالَةَ رِعَاءَ الشَّاءِ يَتَطَاوَلُونَ فِي الْبُنْيَانِ قَالَ ثُمَّ انْطَلَقَ فَلَبِثْتُ مَلِيًّا ثُمَّ قَالَ لِي يَا عُمَرُ أَتَدْرِي مَنْ السَّائِلُ قُلْتُ اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ أَعْلَمُ قَالَ فَإِنَّهُ جِبْرِيلُ أَتَاكُمْ يُعَلِّمُكُمْ دِينَكُمْ
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