Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamā’ah believe in the test and trial (fitnah) of the grave after a person dies. So this is the first of the events after death that a person encounters with respect to the establishment of the Last Hour. When the deceased is placed in his grave, his burial is concluded, and the funeral procession turns away, he hears their footsteps.
Then there will come to him two angels who will sit him up. His soul will be returned to his body and his life in the Barzakh will begin. The Barzakh is the life between this world and the Hereafter, it is the life of the grave. It is not like the life of this world and its true reality is not known except to Allah. So the angels will ask him in his grave: “Who is your Lord? What is your Religion? Who is your Prophet?” The believer will answer: “My Lord is Allah. My religion is Islam and my Prophet is Muhammad (ﷺ).” That is because he died upon Ēmān (belief) and he is therefore resurrected upon Ēmān just as Allah stated:
يُثَبِّتُ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا بِالْقَوْلِ الثَّابِتِ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَفِي الْآخِرَةِ ۖ وَيُضِلُّ اللَّهُ الظَّالِمِينَ ۚ وَيَفْعَلُ اللَّهُ مَا يَشَاءُ
“Allah keeps firm those who believe, with the firm word, in worldly life and in the Hereafter. And Allah sends astray the wrongdoers. And Allah does what He wills.” (Ibrahim 14:27)
When he responds with these words, his Lord will say: “My servant has spoken truthfully! Spread out his resting place from the furnishings of Jannah and open for him a door to Paradise.” Then his grave will be expanded and made spacious for him as far as the eye can see, so-much-so that he will see his dwellings in Paradise. There will come to him in his grave the breeze and perfume of Paradise. Then he will say: “O my Lord! Establish the Hour so that I may return to my family and to my property [in Jannah].” (See Musnad Ahmad 3/3-4, declared saheeh by Al-Albāni in As-Saheehah, no. 3394)
As for the hypocrite (munāfiq) who lives in this world in doubt who utters on his tongue what is not in his heart. And he harbours enmity and hatred for Islam and for the worship of Allah. He may utter the words “Lā-ilāha-illallāh wa-anna-Muhammadan-Rasūlullāh” (the is none worthy of worship except Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah), he will recite the Qur’ān and may even sit and listen to an Islamic lecture! Yet, he has no belief (ēmān) in his heart. He does these deeds only for worldly gain, status and fame. His reality is hidden from the people, but he is not hidden from Allah.
Then there is the one who claims he is a Muslim but he mocks and belittles the Prophet of Allah (ﷺ), he reviles the Sunnah and pokes-fun at the symbols of Islam and its Laws, and at the believers as they perform worship. So this proves that his ascription to Islam is false; and he uses his attachment only so that he can invite the non-Muslims to launch insults and attacks against Islam, and use this so-called Muslim as their example. So the non-Muslims say, “So-and-so is a Muslim, he makes jokes about Islam, and rejects the verses from your Book, and finds fault in your Prophet, so why can’t we?!”
The hearts of the hypocrites people are devoid of Ēmān (belief):
هُمْ لِلْكُفْرِ يَوْمَئِذٍ أَقْرَبُ مِنْهُمْ لِلْإِيمَانِ ۚ يَقُولُونَ بِأَفْوَاهِهِم مَّا لَيْسَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ ۗ وَاللَّهُ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا يَكْتُمُونَ – 3:167
“They were that day, nearer to disbelief than to faith, saying with their mouths what was not in their hearts. And Allah has full knowledge of what they conceal.”
So these people will not be able to answer, even if they had already memorised the ahādeeth, the narrations, and verses from the Qur’ān, or lines of poetry and studied the Arabic language! So long as they did not believe and have Ēmān, they will not be able to answer those questions in the grave.
When such a person is asked in his grave, “Who is your Lord? What is your Religion? Who is your Prophet?” He will respond: “Hāh, hāh… I do not know! I used to hear the people saying something, so I would say what they said.” Meaning, he would repeat it but not believe in it. So he would repeat these words to impress people or to flatter them and appease them. So it will be said to him: “You did not comprehend and you did not recite.” Then he will be struck with an iron rod, and if a mountain was struck with that rod, it would turn to dust. Then his grave will be tightened around him and he will be squeezed until his ribs snap and interlace with the crushing. His grave will become a narrow pit from the pits of Hellfire. Then he will scream out: “O my Lord! Do not establish the Hour.” That is because he knows that what is to come in the Hereafter will be more painful.
This is what will occur in the grave. And belief in the punishment of the grave and its reward is necessary due to the fact that it is reported in mutawātirah narrations, i.e. that there are so many narrators at every level of the chains of transmission that the ahādīth are irrefutable.
Additionally, these are matters from the Unseen that people cannot know of, except through Revealed texts. So we are obligated to believe in the punishment of the grave and its reward and happiness. Whoever denies the trial of the grave knowingly after the textual evidence is made clear to him and the proof is established against him, then he is an unbeliever.
Many of the Mu’atalizah, those who consider themselves to be enlightened and intellectuals, deny the trial of the grave. That is because they base everything on the intellect and they rely upon it. So, you find them saying: “When we open up the graves, we find the dead just as they were when they placed there, except that they have decomposed. We do not see Paradise or its illumination, and we do not see the Fire or feel its heat.” So we say to them: “That is because you are still in this world, and the dead have moved on to the next life. So the dead experience punishment and bliss but you are not able to perceive that or see that.” Their advanced technology, microphones, cameras, scanners and heat-detectors cannot reach into the Unseen that our Lord has concealed from the senses and tools of the humans.
That is because these are from the events of the Barzakh, the grave and are unseen, not known except to Allah. Upon the Muslim is to affirm them because our Lord informed us regarding them though He concealed them from us. The mere fact that you cannot see or perceive or even comprehend a matter does not necessitate that it does not exist. How many people are there who walk the earth and they conceal their personal grief, stress, depression and struggles from those around them? They will eat and drink with you, and even smile but you are unaware of the trials that they are suffering within.
This tenet of belief is obligatory upon every person. Imāms Abu Hātim and Abu Zur’ah Ar-Rāziyayn stated in their book explaining the belief of the Muslims: “The punishment of the grave is true. Munkar and Nakeer are true.” This is the belief of Ahlus-Sunnah establish in the Qur’ān and Sunnah. Allah stated regarding the Pharoah of Egypt and his people:
النَّارُ يُعْرَضُونَ عَلَيْهَا غُدُوًّا وَعَشِيًّا ۖ وَيَوْمَ تَقُومُ السَّاعَةُ أَدْخِلُوا آلَ فِرْعَوْنَ أَشَدَّ الْعَذَابِ – 40:46
“The Fire; they are exposed to it, morning and afternoon, and on the Day when the Hour will be established (it will be said to the angels): “Cause Pharaoh people to enter the severest torment!” (Ghāfir: 46)
So, the unbelievers are exposed to the Fire morning and evening. This is their punishment in the Barzakh. Then on the Day of Judgement, they are entered into a more severe punishment. Bukhari (218) and Muslim (292) reported that Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) passed by two graves and said:
إِنَّهُمَا لَيُعَذَّبَانِ، وَمَا يُعَذَّبَانِ فِي كَبِيرٍ أَمَّا أَحَدُهُمَا فَكَانَ لاَ يَسْتَتِرُ مِنَ الْبَوْلِ، وَأَمَّا الآخَرُ فَكَانَ يَمْشِي بِالنَّمِيمَةِ
“They two are being punished but they are not being punished for something they considered great.” In a narration, the Prophet said: “But it was something great.” He continued: “One of them would carry tales causing discord and enmity (namīmah). And the other one would be careless from splashing himself when urinating.” The Prophet (ﷺ) then took a green leaf of a date-palm tree, split it into two and fixed one into each grave. He said, “I hope that their punishment might be lessened till these branches become dry.” So, they were punished in the grave due to their major sins. So this proves that the unbelievers and Muslims guilty of major sins are punished in their graves.
Then we have the hadeeth reported by Abu Dawūd (4753) and others of Al-Barā’ Ibn ‘Āzib (radiyallahu ‘anhu) who said: “We went out with the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) accompanying the funeral of a man of the Ansār. When we reached his grave, it was not yet dug. So the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) sat down and we also sat down around him. We were still as if birds were over our heads. He had in his hand a stick with which he was scratching the ground. He then raised his head and said:
اسْتَعِيذُوا بِاللَّهِ مِنْ عَذَابِ الْقَبْرِ
“Seek refuge with Allah from the punishment in the grave.”
He said it twice or thrice. The narration talks of the two angels:
وَيَأْتِيهِ مَلَكَانِ فَيُجْلِسَانِهِ فَيَقُولاَنِ لَهُ : مَنْ رَبُّكَ فَيَقُولُ : رَبِّيَ اللَّهُ . فَيَقُولاَنِ لَهُ : مَا دِينُكَ فَيَقُولُ : دِينِي الإِسْلاَمُ . فَيَقُولاَنِ لَهُ : مَا هَذَا الرَّجُلُ الَّذِي بُعِثَ فِيكُمْ قَالَ فَيَقُولُ : هُوَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم . فَيَقُولاَنِ : وَمَا يُدْرِيكَ فَيَقُولُ : قَرَأْتُ كِتَابَ اللَّهِ فَآمَنْتُ بِهِ وَصَدَّقْتُ
“Then two angels will come to him. They will sit him up and ask him: ‘Who is your Lord?’ He will respond: ‘My Lord is Allah.’ They will ask: ‘What is your Religion?’ He will respond: ‘My Religion is Islam.’ They will ask: ‘Who was this man who was sent among you?’ He will respond: ‘He was Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ).’ They will ask: ‘How did you know?’ He will answer: ‘I read the Book of Allah, I believed in it and affirmed its truthfulness.'”
In the narration of Abu Hurayrah reported by At-Tirmidhi (no. 1071), the two angels are specifically named as Munkar and Nakeer.
In the hadeeth, Allah’s Messenger stated: “You shall be tried in your graves with a trial similar to or close to the trial inflicted by the Dajjāl.” In a narration reported by Al-Bukhāri (1377), Abu Hurayrah (radiyallahu ‘anhu) said that the Messenger (ﷺ) used to supplicate:
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ عَذَابِ الْقَبْرِ، وَمِنْ عَذَابِ النَّارِ، وَمِنْ فِتْنَةِ الْمَحْيَا وَالْمَمَاتِ، وَمِنْ فِتْنَةِ الْمَسِيحِ الدَّجَّالِ
“O Allah! I seek refuge with you from the punishment in the grave and from the punishment of the Fire and from the afflictions of life and death, and the afflictions of Al-Masīh Ad-Dajjal (the False Messiah).”
And at the end of each prayer, the Messenger (ﷺ) commanded the believers to seek refuge with Allah from these four matters.
The Noble Scholar, Shaikh Rabee’ Ibn Hādi Al-Madkhali stated:
“We ask Allah for safety because it is feared for many people that they are not truly acquainted with the message of the Prophet. They do not know that the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) came with proof and guidance; and they do not know the meaning of the testimony, Lā-ilāha-illallāh. They found others saying it, so they just repeat it. A believer must be aware and careful, and ponder over the Book of Allah and prepare himself earnestly to answer [and say]: “Muhammad Ibn Abdullāh came to us with the clear proofs and the guidance, so we believed in him and followed him.” Meaning that this belief of ours is built upon knowledge of the guidance and clear proofs that Muhammad (ﷺ) came with. So with this, he succeeds in this severe test.” (See Quratul-‘Aynayn bi Tawdīh Ma’āni ‘Aqīdatir-Rāziyayn, p. 123)
Sharh ‘Aqeedatil-Imām Al-Mujaddid Muhammad Ibn Abdil-Wahhāb by Shaikh Sālih Al-Fawzān.
Quratul-‘Aynayn bi Tawdīh Ma’āni ‘Aqīdatir-Rāziyayn of Shaikh Rabee’ Ibn Hādi ‘Umayr Al-Madkhali.
Listen to the lecture: “Are You Truly Prepared for the Questioning in Your Grave?“