Barzakh is the time period between the death in this world and the time of resurrection on the Day of Judgment. We do not know what goes on during this period. We can however learn from various verses in The Quran and sayings of the Holy Prophet about this period. For example Allah (SWT) says in Surah Al-Anam # 93
If you could see how the disbelievers are being tortured when they face death while the angels spread their hands towards them and remove their souls. Angels say to them, “You will be punished today because you used to say about Allah (SWT) what was not true. You used to be arrogant towards the Message of Allah(SWT).”
It is clear from this verse that people may be punished at the time of their death.
Similarly Allah (SWT) says in Surah Al-Anfal # 50, 51
If you can see how the angels receive the disbelievers at the time of death hitting their faces and backs saying, “Taste the punishment of burning.” This is because of their deeds in the past. Allah (SWT) is definitely not cruel with his creatures in any way.
It is clear from these two verses that we can not see what goes on at that time. Even Prophet Mohammad (SAS) could not see when the angels were punishing disbelievers in the Battle of Badr. These unseen events are described to us by the mercy of Allah (SWT) for our guidance. Further more the scholars explain the above phrase “taste the punishment of burning” that the angels hit the disbelievers with hot metallic rods on their faces and backs.
Allah (SWT) describes the drowning of people of Pharaoh in Surah Nuh # 25
They were drowned because of their sins and hence they entered the fire. They did not find for themselves any helper other than Allah (SWT).
Here it is more clear that the people of Pharaoh were thrown in fire as soon as they were drowned in water indicating that there is the punishment right at the time of death. It is interesting to note that punishment of fire is mentioned along with drowning in water. Imam Razi says that this is a very strong proof of punishment in Barzakh and grave. He points out that the letter ‘fa’ is used indicating that the punishment of fire was immediately after the drowning. This is not referring to the punishment on the Day of Judgment.
Allah (SWT) says in Surah Ghafir # 45,46
So Allah saved him from the evils that they plotted (against him), while an evil torment encompassed Pharaoh’s people. The fire, they are exposed to it, morning and afternoon. And one the Day when the Hour will be established (it will be said to the angles): Cause Pharaoh’s people to enter the severest torment!
This verse again proves that there is punishment in the grave for the disbelievers in addition to the punishment to come on the day of judgment.
Abudullah bin Masood (RU) explains this verse stating that the spirits of the Pharaoh’s people are brought in the forms of black birds every morning and evening towards hell. They are told that this is their final abode. Allah (SWT) says in sura Al Takathur # 1, 2, 3, 4
People love to have more and more of the worldly things till they reach their graves. Soon they will come to know about it. Again, soon they will come to know about it.
Here there is a repetition of a phrase ‘soon you will come to know about it.’ The explanation of this is given by Caliph Ali as narrated by Zir bin Hubaish (RU). The first phrase refers to the punishment in the grave and the second is pointing towards the Day of Judgment.
Finally, Allah (SWT) says in the Quran
Allah says that whoever will forget me, I shall make his life miserable and make him rise as a blind person on the Day of Judgment.
Ibn Masood (RU) and Abu Sayeed Khudri (RU) said that the meaning of this miserable life means punishment in the grave. Similarly, Abu Hurairah (RU) narrates that Prophet Mohammad (SAS) said that the meaning of the above phrase in this verse is that the Allah (SWT) will send 99 snakes in the grave of the disbeliever. These snakes will keep on plucking his flesh till the Day of Judgment.
What happens to the spirit of a person after death? As narrated by Abu Hurairah (RU), Prophet Mohammad (SAS) said, “When the spirit of a believer leaves the body, it is taken towards the sky by two angels. The angels say a pious spirit has come from the earth. May Allah (SWT) bless you and the body which you used to reside in. The spirit is then presented to Allah (SWT). Allah (SWT) says, “Place this spirit in Sid ra tul Muntaha till the Day of Judgment.”
When the spirit of a disbeliever leaves the body, the angels say that a bad spirit has come from the earth. Angels curse it and its bad smell spreads all over. Allah (SWT) orders the angels to place the spirit in Siggeen. Hence Siggeen is the location where spirits and deeds of disbelievers will be kept.
The Holy Prophet (SAS) placed his clothes on his nose to describe the bad smell of the spirit of a disbeliever. (Muslim)
There are several Hadith which further explain the period in the grave.
Anas narrates that Prophet Mohammad (SAS) said, when a person is placed in the grave after his death, and when his family members and friends leave the grave, the dead person can hear the steps of the leaving crowd. Two angels come to the person in the grave. The angels make the person sit up and ask him the following questions: “What do you know about that person Mohammad (SAS)?” The true believer says, “I stand witness that he is an obedient servant of Allah (SWT) and true messenger of Allah (SWT).” The angels say to him, “If you had not believed, your place would have been in Hell. View it now. Allah (SWT) has replaced it with a paradise and view it now also.” Similarly, angels will ask the hypocrites and the disbelievers, “What do you know about that person Mohammad (SAS)?” The disbeliever says, “I do not know any thing. I used to say what the people said.” Angels will say to him, “Neither did you try to recognize him nor did you ever follow the believers”. Angels will beat him with iron rods. He will cry so much that everything in the universe except jinn and the human being will hear his crying.
(Bukhari and Muslim)
Asma bin Abu Bakr (RU) narrates that one day Prophet Mohammad (SAS) addressed the people and described the punishment in the grave. When he mentioned this, all the believers started crying loudly. It created a scene of a large hue and cry. (Bukhari)
Ibn Abbas (RU) narrates that Prophet Mohammad (SAS) recited the following dua just like verses of Quran.
“O Allah (SWT), I seek your protection and help from the punishment of Hell, punishment of grave and tests of life and death and tests pertaining to Dajjal.” (Muslim)
Prophet Mohammad (SAS) said: recitation of Surah Al-Mulk on regular basis will save a person from the punishment of the grave. (Tirmidhi)
I pray to Allah (SWT) and seek His refuge and help to save me and the readers and listeners of this brief article from the punishment of Hell and the punishment of grave and tests pertaining to Dajjal. Ameen.