Normally, a human body would gradually decompose after being put in the grave for quite some time. This is a fact that nobody can disagree with because according to scientific studies, the human corpse begins to decompose after being buried in the ground for seven days.
However, by Allah’s Will and Might, there are also corpses that do not decay even though they have been buried in the graves for dozens, hundreds or even thousands of years.
In one genuine incident, from the people of Madinah it was related that during the rule of Khalifah Al-Walid bin Abdul Malik, one shocking incident occurred unexpectedly when one of the walls retaining the grave of Rasulullah (peace be upon him) caved in.
A lot of people were shocked in this incident when they saw a pair of legs coming out from one of the areas in the burial site. They were worried if they were the legs of Rasulullah (peace be upon him).
Sa’id bin Al-Musayyib immediately came forward and narrated a Hadith which mentions that the bodies of the Prophets are not allowed by Allah (swt) to remain in the grave for more than 40 days since the day of the burial, they were raised by Allah (swt) thereafter.
Then, Salim bin Abdillah bin Umar bin Khattab arrived and informed the crowd that the legs belonged to his grandfather, 'Umar bin Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him).
Based on the abovementioned incident, it is evident that the bodies of Allah’s beloved, the Prophets or Messengers would not rot away in the grave. This is a fact that nobody can deny because Rasulullah (peace be upon him) had himself explained in a sahih hadith:
“Increase your ‘Selawaat’ upon me on Fridays because your selawaat would be reported to me,”
They (the companions) asked, “How can our ‘Selawaat’ be reported to you when your body would already be decomposed?”
Rasulullah (peace be upon him) answered, “Verily Allah ('azza wa jall) has made forbidden the earth (from the consumption of) the bodies of the Prophets - may Allah’s prayer be upon them.” [Sunan Abi Dawood]
At the same time, in Sahih Al-Bukhari, it was mentioned that ‘Amr bin Jamuh and Abdullah bin ‘Amir, both from the Ansar, had been buried in one grave during the Battle of Uhud, and when once the area was hit by a big flood due to very heavy rains, their grave was washed away by the current. The people of Madinah were forced to take the grave apart in order to relocate it to a safer place and the moment their grave was taken apart, the people discovered that the conditions of their corpses did not change at all, as though they had only died the day before. In actual fact, when they were digging up the grave for the relocation, it had already been 46 years since the corpses were buried in the grave, ie. since the Battle of Uhud.
By chance, one of them was found to have died from a severe wound. When he died his hand was placed over the wound and he was buried in that position. When the grave was taken apart, the people found that his corpse was still in that same position. Some of the people who were present tried to reposition the hand but to no avail, it still went back to its original position.
Al-Qurtubi believed that the non-decomposing state of the corpses of the Shuhadaa is the same whether they are the Shuhaada from the Ummah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) or the Shuhadaa from the previous Umam (Nations). This opinion was based on a Hadith narrated by At-Tirmidhi, which specifically mentioned the story of As-haabul-Ukhdud which mentioned:
A heroic youth who was persevering and determined in defending the truth of his religion had died as a Shaheed, killed by the king of his time. His corpse was buried in a state in which his hands were covering his temple. When he was dug out from the grave during the rule of Khalifah Umar bin al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him), they found that his corpse was still intact and that his hands were in the same position as what had been described. Whereas, the event of the Ukhdood took place hundreds of years earlier, namely in the era of Fitrah (the era of no Messengers), which took place in the period between Prophet Jesus (Isa) ('alayhis-salaam) and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Meanwhile, in Sahih Muslim it is mentioned that Muslim historians had reported that when Mu’awiyah ruled, he was planning for a water channel to be built in Madinah. In order for this development to be achieved, the channel had to be routed through the middle of the Madinah cemetery. Therefore, he ordered the remains of the dead in the graves to be transferred to another place.
In the midst of the dismantling and relocation process, the people found that the corpses were still in their original states. When one of the shovels they used accidentally hit and slashed the leg of Hamzah bin Abdul Mutalib, blood was seen flowing from the cut. This occurred although he had died in the Battle of Uhud about 50 years before this incident.
The same occurred when Jabir bin Abdullah wanted to dig out the remains of his father 'Abdullah, who had become Shaheed in the Battle of Uhud, so as to relocate him to another place. The corpse of Abdillah was found to be in a state as if he was only buried the day before.
In fact, there are so many narrations to be mentioned about the undying state of the corpses of those who died as Shaheed. Nevertheless, based on the narrations, it is evident that the bodies of the Shuhadaa also do not rot away (consumed by the earth). In fact, the scholars have clarified that their condition is like that of a living body, as they are provided sustenance accordingly.
The same subject has been clearly mentiond by the Qur’an: “Think not of those who are slain in Allah's way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord;” [Qur’an 3:169]
According to the scholars, other than the groups mentioned above, the corpse of a Muadh-dhin (a person who calls out the Adhaan), who did his job sincerely for Allah (swt) and not out of a craving for any payment, cannot be consumed by the earth as well.
This fact is based on a Marfoo' (Traceable) Hadith which mentions: “A Muadh-dhin who is muhtasib (hoping for rewards from Allah), is like a person whose blood is flowing in the veins, and if he dies his body will not be eaten by the worms in his grave.” Meaning, his corpse will not rot away.
Other than that, those who memorize the Qur’an are also given this special favor by Allah (swt), when their bodies wont decay under the earth when they die. It has been clearly explained by Rasulullah (peace be upon him) in a hadeeth narrated by Ibn Maajah from Jaabir ibn 'Abdillah (may Allah be pleased with him) which says: “When a memorizer of the Qur’an dies, Allah will reveal to the earth: ‘Do not eat away his flesh.’ So the earth will reply, ‘O my Lord, how can I eat away his flesh, when Your words are inside him.’”
According to Mustafa Abi Uula, what is meant by 'the memorizer of the Qur’an' is not simply a memorizer, but one who also practices the contents of the Qur'aan.
On the contrary, for the people who are not in the groups mentioned above, their corpses will naturally decompose after they have been buried in the earth for quite some time. The decomposition process of the human corpse itself is in line with the condition the corpses go through inside the grave, where it lacks air and in which the temperature is very warm.
According to the scholars, by the Will and Might of Allah (swt), there is a part in the human body which will not be consumed by the earth. That part is called “'Ajbuz-Zanab” (a tiny bone like a mustard seed, located at the end of the joint between the waist bone and the thigh bone). It is the seed from which the sons of Adam will be resurrected from the grave on the Day of Judgement. This fact is based on the Hadith of Rasulullah (peace be upon him) narrated by Muslim and Ibnu Maajah which says: “There is no quarter of the human body which is not destroyed except something which is called ‘Ajbuz-Zanab. It is from it that his recreation will commence on the Day of Judgement.”
In another narration it has been mentioned: “It is from it that he was created and it is also from it that he will be recreated on the Day of Judgement.”
These are the differences between the four groups who are given the special favor by Allah (swt) and the rest of mankind. Logically, the non-decomposition state of these corpses, which belong to these four groups, cannot be accepted by the human mind. However by Allah’s will, all this is not impossible, in fact it will and does happen.
Nevertheless as ordinary human beings, we do still have the chance to join these caravans and enjoy this special favor given by Allah (swt). He is the Just, the Merciful and the Compassionate. The privilege of having non-decaying bodies in the grave, which also symbolizes the honor of being granted Paradise, is not exclusively given to the Prophets and Messengers only, but also to specific and special human beings. With the condition that it is the individual himself who must choose it and strive for it. Allah (swt) has provided the ways for us and we can undertake them if we wish to enjoy this privilege.
Rasulullah (saws) said in a Hadith: “A group of my Ummah will fight for the truth until near the Day of Judgment… when Jesus, the son of Mary, will descend, and the leader of them will ask him to lead the prayer, but Jesus will decline saying: "No, Verily, among you Allah has made leaders for others and He has bestowed his bounty upon them." [Sahih Muslim]
When we have chosen for ourselves the group we want to follow, our corpses will not be eaten away by the earth as well, Allah Williing, and in the hereafter we will also be amongst the groups who dwell in Paradise. Aameen.
Then, what seemed strange to us before will not seem strange to us anymore, even though it is still strange to other people especially the non-Muslims and those who claime to be Muslims but are not practicing the pure and shumul (comprehensive) teachings of Islam. May Allah protect us from being amongst the groups who have gone astray and those who have gained His wrath! Aameen.