In the following verse the term “Barzakh” is mentioned.

{Until when death approaches one of them (the polytheists), he says, "My Lord! Send me back, so that I may do good in that which I have left behind!" No! It is but just a word that he speaks; and behind them is a barrier (barzakh) until the Day when they will be Resurrected.} (Quran 23:99-100)

Literally, “Barzakh” means ‘interval, gap, break, partition, bar, obstruction and isthmus’ (a relatively narrow strip of land (with water on both sides) connecting two larger land areas).

The following images give us a clear illustration of what the Barzakh actually is.


The technical meaning of barzakh with respect to the hereafter refers to the transitional stage between one’s life in this world and the eternal life in the next. Therefore, the “Barzakh” is a transitional stage between two stages, just like the isthmus – which is a narrow strip of land that forms a transition between two larger areas of land that are separated by water. We can also liken this transitional period to waiting in the train station, where we are forced to a halt before continuing on to our destination. Just as the passengers waiting in a train station know where they are heading, so to do the people in al-Barzakh know where their ultimate destination concludes. This transitional period will come to an end when the Hour (as-Saa’ah) begins, after which the people will be raised from their graves and will witness the scenes of the Day of Judgment. Even if a person’s corpse was not buried in the grave and instead the body was destroyed – for example through being burned or eaten by wild animals - they will still be in this transitional stage of al-Barzakh.

In al-Barzakh the deceased is granted some faculties, although these will be different in scope and capacity from the abilities enjoyed by humans in this life. They will be limited in a way that Allah Wills. For example, when the deceased is buried they can hear the footsteps of those who walk away from their graves after the burial. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said,

"When a human being is laid in his grave and his companions return, and he even hears their footsteps…” (Saheeh al-Bukhaari).

Therefore, at the time of burial the believer is aware of the comforting presence of the righteous people around his grave for a period equal to the time taken to sacrifice a camel and distribute its meat. ‘Amr Ibn al-‘Aas (may Allah be pleased with him) said,

“When you bury me, stay around my grave for the time it would take to sacrifice a camel and distribute its meat, so that I may be comforted by your presence until I see how I will answer the Messenger of my Lord (i.e. the angels)” (Saheeh Muslim).

As Muslims we must wholeheartedly believe in this, even if scientifically it has been proven that when a person dies all of their senses of reason cease to function, including the ability to hear. Nonetheless, we believe, as Allah (the Almighty) has described Himself:

{To Allâh belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth and All that is therein, and He is Able to do All things.} (Al-Maa’idah (5), 120)

Truly, he has All-Ability and is the All-Powerful; therefore, He can do what He wishes and as He wishes, even if our feeble and limited intellect cannot comprehend it.


At this point, in al-Barzakh, Allah (the Almighty) will give the dead body the ability to hear and understand; this offers us a lesson if we are willing to learn. This lesson is that there will come a time when the very people who cared about us will leave us behind. Indeed, there will come a time when no-one will be able to help us except Allah. Those who called upon others (intercessors either living or dead) besides Allah for help will not be able to seek their help after death, even if they were a Prophet, a Pious Saint or a Friend of Allah (Walliyy). If only man would listen to Allah’s command:

{… so invoke not anyone along with Allâh.} (Surah al-Jinn (72): 18)

Let’s make a solemn promise to ourselves that we will only call upon the One and Only True Lord alone, who is the One above the Heavens; the One who hears the cry of even the ants within the darkness of the night.

Delights or hellish terrors

doorparadisehellThe life in al-Barzakh will either be filled with delights or it will be full of Hellish terrors, anguish, pain and horror. The very grave that only a few moments ago may have seemed like a mere dark excavation in the ground will either now be one of the gardens of Paradise or one of the ditches of Hell. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said,

“When any one of you dies, he is shown his place morning and evening. If he is one of the people of Paradise then he is one of the people of Paradise, and if he is one of the people of Hell then he is one of the people of Hell”. (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, Bid’ al-Khalq, 3001; Muslim, al-Jannah wa sifat na’eemihaa, 2866).

It was narrated from ‘Aa’ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her) that a Jewish woman entered upon her and mentioned the torment of the grave, saying to her, “May Allaah protect you from the torment of the grave!” ‘Aa’ishah asked the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) about the torment of the grave and he said,

“Yes, the torment of the grave.”

‘Aa’ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her) said:

“I never saw the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) pray any prayer after that but he sought refuge with Allaah from the torment of the grave.” (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, al-Janaa’iz, 1283; Muslim, al-Kusoof, 903).

An example of the torment of the grave can be found in the Qur’aan, when Allah (Almighty) said about Pharaoh’s people:

{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 Fir'aun's (Pharaoh) people to enter the severest torment!"} (Al-Mu’min (40):46)

Let’s turn to the learned Companion, Ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) for the explanation of this verse. He said,

“The souls of the people of Pharaoh and those of their like among the disbelievers are shown the Fire morning and evening, and they are told, ‘This is your abode.’”

Imaam Ibn Katheer (rahimahullah), the famous commentator of the Qur’aan said:

“This verse is the main basis of the Sunni’s belief in the torment of al-Barzakh (which occurs) in the grave.” (Tafseer Ibn Katheer, 4/82)

Al-Qurtubi said some of the scholars quoted (the following) as evidence to prove the torment of the grave, the phrase: “The Fire, they are exposed to it, morning and afternoon.” (Al-Mu’min, 40:46).

A similar view was expressed by Mujaahid, ‘Ikrimah, Muqaatil and Muhammad ibn Ka’b, all of whom said that this verse is proof of the torment of the grave. (Tafseer al-Qurtubi, 15/319)

These verses and Prophetic Narrations indicate that the torment of the grave is real and that it is ongoing in the case of some people. Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (rahimahullah) said in this regard:

“If a person is a disbeliever (we seek refuge with Allaah), then there is no way that the delight will ever reach him, and his torment will be continuous. If a person was a sinner but he was a believer, then his torment in the grave will be commensurate with his sin, and perhaps the punishment for his sin will take less time than the time in al-Barzakh between his death and the onset of the Hour, in which case it will cease.” (al-Sharh al-Mumti’, vol. 3, p. 253).

For some, the punishment in the grave will not be continuous and it may stop all together. Imaam Ibn al-Qayyim (rahimahullah) said:

“…the punishment in the grave is of two types:

1. A type which is continuous, apart from what has been narrated in some Prophetic Narrations which say that it will be reduced during the period between the two blasts of the Trumpet, and then when they are raised from their graves, when they will say:

“Woe to us! Who has raised us up from our place of sleep.” (Surah Yaa-Seen [36]:52).

Further evidence that this punishment will be continuous is seen in the (following) verse (interpretation of the meaning):

“The Fire, they are exposed to it, morning and afternoon” (Al-Mu’min (40):46)

The following Prophetic Narrations indicate this, that although the punishment can be lessened, nevertheless it will still be continuous.

The hadeeth of Samurah which was narrated by al-Bukhaari, about the dream in which the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) saw what was being done to a person who was being punished in the grave until the Day of Resurrection.

The hadeeth of Ibn ‘Abbaas about the story of the two palm branches, where the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) prayed that the punishment (of the people in the two graves) would be reduced as long as the palm branches did not dry out. So the lessening of the punishment was connected only to the period of time that the branches remained fresh.

The hadeeth of Abu Hurayrah, when he [the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him)] came to some people whose heads were being smashed with rocks and every time they were smashed they were then restored and they have no respite from that.

The story in as-Saheeh of the man who put on two garments and strutted about in an arrogant manner, so Allaah caused the earth to swallow him up, and he will remain sinking down into it until the Day of Resurrection.

The hadeeth of al-Baraa’ ibn ‘Aazib (narrated by Ahmad) about the story of the disbeliever for whom a door to Hell will be opened (in his grave) and he will look upon his place in Hell until the Hour comes. In some versions it was said that that a hole will be made in his grave and he will feel its distress and smoke until the Resurrection.

2. The second kind, which will last for a while and then stop.

This is the punishment of some sinners whose sins are not so great. They will be punished in accordance with their sins, then the punishment will be reduced, just as they will be punished in the fire then the punishment will end.

The punishment may be stopped by du’aa’, charity, seeking forgiveness or the reward of Hajj – this may reach the deceased from some of his relatives or others.” (ar-Rooh, p. 89).


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