Where Does The Spirit (Soul) Go After Death?
Following death, each person’s spirit is taken to God’s Presence. If it led a good, virtuous life and became refined, the angels charged with taking it to His Presence wrap it in a piece of satin and take it, through the heavens and all inner dimensions of existence, until they reach His Presence.
Along the way, angels at all stations welcome it and ask: “Whose spirit is this? How beautiful it is!” The angels conveying it introduce it with the most beautiful titles it acquired in the world: “This is the spirit of that one who (for example) prayed, fasted, gave alms and bore all kinds of hardship for God’s sake.” Finally, God Almighty welcomes it and then orders the angels: “Take this back to the grave where its body is buried, so that it can answer the questions of Munkar and Nakir, the interrogating angels.”
The spirit of a wicked person is treated with disdain everywhere it passes, and is thrown back to the grave after being presented to God’s Presence.
Whatever evil happens in the world is due to our own sins. If sincere believers cannot always resist the temptation to sin, out of His Mercy God allows some misfortunes to strike them so that they may be purified thereby. God may also subject them to severe death agonies in order to forgive some of their sins or to promote them to higher (spiritual) ranks. In any case, their spirits are taken very gently. If there are still some sins that need to be forgiven, the believers will suffer some sort of punishment in the grave and then be freed from Hell’s punishment. In addition, since the grave is the first station toward eternal life, where everyone will receive what they have earned, it is also the place of preliminary interrogation. While in their graves, everyone will be questioned by two angels about their worldly deeds. And almost everyone, except the Prophets, will undergo some suffering.
As is recorded in reliable books, ‘Abbas (the Prophet’s uncle) wanted to see ‘Umar in a dream. However, he only saw him 6 months later. When ‘Abbas asked ‘Umar where he had been, the latter replied: “Don’t ask! I’ve only just now finished accounting (for my life).”
Sa’d ibn Mu’adh was one of the greatest Companions. When he died, Gabriel told the Messenger: “The Divine Throne trembled because of Sa’d’s death.” Innumerable angels took part in his funeral. After his burial, the Messenger spoke in amazement: “Glory to God! What (will happen to others) if the grave squeezes even Sa’d?”
In the grave, everyone is questioned by the angels Munkar and Nakir, who ask such questions as: Who is your Lord? Who is your Prophet? What is your religion? Believers can answer these questions with great ease; unbelievers cannot. These questions are followed by others dealing with the person’s life.
The relation between the spirit and its body differs according to the worlds in which they live. In this world, the spirit is confined within the body. If the evil-commanding self and bodily desires dominate the spirit, the spirith will deteriorate and doom the person. But if the spirit can discipline the evil-commanding self through belief, worship and good conduct, and free itself from servitude to bodily desires, it is refined and acquires purity and laudable qualities. This will bring happiness to the spirit in both worlds.
After burial, the spirit waith in the intermediate world, the world between this one and the Hereafter. Although the body decomposes into the ground, its essential particles do not rot. According to a hadith, this is the coccyx (ajb al-dhanab) We do not know whether this term refers to a person’s genes. But regardless of part it is, the spirit will use it to maintain its relation with the body. This part will also serve as a foundation upon which God will re-create us on the Day of Judgment. God will make the elements of this foundation conducive to eternal life while destroying and re-creating the world and resurrecting us on the Day of Resurrection.
What does the spirit do in the intermediate world? The intermediate world is the realm where the spirit feels the “breath” of the bliss of Paradise or the punishment of Hell. Those who led virtuous lives will be met by their good deeds (e.g., prayers, recitations, charity, etc.) in the form of amiable companions. Windows will be opened so that they can see heavenly scenes. And, as stated in a hadith, the grave will be like one of Paradise’s gardens. However, even these people will suffer some punishment if they have some unforgiven sins, for such punishment will purify them of all sins and make them worthy of Paradise after the Resurrection.
Unbelievers will be met by their If unbelief and evil deeds, which will assume the forms of bad companions and such vermin as scorpions and snakes. They will be shown scenes of Hell and will experience the grave as one of Hell’s pits.
Do some bodily parts or cells remain alive after death? While we live in this world, it is our spirits that suffers pain and feel joy and happiness. The spirit seems to feel pain through the nervous system, and uses this system to communicate with all bodily parts. Just how it does this remains a mystery to science, as does the type of interaction going on between the spirit and the body, especially the brain. Any bodily failure that results in death terminates the functioning of the nervous system. However, scientists have established that certain cells brain continue to live for a while after death. Scientists have studied the post-death signals received from the brain. If they can decipher such signals, such fields as criminology will benefit greatly when it comes to solving “unsolvable” crimes.
The following verses, which tell us how God revived a dead purson during the time of Moses, suggests this:
When Moses said to his people: “God commands you to sacrifice a cow” … they sacrificed her, a thing they had scarcely done. And when you killed a living soul, and disputed thereon, God disclosed what you were hiding so We said: “Smite him with part of it.” Even so He brings to life the dead, and He shows you His signs, that haply you may have understanding. (2:67, 72–73)
Torments of the grave and Hell. Given the above understanding of the spirit, and the fact that it will remain in contact with the body’s essentials particles while in the intermediate world, it is meaningless to discuss whether the spirit, the body, or both will suffer in the grave. However, as pointed out above, God will rebuild people on the Day of the Resurrection from or with those essential bodily particles, and they will be resurrected on the “morning” of the eternal life.
Since the spirit lives the worldly life together with the body and shares all its joys and griefs, God will resurrect people both bodily and spiritually. The Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama’a agree that the spirit and the body will go to either Paradise or Hell together. God will build bodies in forms peculiar to the Hereafter, where everything will be alive:
This life of the world is but a pastime and a game. Lo! the home of the Hereafter, that is life if they but knew. (29:64)
What gifts we can send to the spirit after death? The spirits in the intermediate world will see and hear us, provided God allows this. He may even permit some saintly people to see, hear, and communicate with them.
After we die, our record of deeds is not closed. If we leave behind good, virtuous children, books, or institutions from which people continue to benefit, or if we have brought up people beneficial to humanity or contributed to their upbringing, our reward will continue to increase. If, we leave behind only evil things, our sins will continue to increase as long as they harm others.
So, if we want to benefit our loved ones who have gone to the other world, we should be good heirs. We should help the poor, take part in Islamic services, and lead a good and virtuous life, and spend what they left us to promote Islam and help those who need some help, whether Muslim or non-Muslim. All of these activities will cause their reward to increase.
By M. Fethullah Gulen