What Happens After Death in Islam?

Almost everyone is scared of death; Even those who may commit suicide in a specific mental condition. If a physician tells us that we have an unknown disease and we will only live for a few more months, we would panic and stop living our normal life (we might live better or worse).



The reason that makes most of us scared of death is that we think all the things that we have tried to gain in this life, such as our belongings, our beloveds, our success, and experiences are going to disappear after death. Or that there is still a lot for us in this world to experience, achieve and enjoy.


However, this fear of death is mostly because the other world and the life after death are quite unknown to us, but if we come to understand the afterlife, we may even become eager to fulfill our duties in this life and get ready to travel to the other world. 


Now, let’s see if it is true that we will lose everything after death and also what Islam says about death and the life after it.


Afterlife (Ma’ad); One of the Pillars of Islam

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Having faith in the afterlife (Ma’ad) is so important that it is one of the pillars of Islam. The main reason is that it is by believing in the fact that we will be resurrected after death and we will be held responsible for all of our actions, that we are careful about our manners and behaviors in this worldly life. It is mainly this idea that shapes our lifestyle and our relations with God, people, environment, etc. 


The worldly life


We usually take the earthly life very seriously, as if there is nothing more significant than our goals, actions, and relations in this world.  Although the way we live in this world is significant and it is our worldly actions that shape our lives in the hereafter, the Quran emphasizes that the real life is to come: “The life of this world is nothing but diversion and play, but the abode of the Hereafter is indeed Life (itself), had they known!” (29:64)

The Afterlife and the Stages after Death in Islam


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1. Grave

Then He made him die and buried him” (80: 21).

After we are dead and buried in a grave, our grave phase starts. But how is this phase?

It is narrated that “the grave is either a garden from heaven’s gardens or a corner of hell” [1].


The Grave Pressure


When the dead person is buried, he will not feel suffocated, but he will experience a sort of pressure that is indescribable for people in this world as if he is being squeezed to pass a needle hole. This pressure would work as a purifier for believers but unbelievers has nothing but pain and sorrow [2].


This pressure does not belong to those people who are buried, but every dead person will have this experience, even if they are dead hung or burnt into ashes. The pressure belongs to the soul, and every soul will go through the experiences of the afterlife [3].


But does everyone experience the grave pressure? It is narrated from Imam Sadiq (AS) that only very few people will be saved from going through this pressure [4].


Some of the reasons that will increase the grave pressure are backbiting, gossiping, disrespecting parents, usury, immorality, unpleasant manner towards family and friends, devastating the rights of other humans, etc. [5], while behaving based on Islamic teachings and ethics will reduce the grave pressure. 


The First Night in Grave


When the dead person is buried, his/ her soul will leave the body but will still stay close to it. So he/she can see the burial ceremony and what is going on around. When his/ her relatives leave the grave, he/she finds him/herself alone in the dark and small grave.


Here, people are divided into three groups: perfect believers, complete atheists, the middle ones. The first group will start their heavenly life right away, the second group will start their eternal life in hell, and the middle that includes the majority of people will remain in hope and fear until the Resurrection Day when their situation will be determined [6].


Questioning by Nakir and Munkar


The first and the second group will experience the grave questioning by two angels; Nakir and Munkar so that they quickly start their eternal life in heaven or hell.  But the third group will not be questioned until the Judgment Day [7].


2. Limbo (Barzakh)


It is narrated from Imam Sadiq (AS) that limbo (Barzakh) means human’s grave from the time he dies until the day he is resurrected [8]. We know that most human bodies will be destroyed after some time in the grave, but what happens to the soul?


Based on the fact that the limbo (Barzakh) is a place between this life and the other life, and that all human beings, even those who are burnt to ashes or those who are hunted and eaten by animals will experience the limbo (Barzakh), we can conclude that the life in the grave -mentioned as limbo (Barzakh) life- is not limited to the grave. So what and how is limbo (Barzakh) life?


Right after death, the human soul directly enters a new life in which he/she can feel everything. They can have pleasure and sorrow which is based on their actions and behaviors in their worldly life.



Therefore, human experiences two lives after death. One is the limbo (Barzakh) life that would end like our earthly life: “And before them is a barrier until the day they will be resurrected” (23:100), and the other is the eternal life that starts on the Day of Resurrection and people may go to eternal hell or eternal heaven based on their worldly actions [9].


3. The Day of Resurrection

“And because the Hour is bound to come, there is no doubt in it, and Allah will resurrect those who are in the graves.” (22: 7)


The Day of Resurrection does not only belong to human beings. All creatures will be resurrected on that day [10]. On the Day of Resurrection, people will be queued to be questioned about their actions and to be sent to their eternal place. This day is not like our worldly days that are 24 hours. But as stated in the Quran “He directs the command from the heaven to the earth; then it ascends toward Him in a day whose span is a thousand years by your reckoning” (32: 5). And in another verse, it is stated that: “The angels and the Spirit ascend to Him in a day whose span is fifty thousand years” (70: 4). 


Imam Sadiq (AS) was asked: “why is that in one verse Allah says that the Day of Judgment is equal to a thousand years and in another verse, it is said to be equal to fifty thousand years?” Imam (AS) answered: “On the Day of Resurrection there are fifty stops, each of them equals a thousand years of this world” [11].


It is on this day that people face their worldly actions: “The day when every soul will find present whatever good it has done; and as for the evil, it has done, it will wish there were a far distance between it and itself. Allah warns you to beware of [disobeying] Him, and Allah is most kind to [His] servants” (3: 30).


4. The Eternal Life in the Hereafter


Unlike limbo (Barzakh) in which people wait to be resurrected and transported to a new world, the afterlife, which comes after the Day of Resurrection is eternal. Unlike this world in which we have to work and gain for the next life; in the eternal heaven there is no tiredness, nor sorrow, nor pain, nor hardship; “to remain in them [forever]; they will not seek to leave it for another place” (18: 108).



So, in the afterlife, people may become eternal in heaven or hell [i]. However, not all of those who go to hell will be eternal there, as it is narrated from the Imam Sadiq (AS) that “on the Day of Resurrection, God will expand His mercy so generously that even Iblis (Satan) will be greedy to receive it [12].


Remembering Death in Islam

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The role of remembering death in improving the worldly life and therefore the life in the hereafter is very important. Imam Ali (AS) says: “when deciding to do evil actions, remember death as it destroys the pleasures and weakens the desires” [13]. But what is the most important benefit of remembering death?


Making life Meaningful

If we do not believe in another life and remember death as the end of existence, then many things in life may sound vain for us, and we may even lose our motivation to keep on having a good life. But when we believe that there is another life which is the real life, our actions in this world become more meaningful and targeted. Allah says in the Quran: “Did you suppose that We created you aimlessly and that you will not be brought back to Us?” (23: 115)


When we believe that there is no life after death, we might face many anxieties, disappointments and live an aimless life. But keeping in mind that whatever we do is being seen by God and recorded by Him, we will have more motivation to do good things, even if no one in this world cares about us.


They say, ‘There is nothing but the life of this world: we live, and we die, and nothing but time destroys us.’ But they do not have any knowledge of that, and they only make conjectures… Say, ‘It is Allah who gives you life, then He makes you die. Then He will gather you on the Day of Resurrection, in which there is no doubt. But most people do not know” (45: 24-6).


[i] Read about the concept of eternal life here: http://blog.holymoodpictures.com


[1] Allamah Majlesi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 6. Chapter Sakarat al-mawt, narration No. 19
[2] Bahmanpour, Mohammad Saeed, (2012)  Naseem- e Abadiyyat,  p. 34
[3] Shaikh Al-Sadouq, Man la yahzuruhu Al-faqih, vol. 1, p. 279
[4] Allamah Majlesi , Bihar Al-Anwar, vol. 6, p. 260
[5] Allamah Majlesi , Bihar Al-Anwar, vol. 5, p. 265
[6] Bahmanpour, Mohammad Saeed, (2012)  Naseem- e Abadiyyat,  p. 41
[7] ibid
[8] Allamah Majlesi Bihar al-anwar, vol. 6. Chapter Ahwal-e barzakh, narration No. 116
[9] Mutahhari, Murtaza, Life after death, Vol. 3, p. 504
[10] An’aam (6), Verse No. 38
[11] Allamah Majlesi Bihar al-anwar, vol. 7, p. 126
[12] Allamah Majlesi , Bihar Al-Anwar, vol. 7, p. 287
[13] Nahjul balagha, sermon No. 99