Islam teaches that the grave is a frightening place, and not only because it is a visible expression of the inevitability of death. Long before they stand before God on the day of judgment, the dead face interrogation by two angels named Munkar and Nakir. If they answer incorrectly, the grave itself becomes a place of torment where they must suffer before being sentenced to eternal fire.
The Muslim Afterlife
The Quran teaches that human beings will receive their ultimate reward on the day of the last judgment, with the righteous going to paradise and the wicked consigned to eternal fire. However, what happens between a person's death and judgment day is somewhat less clear. Chapter 23, verse 100 of the Quran states that there is a barrier, or barzakh, that will obstruct the dead until the resurrection at the last day, and as "The Encyclopaedia of Islam" observes, this has given rise to the doctrine that the barzakh is itself an intermediate state where the dead will first be judged.
The Two Angels
As the "The Encyclopaedia of Islam" explains, the first or preliminary judgment is carried out by two angels named Munkar and Nakir. In the person's grave, the angels question the deceased as to their God, their religion, the Prophet and the basis of their actions. Emory University lecturer Rkia Elaroui Cornell, in her essay on Muslim death and burial for "Voices of Islam," states the mantra of correct answers taught to prepare Muslims for facing Munkar and Nakir: "Allah is my Lord, the Qur’an is my Book, Muhammad is my Prophet, and Islam is my Religion.’’
Reward and Punishment
As a reward for answering these questions property, the angels widen the believer's grave and provide a vision of paradise as the believer rests in bliss before the day of judgment. Unbelievers, however, experience the torment of the grave. In response to their confusion at being unable to answer the questions correctly, the angels Munkar and Nakir subject the unbeliever to horrific punishment, such as being struck with a hammer, bitten by snakes, crushed by a tightened grave and shown the fire that awaits them on the last day.
African scholar of Islam Allamah Sayyid Sa'eed Akhtar Rizvi observes that Munkar and Nakir do not interrogate all of the deceased. For example, children, the mentally impaired and other lacking the capacity to choose between right and wrong are not subject to questioning or punishment, but instead continue in deep sleep until the final judgment. Moreover, a believer can avoid the interrogation process if the talqin al-mayyit, or instruction to the dead, is recited over the grave after burial. The talqin reminds the deceased of his or belief in Allah, Muhammad, Islam and the Quran. If properly recited, the talqin is accepted by the angels as proof of the believer's faith.
- The Encyclopedia of Islam; Juan E. Campo, ed.
- The Encyclopaedia of the Quran; Jane D. McAuliffe, ed.
- The Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition; Clifford Edmund Bosworth, ed.
- Voices of Islam, volume 3; Vincent J. Cornell and Virginia Gray Henry-Blakemore, eds.
- Islam Question and Answer: Three Questions in the Grave
- Ilm Gate: The Interrogation of Munkar and Nakir
- Day of Judgement; Allamah Sayyid Sa'eed Akhtar Rizvi
- Sunnah.org: Etiquette of Funerals
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