#395: The Return of the Deceased

Question:

Assalamualaikum ustaz. Is it possible for the soul of a deceased to come back to this world?

Answer:

Waalaikumussalam wrt. wbt.,

Alhamdulillah, praise and gratitude to Allah SWT for His countless blessings for us all. Praise and salutations to our beloved Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his family, companions, and all those who follow his footsteps until the Final day.

First, we present the statement of Allah SWT related to the soul:

وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الرُّوحِ ۖ قُلِ الرُّوحُ مِنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّي وَمَا أُوتِيتُم مِّنَ الْعِلْمِ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا

“And they ask you, [O Muhammad], about the soul. Say, “The soul is of the affair of my Lord. And mankind has not been given of knowledge except a little.” [1]

Imam al-Razi interpreted the verse by saying that Allah SWT wants to explain that the mind of humans is limited and they aren’t able to comprehend more regarding the soul. [2]

Imam Jalaluddin Al-Mahalli and Imam Al-Suyuti said that this verse clearly states that the matters of the soul are in the knowledge of Allah. It is better for us not to try to delve deeper into the soul. [3]

Sayyid Qutb said: When they asked Rasullullah PBUH regarding the soul, Allah SWT commanded him to answer them that the soul is a matter of Allah. Only Allah’s knowledge understands it and none knows it except Allah. [4]

Syeikh Abdul Rahman al-Sa’di Rahimahullah in his commentary, Taisir al-Karim al-Rahman said that the above verse shows us the weakness of man himself wherein certain matters, he cannot comprehend or his knowledge doesn’t reach it. Hence, Allah SWT commanded the Prophet PBUH to answer the matter of the soul by handing the matter to Allah SWT.

Thus, we try to discuss this issue according to sahih evidences and muktabar commentary by scholars about it. Hopefully, this discussion will benefit us all.

The Meaning of Soul

In the book Taj al-‘Urus, several definitions of the soul are presented. Among them are:

  • Al-Farra’ said the soul is something which with it, humans are alive. Allah SWT describes its creation but Allah also doesn’t grant us knowledge about it.
  • Abu al-Haitham said the soul is something that humans breathe with it. It flows to all parts of the body. If it is out of the body, a person will no longer breathe. [5]

We can conclude that the meaning of the soul is an unseen matter that exists in living humans and animals.

The soul is an unseen matter, a type of light that is alive and moves from a higher realm. However, its nature is different from the seen matter that can be detected by our senses, for the normal nature of matter is that it moves just like water that flows in roses, oil in olive and fire in ember.

Normal matter cannot be replaced, separated or broken, rather it gives life to the soul and all that is related to it for as long as the body is eligible to receive its light and there isn’t anything that is hindering its flow. If it is not so, then the body will die. This is the opinion chosen by al-Razi and Ibn al-Qayyim in his famous book, al-Ruh.

The soul is not a physical matter. It is related to the body as a guide and planner. This is the opinion of hujjatul Islam, Imam al-Ghazali and Abu Qasim al-Raghib al-Asfahani. [6]

Is it possible for the soul of a deceased to return to this world?

Those who have died from amongst us, their souls can never return to this world ever again. Regardless of whether they return to visit their family, for revenge, or for other actions for a living human. It doesn’t matter whether the soul is the soul of a good or evil person.

We present the evidences related to this issue as the following:

  • Al-Quran

This is based on the statement of Allah SWT:


لَعَلِّي أَعْمَلُ صَالِحًا فِيمَا تَرَكْتُ ۚ كَلَّا ۚ إِنَّهَا كَلِمَةٌ هُوَ قَائِلُهَا ۖ وَمِن وَرَائِهِم بَرْزَخٌ إِلَىٰ يَوْمِ يُبْعَثُونَ

“That I might do righteousness in that which I left behind.” No! It is only a word he is saying; and behind them is a barrier until the Day they are resurrected.” [7]

Al-Tabari narrated a narration from Mujahid (a tabi’en and student of Ibn ‘Abbas R.Anhuma) where he said that the word barzakh in the above verse is a hijab (barrier) between a dead person from returning to this world. [8]

Imam Ibn Kathir when explaining the meaning of al-Barzakh in the above verse cited several opinions, among them are:

  • Muhammad bin Ka`ab defined it as something between this world and the hereafter, not together with the people of this world who can eat and drink and not with the people of the hereafter who receive their rewards and punishments.
  • Abu Sakhr said al-barzakh is the grave, not in this world nor the hereafter. They reside in it until the day of resurrection.
  • Al-Dahhak said it is a duration between death and the day of resurrection.
  • Mujahid defined al-barzakh is a barrier for those (who died) from returning to this earth. [9]

Syeikh al-Maraghi said: “Something is spread in front of them preventing them from returning to this world until the Day of Judgement. Here, there is a final decision for them regarding returning to this world. If they aren’t able to return before the day of Judgement, surely, they wouldn’t be able to return after it forever, for certainly after everyone is resurrected, a person can no longer return to this world except to live in the hereafter forever.” [10]

Allah SWT further states:


‏ اللَّهُ يَتَوَفَّى الْأَنفُسَ حِينَ مَوْتِهَا وَالَّتِي لَمْ تَمُتْ فِي مَنَامِهَا ۖ فَيُمْسِكُ الَّتِي قَضَىٰ عَلَيْهَا الْمَوْتَ وَيُرْسِلُ الْأُخْرَىٰ إِلَىٰ أَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ

“Allah takes the souls at the time of their death, and those that do not die [He takes] during their sleep. Then He keeps those for which He has decreed death and releases the others for a specified term. Indeed, in that are signs for a people who give thought.” [11]

The above verse is also evidence that shows that the soul of a deceased can never return, moreover, Allah SWT is the One who can stop it from returning to this world. This is as narrated by Sa’id bin Jubair Rahimahullah (a tabi’en and student of Ibn ‘Abbas R.Anhuma) where he said, the souls of the deceased and living (in dreams) then Allah SWT prevented the souls of the deceased and release the souls of the living back to their body. This is also the opinion of Ibn Zaid Rahimahullah. [12]

Narrated from Ibn Abbas R.Anhuma, he explained in the commentary of the verse saying:


إِنَّ أَرْوَاحَ الْأَحْيَاءِ وَالْأَمْوَاتِ تَلْتَقِي فِي الْمَنَامِ فَتَتَعَارَفُ مَا شَاءَ اللَّهُ مِنْهَا، فَإِذَا أَرَادَ جَمِيعُهَا الرُّجُوعَ إِلَى الْأَجْسَادِ أَمْسَكَ اللَّهُ أَرْوَاحَ الْأَمْوَاتِ عِنْدَهُ، وَأَرْسَلَ أَرْوَاحَ الْأَحْيَاءِ إِلَى أَجْسَادِهَا

“Indeed, the souls of the living and deceased meet in dreams. They get to know each other in accordance with the will of Allah. When each return to their bodies, Allah keeps the souls of the deceased by His side and Allah releases the souls of the living back to their bodies.” [13]

Said bin Jubair Rahimahullah said:


إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَقْبِضُ أَرْوَاحَ الْأَمْوَاتِ إِذَا مَاتُوا، وَأَرْوَاحَ الْأَحْيَاءِ إِذَا نَامُوا، فَتَتَعَارَفُ مَا شَاءَ اللَّهُ أَنْ تَتَعَارَفَ

“Indeed, Allah keeps the souls of the deceased when they die and the souls of those who sleep. They’ll meet and get to know each other according to the will of Allah.” [14]

Imam Ibnu Qayyim al-Jauziyah stated in the verse, Allah SWT described two deaths. The major death (وفاة كبرى) and minor death (وفاة صغرى). Likewise, there are two types of souls:

  • The souls that have reached their time of death. They will be kept from returning to this world.
  • Souls that have yet to reach their death. They will be returned to their bodies until their time of death comes. (See al-Ruh, pg. 58)

Thus, according to the above evidences and explanations by scholars, it can be understood that the souls of the deceased cannot return back to the world.

  • Al-Hadith

There is a hadith narrated by al-Imam Ahmad in his Musnad, a hadith related to this. It is a hadith narrated from Jabir RA:


قَالَ لِي رَسُولُ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: ” يَا جَابِرُ، أَمَا عَلِمْتَ أَنَّ اللهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ أَحْيَا أَبَاكَ، فَقَالَ لَهُ: تَمَنَّ عَلَيَّ، فَقَالَ: أُرَدُّ إِلَى الدُّنْيَا، فَأُقْتَلُ مَرَّةً أُخْرَى، فَقَالَ: إِنِّي قَضَيْتُ، أَنَّهُمْ  إِلَيْهَا لَا يُرْجَعُونَ

“Rasullullah PBUH said: O Jabir! Did you know Allah ‘azza wa jal has resurrected your father and stated: “Ask from me.” Then your father asked: “Return me to the world of the living and let me die once again (in the jihad fi sabilillah). Then, Allah SWT replied: “I’ve decreed that they (people who died) can never return to the world.” [15]

The above hadith clearly shows that a person who died can never return to this world. This is the decree of Allah SWT.

Conclusion

After considering the evidences and opinions of scholars, here, we state that the souls of the deceased aren’t capable to return to this world, for they are in a realm called barzakh. As we have previously explained above.

Authentic and sarih evidences such as the hadith from Jabir RA becomes the deciding factor and ruling as well as interpretation of the mufassirin on the verses of al-Quran regarding this issue, which all of them show that the souls of the deceased can never return to the world of the living.

There is also an opinion that states the souls of the deceased can meet the souls of the living when they are asleep (in a dream). [16]

Wallahu a’lam.

[1] Surah al-Isra’: 85

[2] See Mafatih Al-Ghaib , 21/31

[3] See Tafsir Jalalain, pg 378

[4] See Fi Zilal al-Quran, 10/261

[5] See Taj al-‘Arus, 6/408 and Lisan al-‘Arab, 2/462

[6] See Tafsir al-Maraghi, 8/4020

[7] Surah al-Mukminun: 100

[8] See Jami’ al-Bayan ‘an Ta’wil Ay al-Quran, 19/71

[9] See Tafsir al-Quran al-`Azim, 5/494. Also see Ma’alim al-Tanzil, 5/428

[10] See Tafsir al-Maraghi, 9/4690

[11] Surah al-Zumar: 42

[12] See Jami’ al-Bayan ‘an Ta’wil Ay al-Quran, 21/298-299

[13] See Jami’ al-Bayan fi Ta’wil al-Qur’an, 21/298; al-Jami’ li Ahkam al-Quran, 15/260; Madarik al-Tanzil wa Haqa’iq al-Ta’wil, 4/56 dan Zad al-Masir by Ibn al-Jauzi 4/20

[14] See al-Jami’ li Ahkam al-Quran, 15/260

[15] Narrated by Ahmad (14881).  Syeikh Syu’aib al-Arnout’s commentary: The isnad is hasan.

[16] See al-Ruh by Ibn Qayyim al-Jauziyyah, pg. 20

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