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Even though there is a slight khilaaf in the matter from certain scholars throughout the Islamic ages, There is an overwhelming evidence and majority who view the following about the dead hearing or even doing other than that

The Faculty of hearing of the Dead

Taken from Mysteries of the Soul Expounded by Abu Bilal Mustafah al-Kanadi

One often wonders about the soul's faculties in the barzakh (the stage between death and the Resurrection). Can it hear? Can it see? Does it have knowledge of certain things going on in the world? In order to answer these and other questions, one must carefully scrutinize the quality of the evidence presented in support of certain claims made by scholars in this field.

THE DECEASED'S FACULTY OF HEARING

It is a common concept among some scholars[1] and others that the dead in their graves have the ability of hearing a visitor's greeting, his supplication, talk, etc.. Such a concept is unfounded, for it has no proof from clear texts of the divine shari'ah. In fact, it is in open contradiction to the unchallengeable texts of the Quran and the authentic traditions of the Prophet (saws) which deny the possibility of the dead possessing this faculty.

PROOF FROM THE QUR'AN AND THE SUNNAH NEGATING IT

There are two unequivocal texts from the Qur'an which deny the possibility of the dead in their graves possessing the faculty of hearing. Allah, the Blessed and Exalted, states :

"Verily you cannot make the dead hear and you can not make the deaf hear the call when they turn their backs and retreat." [Surah an-Naml 27:80]

"The living and the dead are not alike. Allah makes whoever he wishes hear, but you cannot make those in the graves hear." [Surah Fatir 35:22]

In the first verse Allah addresses His messenger, Muhamad (saws), reminding him that he cannot make the disbelievers hear the invitation to Islam, for they are like the dead, who do not hear either. In the second verse Allah points to the difference between the living and the dead - they are not all alike. He further clarifies to His prophet that he cannot make the rejectors of faith hear the message (for they are dead in heart and in spirit) any more than he can make those in the graves hear what is spoken to them![2]

Just as the Qur'an denies the possibility of the deceased possessing the faculty of hearing, there are a number of texts in the sunnah which arrive at the same conclusion. One such hadith follows:

Ibn Mas'ud reported that the Prophet (saws) said: "Allah has angels who travel about the earth; they [do and will] convey to me the peace greeting from my ummah." [Authentically reported by Abu Dawud]

This hadith clarifies that the Prophet (saws) does not hear the greetings of peace from Muslims when they pronounce it upon him, for if he could hear it directly, there would be no need of angels to convey it to him. Therefore, it follows that the Prophet (saws) cannot hear other forms of conversation directed to him either;[3] and it stands even more to reason that the deceased, being lesser than the Prophet (saws), also cannot hear the salam (greeting of peace) or any other form of speech.[4] Thus contrary to a popular misconception, because the Messenger (saws) cannot directly hear either one's invocation of blessings[5] or one's salam addressed to him, such greetings may be conveyed to him from anywhere, regardless of the distance or proximity of the greeter to the Prophet's grave. The erroneous belief that the Prophet (saws) hears these greetings directly disregards the previous hadith whcih specifies that the greetings are conveyed to him by the angels, and it is based on a forged tradition whose text follows:

It has been narrated that the Prophet (saws) said: "Whoever asks blessings for me at my grave, I hear him, and whoever asks blessings upon me from afar, it is conveyed to me." [This tradition was mentioned by al-'Uqayli in his book, adh-Dhu'afa and by al-Khateeb, Ibn 'Asakir, et. al., and they all agreed that it is a forged (mawdhu') hadith. See al-Albani's al-Ahadith adh-Dha'eefah, vol.1, hadith no.203]

ALLEGED EVIDENCE AND ITS REFUTATION

In order to refute the allegations which claim that the deceased in the grave possess the faculty of hearing, it is essential to analyze them and discover the means by which such allegations are dependent upon weak and forged traditions and/or due to erroneous interpretattions of various texts.

There are a number of authentic narrations relating the Prophet's address to the corpses of the mushrikeen (polytheists) of Quraysh who were slain by the believers in the Battle of Badr and then thrown into a dried well. The following two examples suffice for the purpose of the present discussion:

Abu Talhah reported: "On the day of the Battle of Badr, Allah's Prophet (saws) ordered that the bodies of twenty-four leaders of the Quraysh be thrown into one of the foul, abandoned wells of Badr. On the third day after the battle the Prophet called for his mount and saddled it. Then he set out, so his companions followed him. They said amongst themselves, "He must be going to something important." When the Prophet (saws) arrived at the well[6], he stood at its edge and began addressing those therein by calling upon them by their names, "O so and so, son of so and so; and you, so and so, son of so and so! Would it not have been easier to have obeyed Allah and His Messenger? We have found that which our Lord promised us to be true[7]. Did you find what your Lord promosed you to be true?[8] Thereupon 'Umar said, "O Messenger of Allah, what are you saying to these bodies without souls?! Do they hear? For Allah, the Majestic and Mighty, says, "Verily, you cannot make the dead hear."[Surah an-Naml 27:80] The Prophet (saws) answered, "By Him in whose hand lies the soul of Muhammad, you did not hear better than them and what i just said." Qatadah[9] added: "Allah brought them back[10] to life (momentarily) in order to make them hear as a means of scorn and belittlement and [so that they would feel] regret and remorse." [Authentically related by al-Bukhari and Muslim]

In another narration of this incident there is a slight variation in the wording of the text which follows:

"Ibn 'Umar related: "The Prophet (saws) stood at the edge of a well[11] at Badr and said, "Did you find the promise of your Lord to be true?" Then he added, "Verily at this moment they hear what I am saying." Later on[12], this was mentioned to 'A'ishah[13], whereupon she commented, "What the Prophet (saws) meant was, "Now they know that what I used to tell them is the truth." Then she recited, "Verily you cannot make the dead hear,"[Surah an-Naml 27:80] up to the end of the verse."[Related authentically by al-Bukhari and others]

Some often misconstrue the texts of the two aforementioned hadiths as proof for the contention that the dead can hear. However, the following argumentation refutes such a claim. This miraculous circumstance in which the corpses of the slain Quraysh were made to hear the Prophet's address to them is a special case - an exception to the general rule that the dead do not hear.[14] By a miracle, Allah, the Almighty, made them hear the scolding from the Prophet (saws) - only for the moment he spoke to them![15] This is clearly proven by the second narration itself, for their hearing was said to be conditioned by the moment when the Prophet (saws) called out to them in scorn and rebuke. He said, "At this moment they hear what I am saying." Furthermore, in the first narration the Prophet (saws) does not deny 'Umar's sound understanding of the verse's general ruling that the does do not hear. Rather, the Prophet (saws) merely clarifies for 'Umar that what occurred at Badr was a divine miracle and, therefore, an exception to the general ruling of the verse.[16]

Another text often quoted by those who believe that the dead can hear is the following tradition:

Anas bin Malik reported that Allah's Messenger (saws) said: "After the deceased is placed in his grave and his companions[17] turn to leave, he hears the shuffling of their feet as they walk away. Then there comes to him the two angels."[Part of an authentic hadith related by al-Bukhari and Muslim]

This text is not valid evidence for the general claim that the dead can hear; rather, this tradition only specifies another exception to the general rule. In this case, the deceased hears the shuffling feet of those who attended his funeral as they walk away. This is a momentary possession of the faculty of hearing which is terminated at the point at which the two questioning angels[18] come to him[19].

From what has preceded, it is abundantly clear that the deceased generally do not have the faculty of hearing, for they are beyond the barrier (barzakh) which separates our world from theirs. This proves the gross error in the thinking of those who attempt to carry on "conversations" with the dead, or worse, petition them for certain things. Petitioning the dead is shirk, and this is indeed the greatest of all sins.


FOOTNOTES :

  1. Among those who erred in this matter are Ibn Abi-Dunya, Ibn 'Abdul-Barr, al-Qurtubi, Ibn al-Qayyim and ash-Shanqeeti.

  2. See Tafseer at-Tabari, vol.21, p.36 and al-Qurtubi's al-Jami, vol.13, p.232

  3. Thus it is absolutely foolish for one to attempt to converse with the Prophet (saws) or others at their graves. To ask them for any form of help is blatant shirk. Such is the misguidance spread by Sufis, who have gone astray.

  4. See al-Ayat al-Bayyinat of al-Alusi, p.37, Published by al-Maktabah al-Islamee [1982]

  5. In Islam, it is encouraged to invoke blessings upon the Prophet (saws) and this commonly follows the mention of his name in one form or another.

  6. Into which the bodies of the slain Quraysh had been thrown earlier.

  7. That is, that the believers would have victory over their enemy, the Quraysh. See al-Qurtubi's tafseer, al-Jami'u li Ahkam al-Qur'an, vol.7, p.370 regarding the information about Surah al-Anfal, 8:7-10.

  8. This is a reference to the Quraysh's supplication asking their Lord to bring a painful punishment upon them if what Muhammad (saws) was preaching was the truth. See Surah al-Anfal, 8:32.

  9. A famouse tabi'ee and a narrator of this hadith

  10. The slain Quraysh who bodies were in the abandoned well.

  11. The same well mentioned earlier into which the bodies of the slain Quraysh were thrown.

  12. Most likely after the Prophet's death.

  13. The beloved wife of the Prophet.

  14. See al-Alusi's Ruh al-Ma'ani, vol.6 p.455

  15. This is confirmed by many of the dependable commentators and jurists. For example, see al-ayat al-Bayyinat, pp.29, 56 and 59.

  16. See al-Ayat al-Bayyinat, pp.30-31

  17. His friends and others who attended his burial.

  18. There names are Munkar and Nakeer, and their fearful appearance has been described earlier in this treatise. <{My note: There is some disagreement amongst scholars some who say that the angels may not really be called Munkar and Nakeer for the words Munkar and Nakeer mean bad things in the Arabic language, whilst the angels are all pure.}>

  19. See al-Ayat al-bayyinat, pp.38 and 56.

The following is taken from Life in al-Barzakh by Muhammad al-Jibaly, Pgs. 72-73:

 

The Combined Report

 

Ibn ‘Umar, Abu Talhah and Anas (radee ‘Allaah ‘anhum) reported that, after the battle of Badr, the Prophet (sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) commanded his followers to cast twenty four of the most disdainful among the dead of the Quraysh into a very filthy ditch in Badr. Then, as was his practice after victory, he spent three night in the neighbourhood of the battleground. On the third day, he and his animal (riding beast) prepared for departure, and then went and stood with his companions at the verge of the ditch. He called out the dead men with their names and the names of their parents saying:

 

“O so and so, son of so and so! O so and so, son of so and so! Don’t you wish you had obeyed Allaah and His Messenger? Indeed we have found our Lord’s promises to us true; have you found your Lord’s promises true?”

 

Whereupon ‘Umar (radee Allaahu ‘anhu) and others exclaimed:

 

“Are you addressing them after having been dead for three nights, and when their bodies have no souls in them? Can they hear? Allaah says:

 

“Verily you cannot make the dead hear you”.”

 

He (sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) replied:

 

“By Him in whose hand is Muhammad’s soul, they can hear me now; and you cannot hear what I am saying better than they can! But they cannot respond!”

 

(This is a combined report from authentic ahaadeeth recorded in Saheeh al-Bukhaaree, Saheeh Muslim, Ahmed & others)

 

[End of extract…]

 

As for the above hadeeth regarding the people of the ditch of Badr, then if what you some people claim is correct (i.e. the dead can hear the living) it is in contradiction to the numerous aayaat in the Qur'aan in which Allaah says:

 

So verily, you (O Muhammad) cannot make the dead to hear (i.e. the disbelievers, etc.), nor can you make the deaf to hear the call, when they show their backs, turning away. (30:52)

 

What is the meaning of this aayah?

 

The following is from Tafsir ibn Kathir, Vol. 7, P. 563:

 

Allaah says: “Just as you are not able to make the dead hear in their graves, or to make your words reach the deaf who cannot hear and who still turn away from you, so too you cannot guide the blind to the truth and bring them back from their misguidance.” That is a matter which rests with Allaah, for by His power He can make the dead hear the voices of the living if He wills. He guides whom He wills and sends astray whom He wills, and no one but He has the power to do this. Allah says:

 

“You can make to hear only those who believe in Our aayaat, and have submitted (to Allah in Islam).” Means, those who are humble and who respond and obey. These are the ones who will listen to the truth and follow it; this is the state of the believers; the former (being deaf and blind) is the state of the disbelievers, as Allah says:

 

“It is only those who listen will respond, but as for the dead, Allah will raise them up, then to Him they will be returned.” (6:36)

 

Aa’ishah, the Mother of the faithful, may Allah be pleased with her, used this Ayah:

 

“So verily, you cannot make the dead to hear” as evidence against ‘Abdullaah bin ‘Umar when he reported that the Prophet (sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) had addressed the slain disbelievers who had been thrown into a dry well three days after the battle of Badr, rebuking and reprimanding them, until ‘Umar said: “O Messenger of Allah, are you addressing people who are dead bodies.” He (sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said:

 

“By the One in Whose Hand is my soul, you do not hear what I say any better than they do, but they cannot respond.”

 

Aa'ishah interpreted this event to mean that the Prophet (sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was making the point that now they would know that what he had been telling them was true. Qatadah said: “Allah brought them back to life for him so that they could hear what he said by way of rebuke and vengeance.”

 

[End of extract…]

 

The following is taken from Life in al-Barzakh by Muhammad al-Jibaly, Pgs. 73-75:

 

The Understanding of the Salaf

 

When this incident was mentioned to Aa’ishah (radee Allaahu ‘anhaa) she said:

 

“The Prophet (sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) only meant that now they had realised what he told them was the truth.”

 

The she recited the aayah:

 

So verily, you (O Muhammad) cannot make the dead to hear (i.e. the disbelievers, etc.), nor can you make the deaf to hear the call, when they show their backs, turning away. (30:52)

 

(Saheeh al-Bukhaaree, Ahmed & others)

 

Commenting on the hadeeth regarding the people of the ditch of Badr, Qatadah (the famous tabee’i) said:

 

“Allaah gave them life in order to hear the Prophet’s (sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam’s) words, as a reproach and scorn, and to make them feel the remorse and regret for what they did.”

 

(Saheeh al-Bukhaaree & Saheeh Muslim)

 

Ibn ‘Atiyyah (the famous scholar of hadeeth & fiqh the 6th century from Andalusia who also wrote well known book of tafsir) said:

 

“It appears that the incident of Badr constitutes a miracle for Muhammad (sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), whereupon Allaah gave them back the perception to be able to hear him. Had Allaah’s Messenger (sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) not told us of this, we would have interpreted his addressing them to carry the meaning of reproach for the living disbelievers, as well as a reassurance for the hearts of the believers.”

 

(al-Qurtubi’s Tafsir, 13:232)

 

Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalaani said:

 

“Ibn ut-Tin said, ‘There is no conflict between Ibn ‘Umar’s hadeeth (of the Ditch) and the aayah. There is no doubt that the dead cannot hear. But Allaah may enable that which does not normally hear’…”

 

(Fath-ul-Baree, 3:182)

 

The Prophet’s Approval

 

It is important to point out that the Prophet (sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) approved of the understanding of ‘Umar and others among the Sahaabah that the dead cannot hear. We should assume that these companions have previously gained this understanding from the Prophet (sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) – otherwise, they would not have hastened to object to his action of addressing the dead. And even if we assume that they were hasty in objecting without knowledge, it would then be the Prophet (sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam’s) obligation to clarify to them their misconception. However, he did not do any of that, but only indicated that those specific dead people were able to hear him at that specific time. Thus is it obvious that he (sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) approved of their general understanding in regard to this issue.

 

And Aa’ishah’s (radee Allaahu ‘anhu’s) above statement shows that she has a similar understanding to that of ‘Umar and the other companions.

 

Wrong Conclusion

 

This is important to emphasise, especially when we realise that some scholars misinterpret this incident of the Ditch. They use the Prophet’s (sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam’s) statement “You cannot hear me better than they can” as a proof that the dead always hear what goes on around them.

 

They often neglect the fact that he (sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) has approved of their (‘Umar’s, Aa’ishah’s and the other companions) understanding and did not object to it. Thus, they turn the exceptional case, which was a miracle granted to the Prophet (sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) in that situation into a general case conflicting with the clear texts of the Qur’aan.

 

[End of extract…]

 

Nor are (alike) the living (believers) and the dead (disbelievers). Verily, Allaah makes whom He will hear, but you cannot make hear those who are in graves. (35:22)

 

Verily, you cannot make the dead to hear (i.e. benefit them and similarly the disbelievers), nor can you make the deaf to hear the call, when they flee, turning their backs. (27:80)

.