Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111 CE):
The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife , from The Revival of the Religious
Sciences (Ihya `ulum al-din)
Al-Ghazali : The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife
(Kitab dhikr al-mawt wa-ma ba'dahu) ISBN: 0 946621 13 6 (Islamic Texts Society)
Book XL of The Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya `ulum al-din) translated with an
introduction and notes by T.J.Winter
[Introduction by the modern fan of al-Ghazali who put it on the net]
The following is a section from the above book, the book is an remarkable piece of
work on eschatology by probably the greatest scholar of Islam, Imam Hujjat al-Islam (The
Proof of Islam) Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111). The Imam was a theologian, logician,
jurist and mystic, was born and died at the town of Tus in Central Asia, but spent much of
his life lecturing in Baghdad or leading the life of a wandering dervish. His most
celebrated work, of which this is the culminating section, exercised a profound influence
on Muslim intellectual history by exploring the mystical significance of the practices and
beliefs of Islamic orthodoxy, and earned him the title of "Hujjat al-Islam", the
"Proof of Islam".
Many people consider the Imam to be the fulfilment of the hadith found in Bukhari:
6.420: Narrated Abu Huraira:
While we were sitting with the Prophet Surat Al-Jumu'a was revealed to him, and when
the Verse, "And He (Allah) has sent him (Muhammad) also to other (Muslims).....'
(62.3) was recited by the Prophet, I said, "Who are they, O Allah's Apostle?"
The Prophet did not reply till I repeated my question thrice. At that time, Salman
Al-Farisi was with us. So Allah's Apostle put his hand on Salman, saying, "If Faith
were at (the place of) Ath-Thuraiya (Pleiades, the highest star), even then some men or
man from these people (i.e. Salman's folk) would attain it."
Anyone who is aquainted with the work of the Imam would unhestitatingly agree with this
statement, as Imam Ghazali deals primarily with issues of faith (Aqid`ah) as well as other
Islamic issues and is of Persian descent. Imam Nawawi has said that "if all the books
of Islam were lost, the Ihya would suffice them all", such is the depth and detail of
this remarkable work.
The translation is a masterful one by T.J.Winter (`Abdal-Hakim Murad), who is a
historian and a teacher of Arabic. Currently the book is out of print but will be made
available again soon, insha'Allah, I consider this a must for every Muslim and I am
currently making a second reading of this gem. Those who have read it relate that the book
brings about much awareness of the brevity and fragility of life in this world and
contemplation of the life in the next. Although the book deals with a subject that brings
about much fear, it is not a morbid or pessimistic discourse and so it leaves the reader
full of hope instead of fear, such is the style of Imam al-Ghazali (RahimuAllah).
May Allah (SWT) enable other sections from Ihya 'ulum al-Din available in English as we
are in much need of classical, orthodox and quality literature.
An exposition of the grave's discourse to the dead, and of their utterances, either
on the tongue of common speech, or that of the Spiritual State (lisan al-hal) (from
Now, the tongue of the Spiritual State (lisan al-hal) is even more eloquent in
communicating with the dead than that of the speech when communicating with the living.
The Emissary of God (May God bless him and grant him peace) said, 'When the dead man is
laid in his grave it speaks to him, saying, "Woe betide you, O son of Adam! What
distracted you from contemplating me? Did you not know that I am the house of trial, the
house of darkness, the house of solitude and the house of worms? What distracted you from
me? You used to pass me by, strutting on!" Now if he had worked well, then someone
will reply to the grave on his behalf, saying, "Do you not see that it was his
practice to enjoin the good and forbid the evil?" And the grave replies, "Then
for him shall I turn to verdure [a condition of freshness or healthy growth.], and his
body shall become radiance, and his spirit shall soar up to God (Exhalted is He!)".'
(According to the narrator, 'strutting' [faddad] is to take large strides.) [Ref: al-Hakim
al-Tirmidhi, 161; Abu Nu`aym, VI. 90; Abu Ya'la, al-Musnad (Haytami, Majma', III. 45-46)]
Said `Ubaid bin `Umayr al-Laythi 'Not a single man dies without being called by the pit
in which he is buried, which declares, "I am the house of gloom, and of loneliness
and solitude! If you were obedient to God during your lifetime then today I shall be a
source of mercy for you, but if you were rebellious then I am an act of vengence against
you. The obedient who enter me shll come forth joyful, while the rebellious who enter me
shall emerge in ruin".' Said Muhammad ibn Sabih 'I have heard that if a man is laid
in his tomb to be tormented or afflicted by something which is odious to him, his dead
neighbours call out to him, saying, "O you who leave your bretheren and neighbours
behind you in the world! Was there never a lesson for you in us? Was there no clue for you
in our preceding you? Did you not see how our actions were servered from us while you
still had some respite? Why did you not achieve that which passed your bretheren by?"
Then the regions of the earth call out to him, saying, "O you who were beguiled by
the outer aspect of the world! Did you not take heed from your relatives who had vanished
into the earth's interior? Those who were beguiled by the world before you and then met
their fate, and entered into their graves? You watched them being borne aloft [To the
cemetary], availed nothing by those they loved, and taken to the abode which they could
Said Yazid al-Ruqashi 'I have heard it said that when the deceased is set in his tomb
his works amass around him and are given to speak by God, so that they say, "O
bondsman, alone in his pit! Your family and friends are now separated from you, so that
today we are your sole companions".'
Said Ka'b [al-Ahbar], 'When the righteous bondsman is laid in his tomb he is suurounded
by his righteous acts, such as his prayer, his fasting, his pilgrimage, his engagement in
the Holy War, and the charity he used to distribute. Then the Angels of Chastisement
approach him from the direction of his feet, but are told by Prayer, "Get back from
him, you have no authority over him, for upon those [feet] he stood in me at length for
the sake of God". Then they approach him from the direction of his head, but Fasting
says, "You have no authority over him, for in the world's abode he thirsted at length
for the sake of God". Next they draw near to him from the direction of his trunk, but
Pilgrimage and Holy War say, "Get back from him for he exhausted himself and wearied
his body when he accomplished the Pilgrimage and the Holy War for the sake of God; no
authority do you have over him". Then they approach him from the direction of his
hands, but Charity says, "Back! Retreat from my master, for how many an act of
charity issued from those two hands to fall in to the hand of God (Exalted is He!), while
he acted only for His sake; no authority, do you have over him". Then he shall be
told, "Rejoice! Good you have been in life and in death!" Next, the Angels of
Mercy come, and spread a heavenly cloth and resting-place out for him, and his grave is
widened around him for as far as the eye can see. A candle is brought from Heaven, and
from it he has light until God resurrects him from his grave.'
Said `Abd Allah ibn `Ubayd ibn `Umayr at a funeral, 'I have heard it said that the
Emissary of God (may God bless him and grant him peace) once declared, "The dead man
sits up and hears the footsteps of those that are present at his funeral, but none
addresses him save his tomb, which says, 'Woe betide you, O son of Adam! Did you not fear
me and my narrowness, and my corruption, terror and worms? What have you prepared for
[Ibn al-Mubarak, (riwaya Nu`aym ibn Hammad), 41; Ibn Abi'l-Dunya, K. al-Qubur (Zabidi,
x.397; Suyuti, Sharh, 114).
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(c)Paul Halsall Jan 1996