Life is a test, for which we get the exam questions beforehand. We already know which answer will score how many marks – or at least we would have known, if we had bothered to check the grading scheme. With questions and answers already given to us, all we have to do is prepare. There isn’t any excuse for failing such a test, is there?
Yet, whenever we encounter any description of the punishment of the Hereafter, we ask: “What about Allah (swt)’s mercy?” The answer is contained in the very beginning of the Quran, where, in Surah Al-Fatihah, Allah (swt) is described as the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. He is called the Only Owner (and the Only Ruling Judge) of the Day of Recompense (i.e., the Day of Resurrection). That is – He is Merciful, but He is also Just.
The time between death and the Day of Judgement is spent in the state of Barzakh or interspace, i.e., the waiting period, which every soul spends according to its actions in life, as Prophet Muhammad (sa) said: “Verily the grave is the first stopping place for the Hereafter; so if he is saved therein, then what comes after is easier than it. And if he is not saved therefrom, then that which comes after is harder.” (At-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah and Al-Hakim)
“When a person is buried and the people go away, two angels approach the deceased and ask three questions: a) Who is your lord? b) What is your religion? and c) Who is he (the Prophet (sa))? (…) A disbeliever will express regret at not being able to answer the questions. Upon that, an angel, who is blind and deaf, is appointed to punish him – blind so that the angel does not see the punishment and feel mercy, and deaf, so that the punishment is not heard. The hammer used to punish a disbeliever is so heavy that it can reduce a mountain to dust. The disbeliever screams with pain, and every creation can hear him, except humans and Jinns.” (Abu Dawood)
“If you are made to listen to the punishment of the grave, you will stop burying your deceased.” (At-Tirmidhi)
The liar: His face is ripped open with an iron hook, from the eyes to the neck, then the mouth to the neck. (Bukhari)
The one who learnt the Quran but failed to follow it: His head will be smashed open with a rock. (Bukhari)
The ones who committed adultery: They shall be roasted in a pit of fire. (Bukhari)
The one who dealt in usury (interest): He will swim in a river of blood or boiling tar, and every time he wants to get out, a person at the bank will smash a rock into his mouth, crushing his teeth. (Bukhari)
The backbiter: They will tear their own faces and chests with copper claws. (Abu Dawood)
Those who turned away from prayer: They will crack their own heads open with stones. (From the collated Hadeeth regarding Miraj by Al-Shami and Al-Ghayti)
The slanderer: They will cut pieces of flesh off from their own bodies and eat them.(seen by the Prophet (sa) during Al-Isra journey) In all of the above, the person is healed and the punishment is repeated until the Day of Judgement.
Avoiding the Punishment of the Grave Avoid sin carefully: In Baihaqi, there is a Hadeeth, in which the Prophet (sa) said that the occupant of a grave was being tormented, because he gossiped and was not cautious about splashing drops of urine on himself. Moral: never consider any act unworthy of correction.
Make Dua to Allah (swt): The Prophet (sa) cautioned people to seek protection from the punishments of the grave. One of the duas that he (SAW) used to make quite often towards the end of his prayer was: “Oh Allah, I take refuge in You from the punishment of the grave, from the torment of the Fire, from the trial of life and death and from the evil affliction of Dajjal.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Recite Surah Al-Mulk before going to sleep: Abu Hurairah (rta) narrates that the Prophet (sa) said regarding Surah Al-Mulk: “Verily, there is a chapter in the Quran, which contains thirty verses that will intercede on behalf of its reciter, until he is forgiven.” (Al-Albani)
Do good deeds: The Prophet (sa), in a detailed Hadeeth, specified that the good deeds, i.e., your prayer, Zakat, Sadaqah, good behaviour with others, etc., form a shield against Azab. (At-Tirmidhi)