Published on 25th May, 2004/ 5 Rabi Ul Thaany,
Situation in the Intermediate Realm
Mujtaba Musavi Lari
Artwork by Siddiqua Shahnawaz
"People are asleep, and when they die they wake
al-Sadiq said: "By God, I fear for you in the
`Amr b. Yazid then asked him:
"What is the intermediate realm?"
"The tomb in which you will stay until the day of
present existence of an intermediate realm and of separate
destinations there for the virtuous and the wicked is a
well-founded religious belief. There can be no doubt that
after death the spirits of men the only element within them
that is truly essential are transferred to the vast expanse of
the non-material world.
as the spirit appears in man's body and material form after it
has been fashioned to completion, the spirit retains its
attachment to the body as long as the body retains the
capacity for a harmonious relation with the spirit. Once this
capacity vanishes as a result of external factors so that the
union of spirit and body is sundered, the spirit separates
from the body and pursues its existence under a different
order and set of conditions.
we mean by this order is the intermediate realm, the first
stage reached by man after his migration from the world. He
pauses there in the course of his journey to the meeting with
God. He enters a realm with its own specific characteristics
and properties, remaining there until the coming of
further change then brings about the transformation of the
intermediate realm, and man enters the plain of resurrection,
the next stage in his journey toward God.
limit or boundary separating two things is called barzakh
in Arabic, which explains why the intermediate realm that
separates the temporary and evanescent life of this world from
the eternal life of the hereafter is also called barzakh.
Life there is characterized by the liberation of the spirit
from the fetters of the material body. The spirit is no longer
harassed by passion and instinct, and thanks to the absence of
time and space, the horizons of man's vision are vastly
enlarged. In just the same way that there is no question of
time or space in the world of dreams, in the intermediate
realm, too, man can observe and examine everything in a single
intermediate realm extends from now until the time of
the same connection, the Qur'an describes the state of the
martyrs after their death:
not imagine those who have been killed in God's path to be
rather they are alive and receive sustenance in the
presence of their Lord"
verse refers, of course, to willingness to defend the sanctity
of Islam and the Qur'an, to the virtue of heroically resisting
the unbelievers and atheists even to the point of attaining
martyrdom. This is the highest point the believer can reach:
the desire to sacrifice himself for the sake of his pure goals
and thereby to join the caravan of martyrs.
regards it as a great duty to guard God's religion and to
strive for the implementation of the commands of the Qur'an,
and he therefore exerts great effort to secure the security
and survival of the religion of God. Such a protector of the
true faith must necessarily begin by purifying himself and
avoiding all kinds of pollution by sin and disobedience to
God. It is only then that he may properly return his soul the
loftiest trust which he has been given to God, its true owner,
while fighting for the sake of His religion. He will then
receive the reward of life everlasting in the company of God's
has bought the properties and souls of the believers in
exchange for paradise. They are to strive in the path of God,
destroying the enemies of religion or themselves being
This is a firm promise of God, binding upon Him, contained in
the Torah, the Gospels and the Qur'an, and who is more
faithful to his promises than God?
O believers, rejoice in
this transaction, for it truly guarantees great
Qur'an also draws attention to the punishment being suffered
before the occurrence of resurrection by those bound for
has already encompassed the unbelievers"
death, the spirits of the virtuous will rejoice in liberation
from the constricting cage of this world, they will delight in
their ability to roam freely through the infinite. Life on the
earthly plane is concerned only with the limited amount of
matter that is visible on the surface of the earth. By
contrast, the spirits of the virtuous know no limitation of
space or time as they continue their upward ascent. Each in
accordance with its rank advances joyfully to its specific
station and degree, and everywhere it enjoys unhindered
access. The eyes of the blessed witness pure and
uncontaminated sources of eternal beauty in comparison with
which the beauties of this world are slight and
spirit is no longer subject to the limits imposed on it by a
weary, heavy body; it is not accompanied by the broken and
suffering countenance of old age. Nothing exists here for the
righteous servants of God except beauty, luminosity, love,
familiarity and affection, and pure, sincere friendship with
the servants and friends of God.
Qur'an promises those who have made obedience to divine
command their guiding principle in this world that they shall
enjoy the company and fellowship of God's chosen elite. The
companionship of those upon whom God has bestowed His
blessings in full measure is indeed a source of great pride
for the virtuous.
is the promise contained in the Qur'an:
who obey the commands of God and His Messenger shall be
resurrected together with, and enjoy the company of, those
upon whom God has bestowed His kindness and favour in full
measure the prophets, the sincere devotees, the martyrs and
What noble and precious companions they are!"
should be remarked, of course, that enjoying the company of
God's chosen elite does not imply equality with them in terms
of spiritual station and degree. While being in close contact
with them, the virtuous will enjoy God's favour and blessings
to an extent commensurate with their own ranks and degrees of
closeness to God. Not everyone will enjoy an equal share, in
just the same way that not everyone attains the same degree of
of the companions of Imam al-Sadiq, upon whom be peace,
relates that he once posed him the following question:
descendant of God's Messenger! When the true believer finds
himself on the threshold of death, is he grieved by the taking
of his soul?"
When the messenger of death comes to take his spirit, he is at
first distraught. But then the angel consoles him and
says: `O friend of God, do not distress yourself. I swear by the
Lord Who sent Muhammad as His Messenger that we will treat you
more kindly and gently than your father. Open your eyes and
look at us.'
the Messenger of God and the other preceptors of religion will
appear before him, and the angel entrusted with the task of
taking his soul will say to him: 'This is the Prophet and the
leaders of religion who will be your friends and companions.'
will then open his eyes partly, and hear God calling him as
soul that has found tranquillity in the protection of Muhammad
and his pure family, now return to your Lord. You have
accepted as truth the authority of the Imams, and because of
this you are now happy.
Be certain that you have also earned
thereby the pleasure of your Lord. Come now and be the
companion of My chosen elite, and take up the abode that has
been prepared for you in paradise everlasting.'
could be more desirable for the believer at that moment than
for his soul to take flight and receive all that it has been
spirits of the impure are meanwhile caught up in terrible
darkness and gloom. Overwhelmed by misery and disaster, they
mourn their lives of sin. Realizing that neither their
relatives nor the material wealth they accumulated can do
anything to deliver them, they torment themselves in their
more terrible than their fate is that of cruel, vicious and
arrogant tyrants. The sighs and laments of their oppressed
victims are like so many daggers plunged in their hearts. The spectre
of those whom they have wronged assaults them mercilessly with
constant blame and reproach, augmenting constantly the pain
and misery they suffer.
vision of these spectacles of terror is like a tormenting
flame consuming the heart of the criminal.
Qur'an depicts the catastrophic destiny of aggressive tyrants
will be brought to hellfire every morning and evening, and the
descendants of Pharaoh will be punished most severely"
will then recall vividly the repeated warnings of the prophets
and men of religion who told them of the disasters that
awaited them. They will begin to blame themselves for not
following the commands of the prophets and not heeding their
kindly advice, for had they done so, they would not have cast
themselves into perdition.
the course of the Battle of Badr, some of the leaders of
Quraysh were killed and their bodies were thrown in a pit.
After the victory of the Muslim army, the Most Noble
Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him and his family,
leaned over the edge of the pit and addressed them as follows:
have attained all that God promised us; are you now convinced
of the truth of God's promises?"
of the companions then said:
"O Messenger of God, you are talking to the dead, to
bodies that have been thrown into a pit; do they understand
anything of what you say?"
Prophet answered them: "They hear more clearly than
of the companions of the Commander of the Faithful, upon whom
be peace, said:
I left Kufa in the company of the Imam. He stopped in the
cemetery at Wadi al-Salam, standing there like someone about
to address a gathering. I remained there standing with the
Imam until I grew tired and sat down. Another long time
passed, and I grew tired of sitting. So I stood up again and
remained standing until once again I grew tired and sat down.
Finally, I arose once more, and said to the Commander of the
fear for you, seeing you standing so long; rest a little.' I
then spread out my cloak on the ground for the Imam to sit
said: `O , Habba! I am standing here engaged in
conversation with the believers.'
then asked him:
they also engage in conversation with each other?'
he said. `Once the veil is lifted you will see them gathered
in circles conversing with each other.' I said: `Are you
speaking of their bodies or their spirits?' `Their spirits,'
this narrative it can be deduced that the spirit does not
entirely sever its relations with the body. It is true that
after the death and the cutting of the link between the spirit
and the body, the spirit leaves for a different realm.
However, on account of the union that existed between them in
this world, some weak connection persists, in the form of a
certain affinity. On account of this affinity and its former
union with the body, the spirit is oriented toward the remains
of the body in way that it is not oriented to anything else.
has laid down certain instructions relating to the body after
death. The reason for them is the continuing affinity of the
spirit for the body and the trials and turmoil the spirit
encounters in the unfamiliar realm of the barzakh,
governed as it is by new principles and criteria.
the intermediate realm men encounter each other in bodily
forms specific to that realm. The pure and virtuous are
gathered together, in groups determined by their spiritual
rank and degree. The unbelievers and the evil also find
themselves in each other's company. The dealings and relations
of the pious with each other are based on familiarity,
intimacy, and pure love, and thus anticipate the states of
paradise. By contrast, the relations of the unbelievers with
each other will inevitably partake of the character of
hellfire; mutual enmity, disgust and envy will prevail among
is self-evident that since all things will be determined in
the intermediate realm by the particular laws and criteria
that prevail there, the companionship and conversation of the
blessed and the damned, as well as the enjoyment of divine
bounties by the former and the experience of punishment by the
latter, will also be marked by the characteristics of that
the bodies of men in the intermediate realm will in general
resemble the bodily form they had in this world, certain
differences will also be apparent, because every quality and
attribute will take on an external form commensurate with its
inner nature. Thus the spiritual light or darkness found
within individuals will become clearly visible in their faces.
b. Ishaq recounts that he asked Imam al-Sadiq, Upon whom be
"Where are the souls of the believers?" He
answered: "The spirits of the believers are lodged in
paradise, where they are given to eat and to drink. They see
and visit each other, and they say, `O Lord, bring about
resurrection so that what You have promised us may be
next asked: "Where are the spirits of the
"Their place is in the fire, where they are compelled
to eat the food of the fire and to drink its drink. They see
each other and meet each other and they say, `O God, do not
bring about resurrection lest that which You promised us be
Basir relates that the question of the spirits of the
believers and the God fearing was once being discussed in the
presence of Imam al-Sadiq, upon whom be peace. The Imam said:
"The spirits of the believers meet each other." I
asked: "Do they indeed meet each other?" He replied:
"Yes, and they talk to each other and recognize each
other; when you see someone there, you will say, `This is
living in the intermediate realm can even establish contact
with the material world and its inhabitants. By virtue of the
inner capacities they developed and the deeds they performed
while still in the world, they can acquire information of a
general kind about their relatives and friends to the degree
that is permitted by the special circumstances of the
situation of people in the intermediate realm naturally
differs from one person to the next. In a sense, everyone
there has his own world, the nature of which is determined by
the conduct he exhibited in this world; not all the dwellers
in the intermediate realm can communicate uniformly with this
world and its people. The degree to which an individual may
have awareness of the material world and communicate with it
depends on the spiritual rank and degree of development he has
who worship and fear God have, therefore, better and more
extensive capacity for gaining awareness of the material
world. Within the limits set by the particular circumstances
of the intermediate realm and depending on God's permission,
they can be present wherever they wish, simply through willing
it and turning themselves in the proper direction. As for the
errant and sinful, their communication with the world serves
simply to increase their regret and torment.
al-Sadiq, upon whom be peace, says:
believer visits his dear ones and relatives, and he sees what
he loves, while whatever he dislikes is concealed from him.
The unbeliever also visits his dear ones and relatives, but he
sees what he hates and dislikes, while whatever he loves is
concealed from him.
the believers are those for whom Friday is a day of visiting,
and there also those the balance of whose deeds permits them
to see them."
relates that he asked the Commander of the Faithful, upon whom
be peace, whether the dead are able to visit their relatives.
He answered that they are, whereupon the questioner
and how often?" He answered: "Every week,
every month, or every year, depending of spiritual rank and
Qur'an speaks in the following terms of the constant torment
and punishment that are administered to the evil and corrupt
in the intermediate realm:
are brought to the fire every morning and evening, and the
descendants of the Pharaoh shall be brought forth on the day
of resurrection with the severest torment"
is obvious that this verse must refer to the intermediate
realm, not to resurrection, for after resurrection there will
be neither morning nor evening.
Qur'an similarly says of the blessed:
shall be brought to them every morning and evening"
verse also contains mention of morning and evening, the
reference being probably to the morning and evening of the
intermediate realm which follow upon the morning and evening
of this world. It cannot refer to paradise, because the Qur'an
(in paradise) they shall not see the sun nor experience severe
people of paradise shall have on that day a better abode and
the fairest of places for repose"
the second of these two verses, the word maqil which we
have translated as "place of repose" is of
particular interest because it refers to a nap taken before
noon. It is true that sleep in the intermediate realm cannot
resemble exactly sleep in this world, but it is nonetheless
different from what will prevail after resurrection, namely
eternal wakefulness. This is indeed one reason why
people are described as qiyam "awake" or "alert"
on the day of resurrection.
degree of life possessed by those in the intermediate realm
is, in some sense, fuller than the life of this world, which
may be what is suggested by this tradition:
"People are asleep, and when they die they wake
refers to the fact that when a person goes to sleep, his
senses and perceptions are weakened; he can almost be said to
be half-alive. When he awakens, he regains a full measure of
life. Likewise, the degree of life man enjoys in this world is
less than which awaits him in the intermediate realm; when he
is transferred to that realm, his degree of life is enhanced.
we are asleep we witness a world in which we do not imagine
that we are asleep. This particular state is only a part of
the total scheme of our life, the totality being represented
by our waking state, and indeed, as soon as we wake up, we
realize that our state while asleep represented only a part of
our life, not the whole.
being the case, why should our present life not be like a
period spent asleep in relation to the hereafter? Our firm
belief that our present life in this world is equivalent to
life as such is just like the supposition of the sleeper.
we wake up, we say that we understand we were sleeping and
dreaming; whatever we experienced had no reality. By this we
mean that our sleep was only part of the greater reality which
is constituted by our waking state, for sleep is in itself a
reality. Likewise, the life of this world is real in and of
itself, but compared with the more expansive life that awaits
us, it counts as a dream."
the intermediate realm, the spirits of men pursue their lives
according to the different degrees of consciousness that their
belief and awareness have made possible for them. Since life
there is not subject to the laws of matter, following instead
its own particular criteria, its conditions must naturally be
different from those of our present life. However, since man's
perceptions are much sharpened in the intermediate realm, the
spiritual torment and pleasure which he undergoes there escape
our present powers of description.
fruit of man's deeds becomes tangible for him in the
intermediate realm. Those who have never had the good fortune
of doing good deeds wish to return to the world to make up for
The Qur'an says:
in the path of God a part of the sustenance We have bestowed
on you, before death overtakes you. Then the sinner will say,
O Lord, if You were to grant me a respite and postpone my
death a little,
I would certainly do good and become one of
for the righteous and pious, they will joyously exclaim in the
that our relatives and kin knew how God has forgiven us and
bestowed mercy and favour upon us"
of the characteristics of the intermediate realm is that both
its pleasures and torments are temporary, being brought to an
end when resurrection begins.
verses of the Qur'an refer to the state of people intermediate
between belief and unbelief i.e., those who were deprived by
various circumstances or hardships of the opportunity of
learning about Islam or investigating its truth, or were
prevented from migrating from one land to another.
is probable that such persons, if they have not committed any
crimes, will be enveloped in God's mercy and forgiveness on
the day of resurrection. In the intermediate realm, neither
will they be punished nor will they enjoy blessings; they will
simply wait for their destiny to be clarified.
disquiet they endure will be comparable to that of prisoners
whose case is still under investigation and whose future is
who have wronged themselves in this world will be asked by the
angels when they die what they have done. They will say, `We
were weak and oppressed and unable to move.' Then the angels
`Was God's earth not wide enough for you to travel
in it (so that you might hasten from the land of ignorance to
that of faith and knowledge) ?' The abode of These evildoers
shall be hellfire; how evil and terrible an abode!
from this shall be those men, women and children who were
indeed unable to act or to move; they could not flee and they
had no path of escape.
It may be that God will forgive and
show mercy to them, for He is Merciful and
verse clearly relates to the intermediate realm, because after
resurrection the status and destiny of everyone is made clear.
reality, then, the intermediate realm represents a small
portion of the reward or punishment that man will receive
after resurrection; it is like a window through which one can
glimpse the ultimate outcome of his affair.
are numerous traditions concerning the state of the God fearing
in the intermediate realm. They state clearly that although
the God fearing do not yet enter paradise, a gate to paradise
is opened before them permitting them to glimpse the abode
that awaits them and feel the pleasant breezes that blow
the great Russian author, writes:
God, it is You alone Who can open a door on the world of mercy
to Your servant who lies buried beneath the ground.Out
of all these bones lying here, gradually rotting,
to a king, and which to a beggar?
Which belong to a judge, and
which to a soldier?
Which belong to a pious man who has bought
heaven for himself, and which to a sinner, who has been driven
away from the kingdom of heaven?
Whatever we see is darkness,
visions and ghosts
O God, it is only at the threshold of Your
throne, only in Your heavens that we may find a path leading
to tranquillity and salvation.
the day that nothing remains of our earthly form except a
pitiful handful of dust and all the brilliance of our life has
been buried in the black earth, it is You alone Who can open a
door on the world of mercy to Your servant who lies buried
beneath the ground."
first reality that presents itself to man the moment he dies
and embarks on a new life is the voiding of all the customs,
conventions and norms that governed his worldly life. All
outward causation and instrumentality will come to an end, and
man will enter a realm that is utterly empty of all the varied
phenomena found in this world. All the aims and pursuits he
has followed throughout his life will turn into a mirage.
you were to see catastrophic misery of the oppressors when
they are caught in the throes of death! The angels lift their
powerful hands to seize their souls, telling them: `Give up
now your souls. Today you shall suffer torment and humiliation
because you spoke lyingly of God and refused in arrogance to
accept His signs.' Certainly, you will return to Us, one by
one, as We first created you. You will leave behind all
property and wealth We bestowed on you (this being the cause
of your arrogance), and all the intermediaries and
intercessors you thought you had shall be destroyed and
separated from you."
you speak truly when you say there is no resurrection, why is
it that when you stand at the bedside of the dying, as their
souls rise in their throats, at a time when We are closer to
them than you are (although you do not realize this) Why is it
that then, if everything is indeed in your hands or the hands
of nature, you do not return their souls to their bodies? If
the one who dies is among those who have drawn nigh to God,
their place is in eternal rest and repose. If he is from among
the Companions of the Right, then give glad tidings that he is
safe. If he is from among the deniers and misguided, then his
share shall be the boiling water and his abode shall be the
hellfire. All of this is truth, concerning which there is no
on the part of the verse that refers to "those who have
drawn nigh to God," Imam al-Sadiq, upon whom be peace,
says that it refers to the intermediate realm, while
"eternal rest and repose" refers to paradise.
al-Sadiq also said: "By God, I fear for you in the
`Amr b. Yazid then asked him:
"What is the intermediate realm?"
"The tomb in which you will stay until the day of
puts his trust in two things in this life. First, the worldly
goods of which he imagines himself to be the owner and which
he regards as the means for attaining his wishes and desires.
Second, those persons without whose help and influence he
thinks himself incapable of fulfilling his needs powerful
friends, relatives and the like. The Qur'an stresses that both
of these pass away and have no ultimate validity. Once man
finds himself on the threshold of death, he is compelled to
sever all material attachments, and with a belated realism
that is forced upon him, he understands the emptiness of
everything in which he had placed his trust.
even wishes for the impossible to return and warn his
relatives not to do anything which might plunge them into the
same whirlpool of eternal wretchedness as himself.
Most Noble Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him and his
family, is reported to have said:
spirit of the dead will cry out after death: `O family and
Take care not to be deceived by the world as it
deceived and misled me.
I accumulated wealth, making no
distinction between the licit and the illicit,
in the end
leaving it behind for others to enjoy;
all that remains for me
Take care to avoid what has befallen me.'"
al-Hadi, upon whom be peace, compared the world to a
marketplace when he said:
"The world is a market in which
some people profit and others lose."
Qur'an likewise summons men to engage in a profitable trade in
the market of this world:
believers, shall I guide you to a trade which will free you
from painful torment in the hereafter?
Believe in God and His
Messenger and struggle in God's path with your property and
of the companions of Imam al-Sadiq, upon whom be peace, said: "I
asked the Imam to counsel me.
`Make provision for
your journey, and make ready the goods that you will need on
your voyage. Take all the necessary measures yourself, and do
not instruct another after the end of your life to send on
what you need.'"
Commander of the Faithful, upon whom be peace, said:
world is a transient abode, not a permanent dwelling.
in this world are of two kinds: those who have sold
themselves, who have deviated from the path of truth and are
advancing toward perdition;
and those who have bought
who have chosen the path of salvation and
Furu' al-Kafi, Vol. III, pp. 127-128. h
2. Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. XIX, p. 346. h
3. al-Kafi , Vol. III, p. 242. h
4. al-Mahasin, p. 178. h
5. Ibid. h
6. al-Kafi, Vol. I, p.62. h
7. Ilbid., Vol. II, p. 62. h
8. Li'ali al-Akhbbar, p.396. h
9. Quoted in Bist Guftar, p. 323. h
10. Quoted in Zibatarin Shuahkarha-yi Shi'r-i Jahan, p.300.
11. Tafsir al-Qummi. h
12. al-Kafi, Vol. I, p.66. h
13. Bihuar al-Anwar, Vol. III, p. 136. h
14. Tuhaf al-'Uqul, p. 483. h
15. Mishkat al-Anwar, p. 72. h
16. Nahj al-Balagha, section 133. h