Barzakh or Purgatory
A thing which lies between two other things as a barrier and separates them is called barzakh.
The Qur’an has used this word to indicate the life between death and the Resurrection.
The Qur’an says: “Until, when death comes to one of them, he says: My Lord, send me back, so that I may do some good I did not do (in the world). But nay! These are mere words which he utters and behind them is a barzakh until the day of their Resurrection.” (Surah al Mu’minun 23:100)
This is the only verse that calls the interval between death and resurrection the barzakh.
The Muslim scholars have borrowed this word from here and named the world between death and resurrection the barzakh.
About the continuity of life after death this verse says only that men after their death repent and request their return to the world, but their request is turned down. This verse shows specifically that man after his death has a sort of life. That is why he asks for being sent back to the earthly world, although his request is not accepted.
There are many verses which indicate that man during the period, between his death and Resurrection is endowed with a sort of life in which he speaks, has feelings of pleasure and pain and can enjoy a sort of happy life. On the whole, there are about 15 verses in the Qur’an which in some way or other speak of a life process, from which it may be gathered that between the period of death and Resurrection man enjoys a full-fledged life. These verses may be divided into several categories.
(i) There are verses which quote some conversations between the righteous or the wicked men on the one hand and the angels on the other. These conversations took place immediately after death.
Such verses are many. We have already cited the verse 97 of the surah an-Nisa’ and the verse 100 of the surah al-Mu’minun.
(ii) There are some other verses according to which the angels talk to the righteous and tell them to enjoy the bounties of Allah from that time onward. They do not keep them waiting for the Day of Resurrection. The following two verses contain this point:
“They will be received by the angels of mercy with the greetings: Peace be on you! Enter the Garden as a reward for your good deeds.” (Surah an-Nahl, 16 : 32)
It was said to him (after his death): Enter paradise. He said: “Would that my people knew that my Lord had pardoned me and made me of the honoured ones.” (Surah Yasin, 36:26 – 27)
In the verses preceding to this verse a conversation of this believer with his people was quoted. He called upon his people to follow the Prophets who invited them towards monotheism in Antioch (Antakiyah). He announced his faith and asked others to listen to him and follow his example. But his people did not listen to him till he died, and went to the other world. When he saw that he was pardoned by Allah and honoured by Him he wished that his people who were still in the mundane world knew how happy he was in the other world. Evidently all this happened before Resurrection for after Resurrection none would be left on the earth.
Incidentally it may be noted that for the righteous after their death there are several paradises, not one single paradise. In the next world they vary according to degree of their inmates’ proximity to Allah. In addition to these paradises, there are some other paradises, as reported by the chosen descendants of the Holy Prophet which relate to the world of Barzakh, not to the Day of Judgement. Hence the paradise mentioned in the above quoted two verses should not give the wrong impression that it relates to the Day of Judgement.
(iii) The third group of verses do not report any conversation between the angels and the men. They only describe the happy life of the righteous and the miserable life of the wicked during the period between death and Resurrection. The following two verses belong to this category:
(ii) “A dreadful doom encompassed Firawn’s folk. They will be exposed to the Fire mornings and evenings and on the Day of Resurrection it will be said: People of Firawn’s folk suffer the most awful doom.” (Surah al-Mu’nim, 40:45-46)
Interpreting this verse Imam Ali has said that the first punishment is meted out in the Barzakh where the same system of morning, evening, year and month prevails as in this world. In contrast, the second punishment relates to the post-Resurrection world where there is no morning, evening, week, month or year.
In the reports which have come down to us from the Holy Prophet, Imam Ali and other Imams in respect of the Barzakh, much stress has been laid on the life of the believers and the sinners during their stay in the Barzakh.
During the Battle of Badr a number of the Prominent leaders of Quraysh were killed. When fighting was over, the Holy Prophet ordered their bodies to be thrown into a well near Badr. Then the Holy Prophet himself went to that well, and putting his head inside the well and addressing the dead said: “We have found that what Allah had promised to us has come true. Have you also got what He had promised to you?”
Some companions of the Holy Prophet said: “Prophet of Allah, do you talk with those who have been slain and are dead? Do they hear what you say?” The Holy Prophet said: “Now they hear better than you.”
From this tradition and other similar traditions we can see that in spite of the separation between the body and the soul with death, the soul does not totally sever its relation with the body with which it was united for years.
On the 10th Muharram Imam Husayn offered his morning prayers in congregation. Then he turned to his companions and delivered a short speech in which he said: “Be calm and patient for a little while. Death is nothing but a bridge by means of which you cross from the bank of pain and grief to the bank of happiness, honour and vast paradise.”
There is a tradition which says that people are asleep. As soon as they die, they wake up. That means that the degree of life after death is higher than that before death. During sleep man’s consciousness becomes weak. It is a state between life and death. When man is awake his life is more perfect. Similarly his life in the Barzakh is to some extent more perfect than that in this world.
There are two points worth mentioning here:
(i) According to the reports from the Imams, in the Barzakh man is interrogated about his faith and belief only. Other questions are left to the Day of Resurrection.
(ii) The meritorious deeds performed by his relatives with the intention that their reward should go to the dead person, make the dead person happy and are to his advantage. If alms and charities whether in the form of endowments or otherwise, are given with the intention that their reward should go to one’s departed father, mother, friend, teacher or anyone else, these charities may be regarded as a gift to the deceased person concerned. They make him blissful. The same is the case with the invocation, asking for Allah’s forgiveness, circumambulation of the Ka’bah and the pilgrimage to Makkah and other Holy place if performed on behalf of a dead person. It is possible for the children who have displeased their parents during their lifetime to do something to please them after their death. The other way round is also possible.