Maulana Wahiduddin Khan I Concept of Hereafter
Prophet Mohammad initially forbade his followers to visit graves. The Muslims had only recently shaken off the pre-Islamic customs of idol-worship and, if they had gone to graves, old customs might have found new expression in undue veneration at gravesides. The real purpose in visiting graves might have been lost on them. When the Prophet finally lifted the prohibition, he defined in clear terms exactly why they should do so: “Visit graves”, he said, “For they remind one of death.” (Musnad Ahmad, Hadith No. 1236,1237)
Just as visiting graveyards is meant to remind one that this is the destination of every person, so the act of burial in Islam is designed to remind the living that each one of them will one day be undergoing the same process. For this purpose, the death ceremony has been made a live, poignant event, one which those who are living will be able to relate to themselves, one which will make them realize that the very same thing can, and will, happen to them.
First the dead body is washed, then covered in a shroud. The funeral prayer is then recited over it, and it is carried on people’s shoulders to the place of burial, where with deference it is laid to rest.
Why has Islam taught one to treat the dead with such respect? Is it not true that the body is no more than dust after death? Why is it not treated as such, and disposed of without ceremony? Why is it handled as if it were a live, sensate being, and not as the dead, insensate body that it is? These questions can only be answered when one realizes the purpose behind all Islamic injunctions related to death: they are meant as a lesson to the living. It is not for the sake of the dead that they are treated with such respect; it is for the sake of the living. The dead are treated as if they were alive so that the living can see themselves in the position of those who have passed away; so that they can experience death before it comes.
The same thing could be done with a human effigy; but when performed with a real human being, it becomes a lesson of real importance to others. Here is a person who was alive like any of us. Suddenly his feet halted in their stride, his tongue froze into silence, his vision faded into darkness; the worth attached to a live human being was attached to him no more. The same will happen to every living person. The climax of the event is when one places earth on the grave. One does this three times. “From the earth we have created you,” one says the first time; “And to the earth We will restore you,” as one places earth a second time; and finally, “And from it We will bring back to life” (The Quran, 20:55). So ends a life. The person concerned is no more, but the event is a very real one. Thus, the living are shown what they are in reality, and where they are bound.