Can the dead hear?
In the name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful
In historical Islam, one of the controversial topics is whether the righteous deceased people hear or not? Let us consider the places in the Quran on which the supporters of the thesis that the righteous people can hear the living after death rely.
And do not say about those who are killed in the way of God, “They are dead.” Rather, they are alive, but you perceive [it] not. (2:154)
They believe that if the deceased on the way of God are alive, then you can appeal to them. How to understand this place? The key meaning in this moment is the statement that we do not feel! What we do not feel? That they are alive, so for us they are dead. If you do not feel that someone is alive, how can you then appeal to the dead?
Why are the deceased on the way of God considered alive? Let us turn to the following verse:
And never think of those who have been killed in the way of God as dead. Rather, they are alive with their Lord, receiving provision, Rejoicing in what God has bestowed upon them of His bounty, and they receive good tidings about those after them who have not yet joined them. (3:169-171)
The deceased on the way of God already receive a reward for their work. Bypassing the “barzah” – “isthmus”, bypassing the Court of God they receive a reward that is given only in Paradise. There is no precedent in the Quran of the connection between the inhabitants of Paradise and the inhabitants of near life. Moreover, even after the Day of Debt, when the inhabitants of Hell appeal the inhabitants of Paradise with a simple request to shed water, they are denied:
And the companions of the fire will call to the companions of the garden, “Pour upon us some water or from whatever God has provided you.”
They will say, “Indeed, God has forbidden them both to the closed ones.” (7:50)
It is asserted that the request of the righteous people more quickly reaches God, because they are less sinful, so their appeal to God is fulfilled, and an appeal of simple sinner may not be fulfilled. Let us turn to the following facts from the Quran.
In historical Islam, Muhammad is considered the best creation among people, sinless and appealing to him allows prayer to be fulfilled. In the Quran, we find the following precedent:
Ask forgiveness for them or do not ask forgiveness for them. If you should ask forgiveness for them seventy times – never will God forgive them. That is because they closed themselves from God and His messenger, and God does not guide the apostates! (9:80)
We have before us a clear example of refuse to the messenger’s appeal. It can be argued that here it is said about the enemies of God and the messenger. But after all, the motive for appealing to the prophet is precisely that the appealing person considers himself a sinner, that his prayer will not be accepted by God, but through Muhammad it will be accepted. If a person thinks of himself as a sinner, how does he know that he is not considered by God – as closed one? If he does not consider himself to be closed from the signs of God, then it is to him God appeals as follows:
And when My servants ask you concerning Me – indeed I am near. I respond to the call of the caller when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me and believe in Me that they may be guided! (2:186)
God orders to appeal to Him. If the believer rejects this prescription to appeal to God, then he becomes closed to this sign and then even if there was an appeal of Muhammad for him, it would not be accepted.
It is also claimed, justifying the appeal to the messenger and the righteous people that they are near to God. To which God Himself says:
Indeed, We have created man and know what his personality is worried about. We are closer to him than jugular vein. (50:16)
If God is closest to us, if God prescribes to appeal to him specifically, why should believers ignore these facts and do what people tell them to do?
The Quran clearly states that the dead do not hear:
Indeed, you will not make the dead hear, nor will you make the deaf hear the call when they have turned their backs retreating. (27:80)
So indeed, you will not make the dead hear, nor will you make the deaf hear the call when they turn their backs, retreating. (30:52)
And not equal are the living and the dead. Indeed, God causes to hear whom He wills, but you cannot make hear those in the graves! (35:22)
This is the law of God and the statement about the opposite – an opposition to God and His laws.
It is asserted that there is a precedent in the Quran that the dead can hear heard, based on the example of the story with Salih:
And he turned away from them and said, “O my nation, I had certainly conveyed to you the message of my Lord and advised you, but you do not like advisors!” (7:79)
It is alleged that Salih appealed to people after their death. Is it so? Let’s look at the context:
Said the eminent ones who were arrogant among his nation to those who were oppressed – to those who believed among them, “Do you actually know that Salih is sent from his Lord?”
They said, “Indeed we, in that with which he was sent, are believers.”
Said those who were arrogant, “Indeed we, from that which you have believed, are closed.”
So they hamstrung the she-camel and were insolent toward the command of their Lord and said, “O Salih, bring us what you promise us, if you should be of the messengers.” So the earthquake seized them, and they became within their home fallen prone! (7:75-78)
Obviously, not all the people violated the prescription of God and wounded the camel, namely, noble from the people. It was the aristocracy of the nation, who was punished, and the rest of the people remained alive, but they were also on the side of their aristocracy. It is to the survivors the Salih’s appeal is directed. Otherwise, what’s the point of turning away from the dead and appeal to them simultaneously?! People usually turn to someone to appeal. The same happened with Shuaib:
And he turned away from them and said, “O my nation, I had certainly conveyed to you the messages of my Lord and advised you, so how could I grieve for a closed nation?” (7:93)
Here what is reported in the previous verses:
Said the eminent ones who closed themselves among his nation, “If you should follow Shu’ayb, indeed, you would then be losers.” So the earthquake seized them, and they became within their home fallen prone! Those who denied Shu’ayb – it was as though they had never resided there. Those who denied Shu’ayb – it was they who were the losers! (7:90-92)
And in this case, it was precisely the aristocracy that was punished, and not the whole nation. Shuayb turned away from the deceased aristocracy and appealed to the remaining people. Thus, we see a vivid example of a reference to an excerpt taken from the context of a passage of the Quran and the statement of what God did not say.
Opponents also refer to the following place, arguing that God prescribed Muhammad to appeal to the messengers before him, to those who have already died:
And ask those We sent before you of Our messengers; have We made besides the Merciful deities to be worshipped? (43:45)
They argue, that here is a direct proof that the deceased messengers can hear. How to understand this? Let’s figure out who the messengers are:
God chooses from messengers from the maintainers and from the people.
Indeed, God is Hearing and Seeing! (22:75)
As we see, not only people can be the messengers, but also God’s maintainers:
And certainly did Our messengers come to Abraham with good tidings; they said, “Peace.” He said, “Peace,” and did not delay in bringing [them] a roasted calf. But when he saw their hands not reaching for it, he distrusted them and felt from them apprehension.
They said, “Fear not. We have been sent to the nation of Lut (Lot).” (11:69-70)
The maintainers said, “O Lot, indeed we are messengers of your Lord! They will never reach you. So set out with your family during a portion of the night and let not any among you look back – except your wife; indeed, she will be struck by that which strikes them. Indeed, this promise will be fulfilled for them in the morning. Is not the morning near?” (11:81)
We have clear evidence that the maintainers as well as people can act as messengers. And maintainers do not die in this life. They are present in this world and contact with messengers among people. As for Muhammad, the contact with the messenger has already been determined by God:
When God took a covenant from the prophets, “This is what I give you of the Prescription and judgement. Then there comes to you a messenger confirming what is with you. You will surely believe him and help him”, He asked, “Have you acknowledged and taken upon that My obligation?”
They said, “We have acknowledged it!”
He said, “Then bear witness, and I am with you among the witnesses.” (3:81)
What is the messenger who came to Muhammad during his lifetime? Gabriel. According to the Quran, Gabriel can appear with messengers – maintainers, as can be seen from the example of the story with Mary:
When the maintainers said, “O Maryam (Mary), indeed God gives you good tidings of a Word from Him, whose name will be the messiah, Isa (Jesus), the son of Maryam (Mary) – distinguished in this world and in the hereafter among those brought near. (3:45)
In the above passage, the maintainers-messengers appeal to Mary, consider Gabriel’s appeal to her:
And mention in the Prescription about Maryam (Mary), when she withdrew from her family to a place toward the east. And she (Mary) took, in seclusion from them, a screen. Then We sent to her Our Spirit, and he represented himself to her as a well-proportioned man.
She said, “Indeed, I seek refuge in the Most Merciful from you, if you should be fearing of God!” He said, “I am only the messenger of your Lord to give you a pure boy!” (19:16-19)
It would seem that there is a certain contradiction, in one place we see the managers’ appeal, and in another place the same is reported by the Spirit. But this is at first glance. Here is the argument that the Spirit and the managers appear together:
He sends down the maintainers, with the Spirit and His command, upon whom He wills of His servants, “Warn that there is no deity except Me! So beware of Me!” (16:2)
The maintainers and the Spirit descend therein by permission of their Lord with every command! (97:4)
The fact that the Spirit – is Gabriel is proved by the following verses:
Say, “The Pure Spirit has brought it down from your Lord in truth to make firm those who believe and as guidance and good tidings to the humble!” (16:102)
The Trustworthy Spirit has brought it down (26:193)
And thus We have suggested to you the Spirit with Our command! You did not know what is the Prescription or faith! But We have made it a light by which We guide whom We will of Our servants. And indeed, you guide to a straight path (42:52)
Here it is said about sending down of the Quran, but here’s another message:
Say, “Who was an enemy to Gabriel?
It is he who has brought the Literature (Quran) down upon your heart, by permission of God, confirming that which was before it and as guidance and good tidings for the believers.” (2:97)
We see that the Quran was sent down by Gabriel, he is the Spirit.
Let us return to the prescription to Muhammad to ask the messengers, those sent before him. If this is taken literally, Muhammad contacted with the messengers – maintainers who were sent to people before him. If it would be understood figuratively, this means referring to the previous Prescriptions.
To sum up: we were convinced that there were no precedents for the dead people to be able to hear in the Quran. Moreover, there is a direct God’s indication that they do not hear. There is no precedent that the righteous delivered a plea to God, but on the contrary, even Muhammad’s appeal may not be accepted by God if a person closed himself from God. If a person is a believer, he is prescribed to turn straight to God. The only source that allows appeals to the dead messengers and the righteous are the hadiths, but they are not a revelation of God and moreover, God decries to believe the hadith after His signs:
These are the signs of God which We recite to you in truth. Then in what story after God and His signs will they believe? (45:6)