If we were to ask ourselves who the needy ones are in this world who demand our help and attention, we will have an endless list. The hungry, the poor, the orphaned children, the disabled…it goes on. As believers, it is essential that we not only remind ourselves to help and serve those who need us in this world, but also think and look beyond into the dwellers of the world that begins after death (Barzakh).
It is quite obvious why those who have passed away from this world need our help: what one sows in this world (our deeds) is what one reaps in the hereafter. One’s only asset for the next world is good deeds, but of course, the burden of one’s bad deeds also manifests itself in the form of torture and punishment. This Qur’anic verse echoes the anxiety faced by the dead: “…until when death overtakes one of them, he says: ‘My Lord, send me back.'” (23:99) Remember that death is the point of no return; if the dead are suffering from consequences of their worldly sins, there is no direct relief from it – unless something extraordinary happens: their child, parent, relative or friend decides to send a pleasant deed their way to fill them with immeasurable joy and relief!
So what is OUR duty towards the deceased believers? There are numerous traditions from the holy Infallibles that urge us to send out ‘gifts’ to the dead. For example, Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him) has said, “Surely, a dead person rejoices when he is pitied and forgiveness is sought for him, just as a living person rejoices upon receiving a gift.”
The famous supplication by the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) that we are recommended to recite during Ramadan begins with: “O Allah, instill happiness in the spirits of the inhabitants of the graves.” Before mentioning the hungry, the poor, the anguished ones, the Holy Prophet wanted to bring our attention towards the deceased ones! The Islamic concept of Du’a (supplication) is not passive, but rather demands us to delve into action if we are sincere with our prayer. Sincere recitation of this verse should lead us to perform good deeds for the dead to ‘instill happiness in their graves’.
The simplest deed one can perform for the dead is to ask forgiveness for their sins. Recitation of Sura Fatiha or Sura Yasin, charity, a two-rakat prayer in their name are all wonderful actions to perform for the dead. If we are aware of their missed prayers, fasts, etc. we should try our best to perform them on their behalf, and relieve them of their painful burden.
The dead person’s first night in the grave is the most difficult; there are specific amaal we are recommended to send out to them during that night. Salatul Wahshat, among other deeds, is a very important prayer that is promised to relieve the dead one. Sometimes it is noticed that when people experience death in the family, they become so engulfed in their grief of separation that they become unmindful of the pain their loved one is going through. During those times we must seek God’s help to overcome our emotions and do our best to provide relief to our loved one from the terrifying effects of the grave!
A greater responsibility is upon those who have relatives or family members that passed away – of course, almost about all of us fall into this category. A tradition from the Holy Prophet explains how our dead relatives communicate to us every Friday night! The Prophet said, “Every Friday night, the spirits of the dead come to the first (nearest) sky and, standing in front of their homes, cry out weeping sorrowfully: ‘O my family members! O my children! O my parents and O my near and Dear ones! Be kind to us. God will be kind to you. We have to account here for what wealth and property we had in the world and by which others are being benefited there. Please do us some favor, be it through a dirhams (coin) or bread or a cloth. God will adorn you with heavenly dress…'”
Take some time to imagine this painful call of our deceased relatives seeking our attention – I’m sure some of us will wipe off a tear or two upon realizing this! Lucky are the dead ones whose family members send them deeds to comfort them. However, what about those who left this world with no offspring or close family? We must try our very best to remember them as well while we send out good deeds to the dead.
When we’re sending out a gift to the dead ones, we should not have to imagine that we’re sending it away, but rather the reward multiplies itself also benefitting ourselves. Imam Sadiq has said, “Prayers, fasting, Hajj, charity, good deeds, and supplications reach the dead in his grave, and their reward is written for [both] the doer and the deceased.”
In his letter to Imam Hasan (peace be upon him), Imam Ali mentioned, “You should desire for others what you desire for yourself… Do good to others as you like good to be done to you.” Do we not desire that after we die, our friends and relatives should pray for relief and rewards in our graves and send out good deeds to us on a regular basis? If so, then nothing should prevent us from doing the same for other deceased believers.
Maad (The Hereafter) by Ayatollah Dastghaib Shirazi
Manifestations of the All-Merciful by Shaikh Muhammad Khalfan
Nahjul Balagha (Peak of Eloquence)