Before taking up Traditions concerning life after death it will be advisable to keep a few fundamental points in view. It will be easier then to understand the import of the Traditions and the doubts that are so common in this regard, in the modern materialistic times, will not arise.
(i) The special function of the Divine Apostles [for which they are raised up] is to tell us about the truths we cannot know on our own, though it is essential to have knowledge of them. They are beyond the reach of our intellects.
(ii) A unique source of authentic knowledge for the Apostles, which is not available to the common people, is Divine revelation. It is by this means that the holy Prophets obtain knowledge of things we cannot become aware of through our own eyes, ears or understanding in the same way as anyone possessing a telescope can see remote objects that are not visible to others.
(iii) To believe in anyone as an Apostle and to accept him as such means the unequivocal acknowledgement of the truth that whatever he tells about things we do not know or cannot see ourselves is from the knowledge vouchsafed to him by God and that every word of it is true. There is no question of doubting the genuineness and accuracy of what the Apostle teaches or reveals.
(iv) The Apostles never tell anything that is opposed to reason. It is a different matter that our intellectual faculties may not be capable of understanding independently the principles and doctrine expounded by them. It could, of course, not be otherwise because if the Prophets were merely to teach the truths we could ourselves perceive through study and observation their raising up would have no meaning.
(v) There is nothing in what the Apostles have told about life after death, i.e. Barzakh [the state of the grave] and Futurity that may not be logically feasible. It does, however, contain certain truths, which we cannot know ourselves and since a similitude of these things does not exist in the material world we, naturally, fail to comprehend them the way we do the visible objects that surround us here.
(vi) The range and strength of the natural means of knowledge and perception that have been granted to us, like the eyes, ears, nose and intellect is very limited. Our everyday experience is that with the aid of modern scientific instruments we can come to know of things that could not be imagined in the past. For example, the microbes present in water or blood can today, be seen through the microscope, we can hear the voice coming from thousands of miles over the wireless, and with the help of knowledge derived from books the human mind can reflect to a much greater extent than what it could on the basis of information acquired through the physical faculties like hearing and seeing. It shows that to reject a truth simply on the ground that we do not see, hear or understand it today is patently wrong and erroneous. As the Quran tells: And of knowledge ye have been vouchsafed but little. (xvii : 85)
(vii) Man is made up of two things: the body which is visible and the soul which, though it cannot be seen, is accepted by everyone as a reality. Moreover, the relation between them in this world is such that whatever condition of pain or pleasure, suffering or happiness, comes to pass here happens primarily to the body and the soul is affected by it only secondarily. Thus, when a person is hurt or gets burnt by fire, the injury or burn is related directly to the body but his soul also feels the agony of it. Similarly, the pleasures of eating and drinking appertain to the body but the soul, too, participates in them.
In the material world, therefore, body is the main thing and the soul, so to speak, is subservient to it. But if we bestow some thought on what the Quran and the Traditions tell about the Hereafter, we will realise that it will be the other way round in the life to come. In the future existence, all the good and bad things will happen directly to the soul and the body will be affected by them simply in the second place. God has created a likeness of it in the present world as well [probably in order to make it easier for us to appreciate this essential fact]. It is the dream. Everyone who is mentally normal often sees in his life dreams which give him intense pain or pleasure. But the pain or pleasure in the dream is, in fact, related to the soul and the body is affected only indirectly by it. For instance, when a person dreams that he is eating a delicious food, he does not see that he is doing so with his soul or imagination but with the mouth with which he usually eats in the waking state. Likewise, when he dreams that someone is beating him, he does not see that it is his soul which is being beaten but the body and his body feels the hurt in the same way as it does in the waking hours though whatever happens in the dream is to the soul and the body is affected only secondarily. Occasionally, the body feels the effects of the strokes or blows so strongly that marks of injury are actually found on it when one wakes up.
Anyhow, the nature of whatever one sees in a good or bad dream is that it happens directly to the soul and its effect is felt by the body only in the second place. That is why, even a person lying next to him who dreams does not see any sign of what he is passing through physically, the reason being that we, in this world, can observe only such states as are related directly to our physical self. In the same manner, the nature of what is going to happen to virtuous or wicked people during the state of Barzakh [a few details of which are given in the sayings of the Prophet we will now discuss] is that it will directly befall the soul and the body will feel its effect in the indirect way.
It is hoped that after knowing the difference between the present world and Barzakh the trivial doubts and questions will not arise which are typical to the skeptical or unintelligent people about the Traditions pertaining to the interrogation of the dead and the reward and punishment of the grave.