The eminent Muslim scholar, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, states: “It was reported in Sahih Al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim on the authority of `Abdullah ibn `Umar that when `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) was stabbed, his daughter Hafsah cried. Hearing her crying, `Umar said, “Do you not know that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘’The deceased will be tortured (in his grave) for his relatives’ crying over him.’?”. There are other authentic versions of the same hadith, one of which was reported on the authority of Anas ibn Malik, another on the authority of Al-Mughirah, and a third on the authority of `Umar himself (may Allah be pleased with them).
The hadith’s being reported on the authority of more than one Companion of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) proves that its authenticity is beyond doubt.
The point to concentrate on now is to reflect on the meaning of the hadith and reconcile between it and the verse that states that: “That no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another” (An-Najm 38). Scholars of Hadith have been aware of the seeming contradiction between the hadith and the verse, and hence, they have presented many interpretations to solve that contradiction.
The eminent scholar Al-Hafidh ibn Hajar mentioned these interpretations in his book Fath Al-Bari. I will exhibit in the following lines the most important and convincing interpretations referred to by Ibn Hajar.
The first interpretation is that the torture referred to in the hadith is not a physical one, but, rather, a mental one that shows the pain the deceased experiences on feeling that his relatives cry and wail over him. This interpretation is based on that the deceased feels and realizes what takes place to his relatives after departing this life.
At-Tabarani, an eminent scholar, reported through a chain of transmitters of hadith on the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) a hadith to the effect that people’s deeds are shown to their deceased relatives. Though this hadith is not quite authentic, yet it is supported by another version reported on the authority of An-Nu`man ibn Bashir to its effect. Besides, it was referred to by Al-Bukhari in his Tafsir and was also regarded by Al-Hakim as authentic.
According to Al-Hafidh, this interpretation was chosen by Abu Ja`far At-Tabarani as the appropriate interpretation of the hadith. So was the viewpoint of Ibn Al-Murabit, `Iyad, and Ibn Taymiyah. Those scholars cited as evidence for this interpretation the hadith reported by Qaylah bint Makhramah in which she said to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), “O Messenger of Allah! I had a child. When he grew up, he fought with you on the Day of Ar-Rabdhah. Then, he was afflicted with fever that led to his death, and I burst into weeping over him.” Upon that, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Would it be so difficult for one to be on good terms with one’s fellow, and when one’s fellow dies, one resorts to Almighty Allah [i.e., saying ‘to Allah We belong, and to Him is our return’) By He in Whose Hand is Muhammad’s soul, when one of you weeps over a deceased fellow of one, the deceased weeps in return. So (I call upon you) Allah’s servants! Do not torture your deceased fellows.”
Citing this hadith, Ibn Al-Murabit said, “The hadith reported by Qaylah is clear evidence on what is meant by the hadith under question (i.e., ‘the deceased will be tortured…’). So no other interpretation is compared with the one chosen.”
The second interpretation is to the effect that the torture refers to the angels’ reproaching the deceased in his grave with the words his relatives use to lament over his death. There is a hadith (though an unauthentic one) reported on the authority of Abu Musa to the effect of that interpretation. According to this hadith, the dead is tortured when his relatives lament over his death. When a relative laments, “Oh! What a supporter so-and-so (i.e., the name of the deceased) was for us! He would provide for us such-and-such!” the angels shake the deceased hard saying reproachfully, “Was it you who supported and provided for them?!” This hadith was also reported by Ibn Majah and At-Tirmidhi, with other wordings.
This interpretation is supported by what Imam Al-Bukhari reported in Sahih Al-Bukhari in the Book of the Battles on the authority of An-Nu`man ibn Bashir, who said: When `Abdullah ibn Rawahah fainted, his sister, thinking that he had passed away, cried saying, “O my brother! What a great loss!” Then, `Abdullah regained his consciousness and said, “Every word you uttered as lamentation over me was returned to me [by angels] reproachfully, ‘Have you been such-and-such as they say?’”
The third interpretation is that crying in the hadith in point refers to a certain kind of crying, that is, lamentation, and the term the deceased does not apply to all the deceased people whose relatives cry over them, but rather, to those deceased whose tradition (in their life-time) was to lament others’ deaths.
This interpretation was firmly adopted by Imam Al-Bukhari, who cited some evidence from the Qur’an and Sunnah in that regard. Among such evidence are Allah’s words: “O ye who believe! Ward off from yourselves and your families a Fire whereof the fuel is men and stones…” (At-Tahrim: 6)
[According to Imam Al-Bukhari, directing the believers to also ward their families from a Fire, according to this verse, implies their duty to forbid them from lamenting over their deaths or whoever’s death.] More evidence is given in the Prophet’s hadith: “All of you are guardians and responsible for your wards and the things under your care. The imam (i.e. ruler) is the guardian of his subjects and is responsible for them and a man is the guardian of his family and is responsible for them.” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) also said: “No human being is killed unjustly, but a part of responsibility for the crime is laid on the first son of Adam who invented the tradition of killing (murdering) on the earth.”
Hence, according to this interpretation, the deceased is tortured because during his life-time he neglected the duty of instructing his family to the importance of observing the proprieties of Islam with regard to expressing sorrow over one’s death. His torture, then, is not a result of others’ sin; but a consequence of what he had incurred upon himself.
This interpretation is supported also by the fact that it was an Arab tradition in the pre-Islamic era to tell one’s family before one’s death to lament and wail over one’s death. There is a line of poetry known to have been said by a great poet in that era, that is: O Umm Ma`bad! When I die, lament my death with what I am worthy of,/And turn your clothes into pieces as a sign of sorrow. [Umm Ma`bad was the poet’s wife.]
As for expressing sorrow for somebody’s death through shedding tears only, there is nothing wrong in that, so long as it does not reach the degree of wailing and lamentation. It was reported in that regard that Ibn Mas`ud and Qarza ibn Ka`b (may Allah be pleased with them) said, “We were allowed to express sadness on receiving calamities by shedding tears, without wailing (or lamentation).”
After presenting these interpretations for the hadith in question, Al-Hafidh commented, “We can reconcile between these interpretations according to the difference in attitude between the personalities of the deceased. In other words, if the deceased’s tradition during his life-time was to lament others’ deaths and he, moreover, told his family before his death to lament his own death, he would be tortured physically in the grave for this. If lamentation was his tradition but his family’s and he neglected to instruct them not to lament his death, he would be tortured physically if he was satisfied with what his family did; but if he was not satisfied, he would be tortured only with the angels‘ reproaching him. As for him who took precautions in that regard by forbidding his family, before his death, not to lament his death, but they did, his torture would be feeling pain and fearing for his family because of their disobeying him and committing a sin of such a kind.”
There is another interpretation mentioned by the eminent scholar Al-Manawi in his Al-Fayd, that the deceased in the hadith refers to he who is on the verge of death; he gets tortured when his family wails over him, fearing he will die. On hearing them cry and wail, his agony of death increases and he thus experiences torture.
Commenting on this interpretation, the eminent scholar Al-`Iraqi, said that it would be said, with greater reason, that torture in this case takes place when the person on the verge of death hears the crying and wailing of his relatives over him; it is like feeling pain on hearing a child crying.
Contemplating the above interpretations, we find that there is no real contradiction between the hadith in hand and the Qur’anic principle that no one will be accounted for others’ sins.
It goes without mentioning that `A’ishah, Mother of the Believers (may Allah be pleased with her), also had an attitude similar to that of the questioner. When she heard the hadith in hand, she thought it contradicted the Qur’anic verse: “No soul earns (evil) but against itself, and no bearer of burden shall bear the burden of another” (Al-An`am: 164). Moreover, she accused those who reported the hadith on the authority of Ibn `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) of making a mistake or having forgotten the exact hadith.
It was reported in Sahih Muslim in that regard that she (may Allah be pleased with her) said: The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “The deceased will be tortured in the grave because of his sins, while his family are wailing over him.” In another version of this hadith she (may Allah be pleased her) said: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) happened to pass by a (dead) Jewess who was being lamented. Upon this he (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “They weep over her and she is being punished in the grave.”
In another transmission of this hadith it was reported that she (may Allah be pleased her) said: By Allah, Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) did not say that a believer is tortured by the weeping of his relatives. But he said: “Allah increases the punishment of a non-believer because of the weeping of his relatives.” `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased her) further added: The Qur’an is sufficient for you (to clear up this point), as Allah has stated: “No soul earns (evil) but against itself, and no bearer of burden shall bear the burden of another” (Al-An`am: 164). (Reported in Sahih Al-Bukhari)
In fact, scholars of Hadith did not approve of the attitude of `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) with regard to the hadith under question.
For example, Al-Qurtubi, an eminent scholar, said that `A’ishah’s denying the hadith in hand, on the basis that its transmitters had made a mistake or forgotten what was reported to them, is untenable because the transmitters of the hadith were many and unanimous to its content. Hence the hadith, being authentic, is not to be denied while it can be interpreted in ways that do not contradict the established religious principles.
According to Sheikh of Islam Ibn Taymiyah, this was not the first time in which `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) denied a certain hadith, basing this on an opinion peculiar to her on the subject matter of the hadith. Ibn Taymiyah said, “This is not a logical way of tackling matters.””