"And do not say of those who are slain in the way of Allah that they are dead. Instead, they are alive, but you perceive not. And surely We will test you with a bit of fear and hunger, and loss in wealth and lives and fruits. And give good tidings to the patient who, when suffering comes to them, say: "We certainly belong to Allah, and to Him we are bound to return." Those are the ones upon whom there are blessings from their Lord, and mercy. And those are the ones who are on the right path."
Earlier, alluding to an unpleasant incident, patience and steadfastness were inculcated and the excellence of Sabirun (the patient people) was mentioned. The next verses mention, in some detail, other unpleasant incidents and culminate in describing the excellence of patience, and perseverance in it. Those verses give preference to the theme of war with infidels over other themes for two reasons: first, the sacrifice of life is a grand sacrifice; whoever steadfastly endures this loss will, undoubtedly, learn to be patient on losses of lesser magnitude; second, it is relevant to the situation too, as the objectionist on the orientation of Ka'bah had been facing it.
Injunctions And Related Considerations
According to Islamic traditions the dead person is given some kind of a "new life" in Barzakh* which develops in him a sensitivity to punishment and reward. Regardless of whether one is a believer or disbeliever, virtuous or vicious, this taste of life-in-Barzakh is given to everybody. However, the life there has many categories: one of them is for the general lot, while some others are for prophets and virtuous people. The later ones vary in their degree of excellence. A number of scholars have collected relevant facts to assert their points of views about the life-in-Barzakh. All of them cannot be summed up here. I will restrict myself here, to presenting the considered and the very balanced view of my worthy teacher Maulana Ashraf 'Ali of Thana Bhawan; incidentally, his view is in close conformity with the teachings of the Holy Qur'an, as also, those of the Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wasallam: Peace be upon him.
[*An intermediary stage which begins with death and stretches till the Doomsday]
The Martyrs Are Not Dead
One who dies in the cause of Allah is a Shahid (Martyr) and, although, it is correct and even allowed to call him "dead", yet we are forbidden to regard their death like ordinary deaths. For, though, life in Barzakh is given to everybody which gives him perception of reward and punishment but Shahid in the Barzakh life is qualitatively different from the one given to other persons. The distinction a Shahid has over others in Barzakh is that in effect, for the fullness and sensitivity of life, his perception is, keener and deeper. As, for instance, the life sensation is there in finger tips, as also, it is there in heels, but the sensitivity of finger tips is sharper than that of heels. The effect of the finer life-quality of a Shahid in Barzakh reaches his physical body as well; whereas ordinarily bodies remain unaffected.
Consequently, a Shahid's body does not waste away, decay or mingle with dust. On the contrary it retains it freshness and a semblance of being alive too. This is duly endorsed by Ahadith and observations. They are, therefore, reported as living and we are forbidden to call them dead. However, for all worldly purposes they are treated at par with the dead; their properties are divided and their wives can remarry. Lives of prophets in Barzakh have a further distinction. Their life-sensitivity is even finer and keener than that of Shahids. In Barzakh their bodies retain their life-quality and, in some ways, its manifestation is extended to this life as well; their properties are not divided and their wives cannot again enter into wedlock.
The most strong in the retention of this life-quality are the prophets, then are the Shahids, then the ordinary human beings. Nevertheless, according to some ahadith some of the men of Allah and virtuous people share this excellence with Shahids. Apparently, those who die while exercising stringent discipline against their selves (mujahidatun nafs) are ranked with Shahids. In other words, though this verse specifically refers to Shahids as against the broad humanity, it does not, for that reason, exclude the virtuous and the truthful. If, therefore, the body of a Shahid returns to dust, as bodies of ordinary persons, generally do, the chances are that the person did not, perhaps, die in the cause of Allah which is the only criterion of martyrdom (Shahadah).
In case a person who fulfilled all the prerequisites of martyrdom and, beyond, any doubt, died in the cause of Allah and whose martyrdom (Shahadah) has been unmistakably and repeatedly demonstrated, his body must not, on the authority of a hadith, return to dust. If, in spite of Ahadith, the body mingles with earth (what, in fact, has made the author of Ruh al-Ma'ani doubt is how can, in spite of Ahadith, the body of a Shahid be eaten away by earth) the explanation would be that according to Hadith the body would not return to dust; however, it does not deny the process of decay and decomposition caused by other factors like geo-chemical reaction, body enzymes, and bacteria. Neither does it confute the verse.
Other compound objects like weapons, medicines, food, and the commingling of various natural elements like water, fire and air had, undoubtedly, their effects on the bodies of prophets in this world and, obviously, the life-quality of Shahid in Barzakh is not superior to that of the prophets in this world; if, therefore, the other ingredients register their impact on the bodies of Shahids in Barzakh it does not confute, in any sense, the meanings of Ahadith which say the Shahids bodies are sacred to earth.
Another answer is that the distinction which Shahids have over others is apparent from the fact that, comparatively, their bodies remain unspoiled for a pretty long time, although the liklihood of their disentegration in the longer run does exist. The aim of the hadith should, therefore, be explained by saying that the immunity from decay for such a long time is, in itself, an excess on the customary behaviour of dead bodies. Eternal preservation, and preservation for a considerable long time, both are an "excess on the customary behaviour" of dead bodies.
By the words, "la tash'urun": "you perceive not", the Holy Qur'an asserts the fact that the life in Barzakh transcends all sensory perceptions.
Patience In Hardship: The Way To Make It Easy
The nature and the significance of the severe test man is put to by Allah has been thoroughly discussed while explaining the verse: 'And when his Lord put Ibraheem to a test'.
Whatever their magnitude, accidents are unnerving. But a prior knowledge of such accidents makes it easier to bear them and be patient about them. Since the entire Ummah is addressed here, the Ummah should realize that the world is a place of hardships and labour; it is a place of ordeal. It will not, therefore, amount to impatience if one does regard such accidents as either strange or a remote chance. And as the Ummah, generally, displays the spirit of patience in all its deeds, the reward of Mercy is common to everyone who strives to be patient. But as the quality and degree of patience varies from person to person, everyone will be rewarded individually according to and commensurate with his quality of patience.
A Formula Of Peace In Hardship
That the patient people used to recite: "We belong to Allah and to Him we are to return"
, is, in fact, an inculcation of the principle of virtue. The suggestion is that this is what the patient people should say as it brings excellent reward, relieves from the burden of sorrow and suffering and consoles effectively the grieved heart. (Ma'ariful Qur'an)