We present below part of a question and answer session with Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(ru), Khalifatul Masih IV, Fourth Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, held in London in November, 1995.
Transcribed by Amatul Hadi Ahmad
Question: Can the souls or spirits of the dead be recalled? Is it possible to speak to them, ask them questions and receive answers from them?
Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(ru):
If you study the Holy Qur’an and the Traditions of the Holy Prophet(saw) and in the light of the writings of the Promised Messiah(as) and his own experiences and the opinion of my predecessors, the previous Khulafa, then you come to a very clear understanding of this issue. One cannot say that it is impossible for a person to communicate with the souls of the dead people but if it is possible, it is so only through visions and not directly. However, what is impossible, what is false and what is wrong is also stated by the Holy Qur’an, by the Hadith and by the other sources mentioned above. The first thing that I would like to remind you of is the statement of the Holy Qur’an regarding the parting souls. The Holy Qur’an states:
Until, when death comes to one of them, he says entreating, ‘My Lord, send me back, that I may do righteous deeds in the life that I have left behind’. Never, it is but a word that he utters. And behind them is a barrier until the day when they shall be raised again. (Ch.23:Vs.100-101)
This is a very clear declaration of the Holy Qur’an that they, ‘the parted souls’, shall never return back to this world.
However, having understood this message, there may still be an opening for the ‘return’. The question is what sort of opening could it possibly be? It could be argued that the spirit can return but not the body – discounting also reincarnation – otherwise it can ‘return’. This is a possible argument in favour of the ‘return’ of spirits but it is negated by the experiences recounted by the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw) of Islam. The Holy Prophet(saw) was shown, in a vision, the spirits abiding in Paradise. More particularly, in the case of a companion who was martyred in the battle of Uhud, the Holy Prophet(saw) witnessed, in a state of vision, the conversation that took place between God and the companion after his death. The Holy Prophet(saw), seeing the sorrow and sadness of his son, asked him if he would like to hear something that might lighten his sorrow. The Holy Prophet(saw) told him that he saw his father in Paradise and was told of what passed between him and God. When he appeared before God, God was very pleased with him at the way he had offered his life and said He would like to reward him with something of his own choice – he could ask whatever he wished. The companion’s response to this was to ask to be sent back to this world in order that he may be martyred once again, and upon his return to God, he should be sent back again and again, to be martyred a hundred times because the wonder, the enjoyment and the ecstasy of being martyred in the cause of God has no parallel. God stated in reply that this could not be as He had made it a binding law that whosoever dies shall never be returned to this world. This is a very clear declaration made in the Holy Qur’an. Here, it is being stated that there is no return, for the body or for the soul. The soul (of a righteous person) is kept with God where it is in a state of pleasure and enjoyment and there is no purpose for it to be sent back. Why should God do something that is purposeless? Should the soul return to this world, it could not participate in the things of life here – it could neither do good nor bad. This is a very important point.
Another aspect of this issue is highlighted when we read in the Hadith about the Holy Prophet(saw) addressing directly the dead of his sworn enemies of Makkah. Standing on the pit where they were buried, speaking words of admonishment to the effect, ‘We found what God promised us to be true. Have you found what God promised you to be true?’ Hadhrat ‘Umar(ra) enquired of him, “O Prophet of Allah are you talking to the dead who cannot hear?” The Holy Prophet(saw) replied that when my message is conveyed to them perhaps they hear better than you people here on earth. This particular Hadith is often quoted in support of the misguided belief that the spirits of the dead return to earth and one can speak to them. However, in both of the above cases the return of the spirits themselves is not mentioned anywhere. What is stated is that they somehow hear whatever is being said and this is a different matter altogether.
Furthermore, the Holy Prophet(saw) taught his followers that when they enter the graveyard they should say “Assalamu ‘alaikum, ya Ahl al quboor!” – Peace be upon you, O people of the graves. If the message could not somehow be conveyed to them, how would they hear this greeting? The inference drawn from this should be, not that their souls are hovering around the graves, but that the message is somehow conveyed to them from those living on earth through some system of communication that exists – and this aspect is of great importance.
One point that requires further consideration here is the question as to why the Holy Prophet(saw) did not teach us to go on talking to the dead, day and night, at home or anywhere else? Other than the greeting to be offered at the graveyard, he advised no other such action. This implies that perhaps there is a spiritual relationship between the grave of a person and the soul of that person. There is some inexplicable link between the soul and the grave but that link does not mean that the soul leaves its abode in the other world and comes personally to appear on the grave – this is what cannot be inferred. If the concept of ‘appearance’ is to be accepted it should be accepted with this condition that the souls have some link with their graves. However, it has not been mentioned anywhere that the Holy Prophet(saw) ever advised that the ‘souls’ can talk back to us. If we claim that they can talk back, how is such a claim to be justified? It is only through visions that such events occur and this is supported by a large number of Muslim Sufis over a long period of time. The Sufis, unlike the present day hard-hearted Mullahs, were known to be God–fearing people who spent their whole lives in the love and worship of God. From some of their authentic accounts, we read that when they went to pray on the grave of a saintly Sheikh or Master, they did not beg anything from the dead person – they only prayed for him and then they passed into a state of vision. It was always through vision that they saw the spirit appear and that vision was so real as to give the impression that they were actually talking to the spirit.
This, however, is a completely different thing from what the modern day ‘spiritualists’ claim. The spiritualists claim that the spirit comes or appears wherever you command it to and it is not conditional upon close proximity to the grave of the dead person. Furthermore, their claim is that the spirit comes and talks to you while you are fully awake and not in a state of vision. This means that you can be conversing with others around you while, at the same time, talking to a spirit and receiving messages from it. However, this is something that cannot be supported – it cannot be supported by the Qur’anic statements, the traditions of the Holy Prophet(saw) or the experience of the saintly people in Islam.
[The state of] vision is a spiritual experience (that is perceived as a distinct reality but one that is not based within the realm of the physical world). In a state of vision one can see things of the other world. Does this mean that one’s spirit goes there or do the things physically move? In visions one can see things and places that one has never seen before but the person experiencing the vision physically remains wherever he is and nothing from the visionary experience comes to the person physically as was the case when the Holy Prophet(saw) saw the vision in which he visited Jerusalem. While he was addressing the people, a Jew requested the Holy Prophet(saw) to describe the city to him. This person had himself visited Jerusalem. According to traditions, the Holy Prophet(saw) was, for a few moments, unable to give a response because he had seen the city in a vision but he had not observed what the city actually looked like. It was at this time that he was shown another vision. While he stood on the pulpit there appeared before him the full picture of Jerusalem with the Temple of Solomon and other places within it. He began observing these and describing it to the people. The whole city of Jerusalem could not have come physically and materially to appear before the Holy Prophet(saw) because in that case all the people should have seen it. No person other than the Holy Prophet(saw) was able to see anything of the vision.
In Islamic tradition, the visits and meetings with spirits are, firstly, reported on the graves of dead persons because it is stated that the souls have some relationship with their graves. However, it is a relationship that we do not understand. The Promised Messiah(as) has fully supported this. He has stated that whatever the atheists or the non-believers may say, he knows from his personal experiences that the soul has some link with the graveyard where its body is buried and if you are a pious person, if you pray to Allah, if you undertake spiritual exercise to develop inner purification and refinement and when the mental faculties and the heart become purified and polished only then is one shown those visions in which one seems able to establish a contact with the souls of the dead persons and that contact, although it is a vision, is real in the sense that what transpires is true. Sometimes the soul in the vision tells you something which is real and it is something that you did not know beforehand. So these are the basis of ‘contact’ with the souls and spirits of the dead.
At the end I wish to warn you about one thing – it has never been stated that the souls or spirits are authorised by God to advise or admonish people that they should act according to what the spirits tell them as if the spirits were working as messengers of God. No reference can be found anywhere in the Holy Qur’an, or in the Hadith or in any book written by the Promised Messiah(as) or by any previous holy persons that the messages of the spirits are to be conveyed to other people as something they must obey. The spirits do not enter the system of communication of God which involves only angels and men as Messengers – spirits are nowhere mentioned or implied.
I would like to clarify one point in relation to the spirits talking back to the living. Other than in visions, this is not reported anywhere in Islamic tradition. When earlier I cited the example of the Holy Prophet(saw) addressing the dead of the Makkan enemies, there is no report of their reply. There is no other report where the Holy Prophet(saw) might have advised us of some soul or spirit visiting him and talking to him. However, we have strong evidence from the history of the Sufis and other pious, saintly people that they talked with the souls of persons who had died – but not with their physical form. This is because their conversation with the souls of the dead always occurred in a state of vision or kashf. In a vision, what is seen is not the actual thing or being, and the proof of this is that such appearances of the souls were all seen in the form of their human body to which, in reality, they can never return nor were they living in that form at the time of their appearance in a vision. By talking to a soul of a person who is dead, whose spirit appears in the form of the body that it had left, clear proof is provided for the theory that it is a vision and that the spirit itself did not return to the body because this is not permitted by God – and, in any case, the body has disintegrated. Hence, what is seen in the form of a body of a dead person cannot be the real thing – it has to be a vision.
Moreover, if one considers other possibilities, one would realise that it is impossible for any person to see the spirit with his physical eyes because the spirit has no body as the human beings have bodies. As such spirits are never seen. No one has ever seen a spirit or soul of a person leave the body of a dying person. The soul is closest to the material form when a person is dying – when it is just about to leave the body. If a spirit were to be visible, that is the time when it should be the most visible – yet no one sees it.
When the saintly people positively advise us that they have talked with the spirit of a certain person at his grave, sometimes even sitting with him and eating with him, it means that it is definitely a vision but a vision so true that God somehow organises a system of communication such that whatever was spoken was also conveyed to the spirit which also goes through a kind of a state of ‘vision’. This is similar to what we see these days when two people converse face to face through television screens, without physically being together in one place – what is seen is not the physical reality but what is heard is the reality that has been conveyed.