Assalamualaikum. Hopefully, you are always healthy. I have one question. Is it true that the miserable souls of the dead will come back and haunt or harm the living? The reason is there are some people who believe that if a person dies before achieving his wishes, then he will come back to haunt the living until he fulfils it. Hope for an explanation.
Alhamdulillah, praise and thanks to Allah for the countless blessings He has blessed us all with. Blessings and salutations to the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his wives, his family, companions and all those that follow his teachings to the day of judgement.
The first thing we would like to state is that the fact that souls are under the knowledge of Allah SWT. What is mentioned by Allah in the Quran and said by the Prophet PBUH in the hadiths are our stand. This is in accordance with the saying of Allah SWT in the Quran:
وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الرُّوحِ ۖ قُلِ الرُّوحُ مِنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّي وَمَا أُوتِيتُم مِّنَ الْعِلْمِ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا
And they ask you, [O Muhammad], about the soul. Say, "The soul is of the affair of my Lord. And mankind have not been given of knowledge except a little."
Surah al-Isra’ (85)
Imam Fakhruddin al-Razi when commenting on the verse states that Allah SWT wants to explain that man’s intellect is limited and thus, he is unable to know more on the souls. (Refer Mafatih Al-Ghaib, 21/31)
Imam Jalaluddin al-Mahalli and Imam al-Suyuti said that this verse clearly stated that the matter of the soul is under the knowledge of Allah. It is better for us to not go deeper in researching about the soul. (Refer Tafsir Jalalain, pg 378)
This shows that our knowledge on souls is limited. Therefore, any explanation about it must be based on al-Quran and al-Sunnah. What is mentioned by al-Quran and al-Sunnah should be the stand of every Muslim without any addition or exaggeration.
Pertaining to whether dead people are able to return to this world, this question should be answered by al-Quran and Sunnah. It is closely related to the unseen which requires supporting proof from the revelation. Allah SWT says in the Quran:
اللَّـهُ يَتَوَفَّى الْأَنفُسَ حِينَ مَوْتِهَا وَالَّتِي لَمْ تَمُتْ فِي مَنَامِهَا ۖ فَيُمْسِكُ الَّتِي قَضَىٰ عَلَيْهَا الْمَوْتَ وَيُرْسِلُ الْأُخْرَىٰ إِلَىٰ أَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى
Allah takes the souls at the time of their death, and those that do not die [He takes] during their sleep. Then He keeps those for which He has decreed death and releases the others for a specified term.
Surah al-Zumar (42)
The scholars hold several opinions and commentaries on the above verse in Surah al-Zumar. Apparently, this verse states that the souls of the dead will be kept and will never return. This means that the souls of the dead shall never return to this world.
Imam al-Qurtubi cited the opinion of Ibn Abbas. Ibn Abbas said that the souls of the living and the dead will meet and recognize one another by the will of Allah SWT. When the souls want to go back, Allah will keep the dead and return the souls of the living into their bodies. (Refer Al-Jami’ Li Ahkam Al-Quran, 15/260).
Imam al-Tabari stated that souls will be taken out when one is sleeping and then the souls will meet and ask one another. Then, the souls of the living will return to their bodies while the souls of the dead intend to return, but are kept by Allah SWT. The souls of the living will be collected on the day he is fated to die. (Refer Jami’ Al-Bayan Fi Tafsir Ayyi Al-Quran, 21/299).
Imam Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah stated on that verse that Allah SWT wants to tell that death is divided into two types. The major death (وفاة كبرى) and minor death (وفاة صغرى) which is during sleeping. The same is for souls which are of two types; souls which have already reach their time of death. They will be kept and shall not return to the world and souls which do not reach their time of death yet. They will be returned to their physical bodies until they reach their timely death. (Refer Al-Ruh, pg 58).
Briefly, the souls of the dead shall not return back to the world. We already discussed more on this in some of our previous articles. Among them are:
- Al-Afkar Series 31: Is It Possible for the Souls of the Dead to Return to This World? 
- Irsyad al-Fatwa Series 112: Is It Possible for the Souls of the Dead to Come Back to This World? 
Coming back to the question presented, since the souls of the dead cannot return to this world, hence, they also cannot disturb and harm the living. Even more so to cause injury and others. What is portrayed by society and some films that the dead will return and seek revenge and others are something absurd and merely superstitious. They are in fact the shapeshifting and portrayal of jinn and shaytan to deviate human beings. In fact, shaytan and jinn are unable to cause harm to humans.
This is stated in the saying of the Prophet PBUH where he said:
There is no ghoul
Sunan Abi Dawud (3915)
Ghoul here means ghosts in the Arabic belief in which it is believed that they are able to cause harm and injure people. The same for our belief that ghosts and others are able to cause harm. This is what is denied by the Prophet PBUH.
Imam al-Nawawi said that a ghoul is a form of shaytan in which it is believed that it can change into many forms and is able to cause harm. This belief is refuted by the Prophet PBUH. (Refer Al-Minhaj Syarh Sohih Muslim, 7/375).
In fact, when we look closer to the verses of al-Quran, we can see that verses clearly state that there is a barrier between this world and the world of the dead which is named as the barzakh. Allah SWT says in the Quran:
لَعَلِّي أَعْمَلُ صَالِحًا فِيمَا تَرَكْتُ ۚ كَلَّا ۚ إِنَّهَا كَلِمَةٌ هُوَ قَائِلُهَا ۖ وَمِن وَرَائِهِم بَرْزَخٌ إِلَىٰ يَوْمِ يُبْعَثُونَ
That I might do righteousness in that which I left behind." No! It is only a word he is saying; and behind them is a barrier until the Day they are resurrected.
Surah al-Mu’minun (100)
Ibn Kathir when commenting on the phrase barzakh mentioned in the verse, he cited several opinions of the scholars. Among them is Mujahid, who stated that barzakh is a wall between this world and the hereafter. Muhammad bin Ka’ab said that barzakh is a realm between this world and the hereafter. Those who pass away do not live with the living and it is not at a place like the hereafter where one is rewarded by the paradise and hellfire. (Refer Tafsir Al-Quran Al-‘Azim, 3/311).
This shows that those who have already died are kept back from returning to this world in a place named barzakh. If the souls of the dead are able to return to this world, then surely Allah will return them back when they plead to Allah to bring them back to life.
In conclusion, the souls of the dead shall never return to this world, or even to disturb and harm the living. This kind of belief as mentioned before is an absurd belief and a superstitious.
May Allah protect us all from shirk and nonsense superstitions. Wallahua’lam.