Can the soul of a deceased return to this world?
Alhamdulillah, praise and thanks to Allah for the many 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.
First and foremost, we would like to present a statement of Allah SWT:
وَيَسَۡٔلُونَكَ عَنِ ٱلرُّوحِۖ قُلِ ٱلرُّوحُ مِنۡ أَمۡرِ رَبِّي وَمَآ أُوتِيتُم مِّنَ ٱلۡعِلۡمِ إِلَّا قَلِيلٗا
“And they ask you, [O Muhammad], about the soul. Say, "The soul is of the affair of my Lord. And mankind has not been given of knowledge except a little."
Surah al-Isra’ (85)
Syeikh Abdul Rahman al-Sa’di Rahimahullah state in his commentaries, Taysir al-Karim al-Rahman, the above verse state the weakness and shortcoming of humans, for our minds could not comprehend or reach certain things. Thus, Allah SWT commands the Prophet PBUH to surrender the affairs of soul to Allah SWT when asked about it.
Hence, we try to discuss this issue referring to sound evidences and commentaries of renowned Islamic scholars. May this discussion benefit us all.
Definition of Soul
There are several definitions of soul according to Taj al-‘Urus, some of them are:
- According to Al-Farra’, soul is something that with it, humans will be alive. Allah SWT does not explain its creation and Allah SWT does not give knowledge about it.
- Abu al-Haitham states that soul is the spirit that humans breathe with. It flows throughout the body. If it comes out of the body, then he will die.
Thus, we can conclude that souls are minute matter that are in humans and animals.
The Truth Regarding Souls
Everyone that has passed away, their souls would never be able to return to this world, whether to return to visit their family members, for revenge or other humanly acts while they are alive, or whether the soul is the soul of a good person or not.
Here, we include the evidences relating to this issue:
This is in accordance with the statement of Allah SWT:
لَعَلِّيٓ أَعۡمَلُ صَٰلِحٗا فِيمَا تَرَكۡتُۚ كَلَّآۚ إِنَّهَا كَلِمَةٌ هُوَ قَآئِلُهَاۖ وَمِن وَرَآئِهِم بَرۡزَخٌ إِلَىٰ يَوۡمِ يُبۡعَثُونَ
“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’minin (100)
Al-Imam Ibn Jarir al-Tobari Rahimahullah (w.310H) wrote a narration from Mujahid Rahimahullah (a tabi’en and a student of Ibn ‘Abbas R.Anhuma) who opines that in the above verse, barzakh is a hijab (a barrier) between the deceased and our world, making it impossible for them to return.
In another statement of Allah SWT:
ٱللَّهُ يَتَوَفَّى ٱلۡأَنفُسَ حِينَ مَوۡتِهَا وَٱلَّتِي لَمۡ تَمُتۡ فِي مَنَامِهَاۖ فَيُمۡسِكُ ٱلَّتِي قَضَىٰ عَلَيۡهَا ٱلۡمَوۡتَ وَيُرۡسِلُ ٱلۡأُخۡرَىٰٓ إِلَىٰٓ أَجَلٖ مُّسَمًّىۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَأٓيَٰتٖ لِّقَوۡمٖ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
“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. Indeed, in that are signs for a people who give thought.”
Surah al-Zumar (42)
The above verse is an evidence that shows Allah SWT holds the souls of the dead from returning to our world. This is in accordance with a narration by Sa’id bin Jubair Rahimahullah (a tabi’en and a student of Ibn ‘Abbas R.Anhuma) where he said, the souls of the living and the dead are assembled (in dreams), then Allah SWT holds the souls of the dead and release the souls of the living back to their bodies. This is also the opinion of Ibn Zaid Rahimahullah. (See Tafsir al-Tabari. Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 21/298-299)
There is a hadith from al-Imam Ahmad in his Musnad that relates to this issue. Narrated by Jabir RA:
قَالَ لِي رَسُولُ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: " يَا جَابِرُ، أَمَا عَلِمْتَ أَنَّ اللهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ أَحْيَا أَبَاكَ، فَقَالَ لَهُ: تَمَنَّ عَلَيَّ، فَقَالَ: أُرَدُّ إِلَى الدُّنْيَا، فَأُقْتَلُ مَرَّةً أُخْرَى، فَقَالَ: إِنِّي قَضَيْتُ، أَنَّهُمْ إِلَيْهَا لَا يُرْجَعُونَ
“The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: ‘O Jabir, shall I not tell you what Allah said to your father?’ I said: ‘Yes.’ He said: ‘Allah does not speak to anyone except from behind a screen, but He spoke to your father face to face and said: “O My slave, ask Me and I shall give you.” He said: “O my Lord, bring me back to life so that I may be killed for Your sake a second time.” He said: “I have already decreed that they will not return (to the world after death).”
Musnad Ahmad (14881)
The above hadith clearly states that a deceased person will never be able to return to this world because it has been decreed by Allah SWT.
After reviewing the above evidences and scholars’ opinions, we would like to reiterate that the soul of the deceased cannot return to this world for it is now in another world known as barzakh, as we have discussed above.
Sound evidence and the narration from Jabir RA are the concluding factor, as well as the commentaries of scholars regarding the Quranic verses supporting the fact that the souls of the dead cannot return to this world.
There is however, an opinion that state the souls of the dead can meet with the souls of the living in their sleep (through dreams). (See Ibn Qayyim al-Jauziyyah. Al-Ruh, pg. 20)
As for the case of whether the souls of the deceased hear the words of the people that visit his grave, we have answered it in Irsyad al-Fatwa Series 106  and readers can refer to it for answers.
May this explanation help us understand the true Islamic teachings. Wallahua’lam.