What is Correct?
The Islamic Perspective on Metempsychosis (al-Tanasukh)
Mufti Muhammad Qasim Attari
Al-Tanasukh (metempsychosis), also known as transmigration of souls, is the belief that after death, the soul moves into a new body of the same or a different species. Today, this belief is held by various Hindu sects and a minority of psychologists. They were led to this view by strange occurrences, illusions, mischievous jinn, and subtle human brain patterns. However, mainstream psychology does not support such an idea, deeming it baseless.
Unfortunately, the lure of fame have driven a few in our communities to espouse similar views, ruining people’s faith in the process. Metempsychosis, transmigration of the soul, and rebirth or reincarnation are patently un-Islamic and contravene fundamental tenets of Islam, such as the Day of Reckoning and resurrection.
The Quran and hadith refute metempsychosis in unequivocal terms: For example, Allah Almighty declares:
‘Until, when death comes to any one of them (i.e. the disbelievers), he hence says, ‘O my Lord, send me back.’ ‘Perhaps now I may do some good deeds which I have left behind therein (i.e. previously neglected).’ Never! This is just a word that he utters from his mouth, and in front of them is a barrier until the Day in which they will be raised,’
[Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 18, Surah Al-Mu’minoon, Verses 99-100)
This verse explains that a disbeliever will plead to be reborn into the world at the time of death, albeit Allah Almighty will reject his request, admitting him to the Barzakh instead, where he will remain until he is resurrected for the Day of Reckoning.
Moreover, Allah Almighty states that Pharaoh’s followers are punished in the morning and the evening, from their death until the Day of Judgment. This is definitive proof that these people were neither reincarnated nor did their souls transmigrate to new bodies. Allah Almighty states:
‘And an evil punishment surrounded the people of Fir’awn. The Fire upon which they are presented in the morning and evening (in their graves); and the Day when the Hour will be established, an order will be given; ‘Put the people of Fir’awn into the most devastating punishment,’
[Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 24, Surah Al-Mu’min, Verses 45-46)
The Quran speaks of the soul being taken from its body at the time of death and sleep. In the case of sleep, a strong, influential link remains between the soul and the body. Upon awakening, the soul is completely restored into the body. As for when the soul is withdrawn from the body at the time of death, Allah Almighty withholds it and does not return it to the body for it to experience life in this world again. Allah Almighty states:
‘Allah takes away the souls at the time of their death, and also those who do not die during their sleep; then He withholds those on whom He has passed the decree of death and leaves the other till an appointed term; there are definitely signs in this for people who reflect,’
[Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 24, Surah Al-Zumar, Verse 42)
Many hadith describe the events that the soul endures from death till the Day of Judgment. Some of these are as follows:
1. Angels arrive to take the soul at the time of death.
2. The angels take the soul to various places.
3. The deceased person calls out to the family, urging them to hasten the burial.
4. The deceased hears the footsteps of the people burying him.
5. Munkar and Nakir question the deceased in the grave.
6. The soul ascends towards the heavens.
7. The soul sees angels, listens to them, and converses with them.
8. A heavenly soul is shown its abode in Paradise.
9. The deceased wait for charity to be performed on their behalf by family members.
10. For a pious soul, the grave is expanded as far as the eye can see.
11. The actions of the living are read out to the deceased. They rejoice when hearing of good deeds and are grieved by hearing of wrongdoings.
12. Souls meet one another.
13. Many pious souls present themselves before the noble Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم and the honourable saints.
14. Some souls are given the honour of performing salah and reciting the Quran in the grave.
15. The souls of the martyrs desire to be martyred again.
16. The souls of many Muslims dwell under the Divine Throne (Arsh) inside white or green birds and golden lanterns.
17. The souls of evildoers are punished in many ways.
18. The souls of the disbelievers are punished until the Day of Judgment and remain imprisoned in سِجِّیْن (Sijjin).
The hadith compendiums are brimming with reports of this nature. Among many other Ulama, Imam al-Suyuti رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه in his Sharh al-Sudur and Imam al-Qurtubi in Kitab al-Tadhkira have gathered detailed reports on this topic.
Considering the verses and hadith cited earlier, we can see that the beliefs of reincarnation and metempsychosis are at complete odds with Islam. They are untrue, baseless concepts that contravene the core teachings of Islam and are destructive strategies of hostile groups against Islam. This is true irrespective of how good an intention the one espousing such a belief may have. To further consolidate all of this, we will share a few more relevant hadith, bearing in mind that the subjective research and questionable methods of even seasoned psychologists and academics does not hold an iota of reliability when they contravene the teachings of our master Muhammad صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم.
Our Beloved Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم said: ‘Two angels come to the deceased. They make him sit up and ask, ‘Who is your Lord?’ The deceased answers, ‘My Lord is Allah,’ (Abu Dawood, vol. 4, p. 316, Hadith 4753).
As the Companions رَضِىَ الـلّٰـهُ عَـنْهُم were returning from a burial, the noble Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم said:
إنّه الآن يسمع خفق نعالکم
‘The deceased hears the sound of your footsteps,’ (Mu’jam Awsat, vol. 3, p. 292, Hadith 4629).
In a similar report, the Messenger of Allah صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم said:
العبد إذا وضع فی قبره، وتولی وذهب أصحابه حتى إنه ليسمع قرع نعالهم
‘When a person is placed inside the grave and his companions begin to walk away, the deceased hears the sound of their footsteps,’ (Bukhari, vol. 1, p. 450, Hadith 1338).
On his return from the Expedition of Badr, the noble Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم came near a pit containing the bodies of the slain enemies. The Beloved Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم addressed each one by name. Sayyiduna Umar رَضِىَ الـلّٰـهُ عَـنْهُ was surprised by this and asked: ‘Do you speak to bodies in which there is no soul?’ The Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم replied:
والذی نفس محمد بيده ما أنتم بأسمع لما أقول منهم
‘I swear by the One in Whose control is the life of Muhammad [صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم]! You cannot hear me better than them,’ (Bukhari, vol. 3, p. 11, Hadith 3976).
The Beloved Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم described the experience of the soul after death – and there is absolutely no mention of reincarnation, transmigration, or metempsychosis:
When a believer’s soul is withdrawn, two angels receive it and ascend with it. The denizens of the heavens proclaim, ‘A pure soul has come from Earth. May Allah عَزَّوَجَلَّ have mercy on you and on the body in which you dwelled.’ Then the soul is taken to Allah Almighty, Who states, ‘Take it to its appointed destination.’ When a disbeliever’s soul is taken, the denizens of the heavens state, ‘An evil soul has come from Earth.’ It is then said, ‘Take it to its appointed destination,’ (Muslim, p. 1176, Hadith 7221).
In contrast to reincarnation, another hadith confirms that the soul remains in the Hereafter after death:
إنما نسمة المؤمن طائر فی شجر الجنة حتى يبعثه الله عز وجل إلى جسده يوم القيامة
‘A believer’s soul wanders around the trees of Paradise until Allah عَزَّوَجَلَّ returns it to its body on the Day of Judgment,’ (Nasai, p. 348, Hadith 2070).
The Companions رَضِىَ الـلّٰـهُ عَـنْهُم specifically asked about the souls of the martyrs, in response to which they were informed:
أرواحهم فی جوف طير خضر، لها قناديل معلقة بالعرش، تسرح من الجنة حيث شاءت، ثم تأوي إلى تلك القناديل
‘The souls of the martyrs are inside green birds. For them are lanterns that hang from the Divine Throne. They travel around wherever they want in Paradise. They then return to the lanterns,’ (Muslim, p. 807, Hadith 4885).
Both of these hadith are clear proofs that the soul does not enter another body after death. The souls of the martyrs are inside birds, and the souls of other believers roam around the trees of Paradise. The doctrines of reincarnation and metempsychosis are un-Islamic and false.
Some people experience déjà vu; a feeling of having already experienced the present situation. Other people may feel that they have already met someone they are meeting now, for the first time. In some cases, even the name, location, and circumstances of another person are known despite not having met that individual. One may ask as to how all this is possible. These topics will be addressed in the next issue اِنْ شَــآءَالـلّٰـه.
 i.e. just like you, they can hear and listen too.