Can The Dead Hear The Calls Of The Living? ( Abu Abdillaah Muhammad Al-Jibaaly )

The Dead’s Ability To Hear?

Do the dead hear what takes place in this world?  This question is not subject to

human opinions or speculations.  It is a matter of the ghayb


that is

encompassed by Allaah’s knowledge, and may only be established through clear

evidence from Allaah’s book and His Messenger’s   Sunnah.

The true understanding in this regard is that the dead cannot, in general, hear

what takes place on the earth.  There are, however, exceptions to this general

rule that are established in the Book and the Sunnah.  We have to accept these

exceptional cases and believe in them, without generalising them beyond their


In this article, we will establish this understanding by presenting the proper

evidence and, in some cases, refuting the wrong evidence used by some people

to the contrary.

Comparison With The Deaf

Allaah subhanhu wa ta’ala  says:

“So, verily (O Muhammad), you cannot make the dead hear you, nor can

you make the deaf hear the call while they turn their backs to you.”


In this ayah, Allaah  subhanhu wa ta’ala compares the dead disbelievers to the deaf people.  This obviously indicates that they share with them the characteristic of being unable to hear.  Ibn Jarir at-Tabari   supports this understanding in his Tafseer

(Qur’anic commentary) by saying:

“This is a parable meaning, ‘You cannot make these disbelievers understand,

because Allaah subhanhu wa ta’ala has sealed their hearing and has taken away their ability to understand the revealed lessons that are recited to them – just as you cannot

make the dead understand by giving them hearing, because Allaah subhanhu wa ta’ala has taken away their hearing faculty.’ He is further saying, ‘You cannot make the deaf hear after they turn their backs to you, because they have been deprived of the hearing faculty.  Similarly, for those whom Allaah has deprived of the ability to hear and understand the aayaat of His Book, you cannot help them in hearing and understanding.’ ” (3)

At-Tabari then reported that Qatadah   said:

“Allaah subhanhu wa ta’ala gives this parable for a kaafir (disbeliever).  Just as the dead cannot hear the calls, so the kafirs cannot hear.  Thus He tells, ‘If a deaf person turns his back to you and you call him, he would not hear you.  Similarly, a kafir would not hear,

nor would he benefit from what he hears.’”


This is also the understanding of ‘Aa’ishah,  as is documented in the books of



It is also the understanding of Umar and others among the Sahabah.

Those Who Are Worshipped Beside Allaah subhanhu wa ta’ala

Allaah  subhanhu wa ta’ala says:

“Such is Allaah your lord; to Him belongs the dominion.  And those,

whom you invoke instead of Him, own not even a qitmir (date pit’s covering

membrane).  If you call upon them, they do not hear your call; and were

they to hear, they could not grant your requests.  And on the Day of

Resurrection, they will disown your taking them as partners.  And none

can inform you better than one who is well acquainted with things.”


The disbelievers used to worship a number of people who were righteous and

noble during their lifetimes.  After their death, Satan inspired their followers to

commemorate them with statues.  These statues eventually turned into idols that

were worshipped instead of Allaah subhanhu wa ta’ala.

The above ayah clearly denies that those whom the disbelievers invoked instead

of Allaah could hear them.  The ayah does not refer to the idols themselves, but

to the persons whom they were supposed to represent.  This is clear from the

statement, “On the Day of Resurrection, they will disown your taking them

as partners.”  It is not the idols, which are irrational objects, that will be

resurrected, but rather the actual people that they represented.  There are many

aayaat in the Qur’aan indicating that when Allaah resurrects the people, those

who had been worshipped will turn against those who had worshipped them.

However, there is nothing to indicate that the irrational objects will be resurrected

as well.

Therefore, this ayah indicates that the righteous people, as well as those who are

of lesser virtue, cannot hear after their death.

The Ditch Of Badr


Ibn Umar, Abu Talhah, and Anas   reported that, after the battle of Badr, the

Prophet   commanded his followers to cast twenty four of the most disdainful

among the dead of Quraysh into a very filthy ditch in Badr.  Then, as was his

practice after victory, he spent three nights in the neighbourhood of the

battleground.  On the third day, he had his animal prepared for departure, and

then went and stood with his companions at the verge of the ditch.  He called out

the dead men with their names and the names of their parent saying:

“O so and so, son of so and so!  O so and so, son of so and so!…Don’t you wish

that you had obeyed Allaah and His Messenger?  Indeed, we have found our

Lord’s promises to us true; have you found your Lord’s promises true?”

Whereupon ‘Umar   (and others) exclaimed, “Are you addressing them after

having been dead for three nights, and when these bodies have no souls in them?

Can they hear?  Allaah subhanhu wa ta’ala  says:  “Verily, you cannot make the dead to

hear you.”  He   replied:

“By Him in whose hand is Muhammad’s soul, they can hear me NOW; and you

cannot hear what I am saying better than they can!  But they cannot respond.”



When this incident was mentioned to ‘Aa’ishah,  she said, “The Prophet

only meant that they now realised that what he told them was the truth.”  Then

she recited the ayah:

“So, verily you cannot make the dead hear you, nor can you make the

deaf hear the call while they turn their backs to you.”


Commenting on the above hadith, Qataadah   said:

“Allaah subhanhu wa ta’ala  gave them life in order to hear the Prophet’s   words, as a

reproach and scorn, and to make them feel the remorse and regret for what they



Ibn Atiyyah 10


“It appears that the incident of Badr constitutes a miracle for Muhammad,

whereupon Allaah subhanhu wa ta’ala  give them back the perception to be able to hear him. Had Allaah’s Messenger   not told us of this, we would have interpreted his

addressing them to carry the meaning of reproach for the living disbelievers, as

well as a reassurance for the hearts of the believers.”


Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani   said:

“Ibn ut-Teen said, ‘There is no conflict between Ibn ‘Umar’s hadith (of the Ditch)

and the aayah.  There is no doubt that the dead cannot hear.  But Allaah may

enable that which does not normally hear to hear….’ ”



It is important to point out that the Prophet   approved of the understanding

of ‘Umar and others among the Sahabah that the dead cannot hear.  We should

assume that these companions have previously gained this understanding from

the Prophet   – otherwise, they would not have hastened to object to his

action of addressing the dead.  And even if we assume that they were hasty in

objecting without knowledge, it would then be the Prophet’s   obligation to

clarify to them their misconception.  However, he did not do any of that, but only

indicated that those specific dead people were able to hear him at that specific

time.  Thus it is obvious that he   approved of their general understanding in

regard to this issue.

And ‘Aa’ishah’s  above statement shows that she had a similar understanding

to that of ‘Umar and the other Companions.


This is important to emphasise, especially when we realize that some scholars

misinterpret this incident of the Ditch.  They use the Prophet’s   statement,

“You cannot hear me better than they can,”

as a proof that the dead always hear what goes on around them. They often

neglect the fact that he   has approved of their understanding and did not

object to it.  Thus, they turn the exceptional case, which was a miracle granted to

the Prophet   in that situation, into a general case conflicting with the clear

texts of the Qur’aan!


It is interesting to indicate that addressing the disbeliever after they have been

destroyed by Allaah subhanhu wa ta’ala  is an old practice of the Prophets.  For instance, Allaah subhanhu wa ta’ala says in regard to the people of Saalih:

“So the earthquake seized them, and they became in their homes

(corpses) fallen prone.  He (Saalih) turned away from them and said, “O

my people!  I have certainly conveyed to you the message of my Lord and

advised you; but you do not like advisers.”


Ibn Kathir commented on this by saying:

“This is a rebuke from Saalih   to his people after Allaah had destroyed

them because of their disobeying him, rebelling against Allaah, rejecting the

truth, and turning away from the guidance.  Saalih said this to them, after their

destruction, rebuking and reprimanding them; and they heard him, as has been

reported in the two Saheehs (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)…”

He then cited the hadith of the Ditch.  Note that the Qur’aanic text does not

express that they heard Saalih.  But Ibn Kathir assumed this based on the similar

situation of the Ditch.


Ibn Mas’ud   reported that the Prophet   said:

“Allaah has angels that roam over the earth,

delivering to me the salaam from my Ummah.”


Similar to this hadeeth there are other authentic hadiths which clearly indicate

that the Prophet   cannot independently hear the salam of the Muslims, but

needs angels to deliver it to him.  This implies that he cannot hear other things as

well.  Also, the text of this hadith is general and makes no distinction based on


Thus, if Allaah’s Messenger   cannot hear after his death what goes on the

earth, this should apply more appropriately to those who are lesser than him.


An important evidence used by those who believe that the dead hear what goes

on the earth is the Prophet’s   description in the long hadith of al-Baraa’ Bin


“He hears the thumping of his companions’ shoes as

they walk away from his grave.”

However, this clearly applies to the time when the dead person is put into his

grave and the angels come to question him.  It cannot be generalised to other

cases.  This is the only way to reconcile between the general meaning of the

above ayah (as understood by ‘Umar, ‘Aa’ishah, and other companions) and this


Foot note :


Ghayb or Unseen includes everything that is hidden from the people, of the future and

past events, and what is not seen.  Ghayb is exclusive to Allaah’s knowledge and no

Prophet had independant knowledge of it.  From the matters of the Unseen are those

pertaining to the Hereafter, Barzakh (life after death), Paradise, Hellfire, contents of the

womb and secrets of the hearts, as mentioned in many Qur’aanic verses.


An-Nam (27):80 and ar-Room (30):52


Tafseer at-Tabaree 21:36


Al-Albaanee verifies that this report has an authentic isnaad (chain of narrators) (al-

Aayaatul-Bayyinaat p30 of the introduction).


Check al-Aayaatul-Bayyinaat pgs.7, 10, 14 etc


Faatir (35):13-14


This is a combined report from three authentic hadeeths recorded by al-Bukhaaree,

Muslim, and Ahmad


Recorded by al-Bukhaaree, Ahmad and others


Recorded by al-Bukhaaree and Muslim


He is a knowledgeable scholar of Hadeeth and Islaamic Legislation from Grenada, al-

Andalus (Spain).  He has a well-known book of tafseer called “Al-Muharrarul-Wajeez fi

Tafseer il-Kitaabil-Azeez.  He died on 542H


Al-Qurtubi’s Tafseer 13:232


Fathul Baaree 3:182


Al-A’raaf (7):78-79


Recorded by Aboo Daawood and others.  Verified to be authentic by al-Albaanee (al-

Aayaatul-Bayyinaat p43)

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