What can the Living Do to Rescue the Dead Person from Punishment?
Prophet Muhammad said,'When a man dies, his actions cease except for three things: a charity which goes on, knowledge which continues to benefit people or a righteous son who makes supplication for him.' [Ahmad]
There are many things which the living can do to rescue the dead. They include supplication for them, asking forgiveness for them, acts of generosity, Hajj (Pilgrimage to Makkah), fasting and other sorts of worship. These can be attributed to the dead person with Allah's permission.
Even more important than all these is to settle the dead person's debts, whether that debt is financial or spiritual - debts to other living persons or debts of worship owed to Allah, the Almighty.
When someone who is alive intercedes for a dead person who is being punished, his punishment is halted, even if only for a time. When he intercedes for the person enjoying bliss, that person is raised a degree.
Allah, the Most Exalted, Says (what means): "And [there is a share for] those who came after them, saying, 'Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers who preceded us in faith and put not in our hearts [any] resentment toward those who have believed.'" [Quran 59:10] Allah - glory be to Him - praised them for asking for forgiveness for the believers before them. He indicated that they are helped when the living ask for forgiveness for them.
In his supplication over one of the Muslims upon his death, the Prophet said: 'O Allah! So-and-so the son of so-and-so is in Your custody and near to You. Protect him from the trial of the Grave and the punishment of the Fire. You are worthy of fidelity and truth, so forgive him and show mercy to him. You are Forgiving, Merciful.' [Ibn Maajah]
When the Prophet finished burying someone who had died, he stood over him and said, "Ask forgiveness for your brother. Ask for him to be made firm. He is being questioned now." [Abu Dawood]
A man said to the Prophet 'My father has died and left some property, but he did not leave a will. Will he be rewarded if I make an act of charity on his behalf?' He replied, 'Yes.' [Muslim]
The Prophet said about the reward of fasting reaching the dead person, 'If someone dies and owes some days of fasting, then his heir should fast on his behalf.' [Al-Bukhari]
Recitation of the Quran is also one of the acts of worship whose reward reaches the dead person, provided that the reciter first intercedes with Allah on his behalf. Allah might or might not accept it, as is the case with all other acts of worship. He might accept the prayer of one man and not that of another man. What counts is the sincere intention to do the action for the sake of Allah Almighty alone.
Let us imagine a group of Muslims who have gathered together to remember someone who was dear to them and has died. They are still wearing black and their grief is still fresh. They have gathered for the sake of the love and comradeship that exists between them to remember Allah and to intercede with Him on behalf of their loved one.
This gathering might take place anywhere, but let it be the home of one of them. Each of them is holding a copy of the Quran whose recitation they have divided up between themselves.
They begin the recitation with the intention of directing its reward to the dead person. This does not diminish the reward that any of them receive in anyway, but the reward also reaches the dead person in his grave if Allah so wills. There is a reward for both the living and the dead.
Included among those people might be a son or grandson of the dead person. This is an extension of his actions and a result of his efforts in this world, for he left a righteous son there and consequently righteous descendants. There might be a brother; a father, a relative or a friend among them which is an indication of his good behaviour with other people, otherwise they would not mention him in their supplication, or remember him or intercede on his behalf with the Lord of Might and Majesty. This is also the result of the dead man's own actions.
A righteous son or daughter is a true treasure for a man and profits him during his lifetime and after his death. Every father or mother should try as hard as they possibly can to bring up righteous children. Every son should try to obey his parents during their lifetime and after their death.