Should we direct our greetings to Prophet Muhammad directly during our visit to his holy grave?
Your offering two rak'ahs [cycles of prayer] as greetings to the Prophet's Mosque is commendable. The best place in the [Prophet's] mosque to offer prayers is, of course, the area between what used to be the Prophet's home and where he is buried, and the place where his pulpit used to be. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) described this area in an authentic hadith as "garden of heaven." Following that, the proper procedure is to approach the grave of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and those of his two Companions, Abu Bakr and Omar, who are buried next to him. One should stand at a short distance from the Prophet’s grave and address him with humility and in a low voice, in these words: "Peace be to you, O Messenger of God, with God’s mercy and blessings." A hadith classified as "good" and related by Abu Dawud on the authority of Abu Hurairah quotes the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) as saying: "When anyone greets me, God restores my soul so that I am able to return his greetings."
Every Muslim knows that God the Almighty has mentioned in the Quran that Muhammad, His Messenger, is only a human being who has been chosen to convey His message to mankind. Everything applicable to human beings was applicable to Muhammad in his lifetime. Addressing the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), God the Almighty says in the Quran: “You are certainly going to die, and they are also going to die.” He also says: “Muhammad is only a messenger before whom other messengers of Allah have passed away Should he die or be slain would you turn back on your heels?” We also know that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is dead and buried in his grave. This does not conflict with the aforementioned hadith related by Abu Dawud. The fact that God the Almighty restores the Prophet’s soul does not mean that he returns to the life he knew prior to his death. Otherwise, he would be living like us but only confined in his grave. This is not a position which God the Almighty gives to His messenger.
The possibility of a different sort of life is not difficult to understand when we remember that an authentic hadith states: "Prophets are alive in their graves and they pray." Also, speaking of martyrs, God the Almighty says: "Do not think of those who have been killed fighting for Allah's cause as dead. They are alive with their Lord." We, however, do not know anything about the nature of that life. It is a matter that concerns the world of the souls. This is a world of which God the Almighty has chosen not to give us any knowledge. The proper attitude of a Muslim when he considers something which is relevant to that world is to accept any Quranic statement or authentic hadith on it at face value. We know that God the Almighty has power over everything. Nothing stated by God the Almighty or the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) on the subject of the soul and the spirit is beyond God’s ability. The fact that we do not comprehend its nature is not a reason to reject it.