Waking Vision of the Prophet
1) What is Death?
On the 12th of Rabee' al-Awwal, 11 years after the Hijra, the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, died. This was something that many of his followers and companions could not believe, so that Abu Bakr as-Siddeeq, may God be pleased with him, had to stand up and proclaim: "O Men, if you have been worshipping Muhammad, then know that Muhammad is dead. But if you have been worshipping God, then know that God is living and never dies."
But what does it mean for the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) to have died? We know first of all that it means that his soul left his body. As for the body, we know from the saying of the Prophet that "Allah has forbidden the Earth to consume the bodies of the Prophets". We also know that Allah returned the Prophet's soul to his body in his grave, for he said, "No-one greets me except Allah has returned my soul to me so that I can return his salâm." As explained by al-Suyuti and other commentators on this hadith, the meaning ofradda (returned) here is that the Messenger's soul was returned to him permanently after the first person greeted him, and that he remained alive thereafter.
Thus a Muslim must believe that the Prophet's soul returned to his body and that he is alive in his grave. The Prophet told us that people are alive in their graves, and that for each person, "the grave is either a garden from the gardens of Paradise or a pit from the pits of hell." There are countless Prophetic sayings about this and we need not dwell on this, but simply quote the Messenger of God when he said, "The Prophets are alive in their graves, praying to their Lord"  and when he said that he saw God's Messenger Moses praying in his grave, while standing (standing is something that the physical body does, not the soul) .
Indeed, the Qur'an confirms to us twice that martyrs, are still alive in the spiritual world:
And do not speak of those who are slain in Allah's way as dead; nay, they are alive, but you do not perceive. (Q 2: 154)
Think not of those who are slain in Allah's way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord. (Q 3: 169)
And if martyrs are alive after their death then the Prophets and Messengers who are higher than them in rank are surely alive as well, finding sustenance in the presence of their Lord. There can be no question about that. In fact, the Qur'an gives us proof that the life of the Messenger (pbuh) after his death is higher in honor, station, and dignity than that of the martyrs, for while the wives of martyrs can re-wed, the wives of the Messenger (pbuh) were forbidden from re-marrying after his death (Q 33:53), out of respect for the Messenger in his other life.
The Prophetic traditions also show that the Messenger of God met other Messengers and Prophets in Jerusalem on the Night of Ascension, and he led them in prayer, and later gave descriptions of their physical appearances. From this, the scholars of Islam concluded that they were all present in both soul and body.
So what does all this tell us about the death of the Prophets, and of Prophet Muhammad in particular, peace and blessings be upon them all?
As Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya said in Kitab al-Ruh, while paraphrasing al-Qurtubi:
"It has been authentically narrated from the Prophet (pbuh) that the earth does not eat the bodies of the prophets, and that he (pbuh) assembled with the prophets on the Night of Journey and Ascension in Jerusalem and in the sky, especially with our master Moses (pbuh), and he told us that no Muslim greets him except that God returns his soul to him to return the greeting and other things from which it becomes definitive knowledge that the death of the prophets, upon them be peace, is that they become hidden from us so that we do not see them though they are present and alive, and such is the state of Angels for they are alive and present but we do not see them."  Al Qurtubi himself has the following addition: "and none of our kind see them except those that God favoured with grace (karaama)."
The great scholar and hadith master Ibn Hajar al-Haythami wrote,
"The proofs and the transmitted texts have been established as authentic in the highest degree that the Prophet (pbuh) is alive and tender... that he fasts and performs pilgrimage every year, and that he purifies himself with water which rains on him." Indeed many of God's righteous servants, while performing the pilgrimage, have had their veils removed so that they saw prophets and past awliya circumbulating the Kaaba.
2) The World of the Spirit
The deaths of the Prophets, therefore, is a transition from one state to another, in which they are hidden from our view, except for those few who are granted vision of them. Whether they can be in their bodies in their graves but only with their souls outside the grave, or in their souls and bodies outside the graves, nothing is beyond God's power. The important thing to believe is that they are present and alive, in worlds that we do not see, perhaps in other dimensions.
And where are these other worlds? Do not think that these other dimensions and worlds can be completely seperate from this world of the senses, or that the veils are as barriers that divide up the universe. No, they are all connected. In the words of Hassan Eaton,
The veils exist, but they are at least semi-transparent; the greater realities still shine through- though veiled- upon the lesser ones, just as angels may appear to men but only in disguise. "Paradise is closer to you than the thong of your sandal," said the Prophet, "and the same applies to the Fire." On a certain occasoin the people saw him apparently reach out for something and then draw suddenly back. They asked him the reason for this, and he replied: "I saw Paradise, and I reached out for a bunch of its grapes. Had I taken it, you would have eaten from it for as long as the world endures. I also saw hell. No more terrible sight have I ever seen..."
The thread of Being runs through all possible states of existence, all the dimensions, as does the thread of Mercy; this is already implicit in the basic doctrine of tawhid, for the One cannot be cut up into seperate pieces, nor can the different degrees of Reality be shut off from each other by impenetrable partitions.....
Moreover, if heaven and hell are so close to us- as the Prophet said they are- then, at least in a certain sense, we already live in these dimensions, though for the most part unaware of them, and no more than a thin membrane seperates us from the Joy and from the Fire.... Even in the physical environment which surrounds us, these extraterrestrial dimensions are perceptible to those gifted with sharp sight, and Islam is certainly not alone in making this point...
In the words of the shaykh al-Darqawi,
"There where the world of bodies is, there also is the world of Spirits; there where the world of corruption is, there also is the world of purity; there where is the world of the kingdom (mulk), there also is the world of kingship (malakut); in the very place where the lower worlds are, there are to be found the higher worlds and the totality of worlds." 
Therefore those whom God granted with sharp vision may see through the veils and see the Prophets and more...
3) O Prophet! surely We have sent you as a witness, and as a bearer of good news and as a warner, And as one inviting to Allah by His permission, and as a torch spreading light (Q 33:45-46)
Two scholars were talking one day, and one of them said, "The Prophet (pbuh) has died." The other scholar replied, "Yes, he died, but God (swt) said, "and a torch spreading light", so if you say "extinguished after death" you havekafart (said something that amounts to a rejection of the Quran or Islam in general), and if you say "not extinguished" then we both agree that he is a light-giving torch in life and after death.
Sayyidna Muhammad (pbuh), is still a prophet after his death, for the present tense in the Quranic verse "Lo! Allah and His angels shower blessings on the Prophet. O ye who believe! Ask blessings on him and salute him with a worthy salutation." (Q 33:56) tells us that he is still a prophet now, and that he is still alive and being whelmed with blessings and prayers by God and His angels.
As a living prophet, and a light-giving torch, the Prophet's light still guides humans to the Truth, and the Prophet himself told us of one benefit that will only come to us after his death,
"My life is a great good for you, you will relate about me and it will be related to you, and my death is a great good for you, your actions will be presented to me and if I see goodness I will praise Allah, and if see other than that I will ask forgiveness of him (for you)." 
But more than that, the Prophet can still guide people by appearing to them in their dreams or even while awake. "Whoever has seen me in a dream," said the Prophet, "has in fact seen me, for Satan does not appear in my form". 
Further, the Prophet (pbuh) said in a hadith reported by Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawood, and Darimi, "He who has seen me in a dream will see me while awake, and the devil cannot appear in my form".
The great scholar and hadith master al-Suyuti, considered by scholars of Ahl al-Sunna wal-Jamaa'a to be the mujaddid of the tenth century, wrote a book calledTanweer al-Halak fee Jawaz Ru'yat an-Nabi wal Malak, or Enlightening the Darkness on the Possibility of Seeing the Prophet and the Angels [in the Waking State].
He begins by citing the above sahih hadith and comments on the way different scholars tried to twist the meaning of this hadith or to reject its clear zahirmeaning and try to explain it away. He then quotes the famous Imam Ibn Abi Jamra's commmentary on Sahih al-Bukhari in which he warned, when discussing this hadith about restricting the meaning of this verse to the life of the Prophet or to judgment day or any explanation that limits or restricts the clear and general applicability of this saying, and cautions of two dangers of denying this hadith: 1- Not believing the Prophet and 2- Not believing in the unlimited power of God, who could as easily allow for men to see the Prophet while awake as He could bring the cow or the birds or the donkey to life (as mentioned in the Qur'an).
Then Ibn Abi Jamra mentions how it is reported of many sahaba and men of thesalaf and the khalaf that they saw the Prophet in the waking state after his death and asked him about things that troubled them, such as the report about Ibn Abbas who remembered this saying of the Prophet and and kept thinking about until he went to the Prophet's wife Maymoona, and asked her about it, so that she brought him the Prophet's mirror and when he looked at it he saw the Prophet there and did not see his own reflection.
Ibn Abi Jamra then divides people into those who deny the karamaat of theawliya and those who accept them. As for those who deny them, then there is no reason to argue with them for they are deniers of has been proven clearly in the Sunna. And as for those who do believe in the karamaat, then they should think of this as a karaama, for the awliya can be miraculously granted sight (bi kharq al- 'aada) of things in the Higher and Lower worlds.
Then Suyuti says that for most people who see the Prophet in their dream, they will see him (pbuh) once in their waking state for the sake of honoring the Prophet's promise, and it usually happens in the moments before their death. But for others, vision of the Prophet happens to them throughout their lives, either frequently or rarely, depening on their striving (ijtihaad) and their upholding of the Sunna.
Suyuti then gives clear undeniable sahih hadiths from Sahih Muslim and other collections that Muslims can see angels in their waking state, and then quotes many of the most famous scholars of Islam on the possibility of seeing the Prophet while awake, and gives many examples of this from the most trustworthy sources and scholars.
And most visions of the Prophet, says Suyuti, happen in the heart, and then it advances so that it becomes by sight, but not the same seeing by sight that humans are accustomed to, but it is a special state whose reality can only be understood by those who experience it.
Beside this very small book by al-Suyuti proving the possibility of seeing the Prophet and the angels while awake, there is an entire full-sized (400 pg) book by Abi al-Fadl Abd al-Qadir bin al-Husayn bin Mighaizil al-Shadhili devoted to giving proofs and examples of the awliya of Allah seeing the Messenger of God in the waking state.
In the end, know that it was known among the companions of the Prophet, and among our righteous predecessors and those who followed them, and agreed upon by the greatest scholars that seeing the Prophet while awake is possible. And those who deny this must be very careful, for they cannot deny this without either disbelieving the Messenger of Allah, or trying to twist his words in order to suit their own views, or disbelieving in the unlimited power of Allah and His grace to his faithful servants.
And know that the Messenger of Allah is among you....a torch spreading light...
1. Sunan Abu Dawood, Sunan an-Nasa'i, Sunan Ibn Maja, and many other hadith collections.
2. Sunan Abu Dawood.
3. Al-Bazzar, Abu Ya'la, Bayhaqi, Ibn Asakir, al-Suyuti, and al-Albani, among others, mention this hadith as authentic.
4. Sahih Muslim, Sunan an-Nasa'i, and al-Bayhaqi.
5. Saleh al-Jaafari. Al-Muntaqa al-Nafees, pg 199-200. My (poor) translation.
6. Ibid, pg 202.
7. PROOF-TEXTS OF THE LIFE OF THE PROPHET IN HIS GRAVE
8. Gai Eaton, Islam and the Destiny of Man, pg 240-241.
9. Letters of a Sufi Master: The Shaykh ad-Darqawi, pg 41.
10. Al-Bazzar cites it with a sound (sahih) chain, and also in the Musnad of Ibn Abi Usama, it is also quoted by Qadi Iyad in his Shifa, by al-Subki, and by Ibn al-Jawzi in his Wafa of which he said he only used authentic traditions in it.
11. Sahih Muslim.
12. Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawood from Abu Hurayra, and a similar hadith from Abi Qutada narrated by al-Darimi.
For further reading:
*Saleh al-Jaafari. al-Muntaqa al-Nafees.
*Jalalludin al-Suyuti. Tanweer al-Halak fee Jawaz Ru'yat al-Nabi wal-Malak
*Abi al-Fadl Abd al-Qadir bin al-Husayn bin Mighaizil al-Shadhili. Al-Kawakib al-Zaahira fee Ijtimaa' al-Awliyaa Yaqdhatan bi-Sayyid ad-Dunya wal Aakhira