Paradise: Page 2
In the following sections, we will analyze how the Qur'an looks at Paradise and, based upon these descriptions,"try to imagine this perfect place. But before we do this, let's look at a few important points. In today's societies, many people have erroneous ideas and impressions in their conscious and subconscious minds. As such obstacles cause them to formulate a mistaken view, we must describe some basic Islamic concepts whose meanings have departed from their original understanding.
With this in mind, we first have to distinguish between "blessing" and "dissipation."
In the following pages, we will see that the Qur'an describes Paradise as an extremely luxurious and magnificent place, and that life therein is as comfortable and attractive as it can be.
However, to many people today, such a life is not so much "Islamic" as it is a natural outcome of being alienated from Allah and religious moral teaching.
So, because of this erroneous understanding that dominates society, very many people think that a comfortable, luxurious, and ostentatious life, and all that goes along with it, are "un-Islamic." They see such things as expensive clothes, rich food, entertainment, dinner parties, magnificently appointed houses, décor, and valuable art works as belonging to ignorant people cut off from their religion. They usually call a life filled with these things "dissolute," and criticize those who give this society its name as "living undisciplined lives of dissolution." The word "dissolution" (safahat) comes from the Arabic safih, and can be translated as "a lack of discipline, overindulgence, a weakness of mind that comes from living an irresponsible life of wealth and comfort."
Here, we encounter a false understanding that must be corrected. The life of Paradise that Allah has been pleased to choose for His servants, as well as a life that contains every kind of luxury, comfort, and ostentation, is also the most beautiful and noble way of life, one that conforms as closely as possible to religious moral teaching.
A false definition of dissolution opens the way to misunderstanding. Dissolution, or rebellion against Allah through a lack of discipline and overindulgence, is a condition of the human mind. People are not dissolute because of their clothes, ostentatious houses, aesthetic environments, or material wealth. Rather, the problem is in their minds.
The natural result of this situation is this: If people have a Qur'anic morality and a strong faith, they can live among the richest opulence imaginable without ever becoming dissolute. On the contrary, because they view everything they encounter according to the Qur'anic criteria and moral teaching, they see all of the beauty surrounding them as a blessing. In other words, they realize that all of these things are gifts from Allah. So, if Muslims know that Allah has given all of the surrounding riches, beauty, opulence, and magnificence, naturally they thank our Lord for what He has provided. This is, after all, why all blessings have been created.
If we applied this general way of thinking to our present society, we would have to say that those who live a dissolute life and turn away from Allah's commands have gone astray, because they do not see that all of their possibilities are blessings from Him. If they saw these things as blessings, this understanding would lead them to give thanks to Allah. And then, they would use these blessings as Allah intended them to be used: avoiding waste and using them in a way pleasing to Him.
So, wealth can be defined in two ways. Some rich people are believers who consider all of their possessions to be blessings from Allah, while other rich people go astray by considering all of their possessions as their own, forget Allah, and fall into dissolution. However, the model that Allah has proposed for all of His servants is wealth, as mentioned in the first model above. Wealth and poverty are tests for believers. Although some believers may be tested by poverty, Allah commands: "We desired to show kindness to those who were oppressed in the land, and to make them leaders and inheritors" (Surat al-Qasas, 5). This might happen in the world, but it certainly will happen in the afterlife.
Therefore, it would be very wrong for Muslims to find fault with grand, luxurious, and opulent lives. Muslims must not shun such people and regard them with disdain, because, after all, all material things in this life (e.g., fine clothes, delicious food, magnificent homes and works of art) were created for Muslims, as we read in Surat al-A'raf, 32:
Say: "Who has forbidden the fine clothing that Allah has produced for His servants and the good kinds of provision?" Say: "On the Day of Rising, such things will be exclusively for those who had faith during their life in the hereafter…"
The Qur'an gives the example of Prophet Sulayman (as), to whom Allah gave great wealth. In fact, it describes these possessions, as well as his opulent palace and works of art, in Surah Saba', 12-13 and Surat an-Naml, 44.
The important thing here is that Sulayman (as) gave thanks to Allah amid all of these magnificent possessions, for he knew that they were a mercy from our Lord. By relating his words: "Truly do I love the love of good with a view to the glory of my Lord" (Surah Sad, 32), the Qur'an draws our attention to his deep understanding.
This example shows us that the love of possessions, defined here as "the love of good," is legitimate as long as it is a means to praise Allah. No doubt, believers who have this kind of love will not hesitate to use their possessions as Allah directs. Possessions are a blessing belonging to Allah, and so those who have them will use them as Allah commands.
But if possessions are not seen as a blessing, dissolution sets in. The Qur'an gives many examples of how deviators understand the meaning of riches. One of the clearest examples is that of Qarun, a rich man who "gloated" (Surat al-Qasas, 76) and said: "I have only been given it because of the knowledge I have" (Surat al-Qasas, 78). Such a love of possessions cannot bring people close to Allah; rather, it diverts them from His way and alienates them from faith. The Qur'an describes this type of love as:
Truly man is ungrateful to his Lord, and indeed he bears witness to that. Truly he is fierce in his love of wealth. (Surat al-'Adiyat, 6-8)
So, for this reason Muslims must view wealth according to the Qur'an's criteria and pursue it only to please Allah and serve Islam. They must desire all of Allah's blessings, because all blessings of this earthly life have been created for those faithful and sincere servants who exert every effort to please and serve Allah. We have to be continually thankful for these blessings and follow Sulayman's (as) example: "What an excellent servant! He truly turned to his Lord" (Surah Sad, 30).
Those who live according to the real spirit of the Qur'an's moral teachings and adopt the point of view described above will be deemed "worthy and qualified" to enter Paradise, which possesses, as one of its most salient characteristics, eternal splendor and dazzling wealth and beauty. People who think and feel like Sulayman (as), who said: "Truly do I love the love of good with a view to the glory of my Lord" (Surah Sad, 32) amid all of this beauty, are believers.
Since this is how believers will think in Paradise, their true home, they must establish this point of view in this world, which is no more than a preparation for the world to come. Far from regarding wealth, beauty, and splendor as dissolution, believers must know that every blessing is a mercy from our Lord, recognize its value, learn to enjoy it, and be thankful.
The blessings of Paradise that we will look at in the following pages must be examined from this point of view.
THIS LIFE IS NOT OUR REAL LIFE
Many people think that they can make a perfect life for themselves in this world. They think that if they can acquire enough material possessions, they will experience total personal satisfaction and happiness. According to the most widespread opinion, a person's life will be perfect after he or she has attained material wealth, gotten married with this intention in mind, and is respected by society because of his or her influential and well-established career.
The Qur'an does not support this view, for it states that this present life will never be perfect and without problems, as it is designed like that.
The root of dunya (world) has a very important meaning in this sense: It is a derivative of the adjective "daniy": low, unrefined, basic and worthless. "World" means a space characterized by these traits. So, the Qur'an often emphasizes this worldly life's worthlessness and unimportance. It refers to such things as wealth, family, status, and success, which are thought to make for a good life, as nothing more than transitory and deceptive. In one verse, Allah says:
Know that the life of the world is merely a game and a diversion and ostentation, and a cause of boasting among yourselves and trying to outdo one another in wealth and children, like the plant-growth after rain, which delights the cultivators. But then it withers, you see it turning yellow, and then it becomes broken stubble. In the hereafter there is terrible punishment, but also forgiveness from Allah and His good pleasure. The life of the world is nothing but the enjoyment of delusion. (Surat al-Hadid, 20)
Another verse explains how people are blinded by illusion because of this earthly life:
Yet still you prefer the life of the world, when the hereafter is better and longer lasting. (Surat al-A'la, 16-17)
As this verse says, such people regard the life of this world as superior to the afterlife. Such a mistaken view causes them to turn away from faith in Allah and His Book. The Qur'an describes such people as "those who do not expect to meet Us and are content with the life of the world and at rest in it, and those who are heedless of Our Signs" (Surah Yunus, 7) and reveals that they will find themselves in Hell's eternal agony. Surely, this imperfection does not mean that this world contains no beautiful things. On the contrary, Allah filled the world with beautiful things to remind us of Paradise. But mixed in with these beautiful things are the imperfection and ugliness of Hell.
The qualities of Paradise and Hell are mixed together here, for this world is really a place of testing. Thus believers can get an idea of those two places and, instead of getting caught up in this world's short and transitory life, can direct themselves toward the real, perfect, and endless life of the hereafter. As a result, the Qur'an describes the afterlife as each person's true and eternal land.
But despite this truth, many people think they can make a perfect life in this world. They view this life's imperfections and deficiencies (e.g., getting sick, becoming tired, and suffering from pain and worry) as something totally natural. However, Allah has created all these imperfections with many hidden meanings, and people have to think seriously about these meanings and learn the appropriate lessons.
It could have been possible would never get sick or feel so tired that they would need to rest or sleep. They could have had so much stamina and energy that they would not feel fatigued. If Allah had willed, He could have created us without such flaws and deficiencies. But He created us with them so that we might understand that we are helpless and weak.
Each individual must come face to face with his or her helplessness and weakness at every moment of life. His body, upon which he lays so much value, constantly reminds him of his situation. When he wakes up every morning and starts his day, his face is swollen and distorted, his mouth has a bad taste, and there is an uncomfortable dirty feeling on his skin, hair, and body. If he does not clean himself carefully, he cannot leave this unpleasant state. This cleaning must be repeated several times during the day, because after a few hours have passed, the dirt returns. After not washing for a few days, his need to wash himself becomes all the more obvious, coming to a point where he makes those around him very uncomfortable.
The human body is not as strong or resilient as a stone or a piece of metal; rather, it is made of an extremely perishable material: flesh. The body is covered with a thin skin that could be torn at any moment by the slightest accident. Structurally speaking, flesh is very vulnerable. It can be wounded, bruised, and twisted by the slightest blow, and, with age, begins to lose its former youthfulness and becomes rough and wrinkled. After death, it starts to rot. A few weeks after burial, the body begins to disintegrate and be eaten by worms and bacteria, until finally it mixes with the soil and disappears.
As stated earlier, this shows us our frailty and reminds us that the imperfections in the world are specially created. Instead of flesh, human beings could have been created from much stronger and purer materials or could have been totally free of pain, illness, and vileness. However, all of these things were created to remind human beings of how poor and needy they are in relation to Allah, and to show them just how imperfect and deficient a place this world really is.
When we look at these imperfections, we can see our own frailty and understand the transitory nature of all people's earthly strength and values. Meanwhile, we also can understand that the people who we adore, try to please, or earn their respect and praise are as weak and imperfect as anybody else.
But as most people cannot understand this or see this world's great imperfection and flaws, they find satisfaction in this earthly life. Actually, this is the result of an extreme ignorance and lack of intelligence.
The morality of such people is described in the Qur'an as follows:
So turn away from him who turns away from Our remembrance and desires nothing but the life of the world. That is as far as their knowledge extends... (Surat an-Najm, 29-30)
Those who are unaware of this truth and bound by a passion for the life of this world are people without "knowledge," as the verse says.
But what is this "knowledge" that we must have in this matter? In truth, it is nothing less than the knowledge of Paradise, which Allah has promised to us. The most important steps toward this are to be well-versed in the Qur'an and to think seriously about what it says.
In the Qur'an, Allah described the believers' real homeland in these words:
The life of the world is nothing but a game and a diversion. The abode of the hereafter - that is truly Life, if they only knew. (Surah al-'Ankabut, 64)
One hadith records our Prophet (saas) as saying that Paradise is humanity's real abode, a place in which there will be no human imperfection:
A proclaimer will proclaim: "For you there is everlasting health, and you will never be sick. For you there is everlasting life, and you will never die. For you there is perpetual youth, and you will never get old. And for you there is everlasting bliss, and you will never be in want. (Muslim)
THE STATE OF THE PEOPLE OF PARADISE
IN THIS WORLD
The Beautiful Lives of Believers in this World
The Qur'an promises believers the joy of an endless reward and eternal happiness. But one point often escapes attention: This good news, extending in endless time and into endless beauty, has already started for believers in this world, for since they have been promised Paradise in the world to come, they will be blessed in this world by Allah's grace and generosity. The Qur'an also says that believers who do good works will be given a good life in this world as well:
Anyone who acts rightly, male or female, being a believer, We will give them a good life and We will recompense them according to the best of what they did. (Surat an-Nahl: 97)
In several places, the Qur'an proclaims that the good news announced in the verse above will be enjoyed by all sincere believers, the Prophets being the foremost among believers. For example, our Prophet (saas), who was given the good tidings of the highest ranks of Paradise in the Qur'an, was someone whom Allah made rich in this life: "Did He not find you impoverished and enrich you?" (Surat ad-Duha, 8). In addition, the Qur'an mentions the riches and possessions given to Prophets Dawud (as), Sulayman (as), Ibrahim (as), and Dhu'l Qarnayn (as) several times.
Giving blessings and beauty in this world as a reward and encouragement, as well as an indication to sincere believers of our Lord's grace and favor, is one of Allah's unchanging laws. Since wealth, splendor, and beauty are Paradise's most basic characteristics, Allah creates similar blessings here to remind His chosen servants of Paradise and to increase their ardor and desire to attain it. Therefore, just as unbelievers already begin their eternal anguish in this world, sincere believers begin to see the eternal beauty promised to them.
Believers live far from every spiritual anxiety and sorrow, because they remain in the awareness of Allah, Who created them, and so conform to His commands and prohibitions; because they live according to Islam, the religion that Allah was pleased to choose for humanity; and, most importantly, because they nurture hope and great expectations for the life to come. Above all, our Lord's assistance and support is with them, for: "Allah sent down His serenity on His Messenger and on the believers" (Surat at-Tawba, 26). Believers find a sense of comfort in the knowledge that Allah sees them in every prayer they observe, in every faithful work they perform, and in everything they do, both great and small, to gain His good pleasure. In addition, they also know that angels record their deeds in books and that they will be rewarded in the afterlife for what they have done. This is the sense of security that comes from their knowledge that Allah supports them with unseen hosts and angels, that they have a "succession of angels in front of them and behind them, in order to "guard them by Allah's command" (Surat ar-Ra'd, 11), that they will overcome the challenges they will face in Allah's way, and that they always have the joyful promise of Paradise. So, sincere believers, according to what Allah revealed to the angels, will never be overcome with fear or excitement, for: "I am with you, so make those who have faith firm" (Surat an-Anfal, 12).
The Qur'an says that believers are "those who say: 'Our Lord is Allah,' and then go straight" (Surah Fussilat, 30). The angels descend on them and say: "Do not fear and do not grieve, but receive the glad tidings of Paradise you have been promised" (Surah Fussilat, 30). It also says that believers know that Allah "imposes on no self any more than it can bear" (Surat al-A'raf, 42).
They have a firm belief in destiny and that Allah makes and accomplishes everything. Thus they accept everything that happens to them as being from Allah, as the following verse says: "Nothing can happen to us except what Allah has ordained for us" (Surat at-Tawba, 51). Since they seek to please Allah, saying: "Allah is enough for us and the Best of Guardians" (Surah Al 'Imran, 173-174), no evil thing will touch them.
But because this world is a place of testing, believers will face difficulties, such as hunger, illness, and sleeplessness, an accident or material loss. They may go through even more difficulties and trials, such as those of poverty and constraint, as indicated in the following verse:
Or did you suppose that you would enter Paradise without facing the same as those who came before you? Poverty and illness afflicted them, and they were shaken to the point that the Messenger and those who had faith with him said: "When is Allah's help coming?" Be assured that Allah's help is very near. (Surat al-Baqara, 214)
Such trials did not sway the Prophets and the believers from their firm faith in our Lord, or from their determination to put the Qur'an's verses into practice. At the end of the verse, Allah promises believers that His assistance is already very near to them. In another verse, He states that:
Allah will give security, in their victorious Safe Haven, to those who had fear. No evil will touch them, and they will know no sorrow. (Surat az-Zumar, 61)
All believers know that difficulties are created to test their faith, and that if they are patient and submissive, these difficulties will be great opportunities for them to mature spiritually. In addition, these trials will become the source of their eternal reward in the afterlife. For this reason, they will submit to these difficulties and retain their well-being, happiness, or joy. These anxieties will not upset their spiritual balance or adversely affect their perception or determination. In fact, their enthusiasm will continue to grow, because they know that they will receive the reward for their patience and submission in His Presence.
For unbelievers, the situation is just the opposite. Those who deny the Qur'an suffer spiritual anguish in addition to the physical pain that they endure in this earthly life. The fear, sorrow, hopelessness, tension, pessimism, and other negative feelings that they experience here are just the beginning of the anguish they will suffer in Hell. Allah describes these people in the following verse:
When Allah desires to guide someone, He expands his breast to Islam. When He desires to misguide someone, He makes his breast narrow and constricted, as if he were climbing up into the sky. That is how Allah defiles those who do not believe. (Surat al-An'am, 125)
Allah reveals that He wills to forgive the sins and errors of those who stand in awe and reverence of His Glory, that He will reward His faithful and repentant servants with the finest blessings in this earthly life, and that they will find favor with Him. As we read in the Qur'an:
Ask your Lord for forgiveness, and then turn toward Him in repentance. He will let you enjoy a good life until a specified time, and will give His Favor to all who merit it. But if you turn your backs, I fear for you the punishment of a Mighty Day. (Surah Hud, 3)
In other words, seeking Allah's forgiveness and turning to Him in repentance are duties enjoined upon all faithful Muslims. These attitudes show that believers are aware of how helpless and weak they are before Allah, for they know their errors and shortcomings and are aware that they can make mistakes. Therefore, they desire Allah's mercy. As our Lord has said, He rewards such people here for their fine morality and gives them a good life until they die. In another verse, He describes the believers' earthly life in this way:
When those who have fear of Allah are asked, "What has your Lord sent down?" their reply is, "Good!" There is good in this world for those who do good, and the abode of the hereafter is even better. How wonderful is the abode of those who guard against evil. (Surat an-Nahl, 30)
When all of this life's beauties are compared with the land to come, they become completely valueless. Therefore, if a goal is to be chosen, it can only be the life of the world to come. Allah increases the blessings of those believers who, already in this world, have set their hearts on the life to come.
In their prayers, believers pray for the world to come and ask Allah for blessings and good in this life. Examples of such prayers are given in the following verses:
When you have completed your rites, remember Allah as you used to remember your forefathers - or even more. Some people say: "Our Lord, give us good in this world." They will have no share in the hereafter. Others say: "Our Lord, give us good in this world and good in the hereafter, and safeguard us from the punishment of the Fire." They will have a good share from what they have earned. Allah is swift at reckoning. (Surat al-Baqara, 200-202)
In the Qur'an, those faithful servants of Allah who sincerely believe in Him are said to be made heirs of this world. Surely His promise is true and will come to pass. One verse states:
Allah has promised those of you who believe and do right actions that He will make them successors in the land, as He made those before them successors; (that He) will firmly establish for them their religion (Islam), which He is pleased to give them; and, in place of their fear, security. "They worship Me, not associating anything with Me." As for those who do not believe after that, such people are deviators. (Surat an-Nur, 55)
In an earlier section, we mentioned that those sincere believers who give themselves to Allah will enjoy His blessings in this life before they enter Paradise. One of the most important blessings is the promise of good news to believers. Several verses"speak of Allah's promise of Paradise and the announcement of this good news to believers as follows:
Their Lord gives them the good news of His mercy and good pleasure, and Gardens where they will enjoy everlasting delight. (Surat at-Tawba, 21)
There is good news for them in the life of the world and in the hereafter. There is no changing the words of Allah. That is the great victory! (Surah Yunus, 64)
The hearts of those believers who have hope in this good news trust that their good works will find favor in Allah's sight, that the blessings they await are close at hand, and are filled with contentment.
The Qur'an states that believers will receive the good news also from angels. Those faithful servants who sincerely believe in Allah and associate nothing with Him, who carefully obey the Qur'an's commands and counsel, and are eager to live according to its moral teaching, may hope for this joyful news. Certainly, this news is an indescribable joy for all believers who ardently desire Paradise. As we read in the Qur'an:
The angels descend upon those who say: "Our Lord is Allah," and then go straight: "Do not fear or grieve, but receive the glad tiding of Paradise that you have been promised. We are your protectors in the life of the world and the hereafter. You will have there all that your selves could wish for. You will have there everything that you demand. Hospitality from the One Who is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful." (Surah Fussilat, 30-32)
Allah has also entrusted the prophets with announcing this good news. In Surat al-Ahzab, 47, Allah commands the Prophet (saas) to proclaim that believers will receive an immense reward from Him; In Surah Ya Sin, 11, He reveals him that"those who obey the Qur'an and stand in awe of the Most Gracious will receive pardon and an excellent reward; and Surat az-Zumar, 17 announces that those who shun the worship of false gods and turn toward Allah will have good news. And in Surah Yunus, 2, Allah tells His Messenger to "give good news to those who believe, that they are on a sure footing with their Lord."
When we look at the common characteristics of the believers, those described in the above verses as those given the good news of Paradise, we see that they are sincere people who are extremely close to Allah, acknowledge their weakness, obey the Qur'an and the Prophet, and fear Allah.
To those who will come into His Presence as believers, Allah gives the promise of Paradise, wherein they will remain forever. As there is no doubt that this promise will be fulfilled, those who believe with certainty will never doubt its truth. Moreover, if they have surrendered their souls to Him as believers, they know that their sins will be forgiven and that they will be accepted into Paradise. The following verse makes this clear:
Gardens of Eden which the All-Merciful has promised to His servants in the Unseen. His promise is always kept. (Surah Maryam, 61)
The fact that Allah has promised Paradise to believers brings them an indescribable joy and enthusiasm. They know that Allah wills Paradise for His faithful servants, and that He has made them its heirs. Here is another verse that mentions this promise:
Is someone to whom We have promised good and who then obtains it like someone to whom We have given enjoyment in the life of the world and then, on the Day of Rising, is one of those brought to punishment? (Surat al-Qasas, 61)
If Allah has promised Paradise to any individuals, they will attain eternal blessings with Allah's permission. And when believers enter Paradise, they will certainly express their thanks to Allah in this way:
They will say: "Praise be to Allah Who has fulfilled His promise to us and made us the inheritors of this land, letting us settle in Paradise wherever we want. How excellent is the wage of those who work." (Surat az-Zumar, 74)
Believers who have been given the good news several times during their earthly lives, and to whom Allah has promised Paradise, will receive at the end of their lives that for which they hoped. Finally, that long-awaited moment will come. The place that they have contemplated throughout their lives, prayed to attain, and striven to be worthy of is Paradise - "the best place to be," and "the most beauteous of all goals." This perfect place was prepared for believers, and its doors are opened to them.
The following verse gives a unique view about their entrance into Paradise:
Gardens of Eden that they will enter, and all of their parents, wives, and children who have acted honorably. Angels will enter in to welcome them from every gate: "Peace be upon you because of your steadfastness! How wonderful is the Ultimate Abode!" (Surat ar-Ra'd, 23-24)
They will be welcomed into Paradise "with greetings and [words of] peace" (Surat al-Furqan, 75), and enter there "in peace, in complete security!" (Surat al-Hijr, 46). There is only one thing left to do: to discover the beauties of this eternal land prepared for believers and endowed with every kind of blessing.