Throughout his lifetime, Mohammed would deal with the subjects of paradise and hell every so often. In many suras of the Qu’ran, like-minded people are encouraged with a future of pleasures in paradise. Adversaries, hypocritical or half-hearted ones are admonished with the dreadful torments of hell. Until today, it is by certain expectations about paradise that young suicide-bombers and violent warriors let themselves be tempted to put their lives on the line. Will their hopes be fulfilled?

 

The garden of paradise and the question of who enters it

The Arabic term for paradise in the Qu’ran ‚dschanna‚, means ‚garden‚. The related Turkish word ‚cennet‚ stands for paradise, an obsolete word for ‚garden‚. The paradise is made up of various gardens (55,46ff.) and is guarded by watchmen (39,73). Yet before they enter paradise the believers are promised houses and chambers (39,20; 29,58). They will live there eternally and thus will escape the fire of hell (44,56).

In the traditional writings (of the tradition) the unimaginable size of paradise is described vividly: “There is a tree who’s shadow takes a period of one hundred years to be ridden along by an rider, without reaching ever the outer edge of the shadow” (Al Buchari). There is a reward for whosoever “believes and does what is right” (2,25), the “god-fearing” (52,17). The picture of the scales plays a leading role for the judgement. “Whosoever has heavy scales (because of his good deeds)” (101,6ff.), is promised to escape the blazing fire. Although the good deeds are important the right belief is the main criteria for being accepted by God. The true believers are allowed to go to paradise into the “gardens of delight” (56,26) or into the “gardens of Eden” (19,61).

 

What does it look like there?

There will be faces full of the joys of life who are satisfied with their zeal which they have shown doing their (good) deeds and they will be in a high-situated garden, in which they do not hear any (vain) talk and where there is a (steadily) flowing source and thickly upholstered (like high) beds for resting, set-aside tankards, cushions one next to the other, and carpets which a laid out here and there (on the floor)” (88,8-16).

(Those who are close to God) lie facing each other on beds for resting interspersed with gold while young boys go around holding tankards and cans (full of wine?) and a cup (full) of spring water (for adding it?), a water which does neither cause head aches nor make drunk, and (with all sorts of) fruits, whatever they desire and meat from poultry of the kind they desire. And big-eyed Huris (are at their disposal), (when it comes to their beauty) they are to compare with well-kept pearls” (56,15-23). “We will give them big-eyed Huris as spouses” (52,20). 

These quotes show that Allah promises abundance of the best food and drinks to his believers. The materials used for the bowls and cups also play a role: silver (76,15-16) or rather gold (43,71). Furthermore he puts big-eyed Huris as their spouses at their disposal. “Huri” is derived from the Arabic term “hûr” and means: “those in whose eyes the white and the black colour stand out strongly” (assumption by Horovitz). This term helps to highlight the outstanding beauty of these women. In Europe the term “huri” made people often think of the term “whore” without knowing the proper meaning of the word. The question is if one should think of the wives of the believers (purified spouses, 2,25; 3,15; 4,57) who also have entered paradise or if these are non-earthly beings especially created by God as virgins. There are various aspects that imply that they are not the wives: “Virgins… burning with love and same-aged” (56,36-37), “with swelling breasts” (78,33), “comparable to hyacinths and corals” (55,58), “who have neither been deflowered by men nor dschinn (spirits)” (55,56).

 

A distinctive “men’s paradise”?

“Allah does not let someone into without marrying him to 72 ladies” (Hadith). For the reader, this quote on paradise and some other similar ones, suggest that all human wishes of men will come true. In a small number of suras, like in 33,35, the Qu’ran talks about the Muslim women. Those who do their duty: “God has prepared for them forgiveness and tremendous wages”. Also their pious descendants will be rewarded with paradise. (13,23; 40,8). In sura 43,70, men are actually told to “enter paradise with your spouses and take delight”. Josef Horovitz sees, here, a historic evolution: In the early times of Islam, Mohammed stressed more the material pleasures of paradise – maybe following the portrayals of Arab poets. At this time he did not give any details on the whereabouts of believing women. In later portrayals of paradise, he speaks of women and children in paradise and somehow the purely material pleasures are made to fade into the background.

 

What role does Allah play in paradise?

Paradise includes also the closeness and “the satisfaction of God”, which is rated more precious by the Qu’ran itself than any other material pleasure (3,15; 9,72). In order to find those quotes next to all the other statements, though, one has to already apply a magnifying glass. When reading sura 75,22-23, it can be supposed that the believers will see God: “there will be beaming faces who look upon their lord”. The theologians differ if that really means the gazing of God or if it is only a picture for the knowing of God. One Hadith (Al-Buchari and Muslim) says: “The prophet said: ‚You will see your Lord the same way‘ (as you can see the full moon)”. It is undisputed that God will reveal himself to the believers in some way. In the traditional writings there are clearer words about this: “Do you wish that I give you even more? Then he opens the curtain. See, nothing has been given to them as a present more precious to them than looking towards their lord” (Muslim). Or: “The lord reveals himself to them from above. He says: ‚Peace be above you, you people of the paradise!‘ He looks towards them, and they look towards him…until he is covered in front of them” (Ibn Madja). Apparently, Allah will continue to be arbitrarily in the afterlife and will determine to whom he will reveal himself and for how much time.

 

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