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Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

Paradise, the abode of the righteous in the hereafter, is called in the Koran, al-janna, meaning the garden. It occurs under this name over hundred times. In addition to this figure, the Koran uses the same word janna in the sense of an earthy garden for 26 times and six times for the original garden in which Adam and Eve lived before the fall.

The basic meaning of janna is a garden with trees, rivers and fruits. Another basic element is the shade provided by the numerous luxuriant luscious trees. It is also meant the concealing of a thing, so that it is not perceived by the senses. Generally, janna is taken to mean a garden, because trees cover its ground. But the use of this name for the abode of bliss has a deeper significance, since of paradise it is plainly stated that its blessings are such as cannot be perceived by the physical senses. The garden, with its vitality, abundance and comfort, provides a fitting home for those who believe and do good works, especially as it always contrasts in the Koran with hell, the abode of evildoers.

Janna, in the eschatological sense, occurs in the Koran 35 times in the singular, in the dual (jannatan) twice and in the plural (jannat) 69 times. In the singular it refers to one entity, the entire abode of the righteous, in contrast to hell as the abode of the wicked. The seven different names of paradise used in the Koran: dar al-salam (abode of peace), occurs twice; dar al-khuld (peaceful place), occurs once; dar al-qarar (house of peace), occurs once; jannat-i eden (entertaining abode), occurs six times; jannat-i na’im (place of mercy or delight), occurs seventeen times; jannat-i mawwa (resting place), occurs once, and jannat-i firdaus (the garden), occurs once in the Koran.

Inhabitants of paradise
The 56th chapter of the Koran, Sura Waqia describes the three groups of people as the future dwellers of paradise: (1) “the people of the right hand” (ashab al-maymana, 56:8) , who are more commonly referred to as ashab al-yamin (56:27, 38, 90, 91), (2) “the foremost in the race” (al-sabiqun, 56:10), and (3) “those brought near” (al-muqarrabin, 56:11). The ashab al-yamin and ashab al-maymana give a picturesque description of the rewards awaiting the ashab al-yamin: “Mid thornless lote-trees and serried acacias, and spreading shade and outpoured waters, and fruits abounding unfailing, unforbidden, and unpraised couches, perfectly We formed them, perfect, and We made them spotless virgins, chastely amorous, like of age for the companions of the right hand” (56:28-38). The commentators explain their name in three ways: those who, on the day of judgment, will receive the record of their deeds in their right hand, those who are strong and those whose belief is illuminated by the Light of God, vide Razi’s Tafsir al-Kabir, 29:143, 163.

Al-sabiqun (9:100) reads: “And the outstrippers (sabiqun), the first of the emigrants and the helpers, and those who followed them in good doing, God will be well pleased with them and they are well pleased with Him; and He has prepared for them gardens underneath which rivers flow therein to dwell forever and ever.”

Muqarrabin, Jesus is considered one of the muqarrabin (3:45). In 4:172, the angels are the muqarrabin, while in 56:10-26, the muqarrabin are identified as sabiqun, and the description of the rewards bestowed upon them in the Koran: “In the garden of delight…upon close-wrought couches reclining upon them, set face to face, immortal youths going round about them with goblets, and ewers, and a cup from a spring, no brows throbbing, no intoxication, and such fruits as they shall choose, and such flesh of fowl as they desire, and wide-eyes hurries as the likeness of hidden pearls, a recompense for that they laboured. Therein they shall hear no idle talk, no cause of sin, only the saying peace.”

Other verses promise heavenly delights to additional groups: Two groups often mentioned over 50 times each are (1) “the God-fearing” (al-muttaqun/alladhina ttaqu) and (2) “those who believed and performed righteous deeds” (alladhina amanu wa-amilu l-salihat). Also mentioned are “the inhabitants of paradise” (ashab al-janna) over ten times (2:82, 10:26) and the “pious” (abrar) six times.

Deeds that lead their performers to paradise

The general term “righteous deeds” (salihat) is mentioned about 60 times in the Koran, always as a guarantee to entry into paradise: “But those that believe, and do deeds of righteousness, them We shall admit to gardens underneath which rivers flow, therein dwelling for ever and ever.., and whosoever does deeds of righteousness, be it male or female believing – they shall enter paradise…” (4:122-4), and also the description of the believers in 8:2-4. Emphasis is made in the belief in God and His Prophet as a guarantee of prosperity (7:157-8). The Koran (2:112) restricts good fate to “those who submit their will to God,” namely Muslims, and implicitly excludes Jews and Christians from being dwellers in paradise, and in 70:22-35, a list of conditions is given, the fulfillment of which is necessary to gain entry into paradise. Other verses focus on particular deeds that ensure reaching paradise, such as praying (2:277, 4:162, 27:3), almsgiving (3:134, 27:3), belief in the last day (58:22, 65:2), fear of the last day (76:10), obedience (3:132, 4:13), gratitude (3:144), patience (76:12), restraint of rage and forgiving the evil of other people (3:134), fulfillment of vows (76:7), support of the needy (76:8), participation in the emigration (3:195), in Hudaibia (48:18) and jihad (2:218, 3:195, 4:95, 8:74, 9:20, 61:11-2)
Entering the Garden Understandably, janna is a very special place and it is a great distinction to be admitted through its gates (39:73). “Entering” is clearly so important that the word is used for 57 times in different derivations, such as “Enter among My servants,” “Enter my jannat,” “Enter in peace and security” (89:29-30, 15:46); “God will cause those who believe and do good work to enter the gardens beneath which rivers flow,” or “Assuredly He will cause them to enter – an entry that is well-pleasing to them” (22:14, 59). Such a public welcome enhances the honour conferred on them in front of all.

Protection and security "

Obviously, an important aspect of defining the rewards in paradise relates to the contrast the Koran normally shows in adjacent verses between paradise and hell. The true picture can be more fully appreciated in the light of the contrasting picture of hell: “Which is better, this (hell) or the garden of Immortality which the righteous have been promised?” (25:15) and “No equal are the heirs of the fire and the heirs of the gardens” (59:20).

Hell is “an evil dwelling and an evil resting place,” while paradise is “a blessed dwelling and a blessed resting place” (25:66-67). Naturally, the most important thing in rewards is first to be protected from hell and its torment. Wiqaya (protection, preservation) occurs 12 times in this context. The Koran says: “The dwellers in paradise rejoice in what their Lord has given them and He has protected them from the torment of hellfire” (52:18).

The Koran does not just describe the state of the righteous in paradise, but frequently makes them express their state and feelings directly: “Praise be to God Who has put grief away from us. Toil cannot touch us nor can weariness affect us” (34:34-5), and “God has been gracious to us and preserved us from the torment of the breath of fire” (52:27). Even in the world the believers have been praying: “Lord give us good in this world and good in the hereafter and protect us from hellfire” (2:201).

Protection from hell is their first reward, but within janna itself, the righteous are further protected from everything that might spoil their joy: “Evil shall not touch them, nor shall they grieve” (39:61) and “No fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow” (10:62).

Protection from hazan (grief) is repeated 14 times and the number is about the same for khawf (fear). Unlike those in hell, they will suffer no shame (66:8), no malice will spoil their friendship (15:47), “In it they will hear no idle talk nor any lying” (78:35), “They will not hear even the slightest sounds of hell” (21:102).

No discomfort or ill health will result from eating and drinking there. The drink is pure. It neither dulls their senses nor causes intoxication (37:47); it causes no headaches (56:19); it is a cup wherein there is neither vanity nor cause of sin” (52:23).

Unlike this material world, where everything good is doomed to end, those in paradise will not taste death (44:56). Their gifts will have no end (38:54). The fruits will be unending and unforbidden (56:32). It is an abode of eternity (35:35). In it they will abide for ever (98:8). The importance of this sense of security and peace in paradise is borne out by the fact that it is repeated over 40 times in the Koran. It is further emphasized by confirmation that the blessed will not be expelled from it (15:48), nor will they desire to move away from it” (18:108)."

The physical picture

"The physical picture one gets from Koranic reference to janna is that it is vast, “as wide as are the heavens and the earth” (3:133, 57:21). Its inhabitants can move freely and settle wherever they wish (39:74). It is lofty (69:22, 88:10), underneath which rivers flow. This is essential feature occurring no less than 36 times. Rivers in the garden are always in the plural (anhar) and always flow (tajri), which suggests sparkling, cooling and enlivening sounds. There are running springs and fountains, occurring 9 times, of fragrant drinking water (76:5, 18). The trees give plentiful, spreading shade (4:57, 56:30). The temperate climate is unspoiled by harshness of sun or cold (76:13). An important element in the garden is fruit, occurring 12 times – plentiful, unforbidden, never ending, its clusters are within easy reach (56:22-3, 69:23).

In these pleasing surroundings stand “goodly dwelling” (9:72) with “lofty chambers above and rivers flowing beneath (39:20). There are detailed descriptions of these goodly dwellings, vide 55:52-72, 56:15-34, 88:13, etc.), raised couches upholstered in brocade, goblets placed ready, cushions arranged and carpets outspread. We see the dwellers in pleasant company: “They shall enter the garden of Eden, together with the righteous among their parents, their spouses and descendants (13:23, 52:20-1) adorned in green silk. They sit on couches in a relaxed manner, engaged in pleasant conversation, recalling happy memories, absorbed in rejoicing; their faces shining, laughing and joyous (80:38-9) – the effect of life in the hereafter on faces is particularly pronounced in the Koran. They will be attended by servants of immortal youth, who, to the beholders’ eyes, will seem like sprinkled pearls, offering to them pure drinks, flesh of birds, and fruits of their own choice; they will have whatever they call for (36:57, 52:22-5, 56:18-21 and 76:15-19)."
Proper perspective "The popular conception of paradise is that it is the abode of sensual pleasure, but examination of actual description in the Koran gives quite a different picture. Although the food is provided, throughout the Koran the dwellers in paradise are not usually seen actually eating. Four items of food are mentioned: flesh of fowl twice, fruits sixteen times, and pure honey and milk once. They are invited to eat and drink but this invitation is made only three times out of the twenty-seven where this expression is used in the Koran; the rest of the references are to do with this world. In any case, eating and drinking in the garden is not for the protection of life or health, as God has given the inhabitant bodies that do not deteriorate. The meat and fruit available in paradise, describing as being of what they choose and of what they desire (56:20-1) are offered as a token of honour (37:42). There are more references to drinking but the inhabitants are still not seen actually drinking: “And their Lord gave them to drink a drink most pure: This is a reward for you, your endeavour is thanked” (76:21-22).

This is a high honour indeed: the Lord Himself gives them a drink and they are told by God (or the angel) that their endeavours are thanked. Intoxicants are mentioned by name only once (47:15) and drinks there do not lead to headiness or sin (37:47, 52:23). The luxurious couches, cushions, carpets, cups and plates ‘which they themselves have measured to their liking’ (76:16); the servants, the green silken robes and the ornaments they will wear are all tokens of the honour given them by their Lord (76:22).

The Koran repeats for 17 times that the righteous will dwell in jannat al-na’im. The word na’im means pleasure or delight. This is rather restrictive to the wider meaning of ni’ma (from which na’im is derived) as used in the Koran: favouring humanity with religion, prophethood, grace, blessing, causing unity after disunity, freedom, prosperity, cleanliness – all are said in the Koran to be na’ima from God. Na’im should be interpreted in the light of the full picture of janna; superficial, ill-founded interpretation of ni’ma as pleasure contributes to the distorted popular of paradise in the Koran.

Another aspect of janna, which contributes to the popular image of physical pleasure, is the hurris. Part of God’s blessing on the righteous is that they will be joined in paradise with the righteous is that they will be joined in paradise with the righteous of their parents, spouses (azwaj) and offspring (13:23). This is in stark contrast to the dwellers of hell who will suffer loneliness. The word azwaj is mentioned 7 times in the Koran are described as being ‘made pure’ (2:25, 3:15 and 4:57), and 4 times as being hur i.e., of wide, brilliantly black and white eyes. Beauty of the eyes is part of the beauty of faces, and the dwellers in paradise delight in looking at each other’s faces. Al-Janna is not the home of the ‘believing men’ only but also of ‘believing women’. This is made clear in such passages as 3:195, 4:124, 4:176, 9:72, 16:97, 33:35 and 48:5. The hur will be lustrous in colour like rubies and pearls (55:58 and 56:23). First they are described as being of modest gaze, then as having beautiful eyes (37:48). They are described once as being kawa’ib and mutually affectionate (78:33 and 56:37). They have been created anew and made virgin (56:35-6).

People in paradise are never seen lying down or sleeping. Seven times they are said to be muttaki in. Ibn Manzur writes that, “al-muttaki in Arabic is anyone who sits on something (like a couch or a chair), firmly seated; the common people know the muttaki only as someone who is reclining on his side.” The dwellers in paradise are thus shown in the Koran sitting and talking to each other.

The most frequently recurring physical characteristic of janna is that rivers run beneath it or beneath the dwellings, 34 times, and 4 times beneath the inhabitants. Water in janna is not seen stagnant, as in a tank, lake or reservoir, but flowing and gushing in rivers or springs (55:50, 55:and 88:12). It is always beneath so it does not fall on the inhabitants or soak them. They can also look down on it and derive the delight one experiences in gazing from above on running water.

What we have in the longer passages on janna, is like a photographic snapshot of a scene. These snapshots appear to be taken on arrival after the judgment, of which this reward is the outcome. All the scenes are of groups, not individuals, sitting (not lying down or reclining) on couches lined up (56:15) in lounges. The furnishings provided are clearly for gatherings: “…facing each other” (15:47), “They advance upon each other, asking each other questions” (52:25), “…their faces being shining, laughing and joyous” (80:38-9) and “We have removed all rancour that may be in their breasts; in brotherhood, face to face they sit on couches raised” (15:47).

Contrary to what might be expected according to the popular picture, on examining the utterances of the inhabitants of janna, they are never heard to say, “How delicious this food or drink is!” or “How beautiful this damsel is! How luxurious the furniture, garments or ornaments or rivers or trees or fruits.” These are examples of what they actually do say: “Their call therein is, “Glory be to You, O God’, ‘Their greeting: ‘Peace’ and their call ends: ‘Praise belongs to God, the Lord of all being” (10:10), “We have found that which our Lord promised us to be the Truth” (7:44), “Praise be to God Who has put grief away from us. Surely our Lord is All-Forgiving, All-Thankful, Who of His bounty has made us to dwell in the abode of everlasting life, wherein no weariness assails us nor fatigue” (35:34), “Praise be to God Who has fulfilled His promise to us” (39:74) and “God was gracious to us and guarded us against the torment of the burning wind; we used to pray to Him. He is the All-Benign, the All-Compassionate” (53:27-8).

In fact, the examination of Koranic material reveals that the number of references to spiritual and moral rewards in janna exceed those to material reward: “For them are glad tidings” (10:64), “No fear, no grief, no shame” (10:62, 66:8), “They will hear no idle, sinful or lying talk” (56:25, 78:35), “They will have great bounty from God” (33:47), “God will thank them” (2:158, 76:22), “They are the prosperous” (2:5), “Their rewards will be according to the best of their deeds and more” (16:97, 10:26), “He will increase their rewards many times over” (2:245) and “He will admit them by the gate of honour; by a gate that is well-pleasing to them” (4:31, 22:59).

On their way to paradise their light will be seen ‘shining forth before them and on their right hands’ (57:12). On their arrival the angels will greet them (39:73); when they are settled the angels will go and visit them (13:22). They will be in good company ‘with those whom God has blessed, prophets, the just, martyrs, the righteous: good companions they!’ (4:69). Within individual examples; the order of importance is made clear. Thus the inhabitants of janna are ‘brought nearer to God’ first and ‘in gardens of bliss (56:10-11) afterwards. God first commands, ‘Enter among My servants!’ and then ‘Enter My janna!’ (89:29-30). The spouses are ‘kept pure’ first, then ‘wide-eyed’ (37:48); ‘good’ first, then ‘comely’ (55:70).

Furthermore, spiritual rewards are clearly designated as the most important ones. The blessed will have ‘a sure footing with their Lord’ (10:2): “Their greeting when they meet Him is “peace!’ and He has prepared a generous reward for them” (33:44), “He will bring them nearer” (56:11), “Their faces will be radiant; gazing upon their Lord” (75:22-3), “They will be in a sure abode in the presence of a King Omnipotent” (54:55), “God is well pleased with them and they are well pleased with Him” 98:8) and “God has promised the believers, men and women, gardens underneath which rivers flow, forever therein to dwell, and goodly dwelling places in the garden of Eden; and greater, God’s good pleasure; that is the supreme triumph” (9:72). This theme, of God’s pleasure, which is greater than anything else, occurs no less than 12 times in the Koran.

The style in which the image of janna is presented in the Koran is thus appropriate to addressing people of varying tastes, at different times and places. Everything in janna is understandably very special. Nouns are normally qualified: ‘a janna as broad as the heavens and earth’, there is water which is not staled by time; milk, the taste of which does not alter, drink that will not give rise to headiness or lead to sin, flesh of fowl which the blessed desire, fruits of their own choice, unending and undenied, spouses kept pure, of similar age with mutual love. Life there is radiya, pleasing, contented; the faces of the inhabitants are jocund, laughing and rejoicing at glad tidings. They will enter through an entrance that will please them; there will be plenty of shade (zill zalil) and flowing springs, they will live in goodly dwellings. The intensive forms of the adjectives are frequently employed, for example al-fawz al-azim (the supreme triumph) and al-fadl al-kabir (the great bounty). The order of merit is maintained: God’s pleasure is the greatest bliss of all (9:72). The frequent use of ma (whatever), which has a universal application (min alfaz al-umum) provides for individuals ma yasha’un (whatever they wish), ma yadd’un (whatever they call for) and ma yashtahun (whatever they desire).

The frequent use of the plural – jannat and anhar – helps maintain the scale. The attribution of provision to God in the plural of majesty ensures a very special privilege, such as adkhalnahum (We made them enter), amdadnahum (We provided them) and zawwajnahum (We joined or paired them); when provision is attributed to Him in the singular it is given in the form of rabbuhum (their Sustainer), vide 2:63, 3:169, 42:22, 45:30, 68:34, 76:21 or in the form of ‘My servant’ (21:105, 89:29). On the other hand, the use of the passive form of the verb, which is noticeably frequent, gives finality of action effective in its context: the garden which the righteous ‘were promised,’ ‘has been prepared’ and ‘brought near to them’ they were ‘made to enter and inherit it’ were ‘made happy’ in it. In passive structure the active subject is deleted, but the deletion of the object can also be very effective: ala’l-ara’iki yanzurun…(upon couches, gazing…) (83:23) – the object of ‘gazing’ is left to the imagination.

We have noticed that the Koran present ‘scenes’ of gatherings in janna. The scenes as presented in this style in Arabic give the impression of the present. Most of the translators provide a future auxiliary, ‘will’ taking the view that we are now in the present life and in these scenes then Koran is talking about the hereafter. They are also governed by the stricter rules of tense in grammar. The practice, however, weakens the effect inherent in the Arabic style. The Koran in fact brings the future into present, or takes the present to the time when people are in janna. This is facilitated in Arabic by an introduction in the preceding verses of a phrase like ‘on that day’ to announce a scene in janna after which we find the present tense and ‘today’, thus: “The inhabitants of janna today are busy in their rejoicing” (36:55, also vide 23:101, 43:68 and 57:12), where the verb is in the present tense. In such cases as : “The angels enter upon them from every gate: Peace be to you because you persevered” (13:23-4).

The translators insert ‘saying’ between the two sentences; the Arabic text does not, which creates immediately and dramatic effect. Reading through a number of these ‘scenes’ in the Arabic will show the extent to which the present tense is used. The past tense in the Arabic text is also used as if events had already taken place: ‘We gave them…’, ‘We provided them…’. In the following example the pattern of Arabic tenses is retained to give an idea of the effect, although English scholars and translators seem bewildered by the apparently illogical shift of tense/pronoun:

“Those who were duteous to their Lord were led in companies to the garden. When they drew near, and its gates were opened, and keepers said to them: ‘Peace be to you, well you have fared, enter it to dwell for ever,’ they said, ‘Praise be to God Who fulfilled His promise to us and gave us this land to inherit, that we may dwell in the garden wherever we please.’ How excellent is the reward of the righteous. And you see the angels circling around the Throne, proclaiming the praise of their Lord; and justly the issue had been decided between them, and it was proclaimed: ‘Praise be to God, the Lord of All Being” (39:73-5)."

The Real Nature of Rewards in Paradise "The hereafter is portrayed in the Koran as an eternal physical abode, and its permanent dwellers are presented as living, sensible human beings. The descriptions use worldly concepts, of the kind that can be readily understood by humans. Hence, the bliss bestowed upon the dwellers of paradise may be divided into two types: sensual pleasure and spiritual ones. In spiritual bliss, one can find general expressions, such as God’s pleasure (ridwan) (3:15), forgiveness (3:136) acquittal of evil deeds (3:195, 48:5), divine protection from the evil day (76:11), praise of God and greeting of peace (10:9-11). In 10:26 promises al-husna and ziyada “to the good doers (lilladhina ahsanu). The husna is interpreted to mean paradise and ziyada is rendered “looking at God’s face.” The ability to look at the face of the Lord can be drawn from additional verse. The verse 83:15 proclaims that those who do not believe will be “veiled from their Lord.” Several traditions are adduced to indicate that if veiling is a sign of divine anger, unveiling, namely the permission to behold God is a sign of divine contentment. A more straightforward verse reveals: “Upon that day faces shall be radiant, gazing upon their Lord” (75:22-3).

Regarding the sensual pleasure, the most frequently mentioned reward, occurring over 50 times, focuses on rivers flowing beneath gardens. In 47:15, it is described four rivers flowing in paradise: rivers of water unstaling, rivers of milk unchanging in flavour, and rivers, rivers of wine – a delight to the drinkers, and rivers of honey, purified. It further mentions purified women (azwaj mutahhara, 2:25, 3:15, 4:57), “wide-eyed hurries” (44:54, 52:20, 56:22), maidens with swelling breast, equal in age (kawa’ib atraban, 78:33), and amorous virgins equal in age (abkar uruban atraban, 56:36-7). Other rewards that await one in heaven are young boys serving wine (wildan mukhalladun, 56:17, 76:19), ghilman (52:24), sofas to lean against (surur, 15:47, 37:44, 43:34, 52:20, 56:15, 88:13), furush (55:54, 56:34), al-ara’ik (18:31, 36:56, 76:13), rafraf (55:76), green garments of silk and brocade (18:31, 76:21) gold, silver bracelets (18:31, 22:23, 35:33, 76:21), fruits (thamara, 2:25), fakiha (36:57, 38:51, 43:73, 44:55, 52:22, 55:11, 52, 68; 56:20, 32; 80:31), fawakih (37:42, 77:42), especially dates and grapes, wine that does not intoxicate (khamr, 47:15), ka’s (37:45, 52:23, 56:18, 76:17, 78:34), sharab (38:51, 76:21), vessels of silver and goblets of crystal (76:15), plates, trays of gold (43:71), pleasant weather (76:13), shade (4:57, 36:41, 56:30, 76:14, 77:41), provision (37:41, 65:11), palaces (25:10), and whatever the souls desire and in which the eyes delight (43:71). Such pleasure and those like them are often defined as “(the great) triumph” (fawz, 4:13, 5:119, 9:72, 89, 100; 45:30, 48:5, 57:12, 61:12, 64:9, 85:11), mostly with emphasis on their eternal existence. "
These heavenly delights became an issue. Abd al-Masih al-Kindi writes, “All these suit only stupid, ignorant and simple-minded people, who are inexperienced and unfamiliar with reading texts and understanding old traditions, and who are just a rabble of rough Bedouins accustomed to eating desert lizards and chameleons” (cf. Sadan’s Identity and Inimitability, p. 33).

Since paradise and its pleasures are beyond human comprehension. Abul Hasan al-Amiri (d. 381/992) writes in Kitab al-o’lam bi-manaqib al-Islam” (ed. A. Ghurab, Cairo, 1967, p. 136) that, “It is inevitable that rewards (in paradise) should be made in a kind which is pleasing and that its nature cannot be apprehended except by giving a standard or gauge for it of what human senses have experienced.”

Ibn Rushd writes in Manahij al-Adilla fi aqa’id al-milla (ed. M. Qasim, Cairo, 1969, p. 245) that, “The allocation of physical and spiritual reward in Islam is most fitting. The physical rewards appeal more to the understanding of the majority and are a greater incitement to them to gain the advantages in the abode of rewards, while the spiritual illustrations would appeal to the minority.”

Nasiruddin Tusi (d. 672/1274) writes in Rawadatu’t-Taslim (tr. W. Ivanow, Holland, 1950, p. 53) that, “The information which the Prophets gave on the subject of paradise and hell, describing that in such terms of material qualities (awsaf-i jismani) was calculated to suit the capacities of the minds of the people at that time. All this was said in order either to evoke desire to acquire (paradise) or to frighten (with hell), and thus make ordinary people either develop an inclination towards obedience to God, or abstain (from doing wrong) owing to fear of punishment.”

According to The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan (London, 1962, 5:53), “The reward that God gives is quite different from any earthy comforts and riches, but in early times, and even with most people now, it could only be expressed in the form of earthy rewards. That is why the Apostles received the power to speak to every man in his own language.”

We have already seen how material objects in paradise are named in the Koran to give some idea of what will be there, but even these objects are different from what we know in this world: pure water which does not corrupt, milk, the taste of which never alters, food and drink which one never gets bored of, which is always enjoyable and always healthy, trees whose shade and fruit are eternal. In the hereafter, people themselves will be created as ‘a new creation’ in forms ‘which you do not know’ (56:35, 61). The earth shall be changed to other than the earth and the heavens also shall be changed (14:48). It is not surprising that Ibn Abbas observed: “There is nothing in this world which it shares with what is in paradise except the names of things” (cf. Tabari’s Tafsir, 1:174). God says in a hadith al-kudsi, "I have prepared for My upright servants what neither eyes has seen, nor ear has heard, nor has entered into the heart of (any) man." (Bukhari, 97:35)

The Koranic statements are no more than figures of speech to assist the general reader’s comprehension. The Koran clearly states that the descriptions that are given of paradise are given as mathal (13:35, 47:15), which the translators have rendered as parable, similitude or likeness - in other words, specific representations of things that belong to this world but are used to refer to the next, and the food there “appears similar” (mutashabih) to what it is here (2:25). Numerous mathals are employed in the Koran: “Such mathals We propound for mankind so that they may reflect” (59:21).

Full knowledge of the real nature of the rewards of the righteous, the Koran says: ‘is kept hidden’, it has not been given to any human. The same verbal form is used in Arabic to negate such knowledge – la ta’lamu applies to the present and to the future: fa-la ta’lamu nafsun ma ukhfiya lahum min qurrati a’yunin (no soul knows what joy is laid up for them secretly as a reward for what they were doing). Dr. Ahmad Hasan Qureshi writes in The Parables of the Quran (Lahore, 2002, p. 283) that, “We know that we cannot take the description of the garden of paradise literally because the Quran tells us elsewhere that paradise is part of the ghaib, or the Unseen which cannot be described in terms of earthy imagery. The purpose of the description of the garden is that human intelligence can form some idea of the joys and blessings of paradise as opposed to the agony of hell. We also know from the Quran that after this earth has been folded like a scroll, a new earth and new heaven will be created. What sort of reality will be encountered by the believers in paradise and by the disbelievers in hell remains a mystery.”

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