The Islamic paradise - What's in it and for Whom?

Later in this article:- The talk about 70 virgins (houris) in the hereafter - Why and for whom?

The ultimate form of success in the Islamic faith is the attainment of paradise where there is nearness to God.

There are, apparently, various levels or degrees of that. If an adherent of Islam produces the highest deed in the faith, he is awarded that level of heaven, which is nearest to the abode of all the prophets (pbut) who are in turm nearest to Allah(swt). These will be the human souls who were most God conscious on Earth. 

What is this God consciousness? The Quran mentions it as the highest quality of a Muslim:

"The most honorable among you in the sight of God is the one who is most God-conscious." (49:13)

Humility, modesty, control of passions and desires, truthfulness, integrity, patience, steadfastness, and fulfilling one's promises are moral values which are emphasized again and again in the Quran. We read them as:

"And God loves those who are firm and steadfast." (3:146)

"And vie with one another to attain to your Sustainer's forgiveness and to a Paradise as vast as the heavens and the earth, which awaits the God-conscious, who spend for charity in time of plenty and in time of hardship, and restrain their anger, and pardon their fellow men, for God loves those who do good." (3:133-134)
"Establish regular prayer, enjoin what is just, and forbid what is wrong; and bear patiently whatever may befall you; for this is true constancy. And do not swell your cheek (with pride) at men, nor walk in insolence on the earth, for God does not love any man proud and boastful. And be moderate in your pace and lower your voice; for the harshest of sounds, indeed, is the braying of the ass." (31:18-19)
In a way which summarizes the moral behavior of a Muslim, Prophet Muhammed (saw) said: "My Sustainer has given me nine commands: to remain conscious of God, whether in private or in public; to speak justly, whether angry or pleased; to show moderation both when poor and when rich, to reunite friendship with those who have broken off with me; to give to him who refuses me; that my silence should be occupied with thought; that my looking should be an admonition; and that I should command what is right."

Now comes the second aspect. 

What does paradise contain that we should vie for it? And if the pleasures and luxuries of paradise are meant to be eternal, then isn't the concept, slightly boring?

The most appropriate answer to this is given by brother Moin Amjad at this article of his website Understanding Islam. Some people might ask this question also, as to according to Quran, 'What's in it for women if men are provided for, by over 70 virgins?'

The Qur'an, while referring to the rewards of the pious in the Hereafter, has categorically stated that:

  1. All persons - men as well as women - shall be fully rewarded for their deeds and shall not be wronged in the least (Aal Imraan 3: 195, Al-Nisaa 4: 124, Al-Nahl 16: 97, Ghaafir 40: 40);
  2. They shall get all that they may desire and all that they can ask for, as a first gift from God. His blessings would follow subsequently (Fussilat 41: 31); and
  3. They - (men as well as women) - shall have perfected mates/counterparts/spouses ( Arabic: Azwajun Mutahharatun) as a reward of their deeds (Al-Baqarah 2: 25, Aal Imraan 3: 15, Al-Nisaa 4: 57).

As should be obvious from the above points, there is absolutely no difference in the reward of men and women, as it is mentioned in the Qur'an. Furthermore, it may be noted that the Qur'an has not mentioned anything about '70 huries'. The Qur'an has only mentioned 'perfected spouses/counterparts'. The numerical value of 70 is derived from a Quranic commentary by Ibn kathir.

An interesting point to note here is that some people have criticized the Qur'an for appealing to the very basic needs and desires of man, which include his desire for taste in edibles and beauty and chastity in his partner. A seldom highlighted point is that Quran also exhorts all Muslims (men and women) to maintain a very high level of conduct on this Earth. For Muslim men, a very strict Quranic injunction goes like this:

"Tell the believing men that they should lower their gazes and guard their sexual organs; that is purer for them. Indeed Allah is well-acquainted with what they do" (Quran 24:30).

Here "lowering of the gazes" means to avert the eyes from the unrelated women who pass by and not to caress the attractive features of women with the eyes and "guarding of sexual organs" stands for keeping oneself away from fornication, adultery or committing rapes. Such are the men, who are likely candidates for paradise.

The Prophet Muhammed (saw) told Ali ibn Abu Talib, "Ali do not let a second look follow the first. The first look is allowed to you but not the second" (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, and Al-Tirmidhi). It is the reasonableness of the Shari'ah (Islamic law) that a glance which accidentally falls on something which it is not permissible to see is forgiven. I really do not understand how can a person with even a cursory knowledge and exposure of human nature criticize this aspect of reward, mentioned in the Qur'an in lieu of an exemplary pious conduct on this earth. The Qur'an has simply stated that in the life hereafter, man shall be granted all these things that he very strongly desired to possess in the life of this world BUT he refrained from doing so due to God consciousness and due to which, many a times, he is driven away from the path of his Lord's liking.

On the contrary, the Noble Qur'an has simply assured man that there is no harm in this attraction if one's behavior is controlled within the boundaries prescribed by the Shari`ah [i.e. the limits prescribed by God]. It has assured man that if, in the life of this world, man would control himself within the boundaries prescribed by the Shari`ah, his Lord in His infinite mercy shall grant him all that he desired to get but from which he refrained himself, only to deserve the mercy and good will of His Lord.

For a normal human being the concept of an everlasting reward without the satisfaction of his most pressing desires is obviously incomplete. The Qur'an has recognized this fact, as all realistic views should. Only an ascetic, incomplete and unnatural view of life with arbitrary concepts of reward and punishment can refute this fact.

Same is the case with another prohibited commodity for Muslims of this world, which will be provided aplenty in the paradise. Allah(swt) describes the consumption of wine (intoxicants) in paradise in the manner:

There (in Paradise) they shall pass from hand to hand a (wine) cup, free from any 'Laghw' (dirty, false, evil vague talk between them), and free from sin (because it will be legal for them to drink). (Quran 52:23)

However, Quran does use the term 'Hur' in few of the verses which were revealed during the Meccan period of revelation, and there is a reason. Sister Amina Wadud has explained it in her book, "Qur'an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman's Perspective, Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 54-55"

“They will recline (with ease) on thrones arranged in ranks; and We shall join them to Hur with beautiful big and lustrous eyes” (Quran 52:20)

Amina Wadud says, " It is clear that the term huri, used in the (idhafah) construction hur-al-'ayn, meant something specific to the Jahili Arabs (i.e. people living in Arabia prior to Islam). She was 'so called by the Arabs of the desert because of her whiteness or fairness or cleanness'. She was a woman of 'clear complexion and skin'.1 The description given of the huri are specific and sensual - youthful virgin females with large dark eyes, white skin, and a pliant character - 'while nowhere…are found similar descriptions detailing, if not the beauty, at least the modest or even perhaps hidden assets of earthly wives'.2

The specific depiction here of the companions of Paradise demonstrates the Qur'an's familiarity with the dreams and desires of those Arabs. The Qur'an offers the huri as an incentive to aspire after truth. It is impossible to believe that the Qur'an intends white women with large eyes to represent a single universal description of beauty for all humankind. If we take these mythological depictions universally as the ideal female, a number of culturally specific limitations are forced on the divergent audiences of the Qur'an. The value of these particulars is extremely limited.
The Qur'an itself demonstrates the limitation of this particular description when the community of believers in Islam had increased in number and established itself at Madinah. After the Makkan period, the Qur'an never uses this term again to depict the companions in Paradise. After Madinah, it describes the companions of Paradise in generic terms, 'For those who keep from evil, with their Lord are Gardens underneath which rivers flow, and pure 'azwaj' and contentment from Allah.' (3:15). Keeping in mind my arguments about the generic use of certain terms, 'believers' here are either male or female, especially as the term 'azwaj' is used for both in the Quranic Arabic.

Reader's Comments: Recently, Bob Simon interviewed Muhammad Abu Wardeh about the palestinian suicide attackers on Sixty Minutes. His remarks in Arabic were translated on the program as: "God would compensate the martyr for sacrificing his life for his land. If you become a martyr, God will give you 70 virgins, 70 wives and everlasting happiness. How would you defend that with respect to WTC suicide attacks? Do you think they died for this sensual aspect? Isn't it ridiculous that Muslim's God lures man with the promise of women in paradise?

First of all, this 70 virgin aspect that's been forwarded by some to gauge the reasons behind such actions by suicide attackers in the case of WTC attacks is as it stupid and idiotic as it sounds. The idiotic argument fell flat when Wafa Idris5,  the Palestinian woman, blew herself up on 27th of Jan 2002. It's a case of state terrorism of Ariel Sharon, that drove this lady to this kind of rage and revenge and not her aspiration to meet 70 virgins in paradise. If all these suicide bombers only wanted to attain pleasure with 70 virgins, then they didn't have to give up their lives.  Child prostitution is at an all time high with more and more virgins being dumped into it daily. Agreed! Man has always yearned for virgins and this problem has acquired endemic proportions in Europe and USA in recent years. A UNICEF Report in1998 divulged grisly details about an estimated 100,000 homeless children exploited for sex in eastern Europe, according to the survey done by the ECPAT organization. It fed on fears of AIDS which stimulated the demand for virgins, and on progress in communications technology which led to a proliferation of child pornography. The graph is rising vertically.

ECPAT has estimated that there are between 100,000 and 300,000 children sexually exploited yearly through prostitution and pornography in the United States alone.3 Some 21000 in South Africa4. Most of them between the ages of 10-15 yrs. Where is the market for all these exploited kids? The customers for them are living amongst us in this society. If only for the sake of sensual pleasure, the terrorists had no reason to give up their lives for seeking orgasmic pleasures in hereafter. A paradise, you are never sure of.

The point is, there is never an increase in commodity without a demand in the market. People who talk saintly(sic) and criticize Quran about these sensual pleasures being granted to man by God in the hereafter in lieu of not indulging in them here and maintaining piety, order and sanity on Earth, should ponder over the present chaotic, insecure and unhealthy state of this Earth, devoid of man's fear of God, fear of Hell and a yearning for paradise. A study of human history as well as that of contemporary societies shall clearly evidence the fact that one of the strongest attractions that has led man away from God and His directives is that of the opposite sex. Many a times, man has sinned because of this impulse. In Hindu religion, The king of Heaven, God Indra, was shaken to know this effort of Vishmamitra that could pose danger to his throne! Therefore, Indra decided to put obstacles in his austerities and thereby break his sadhana - spiritual discipline. Indra thought of using weapon of lust to this end. Accordingly, the most beautiful and ever youthful Apsara, Menaka, was sent from heaven to distract and seduce Vishwamitra, who was gaining alarming levels of yogic power through his concentrated meditation. (Apsara in Hindu mythology, heavenly nymph of great beauty, is often represented as a dancer at the court of the Hindu god Indra in his heavenly kingdom.) So there we see, even god indulging in carnal pleasures. In the corrupted for of Bible which was supposed to be God's word, God has supposedly inspired King David's men to get some heat for King David by having a beautiful virgin minister unto him.  Let us look at 1King1:1-4 "When King David was old and well advanced in years, he could not keep warm even when they put covers over him.  So his servants said to him, 'Let us look for a young virgin to attend the king and take care of him. She can lie beside him so that our lord the king may keep warm.'  Then they searched throughout Israel for a beautiful girl and found Abishag, a Shunammite, and brought her to the king.  The girl was very beautiful; she took care of the king and waited on him, but the king had no intimate relations with her."  Is the Bible a porn-full man made book? or is it an inspired Divine Book from GOD Almighty?  Did GOD Almighty inspire David's men to bring him a young virgin so he can sleep with her without marriage?  What kind of morals are we teaching our kids here? So what we call today illegal prostitution and sex according to the "laws of the Bible" is actually allowed in the Bible? I as a Muslim by the way, don't believe that a Prophet from GOD Almighty would do these things, and Allah Almighty in the Noble Quran did talk about King David in the best terms. I repeat my above statements now, the Noble Qur'an has simply assured man that there is no harm in this attraction if one's behavior is controlled within the boundaries prescribed by the Shari`ah [i.e. the limits prescribed by God]. It has assured man that if, in the life of this world, man would control himself within the boundaries prescribed by the Shari`ah, his Lord in His infinite mercy shall grant him all that he desired to get but from which he refrained himself, only to deserve the mercy and good will of His Lord.

Coming to the point of the suicide attackers being granted paradise by Allah(swt). It is only Allah whose discretion holds supreme in this world. No one else's discretion has in reality even a trace of authority. However, for the sake of trial, Allah has sanctioned  freedom to man, who has been given considerable liberty in an otherwise completely enslaved existence, to see how he uses it: does he opt for the realistic choice of submitting to Allah's -- the real Master's -- will or does he get carried away by the thrills of his undeserving liberty and, as a consequence, resort to a rebellious attitude. Allah has prepared the paradise for those who despite possessing many options choose to remain optionless; those who volunteer to fear Allah even on occasions when fear is not seemingly warranted; those who, despite wielding full authority, surrender all their authority to Allah.

It is important to know what arguments the militants use to justify their deeds and to see whether these arguments have any basis in the Qur'an and the Sunnah. This dissertation discusses some pertinent issues in this regard, including incendiary questions as the following: Does Islam give an individual or a group the right to use violence to end wrong? What arguments do the militant Islamists have to justify their acts of terrorism and violence?

The Qur'an says:... that whoever took a life, unless it be for murder or for spreading disorder on earth, it would be as if he killed all mankind; and whoever saved a life, it would be as if he saved all mankind. (5:32) . [People inside the WTC and the two planes, were innocents, irrespective of their religion or caste or creed.]

And: And he who kills a believer intentionally, his reward is Hell; he shall remain therein forever... (4:93). [There were Muslims inside the WTC]

Now the question is, How can someone who believes in this book commit murder?

Here's how: In his mind -- and perhaps even in his heart -- the murder he commits is not murder: it is an act of virtue. Those who do evil can be of two kinds. There are those who know that the evil they do is evil, and there are those who don't. In fact, those of the latter kind might even be absolutely certain that the evil they do is not evil but virtue. When that is the case, murder and terrorism can, in their minds, become Jihad. The good intentions of these 'pious evil-doers' might become an excuse for them on the Day of Judgement, but in this worldly life of ours, when murder and terrorism are the issue, their error of judgement -- howsoever noble their intentions might be -- does not, in any way, exonerate them from the responsibility for causing disruption and disorder in society. Therefore, these people need to be dealt with -- and when human lives and law and order are at stake, there can be two ways of doing that: either you succeed in convincing them that their 'virtue' is actually evil and that their Jihad is in reality Fasad (terrorism or Muharabah) or you sentence them to death.

1 Edward William Lane, An Arabic-English Lexicon, 8 vols. (London: Librarie du Liban, 1980), Part Jim To Ta, p.666
2 Fatna A Sabbah, Woman in the Muslim Unconscious, translated by Mary Jo Lakeland from the French, La Femme dans l'inconscient Musulman (New York: Pergamon Press, 1984) p.95

3 (Source: End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography, and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Exploitation [ECPAT], Europe and North America Regional Profile, issued by the World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, held in Stockholm, Sweden, August 1996, p.70.)

4 Reuters Report : Teachers Commit majority of S.Africa Child Rapes

5 A woman's rage fuels a new kind of MidEast violence - CS Monitor

6 Female Suicide bomber of Chechnya Ichkeria

by - Guided Ones

Read also: Islam and Terrorism - An article written way back in 1998.