Islam

Friday Sermon: Echoes of Paradise

By Babatunde Jose

But give glad tidings to those who believe and work righteousness, that their portion is Gardens, beneath which rivers flow. Every time they are fed with fruits therefrom, they say: “Why, this is what we were fed with before,” for they are given things in similitude; and they have therein companions pure (and holy); and they abide therein (for ever). (Quran 2:25)

When Allah the Almighty, in His infinite wisdom and divine mercy, created the human soul, He intended its eternal abode to be in the Garden of Bliss.  However, the journey to this eternal dwelling is indeed full of many obstacles, be it the attraction to the splendours of this world, the passions of our lower self or the whispers of Satan.  It is the successful preparation for this journey that will ultimately lead us to that Garden.  This preparation is based on comprehending the Divine Message and internalising its teachings in our lives. 

A Prophetic tradition states, “Wisdom is the lost property of the believer.  If he finds it then he is most deserving of it.” Reflecting on the wise sayings and heeding the counsels of the wise will assist in infusing us with the requisite awareness and fervour to prepare for the Day of Judgement.  Verily, we need such counsel, for our Day of Judgement begins not when the world ends, but when our life comes to an end – which is indeed imminent – as the Prophet stated. The only remedy for this lack of knowledge is the holy books.

In the Qur’an, Allah describes a wonderful life of perfect and endless beauty in Paradise. There is good indication that the Biblical paradise, which is described as a garden planted eastward of Eden, from whose waters flow the four world rivers including the Tigris and Euphrates, may have been originally identical with Dilmun, the Sumerian paradise-land.” – S.N. Kramer, History Begins at Sumer.

The historical existence of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:4-3:24) remains a mystery. The Hebrew text depicts the Judaic deity, Adam, Eve, and the villainous Serpent interacting within an intimate setting. Yet the notion of imminent proximity is contradicted by geographical data in the same passage.

Eden’s sole river branches into four tributaries whose localities are verified by later Old Testament passages. The river Pishon winds through Havilah, which is Arabia; the Gihon River meanders through the land of Cush, the Hebrew word for Ethiopia; the Tigris flows east of the Assyrian religious capital at Asshur, and the renowned Euphrates courses through Babylonia, present day Iraq. The circumstance is further confounded by the fact that the Arabian Pishon and Ethiopian Gihon rivers are never mentioned again in the Bible. And here lies the mystery: How did the characters in the Garden of Eden manage to remain visible and audible while simultaneously occupying terrain that spans 1000 miles? Story for another day.

“The idea of paradise as a place of rest and refreshment in which the righteous live in the presence of God appears in Judaism and thence in both Christianity and Islam…The word itself is said to derive from Old Persian pairidzaeze, meaning an enclosed area, usually a royal park or pleasure garden, although some derive the word more simply from the Persian Firdaus or garden. Whichever is the case, the origin is undoubtedly Persian.” – Edward Burman, The Assassins – Holy Killers of Islam

The Arabs call Syria ‘the land of Sheni,’ who was of course Noah’s second son – ‘Sum-Yawar’ to the Mandaeans, the man who preserved their mysteries after the flood. Damascus is in fact ‘Dimishq ash Sham’ – Shem Town – and the astonishingly fertile area around the city is even associated by many with the Garden of Eden itself. Among this ‘many’ is the Prophet Muhammad. He buried his daughter Fatima – wife and cousin to Ali ibn Abu Talib, the first Shi’ite Muslim – just outside Damascus.

“Shem’s descendants became the Canaanites, whom many Syrians to this day claim as their ancestors.” – Paul William Roberts, Journey of the Magi (1995) p. 335. However, history tells us that the Canaanites evolved into Israelites, Phoenicians, Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites. Of these five Canaanite groups, only the Israelites still exist – they are today’s Jews and Samaritans. Modern Lebanese Arabs (especially Lebanese Christians) are predominantly Phoenician in genome but are no longer Phoenician in a national or cultural sense. They assimilated into Arab culture centuries ago. The Semitic race takes its name from Shem. Intriguing enough, both Arabs and Jews are Semites. Both share linguistic etymology and writing and the same progenitor, Father Abraham. Hmmmmm!!!

The Edomites and Moabites both originate in the area corresponding to modern Jordan. However, they were eventually absorbed/assimilated into the Israelite nation via conversion to Judaism. It is not known what happened to the Ammonites, but it is assumed they were Arabized.

“The Qur’an refers to paradise in terms that are reminiscent of the Judaic or Christian Garden. The abode of the just is called the Garden, al-Janna, often described as a Garden through which rivers flow but also as the ‘Garden of Eden’ or the ‘garden of delight’. But the most important aspect is that people there ‘experience forgiveness, peace and the satisfaction of the soul in God’.” – Edward Burman, The Assassins op.cit. For other descriptions of Paradise, see: Quran, 32:17; 36: 55-58; 47:15., 54:54-55; 50:34 – 35; 5:119; 13:23–24; 9:72; 41:31–32; 88:10–16

One of the rewards of Paradise mentioned in the Quran are the “pure maidens” promised for the righteous believers. These passages have been mistakenly used to disparage Islam as a religion of sex and lust. We need to understand them in context.

Allah promises the righteous men and women who were married in the world that they will be reunited and find their spiritual happiness together in Paradise.

Allah said: They and their associates will be in cool groves of (cool) shade, reclining on Thrones (of dignity); (Surat Ya Seen 36:56)

Therefore, applying a worldly conception of marriage, sex, and lust to the spiritual state of being in Paradise will miss the point entirely. As for the Islamist terrorists, they would be disappointed because there are no seventy virgins waiting for them in heaven.

What about the reward for women? Like men, they will be given angelic servants who will wait on their every desire. Allah said: And round about them will (serve) youths of perpetual (freshness): If thou seest them, thou would think them scattered Pearls. (Quran 76:19)

Every person in Paradise will be in a state of spiritual bliss in which the old worldly experiences of lust, envy, fatigue, and angst will no longer exist. All discontent will be removed from their hearts, and they will live in happiness for all of eternity, receiving everything they desire and more. See also (Quran 56:10-23); Quran, 32:17; 54:54-55; 50:34 – 35; 13:23–24; 9:72 and 41:31–32.

Unfortunately for man, the gate of paradise is manned by fiery Angels who will demand a gate pass made up of our good deeds. As my witty cousin Akin Kekere-Ekun (who was a year older yesterday) said last week, ‘there is no ‘quota system in heaven’, entry is strictly on merit. Its work and eat system. No big man in Heaven, no police escorts, no aide-de-camp, no PA, no CSO, no siren and none of those paraphernalia of VIP or ‘Vagabond in Power’.  

O Allah, give us the good health and Grant us al-Janna here and in the Hereafter. So that we may ‘experience forgiveness, peace and the satisfaction of the soul in You’.

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend.

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