A Glance at Paradise and Hell - 1

Although the Holy Qur’an tells us a good deal about Paradise and hell, more details are provided through Qudsi ahadith related by archangel Jibrael (Gabriel), peace be upon him, to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) who, in turn, is quoted by his right hand, Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as), and by the other eleven infallible Imams (as).

The Prophet of Islam (pbuh), moreover, was able, during his ascension to heaven not only to see but even to walk through Paradise, to eat of its fruit, and to observe its grounds. He (pbuh) was also able to cast a look at hell and see the methods whereby its residents are being tortured.

Both al-Tirmithi and Abu Dawood quote the following Qudsi hadith as narrated by the Messenger of Allah (pbuh): 

When Allah created Paradise and hell, He sent Gabriel to Paradise saying, "Look at it and at what I have prepared therein for its inhabitants." He came to it and looked at it, observing what Allah had prepared therein for its inhabitants, then he returned to the Almighty and said, "By Your Glory do I swear that nobody hears of it without (desiring to) enter it.

" So He ordered it to be surrounded with obstacles and hardships then ordered Gabriel to return to it and see what obstacles and hardships with which it was surrounded. Having returned to it and observed it, he addressed the Almighty saying, "By Your Glory do I swear that I fear lest not even one person should be able to enter it.

" Allah said to him, "Go to take a look at hell and at what I have prepared therein for its inhabitants," and Gabriel found it to be layers above layers. He returned and said, "By your Glory do I swear that nobody who hears of it will ever (wish to) enter it." So He ordered it to be surrounded with incitements and attractions then ordered Gabriel to return to it. Having returned to it, he said, "By Your Glory do I swear that I am afraid lest nobody should be able to escape entering it."

Let us now glance at each of these places separately.

1) A Description of Paradise

Paradise (or heaven) is of different degrees of loftiness and happiness. Unlike hell, which is a very deep pit of fire, Paradise is level (or, say, many levels), so much so that even its rivers do not bore holes on its surface but flow miraculously in their paths without scathing the surface. And there is more than one heaven or garden. Verse 64 of Surat al-Rahman (Chapter 55) is comprised of one single word:

Mudhamunatan, which describes two dark-green gardens, while verse 62 of the same sura tells us that there are "Besides these two gardens there are two other ones," bringing the total number of gardens comprising the eternal abode of bliss to four. The highest pinnacle of Paradise is the Garden of Eden, orjannat ‘adan. On p. 99, Vol. 13, of Lisan al-Arab, we are told that jannat means: orchard, a garden with many fruit trees.

Jannat ‘adan is described in: verse 72 of Surat al-Tawbah (Ch. 9), verse 23 of Surat al-Ra’d (Ch. 13), verse 31 of Surat al-NahI (Ch. 16), verse 31 of Surat al-Kahaf (Ch. 18), verse 61 of Surat Maryam (Ch. 19), verse 76 of Surat Ta-Ha (Ch. 20), verse 33 of Surat Fatir (Ch. 35), verse 50 of Surat Sad (Ch. 38), verse 8 of Surat Ghafir (Ch. 40), verse 12 of Surat al-Saff (Ch. 61), and verse 8 of Surat al-Bayyinah (Ch. 98). On p. 279, Vol. 13, of Lisan alArab, we are told that jannat ‘adan means "the place of eternity",

the very central (al-awsat) garden." Page 427, Vol. 7, of Lisan al-Arabs suggests that one of the meanings of al-awsat is: the best. No wonder, then, to see more reference to jannat ‘adan than to, say, al-fl rdaws, Paradise, in the Holy Qur’an. This leaves us with the conclusion that the very best, the central, the focal, the highest pinnacle of al-jannat, the heavenly Garden, is jannat ‘adan.

Paradise, or al-firdaws, as it is called in Arabic, is a loan word. The Arabs to whom Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was sent had no concept whatsoever of life after death, of heaven and hell. This is one of the main challenges faced by the Prophet (pbuh) when he started preaching Islam to them. The Holy Qur’an refers to this challenge in Surat Ya-Sin: "And he strikes out a likeness for Us and forgets his own creation. Says he: Who will give life to the bones when they are rotten? 

Say: The One Who brought them into existence the first time Alll give life (back) to them, and He is Cognizant of all creation" 36:79). Even the author of the best Arabic lexicon, Lisan al-Arab, is ~ot sure whether firdaws is a word borrowed from Latin or Persian, ~or is al-Majlisi, as the latter admits on p. 91, Vol. 8, of his one iundred and ten volume encylopedia—not counting Vol.

Zero—known is Bihar al-Anwar . A third view, which may be more accurate, is that is neither; its origin maybe Babylonian. The other word used in the Holy Qur’an for it is Jannat, garden. But Paradise is a lot more than ust a garden or an orchard. The Arabs never had the habit of living nside their orchards.

Their homes, built of sun dried or fire baked lay, were grouped together rather than scattered inside orchards as s the case with Paradise. The presence of a good number of Jews in ioth Medina (where they were more numerous due to the city’s olerable climate) and Mecca permitted the Jews’ contribution to such oan words. Jahannam, a derivation from Hebrew Gehinnom (According to the Oxford English Dictionary (GED),

its full Hebrew name ge hen Hinnom, the valley of the son of I-linnom, denoting a place near erusalem where, according to Jeremiah 19:5, children were burnt in sacrifice to Baal the fertility god of polytheist Canaanites, or to Molech (Moloch). For more information, refer to II Kings 23:10 and Jeremiah 32:35 in the Bible.) (Latin 7ehenna), hell, is another.

An overall ‘View" of this heavenly place can fill a book and nay be out of the scope of this book; therefore, let us take a look at its gates as seen by an eye-witness: Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who is quoted on p. 144, Vol. 8, of Bihar al-Anwar, describing it as transmitted by Abdullah ibn Mas’ud thus:

When my Lord permitted me to ascend to heaven, Gabriel (as) said to me, "I have been ordered to show you both Paradise and hell." So I saw Paradise and the blessings it contains, and I saw hell and the types of torment it has. Paradise has eight gates, on each one of which are four statements, each one of which is better than the world and what is in it for those who comprehend and act upon them. And hell has seven gates, on each one of which are three statements, each one of which is better than this world and what is therein for those who comprehend and act upon them. Gabriel (as) said to me, "O Muhammad! Read what is written on these gates!" So I read them.

On the first gate of Paradise it is written: There is no god except Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; Ali is a true servant (wall) of Allah; there are means to attain everything, and the means of livelihood are four: contentment, spending on the right cause, renunciation of grudge, and keeping company with the people of righteousness.

On the second gate it is written: There is no god except Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; Ali is a true servant (wali) of Allah; there are means to attain everything, and the means to attain happiness in the life hereafter are four: rubbing the heads of (i.e., showing kindness to) the orphans, kindness to the widows, the effort to assist the faithful in attaining their objectives, and looking after the poor and the indigent.

On the third gate it is written: There is no god except Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; Ali is a true servant (wall) of Allah; there are means to attain everything, and the means to attain good health in the short life are four: saying the least, sleeping the least, walking the least, and eating the least.

On the fourth gate it is written: There is no god except Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; Ali is a true servant (wali) of Allah; whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should be generous to his guest; whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day ought to be generous to his neighbor; whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day ought to be generous to his parents; whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should either say what is good or remain silent.

On the fifth gate it is written: There is no god except Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; Ali is a true servant (wali) of Allah; whoever wishes not to be oppressed should not oppress anyone; whoever wishes not to be taunted should not taunt anyone; whoever wishes not to be humiliated should not humiliate anyone; whoever wishes to cling to the firm and reliable nitche in the short life as well as in the life hereafter should testify that: There is no god except Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; Ali is a true servant (wali) of Allah.

On the sixth gate it is written: There is no god except Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; Ali is a true servant (wali) of Allah;

whoever wishes his grave to be wide and spacious, let him build mosques; whoever wishes the earth worms not to consume him in the ground, let him make the mosques his home (That is, let him frequent them so often as though he lives in them) whoever wishes to remain fresh, (That is, suffering no thirst in this life nor after resurrection when very few will not suffer thirst) let him sweep the mosques; 

and whoever wishes to see his place in Paradise, let him cover the mosques’ floors with carpets. On the seventh gate it is written: There is no god except Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; Ali is a true servant (wali) of Allah; a pure heart is [attainable] in [the attainment of] four merits: visiting the sick, walking behind borne coffins, buying shrouds (for the dead); and paying the debts back. On the eighth gate it is written: There is no God except Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah;

All is a true servant (wali) of Allah; whoever wishes to enter these gates should uphold four merits: generosity, good manners, charity, and staying away from harming the servants of Allah. On the first gate of hell I found three statements written: Whoever places his hope in Allah will be happy; whoever fears Allah (alone) is granted security; a conceited person who is doomed to perdition is the one who does not place his hope on Allah nor does he fear Him. 

On the second gate is the following writing: If one does not wish to be naked on the Day of Judgment, he should clothe those who are naked in the short life of the world; whoever wishes not to suffer from thirst on the Day of Resurrection should give water to the thirsty to drink during his life in the world; whoever wishes not to come on the Day of Judgement hungry should feed the hungry in the life of the world. On the third gate it is written: Allah curses the liars; Allah curses those who are miserly; Allah curses the oppressors.

On the fourth gate, three statements are written: Allah humiliates whoever demeans the religion of Islam; Allah humiliates whoever insults AhI al-Bayt (as); Allah humiliates whoever assists the oppressors in oppressing people. On the fifth gate three statements are written: Do not follow your inclination, for inclinations oppose conviction;

do not talk much about that which does not concern you so you will fall from the mercy of Allah; and do not be a helper to the oppressors. On the sixth gate it is written: I am prohibited from admitting the muftahids (These are those who attain the degree of ijtihad, the ability to deduct injunctions.

See Glossary for explanations of Islamic terms) I am prohibited from admitting those who give in charity; I am prohibited from admitting those who fast, On the seventh gate three statements are written: Take account of your deeds before you are accounted for them; rebuke your souls before you are rebuked; and invoke Allah, the most Exalted, the most Great, before you come back to Him and you will not then be able to do so.

Al-Majlisi, on p. 131, Vol. 8, of his Bihar al-Anwar, quotes p. 39, Vol. 2, of AI-Kaisal, where Ubayy quotes Sa’d quoting al-Barqi quoting his father quoting Afimed ibn al-Nasr quoting ‘Amr ibn Shemr quoting Jabir ibn Abdullah al-Ansari quoting Imam Ja"fer al-Sadiq (as) saying, "Think about Allah with the best of your thoughts, and be informed that Paradise has eight gates the width of each one of which is the distance of forty years." 

In various sermons of Nahjul Balagha, Imam Ali (as) vividly describes both Paradise and hell; this is a paraphrasing of how he (as) portrays Paradise: 

The degrees of its bliss and felicity vary a great deal from one person or place to another; its bliss never ends; those who reside in it are never evicted from its premises, nor do they ever get old, and nobody in it is afflicted with misery (Sermon 85). They do not brag with one another, nor do they multiply and have offspring (Sermon 161). 

Nobody enters it except those who are familiar with (and who follow in the footsteps of) the Imams from the progeny of the Prophet (pbuh) and whom they (as) identify (on the Day of Judgment) as such (Sermon 152).

If you can ever conceive what may be described for you of it, your soul will turn away from the most alluring of what is in the life of this world of pleasures and temptations and things that please the eyes, and you will be perplexed at how its trees are lined up in rows, and their roots are buried in heaps of musk along its shores. Its fruits are very easy to reach. Its inhabitants are treated periodically to drinks of pure honey and wines, which do not cause intoxication, while such residents are enjoying life in the pavilions of their mansions. Its shade is Allah’s ‘Arsh; its light is His felicity, and its residents are often visited by His angels. 

The best enjoyment the residents of Paradise will appreciate will be nearness to the Almighty and the ability to communicate with Him. He will address them like a host surrounding his guests with his attention. On p. 114, Vol. 8, of his Sahib, al-Bukhari quotes Ma’ath ibn Asad quoting Abdullah quoting Malik ibn Anas quoting Zayd ibn Aslam quoting ‘Ata ibn Yasar quoting Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri, may Allah be pleased with him, quoting the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) saying that Allah will address the residents of Paradise and say, "O people of Paradise!" and they will answer Him by saying, "Labbayk, Lord! At your Pleasure!" 

Then He will ask them, "Are you contented?" They will answer, "And how could we not be contented while You have given us what You have not given anyone else of Your creation?" Then He will say, "I will give you something even better than that," and they will say, "O Lord! And what is better than that?" He will say, "I shall cause My favor to descend upon you and I shall never be displeased with you.

" The same author, in his chapter on Tawhid, quotes Muhammad ibn Sinan quoting Fulayh quoting Hilal quoting ‘Ata ibn Yasar saying that one day the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) happened to be delivering had ith and a bedouin was present. He (pbuh) said that a bedouin among the people of Paradise once sought permission of his Lord to cultivate the land, whereupon the Almighty asked him,

"Haven’t you acquired whatever you desire [of the trees and plants of Paradise]?" He answered by saying, "Yes, but I still like to cultivate the land." The Almighty permitted him to do so; therefore, he sowed seeds and within seconds plants grew and ripened and yielded heaps of harvest as high as mountains. It was then that the Almighty said, "Take it, O son of Adam, for nothing satisfies you!" The bedouin said, "O Messenger of Allah! This man must have been either from Quraysh or from the Ansar, for they are farmers whereas we [bedouins] are not." The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) smiled.

Since the love of acquisition and accumulation is instinctive among the descendants of Adam, al-Tirmithi, on pp. 89-90, Vol. 2, of his Jami’, quotes traditions of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) wherein he informs his companions that the residents of Paradise will be treated periodically to a feast that will remind them of how they used to spend Fridays here on earth, and they will go to a bazaar where each one of them will select whatever clothes, jewelry, or anything else he likes and take it back to his residence.

The "Garden of Eden," that is, jannat ‘adan, is referred to in the Holy Qur’an in more than one place. According to Ibn Mas’ud, it is the central part of Paradise. According to al-Dhahhak, it is a city within a city, one in which the messengers, prophets, martyrs, and the Imams of guidance reside surrounded by all others.

It mansions are built of jewels, emeralds, sapphires, crysolites, pearls, gold and silver and plated in musk, and, according to Muqatil and al-Kalbi, a wind blows on it from underneath the ‘Arsh, immersing it in white musk. Even Iblis, Satan, envied the humans on account of this Garden of Eden. On p.

115 of Al-Mahasin, Muhammad ibn Qays quotes Imam Abu Ja’fer al-Baqir (as) saying that Iblis the accursed saw prophet Noah (as) once saying his prayers, and he envied him for it. Then he said to him, "O Noah! Allah, the most Exalted One, the most Sublime, planted the trees of the Garden of Eden Himself and built its mansions and let its rivers flow. Then He looked at it and said, ‘The believers are surely the winners! No, by My dignity! No immoral person shall ever reside here."’

The types of food and drink in Paradise are detailed in the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah, and so are the huris, the women with large lovely eyes who will be the wives of the lucky ones, yet one is tempted to ask: What will the residents of Paradise enjoy most? Will it be the drinks, the food, the music played by the branches and leaves of Paradise, or the singing of these hurLs whose songs, sung individually or in groups, will praise the Almighty and glorify Him? In his Tafsir, al-’Ayyashi, as quoted on p. 139, Vol. 8, of Riliar al-Anwar, quotes Abu Baseer quoting Abu Abdullah Imam Ja’fer al-Sadiq (as) saying, ‘The residents of Paradise will enjoy neither food nor drink more than enjoying sexual intercourse."

On pp. 438-439 of Ali ibn Ibrahim’s Tafsir, as quoted on pp. 120-121, Vol. 8, of al-Majlisi’s Rihar al-Anwar, it is stated that Ibn Abu ‘Umayr quotes Abu Busayr saying that he once asked Abu Abdullah Imam Ja’fer al-Sadiq (as) to stir his anxiety about Paradise, whereupon the Imam (as) said, "O Abu Muhammad!

Even from the distance of a thousand years can the sweet smell of Paradise be detected, and the most modest residence in Paradise is one where the jinns and humans go; there will they be well fed, and drinks will be served to them, without diminishing anything thereof. The most modest of the residents of Paradise is one who, upon entering his garden, sees not one but three gardens full of wives, servants, rivers and fruits that fill his eyes and heart with joy. Once he thanks Allah and praises Him, he will be addressed to raise his head to see the second garden, for it contains what the first does not.

So he implores, ‘Lord! I plead to You to grant me this one (instead)!’ The Almighty will say to him, ‘If I grant it to you, you may ask Me to give you some other one!’ He will say, ‘This one is the one I want, O Lord!’ So when he enters it, his pleasure will increase, and he will thank and praise Allah, whereupon its gate is ordered open and he will be told to raise his head.

Once the garden of eternity is opened for him, he will see many times as much as he saw before. When his happiness is multiplied, he will say, ‘Praise to You, Lord, a Praise that can never be computed for having granted me gardens and saved me from the fire!"’ At that point, Abu Busayr could not help weeping, yet he asked the Imam (as) to tell him more. Imam al-Baqir (as) said, "O Abu Muhammad! On the edges of the rivers of Paradise are wives waiting for their husbands like trees standing in a row. The moment he picks one of them, another is created for him in her place."

Abu Busayr said, "May my life be sacrificed for you! Please do tell me more!" The Imam (as) then said, "A believer is married to eight hundred virgins, four thousand thayyibs (A thayyib is a deflowered but unmarried woman who may be either a pious widow or a divorcee) and two huris." "Eight hundred virgins?!" Abu Busayr asked the Imam (as) in amazement.

"Yes. Whenever he cohabits with one of them, he always finds her so." "May my life be sacrificed for your sake," said Abu Busayr, "What are the huris created of?" The Imam (as) told the inquirer that they were created of the same heavenly substance of which Paradise is created, then he added, "Her leg can be seen even from behind seventy outfits."

Abu Busayr asked the Imam (as), "May my life be sacrificed for you, do they say anything there?" The Imam (as) said, "Yes, they will say something no human has ever heard." "What is it?" asked Abu Busayr. "They will say: ‘We are the eternal ones who never die! We are the blessed ones, so we never suffer! We are the ones who reside and never depart! We are the ones who are pleased, so we never complain! Congratulations to those who were created for us, and congratulations to those for whom we are created! We are the ones who, were we to hang in the skies, our light would overwhelm all visions. 

Both Ibn Qawlawayh, as well as al-Majlisi who on p. 143, Vol. 8, of his work Bihar al-Anwar, quote Sa’d quoting Ibn ‘Eisa quoting Sa’ eed ibn Janah quoting Abdullah ibn Muhammad quoting Jabir ibn Yazid quoting Imam Abu Ja’fer al-Baqir (as) quoting his forefathers (as) saying that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said once, "All prophets are prohibited from entering Paradise before I do, and all nations are prohibited from entering it before those who follow us, we AhI al-Bayt (as), enter it." The Commander of the Faithful Imam All ibn Abu Talib (as) is quoted on p. 139, Vol. 8, of Bilsar al-Anwar, as saying, "Paradise has seventy-one entrances: my Alil al-Bayt (as) and followers enter through seventy of them, while all other people enter through the other."

Other types of enjoyment include pleasures such as no weariness will ever touch the residents of Paradise, nor will they ever suffer any pain whatsoever; they will not need to relieve themselves at all; instead, what they eat comes out of them in the form of sweet-smelling sweat. They will have no chores to perform, nor will they be denied anything.

Their wishes are granted, and their happiness never ends, nor will they ever be bored. May the Almighty admit us into His Garden by His mercy, for no matter how much good we do, the favor for doing it is His, and only His. He is the One Who creates within us the desire to do good; He is the One Who enables us to do good deeds, and He is the One Who, nevertheless, rewards us for doing them, though we would not have been able to do them on our own. He is the source of all good. He is all goodness.

Finally, one is tempted to ask how Paradise as a whole may be conceived. The discussion of jannat ‘adnan above suggests that it is quite likely it is circular with the Garden (or Gardens) of Eden being in the very center surrounded by the gardens of those who were close in lineage and deeds to the Prophet of Islam (pbuh), namely AhI al-Bayt (as), surrounded by those who were loyal to them in word and in deed, and so on. The further one goes from the central point, the less his status will be, and the less his degree of bliss. The circle has always symbolised eternity. The Garden may very likely be circular, and surely Allah knows best.