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Pleasures in the Islamic Paradise: Spiritual or Sensual?

Waqar Akbar Cheema

Abstract

There are some misconceptions about what exactly the reward in Paradise will be for Muslims. The critics of Islam have a hard time grasping all the talk of pleasure with bounties like mansions, abundant gardens and beautiful women. These people claim that such rewards are too sensual when the prize of Paradise is supposed to be a spiritual reward. Upon closer examination, we find explicit proof from the Qur’an that totally disproves that the reward of Paradise is only sensual. Even more so, we find very similar notions in other Scriptures, making the arguments of those from other religions fall flat. This article will provide an explanation of what the Islamic Paradise actually is, and why claims against it are inaccurate.

1. Introduction

Ever wondered why the critics of Islam come up with so many flawed arguments in their bid to confuse the Truth? The answer is simple. For years they have been envious of the steady and deep inroads Islam has made into the hearts and minds of the people in the West. Decades ago, Adolf Hitler said:

“… it may be remarked that the progress made by the missions in spreading the Christian faith abroad was only quite modest in comparison with the spread of Mohammedanism.”[1]

2. Objections about Islamic Paradise

The critics of Islam say that Paradise, as represented in the Qur’an and the Sunnah – Islam’s primary sources – is too sensuous and devoid of any spiritual fervor.

These critics take exception to the idea of palaces, maidens and other material delights in Paradise. Their main trouble lies with the concept of spouses; they do not understand how one could have sex in the ‘presence of God.’

3. Why material and physical delights?

We are humans, and even after our resurrection, we shall still be humans – no doubt perfected, but still humans. In light of this reality John Davenport makes a valid observation:

“Another charge brought against Mohammed is the sensual character of the joys promised by him in his Paradise to those who shall receive his Law, and conform their lives to the precepts it contains; but, upon reflection, it will be found that there is nothing so absurd in this as is generally imagined by Christians, when it is considered that our bodies will, as we are told, assume, at the resurrection, a form so perfect as infinitely to surpass all that we can conceive, and that our senses will acquire so extraordinary an activity and vigour as to be susceptible of the greatest pleasures, each according to the difference of their objects, for, indeed, if we take away from those faculties their proper exercise, if we deprive them of the fit objects to please and gratify them, it cannot be otherwise than supposed that they have not only been given us to no purpose, but even to inflict upon us continual disappointment and pain. For, in fact, by supposing that the soul and body are restored to us, as must necessarily be the case if our bodies are restored in a perfect state, it is not clear upon what grounds it can be supposed that the senses should not have objects to exercise upon, in order to be capable of bestowing and of tasting all the pleasures which they may be capable of affording. Can there be any sin, crime, shame or degradation in the enjoyment of such pleasures?”[2]

3.1 On material delights in general

Before I come to the question of wide-eyed-maidens, let us talk about the other material delights like palaces and ‘lavish eatables.’

Paradise will be a place of eternal and total delight. And as a person is neither merely soul nor just body, that person will be provided with everything that soothes that person’s spirit or body.

The skeptical notions about the issue arise from the fact that most people do not understand Islam’s approach to life and humankind. In Islam there is no dichotomy of spiritual and the mundane. And if they can both go hand in hand in this world, why be allergic to the same in the hereafter?

3.2 Are material delights opposed to spirituality?

It seems that to a Christian mind, spirituality cannot be retained in the face of material delights and even needs. This is perhaps the reason why celibacy is so much celebrated as being devoted to God.[3]

While Jesus walked this Earth, he ate and drank. People of his time saw him eating and drinking and hurled the charge of being a ‘glutton and winebibber.’[4] Obviously the charge was false and we reject it but we still hold, and the text of the New Testament proves, he was not abstinent and ascetic like John the Baptist. When physical pleasures like eating and drinking could not prevent him from experiencing spiritual delights and he enjoyed the spiritual blessings more than the physical ones in this life, the physical pleasures in Paradise will not deprive people of their spiritual delights in the same manner.

4. Wide-eyed maidens and sensual pleasures

Almost invariably, many skeptics discuss the physical sensation and the sexual nature of the Islamic Paradise. And thus inevitably we come across the mention of wide-eyed maidens.

Actually all this is in the backdrop of the culture from which the critics come. Giving full allowance of sex and sensuality, they are still uneasy with the same when it is related to the divine blessings, albeit in a channelized manner. Islam views the whole affair differently!

Unsurprisingly, humans yearn for a mate; and Islam recognizes the need as absolutely natural and hence justified. To be blunt, Islam does not view sex as an evil in itself and the same goes for all desires that emerge from human instincts. All it does is to channelize them.

The following hadith clarifies the Islamic position on such actions:

The Messenger of Allah said to his Companions: “‘…the intimacy of one of you with his wife is a charity.’ They said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, if one of us fulfills his desire, will he be rewarded for that?’ He said: ‘Do you not see that if he did it in an unlawful manner, there would be a burden of sin on him for that? Similarly, if he does it in a lawful manner, he will be rewarded for it.’”[5]

When having known that sex is nothing intrinsically evil in this world its existence in the paradise should not to be a problem in anyway.

Gai Eaton helps us understand this at a deeper level:

“No less shocking to the Christian are the Quranic references to the wide-eyed maidens of Paradise, of whom it is said (in traditions) that were one of them to let down her scarf upon the world, the whole earth would be perfumed. How can this be reconciled with Jesus’s statement that there is no marrying or giving in marriage in heaven? It is a question, surely, of what might be described as divine expediency: since people will always be inclined to take images of Paradise in too narrow and too earthly a sense, they must be told that ‘it is not like that at all;’ but since nothing that is good or beautiful or dear to us on earth can be absent from Paradise, we may take these as foretastes of heavenly joy, while trying to understand how inadequate such images are. Christianity emphasizes their inadequacy the Quran, on the other hand, ‘speaks in terms of pleasures of the senses, because these direct pleasures are in fact the earthly projections or shadows of the Paradisal archetypes which it is seeking to convey. Having their roots in these archetypes, the sensations have power to recall them, for the “tether” which attaches the symbol to its reality not only traces the path by which the symbol came into existence but can become, in the opposite direction, a vibrating chord of spiritual remembrance;’ and while reminding the soul that Paradise is intensely desirable, these descriptions serve also ‘to re-endow life on earth with a lost dimension.’”[6]

4.1- Sex in the ‘presence of God?’

Christians contend that how can sex ‘in the presence of God’ be justified? This is a naïve argument. For are we not in the presence of God in this world? Are we in some hiding from the Omnipresent? If something is justified here, the place of test, why not enjoy the same in the Abode of Bliss?

5. Greatest bliss in Paradise will be spiritual

Many think the Islamic Paradise is all about physical delights, especially of the sexual nature! That is what shows you how unempirical the critics are in their approach towards Islamic ideas.

In the Qur’an we read:

وَعَدَ اللَّهُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ جَنَّاتٍ تَجْرِي مِنْ تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا وَمَسَاكِنَ طَيِّبَةً فِي جَنَّاتِ عَدْنٍ وَرِضْوَانٌ مِنَ اللَّهِ أَكْبَرُ ذَلِكَ هُوَ الْفَوْزُ الْعَظِيمُ

“Allah has promised the believing men and believing women gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein they abide eternally, and pleasant dwellings in gardens of perpetual residence; but approval from Allah is greater. It is that which is the great attainment!”[7]

Does the verse leave anything ambiguous?

Such were the lies which made John Davenport cry and say:

“That Mohammed, in his Koran, promises the faithful the use of women, and mentions delightful gardens and other sensual delights, is true, but that he places the chief happiness in these things is a mistake … It is, therefore, false that the pleasures of the Mohammedan Paradise consist exclusively in corporeal things and the use of them.”[8]

6. The Christian view of Heaven

Christians tend to convey that Heaven will be all about spiritual blessings. This may be the popular Christian belief but the Bible does not consistently support the notion.

We read in the Bible that Adam and Eve were allowed to eat in Heaven, which they actually did:

“You are free to eat from any tree in the garden.”[9]

If pleasures like eating were there back then, why do we suppose they are not present now? If man’s desire to eat is to be fulfilled why doubt the same about others?

There is no evidence from the Bible to hold that the Paradise from which Adam and Eve fell will be different from the one that all believers yearn to enter into or are promised of.

Christians will certainly make a quick reference to Matthew 22: 30 arguing that after resurrection people will be like angels.

Now the question is whether angels, according to the Bible, are free from all requirements? Not really! The Bible tells us a story different from the Islamic one and what may be the general impressions. The Bible tells us of the two angels that came to Prophet Lot:

“He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate.”[10]

The same is true for the angels that came to Abraham – peace be upon him. They also ate ‘curds and milk and the calf’[11]. By the way, the same story is mentioned in the Qur’an wherein we read that angels did not even touch the things brought to them.[12]

P.V. Carletti in a footnote to his own French translation of Rahmatullah al-Keranwi’s book Idhar ul-Haqq (Truth Revealed) gives his insight into the issue. Making a reference to Matthew 26: 29, he says that there will be drinking in the Father’s Kingdom (Heaven) and using Luke 22: 16, he maintains the same about eating.

After alluding to all these examples he writes:

“Le paradis des Chrétiens ne me paraît donc pas plus spirituel que celui du Coran; pourquoi faire tant de bruit pour la présence des femmes seulement?”[13]

When translated it reads:

“The Paradise of the Christians does not seem to me more spiritual than that of the Qur’an; why make so much noise for the presence of women only?”

7. Conclusion

Only if the critics can rid themselves of self-styled and unnatural ideals of spirituality they can understand how the Islamic idea of Heaven is the perfect one. Islam promises humans everything of delight in the Paradise, the Abode of Eternal and Total Bliss.

If we shall be raised as perfect humans then surely we shall have all our senses and if any of our senses is rejected the objects to work upon then the paradise will no more be a place of total reward rather a source of pain with regards to that sense. Such an idea is inconsistent with Paradise, at least as envisioned by Islam –the religion of inborn human nature!

 

References & Notes


[1] Hitler, Adolf, Mein Kampf, Translated by James Murphy (Hurst & Blackett Ltd., Dec. 1939) 225

[2] Davenport, John, An Apology for Muhammed and the Koran, (London: J. Davy and Sons) 144-145

[3] The Bible, Revelations 14: 1-5

[4] The Bible, Matthew 11: 19

[5] Muslim bin Hajjaj, as-Sahih, Translated by Nasiruddin al-Khattab (Riyadh: Maktaba Dar-us-Salam, 2007) Hadith 2329 (53-1006)

[6] Eaton, Gai, Islam and the Destiny of Man, (Lahore: Suhail Academy, 1997) 48

[7] Qur’an 9: 72

[8] Davenport, John, An Apology for Muhammed and the Koran, 145-146

[9] The Bible, Genesis 2: 16

[10] Genesis 19: 1-3

[11] Genesis 18: 8

[12] Qur’an 51: 26-28

[13] al-Keranwi, Rahmatullah, Idhhar ul-Haqq, Translated by P.V. Carletti (Paris: Ernest Leroux Editeur, 1880) Vol.2, 72

Published : June 18, 2013                 Last modified : February 18th, 2014

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One comment

  1. MashAllah great article.

    You correctly pointed out the false dichotomy between the spiritual and physical aspects.

    Quran is clear that Islam is the way of life, hence it has guidance on issues related to spiritual and physical matters.

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