Note: See other articles in the Islam series: Islamic Ideology and Islamic Infrastructure.
Nearly all religions have views of some “happy hunting grounds” that lie beyond physical death. Most have but little correspondence to what Christians understand of heaven. That is particularly true of the “paradise” perceived by Muslims. Differences are great; similarities are few.
A first distinction to recognize is that Allah is just as totally removed from paradise as he is from this earth. He is totally apart from man, totally unapproachable, totally incomprehensible. Allah is pure will. He has no attributes. Fellowship with Allah is unthinkable. A Christian, in contrast, considers that in heaven we will enjoy blessed, eternal, unhindered, direct communion with our Creator, free from any sinful tendencies or influences of the world, the flesh, or the devil.
Paradise for the Muslim is a created place separate from this universe. Satan and demons were driven from a spiritual paradise (their word means “garden”), somewhat like Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden. Satan and demons will never go back to paradise but will be assigned to hell. “That I will fill hell with jinn [demons] and mankind together” (Sura 32:13). Hell, as a place of torture by fire, was created to punish Satan and his jinn and humans who do not acknowledge Allah and Mohammed his prophet. In hell, one neither lives nor dies. “He will be flung to the great fire wherein he will neither die nor live” (Sura 87:12-13). Hell, to the Muslim, is not an eternal separation from the presence and goodness of God; it is a place God created just to inflict unending pain arbitrarily on Satan, demons, and infidels. Hell to them is not a manifestation of the wrath of a sinless deity but only an arbitrary designation of the great indefinable will they call Allah.
No Christians or Jews will ever attain entrance to paradise (Hadith 6:292). Many Muslims even will spend some time in one section of hell as a type of purgatory until Allah chooses to take them out and to allow them into paradise. That paradise they enter will be little different from the world of this life. It is pictured as a place of unending ease and luxury. In this life, there are many discomforts; paradise, however, will be an extended luxury palace of sensual pleasure. Men there will be unendingly reclining on couches with a variety of food and drink brought by servants (Sura 56:11-23). Muslim men there will have two wives (Hadith 4:468) and will be able to visit maidens in a pavilion of pleasure (Hadith 6:402). Sensual enjoyments will never cease. The physical body, as they perceive of it, in paradise will actually be little different from the physical body prior to death; there will be no resurrection body, no new heavens, and no new earth.
A Muslim works throughout this life to attain paradise. Some Muslims who have not performed sufficient ritualistic good works will have to endure suffering in hell but may eventually be released. “Some people … will be saved afterwards, when Allah has finished the judgments among his slaves, and intends to take out of the fire whoever he wishes to take out from among those who used to testify that none had the right to be worshipped but Allah” (Hadith 8:577).
Performing in this life the good works important to being designated as worthy to enter paradise involves what are called the pillars of Islam, five duties incumbent on all men. Angels keep record of one’s good and bad deeds. The five or six pillars are the following:
- Public oral profession of faith in Allah, his messenger Mohammed, and his message (Sura 4:136). The recited creed, “There is no god except Allah. Mohammed is the prophet of Allah,” must be spoken when hearing a call to prayer and in the prayer itself, as well as during other ritual occasions.
- Ritual prayers must be recited in Arabic while facing the Kaaba in Mecca. There are five times of prayer: (1) between first light and sunrise, (2) after midday, (3) just before sunset, (4) after sunset, before nightfall, and (5) between nightfall and midnight. Prior to each time of prayer, a Muslim must purify himself using running water or sand. An imam usually leads the prayer recitals so the recital is in unison. Every Friday noon following prayer, the imam will address the worshippers.
- Fasting occurs during daylight hours of the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. “Whoever fasts during the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards, then all his sins will be forgiven” (Hadith 1:37).
- Almsgiving is the compulsory giving of 2.5 percent of one’s possessions to help the poor and needy, understood to purify the remainder of a Muslim’s possessions (Hadith 2:545; 2:515).
- Pilgrimage to Mecca, going once in a lifetime and performing prescribed ritual there (not incumbent on all Muslims, if unable). For some, there is another pillar, (6) Responding to a call to jihad (holy war) by an imam. One who is killed while waging jihad receives direct passage to paradise (Hadith 9:549).
Mohammed himself was unsure whether he would attain paradise immediately after his death. “Though I am the apostle of Allah, yet I do not know what Allah will do with me” (Hadith 5:266). Just prior to his death, he pleaded, “O Allah, forgive me and bestow your mercy on me” (Hadith 5:715), and “I ask for Allah’s forgiveness and turn to Him in repentance more than seventy times a day” (Hadith 8:319).
Although Mohammed anticipated going to hell at death, he gave no hint as to what further ritual or “good” works Allah might reward during his time there, if any. Doing ritual good works here in this life might help to escape the fires of hell, but being taken to paradise is finally just the choice of Allah, and no one can predict when Allah might do so or whether he ever will. Only Muslims can attain paradise, but it is not certain that all will.
|Warren Vanhetloo has A.B., B.D., Th.M., Th.D., and D.D. degrees. He served three pastorates in Michigan, taught 20 years at Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN), taught 23 years at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (Lansdale, PA), and is listed as adjunct faculty at Calvary. Retired, he lives in Holland, Michigan. Since the death of his wife a year ago, at the urging of fellow faculty and former students, he sends an email newsletter called “Cogitations” to those who request it.|