"And whoever desires the Hereafter and strives for it as he ought to strive and he is a believer; (as for) these, their striving shall surely be accepted." [Al-Qur'an 17:19]
Recently I took a trip to see my Dad, who happens to be a non-Muslim, in order for him to meet the latest addition to our family, and in order for me to yet again try to convince him that he should accept Islam. While I was there, however, I found out something about him that I never knew before. My father is a workaholic. This man works seven days a week, sometimes 10-to-12 hours a day. The saddest part being, that his labor is all for nothing, for Allah says,
"(These are) they whose labor is lost in this world's life and they think that they are well-versed in skill of the work of hands." [Al-Qur'an 18:104]
Now, even though the situation with my Dad threw me for a loop, it really got me thinking. How many of us, Muslims, are in the very same predicament as my father? How many of us are working hard for the life of this world, at the cost of the Hereafter? How many of us are putting in 40-plus hours a week at our jobs, and other recreational activities, while putting in only the smallest amounts of time when it comes to our Deen? Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala, says that truly Man shall earn what he strives for. The question now is what are we truly striving and working for?
Maybe it's because at the end of the week, we are rewarded with something tangible for our efforts, a check we can see and touch. The Hereafter, although being equally as real, is at the same time, mystifying and ethereal in its nature. It's a delayed gratification, which makes it harder to earn. Our wages for our efforts in the deen will not be paid in full until we exit the life of this world. For Allah says:
"Every soul shall have a taste of death: And only on the Day of Judgment shall you be paid your full recompense. Only he who is saved far from the Fire and admitted to the Garden will have attained the object (of Life). For the life of this world is but goods and chattels of deception." [Al-Qur'an 3:185]
Our final destination is the life of the Hereafter. Where we end up, Jannah (Paradise) or Jahannam (Hell) depends on what we worked towards in this life. Paradise is the aim and the hope of every Muslim. But like trying to attain any goal, in order to achieve success, one must have a well-defined plan, and it must be implemented to be successful. Allah says:
"O you who believe! Be careful of (your duty to) Allah and seek means of nearness to Him and strive hard in His way that you may be successful." [Al-Qur'an 5:35]
To prepare for our journey, we need to find out what our destination is like; who are its people, and most importantly, how to get there.
The Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, told us that within Paradise are things that no eyes have ever seen, nor ears have ever heard, and that things in it are beyond our imagination and comprehension, but we all have our own personal ideas of what eternal bliss would probably be like. I remember a few years ago, I overheard my niece and my nephew discussing the landscape, and the privileges of living in Jannah. My nephew was telling my niece that in Jannah, they would be able to eat all the candy that they wanted and that there would be streams of chocolate and trees of ice cream. I always tell people, that Paradise for me, would be being able to eat all the cheesecake and chocolate that I wanted, without gaining a pound. But what Allah has in store for the believers is so much more than this. He, in His Book, and through His Messenger, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, has given us a clear picture of our goal, so that we can keep it in front of us at all times. By keeping our eyes on the prize, no matter our hardships in this worldly life, we can strive that much harder to attain it.
"And whoever desires the Hereafter and strives for it as he ought to strive and he is a believer; (as for) these, their striving shall surely be accepted." [Al-Qur'an 17:19]
Allah has also described Paradise in many places in the Qur'an, so let us now take a look at what He has in store for the believers.
Description in the Qur'an of Paradise
"The description of Paradise which the muttaqun have been promised is that in it are rivers of water, the taste and smell of which are never changed. Rivers of milk the taste of which will remain unchanged. Rivers of wine that will be delicious to those who drink from it and rivers of clear, pure honey. For them will be every kind of fruit and forgiveness form their Lord." [Al-Qur'an 47:15]
"And their recompense shall be Paradise, and silken garments, because they were patient. Reclining on raised thrones, they will see there neither the excessive heat of the sun, nor the excessive bitter cold, (as in Paradise there is no sun and no moon). The shade will be close upon them, and bunches of fruit will hang low within their reach. Vessels of silver and cups of crystal will be passed around amongst them, crystal-clear, made of silver. They will determine the measure of them according to their wishes. They will be given a cup (of wine) mixed with zanjabil, and a fountain called salsabil. Around them will (serve) boys of perpetual youth. If you see them, you would think they are scattered pearls. When you look there (in Paradise) you will see a delight (that cannot be imagined), and a Great Dominion. Their garments will be of fine green silk and gold embroidery. They will be adorned with bracelets of silver, and their Lord will give them a pure drink." [Al-Qur'an 76:12-21]
"And those foremost (In tawhid and obedience to Allah and His Messenger in this life) will be foremost (in Paradise). They will be those nearest to Allah in the Gardens of Delight. A multitude of those (the foremost) will be from the first generation (who embraced Islam) and a few of those (the foremost) will be from the later (generations). They will be reclining, face to face, on thrones woven with gold and precious stones. They will be served by immortal boys, with cups and jugs, and a glass from the flowing wine, from which they will have neither any headache, nor any intoxication. They will have fruit from which they may choose, and the flesh of fowls that they desire. There will be houris with wide, lovely eyes (as wives for the pious), like preserved pearls, a reward for deeds that they used to do. They will hear no vain or sinful speech (like backbiting, etc.) but only the saying of: salam, salam, (greetings of peace). And those on the Right Hand, who will be those on the Right Hand? They will be among thorn-less lote-trees among talh (banana trees) with fruits piled one above another, in long-extended shade, by constantly flowing water, and fruit in plenty, whose season is not limited, and their supply will not be cut off. They will be on couches or thrones raised high. Verily, We have created for them (maidens) of equal age, loving (their husbands only). For those on the Right Hand." [Al-Qur'an 56:10-38]
"Verily, the dwellers of Paradise that Day, will be busy in joyful things. They and their wives will be in pleasant shade, reclining on thrones. They will have therein fruits (of all kinds), and all that they will ask for. (It will be said to them): "Salamun" (Peace be on you), a Word from the Lord, Most Merciful." [Al-Qur'an 36:55-58]
Can you imagine?
Wearing the finest silk clothing and sitting on chairs made of gold and precious stones? Those who disbelieve in the words of Allah, say that this is all a fairy-tale, made up by a would-be prophet. But we know, that Allah is the Truthful and that His Messenger, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, spoke only what was revealed to from the Most Truthful. And even though Allah describes Paradise for us in the Qur'an, He still says:
"So no soul knows the delights of the eyes which is hidden for them; a reward for what they did." [Al-Qur'an 32:17]
Apart from the Qur'anic descriptions of Paradise, the Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, would often describe Paradise to his companions. His descriptions were often so vivid and moving, that many a companion would hurriedly rush towards it. This was the case, as Anas narrated that the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, and his companions proceeded towards Badr and arrived there before the disbelievers (of Makkah). When the disbelievers arrived, the Messenger of Allah said, "None of you should step forward ahead of me to do anything." Then the disbelievers advanced (towards us), and the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said, "Rise to enter Paradise whose width is equal to the Heavens and the Earth." Umayr ibn al-Humam al-Ansari asked, "O Messenger of Allah, is Paradise equal in width to the heavens and the earth?" He, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said, "Yes." Umayr said, "Bak'hin! Bak'hin!" (An Arabic word denoting excitement and astonishment) The Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, asked him, "What made you say these words: bak'hin, bak'hin?" He said, "Messenger of Allah, nothing but the desire to be amongst its residents." He, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said, "You are surely among its residents." He then took some dates form his bag and began to eat them. Then he said, "If I were to live until I had eaten all of the dates, indeed this life would be too long." Anas then said, "He threw away the remaining dates he had with him. He then fought (the disbelievers) until he was killed." [Muslim]
What words could have inspired Umayr and others like him to long for, and to pay the ultimate price for a place in Paradise? Let's now take a look at what the Messenger of Allah, had to say about Paradise.
Description of Paradise in the Ahadith
Abu Sa'id al-Khudri narrated that the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said, "The people of Paradise will look at the dwellers of lofty mansions (i.e. a superior place in Paradise) in the same way as one looks at a brilliant star, far away in the East or in the West of the horizon. This is because of their superiority over one another (in reward)." One of the people asked, "O Allah's Messenger, are these lofty mansions for the Prophets which no one else can reach?"
The Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, replied, "No! By Allah, in whose Hands is my life, these are for men who believe in Allah and also believe in the Messenger." [Bukhari and Muslim]
Abu Musa al-Ash'ari narrated that the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said, "Verily, for the believers in Paradise, are tents made of a single hollow pear. The length of which would be sixty miles long from all sides, their wives being therein. The believer will go around them (i.e., visit them) and they will not be able to see each other." [Sahih ul-Jami']
Abu Hurayrah said that the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said, "There is not a tree in Paradise, except that its trunk is made of gold." [Sahih ul-Jami']
Anas ibn Malik narrated that the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said, "Verily in Paradise there is a market in which (the inhabitants of Paradise) will come to every Friday. The North wind will blow and scatter fragrances on their faces and on their clothes. This will add to their beauty and their attractiveness. They will then go back to their families after having an added luster to their beauty and their attractiveness. Their families will say to them, 'By Allah you have been increased in beauty and loveliness after leaving us,' and they will say, 'By Allah you too have increased in beauty and attractiveness after us.' " [Muslim]
Jabir ibn Abdullah narrated that the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said, "(I saw in a dream that) I entered Paradise, and behold, there was a palace built of gold. I asked, 'Whose is this palace?' They (the angels) replied, 'For a man from the Quraysh.' So I thought it might be I, so I asked, 'And who is he?' They said, ''Umar ibn al-Khattab.' Nothing stopped me from entering it except your ghirah (sense of honor)." 'Umar said, "My ghirah would never be offended by you, O Messenger of Allah." [Bukhari and Muslim]
Anas ibn Malik said that Allah's Apostle, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said, "I entered Paradise and found myself by a river, by its edges were tents of pearls. Then I tapped with my hands where the water was running, and there was then a beautiful smell ofmusk. I asked, 'What is this O Gabriel?' He said, 'This is Kawthar (a river in Paradise) which Allah has given to you.' " [Sahih ul-Jami']
Who Are the People of Paradise?
We could go on and on, for the ahadith are vast in numbers, about the Prophet's descriptions of Paradise. But a place that has houses built with gold and silver bricks: where its dirt is made of rubies and sapphires and its inhabitants wear only the finest silk garments, sounds like a pretty exclusive neighborhood to me. Who are these people who will be allowed to live in this enchanting place? The Jews say the Jews. The Christians say the Christians. But Allah says:
"And they say: 'None shall enter Paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian.' Those are their (vain) desires. Say, 'Produce your proof if you are truthful.' " [Al-Qur'an 2:111]
He also says:
"(Namely) those whose lives the angels take in a state of purity, saying (to them), 'Peace be on you, enter you the Garden, because of (the good) which you did (in the world).' " [Al-Qur'an 16:32]
Always in the Qur'an when Allah mentions those who will attain Paradise, He mentions the believers, not the Muslims. He, subhanahu wa ta'ala, says:
"Indeed the Muttaqoon will be amongst the Gardens and water-springs." [Al-Qur'an 15:45]
He also says:
"Verily, the muttaqun will be in a place of security, among Gardens and Springs, dressed in fine silk and (also) in thick silk, facing each other. This is how it shall be, and We shall marry them to houris with wide, lovely eyes. They will request therein for every kind of fruit in peace and security." [Al-Qur'an 44:51-55]
So who are the believers and how do we become one of them? Allah says:
"They believe in Allah and the Last Day, and they enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong and they strive with one another in hastening to good deeds, and those are among the good." [Al-Qur'an 3:114]
He, subhanahu wa ta'ala, also says of the believers:
"But the Apostle and those who believe with him strive hard with their property and their persons; and these it is who shall have the good things and these it is who shall be successful." [Al-Qur'an 9:88]
He goes on to say:
"Allah has purchased of the believers their persons and their goods; for theirs (in return) is the Garden (of Paradise): they fight in His cause, and slay and are slain: a promise binding on Him in truth, through the Law, the Gospel, and the Qur'an: and who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah? Then rejoice in the bargain, which you have concluded: that is the achievement supreme." [Al-Qur'an 9:111]
Of the believers, He also says:
"But those who have faith and work righteousness, they are companions of the Garden: Therein shall they abide (forever)." [Al-Qur'an 2:82]
O slaves of Allah know that being among this illustrious group of people who will live in this place of tranquillity and bliss is not something easily attained. Allah says:
"Or do you think that you shall enter the Garden (of bliss) without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? They encountered suffering and adversity, and were so shaken in spirit that even the Apostle and those of faith who were with him cried, 'When (will come) the help of Allah?' Ah! Verily, the help of Allah is (always) near!" [Al-Qur'an 2:214]
What Allah and His Messenger, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, convey to us is that the people of Paradise are the God-conscious, and the God-fearing. Not everyone, who says 'Lord' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, just as not everyone who professes the shahadah, will enter Paradise.
Only those who fear Allah as He ought to be feared, and are motivated by that fear to do acts of righteousness will attain success. The one who is conscious of His Lord, in every aspect of his life, and turns to Him in true submission, will have purchased for himself safety and security on a day, when there will be none, except with Allah. He does not cause a soul to suffer fear twice, the fear of Him in this world, and the fear on the Day of Judgment. About this, the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam said, "Allah says, 'I do not combine for my servants two states of fear,, said, "Allah says, 'I do not combine for my servants two states of fear, or two states of safety. So if he feels safe from Me in this world I will cause him to fear on The Day of Judgment, and if he fears Me in the world, I will cause him to be safe on The Day of Judgment.' " [Sahih ul-Jami']
It is important, therefore, that Muslims know the characters of those who will be the inheritors of Paradise. But it is unfortunate that many of today's Muslims understand that it is enough for one to pronounce the shahadah by his tongue for him to be entitled to enter Paradise regardless of whether he lived according to Islam or not! But the shahadah means and requires more than the mere utterance of it. Actually this fact is one of the most mentioned aspects of Islam in the Qur'an and sunnah. The essence of iman is deed. Deeds of the heart and deeds of the tongue and other body parts. Deeds that are to be continued till one leaves this world. That was the reason why the Arabs of Makkah refused to pronounce it. They fully appreciated its implication. They knew it concerned authority and understood that they had to govern their deeds and lives with it. Yet many of those who repeat it today lead life styles that do not resemble those described in the Qur'an and practiced by the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, and his companions. The Qur'an warns us that deeds are the basis on which we are to be judged, not only the utterance of the shahadah:
"It is not by your wishes nor the wishes of the People of the Book: whoever does wrong shall be punished for it, and he will find none other than Allah as a protector or helper." [Al-Qur'an 4:123]
So entering Paradise requires that we live as believers and die as Muslims. That takes knowledge, dedication and determination to see it through to its completion. The fist step is belief in Allah and His Messenger, and the flip side to that is leaving all acts of shirk; this means directing all acts of ibadah to none but Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala, whether it be wearing talismans, supplicating to others than Allah or simply showing off. The next step is obeying Allah and His Messenger, avoiding bid'ah and innovations, and carrying out all compulsory acts of worship that He has prescribed. Once we are steadfast and regular in what we must do, we can then proceed to the next level of iman and worship, by doing the things that we have been encouraged to do. By increasing out acts of worship, and remembrance of Allah we will leave off sin and help safeguard ourselves from a Fire, the fuel of which is men and stones.
We Should Also Strive to:
- Protect our minds from thoughts, which are evil, because evil actions begin with evil thoughts.
- Protect our eyes by lowering our gazes and not looking at forbidden things.
- Protect our ears from lewd or evil speech where there is sin. We should also avoid listening to lies, gossip, music, slander, or blasphemy.
- Protect our tongues by saying always what is correct and true, and keeping it moist with the remembrance of Allah, and keeping away from backbiting and other evil speech.
- Protect our stomachs by eating the halal and keeping away from the haram. We should beware of eating usury, carrion, and swine or drinking intoxicants or taking drugs.
- Protect our hands from taking what does not belong to us, or from doing harm to another Muslim.
- Protect our legs from taking us to evil and corruption and an ultimate doom.
- Protect our private parts from unlawful sexual intercourse.
- Protect our wealth by not squandering it or holding on to it too tightly.
- Protect our oaths, witnesses and trusts by not breaching or breaking a contract or pledge knowingly. We should not exceed our agreements, testify to falsehood or break our trusts.
- Protect our families and children by keeping them away from the things that may be harmful and that may corrupt their minds and their souls.
Now, it is true that only Allah knows who the believers are, but that should not stop us from striving to be among their numbers. For the believers will have eternal bliss and complete success, because of the things that they did in this life. Allah says:
"So no soul knows the delight of the eyes which is hidden for them; a reward for what they did." [Al-Qur'an 32:17]
We now stand at the start of the race, so let us run forward quickly to the finish line, where the gates of Paradise will be open for those who strive as they should. The Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam who said, "Paradise is surrounded by hardship and the Hellfire is surround by, who said, "Paradise is surrounded by hardship and the Hellfire is surround by wishes and desires," has described the road to eternal bliss. [Sahih ul-Jami']
Despite this, Allah and His Messenger have left breadcrumbs along the path, for us to follow to make our journey easier. All roads may lead to Rome, but not all paths lead to Allah and His Paradise. We must plan our journey by using only the road map given to us by Allah and His Messenger, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam.
Ways That Lead To Paradise
Belief and righteous deeds are two of the best routes to Jannah (Paradise). The door of righteous deeds is wide and the ways of obtaining rewards are vast, as Allah says:
"And those who believe and do good deeds they are the inhabitants of Paradise, in it they shall abide." [Al-Qur'an 2:82]
Taqwa is the fear of the Most Merciful, and acting in accordance with the Qur'an and the sunnah of the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam. That is, hoping for the reward of Allah and avoiding disobedience of His Guidance and fearing His Punishment. For Allah says:
"Surely those of taqwa shall be in the midst of Gardens and fountains." [Al-Qur'an 15:45]
The Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, also said, "The most common thing which leads people to Paradise is taqwa of Allah and good conduct, and the most common thing which leads people to the Hell Fire is the mouth and the private parts." [At-Tirmidhi]
Obedience of Allah and His Messenger is a sure way to Paradise. Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala, says:
"And whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger, He will cause him to enter Gardens beneath which rivers flow, and whoever turns back, He will chastise him with a painful chastisement." [Al-Qur'an 48:17]
Allah's Messenger, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, also said, "All of my followers will enter Paradise except those who refuse." It was asked who would refuse? He said, "He who obeys me enters Paradise and he who disobeys me has refused." [Bukhari]
Fighting in the path of Allah with one's goods and soul. For Allah says:
"O you who believe, shall I lead you to a merchandise which may deliver you from a painful chastisement? You shall believe in Allah and His Messenger, and struggle hard in Allah's Cause with your property and your lives; that is better for you, if you but knew! He will forgive you your sins and cause you to enter Gardens beneath which rivers flow, and goodly dwellings in Gardens of perpetuity; that is the mighty achievement." [Al-Qur'an 61:10-12]
Repentance erases what came before it as the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said, "The one who repents form sin is like the one who never sinned." [Sahih ul-Jami'] And Allah says:
"Except such as repent and believe and do good, these shall enter the Garden, and they shall not be dealt with unjustly in any way." [Al-Qur'an 19:60]
There are countless other means, from building a mosque to seeking Islamic knowledge to obeying our husbands and raising righteous children. All it takes is our time and sincere efforts. With all that Allah has described, it may seem daunting to us at times, that we will ever make it. Iman rises and falls, and with it our good deeds. But we should never lose hope in Allah, for the only one who loses hope in Allah is the one who disbelieves. So even though we may feel that we are at the bottom of the pile, the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, gives us hope. He said, "Musa, 'alayhis salam, asked his Lord, 'Who amongst the inhabitants of Paradise will be the lowest in rank?' He, subhanahu wa ta'ala, said, 'He is a man who will come after the people have entered Paradise and it will be said to him: Enter Paradise.' He will say, 'How my Lord? Indeed, the people have settled in their apartments and taken their shares.' It will be asked of him, 'Would you be pleased if there was a kingdom for you like the kingdoms of the earth?' He will say, 'I would be pleased, my Lord.' He will say, 'And for you is the like of that,and the like of it, and the like of it.' He will say at the fifth time, 'I am pleased, my Lord.' He will say, 'This is for you and ten times like it, and for you is what you desire for yourself and what is pleasurable to your eye.' He will say, "I am pleased my Lord." [Muslim]
This is what Allah has for the least among us. But despite all the glorious castles, the beautiful clothes and mates we will posses, insha'Allah, He still has in store for the believers the greatest honor awaiting them in Paradise. Suhayb ibn Sinan narrated that the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said, "When the inmates of Paradise enter Paradise and the inmates of Hellfire will enter Hell, the announcer will say, 'O people of Paradise, verily you have a promise with Allah and He wishes to fulfill His promise to you.' They will ask, 'What is His promise? Has He not made our balances heavy (with good deed), whitened our faces, admitted us into Paradise, and delivered us from the Hellfire?' Then the screen will be removed and they will look towards Him. By Allah He will not give them a thing more beloved to them and more comforting to their eyes, than the gaze of Himself." [Sahih ul-Jami']
We were created in Paradise, we came out of it and we will insha'Allah go back to it. It is our destination and we shall reach it. But we have to do what Allah has asked us to do, for Paradise is not cheap. The price is true iman that is shown in obedience to Allah according to the sunnah of his Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam. The companions understood that. Their efforts were all for the life of the Hereafter and they gave only what was necessary to this worldly life. As Muslims, everything we do, can be, and should be worship of Allah. Whether we're working at the office to provide for our families; cooking a meal; raising our children, or simply resting, through remembrance of Allah and supplication, we can transform these earthly necessities into fruits that will bear for us in the life of the Hereafter. So let us keep our eyes on the prize, and strive hard for it, for Allah says:
"And (as for) those who strive hard for Us, We will most certainly guide them in Our ways; and Allah is most surely with the doers of good." [Al-Qur'an 29:69]