By Spahic Omer
One of the charges often levelled against Islam is that the inhabitants of Paradise (Jannah) will get bored eventually.
Some people yet go further and remark sarcastically that the condition of Hell will be better, for all the fun and pleasure-loving persons will be there.
To such people, eternity, coupled with monotony and ennui, spells a misadventure. It means dullness and boredom from which there will be neither relief nor escape.
Recently a student of mine approached me and said that he often hears about these things, but was not so sure how to respond in a convincing way, if needed.
My reaction was tripartite.
First, having grown up in a Communist milieu, the slur sounded familiar to me. I myself have heard it many times. It was a line of attack against Islam and its worldview, especially by youth who fantasised but about unbounded materialistic delights and indulgences.
Second, based solely on the instantaneous reaction of my heart and my emotions, I commented that saying such a thing was an absurdity – yet stupidity – that could be concocted only by the corresponding absurdities of the ideologies of atheism, hedonism and nihilism.
These ideologies and their shallow worldviews managed to hijack and destroy all common sense and wisdom, and in the name of knowledge and erudition, subtly serve the opposites.
One wonders who or what gave these people a licence to speak about something they do not believe in, and to talk about something they do not even regard as plausible. They cannot use their own standards and arbitrate thus a realm where a completely different set of standards is supposed to rule.
Certainly, it is grossly inappropriate for the worshippers of the Idols of the Mind (to borrow Francis Bacon’s expression) to meddle in the most advanced matters of the worshippers of the Creator and Lord of life and its inestimable worlds.
By the same token, it is unfitting for such as are trapped in the recesses of Plato’s Cave to try to intercede in and weigh up the most sophisticated ontological, as well as intellectual-cum-spiritual, dimension of Islam, which transcends not only the hollowness of the Cave, but also the expanses of the physical existence taken as a whole.
The law of proportionality
Third, rationalising the matter, it could be said that it all boils down to the law of proportionality.
Almighty Allah informs us that the life in Paradise (Jannah) is eternal, and that the width of Paradise is that of the heavens and of the earth, that is to say, of the entire universe (Alu ‘Imran, 133).
To most scholars, the latter is to be understood literally. However, some believe that the Qur’anic words “as wide as the heavens and the earth” are to be taken metaphorically, in the manner that Paradise is so vast that the best thing to do is to compare its extensiveness with the extensiveness of the universe.
And since the size of the universe is unknown to man, in realistically, together with worldly infinite, terms the width of Paradise is likewise implied thereby.
So far, man is able to speak only about a small observable portion of the universe. Even that is expressed in billions of light years (one light year is about 9 trillion kilometres).
According to NASA, “the universe is a big, big place. No one knows if it is infinitely large, or even if ours is the only universe that exists. And other parts of the universe, very far away, might be quite different from the universe closer to home.”
Hence, the infinity of time calls for the “virtual infinity” of space, which in turn calls for the “infinity” of everything else associated with Paradise.
The last two modes of infinity are rather allegorical, highlighting the perfection, intensity and size of Paradise as contrasted with the imperfection and smallness of this fleeting worldly life.
Accordingly, infinite will be the ranges and varieties available in Paradise as well, due to which its inhabitants will never run out of choices. Alternatives and selections will be never-ending, ruling out the prospect of routines in the terrestrial sense of the concept.
Nothing in Paradise will be common, usual, or mundane. Rather, everything will be ever exceptional, blissful and impeccable. Everything will be exhilarating and original. If the principle “there’s nothing new under the sun” governs this world, the opposite is true in relation to the Hereafter.
As per a verse in the Qur’an (al-Baqarah, 25), whenever the residents of Paradise are provided with a provision of fruit therefrom, they will say that they were provided with the same thing before.
However, they will be told that things are given to them in resemblance; which means, saying that the fruit is the same as what they were given before – either in this world or in Paradise – is what would seem to people. Colours and shapes may be the same, but tastes will always be different.
That is why it is an Islamic statement of belief that nothing in Paradise resembles anything in the life of this world, except in name. Essences are completely different.
So, therefore, since routines and monotonous repetitions are non-existent in Paradise, so are boredom, ennui and weariness. Moreover, since the life of Paradise is the only genuine life, and its purpose, value and happiness the only genuine purpose, value and happiness, its people will never – and can never – get tired of the truth, ultimate reality and authenticity.
Allah says that in Paradise people will have whatever their souls desire, whatever they ask for (Fussilat, 31), and whatever delights their eyes (al-Zukhruf, 71), abiding eternally therein (al-Anbiya’, 102).
Allah also says that “no soul knows what has been hidden for them of comfort for eyes (in Paradise) as reward for what they used to do” (al-Sajdah, 17).
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) further added that in Paradise are bounties which no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human heart (mind) has ever perceived (Sahih al-Bukhari).
In the same vein, the Prophet (pbuh) said that in Paradise a man will be given the strength of a hundred men to enjoy the given pleasures (Jami’ al-Tirmidhi), and his height will be sixty cubits (about 30 meters) (Sahih al-Bukhari).
Obviously, the residents of Paradise will be primed for their eternal home. They will have what it takes to make the most of what is presented to them. There will be no incongruity of any kind or degree. Infinitude is the word for Paradise and everything connected with it.
The people of Paradise are meant for Paradise. They are created for each other. Once united, the intended order of things, meanings and experiences is thus established once and for all. A person discovers and finds himself in Paradise. He is himself only when he is admitted into it.
In Paradise people will happily declare: “It is He who has granted us, through His favour, an everlasting dwelling wherein we shall experience no hardship nor any fatigue” (Fatir, 35). Nobody in Paradise will ever desire any transfer from it, or any change to it (al-Kahf, 108).
Only in Paradise a person feels at home. Paradise as the Abode of Peace (supreme happiness and joy) is what a person ever yearned for, consciously or otherwise.
Paradise, therefore, is at once the exemplification and end of all longings and desires. It gives sense to life and its perennial struggles. A person’s life in Paradise becomes an epitome of faultlessness and fulfilment.
After all, what else to expect from a life in close proximity to Almighty Allah, and from a life that has been conceived and created exclusively for the purposes of heavenly delight and pleasure by Him who is the All-Mighty, the Majestic, the Most Generous, the Most Loving and the Source of All Goodness.
What else to expect, furthermore, from Him who is Beautiful and who loves and is the source of all beauty, and who is Perfect and Pure and who loves and is the source of all perfection and purity.***
(Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer is an academic in the Department of History and Civilisation, AHAS KIRKHS. The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of IIUMToday.)