"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." [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 labour is all for nothing, for Allah says, "(These are) they whose labour is lost in this world's life and they think that they are well-versed in skill of the work of hands." [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." [3:185]
Our final destination is the life of the Hereafter. Where we end up, Jannah (Paradise) or Jahannam (Hell-fire) 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." [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 alayhe 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 alayhe 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.
Allah says, "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." [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 Muttaqoon 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." [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 Zanjabeel, and a fountain called Salsabeel. 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." [76:12-21]
"And those foremost (In Tawheed 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." [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." [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 alayhe 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." [32:17]
Apart from the Qur'anic descriptions of Paradise, the Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhe 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 alayhe 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 alayhe wa sallam, said, "Rise to enter Paradise whose width is equal to the Heavens and the Earth." Umayr Ibnul Humam al-Ansari asked, "O Messenger of Allah, is Paradise equal in width to the heavens and the earth?" He, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, said, "Yes." Umayr said, "Bak'hin! Bak'hin!" (An Arabic word denoting excitement and astonishment) The Messenger of Allah, sallallahu alayhe 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 alayhe 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 Umair 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 Hadeeth
Abu Sa'eed Al-Khudri narrated that the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu alayhe 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 alayhe 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 alayhe 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 al-Jami)
Abu Hurairah said that the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, said, "There is not a tree in Paradise, except that its trunk is made of gold." (Sahih al-Jami)
Anas ibn Malik narrated that the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe 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 alayhe 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 Ibnul Khattab.' Nothing stopped me form 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 alayhe 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 of Musk. I asked, 'What is this O Gabriel?' He said, 'This is Kawthar (river in Paradise) which Allah has given to you.'" (Sahih al-Jami)