Common Word, Common Lord

In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

Writer Kamel Daoud noted an interesting observation about Paradise in the modern Muslim mind in a recent New York Times opinion piece:

Paradise as a goal for the individual or the group has gradually replaced the dreams of development, stability and wealth promised by postwar decolonization in the so-called Arab world. These days, one imagines happy tomorrows only after death, not before.

He goes on the argue that this “Muslim Utopia” may be part of the reason there is rampant stagnation in the Arab and larger Muslim majority world.

He makes a valid point.

Yet the Quran’s vivid descriptions of Paradise – with gardens underneath which rivers flow, vessels of wine, robes of silk, bracelets of gold, and (yes) beautiful women as spouses and beautiful men, in fact, as servants and attendants – are only promised to the believer who restrains himself and herself in this world:

But unto him who shall have stood in fear of his Lord’s Presence and held back his inner self from base desires, Paradise will truly be his goal (79:40-41).

Still, with all these sensual delights awaiting the righteous believer, one would think that the Quran would encourage a hastened death. Indeed, that is precisely what the savage jihadist believes: by killing himself and scores of innocent people with a suicide bomb, he will earn a quick path to his garden and all those “houris,” or beautiful women, who will welcome him with open arms of sensuality.

He is wrong. Dead wrong. The Quran is stern against suicide:

and do not kill yourselves, for indeed God is a dispenser of grace unto you (4:29).

Moreover, there is a substantial portion of the Quran that speaks about earthly life, including marriage and divorce, dietary laws, international relations, rules of war, and (yes) corporal punishments. If the only goal is the Afterlife without any care about life on earth, why would the Quran address these issues?

Yet, even in the verses that speak about the Afterlife, they are linked to one’s conduct here on earth:

Woe unto the defrauders, who, when they take measure from people, demand [it] in full, and when they measure for them or weigh for them, they stint. Do they not think that they will be resurrected unto a tremendous day?  A day when humanity shall stand before the Lord of the worlds? (83:1-6)

The Quran teaches the believer to pray for goodness in this life and the next:

O our Lord! Grant us good in this world and good in the life to come, and keep us safe from suffering through the fire (2:201).

In fact, the longest verse of the entire Quran, spanning more than a page of Arabic text, details the procedure for credit transactions:

O you who have attained to faith! Whenever you give or take credit for a stated term, set it down in writing… (2:282)

The Quran’s attitude about earthly life and the afterlife is one of balance, and it is summarized in this verse speaking about the Biblical Korah, who lived at the time of Moses:

…his people said unto him: ‘Exult not [in your wealth], for God does not love those who exult [in things vain]! Seek instead, by means of what God has granted you, [the good of the life to come], without forgetting, withal, your own rightful share in this world… (28:76-77).

The Quran says that human beings were put on this earth to strive, to toil, to patiently live in obedient worship of God, and after they die in His service,
“the Angels will come unto them from every gate [and will say] ‘Peace be unto you, because you have persevered!‘” (13:23-24)

Peace be unto you, because you have persevered,” the Qur’an says, and not because you killed yourself in an act of cowardly murder.

This “jihadist fantasy,” to coin Daoud’s term, that Paradise is just a suicide bomb away is unsubstantiated by any reading of the Quranic text and is an egregious distortion and defilement of Islamic belief and tradition. And, tragically, it has been used to dupe too many young, ignorant Muslims into becoming savage murderers.

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