Seeking the Reward of Allah in the Hereafter
Every Muslim struggles in life by observing what is halal (Halal is a term designating any object or an action which is permissible to use or engage in, according to Islamic law. It is the opposite of haram) and avoiding what is haram in order to earn the eternal reward of the Paradise. According to the Qur’an and hadith (What Prophet Muhammad said) , this reward is loaded with sensual pleasures such as delicious food, rivers of milk and honey, shades of extensive trees and houries (pure beings) and immortal boy-servants etc.To many believers these are excellent incentives to seek Paradise.
But there are a few believers who do not seek those pleasures. They rather seek their meeting with Allah (swt) because they love Him and consequently want to be closer to Him in this life and in the hereafter. Those believers are described in the Qur’an as the “Seekers of the Face of Allah”. “And keep yourself (O’ Muhammad) patiently content with those who call on their Lord in morning and evening, seeking His Face (i.e. His countenance / pleasure)”. (18:28)
Our ultimate goal of securing our place in the hereafter is driven by different motivations. And the motivation shapes our relationship with Allah (swt) in this life. If it is to enjoy the promised pleasures of the Paradise then our relationship with Allah (swt) will be based on obeying His Commands, fearing His Punishment and hoping for His Forgiveness. These are the components that lead to the Paradise according to the Qur’an and hadith. If, on the other hand, the motivation is to enjoy being in the presence of Allah (swt), then on top of the above components, our relationship with Him will also be based on love and longing for meeting with Him.
The following narration from the Sirah of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) (The Life of the Prophet Muhammad) demonstrates that both motivations are good. The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) was approached in two occasions by two believers. In the first the person asked him: “O’ Messenger of Allah I want the paradise”; (in other words what should I do to get there). The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) answered: “you reach it with more prayers”. On the other occasion the person asked him “O’ Messenger of Allah, when is the Hour (the day or resurrection)?” The prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) reply with another question: “and what have you prepared for it?” the man said: “I have no preparation except my love for Allah and His Messenger”. Then the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) answered him with a profound wisdom: “the person will land in the hereafter with whom he loved”.
These two advices are different because the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) saw a different motivation in each case. We can easily assume that both men were sincere believers. The first person who asked about the Paradise was probably motivated by the promises of its delightful pleasures. So, the Prophet gave him an answer that helps to keep him on the track of closeness to Allah (swt); that is through more sincere prayers.
The second person, on the other hand, asked about the time of his meeting with Allah (swt). Apparently his mind was not occupied with the pleasures of the Paradise as much as it was with his “physical” nearness to his Creator in the hereafter. When the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) sensed his motivation he gave him the good news; that he would be with whomever he loved.
We should recognize, as the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) did, the diversity of people’s motivations, abilities, understanding and commitment to the faith. But at the same time we should also keep our focus sharp on the purpose and the demands of the faith. That is on what leads to the Paradise rather than what we are going to enjoy if we become dwellers of the Paradise.
Both Qur’an and hadith include many descriptions of the pleasures in the Paradise. As mentioned above, many of those descriptions are sensual images. The Qur’an recalls the luxury in Paradise in ways that people, especially the wealthy Arabs of the seventh century can relate to (the period which Islam came in). The shades, the fruits that are commonly available in Arabia, the drinks that are made of Ginger, Tasneem and Kafoor, and the young beautiful boys who pass cups made of gold and silver. Most of those descriptions still appeal very much to people in our time.
Ibn al-Qayyim, the famous jurist and commentator on the Qur'an, who was also an astronomer and chemist, collected description of paradise as it came in many hadiths. He mentioned that the rocks of Paradise are made of pearls and jewels. The buildings are made of bricks of gold and silver. The trees have trunks made also of gold and silver with leaves made of soft cloth. The rivers are filled with milk or wine (Not harmful) or honey. The food is fruits which are softer than butter and sweeter than honey and the meat is from whatever birds the dweller desires. And the shade is so wide that a fast rider would ride in the shade one tree for a hundred years and still not escaping it.
Excessive concentration on the aspects of pleasure in the Paradise may divert our attention from the ultimate and true pleasure; namely “seeking the Face of Allah” in the hereafter as pointed out above. As much as we love to hear about the sensual descriptions of the Paradise we should also keep in mind what the Qur’an tells us about Paradise; it is such that “No soul knows what is kept hidden from her of pleasures in Paradise as a reward for what it used to do” (32:17).
This means that those sensual descriptions of the Paradise are presented in the Qur’an only metaphorically. This is a common style of Qura’nic narration since it uses mathal (similitude or likeliness) very often.
The believer’s focus for the hereafter should remain on seeking the Face of Allah. The promised pleasure of the Paradise should not divert his/her attention from that focus. Otherwise he/she will be like the example of a person who went to visit a king in his palace, and as he was walking towards the door he became so fascinated with the luxury in the palace’s garden; the fountains, the statues, the pools, the colorful lights, the ornament pants, so much that he wanted to stay and enjoy this fabulous garden and consequently he forgot the meeting with king.
By Mohamed Shokr