Iqra Asad draws a comparison between worldly rewards and rewards in Jannah.
The Prophet (sa) said: “Allah (swt) said: ‘I have prepared for My pious worshipers such things as no eye has ever seen, no ear has ever heard of, and no mind has ever thought of. All that is reserved, besides what you have seen, is nothing.’” Then he recited: “No person knows what is kept hidden for them of joy as a reward for what they used to do.” (As-Sajdah 32:17) (Bukhari)
We can never actually perceive what heaven is like. The Divine description paints a portrait with words that blow us away, and when we try to imagine it, our minds get jammed. We can, however, aid our comprehension by comparing the nature of the rewards in heaven with the nature of the rewards in this world. By putting the materialistic rewards of this temporary life in perspective, we understand the silliness of spending so much time in pursuit of them.
Food and drink is the most natural point to begin with – a part of every human’s afterlife as well as present life. The Quran says: “The description of Paradise which the Muttaqûn (the pious) have been promised (is that) in it are rivers of water the taste and smell of which are not changed, rivers of milk of which the taste never changes, rivers of wine delicious to those who drink, and rivers of clarified honey (clear and pure) therein for them is every kind of fruit…” (Muhammad 47:15)
Though simple and straightforward, this description raises some questions. It is obvious that in taste, the nourishment of Paradise is greatly superior to that of this world, but what is meant by “taste never changes”? There are two meanings to this. One is that while worldly edibles differ in taste due to pollution, adulteration, use of chemicals, improper cooking and other such factors, heavenly edibles are consistently pure and free from imperfections. The other is a concept that beautifully illustrates the difference between this life and the hereafter. The pleasure felt in eating or drinking something in this earthly existence is directly associated with the degree of hunger or thirst. For example, the first slice of cake eaten when one is hungry tastes delicious, the second not so much, and the third would seem quite bland. Not so in Paradise, where there is neither thirst nor hunger. Every bite is as tasty as the first one.
The second question is regarding the mention of wine. Isn’t it forbidden because it has bad effects? The Quran clears this confusion: “For them there will be a known provision (in Paradise). Fruits; and they shall be honoured, in the Gardens of delight (Paradise), facing one another on thrones, round them will be passed a cup of pure wine; white, delicious to the drinkers, neither they will have Ghoul (any kind of hurt, abdominal pain, headache, a sin, etc.) from that, nor will they suffer intoxication therefrom.” (As-Saffat 37:41-47) As all heavenly things are completely pure, they do not have any adverse effects. You can consume as much of it as you like, without any harm.
The defining characteristic of this life is work. The defining characteristic of life in Paradise is ease. For instance, when Allah (swt) grants us food on earth, we have to buy, prepare or make an effort for it in some way. A person seeking shade in this world will have to seek it himself. In Paradise, the trees themselves will spread their branches low, there will be servants for the people, and the doors will obey them:
“And the shade thereof is close upon them, and bunches of fruit thereof will hang low within their reach.” (Al-Insan 76:14)
“And round about them will (serve) boys of everlasting youth. If you see them, you would think them scattered pearls.” (Al-Insan 76:19)
“’Adn (Eden) Paradise (everlasting Gardens), whose doors will be open for them, [It is said (in Tafsir At-Tabari, Part 23, Page 174) that one can speak to the doors, just one tells it to open and close, and it will open or close as it is ordered].” (Sad 38:50)
Purity is, of course, not limited to the food and drink of Paradise: “…they (the believers) shall have therein Azwajun Mutahharatun (purified mates or wives i.e. having no menses, stool, urine, etc.)…” (Al-Baqarah 2:25)
Apart from the great beauty of these companions, which is incomparable to human beauty, there is another aspect: “And with them will be chaste females, restraining their glances (desiring none except their husbands), with wide and beautiful eyes. (Delicate and pure) as if they were (hidden) eggs (well) preserved.” (As-Saffat 37:48-49)
This aspect is twofold, i.e., the companions are not only kept ‘preserved’ (untouched) just for the believers, but there is also the security that they keep themselves for their human mates. Bluntly said: where loyalty is concerned with human companions in this world – one has trust; with heavenly companions – one has a guarantee. In any case, one of the greatest blessings of Paradise is peace of mind in all matters, something that is impossible to attain in the world:
“And they will say: ‘All the praises and thanks be to God, Who has removed from us (all) grief. Verily, our Lord is indeed Oft-Forgiving, Most Ready to appreciate (good deeds and to recompense). Who, out of His Grace, has lodged us in a home that will last forever; there, toil will touch us not, nor weariness will touch us.’” (Fatir 35:34-35)
“And We shall remove from their breasts any (mutual) hatred or sense of injury (which they had, if at all, in the life of this world).” (Al-Araf 7:43)
It often happens that a sad or upsetting experience steals our sense of peace or happiness. Only Allah’s (swt) healing can remove such pain and hurt completely, leaving the dwellers of Paradise mentally free to truly enjoy the smallest delights of the afterlife in a way they could never take pleasure in their greatest joys on earth. The biggest factor in this regard is, however, as follows:
“Allah has promised to the believers – men and women – Gardens under which rivers flow to dwell therein forever, and beautiful mansions in Gardens of ‘Adn (Eden/Paradise). But the greatest bliss is the Good Pleasure of Allah. That is the supreme success.” (At-Taubah 9:72)
What accomplishment, greater than pleasing Allah (swt), can forever quell the restlessness of the human soul? When we follow the straight path effectively, we can feel the soothing effect on our hearts, but the feeling of striving towards a goal is nothing compared to actually crossing the finishing line and receiving the trophy. That is the true reward, in front of which anything of this earth is worthless.
Holding Infinity in the Palm of your Hand
Once, one of my friends said to me: “There are so many things I want to do, books I want to read, people I want to meet that I would need several lifetimes for it all.” Somewhere between the morning rush and afternoon hustle, one sometimes gets the irrational feeling to throw one’s routine in the trash and spend the rest of the day doing something else. We long for limitless time, but when we mentally consider this temporary life forever, we can never actually grasp the concept of eternity. Think about it. A two-year swim in the pool? Months-long chitchat with friends?
Anas Ibn Malik (rta) reported that the Prophet (sa) said: “There is a tree in Paradise (which is so large that) if a rider travelled in its shade for one hundred years, he would not be able to cross it.” (Bukhari)
This is in direct contrast to the concept of time in this world – as Surah Al-Asr tells us, man is at a disadvantage because of time slipping by, and not returning, whereas in Paradise the dimension of time will cease to exist. It is hard to imagine, because it is on a different scale from anything we are used to. After all, who has an instrument for measuring infinity?