"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Islamic & Christian Heaven -- Notes on Quran - Sura 54 - 56

I bet y'all will be so happy when I finally finish with these Quran notes, huh? :-)

I'm like a possessed woman reading chapters and churning out posts. Sorry if they bore you. Well, I did break the cycle and post about Dying for Heaven the other day? (Kind of fitting with today's topic, eh?) And, of course, there were those sinful prophets of God whom I discussed last weekend. I have thoughts on Esther that I want to share soon. I finished a fiction book based on her story as told in the Bible. It's quite familiar, but I had a few quotes from the book that I wanted to note here. Have any of you ever thought of Queen Vashti and how brave she was in her defiance of King Xerxes?

But for now, Islamic heaven is on the agenda! First, read these few verses from Revelation 19.

5Then a voice came from the throne, saying:
"Praise our God,
all you his servants,
you who fear him,
both small and great!"

6Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
7Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.

Along with the joys of seeing loved ones again and enjoying the splendor of a glorious place where we will never be separated by sinful actions, this is how I think of heaven. When I read in Revelation 5 of people from every tribe, nation and tongue praising God it gives me a sense of joy and awe of our loving God.

So please keep my point of view in mind as I share how these next chapters in the Quran came across to me.

Sura 54 - al-Qamar

This sura begins with the moon being split as some sort of sign to those who continue in disbelief. Again we see examples of Noah, Lot, the Thamud and Pharaoh which have been noted numerous times throughout this book.

22. Easy have We made the Qur'an to understand: So is there any one who will pay heed?

This verse - or one very similar - was spoken at least three times. Again, I counter that the Quran is easy to understand only to those blessed to speak Arabic. So it was easy for those Muhammad spoke with, but not so much for me if I am to really get the full experience of the Quran's majesty by reading it in Arabic which many Muslims agree should be the goal. Apparently the Quran loses its luster when you are unable to recite it in Arabic.

23.  The Thamud rejected the warnings, 24. And said: "Should we follow only one man among us? In that case we shall be in error and insane. 25. Was he the one of all of us to have been given the exposition? He is surely an impudent liar."

If I am honest in putting myself in a situation like this, I can imagine myself asking the same questions. I tend to be a bit skeptical of men coming with life-altering messages, claiming to speak for God and doing miracles. I have even wondered would I believe in Jesus if I were one of the people of his day. Would I be one of his followers or one of his critics? Or would I have mere apathy for this man and his message? Maybe this is why Jesus says we have to come with childlike faith. Children just accept people and things often with little questioning (except for things like "why is the sky blue?" and "how does water come from the sky?"). They trust easier until we make them fearful of people and skeptical of others' motives.

54. Surely those who fear God and follow the straight path will be amidst gardens and light, 55. At the still centre in the proximity of the King all-powerful.

I think this is the first mention I've seen of God in heaven with the believers! Most of the time the Quran is extolling sensual pleasures such as gardens of delight, flowing rivers, refreshing wine, delicious meats, sweet fruits, pretty waitresses, reclining on couches with all those maidens with bright, big eyes. So I'm glad to see God finally make an appearance in heaven! :-)

Sura 55 - ar-Rahman

This was the most hypnotic chapter I read in the Quran! Within seventy verses or so, this phrase -- "How many favours of your Lord will then both of you deny?" -- was repeated many many many times! (Over thirty, I believe!) It became trance-inducing especially since the verses surrounding them quickly moved to those sensual heavenly pleasures like those "undeflowered" maidens which were mentioned twice in this sura alone! What an incentive for any man of Muhammad's day to convert to this religion! Any man really. Heavenly sex - wow, a man's paradise for sure! I notice how often things men desire are extolled when the Quran speaks of the hereafter. Was the prevailing thought that if the men could be convinced of this message from Muhammad -- and these sexual pleasures are pretty good incentives for men! -- then the women would follow suit? Or that men would be the holdouts as the women were converting to Islam in droves simply because they are easier to convince in religious matters? I'm speculating, I know, but since I see so much reference to lovely maidens in heaven, I get this idea. I don't see much talk of "women, if you convert and 'win' the hereafter, you will get strong, good-looking, Shemar Moore-like men at your beck and call." Just thinking out loud.

What's with these four gardens (vs. 46, 62) of heaven? Are people going to live in different places according to their deeds on earth?

Sura 56 - al-Waqi'ah

It's kind of funny that this chapter is titled "The Inevitable" in English. So fitting. :)

First I see mentioning of three groups of people - two happy groups (the right and favored), one damned group (the left). Great descriptions given as to the sensual heaven again.

13.  A number of the earlier peoples, 14. And a few of later ages,

It seems like people of old have a better chance - or there will be a greater number of them in heaven - than people of the later years.

I see a heaven for those who prefer cute boys (vs. 22-23) and another for those who prefer those lovely women (vs. 34). I laughed when I read:

25. They will hear no nonsense there or talk of sin, 26. Other than "Peace, peace" the salutation.

Seems to say, "Don't worry, guys and gals! That homosexual and promiscuous behavior which we condemned as 'sin' on earth, will be perfectly fine in heaven!" And before you protest that God would not allow homosexual sex in His heaven because you consider it more sinful than promiscuous heterosexual sex, I've heard Muslims say that whatever you desire in heaven you would get. Normally this was in the context of assuring women that even though the men would be with their seventy-two virgins for all eternity, Muslim women didn't have to worry as whatever they desired in heaven would be given to them. So, if whatever our hearts desire will be ours in heaven then homosexual sex will happen. Because we all know even among Muslims that some men prefer sex with men and some women desire sex with women. You can't say you get whatever you desire and start making exceptions because YOU happen to not like what some people would select as desirous. For me, I'd never choose to let men have a harem of women, but if God knows this is secretly or not-so-secretly what every man wants and heaven is all about your wants being fulfilled, so be it.

I'm glad to read that the companions are matched in age (vs. 37) so we won't have any of this horrid young girl having to marry/have sex with an old man stuff that is happening in many Islamic communities.

I contrast this sensual talk of heaven in the Quran with things I read in Revelation about worshiping around God's throne. I can't help but see that for Muslims the main focus of heaven is all about them, whereas, I believe the main focus eternally is God and not all these things God allowed us to enjoy on earth. There is more to true living, worshipful living, eternally living than food, drink and sexual needs and wants. Why settle for food and wine and even hot chicks and cute boys when you can be in the presence of God Himself?

77. That this is indeed the glorious Qur'an 78. (Inscribed) in the well-kept Book. 79. Only they can reach it who are clean (of mind).

It's interesting that one must be clean before approaching the Quran. In my view we do not pollute God's Word, but His Word purifies us. For those who have gone fishing (or even if you haven't), you know first you must catch a fish before you can clean it, right? So how can one be clean before God's Word cleans her? This is human effort -- this is cleaning the fish before its caught. God purifies people. We can't clean ourselves enough to come before His presence. Thankfully we can come to Him just as we are, yielded and waiting as we allow His cleansing words to wash away our filth.


Suroor said...

Susie, I can understand your frustration. You know, interpretations of the Quran vary. Also, to be honest there are Muslims who believe such verses were added to the Quran after Muhammad's death. I don't know how far that is true, though. There are clearer and more descriptive hadith about Muslim heaven, though.

Regarding the moon split into two, I liked Asad's interpretation the best:

"Most of the commentators see in this verse a reference to a phenomenon said to have been witnessed by several of the Prophet's contemporaries. As described in a number of reports going back to some Companions, the moon appeared one night as if split into two distinct parts. While there is no reason to doubt the subjective veracity of these reports, it is possible that what actually happened was an unusual kind of partial lunar eclipse, which produced an equally unusual optical illusion. But whatever the nature of that phenomenon, it is practically certain that the above Quran-verse does NOT refer to it but, rather, to a future event: namely, to what will happen when the Last Hour approaches. (The Quran frequently employs the past tense to denote the future, and particularly so in passages which speak of the coming of the Last Hour and of Resurrection Day; this use of the past tense is meant to stress the certainty of the happening to which the verb relates.)"

Many Muslims also don't believe in Houris although I don't know how that could be denied. The boys are believed to be just waiters :-D

But I agree that if there is a Heaven I only want it to finally be able to be in God's royal presence. I don't know how people think about shagging in His presence :-D

Susanne said...

Suroor, thanks for explaining about the split-moon. I wasn't quite sure what to make of it so I appreciate the Asad interpretation that you presented.

How interesting that some people believe such verses were added after Muhammad's death. It seems like it was to draw men into Islam - like a promise of WOMEN would lure them in. Thanks for understanding my point of view. It's just SO different from my idea of heaven. YES, I think of heaven as a place with lovely gardens, a crystal clear river and fields of flowers, however, I never ever imagined it as a place where harems were kept, ya know? :)

I hope I didn't get too carried away. Some suras just bother me more than others and I feel more expressive as I share where I'm coming from and how things don't make sense to me. I'm sure a first-time Bible reader would find plenty of the same! :-D

BTW, Jesus said in heaven there will be no marriage or giving in marriage between people. I think the relationships will be so wonderful there that sex will pale in comparison. I know that's hard for men to believe, but with God all things are possible! Ha, ha! ;-)

(I read this post to Samer today and said, "why is this a man's world and the Islamic heaven is a man's heaven?" Hehehe.)

Suroor said...

Susanne, I find religions to be quite relative and a reflection of times and needs.

For instance, there was so much going on in the lives of the Hebrews - constant struggles, chases, murders and escapes, exiles etc. Monotheism was taking shape. New laws were evolving. In all this chaos Hell was forgotten. It was here and now. The belief of afterlife was rudimentary although a basic belief. But it had to develop.

Jesus wasn't creating a new religion. He was reforming the old religion - hence my belief in him as the greatest reformer. He already believed in an afterlife. In that afterlife there was now a Hell. In Heaven there was God. This reflects the struggles of Jesus and the apostles. Their community was small, laws were already there but were being reformed. People already *believed* in an afterlife.They were already good monotheists - they just had to be better.

With Islam there was initially no belief in afterlife according to the pagans. The Jews on the other hand had a sketchy vision of Hell and Heaven. The weather was harsh, people were poor, they had neither much to eat or drink. Exotic fruit was sometimes imported from Palestine like pomegranate and olives and figs. And Arabs LOVED sex - they are still too much into sex.

There are countless hadith that men often fought in battles just for the booty. Muhammad gave huge portions of booty to pagans fighting on Muslim side to get them to convert to Islam. In Medina the average Joe was suddenly rich, had food to eat (Aisha says she had her first full plate of dates in Medina), and lots of women for sex. This was reflected in the Heaven. The Muslim Heaven ONLY refers to food that a 7th century Arab could have seen/known/eaten. Why don't we have kiwi or mangoes or cherries in Heaven? :D Simply because those Arabs had never known such fruit.

Thus Heaven became a place that the early Muslims desired - pearls (they were pearl divers), gold and silver, silk, exotic fruit, wine, honey, milk, and women. Even their houses in heaven are tents! This WAS what they desired.

This was evolution of the concept of Hell and Heaven. I see it as a natural step and quite normal. If they desired paintings we would have had a heaven like in What Dreams May Come :-D

Suroor said...

BTW, What did Samer say? :D

Susanne said...

Suroor, thanks for the follow-up information. What you said makes a lot of sense and I've heard similar things about gardens and rivers and fruits being "heaven" to desert people. Makes total sense. I suppose my mind just repulses the heavenly sexual orgy - harem thing, but that's my own sensitivities/bias coming through, I guess.

"Thus Heaven became a place that the early Muslims desired - pearls (they were pearl divers), gold and silver, silk, exotic fruit, wine, honey, milk, and women. Even their houses in heaven are tents! This WAS what they desired. "

Aw, that's so cute about the tents. :) Yes, what you said makes a ton of sense and puts things into better perspective for me. I'm really so happy you came back to share that as it eases my mind somewhat. :)

I'll e-mail you about your last question. :-D

truerivers said...

I also reasoned just like Suroor about Heaven according to Arabs then as it's description is so tended to their tastes and it also sounded childlike,expecting rewards.A true believer always goes beyond that.Some say the Quran offers both.

I remember reading other verses that say about God being with believers but I don't know the verse nos. to tell you now.

I believe that a heaven takes importance only where God is concerned.He is and should be the primary goal and the Quran does state that very clearly.

I admit I felt awful whenever I read about female companions before.But I've learned that it's possible to interpret them differently and that it makes more sense and verses flow better if houris don't mean female companions.So I've killed them in my mind and still remain a believer in God.

In Surah Yassin,believers who make it to heaven are blessed to be joined with their loved ones among family and friends and of course to be in His presence without which nothing else takes place.I think that's the crux of the whole heavenly companions issue.

It's so wonderful of you to go thru' the verses and wanting to find out about them.I guess that's how we're like one another.And Suroor is on top of both of us with me last :D

Suroor said...

What are you talking about Truerivers? You are so humble. If I was that humble I could have bee as great as you (difficult but no harm in saying it :)).

Suroor said...

Truerivers comment reminded me that the essential difference between Christian ad Muslim heaven is that Muslim heaven is divided into 7 levels (some say 8). The highest level is Jannatul Firdous (the Garden of Firdous). The lowest is Mava.

God is at the highest level and all prophets and their companions will be there. If a person has saint-like and exceptionally good s/he will be there too but there is no guarantee.

In the Christian heaven there are no levels. All Christians who follow Jesus are equal and God is in that heaven with them.

Regarding the houris. I have read a lot on them and I have come to the conclusion (my opinion - it may be wrong) that they are very much there in the Quran. There is too much about houris in Islam (many detailed erotic details appear in sahih hadith. It isn't just one or two random hadith) and they couldn't have been a figment of some later Muslim's imagination. They had always been there since the time the Quran was being written down.

Susanne said...

Lat, you always have such wise things to say! I always enjoy your comments.

I did have to smile this morning a I read this:

'and verses flow better if houris don't mean female companions.So I've killed them in my mind and still remain a believer in God."

Just loved the way you put that! :)

And this ...

"In Surah Yassin,believers who make it to heaven are blessed to be joined with their loved ones among family and friends and of course to be in His presence without which nothing else takes place"

was really, really nice! See that is what heaven is to me. All the sexual stuff just got in the way of REAL heaven!

"It's so wonderful of you to go thru' the verses and wanting to find out about them.I guess that's how we're like one another."

It's how I try to make it all understandable. Those willing to comment have been very helpful!

Thank you much for your comment!

Susanne said...

Suroor, thanks for your additional comment. I haven't read the hadiths, but just from my reading of 70 suras, I've noticed the maidens mentioned several times. I'd say at least 8 to 10 times so it's not like they are mentioned only once or twice. It's like as you said Arabs loved sex so maybe the idea of all those fair and bright-eyed women were promised to entice men to embrace Islam. Now what I have NOT seen is the number 72 so maybe this is just some of that famous (infamous) Arabic exaggeration and the number of potential sex partners is really much less.

Also interesting what you shared about the levels of heaven in Islam. Heaven is being in the presence of God. To me as a believer in Jesus, heaven is that relationship not only restored but also being in the presence of God for all eternity....without this "darkness" of sin and separation and following our own ways that this world offers. So if I were only in the bottom rung of heaven and God were at the top, it would be disappointing somehow. Also what if my family were scattered among the 7 layers? Mom in 5, Dad in 3, siblings in 1, me in 2....that wouldn't be so fun. Better than hell, but still not "heaven." At least to me. :)

Nocturnal Queen said...

True, that there will be no marriage in heaven. The Bible also says there's no male or female.

"There is more to true living, worshipful living, eternally living than food, drink and sexual needs and wants."

The above reminded me of this scripture:

Romans 14:17
"For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."

Susanne said...

Niki, so glad you added those thoughts especially the verse. I'd forgotten all about it! Thank you!! :)

Sarah said...

It's a really interesting question how Islam attracted women converts when it seems to cater more for men. I have no idea!

Susanne said...

Sarah, well, maybe they really don't mind that their husbands are off with 72 other women for all eternity. I don't know.

Or maybe they are able to not take these things literally and focus on all the lovely aspects of Islam - the sisterhood and lovely prayers and so forth. Things that LK has mentioned on her blog that were attractive. I suppose they just focus on those things instead.

Thanks for adding your thoughts!

Suroor said...

One woman was doing a research on collecting data from women converts. Although the research focused on why they convert, the researcher found out that 80% of these women suffered from some form of mental issues.

These women came from such troubling backgrounds that most needed a break from the terrible monotony. Women need religion in life more than men because they look up to a greater force than men when they are desperate. Men fail them, God doesn't. They wanted rules and rigidness lack of which had them leading their lives chaotically. I know that this could have been achieved from Catholicism for example but most of these women were not practising Christianity anyway and thought that the problem was with the religion.

The book that I recently read written by a Muslim man gives Trinity the reason for women turning to Islam which raises many questions too.

Sarah said...

I definitely agree women seem generally more inclined to be religious. Nearly all the religious-blogging authors I interact with are female. Most of the humanists I have met online or IRL are male. That is really interesting to me.

Susanne said...

Suroor, interesting stats about the converts. I guess they are looking for peace of mind and try to find it in something godly. Makes sense. Thanks for sharing!

Susanne said...

Sarah, I've often heard of men mocking that religion is for women and children as if men are too big and tough to depend on some "god" out there. Maybe that has something to do with it??

It'd be an interesting thing to research. Maybe women are just more in tune with something supernatural since we are supposedly more dependent or conditioned to be somewhat. I know that sounds sexist or whatever, but if you think of women in the past especially - at home breeding babies - then maybe you'll see where I'm coming from. :)

I don't see depending on a Higher Power as a flaw though. I think it's silly to imagine we can do everything on our own. I'd like to see the first man who thinks he's so tough make his own oxygen and program his heart and lungs to keep functioning so he can carry on with life. He simply can't do it thus his independence stops quicker than he wants to admit. :)