“(Here is) a Parable of the Garden which the righteous are promised: in it are rivers of water incorruptible; rivers of milk of which the taste never changes; rivers of wine, a joy to those who drink; and rivers of honey pure and clear. In it there are for them all kinds of fruits; and Grace from their Lord. (Can those in such Bliss) be compared to such as shall dwell for ever in the Fire, and be given, to drink, boiling water, so that it cuts up their bowels?” (Muhammad  15)
(In 2009 I self-published a book based on my years of research on islam and the environment (‘199 ways to please God, how to [re-]align your daily life with duty of care to Creation’ [out of print now; ISBN-10: 184426629X; ISBN-13: 978–1844266296]) … with an update in mind, am here going to first share the ‘old’ version* bit by bit.)
According to the New Oxford American dictionary the word ‘paradise’ entered English from the French ‘paradis’, inherited from the Latin ‘paradisus’, which was in turn borrowed from the Greek ‘paradeisos’ (royal garden). The root of the Greek word comes from an Eastern Old Persian word ‘pairidaêza’, meaning (a walled enclosure). ‘Jannah’ is the Arabic word often used to refer to paradise and means ‘Garden’. We all aspire to go to paradise…so what does paradise look like? Beautiful descriptions of paradise (in the Quran more often than not the word Garden is used): nice and green etc…that is what God likes…but why we do not appreciate it so much? We want to go to Paradise, we know God loves green, but it then seems so contradictory that we ruin God’s Creation in this world and thus also our chances of making it to Heaven. “What is the example [i.e., description] of Paradise promised to the righteous like? It has rivers flowing under it, and its foodstuffs and cool shade never fail. That is the final fate of those who have done their duty. But the final fate of the disbelievers is the Fire.” (Ar-Rad/ The Thunder  35)
Natural beauty and greenery are among Paradise’s wonderful blessings. Mansions built in gardens, right next to springs, are another beauty. Paradise, in which there is “neither burning sun nor bitter cold” (Al-Insan/ Man  13), has such a pleasant climate that no one is made uncomfortable. It contains no exhausting sweaty heat or freezing cold. In Paradise, God will admit believers into “cool, refreshing shade” (An-Nisa/ Women  57). The expression “refreshing shade” along with revealing that the climate will be comfortable and just as a person would want it, points out that Paradise’s environment and conditions have been designed to give the human spirit true satiety and comfort. Every thing and condition in Paradise will be just as a believer desires. One of the natural beauties most mentioned by God in the Quran is that of “outpouring water” (al-Waqi’a/ The Inevitable  31).
As we observe in this earthly life, the human spirit derives great pleasure from water, especially flowing water. Lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and streams flowing in a forest all speak to the human spirit. The sight and sound of flowing water comfort and gladden the human heart. The sight and sound of water falling from above give pleasure and are a means whereby people can give thanks to God and praise His name. Especially if the water flows in the hills, among trees and greenery or runs over stones, it is a really impressive sight. It either collects in the place where it falls, or forms pools and flows from one place to another. Continually flowing water is a sign of endless and inexhaustible plenty. As we learn in Quran Al-Hijr  45: “The heedful will be amid Gardens and Springs.”
Another natural beauty is the gardens. For example, the “lush meadows of the Gardens” mentioned in chapter Ash-Shu’ara/ The Poets  22 have been prepared only for believers who do good deeds. One of their particular features is the harmony of natural beauty contained therein. Within them grow a never-ending variety of plants, similar to the most delicate and sweet-smelling ones on Earth, and several species of animals, both known and unknown to us. The gardens are adorned with various fruit and other types of trees, plains of “deep viridian green” (Ar-Rahman  64) plants and flowers, and, in some places, pools and fountains. Al-Waqia/ The Event  also mentions “fruit-laden lote-trees with thorns removed” and “[banana] trees layered [with fruit]” (verses 28–29). By reflecting upon all of these things, we can form a general view of Paradise. Some of its characteristics remind us of things in this world; others are unique blessings and beauties of Paradise that no one has ever seen or known, and that our minds cannot imagine or express. We must be aware that beautiful things and surprises are waiting for believers in Paradise, things and surprises prepared by God’s infinite knowledge and beyond our imagination. As Ash-Shura/ Consultation  22 tells us: “They will have whatever they wish for with their Lord. That is the great favour,” everything in Paradise, including all of its natural beauties, are brought into being in accordance with a believer’s own desire and pleasure. In other words, God allows a believer’s imagination a role in forming Paradise’s environment as a favour from Him.
In order to attain Paradise, people are tested in this earthly life. True believers show great effort and zeal in order to please God, for they turn to God sincerely, thank God continually, pray to Him, and repent of their sins. As a reward, God offers them the blessings of Paradise. Fruit is perhaps the food most often mentioned in the Quran. In Paradise, believers receive whatever type of fruit they desire. The Quran describes this: “Its shading branches will droop down over them, its ripe fruit hanging ready to be picked.” (Al-Insan/ Mankind  verse 14) Thus, we understand that fruits of Paradise grow on trees in natural surroundings and that believers can easily pick and eat them. Al-Waqia/ The Inevitable  28–29 mentions “fruit-laden lote-trees with thorns removed” and “[banana] trees layered [with fruit],” meaning that the fruit can be obtained easily due to Paradise’s infinite blessings.
Muslim ibn Yasar al-Juhani said: when Umar ibn al-Khattab was asked about the verse “When your Lord took their offspring from the backs of the children of Adam” — al-Qanabi recited the verse — he said: I heard the Messenger of God say when he was questioned about it: God created Adam, then passed His right hand over his back, and brought forth from it his offspring, saying: I have these for Paradise and these will do the deeds of those who go to Paradise. He then passed His hand over his back and brought forth from it his offspring, saying: I have created these for Hell, and they will do the deeds of those who go to Hell. A man asked: What is the good of doing anything, Messenger of God? The Messenger of God said: When God creates a servant for Paradise, He employs him in doing the deeds of those who will go to Paradise, so that his final action before death is one of the deeds of those who go to Paradise, for which He will bring him into Paradise. But when He creates a servant for Hell, He employs him in doing the deeds of those who will go to Hell, so that his final action before death is one of the deeds of those who go to Hell, for which He will bring him into Hell.
Why did I spend so many words on describing paradise? If that is where we all strive to end up, then let us practise here, as the Quran states: “Say: shall I give you glad tidings of things far better than those? For the righteous are Gardens in nearness to their Lord with rivers flowing beneath; Therein is their eternal home; with spouses purified and the good pleasure of God, for in God’s sight are (all) His servants.“ (Al-Imran/ Family of Imran  15). Mehmet S. Aydin in an article on Qur’anic revelation and the environment concludes: “We all know that here we are not living in Paradise, but at least traditionally we maintained a sense of analogy which enabled us to entertain a proper conception of Paradise while moulding our earthly environment. How about the generations to come? What will become of them if they are to inherit a morally polluted interior landscape within a seriously polluted natural one?”
Reading the many promises and descriptions of paradise in the Quran, what comes to my mind is ‘Be in this world as the Bee’ from ‘Al Fawaid’ (a collection of wise sayings) of Ibn Al-Qayyim Al-Jawziyya (1292–1350 CE) wherein is included that it was said by one of the ascetics: “I can’t imagine that someone could hear about Paradise and the Hellfire, and yet can still waste an hour without performing any act of obedience to Allah; neither remembrance, prayer, reciting the Quran nor an act of charity or kindness.” Someone said to him: I weep profusely. He replied: “That you laugh while confessing your sin is better than you weeping and yet being full of pride because of your deeds. For the deeds of a conceited person will never rise above his head.” The person then requested: Please counsel me. So the ascetic replied: “Leave the world to those who crave after it, as they leave the Afterlife to its seekers. And be in this world as the bee: it eats only good, produces only good, and when it rests upon anything it neither ruins it nor deflowers it.”
In our gardens in this world, however, it seems we find it an increasingly good idea to tarmac over our outside spaces (the most heartbreaking version I came across was where the outside space of a children’s nursery had been turned from a garden which would have lots of plants for the children to wonder at and discover, to being tarmac-ed over. All that was left of nature was a paper flower on the inside of the door stating “this is a flower” — is this how we want our children to know about Creation?). I would suggest there are three main reasons not to consider doing this to your outside space: it increases risk of flooding (and as we have seen in for example July 2007 in England this risk is not just theory; the Environment Agency has estimated that up to two thirds of the floods which happened in the summer of 2007 were caused by surface water overwhelming the drainage system), it is expensive and it steals space from the rest of God’s Creation. On increased risk of flooding, as Water UK warns: “Put simply, if we tarmac and concrete over more land in river catchments rainfall will not infiltrate, thus reducing the replenishment of underground water supplies. But at the same time rainfall will also runoff more quickly [to sewerage systems not built for our extravagant water use and big run offs, RtV], which means that peak river flows will be increased in times of storm and this will lead to increased flooding”. On cost, from a 2003 price list (and with rising oil prices, I understand prices now would be higher) I found out that to cover your outside space (garden or driveway) costs some £40–60/ m2, “kerbs, edgings and any required drainage points are not included, although VAT is”, according to one supplier. I believe you can buy an amazing number of seeds and plants for children to grow and enjoy with that money.
And with regards to stealing space from other communities (like animals and plants), the Environment Agency suggests: “[p]onds and green spaces will provide habitats for wildlife to flourish, reduce pollution and provide areas for people to enjoy, adding value to your site. Even in the most constrained site you can use green roofs to reduce surface water run-off, or to collect rainwater for flushing toilets or watering gardens.” A green roof is a roof of a building that is partially or completely covered with vegetation and soil, or a growing medium, planted over a waterproofing membrane. For ideas about green roofs, check www.greenroofs.com and www.livingroofs.org.
Although I am not encouraging anyone to take any extra flights, with Dubai (UAE) being a popular holiday destination, perhaps check the latest information on the ‘Quranic Garden’ that UNESCO is working on setting up in the Emirate of Sharjah, a garden based on the scientific and aesthetic concepts contained in the Quran. According to news on the project “the elements of this botanical garden will be drawn considering the verses (more than 150) that mention the Gardens of Paradise (jannat al-firdaws). God willing, the opportunity of establishing a Qur’anic botanical garden will be extremely useful to achieve important objectives in the fields of environmental conservation, scientific research, education and recreation.” A similar garden is planned for Qatar.
Examples of action
- Abu Huraira reported that God’s Messenger said: “Hell and Paradise fell into dispute and Hell said: I have been distinguished by the proud and the haughty. And Paradise said: What is the matter with me that the meek and the humble amongst people and the downtrodden and the simple enter me? Thereupon God said to Paradise: You are (the means) of My Mercy whereby I show mercy to those of My servants whom I wish, and He said to Hell: You are (the means) of punishment whereby I punish those of My servants whom l wish. Both of you will be full.” Live simply (as Duane Elgin defines it: “living in a way that is outwardly simple and inwardly rich”) and please God. A helpful Christian resource: www.simpleliving.net
- Yousuf Dadoo (Professor, Arabic and Islamic Studies, University of South Africa) suggests: “Cooperate with all like minded individuals, organisations and institutions across the religious spectrum for applying sustainable development on the basis of the Quranic principle of mutual cooperation for promoting virtue (Al-Maidah/ The Table Spread  2)”. Join Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) or the Women’s Institute (“From climate change and reducing food waste to ending violence against women and promoting Fairtrade, our campaigns make a real impact”, www.thewi.org.uk); see also article 14 of the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights: “Every person is entitled to participate individually and collectively in the religious, social, cultural and political life of his community and to establish institutions and agencies meant to enjoin what is right (ma’roof) and to prevent what is wrong (munkar).” An exciting initiative in Germany is Grün Helme (Green Helmets), a Muslim-Christian green new variation of the Peace Corps co-founded by Aiman Mazyek, Secretary-General of Central Council of Muslims in Germany www.gruenhelme.de
- Imran narrated: I said, “O God’s Messenger ! Why should a doer (people) try to do good deeds?’ The Prophet said, “Everybody will find easy to do such deeds as will lead him to his destined place for which he has been created.” If there is anything you do this week, ponder on Paradise and how you can show you would like to go there, for example by emulating Paradise in our towns and villages: be God’s gardener.
- Muawiya ibn Qurra said, “I was with Maqil al-Muzn when he removed something harmful from the road. Then I saw something and went over to it. He asked. ‘What made you do that, nephew?’ He replied, ‘I saw you do something, so I did it.’ He said, ‘Nephew, you have done well. I heard the Prophet say, “Whoever removes something harmful from the road has a good deed written for him. Anyone who has his good deed accepted will enter the Garden.”’ Or as Abu Barza al-Aslami said: “I said, ‘Messenger of God, show me an action by which I will enter the Garden!’ He said, ‘Remove harmful things from people’s path.’”. Organise a street clean and have a nicer neighbourhood in this world plus contribute to your good record for the next life.
- Show God we like what paradise looks like and make our cities greener again, for example plant trees in this life, for example via Trees for Cities: an independent charity undertaking tree planting and greening initiatives in urban areas of greatest need and we want to stimulate a greening renaissance in cities around the world.www.treesforcities.org
- Turn your outside space (whether some acres or postage stamp size inner city patch) into your reflection of heaven. For some ideas: www.reep.org/resources/islamic-gardens. To know what plants will grow well in your area check the UK Natural History Museum’s ‘Postcode Plants Database’: www.nhm.ac.uk/fff
*Where I am copying the text verbatim, some references may no longer work.