This blog continues the series of studies looking at references to the Garden(s) of Paradise, as depicted in the Qur’an.
The next relevant passage is from Surah 47:12-15 (Yusuf Ali):
12: Verily Allah will admit those who believe and do righteous deeds, to Gardens beneath which rivers flow; while those who reject Allah will enjoy (this world) and eat as cattle eat; and the Fire will be their abode.
13: And how many cities, with more power than thy city which has driven thee out, have We destroyed (for their sins)? and there was none to aid them.
14: Is then one who is on a clear (Path) from his Lord, no better than one to whom the evil of his conduct seems pleasing, and such as follow their own lusts?
15: (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 (to pieces)?
These verses draw a sharp distinction between those destined to be admitted into the Gardens of Paradise and those destined to be tormented in the Fire of Hell. The former are characterized by their acceptance of what Islam teaches about God and by a life of good works, the latter by their rejection of Islam and its teaching about God. Verse 13 will go on to aim a particular shaft at Mecca with the implication that it is particularly those other Arabs who rejected Muhammad who are threatened with terrifying divine judgment for doing so.
Verse 12 portrays those who reject Allah as being like contented cows, satisfying themselves in this world while being oblivious to the fact that they are destined for slaughter. Here, as verse 13 will go on to indicate, the underlying thought is that to reject Muhammad and therefore Islam is what is meant by rejecting Allah. In verse 13 Allah (“we”) declares that he has destroyed many other towns or communities which were far more powerful than Mecca. None were able to come to the aid of those population centres and stop Allah from destroying them. So what hope would Mecca have if Allah chose to destroy it for the evil it has done in driving out Muhammad and therefore rejecting Islam, that is, submission to Allah?
Verse 14 seems to be raising the question as to whether there is any point in seeking to live as a good Muslim – to walk on the clear path – if those who reject Islam are free to enjoy life as they please. Verse 15 provides the answer, now going beyond verse 12 by graphically portraying the immense pleasure that awaits good Muslims in Paradise and also picturing the immense torture that lies before those who reject Muhammad. The pleasures of Paradise are described with images that involve the prospect of a never-failing abundance of food and drink to satisfy the physical hunger and thirst of Muslims experiencing Allah’s blessing. This stands in contrast to the immense agony that will be experienced by those who reject Allah by rejecting Muhammad. For instead of being able to drink from rivers of water, milk and wine and being able to eat from rivers of honey, they will be forced to drink boiling water and to imbibe that which will destroy their intestines.
In Luke 16: 23-24 Jesus uses a parable to portray the horro awaiting those who will end up in hell:
The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.”
Going back to Surah 47 and verse 14 there is some ambiguity about how to translate the phrase describing what it means to live as a good Muslim. Yusuf Ali describes such a person as being “one who is on a clear path from his Lord.” Pickthal speaks of “he who relieth on a clear proof from his Lord” (similarly Khan and Sherali). Maulana renders: “he who has a clear argument from his Lord.” Sarwar translates: “the one who follows the authority of his Lord.” The general idea is that the good Muslim is someone who is living according to the clear and authoritative revelation he has received from Allah showing Islam to be the true religion.
The thought of verse 13 invites comparison with Luke 10:13-15:
‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.
The Qur’an does not speak of miracles being performed by Muhammad, yet does speak of miracles performed by Jesus. The people of Mecca were warned that their city risked being destroyed if they continue to reject Muhammad. Modern population centres occupying similar space to that which had once been the location of the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum are not really continuous with those townships as they existed at Jesus’ time. The thought is not that such modern population centres will be destroyed on the Day of Judgment but that God’s judgment will be experienced by all those residents of those towns who did not respond to Jesus’ miracles with repentance. There is the further implication that Gentiles are readier to repent on hearing the gospel of God’s dynamic rule in Christ - as demonstrated by Jesus’ miracles – than Jewish listeners.
One significant point of contrast between Islam and Christianity indicated by the verses from Surah 47 is the attitude towards military power. In contrast to Luke 10 the threatened destruction of Mecca is not something held over till the Day of Judgment. Just as other townships had already been destroyed by Allah in times past so Mecca was in real danger of being destroyed if it continued to reject Muhammad. For Islam military success is taken to be validation of Muhammad’s actions and of the religion he claimed to have received from Allah. By contrast, in Christianity God’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
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