The Qur’ânic Concept of Paradise 

جَنَّاتِ عَدْنٍ الَّتِي وَعَدَ الرَّحْمَـٰنُ عِبَادَهُ بِالْغَيْبِ

“Gardens of Eternity which the Most Gracious (God) has promised to his servants while (these Gardens are) yet hidden (from the sight)” (19:61)

Jannâtجنٌات , mostly translated as Gardens, is the word used for Paradise. Jannât (plural) is derived from Janaجَنَ  meaning something hidden, something unknown (Lane). Jannât would thus mean things hidden. About the true believer who strive hard to please their Lord:

يُبَشِّرُهُمْ رَبُّهُم بِرَحْمَةٍ مِّنْهُ وَرِضْوَانٍ وَجَنَّاتٍ لَّهُمْ فِيهَا نَعِيمٌ مُّقِيمٌ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا أَبَدًا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عِندَهُ أَجْرٌ عَظِيمٌ

Their Lord gives them good tidings of great mercy from Him and of good pleasure and of Gardens obtaining lasting and abundant bliss for them.(9:21)

The Holy Qur’ân gives us the idea of many Divine Gardens, such as Jannât ‘adnin جَنَّاتِ عَدْنٍ  “Gardens of Eternity” (9:72), Jannat al-Khuld جَنَّةُ الْخُلْدِ Eternal Gerdens (25:15); Jannât al-Na‘îm نَعِيمٌ جَنَّاتٍ “Gardens of Bliss” (10:9 ), Jannât al-Firdaus جَنَّاتُ الْفِرْدَوْسِ  “Gardens of Paradise” (18:107) -), Jannât al-Ma’wâ جَنَّاتُ الْمَأْوَىٰ  “Gardens of Eternal Abode” (32:19) or simply Jannât   جَنَّاتِ- “Gardens”  (15:45). In verses 55:46-58 and 55:62-76 of the chapter al-Rahmân four Gardens are described in awe-inspiring words. They begin with the words:  وَلِمَنْ خَافَ مَقَامَ رَبِّهِ جَنَّتَانِ  “There are two Gardens (of bliss) for such as fear when they stand before (the judgment seat of) your Lord” (55:46). The verses that follow (55:48-58) give beautiful metaphoric description of these two Gardens. Then we read: “Besides these two (Gardens) there are two other Gardens” (55:62). What follows (55:64-76) describe the beauties of two “other” Gardens. This time the description is different from that of the two previous Gardens. No doubt, these are the descriptions of reward for different ranks of the dwellers of Paradise.  

Descriptions of Paradise are metaphors: The Holy Qur’ân always uses the plural form Jannât (- Gardens) to describe Paradise and provides many symbolic descriptions of those Gardens. In Paradise there shall be delightful and goodly dwelling places (9:72); lofty mansions (25:75); couches and carpets (55:54); cushions (beautifully) arranged in rows (88:15); everlasting fruit and (so will be) its shade (13:35); clustered bananas and the thornless Sidrah, or Lote Tree (a symbol of bliss; (56:28–29); all kinds of fruit and dates and pomegranates (55:68); streams of water (which is) unstaling, and streams of milk the taste and flavor of which does not change, and streams of juice extracted from grapes, a delight to the drinkers, and streams (too) of clarified honey (47:15); other wonderful drinks (76:17–18; 83:27); flesh of birds exactly to their taste (56:21); green robes of fine silk and rich brocade (18:31); bracelets and vessels of silver and gold (18:31; 22:23; 43:71; 76:21); and beautiful and pure spouses (37:48; 44:54; 52:20).  The verses 55:46- 78 and 56:15-37 describe the utmost beauty of the Paradise. While describing the blessings of Paradise, special mention is made of Sidrah Ñifm – a thornless lote-tree – side by side with those of a garden. This is to signify these are things that are beyond the farthest end of human knowledge (cf. 56:28; 53:14-16). The verses 13:35; 47:15; 57:12 and others clearly convey that the description given for Paradise is symbolic and metaphoric. You can take these Qur’ânic verses either literally or metaphorically, but the fact remains, as we are told:  

فَلَا تَعْلَمُ نَفْسٌۭ مَّآ أُخْفِىَ لَهُم مِّن قُرَّةِ أَعْيُنٍۢ جَزَآءًۢ بِمَا كَانُوا۟ يَعْمَلُونَ

“No soul knows what (comforts) lie hidden for them [the believers in the form] of a joy to the eyes as a reward for their righteous deeds.” (32:17)

There are some who object that Allâh promises houris and virgin women to men only. They cite the verses such as:  وَحُورٌ عِينٌ كَأَمْثَالِ اللُّؤْلُؤِ الْمَكْنُونِ “And (there will) fair houris with lovely large eyes. (Chaste) like pearls, well-guarded and well preserved” (56:22-23). Ignorance of the classical Arabic language and its mode of expression is the cause of this widespread assumption. Houris are the English rendering of the Arabic word hûr حُورٌ, which is the plural form of ahwarأحوَر (masculine) and hauraحَورَ  (feminine). Thus hûr حوْر stands both for masculine and feminine in plural form. It is derived from hâraحارَ  meaning “to be perplexed”, “to become dazzled”. It can be anything when one looks at, the eyes become perplexed and dazzled. This is how Paradise is described. Hawârحوار also means intense whiteness and lustrous blackness (Lisân, Lane, Tȃj). The “whiteness” and “blackness” of eyes are brought in Arab poetry in relation to the whiteness of the eye ball and the blackness of iris. Another verse is cited to emphasize the claim.

إِنَّا أَنشَأْنَاهُنَّ إِنشَاءً فَجَعَلْنَاهُنَّ أَبْكَارًا عُرُبًا أَتْرَابًا

“We have made them excellent and have raised them into a special new creation; and have made them virgins, pure and undefiled. They are the loving ones, suiting to their ages and matching them in every respect”. (56:22-24)

Expressions Abkâraأبكار , ‘Urubâ عُرُبَ and Atrâba أترابَ in the verses above are being used to describe those who are in Gardens of Paradise. These words are metaphors of beauty. We cannot and should not restrict them to virgin females waiting for every Muslim. Men prefer to think mostly of women when they read words like virgins, pure and undefiled. Allegory and metaphor cannot form the basis of Faith, and if you base your faith on figurative statements, forsaking the basic principles, the message in them and neglecting the original meaning, you will go astray and cause others to fall away from the right path.  The metaphors are the ornament of a language.  They make expression effective. They enhance the rhetorical dignity of a book, no matter whether it is the word of God or that of a mortal.  The objection as to why Allâh made use of metaphors in Scriptures will not be proper. It betrays the ignorance of the object or with regard to aesthetic literature and elegance of a language to describe a beauty hidden from human eyes (13:35; 40:8).

Reward of Paradise is according to the worth of deeds

Just as in the competitions of the worldly affairs, not all are ranked equal; some are the foremost and others stay behind and there are some who do not qualify. Similar are the ranks of those who carry out acts of righteousness and kindness, as the Holy Qur’ân says:

وَلِكُلٍّ دَرَجَاتٌ مِّمَّا عَمِلُوا ۖ وَلِيُوَفِّيَهُمْ أَعْمَالَهُمْ وَهُمْ لَا يُظْلَمُونَ

And all shall have positions and grades (with their Lord) according to the worth of their deeds; and (it shall be so) that He may repay them fully for their deeds and that they may not be treated unjustly.(46:19)

Some are the foremost (56:10) and the others are those who are left behind (56:9) and that “they cannot be treated alike”. The rewards shall be according to the efforts made to attract the pleasure of Allâh.

كُلُّ أُمَّةٍ تُدْعَىٰ إِلَىٰ كِتَابِهَا الْيَوْمَ تُجْزَوْنَ مَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ

“Every community will be summoned to (face) their records (of deeds). (And it shall be said to them,) `This day you shall be recompensed according to your deeds.” (45:28)

Cheerfulness of Paradise begins in this very life

The Holy Qur’ân tells us that one of the many promised Gardens is on this very earth (cf. 10:64). Allâh says:

لَهُمُ الْبُشْرَىٰ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَفِي الْآخِرَةِ

“They shall have glad tidings (for they commune with their Lord) in the present life and (also) in the Hereafter.” (10:64)

The glad tidings الْبُشْرَىٰ in the present life are the taste of the “Gardens” promised in the Hereafter (89:28). We read: “They fulfil their duties (towards Allâh and His creation) and fear the Day the woes of which shall be widespread. They give food for the love of Him to the indigent, the orphan and the captive. They say We feed you only to seek the pleasure of Allâh, we desire no recompense from you nor thanks. We fear from our Lord the Day of frowning and distress. Allâh will guard them from the evils of that Day and bestow on them cheerfulness and happiness (in this world)”. (76:5-7).

In the words of Jalâl al-Dîn Rûmî: “When have you done something wrong without suffering the consequences? When have you have done something good without blessing being showered on you? If you grasp the cord of understanding, and look at this world with a seeing eye, you will not need to wait until the Day of Judgment to see the effects of all your actions. If you want a pure heart, be observant, and see for every act its own response” (Mathnawî IV: 2458).You read:

وَمِنَ ٱلنَّاسِ مَن يَشْرِى نَفْسَهُ ٱبْتِغَآءَ مَرْضَاتِ ٱللَّهِ ۗ وَٱللَّهُ رَءُوفٌۢ بِٱلْعِبَادِ

“Of the people there is he who sacrifices his very life seeking the pleasure of Allâh. And (as a result) Allâh is very kind and compassionate toward such (of His) servants.” (2:207)

They reached the exalted spiritual stations during their present life, and as a result, they found deliverance from sufferings and sorrows (10:62) in this world. The souls of these devoted servants of Lord are at peace in this very world. They are already living in Paradise-like condition. They reached the exalted spiritual stations in their present life, and as a result, they found deliverance from sufferings and sorrows of the Hereafter (10:62). They are those servants of Allâh that He has chosen for Himself. They are the  حُورٌ مَّقْصُورَاتٌ فِي الْخِيَام – pure and chaste houris confined to (their goodly) pavilions“ (55:72). Allâh has confined them into “pavilions” so that no ordinary gaze falls on them. They do not make themselves noticeable with miracles (-kramât), and they make no show of their piety. People do not point at them and take notice of them because of their humble nature that confines them. They are in fact the hidden guardians of the earth. Their hidden holiness continues in the Hereafter. Abû Umama transmitted the following Hadîth-i-Qudsî: “Allâh said, ‘Among the most intimate to Me of My servants are the believers of humble means who find their pleasure in Prayers, worshiping their Lord secretly in the most beautiful way. They are hidden among the people. They are not always pointed out, their mourners are few’.”  

Entering the Gardens of Paradise is not the End

After allotting people “Hell” or “Paradise”, the job of God is not over. You read: “On this Day, the owners of Paradise will be occupied (in their pursuits), rejoicing,” إِنَّ أَصْحَابَ الْجَنَّةِ الْيَوْمَ فِي شُغُلٍ فَاكِهُونَ (36:55). In other words, the life in paradise will not be one of inaction.

لَـٰكِنِ الَّذِينَ اتَّقَوْا رَبَّهُمْ لَهُمْ غُرَفٌ مِّن فَوْقِهَا غُرَفٌ مَّبْنِيَّةٌ تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ

“But for those who take their Lord as a shield, there awaits them lofty mansions, story upon story with streams running beneath them” (39:20)

The “lofty mansions, story upon story,” are a reference to an endless advancement in heavenly life. Entering the “Gardens of Eternity” is not the end of our journey, and the job of Allâh is not over. Even after entering paradise, you will not stop traveling. Crossing from your grave to the way station of resurrection, you will be carried to the abode of your felicity. You shall have positions and ranks with your Lord according to the worth of your deeds (46:19) and knowledge. Then from there you will embark on another never-ending journey:

يَوْمَ لَا يُخْزِي اللَّهُ النَّبِيَّ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَعَهُ ۖ نُورُهُمْ يَسْعَىٰ بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَبِأَيْمَانِهِمْ يَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَا أَتْمِمْ لَنَا نُورَنَا وَاغْفِرْ لَنَا ۖ

“On that day (when human beings will be raised to life again) Allâh will not disgrace the Prophet nor those who have believed with him. Their light [nûr] will advance swiftly (radiating) in front of them and on their right hands while they will go on (praying and) saying, Our Lord! (Continue to) perfect our light for us [atmim lanâ nûranâ] and protect us (against our lapses). Verily You are the Possessor of prudential power to do every desired thing.” (66:8)

In the language of the Saints, the Gardens of Paradise will be the Gardens of Divine Attributes (Jannât al-Siffât-i-Ilȃhî), where there will be roaming freely in the meadows with running streams of Divine Converse. The progress therein shall be perpetual until you arrive at attributes that fall short of His Attributes. Those who reach close to the Divine Essence (ma‘rifat al-Dhât) will embrace the least glimmer of the Most-Radiant Light, which is concealed behind the Veil of Protecting Might (hijâb al-‘Izza). Allâh invites us all to His Garden:

 وَسَارِعُوٓا۟ إِلَىٰ مَغْفِرَةٍۢ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ وَجَنَّةٍ عَرْضُهَا ٱلسَّمَـٰوَ‌ٰتُ وَٱلْأَرْضُ

“Wing your way to the protection of your Lord and to the Paradise whose expanse is as (vast as) the heavens and the earth” (3:133)