Sunday, 28 August 2011

Who's Heaven Is It Anyway?

Speak to any Reverted Muslim about the challenges they face, and he/she will almost certainly flag up the issue of family. I don’t just mean the day-to-day disagreements over food, dress, lifestyle, alcohol etc, but rather, what comes after all that. Whether we admit it publicly or not, most of us reverts worry ourselves constantly about family, and about the idea that if/when we ever reach Jannah, will our families have made it there too? How difficult it is when a loved one passes away, and although he/she may have been close to you, they were not on deen and therefore their future remains for the most part, uncertain. I’m no exception; I worry about this too, yet whether its utopian or unrealistic of me, I’ve always found discussions/speculations about jannah very difficult to handle! Of course, growing up an in extremist Christian family, I knew about heaven and hell; and I knew who was expected to go there. It wasn’t just the non-Christians who were under threat in our world; I was conditioned to believe that Catholics, Baptists, Adventists, in short, any one who did not believe in our specific cult/brand of Christianity would have “conditional leave to remain” stamped categorically across their heavenly passports. Even in my childhood, I began to view heaven as something of a ‘inner sanctum boys club, where every one wore wool suits, sang loud hymns and didn’t smile very much! and if you are smiling at this description, you shouldn’t! the apple didn’t fall far from the tree when it came to Islam! Speak to any Wahabi/Salafi, and they’ll be only too happy to tell you about all the shias/Sufis and ahmadiyas and so on who won’t be getting to Jannah, till you’ll be left reeling at the idea of an empty expanse of beautiful gardens, with no one to live in them! Some religious schools have speculated about hell, and wondered if the trial and the fire are merely metaphors; and wonder whether the test is really referring to the misery of this world; and who can blame them! This is after all, a tough place to be; and if we can’t reach a consensus down here, will the life to come really be any better? Is it really possible to even start envisioning a world better than this world in our current transitory state, or are we simply too desensitised to this existence to understand jannah for what it really is. I was reading a blog post yesterday which got me contemplating all this and really brought the desensitising point home to me. Just as I did above, the sister lamented issues with non-Muslim family, the stress caused etc, but she then went on to say that she was comforted by the idea that in jannah, we won’t cry, we won’t be sorrowful, won’t have negative thoughts etc, coupled with the fact that, every one will be so concerned with his/her own fate on judgement day, that by the time they reach jannah, they won’t much care about who is and who isn’t with them! This really made me shiver! Can Muslims really be so unfeeling? Is all of our striving and struggling in this world only so that we can reach an even higher plane of ‘detachment? Do my tears fall just so that I can attain numbness in the life to come? I don’t think so and I pray that sister is wrong!
The truth is that when it comes to Jannah, we just don’t know! In the same way that Allah (SWT) has only shared snippets of his wisdom with us, with respect to our limited intellects. We are given the raw materials, and some of the tools to interpret them via the hadaith, but there are gaps, there are grey areas and questions, and I prefer to think those exist to stop us falling in to the value judgements we still seem programmed to drag up! Call me a dreamer, but I can’t quite get my head around the “Only Muslims get a good akhira” school of thought, I’m not sure I’m the person to make that call. Who is to say that one of another faith was not stronger in their practise, their tawheed than I was? And who is to say that one of no faith at all didn’t have a better sense of human values, of community, than I did? My mind just doesn’t accept it! and similarly, I can’t imagine a heaven where we all float around like clouds in our own unique bubbles of “me, myself and I”, it hardly seems worth it! isn’t that what so many of us spend our time doing down here? I can’t imagine that we wouldn’t seek out our families, our loved ones, our friends, and those who inspired us in this world. I can’t imagine that we wouldn’t ache to be close to the Ahlulbayt (A.S) and to our prophet (PBUH), that we wouldn’t ache for their closeness and long to spend hours learning at their feet, what would have been the point of all this suffering if not to finally bask in the environment of those who truly bring us tranquillity?
Its not just about happiness either! I can’t imagine that I wouldn’t cry for my Imam (A.S) in Jannah, that I wouldn’t pray and worship and not be overcome with shukr for the tests I’ve past and the barriers I have overcome. For some one like me who has never seen with my eyes, wouldn’t I run like a child through beautiful pleasure gardens of fruit and flowers, thanking Allah (SWT) for his creations I can now see? For the paths I can now walk freely without a cane or without a guide?
I sometimes wonder if our abstract interpretations of Jannah come from the fact that most of us can’t/don’t talk about death, or relate to it in the way we relate to our living, breathing selves. The life to come is remote from us, just as death is seen as distant, yet the irony is that the finality of death is the one thing we shall all share/experience, and the life to come, if we believe in it as a fundamental of our faith; is something we will all share too, regardless of where/how we view it manifesting. Visit any major city, and you’ll almost certainly see a monument to death at its centre; whether the cenotaph in London, or the Shrine of Imam Hussain in Karbala; both tell a similar story! Some might argue that the monuments are simply evidence of a growing city’s need to defend its self and sacrifice for its acquired assets, however I wonder if it is more to do with our need to reflect, even in our hectic lifestyles and ever increasing sense of ‘here and now, to be reminded of what is real! And that’s how I think of jannah; as reality, and as seeing reality for what it really is. Sure; I pray there are gardens, and beautiful things, and peace and no negativity, but does that really mean veging on a recliner with endless supplies of virgins to attend to your every need? I don’t think so! Surely the only way to attain lasting tranquillity is to wake up, to connect the soul to what is real, so that the inner sight is the vehicle through which we see; and the soul hears songs of truth; rather than fleeting fancies from the self!

As Ramadhan draws to a close, I pray that we all awaken our hearts to what is real. I pray that you, that I, and all reading this, continue to strive for, and Insha Allah to attain, the heaven beyond this world; and that if/when we reach it, that it is a place of learning, sharing, seeing each other as equals, and opening our eyes to all those essences we were blind to on this earth, and Allah (SWT) knows best.

1 comment:

  1. I'm with you in that I don't totally buy the whole "only x group goes to heaven". I think people are more complex than that and God can certainly handle the complexity. A label is just a label. I just go back to that God is Just and Merciful. Whatever ends up happening, we will have no cause for complaint. In reading the Qur'an (in English, anyway), the delineation of believers and non-believers when talking about heaven and hell has nothing to do with labels as far as I can see. It doesn't seem all that strange to me if someone who calls him/herself Christian might be in the category of a 'believer' by the end of all things. Those who are clearly not in the Qur'an are those who staunchly deny the existence of God or Hereafter or cling to false idols despite guidance, and those who set themselves up as enemies of God.
    As for familial attachments in the Hereafter, I don't know, but it seems to me there would be some. The Qur'an talks about people together in communities that involved prior ties. The Qur'an strongly emphasizes maintaining ties with kin and believers both. Relationships in this world matter. On the other hand, there is some debate about whether we all ultimately at some point lose all sense of self in rejoining with the divine - so that "I, me, we, you, us" titles would be meaningless - but that does not seem to occur immediately in the Hereafter, if it does.

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