We see the abundance of Nature on our earth. The deep affiliation human beings have with Nature is possible because of “biophilia” which is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems. At the individual level, this bond breaks when we die. At a higher level, the Qur’an tells us that it is not just our life, the entire creation itself is transitory and everything will perish at the appointed time. Eternal life is in the hereafter. Those who are steadfast in religion and who do righteous deeds on this earth during their lifetime will be rewarded by God. They will dwell in heaven or paradise forever. The evildoers will be punished in hell. Thus, paradise is the goal of a true believer who is willing to bear any hardship in this life and hopes to be rewarded with the bounties of paradise by the mercy of Allah.
That makes us curious to know about paradise; what does it has, what does it look like, what are its colours etc. The answers are found in the Qur’an itself and there are explicit passages describing paradise. The most prominent image of paradise given to us is that: it is a garden. There are more than one hundred and twenty references to the “Gardens” in the Qur’an and the most used phrase is the garden of paradise. Thus, Nature also exists in paradise and what is more, it appears to be its integral part. Lush green gardens, rivers, fruit-laden trees, and shade are key elements of paradise.
Pre-Islamic Beliefs about Gardens and Heaven
The concept of heaven being a garden is a very ancient one and is believed to have existed around 4000 BC during the Sumerian period in Mesopotamia. The Babylonians have described their divine paradise as an immortal garden in the Epic of Gilgamesh (2700 BC). In Jewish and Christian traditions, paradise is associated with the Garden of Eden. Thus, when the Qur’an spoke of paradise as a garden, it did not appear as a strange idea for Muslims. But the Qur’anic concept of a paradise garden differs from the other paradise gardens. The paradise garden is portrayed in the Qur’an as being an ultimate destination and a pinnacle of both spiritual and physical refreshment:
But give glad tidings. To those who believe and work righteousness, that their portion is Gardens, beneath which rivers flow.(Surah Al-Baqarah 2, Verse 25)
Allah hath promised to Believers, men and women, Gardens under which rivers flow, to dwell therein, and beautiful mansions in Gardens of everlasting stay but the greatest bliss is the Good Pleasure of Allah:That is the supreme triumph.(Surah At-Tauba 9, Verse-72)
Gardens Underneath which Rivers Flow
The most common refrain in the Qur’an for describing paradise is the use of the words: “gardens underneath which rivers flow”(Jannati tajri min tahtihalanhar). In fact, these words are repeated more than thirty times in the Qur’an. Imagine the effect of a description of paradise with its landscape of lush green gardens, flowing water, rivers, springs, cool shade, colourful flowers and luscious fruits on people living in the scorching heat of the desert. Why only the people living in deserts? Even those living in modern cities would like to go on a vacation to places where there is plentiful nature and features like waterfalls, greenery, gardens, and flowers. Thus, paradise as described in the Qur’an has a universal appeal. At a more profound level, commentators have taken water as a symbol for the soul and therefore, the ever-flowing waters suggest purifying the soul.
Nature As a Reward
Nature in paradise is portrayed as being far superior to the Nature that we see on Earth and its beauty surpasses one’s imagination. The description of running water flowing through these gardens gives a picture of tranquillity, comfort and beauty. Since the happy dwelling in paradise is permanent, there is security against death which removes anxiety and gives a heavenly feeling of contentment and happiness. What better motivation can exist to shun evil deeds and adopt righteous deeds?
The Qur’an describes the unseen paradise using familiar words and objects which mankind can feel, understand, and imagine. Its impact is tremendous, and it has the hallmark of literary excellence:
And because they were patient and constant, He will reward them with a Garden and (garments of) silk. Reclining in the (Garden) on raised couches, they will see their neither the sun (excessive heat) nor excessive cold. And the shades of the (Garden) will come low over them, and the bunches (of fruit), there, will hang low easy to reach.(Surah Ad-Dahr76, Verse 12-14)
In contrast to the fire of hell which will greet the sinners, the righteous will be rewarded with silk garments, comfortable seating in a scenic garden, ideal weather and bunches of fruits which can be reached by hand.
Chahar-Baghs of the Muslim Countries
The following passage from Surah Ar-Rahman gives a scenic description of paradise. The fruits, the gardens and the springs gushing forth water copiously and unceasingly are described in the most sublime manner. The repetition of the rhyming refrains: “Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny?”adds a special lyrical elegance to the passages. The use of this refrain 31 times among the 78 verses of this Surah has made this Surah a lyrical marvel and marks it out as one of the most preferred Surah of the recitersof the holy Qur’an all over the world:
But for such as fear the time when they will stand before (the Judgement Seat of) their Lord, there will be two Gardens-
And besides these two, there are two other Gardens,-Then which of the favoursOf your Lord will ye deny?-Dark-green in colour(From plentiful watering).Then which of the favoursOf your Lord will ye deny?In them (each) will be two springs pouring forth water in continuous abundance:Thenwhich of the favoursOf your Lord will ye deny?In them will be Fruits, and dates and pomegranates:Then which of the favoursOf your Lord will ye deny? (Surah Ar-Rahman 55, Verse 62-69)
In the above verses, four gardens are described, divided into two pairs. The Islamic chahar-bagh (gardens with a four-fold design) is based on the description of paradise in the Qur’an and the Hadith. Fundamentally, it is upon this divine archetype that the chahar-baghs were developed in most parts of the Islamic world from Spain and North Africa to Syria and Mughal India. The typical layout of an Islamic garden is divided into four quarters by water channels or walkways with a water fountain or basin at its centre. The Islamic Garden is embellished with trees, shrubs, vegetation and fruit trees planted in abundance which provide shade, food and colour. The other important components of Islamic gardens are the existence of pavilions, walls and gates which are also inspired by the description of paradise in the Qur’an. The Qur’an has not only conveyed the basic message of faith but has also inspired Arabs, Persians, Moghuls and Turks at different periods of history and in different countries of the world to establish gardens; thereby adding a tremendous amount of greenery to the environment. This speaks volumes about the power and influence of this holy book.