by Vijay Chandra
The Qur’an gives a very different picture of the afterlife and about the spirit realm. It is full of contradictions or we can say very confusing. It has borrowed ideas from a variety of sources, as well as the author’s own misconceptions. The Bible does not make clear every aspect of life beyond the grave, nor does the Bible answer every question that one might have about that realm. It nevertheless affords a consistent, cohesive, definitive treatment of the subject that contrasts sharply with the Qur’an. We need to consider, for example, the Qur’an’s handling of the concepts of heaven and paradise.
The Qur’anic references will be taken from The Meaning of the Glorious Qur’an by Marmaduke Pickthall [Dorset Press].
Muslims, according to the Qur’an, believe in seven heavens. The question is where did they get this idea of ‘seven heavens’. The Qur’an makes many references to the existence of seven heavens. Let us consider the following allusion. “He it is Who created for you all that is in earth. Then turned He to the heaven, and fashioned it as ‘seven heavens’. And He is Knower of all things” [Surah 2:29]; “Say, Who is Lord of the seven heavens, and Lord of the Tremendous Throne? They will say: Unto Allah [all that belongeth]. Say: Will ye not then keep duty [unto Him]” [Surah 23:86-87]; “The seven heavens and the earth and all that is therein praise Him” [Surah 17:44]. Speaking of the creation of the Universe, the Qur’an states: “Then he ordained them “seven heavens” in two days and inspired in each heaven its mandate and we decked the nether heaven with lamps, and rendered it inviolable” [Surah 41:12]. Noah’s admonition to his contemporaries included reminders of Allah’s creative actions: “See ye not how Allah hath created “seven heavens” in harmony, and hath made the moon a light therein, and made the sun a lamp?” [Surah 71:15-16]
But in sharp contrast to the Qur’an, the Bible speaks of only three heavens. I will highlight each of the three ‘heavens’ as follows:
- The “first heaven” is the Earth’s atmosphere—the sky—where different kinds of birds fly freely, as Genesis 1:2; 8:2, Isaiah 55:10, Luke 13:19 indicate.
- The “second heaven” is ‘outer space’—where the Sun, Moon, and stars are situated, as we read in Genesis 15:5, 22:17, Deuteronomy 4:19, Nahum 3:16. These two heavens together are referred to in the first verse of the Bible. It says “In the beginning, God created the heavens [plural] and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
- The “third heaven” in biblical thought is the spirit realm beyond the physical realm where God and other celestial beings reside (Deuteronomy 10:14, 26:15; 1 Kings 8:27, 30). Often referred to as the “heaven of heavens”—a Semiticism wherein the genitive is used for the superlative degree—which means the highest or ultimate heaven. The same figure of speech is seen in the terms “Song of Songs”, “King of kings”, “Lord of lords”. While the Bible uses the number seven frequently [God rested on the seventh day after the creation, it does not mean that God was asleep but He delighted in His creative work]. The Bible never mentions anything about the so-called seven heavens, not even in the book of Revelation where we find the number ‘seven’ is used figuratively and mentioned 45 times. the Qur’an’s allusions cannot be rationalized as poetic or figurative since none of the Qur’anic citations gives any indication of a figurative use. Where did the Qur’an or its author get the notion of seven heavens? Uninspired sources clarify the circumstance. Jewish rabbis frequently spoke of seven heavens. They also spoke of seven gates of hell, another feature copied into the Qur’an that is in conflict with the Bible. “And lo! For such hell will be the promised place, it hath seven gates, and each gate hath an appointed portion” [Surah 15:43-44]. The Qur’an’s use of the phrase “the seven paths” [Surah 23:17] is a Talmudic expression [Roswell, J.M. translator. The Koran, London, 1950]. So the author borrowed heavily from other sources to compile the Qur’an.
- So what is ‘paradise’? This term is of Persian origin, and referred to “a grand enclosure or preserve, hunting ground, park, shady and well-watered” [Thayer’s lexicon]. The Jews used the term as a garden, pleasure-ground, grove, park, and came to apply it to that portion of hades that was thought “to be the abode of the souls of the piteous until the resurrection”. With this linguistic background, the word is used in three different senses in the Bible:  It is used in the Septuagint, or LXX [Genesis 2:8, 9, 10, 15, 16; 3:2, 3, 4:9, 11, 24, 26], the Greek translation of the Old Testament, to refer to the literal Garden of Eden on Earth where Adam and Eve lived. It normally is translated ‘garden’ in English versions.  It is used one time, in a highly figurative New Testament book, to refer to the final abode of the saved [i.e., heaven (Revelation 2:7)], and  it is used in connection with the hadean realm. The Hebrew Old Testament term for the waiting place is [sheol] and the New Testament term is [hades]. The Qur’an shows no awareness of this biblical distinction, instead, it advocates the existence of seven heavens [as noted] paradise [which is located among seven heavens], and hell, an evident reflection of the uninspired influence of both Jewish and Persian sources of the sixth and seventh centuries.
- In the Bible, hades is a broad term that designates the receptacle of disembodied spirits where all humans who die await the Lord’s return [Luke 23:43, 16:19-31; 2 Corinthians 12:4] prior to the resurrection [1 Corinthians 15:34-54], the judgment and the final disposition of all humans to one of two ultimate eternal realms, i.e., heaven or hell. This realm encompasses two ‘compartments’ now: one for the deceased righteous, and one for the deceased wicked. The area inhabited by the righteous is called ‘paradise’, while the area for the ‘wicked’ is ‘tartarus’. Very little information is actually given in the Bible in the way of description regarding ‘hades’. In fact, the only descriptive detail provided (in Luke 16:19-31) indicates that within  paradise is described as a place where one is ‘comforted’ (Luke 16:25), and  it is separated from ‘tartarus’ by a ‘great gulf’ (Luke 16:26). No additional explanation is given regarding paradise— The Qur’an gives the description of ‘paradise’ as we see in Surah 48:15—which has been promised to the “faithful ones”, “it is said there are rivers of water unpolluted, and rivers of milk, whereof they change not, and rivers of wine delicious to the drinkers, and rivers of clear-run honey; therein for them is every kind of fruit, with pardon from the Lord [Are those who enjoy all this], like those who are immortal in the fire and are given boiling water to drink, so that it teareth their bowels”. So according to this verse, in Muslim paradise one will find ‘rivers of waters’, ‘rivers of milk’, and ‘rivers of wine’. But the most interesting thing that the Qur’an forbids is drinking alcohol [it is forbidden in the Islamic society to drink alcohol, so how come their paradise has ‘wine’? He said “For Allah to compensate us for what we did not do during our life on earth.” Another contradiction.] What will the ‘faithful ones’ do in paradise? I see no worship or any form of spiritual life of the faithful ones. Surah 52:17 gives us what takes place in paradise: “Verily, the pious [the righteous people, good Muslims] will be in the garden [paradise means ‘garden’ and you are] and the delight, enjoying that which their lord has bestowed on them. And their lord saved them from the torment of the blazing fire” [Allah is talking to the Muslims] “and drink with happiness because of what you used to do”. Salvation is by good works, not by faith or by grace. These faithful ones, according to the Qur’an, will recline on beds arranged in ranks, and we shall marry them to ‘fair women’ with lovely eyes. How many they will marry? If one goes to Hades, it is believers 70-100 women for each man. Is that the eternal life which Qur’an talks about? Is that what a Muslim wants to enjoy in the afterlife, 70-100 ‘women with the lovely wide eyes’? And the most important is that the man will sleep with 70-100 women each day and the next day they will turn to virgins again and again. How come? This is what they say, that they will be virgins again and again. What kind of imagination is that and what kind of paradise is that? And the question I ask weak right men—you enjoy 70-100 women, but what about the women? How many men will they enjoy? In the Qur’an, one will find that the paradise of which Muslims speak is full of sensual, sexual lust. Will Allah condone this or will Allah be watching as men will engage with 70-100 women on a daily basis? This is not a spiritual paradise.
- The Bible says that the paradise which the Christians look for is ‘spiritual’. We read in Matt 22:25 the question which the Sadducees asked Jesus about ‘marriage’ and whether there will be marriage in the resurrection. The answer which Christ gives states that “in the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels of God in heaven”. The Qur’an says the faithful Muslims will marry women with ‘wide, lovely eyes’ but Jesus says there is no marriage in heaven. In the last book of the New Testament, Revelation, we have the right picture of paradise which is located in Revelation 21:21, ‘streets of gold’, ‘rivers of pure water’ (Revelation 22:1), the ‘tree of life’ (Revelation 22:2), and a cube-shaped walled city situated on twelve foundations of precious stones with gates of pearl (Revelation 21:19, 20, 21), which are explicitly stated to be strictly figurative [signified]. The Bible seems to go out of its way to avoid attempting to describe a nonphysical spiritual, eternal realm to humans who live in a physical finite realm. it says just enough to encourage the reader of the Bible to seek the truth, without succumbing to the mistake of overwhelming the reader with a whole carnal impression of heaven. the Qur’an commits precisely this blunder. Paradise is represented in the Qur’an as a literal, materialistic term.
One would hint that Muslim women would feel short-changed in the after-life. Paradise for men will include access to maiden ‘pure companions’ [Surah 2:25, 3:15, 4:57], fair ones with wide, lovely eyes [44:54, 52:20], like ‘hidden eggs [of ostrich’] and ‘hidden pearls’ [37:49, 56:23], ‘those of modest gaze’ [37:48, 38:53, or chaste women restraining their glances [companions ] of equal age, who are good and beautiful [55:70], ‘virgins’ [56:36], “whom neither men nor jinni will have touched before them” [55:56, 74]. Such lascivious, lustful appeals to sensual and sexual passions are transparent—and typical of male authors unguided by a higher power.
The Qur’an and the Bible conflict with one another on the matter of marriage in the afterlife. The Qur’an says that marriage will persist in heaven or in paradise [Surah 13:23]. In fact, God [Allah] himself will perform the ceremonies: “Lo those who kept their duty will be in a place secure amid gardens and water springs, attired in silk embroidery, facing one another. Even so [it will be]. And We will wed them unto fair ones with wide eyes” [Surah 44:54]. But Jesus soundly refuted this notion in his interchange with the Sadducees (Matthew 22:30) quoted above.
It seems that there is lots of emphasis on ‘food’, drink, and physical pleasure in the Qur’anic description of the afterlife which reflects a perspective that one would anticipate from a desert Bedouin. This preoccupation with carnal things and material comforts exposes the description as uninspired and stands in stark contrast with the Bible’s handling of the subject. Their Qur’an’s treatment of the afterlife verifies its human origin. One must bear in mind that Muhammad was of Arabian descent. He was well versed with the daily lives and happenings in Arabia.
It is my hope that Muslim brothers will go to the Bible to find the way to eternal life (John 1:12).
John 1:12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: