Heaven and Hell (3) 77

Islam’s Paradise is a free brothel, with luxurious accommodation, full continuous restaurant and bar service, and outdoor leisure facilities maintained to a high standard.

When Muslims die, they pass over as-Siraat, the Bridge of Hell, whether they are going to Heaven or Hell itself. Those destined for Heaven, or Paradise, remain on the bridge while they are purified by the setting right of any wrongs that existed between them and others in this world. (The bridge idea is reminiscent of the Zoroastrian belief in the bridge that the dead have to cross to get to their afterlife destination, and on which they are confronted with their earthly record.)

It is not clear (as it is also not clear in Zoroastrianism and Christianity) whether the destination of Heaven or Hell will be attained only after the Day of Judgment or immediately after death. Some authorities say that at least the ash-Shuhadaa (the martyrs) will enter Heaven without having to wait for the Day of Judgment. ‘Their souls are in the bellies of green birds, and they have lights suspended from the Throne.’  Whether as pilots of the green birds or in some sort of bodily existence, they ‘wander about Paradise wherever they wish’, and are granted anything they want.

Some authorities say that Heaven has a hundred levels. Others say there are two Heavens, each having two rivers. In the first, better Heaven the water of the rivers flows. In the second, lesser Heaven, it gushes and bubbles.

One hadith says that the first three to enter Paradise are: The shaheed (the martyr); the chaste and proud; and the slave who worships Allah by carrying out his duties and is faithful to his master.

Heaven, Iannah, is a garden with two rivers flowing through it. The garden is called Adn (Eden). It is very green. The trees have gold trunks. There is one tree so vast that it takes a hundred years to cross its shadow. There are tents and houses of gold, studded with pearls. The highest dwellings [highly placed, or built high?] are reserved for martyrs. If they need coal for anything [?], it will be ‘from aloe-wood’.

Every happy male resident, whatever his stature, appearance, and age were on earth when he died, is here six cubits tall (the ideal height, which was that of Adam, the first man, after whom ‘people shrank’), thirty-three years old, and in perfect shape aesthetically and organically, his eyes surrounded by black as though outlined with kohl, and with no body hair.

He reclines on green cushions, on couches of silk brocade, and is served drinks in gold and silver cups on a gold tray by pretty young boys with long eyelashes. They are as beautiful as pearls. Maidens also attend him. They too are forever young, and as beautiful as rubies, coral, and pearls, with breasts firm and full, and with large slanting eyes, of which the whites are very white, and the pupils very black. They are virgins forever, even though enjoyed on the silk couch and green cushions, for their virginity is renewed every morning. While there is no night and day as such, the light from the Throne is adjusted to create the look and feel of evening and morning by the opening and closing of curtains. ‘The people of Paradise do not sleep.’

Are the eternal virgins the happy men’s wives?  There are different and contradictory teachings on wives in Heaven. While it is said that a woman who goes to Heaven will there be the wife of her last husband, husbands are said to be unencumbered by their earthly wives. Apart from the permanent staff of stripling lads and maidens, Heaven’s population consists mostly of men. Authorities speak of them as having wives but not the women they were married to in their earthly existence, and the smallest number of wives that any man will have in Paradise is seventy-two. The shaheed will have seventy-two young virgins ‘from among the al-Hoor al-Eeyn’ – the houris with the ‘wide, lovely eyes’.  They will be so finely beautiful as to be transparent; ‘the marrow of their leg-bones will be visible through the flesh’.  They will not menstruate, they will have no post-natal bleeding [does this imply that they will or will not give birth?], and have no spittle, mucous, urine or feces. They will be ‘purified mates’, creatures made by Allah especially for Paradise.

The drinks are pure water, milk, honey, and wine, watered wine, and wine with ginger. The wine will not intoxicate or cause a hangover. There are ‘seas’ of water, wine, milk, and honey.

Food is also on continuous offer, fruit and chicken specified, but anything can be ordered according to the heart’s desire. On entering Paradise the new arrival will be given the extra, or ‘caudate’, lobe of a fish liver, and a bull, and any fruit he yearns for.

The happy one will never again excrete, or spit, or need to blow his nose. Substances that necessarily pass out of his transformed body will do so as a gentle sweat that will smell of musk. If he burps, that will smell of musk too.

The fabric for clothes in Paradise comes from a huge tree called ’Tooba’. The happy one’s clothing never wears out and he may deck himself in whatever and as much jewellery as he likes.

When the company are not reclining on couches, they loll on thrones, rank on rank facing each other. It’s not known what they talk about, if they talk. Perhaps they reminisce about their lives on earth. If so, there would inevitably be much repetition through the unending ages. But new arrivals would bring fresh stories, and new ears.  The ranks will multiply forever, but Heaven can never become overcrowded.

Jillian Becker  December 17, 2009

Posted under Articles, Islam, Miscellaneous, Muslims, Religion general by Jillian Becker on Thursday, December 17, 2009

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Heaven and Hell (2) 157

Hell by Hieronymus Bosch

The playtime revolutionaries and vandals of the Viennese commune (see below, Heaven and Hell (1)) lived very comfortably in the midst of what they chose to call Hell. They knew it was nothing of the sort. They also could not help knowing that millions in neighboring Communist countries longed for the freedom and prosperity that they had and pretended to despise. Their Hell was a lie, but their Heaven was truly unimaginable.

Genuinely feared Hells are much the same in successive generations and diverse cultures. Hell is pain, sorrow, fear, loneliness, loss, defeat, oppression, humiliation, frustration, despair. It is all that we hate and fear. Its geography and architecture are hideous and threatening. Its images are iron and fire wielded by ruthless tormentors with absolute power, assaulting vulnerable flesh. Everyone can recognize Hell instantly in Hieronymus Bosch’s picture of it. As pain is universal, so are the furniture and vocabulary of Hell.

But what of Heaven? Who has described or pictured it convincingly?

The conventional Christian Heaven or Paradise – commonly depicted as a pearly-gated garden (‘Paradise’ is an Old Persian word for a garden) where disembodied but human-shaped beings with wings stand on clouds and pluck harp-strings, in the vicinity of a throne on which a huge bearded man is seated – cannot have a lot of appeal to a human nature that craves excitement, competition, challenge, variety, drama, achievement, and carnal satisfactions. At best it might be a rehab retreat rather than a pleasure resort. But there are profounder Christian visions. In Dante’s Paradiso the degrees of bliss – that is, nearness to God – depend on the capabilities of the individual souls.

In ancient Greece, the shades of heroes went to Elysium to wander about in a state of blessedness but not happiness, according to Homer. It lay on the rim of gloomy Hades, where the unheroic multitude languished forever. The wicked suffered unremittingly in the dreadful pit of Tartarus.

A perpetual feasting with the Gods in the great hall of Valhalla was how the Vikings imagined eternal bliss. But even if immortal digestive systems are part of the deal, such an afterlife, when measured against the pleasures pursued on earth, must surely lack a certain je ne sais quoi.

Jillian Becker,  December 16, 2009

Posted under Art, Articles, Christianity, Miscellaneous, Religion general by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, December 16, 2009

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Heaven and Hell (1) 112

What persuaded us to believe that socialism, having begun everywhere so badly, should possess the power to reform itself into something better? To be something other than it has been? To pass through the inferno of its Stalinist tragedies to become the paradiso of our imaginations? – from a letter by David Horowitz

Why, this is Hell, nor am I out of it – from ‘Dr. Faustus’, by Christopher Marlowe

Hell is other people – from ‘No Exit’, by Jean-Paul Sartre


In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the years of the New Left, there was a commune of young revolutionaries in Vienna, housed in a beautiful old building with wide curving stairways and grand halls, monuments to the skills of architects and builders, and to the achievements of owners who had won fortunes in manufacturing, commerce, and the professions round the turn of the twentieth century, in the belle époque.

When the communards moved into one of the spacious apartments – as squatters, not rent-paying tenants – its walls were richly clad with glowing, dark, polished wood paneling. They tore it off. They considered it ‘too bourgeois’. Holes remained where the panels had been pinned into the brick. The communards – every one of them born of bourgeois parents who indulged and supported their idleness, along with the welfare state that the affluent young revolutionaries ached to overthrow – said they liked the damaged look because it ‘proletarianized’ the apartment.

One wall only they had repaired: the holes filled in, the surface plastered smoothly. There they planned to paint a mural. One of them drew a vertical line down the middle. On the left they would depict Hell, and on the right, Heaven.

They started (‘There’s an artist in all of us’, they opined) painting their vision of Hell, but soon became disappointed with the way it was shaping up and decided to hire a professional artist to realize their vision.

The artist, an American, was found, agreed to terms, and arrived on the appointed day with brushes and paints ready to carry out their instructions.

The communards were unanimous on what Hell looked like. It was Vienna; its streets, traffic, monuments, palaces, art galleries, houses, theatres, open-air market, department stores, banks, schools, sports grounds, factories, a prison. There were shoppers, children, prisoners, police brutally breaking up a protest rally, fat men in big shiny cars smoking cigars (‘capitalists’), and so on. Everything had a dingy look, the colors predominantly ‘’like mud, excrement and vomit’, as per the communards’ orders.

It took the painter about a month to finish Hell to their satisfaction.

‘Now,’ he said, moving to the other side of the line, ‘describe your Heaven to me. ‘

‘Um,’ they said. ‘Take a few days break while we think about it.’

They never did come up with a vision of Heaven. It wasn’t that they couldn’t agree among themselves on what it should look like; the trouble was none of them had any idea of it at all.

They paid off the artist with their parents’ money, and the right side of the wall remained permanently blank.

Jillian Becker   December 16, 2009

Posted under Articles, communism, Europe, Miscellaneous, Religion general, revolution by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, December 16, 2009

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