Islamic Eschatology – Day of Judgment, Paradise & Hell Fire
Understanding paradise in Islam
Paradise is called jannah in Arabic in the Quran and the ahadith. The term means something that is hidden or in the al-ghayb (unseen). Al-ghayb is vital part of Islamic faith as said in the beginning of the Quran: “Who believe in the al-ghayb (unseen), establish prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them.” (To learn more read: Importance of Al-Ghayb in Islamic Faith) Since jannah or paradise is part of a Muslim’s faith that exists in the world of al-ghayb (unseen) therefore we are unable to experience during our earthly lives, any part of it using physical perceptions, the five physical senses that we normally use. The phenomena of paradise exists beyond our ability to experience while we live on earth and if that is the case then how can one truly describe paradise in earthly terms? The best answer to this question is in one of the sayings of Imam Sahl Tustari: “nothing resembles of this world with what is in the hereafter except in words.” We can discuss what is in paradise by comparing to the worldly things, enjoyments and pleasures but that does not mean that they are exactly like these even though they are somewhat similar, as informed to us in the book of Allah ﷻ: “[Prophet], give those who believe and do good the news that they will have Gardens graced with flowing streams. Whenever they are given sustenance from the fruits of these Gardens, they will say, ‘We have been given this before,’ because they were provided with something like it.” For instance they will be provided fruits which they will remember from this world such as maybe apples, grapes etc. but their tastes would be hundred times sweeter, juicier, fresh, delicious and even various unimaginable types. So the Quran does mention that likeness of worldly fruits will be in the hereafter but can relate their actual experience only in words.
Few characteristics of the ‘People of Paradise’
There is a prophetic hadith that lists some characteristics of the people of the paradise, such characteristics that are unimaginable yet relative in terms of our earthly experience: “The first group of people who will enter Paradise, will be glittering like the full moon and those who will follow them, will glitter like the most brilliant star in the sky. They will not urinate, relieve nature, spit, or have any nasal secretions. Their combs will be of gold, and their sweat will smell like musk. The aloes-wood will be used in their centers. Their wives will be houris. All of them will look alike and will resemble their father Adam (in stature), sixty cubits tall.” Characteristics such as ‘glittering like moon’, ‘sweat will be like musks and ‘sixty cubits tall’ are unimaginable even though we know how a moon shines, what sweat is, we also know what musk is and we know that some people are shorter and taller in heights but none experiences on earth exactly what is described above. Therefore these characteristics are only describable for us in words relating to earthly experiences.
Lowest and highest ‘Residents of Paradise’
The following is prophetic hadith that gives us a brief understanding of how people of paradise will be, whether those of the lowest level or those in highest level: “Messenger of Allah ﷺ said Moses (Musa) (alaihi salaam) asked his Lord: ‘Who amongst the inhabitants of Paradise is the lowest to rank?’ He (Allah) said: ‘The person who would be admitted into Paradise last of all among those deserving of Paradise who are admitted to it. It would be said to him: ‘Enter Paradise.’ He would say: ‘O my Lord! how (should I enter) while the people have settled in their apartments and taken the shares (portions)?’ It would be said to him: ‘Would you be pleased if there be for you like the kingdom of a king amongst the kings of the world?’ He would say: ‘I am pleased my Lord.’ He (Allah) would say: ‘For you is that, and like that, and like that, and like that’ and that he would say at the fifth (point): ‘I am well pleased My Lord.’ He (Allah) would say: ‘It is for you and, ten times like it, and for you is what yourself desires and your eye enjoys.’ He would say: ‘I am well pleased, my Lord.’ He (Moses) said: ‘(Which is) the highest of their (inhabitants of Paradise) ranks?’ He (Allah) said: ‘They are those whom I choose. I establish their honour with My own hand and then set a seal over it (and they would be blessed with Bounties) which no eye has seen, no ear has heard and no human mind has perceived’: and this is substantiated by the Book of Allah, Exalted and Great: ‘So no soul knows what delight of the eye is hidden for them; a reward for what they did" (Al Quran 32:17)’.” As one can imagine how the person of the lowest rank in paradise will have a status several times higher than a king of this world which means he or she will have several times greater than what a king of this world would have in addition to whatever else they would desire. So even the great status that lowest level resident in paradise will enjoy, will be of an unimaginable type which can be described in words only. As for those of the highest level their blessings are not even describable in words, no words can even attempt to express their pleasures and joys!
A Tree in Paradise
There is a tree in paradise that is so long and big that if a fast rider was to begin traveling under its shade, he would continue riding till a hundred years yet its shade will not be over. It is said in a prophetic hadith: “Verily, in Paradise there is a tree, a rider will travel in its shade for a hundred years.” This description of a tree in paradise is amazing and unimaginable yet relatable to a tree on earth which also gives shade but the vastness can only be explained in words and can never be fully understood unless experienced in the hereafter.
Houses, soil and pebbles of paradise
There’s another hadith that informs us about the stones, houses and soil of paradise and what is it made of: “It was said to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ ‘How is the construction of Paradise?’ He said, ‘A stone of silver and a stone of gold, and its milaat (cement used between stones in the construction of buildings) is musk (best kind of perfume). And its pebbles are pearls and rubies. And its soil is saffron’.” As we have houses, soil and stones on earth yet it’s being made of rubies, pearls, cement being of powdered musk and soil being like that of saffron is unimaginable even though we know what are pearls and rubies as well as saffron yet it would be premature to conclude that by pearls and rubies it means exactly like those of earth. Not quite really because other prophetic hadith and Arabic terms describe to us that these are of a quality not exactly like that of earth. With this understanding it would be sufficient for us to remind ourselves of Allah’s promise where He says: “Now no person knows what delights of the eye are kept hidden (in reserve) for them - as a reward for their (good) deeds.”
We can only read about the lifestyle of paradise, try imagining and nothing more. Real experience is unimaginable and beyond any speculations. Apart from majority of us there are saints and awliya (friends) of Allah ﷻ who are given spiritual experiences about joys of paradise and have shared them, even the Prophet ﷺ himself experienced them during the event of Isra Wa Al Miraj (The night journey and ascension).
 Al Quran 2:203
 A 9th Century CE sufi saint and a scholar.
 Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought -Tafsir Tustari
 Al Quran 2:25
 Sahih al-Bukhari 3327
 Sahih Muslim 189 b
 English Ref: Vol. 4, Book 12, Hadith 2523
 Related by Abu Bakr ibn Abee Shaibah - recorded in Al Bidayah Wa Al Nihaya by Imam Ibn Kathir
 Al Quran 32:17