The Road to Paradise

Oday Baddar


Who are the Dwellers of the Heavenly Gardens?

 

Prayer is an obligation upon all Muslims, no exceptions made; and it is the backbone of religion, for it is the spiritual connection and communication with the creator (without it religion is nothing but a philosophy). Prayer (regulated and unregulated) is undoubtedly significant, but it is not the key to the gates of the heavenly gardens (simply referred to henceforth as "Paradise"). Rather, it is the largest part of level two - out of four levels (as we shall see later), all of which are required to possess the keys to the gates of success in this life and the next.

As a matter of fact, one of the main sources of all social, political, and economic problems in Islamic societies today is this very misconception about the purpose of prayer, contradicting what is proclaimed with unequivocal clarity in the Quran. They have taught us since childhood that the first thing a Muslim is asked about on Judgment Day is whether he performed regulated prayers or not1. They told us that we shall walk over a narrow, slippery bridge (called the Straight Path) which crosses over Hell, and that there are hooks and traps that are launched from underneath it, to grab our legs and pull us off the bridge, down into the fire of Hell (if it turned out we didn't pray regularly)2.

As Saudi-sponsored official campaigns confirm, such as the "pray before you die" global campaign sponsored by the Saudi ministry of education, the message is that whoever misses a prayer knowingly and (does not repent before he dies) shall undoubtedly dwell in Hell for eternity. But praise be to the Lord of all worlds who has guided us to the Straight Path, the Path He had shown the people He had blessed (not a bridge over Hell, as they insolently purport, shamelessly altering the words of God). In the Quran, God says:

Those who have believed and done good works are the residents of Paradise; in it they shall dwell for eternity (82) - The Cow (Ch. 2) وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ أُولَـٰئِكَ أَصْحَابُ الْجَنَّةِ ۖ هُمْ فِيهَا خَالِدُونَ (82) – سورة البقرة

Is this not a clear and indisputable verse defining the identity of the residents of the heavenly gardens? Are they not the believers who do good works? Is God lying?!

We have become used to the typical techniques from clergymen whenever faced with truth: running down to their dungeons where the dusty books of their predecessors are stacked, predecessors in their image, who declared themselves imams (leaders) - imam Bukhari, imam Muslim, imam Ahmad, imam Tirmidhi, etc. - when the Quran never refers to anyone with "imam" except the prophets and messengers of God (even the prophet's disciples who ruled after his death didn't dare use that term, settling for something more humble, like caliph [successor; follower]). Indeed they rush down to their dungeons, flip through the forgotten books of their predecessors, digging through thousands of scripts to find us a line or two, narrated by word of mouth through a chain of twenty people, all of whom God had blessed of course (as they claim, to silence any criticism or doubt in these random men's ordinary human memory, trustworthiness, and de facto divinity), in order to trump the Quran - yes, to trump the Quranic verses with sayings that remained unrecorded for 200 years from the day they were allegedly uttered. They proclaim so proudly that if a hadeeth that contradicts a message in a Quranic verse but is believed to have been uttered at a later date from the revelation of that verse, it abrogates that Quranic verse! (Ask your clergyman about the penalty for an adulterous woman, how she is to be stoned to death according to hadeeth, whereas the Quran says she is to be put under house arrest until God finds her a way out; according to 4:15).

But let's put aside the legends of the quasi-divine clergy and their myths, so we may return to the original source of truth: God's unchanged and unalterable verses:

Those who believed and did good works - We don't ask of a soul more than it can bear - those are the residents of Paradise. In it they shall dwell forever (42) We have removed any malevolence from their chests. Rivers shall flow from underneath them. They shall say: 'Praise be to God for guiding us to this. We would not have gotten here had God not guided us. Indeed, God's messengers told us the truth from our Lord.' They are told in response: 'this is the Paradise you have inherited by your works (43) - The Cow (Ch. 2) وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ لَا نُكَلِّفُ نَفْسًا إِلَّا وُسْعَهَا أُولَـٰئِكَ أَصْحَابُ الْجَنَّةِ ۖ هُمْ فِيهَا خَالِدُونَ (42) وَنَزَعْنَا مَا فِي صُدُورِهِم مِّنْ غِلٍّ تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهِمُ الْأَنْهَارُ ۖ وَقَالُوا الْحَمْدُ لِلَّـهِ الَّذِي هَدَانَا لِهَـٰذَا وَمَا كُنَّا لِنَهْتَدِيَ لَوْلَا أَنْ هَدَانَا اللَّـهُ ۖ لَقَدْ جَاءَتْ رُسُلُ رَبِّنَا بِالْحَقِّ ۖ وَنُودُوا أَن تِلْكُمُ الْجَنَّةُ أُورِثْتُمُوهَا بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ (43) – سورة الأعراف

They will have inherited Paradise by the works they had done. Meaning, one's works are what ultimately determines one's eternal destiny: Paradise or Hell. In fact, God's judgment (the Quran tells us) is so precise that our deeds are scaled such that not even an atom's weight would be missed: Whoever does an iota of good shall see its return, and whoever does an iota of evil shall see its return (The Earthquake - Ch. 99)

To those who did good, good in excess shall be their reward. On their faces there's neither dust nor humiliation. Those are the residents of Paradise; in it they shall dwell for eternity (26) And to those who committed bad deeds, the penalty awarded shall be in the likeness of the deed. They will suffer from humiliation, and they shall have no protection from God's judgment. As though their faces are veiled by slices of the dark night. Those are the residents of Hell wherein they shall dwell for eternity (27) - Jona (Ch. 10)لِّلَّذِينَ أَحْسَنُوا الْحُسْنَىٰ وَزِيَادَةٌ ۖ وَلَا يَرْهَقُ وُجُوهَهُمْ قَتَرٌ وَلَا ذِلَّةٌ ۚ أُولَـٰئِكَ أَصْحَابُ الْجَنَّةِ ۖ هُمْ فِيهَا خَالِدُونَ (26) وَالَّذِينَ كَسَبُوا السَّيِّئَاتِ جَزَاءُ سَيِّئَةٍ بِمِثْلِهَا وَتَرْهَقُهُمْ ذِلَّةٌ ۖ مَّا لَهُم مِّنَ اللَّـهِ مِنْ عَاصِمٍ ۖ كَأَنَّمَا أُغْشِيَتْ وُجُوهُهُمْ قِطَعًا مِّنَ اللَّيْلِ مُظْلِمًا ۚ أُولَـٰئِكَ أَصْحَابُ النَّارِ ۖ هُمْ فِيهَا خَالِدُونَ (27) – سورة يونس

Today's clergy and their mainstream followers have developed a misconception vis-á-vis the words hasanah (good) and sayyi'ah (bad), turning them into abstract units of measurement. So if the kilometer measures distance and the kilogram measures weight, the numerical value of accumulated hasanah measures a Muslim's placement in Paradise, and the sayyi'aat his placement in Hell. The original meaning of course is not an abstract numerical value, but a reference to actual work done. As shown in the above verses, hasanah refers to a good deed (عمل حسن), and sayyi'ah refers to a bad deed (عمل سيء). Despite this clear meaning throughout the Quran, our mainstreamers have devoided these two words from any meaningful understanding when they began promising Muslims (based on their dungeon books) that when one recites the Quran, for each letter of each word the reciter scores 10 good deeds (in Ramadan it's 70). And when one slays a sheep or a goat on Eid al-Adha (the Day of Sacrifice; the second major Islamic holiday after the pilgrimage rites are fulfilled), he gains 1,000,000 good deeds (one hasanah for each hair on the offering's body). Essentially, they have (possibly unintentionally) turned Islam into a casino, with guaranteed winnings for those who enter, simply for entering!

We return once again to the Quran to understand that hasanah is not an abstract numerical value, but specifically refers to good works/deeds:

Those are the ones whom We accept from them the best of their deeds and ignore their bad deeds; those are the residents of Paradise, as they have been truly promised (16) - The Dunes (Ch. 46)أُولَـٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ نَتَقَبَّلُ عَنْهُمْ أَحْسَنَ مَا عَمِلُوا وَنَتَجَاوَزُ عَن سَيِّئَاتِهِمْ فِي أَصْحَابِ الْجَنَّةِ ۖ وَعْدَ الصِّدْقِ الَّذِي كَانُوا يُوعَدُونَ (16) – سورة الأحقاف

So who exactly have their best deeds accepted by God, and their bad deeds ignored, then promised the "promise of truth" to enter Paradise? The answer is in the precedeing verse:

We have commanded man to do good to his parents. His mother suffered while being pregnant with him and suffered while giving birth to him; bearing and weaning for thirty months; until he finally grows up and reaches forty years of age, he says, 'my Lord, inspire me to thank You for the bliss you have bestowed upon me and my parents; inspire me to do good works acceptable by You. Grace me with my offspring. I have turned unto you repentant, and to you I have submitted.' (15) - The Dunes (Ch. 46)وَوَصَّيْنَا الْإِنسَانَ بِوَالِدَيْهِ إِحْسَانًا ۖ حَمَلَتْهُ أُمُّهُ كُرْهًا وَوَضَعَتْهُ كُرْهًا ۖ وَحَمْلُهُ وَفِصَالُهُ ثَلَاثُونَ شَهْرًا ۚ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا بَلَغَ أَشُدَّهُ وَبَلَغَ أَرْبَعِينَ سَنَةً قَالَ رَبِّ أَوْزِعْنِي أَنْ أَشْكُرَ نِعْمَتَكَ الَّتِي أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيَّ وَعَلَىٰ وَالِدَيَّ وَأَنْ أَعْمَلَ صَالِحًا تَرْضَاهُ وَأَصْلِحْ لِي فِي ذُرِّيَّتِي ۖ إِنِّي تُبْتُ إِلَيْكَ وَإِنِّي مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ (15) – سورة الأحقاف

These words are clear and do not require the interpretation of an imam, sheikh, juror, or any other form of clergy, to understand that the dwellers of Paradise are those who do good works, repent to God for their bad deeds (which God promises to ignore, in favor of accepting the good deeds, such as the good treatment of one's parents).

Those who believed and did good works and humbled themselves before their Lord; those are the residents of Paradise, where they shall dwell for eternity (23) - Hud (Ch. 11)إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَأَخْبَتُوا إِلَىٰ رَبِّهِمْ أُولَـٰئِكَ أَصْحَابُ الْجَنَّةِ ۖ هُمْ فِيهَا خَالِدُونَ (23) – سورة هود

Over and over again, the Quran confirms with absolute clarity and certainty that Paradise belongs to those who believe and do the good works. These words cannot bear any twisting or bending in favor of some clergy dogma that claims otherwise. This message is repeated in 2:25, 2:82, 3:57, 3:136, 3:195, 4:57, 4:122, 4:124, 4:173, 5:9, 5:85, 6:127, 6:135, 7:42, 7:43, 9:72, 9:120, 10:9, 11:11, 11:23, 14:23, 16:30-32, 17:9, 18:2, 18:30-31, 18:107, 19:60, 22:14, 22:23, 22:56, 29:58, 31:8, 32:19, 34:37, 39:35, 39:73-74, 40:40, 41:8, 42:22, 43:72, 46:14, 46:16, 47:12, 64:9, 65:11, 84:25, 85:11, 95:6, 99:6-8 (See full text here).

If there is any confusion as to what constitutes a good work/deed, the Quran leaves no room for misunderstanding. If the opposite of hasanah (حسنة) was sayyi'ah (سيئة), then the opposite "good" is "corrupt."

And to Madyan We sent their brother Shoaib who said, "O people, worship God, there is no god but Him. You have been given a clear proof from your Lord. Weigh the scale and measurements in full; do not cheat people their things, and don't corrupt the Earth after it had been made good. That is better for you, if you were true believers (85) - The Heights (Ch. 7)وَإِلَىٰ مَدْيَنَ أَخَاهُمْ شُعَيْبًا ۗ قَالَ يَا قَوْمِ اعْبُدُوا اللَّـهَ مَا لَكُم مِّنْ إِلَـٰهٍ غَيْرُهُ ۖ قَدْ جَاءَتْكُم بَيِّنَةٌ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ ۖ فَأَوْفُوا الْكَيْلَ وَالْمِيزَانَ وَلَا تَبْخَسُوا النَّاسَ أَشْيَاءَهُمْ وَلَا تُفْسِدُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ بَعْدَ إِصْلَاحِهَا ۚ ذَٰلِكُمْ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ إِن كُنتُم مُّؤْمِنِينَ (85) – سورة الأعراف

The Arabic word for "good" in "good works" is saalih (صالح), from the root "S-L-H" (صلح), which is defined in all major Arabic lexicons as the antonym of corruption or ruin; fasaad (فساد). It creates other words like: repair tasleeh (تصليح), reformation islaah (إصلاح), peace sulh (صُلح), while the word saalih itself can mean "valid, useful, adequate, welfare, and benefit." So when you read "good works" in the Quran in Arabic, it entails all those meanings. They are works that make things better: repair a corrupted thing, reform a corrupted law, or undo a corrupted relationship (restitute peace). Simply put, they are works that eliminate or undo corruption in all forms. Good works are those deeds that lead to beneficial results in life for others, such as feeding the poor and protecting the orphan.

In addition to charity and activism, in today's society, disposing of garbage properly is a good work (because it prevents harm to others), and so does maintaining the cleanliness of a public bathroom after use. To help the elderly cross the road safely or to slow down your car for pedestrians to cross the road safely; these too are good works. To say kind words to someone without an ulterior motive is a good deed. To share a meal with a sibling or a neighbor; that is an act that leads to improving people's lives.

Even honesty and integrity in doing one's job can turn it into a good work. Take for instance a doctor caring for patients; diagnosing them and prescribing remedies that improve their bodies and minds. Or consider the architect and the construction worker, doing a proper job in constructing someone's home so that it is warm in winters (proper insulation and fortified windows) and cool in summers (designed to allow a healthy flow of air to go through), its pipes and wires are of sufficient quality (so it doesn't suffer from leakages and power outages); that too is an act of good. The same can be said about the teacher, the instructor, the designer, the salesperson, the manager, the marketer, the waiter, the chef, the film director, the secretary, the notary, the parliament member, the hair dresser, the driver, the policeman, the fire fighter, and the janitor. "Each and every one of us is a shepherd; each and every one of us is responsible for their flock." So long as the result of our work leads to improving other people's lives; to social progress, then they are "good works," and those who do good works are the eternal dwellers of Paradise.

What About Praying and Fasting?

 

As for the attempt by some clergymen to force the rites of worship (the pillars of Islam) under the title "good works," it is certainly a play on words that lead one astray from the truth. And the truth is that worship rituals go under the title "Worship Rites (ibaadaat عبادات)," not "Works (a'maal أعمال)." Even if we were to go along with such an interpretation and accept that prayer is a "good work," how does prayer bring any improvement (salaah صلاح) to society? What can your brother or sister or neighbor (the other) benefit from your praying, fasting, and pilgrimage?

Have you equated the offering of water to the pilgrims and performing hajj to the Kaaba with the one who believes in God and the Next Life and struggled (fought) in the cause of God? Nay, they are not equals in God's eyes! God does not guide the unjust (19) Those who believed, migrated, and struggled in the cause of God with their money and souls are of a greater degree in God's eyes; they are the true winners (20) - The Repentance (Ch. 9)أَجَعَلْتُمْ سِقَايَةَ الْحَاجِّ وَعِمَارَةَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ كَمَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّـهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ وَجَاهَدَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّـهِ ۚ لا يَسْتَوُونَ عِندَ اللَّـهِ ۗ وَاللَّـهُ لا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمِينَ (19) الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَهَاجَرُوا وَجَاهَدُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّـهِ بِأَمْوَالِهِمْ وَأَنفُسِهِمْ أَعْظَمُ دَرَجَةً عِندَ اللَّـهِ ۚ وَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْفَائِزُونَ (20) – سورة التوبة

Yet we hear the mainstream clergy proclaim and confirm on every occasion that "reward (ajr)" is given for additional prayers, for fasting the days of Ramadan and beyond, and for fulfilling the rites of pilgrimage to Mecca once or more in a lifetime. Where is their proof? Can they point to any verse in the Quran that makes such a connection between heavenly reward and worship pillars? Surely something as important as this would have been mentioned at least once, wouldn't it?

But all fluent Arabic speakers know that the word ajr (أجر) is the return given for work (عمل), as the more appropriate translation for ajr would be "wages."

Those who believed and did good works, We shall house in lofty dwellings in Paradise, with rivers flowing from underneath, to dwell in it for eternity; how sweet is the wage of the workers (58) - The Spider (Ch. 29)وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ لَنُبَوِّئَنَّهُم مِّنَ الْجَنَّةِ غُرَفًا تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا ۚ نِعْمَ أَجْرُ الْعَامِلِينَ (58) – سورة العنكبوت

While we insist that worship rituals do not gain work wages (ajr), a reader might mistaken this to mean that we deny the benefit from worship rituals to individuals. So allow me to clarify this crucial point by first asking rhetorically: if someone you love asks you to get them a glass of water, would you demand a reward from them? If your mother asks you for help in the kitchen, do you require a wage for helping her? Since the answer is no, why then would you demand a reward from the creator of heavens and earth when He commands you to uphold prayers regularly?

The truth is, by accepting Islam as your religion, it goes without saying that you are expected to uphold its pillars. So as long as you claim to be a Muslim (a follower of Muhammad, the messenger of God), then you are agreeing to perform these obligatory pillars. That's precisely why these worship rituals (prayer, fasting, mandatory tax, and pilgrimage) are referred to as "the pillars" of Islam - without them, Islam would be reduced to an even in ancient history. Without prayer, any religion would be capitulated into a thought experiment (something you randomly think of on an idle Tuesday afternoon). It is through performing the pillars that Islam becomes a living religion. And what is Islam but the submission to the Lord of all worlds (i.e. the worship of the one true God)?

On an individual level, the ultimate purpose of worship rituals (prayer et al.) - as the Quran itself claims - is to instill in us the true belief, and it is this true belief that animates us to do the good works. A prayer that does not lead to the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice (الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر) is not a prayer, but a fake show of faith (the Quran warns; see Ch. 107). Similarly, a fasting that does not transcend the soul and elevate one's morality is not fasting, but an act of starvation, as though you are performing to gain favor with God: "there, I fasted! Now reward me!" Unfortunately for these masochists there is no reward for self-inflicted starvation. The purpose of fasting is not a sport to test your endurance, but to remind you of the suffering of the poor and those inflicted with real problems; it is supposed to instill in you the deep desire to do something about their pain, or perhaps even to fight the injustice that is causing their poverty; to improve society and the living standards of the suffering. The reward is given for that! Not for fasting in and of itself.

Still not convinced? Kindly read the following verse for the ultimate proof that there is no heavenly reward for worship:

Muhammad, the messenger of God, and those with him are tough on the disbelievers, merciful among each other. You see them constantly bowing and prostrating, seeking blessing and acceptance from God. The signs of worship can be seen on their faces. That is their parable in the Torah. And their parable in the Gospel is that of a seed birthing a plant, supporting it. Then it got thicker and rose on its stems, pleasing the sowers and displeasing the disbelievers. God has promised those who believe and do good works among them forgiveness and great reward (29) - The Conquest (Ch. 48)مُّحَمَّدٌ رَّسُولُ اللَّـهِ ۚ وَالَّذِينَ مَعَهُ أَشِدَّاءُ عَلَى الْكُفَّارِ رُحَمَاءُ بَيْنَهُمْ ۖ تَرَاهُمْ رُكَّعًا سُجَّدًا يَبْتَغُونَ فَضْلًا مِّنَ اللَّـهِ وَرِضْوَانًا ۖ سِيمَاهُمْ فِي وُجُوهِهِم مِّنْ أَثَرِ السُّجُودِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ مَثَلُهُمْ فِي التَّوْرَاةِ ۚ وَمَثَلُهُمْ فِي الْإِنجِيلِ كَزَرْعٍ أَخْرَجَ شَطْأَهُ فَآزَرَهُ فَاسْتَغْلَظَ فَاسْتَوَىٰ عَلَىٰ سُوقِهِ يُعْجِبُ الزُّرَّاعَ لِيَغِيظَ بِهِمُ الْكُفَّارَ ۗ وَعَدَ اللَّـهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ مِنْهُم مَّغْفِرَةً وَأَجْرًا عَظِيمًا (29) – سورة الفتح

Notice how in the first segment of this verse the example of Muslims (the prophet and those with him) in the Torah is that of men constantly bowing and prostrating in prayer, so much so that the evidence of their devout prayers can be seen on their faces. Yet, no matter how many times they bowed and prostrated, there is no promise of reward or Paradise. Instead, the verse says that the purpose for their prayers is to beseech acceptance and blessing from God.

In the second segment of the verse; the parable of the fruitful tree from the Gospel, we see God promising those who believed and did good works from among them with forgiveness and great reward. The words "among them" is a phrase of discrimination. In other words: not all of them, but a selection. So who from among them (among the Muslims; among Muhammad and his companions), is promised forgiveness and great reward? The verse answers, in line with the same message throughout the entire Quran: those who believed and did good works!

Despite the fact that "all of them" are consistently bowing and prostrating in prayer, the promise of forgiveness and reward was made only to those who believed and did good works. You can also look up every verse in the Quran that mentions fasting or hajj, and you shall reach the same obvious conclusion: no mention of rewards or Paradise.

This understanding of what actually qualifies a Muslim to enter Paradise has also solved another mainstream mystery concerning the fate of non-Muslims. Now we can understand why non-Muslims can also enter Paradise through faith and good works, not worship rituals specific to any particular religion or sect. (More on this later).

The Connection Between Faith and Works

 

One question remains to understand the full picture of the road to Paradise: why is faith/belief necessary? Why do most verses in the Quran connect good works with belief?

One might ask: Isn't it enough to just do good works? What does it matter what we believe? Why can't an atheist enter Paradise by their good works? Isn't a good work good in and of itself, regardless of belief?

To answer, we must first understand what is exactly meant by faith or belief (eemaan إيمان). Suppose I tell a student that studying hard and getting high grades will lead her to succeed in many aspects of her life. Wouldn't she need to believe that my claim is true in order for her to study hard? Isn't it logical for a student to believe in the reward of hard work in order to do that hard work?

Similarly, any good work (that benefits society) requires belief in its rewards. A doctor can clearly see the financial benefits that come from lying to his patients. Tell a patient he requires surgery to save his life (when he doesn't need one), have him sign a paper that says he absolves the doctor from any legal consequences should anything go wrong in the procedure, then have him or his insurance company foot the $250,000 bill. How is dishonesty not a good thing from the doctor's point of view? Such a doctor does not believe in the goodness (or salaah) that comes from honesty and integrity in his work.

A school teacher could train his students how to answer exam questions; spoonfeed points instead of teaching or explaining knowledge. Then on the test day, the smiles on the students' faces express their delight because the test questions are identical to those the teacher gave special attention to just two days prior. This way, the teacher guarantees his contract renewal, reception of teacher awards and bonuses, and he can even demand a higher salary; all because his students scored high on the exam. Hence, why bother teach properly, explain the theories, relate the ideas to the real world, and engage the students with challenging thoughts that may lead to meaningful education, when all of this might lead to average test scores, even risking below average scores? Shouldn't the teacher first believe in the mission of education so that he could teach effectively and benefit all of society?

Likewise, consider the soldier who believes in the benefits of fighting for his country and sacrificing himself for it (or else he could desert his brigade or, even worse, betray his country in exchange for a handsome fee from the enemy). Consider the parent who believes in the gains of good parenting; loving their children and caring for their mental, physical, and emotional well-being (otherwise the entire society would eventually suffer from their future crimes). Consider the children who believe in the gains from respecting their parents and obeying their wise advice (or else they could end up seriously harming themselves and others with irresponsible actions; e.g. drugs and alcohol). Consider the parliament member who believes in the benefits from voting for laws that promote justice and the people's welfare (or else he would accept hefty bribes in order to pass laws that are harmful to society at large). Consider the chef who believes in cleanliness and putting the needed effort to perfect every dish ordered (or else the restaurant customers could suffer from harmful complications such as food poisoning because he wanted to save money on better ingredients).

Consider the cop, the first aid medic, the film director, the lawyer, the judge, the prosecutor, the bank manager, the buyer, the seller, etc. They have no personal gain from doing "good works," unless they believed in the benefits of these works which appear to be in conflict with their personal (selfish) benefits. Similarly, why should I give to charity my hard-earned money? Why should I deprive myself from what I could have bought with $10, and instead allow a complete stranger, presumably helpless, enjoy my money?

It is "belief" that is the prime motivator to do anything. It is my belief that cash can be exchanged with other goods and services that motivates me to work hard to earn as much of it as I can. If everything was for free, why would I bother show up to work? We all know that idleness and the desire to live like a king is in our human nature (if only we could go back to being children when crying could fulfill every wish). For us to actually bother get up and get something done besides our instinctive desires, we need to believe in the profitability of that action, no matter how small it was. If I believed that writing this essay was pointless I wouldn't have bothered writing it.

And since the "good works" are by definition void of personal Earthly rewards, we have Islam (and all true religions) promising a Heavenly reward to be collected in another life after death. Hence, you'd have to believe in resurrection and the next life, where these rewards would be delivered. You'd also have to believe in Hell (some form of punishment for committing bad deeds that harmed others), in order be dissuaded from committing any sins. This would also entail the need to believe in a God who can deliver this justice, a God so powerful to be the creator of this world and the next.

In Islamic philosophy, as well as other religions, these concepts of faith, worship, and works are all intertwined. If you enter the faith of Islam freely, then your proclamation of the two testimonies (there is no god but God and Muhammad is His messenger) are your ticket into this religion. The next step is to perform the worship rituals which signify that you are a member of the Muslim society. These rituals, especially the regulated prayers, are meant to eventually prepare you (recalibrate your mind) to believe; to see the truth without uncertainty. And it is that belief that empowers you; energizes you to roll up your sleeves and do good works, while simultaneously avoiding the bad deeds. It is the balance of your works (the true evidence of your belief) that determine your place in the Next Life. The prevalence of your good works is your ticket into Paradise.

The Arabs have said: "we believe." Tell them: "no you did not believe. Instead you should say 'we submit to Islam,' belief has not entered your hearts yet. If you obey God and His messenger, all your works will be rewarded. God is forgiving and merciful (14) The believers are those who believed in God and His messenger, without doubt, and then fought in God's cause with their wealth and souls, those are the honest believers" (15) Tell them: "Are you trying to inform God about your faith, when God knows what's in heavens and Earth? God knows everything" (16) They want you to think that they're doing you a favor by entering Islam. Tell them: "don't think that by becoming Muslims you're doing me any favors. It is God who is doing you a favor by guiding you to belief, if you were truly believers. (17) God knows the unseen throughout heavens and the Earth, and He can see what you do" (18) - The Chambers (Ch. 49)قَالَتِ الْأَعْرَابُ آمَنَّا ۖ قُل لَّمْ تُؤْمِنُوا وَلَـٰكِن قُولُوا أَسْلَمْنَا وَلَمَّا يَدْخُلِ الْإِيمَانُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ ۖ وَإِن تُطِيعُوا اللَّـهَ وَرَسُولَهُ لَا يَلِتْكُم مِّنْ أَعْمَالِكُمْ شَيْئًا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ (14) إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا بِاللَّـهِ وَرَسُولِهِ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَرْتَابُوا وَجَاهَدُوا بِأَمْوَالِهِمْ وَأَنفُسِهِمْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّـهِ ۚ أُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الصَّادِقُونَ (15) قُلْ أَتُعَلِّمُونَ اللَّـهَ بِدِينِكُمْ وَاللَّـهُ يَعْلَمُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ ۚ وَاللَّـهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ (16) يَمُنُّونَ عَلَيْكَ أَنْ أَسْلَمُوا ۖ قُل لَّا تَمُنُّوا عَلَيَّ إِسْلَامَكُم ۖ بَلِ اللَّـهُ يَمُنُّ عَلَيْكُمْ أَنْ هَدَاكُمْ لِلْإِيمَانِ إِن كُنتُمْ صَادِقِينَ (17) إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يَعْلَمُ غَيْبَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۚ وَاللَّـهُ بَصِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ (18) – سورة الحجرات

It is now clear why belief and good works were often mentioned together. If you believe and do good works, the heavenly rewards and Paradise are for you. But whoever thinks that by simply being a Muslim (praying, fasting, performing the pilgrimage, paying the mandatory zakaat) that they have guaranteed entry to Paradise, they have no one to blame for their ignorance but themselves. The Quran is extremely clear in its message that entering Paradise requires belief and good works, not to simply rely on worship rituals, which cannot be accepted anyway unless they lead the Muslim to belief and good works!

In summary, to enter the gates of Paradise, as a Muslim, you need to surpass these four steps:

  1. Entering Islam (through the two proclamations: there is no god but God, and Muhammad is His messenger),
  2. Worship (rituals, which should prepare you and open your heart for),
  3. Faith (which will in turn empower you to do the),
  4. Good Works (your ticket to Paradise)

Paradise is not Only for Muslims

 

Concerning the question on whether or not Islam is the only path to Paradise, the Quran couldn't be any clearer: Belief and good works are not a monopoly for Muslims. The Quran tells us that God's standard for preference is based on righteousness (taqwa), not on how (and how many times) one prays, as the clergy incessantly propagate.

O people, We have created you male and female, and made you many nations and tribes to get to know one another. The most favored among you in God's eyes is the most righteous (13) - The Chambers (Ch. 49)يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّـهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ (13) – سورة الحجرات
Those who believed [Muslims] and the Jews and the Sabians and the Christians, whoever believed in God and the Next Life and did good works, no fear is to come upon them nor shall they grieve (69) - The Banquet (Ch. 5)إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَالَّذِينَ هَادُوا وَالصَّابِئُونَ وَالنَّصَارَىٰ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّـهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا فَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ (69) – سورة المائدة
Those who believed [Muslims] and the Jews and the Christians and the Sabians, whoever believed in God and the Next Life, and did good works, they shall get their reward from their Lord. No fear is to come upon them nor shall they grieve (62) - The Cow (Ch. 2)إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَالَّذِينَ هَادُوا وَالنَّصَارَىٰ وَالصَّابِئِينَ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّـهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا فَلَهُمْ أَجْرُهُمْ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ وَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ (62) – سورة البقرة

It is clear from these verses that rewards are also given to non-Muslims, and so is the promise for forgiveness and, logically, living in Paradise, so long as they are "believers who did good works." We see once again that rewards and Paradise are promised in return for belief and good works, not worship rituals. This is further proven by God's words in the Quran to the Christians; that they have the right to remain Christian, so long as they follow their Gospel:

Let the people of the Gospel rule by what God had revealed in it. Whoever does not rule by what God had revealed; those are the truly corrupt (47) And to you [Muhammad], We have bestowed upon you the book in truth, confirming the message in the books that preceded you, and as a check on them. Therefore, rule among your people with what God had bestowed, and do not follow their wishes that are against the truth revealed to you. To each nation We have provided a different path and law. If He willed it, you would have all been one nation. Instead, He is testing you in the path you have been given. Therefore, compete in doing the good works. To God you shall all return; when He shall inform you all about your differences (48) - The Banquet (Ch. 5)وَلْيَحْكُمْ أَهْلُ الْإِنجِيلِ بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّـهُ فِيهِ ۚ وَمَن لَّمْ يَحْكُم بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّـهُ فَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ (47) وَأَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ مُصَدِّقًا لِّمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَمُهَيْمِنًا عَلَيْهِ ۖ فَاحْكُم بَيْنَهُم بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّـهُ ۖ وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاءَهُمْ عَمَّا جَاءَكَ مِنَ الْحَقِّ ۚ لِكُلٍّ جَعَلْنَا مِنكُمْ شِرْعَةً وَمِنْهَاجًا ۚ وَلَوْ شَاءَ اللَّـهُ لَجَعَلَكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً وَلَـٰكِن لِّيَبْلُوَكُمْ فِي مَا آتَاكُم ْ فَاسْتَبِقُوا الْخَيْرَاتِ ۚ إِلَى اللَّـهِ مَرْجِعُكُمْ جَمِيعًا فَيُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ فِيهِ تَخْتَلِفُونَ (48) – سورة المائدة

We can see here a clear commandment for Christians to remain Christian if they choose to, so long as they follow what God commanded in their Gospel. (The same is said to Jews and Muslims, to follow their corresponding religions and scriptures). God then explains that it is His will that there are many nations and not one. The reason He gave: to let us compete in doing the good works. We needn't worry about which path (religion) is the right one, for they all lead us back to Him in the end. This concept of One God but with different paths to Him extends to non-Abrahamic faiths as well:

Those who believed [Muslims] and the Jews, the Sabians, the Christians, the Zoroastrians, and the Pagans; God shall judge among them on the Day of Resurrection. God is witnessing everything (17) - The Pilgrimage (Ch. 22)إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَالَّذِينَ هَادُوا وَالصَّابِئِينَ وَالنَّصَارَىٰ وَالْمَجُوسَ وَالَّذِينَ أَشْرَكُوا إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يَفْصِلُ بَيْنَهُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ شَهِيدٌ (17) – سورة الحج

If someone was a Pagan, a polytheist, a Zoroastrian, a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, or someone who believed that God is nature or the laws of the universe, "proclaim the truth from your Lord, then whoever chooses to believe can believe, and whoever chooses to disbelieve can disbelieve"3. And the Quran informs us, as mentioned earlier, that as long as we believed and did good works, Heavenly rewards are ours. And as long as we avoid committing bad deeds (sins), we avoid punishment. Thus, to every religion or sect a different ladder to Paradise. Some religions may have more steps, others may have less. But one thing they all have for sure is that the final step on the ladder is always "works," which ultimately determine one's placement in the Next Life.

As for judgments and verdicts in religious matters, the authority is in God's hands only. It is none of our business who believes and who doesn't, nor are we authorized to judge people based on their beliefs, for a simple reason: we do not know the unseen, and faith is invisible. We can't pass judgment on someone for having or lacking something that we cannot perceive (one can only recognize the faith within one's heart). But as far as Islam is concerned, if you choose it as your religion, then you are to abide by God's commandments revealed in it: uphold prayer, pay zakaat, believe, do good works, and repent for the bad works; be righteous as much as you can, so that you shall get what you were promised: eternal Paradise - Amen.

Dec 30, 2014
Kunming, China


References:

  1. ^ "Abu Hurayrah said that God's messenger - peace and blessings be upon him - said: The first thing a man is judged for on Judgment Day of his works is his prayer. If his prayer was good, then he succeeded and won. If it was bad, then he failed and lost. If he missed out on an obligation or part of it, the Lord said: 'Look, can my servant volunteer to complete what was lacking from his [prayer] obligations?' Then this is applied to all his other works." - Al-Tirmidhi, Hadeeth No. 413

    "عن أبي هريرة رضي الله عنه، قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إن أول ما يحاسب به العبد يوم القيامة من عمله صلاته ، فإن صلحت فقد أفلح وأنجح ، وإن فسدت فقد خاب وخسر ، فإن انتقص من فريضة شيئا ، قال الرب تبارك وتعالى : أنظروا هل لعبدي من تطوع فيكمل بها ما أنتقص من الفريضة ، ثم يكون سائر عمله على ذلك" سنن الترمذي، حديث رقم: 413

  2. ^ "Abu Hurayrah reported that God's messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, said: 'the Path shall be placed between the two mounts of Hell. My nation and myself will be the first to pass. On that day on one may speak but the messengers of God, as their prayer will be: Lord protect us; protect us. In Hell there are chains like the thorns of Sa'adan. Have you seen the thorns from Sa'adan?' They responded: 'yes.' The messenger said: 'It is like the thorns of Sa'adan, but no one knows how huge they are but God. These thorns will hook onto people based on their works." - Reported by Bukhari, Hadeeth No. 1829.

    عَنِ الزُّهْرِيِّ ، عَنْ عَطَاءِ بْنِ يَزِيدَ ، عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ أَخْبَرَهُ ، قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ : " يُضْرَبُ الصِّرَاطُ بَيْنَ ظَهْرَيْ جَهَنَّمَ ، فَأَكُونُ أَنَا وَأُمَّتِي فِي أَوَّلِ مَنْ يَجُوزُ ، وَلا يَتَكَلَّمُ يَوْمَئِذٍ إِلا الرُّسُلُ ، فَدُعَاءُ الرُّسُلِ يَوْمَئِذٍ : اللَّهُمَّ سَلِّمْ سَلِّمْ ، وَفِي جَهَنَّمَ كَلالِيبُ كَشَوْكِ السَّعْدَانِ " ، قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ : " هَلْ رَأَيْتُمْ شَوْكَ السَّعْدَانِ ؟ " ، قَالُوا : نَعَمْ ، قَالَ : " فَإِنَّهَا مِثْلُ شَوْكِ السَّعْدَانِ ، غَيْرَ أَنَّهُ مَا يَدْرِي مَا قَدْرُ عِظَمِهَا إِلا اللَّهُ تَعَالَى فَتَخْطَفُ النَّاسَ بِأَعْمَالِهِمْ " . رواه البخاري، رقم الحديث 1829 .

    عَنْ أَبِي سَعِيدٍ الْخُدْرِيِّ : أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ ، قَالَ : " يُجْمَعُ النَّاسُ عِنْدَ جَسْرِ جَهَنَّمَ ، وَإِنَّ عَلَيْهِ حَسَكًا وَكَلالِيبَ ، وَيَمُرُّ النَّاسُ" السنن الكبرى للنسائي، حديث رقم 10814

  3. ^ The Cave (Ch. 18), verse 29