The three cornerstones of the Prophets’ messages, as mentioned by Imam Ibn Abi Al-`Iz Al-Dimishqi in his book Sharh At-Tahawiyya, are: teaching people about Allah and His attributes, directing them how to follow the path that Almighty Allah has established for human-beings to follow, and informing them about the reward they will receive when they follow the path of Almighty Allah.
If we take a look at the message of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), which is the Qur’an and Sunnah, we will find that it has covered these three cornerstones. We will also find that not only are the commands and prohibitions mentioned in a detailed manner, but also the reward that the believers will receive, which is Paradise, is also described thoroughly, so their hearts become attached to it and it becomes a competition between the believers:
Who will receive this great reward? Who will be able to defeat his evil desires more than anyone else? Who will be able to perfect his acts of worship like praying and fasting in order to receive this immense reward?
Paradise is the tremendous reward which Allah the All-Powerful has prepared for His beloved and those who obey Him. It is perfect joy and pleasure, where there is nothing lacking and nothing can disturb its purity. What Allah the Almighty and His Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) have told us about it makes us mystified with indescribable joy because our minds are incapable of comprehending the greatness of such blessings.
Amongst the details of the description of Paradise that is mentioned in the Qur’an and Sunnah, is that it has gates through which believers will enter, as the angels enter therein:
[`Adn [Eden] of Paradise, whose doors will be opened for them.] (Saad, 38: 50)
[… And angels shall enter unto them from every gate [with the salutation]: ‘Peace be unto you for that you persevered in patience! How excellent is the final home!] (Ar-Ra`d, 13: 23-24)
Allah the Almighty has told us that these gates will be opened when the believers reach them, and that they will be welcomed by the angels with greetings of peace:
[And those who kept their duty to their Lord will be led to Paradise in groups, till, when they reach it, its gates will be opened (before their arrival for their reception) and its keepers will say: Salamun `Alaikum (peace be upon you)! You have done well, so enter here to abide therein.] (Az-Zumar, 39: 73)
Imam Ibn Kathir says in his tafseer: “Allah tells us about the blessed believers, who will be taken to Paradise in groups, one group after another, starting with the best of them: those who are closest to Allah, then the most righteous, then the next best and the next best. Each group will be with others like them, prophets with prophets, the true believers with their peers, the martyrs with their counterparts, the scholars with their colleagues; every group composed of people of the same kind.”
There are eight gates in Paradise; one of them is called Ar-Rayyan, which is exclusively for those who fast. Al-Bukhari and Muslim report from Sahl ibn Sa`d As-Sa`idi that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
“In Paradise there are eight gates. There is one gate called Ar-Rayyan. No-one will enter it except those who fast, and after they enter it, it will be locked behind them, and no-one else will enter through it.”
There are also gates for those who pray much, those who give in charity and those who fight in jihad, as well as the gate called Ar-Rayyan for those who fast. In a hadith reported by both Al-Bukhari and Muslim, Abu Hurairah narrated that Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him):
“Whoever spends a pair (of anything) from his wealth for the sake of Allah, will be called from the gates of Paradise, and Paradise has eight gates. Whoever will be from the people of salah (i.e. praying regularly, properly, obligatory and supererogatory), will be called from the gate of prayer; whoever will be from among the people of sadaqah (optional charity) will be called from the gate of charity; whoever will be from among the people of jihad will be called from the gate of jihad, and whoever will be from among the people of fasting (fasting obligatory and optional) will be called from the gate of fasting.” Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “By Allah, it would not matter if a person was called from any of them, but will anyone be there to be called from all of them, O’ Messenger of Allah?” He (peace and blessings be upon him), “Yes, and I hope that you will be one of them.
Abu Bakr’s question refers to a person who has all these good qualities: prayer, fasting, charity, jihad, and so on, so that he will be called from all the gates. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
“Whoever spends a pair (of anything) for the sake of Allah will be called from all the eight gates of Paradise. He also spoke of the person who performs wudu’ and does it properly, then lifts his gaze to the sky and says: ‘Ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah wahdahu la shareeka lah, wa ashadu anna Muhammadan `abduhu wa rasooluhu’ (I bear witness that there is no god except Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is his servant and Messenger), the eight gates of Paradise will be opened to him, and he will enter it through any gate he wishes.”
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) told us that there is a gate, which is specific for those who will not be called to account: this is the right-hand gate of Paradise. The rest of them will enter Paradise with all the other nations through other gates. In a hadith about As-Shafa`ah (intercession) reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim, Abu Hurairah (peace and blessings be upon him) narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
“Allah will say: ‘O Muhammad, admit those of your Ummah (nation) who do not need to be brought to account through the right-hand gate; and the others will enter through other gates like the rest of the people.'”
In the same hadith, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) described the width of the gates of Paradise, stating that the width between the two sides of the gate is like the distance between Makkah and Hajar, or between Makkah and Basra. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
“By the One in Whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, the distance between two panels of the gates of Paradise, or between the two gateposts, is like the distance between Makkah and Hajar (a village in Bahrain), or between Makkah and Basra (city in Iraq).”
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) has told us that the gates of Paradise are opened during Ramadan. Bukhari, Muslim, and Ahmad report from Abu Hurairah that the Messenger of Allan (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “When the month of Ramadan comes, the gates of heaven are opened.” According to another report: “… The gates of Paradise are opened, and the gates of Hell are closed.”
In some reports it is stated the distance between the two gate-panels, when they are open, is that of a forty-year journey. Ahmad reported in Al-Musnad, that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
“The distance between the two gate-panels of one of the gates of Paradise is the distance of forty-year’s walking, but a time will come when it would be very crowded.”
Describing how crowded it would be, the companion, `Abdullah ibn Salam says, as narrated by At-Tabarani in Al-Mu`jam Al-Kabir: “The distance between the two gate-panels of one of the gates of Paradise is like the distance of forty-year’s walking, and it will be become as crowded as a drinking trough surrounded by thirsty camels.”
Finally, can you see how detailed the description of the gates of Paradise is? Can you see how beautiful and welcoming it is? So, what about Paradise itself? Isn’t it worthwhile for you to strive for it? The distance between the two gate-panels of one of the gates of Paradise is the distance of forty-year’s walking, so we know that there are so many people who will be entering. We have no excuse to be apathetic. Each and every one of us has the right to strive for his place in Paradise and to be amongst those who crowd around its gates. So, let’s compete for it and in sha’ Allah we’ll walk through its gates.
By Dr. `Umar S. Al-Ashqar
* Taken from the author’s book “Paradise and Hell in the Light of the Qur’an and Sunnah”, published by International Islamic Publishing House (IIPH), 2003.
Dr. `Umar S. Al-Ashqar is a professor of Shari`ah at the University of Jordan and the author of the Islamic Creed series.