The Road to Paradise
A new advertising slogan from an international beverage company makes its case in just three words: "Obey Your Thirst." Although these words are meant to produce an impulsive reaction rather than reflection, it would be good, and immensely more refreshing and rewarding if, for a change, we did the exact opposite. For, this is the battle cry of the pop culture. That is why the ad never explains why we must obey our thirst.
In fact, this has been the central obsession of Jahiliya societies throughout history: Eat, drink, and be merry because tomorrow we die. Do whatever pleases you. You live only once so make the most of it. Obey your desires.
Todays society has taken this old obsession to unbelievably new heights (or depths). Ad men make a living out of provoking thirsts of all kinds. It has been developed into both a scientific discipline and an art form. The best available technologies, talents and resources of all kinds are used to promote one message: Indulge your desires.
If this unprecedented pursuit could produce happiness, these would have been the happiest times in the entire history of mankind. It is no secret that it is not so. If there were a Misery Index to gauge the despair and gloom of individuals and communities, we would find that it is also at an all time high. This road has never led to true happiness. And it never will.
Actually, this road leads straight into eternal hell. The warnings are posted all along this road and have also been communicated to us by messengers of Allah. That is why the Prophets are called Nazeer (warner). The entire mission of the Last Messenger of Allah was to warn us about the road that leads to Hell and show us the path that leads to Paradise. His teachings remain with us so we can avoid the peril. He informed us: "The Fire has been surrounded by lusts and desires and the Paradise by hardships." [Bukhari, Muslim]. Another hadith explains this further. According to that, when Allah created the Garden, He asked Angle Jibreel (Gabriel) to go and take a look at it. So he went and looked at the Paradise and at all that Allah had prepared for its inhabitants. Then he said: "O My Lord! By Your Honor, No one who hears about this place would stay away from it." Then Allah surrounded the Paradise by difficulties and hardships and asked Jibreel again to go and take another look. Jibreel went again and after looking at it came back and said: "O My Lord! By Your Honor, I am afraid now that no one will be able to enter it." Then after Allah created the Hell, He asked Jibreel to go and take a look. When Jibreel came back he said: "O My Lord! By Your Honor, no one who hears about it will ever enter it." Then Allah surrounded the Hell by all kinds of lusts and desires and asked Jibreel to take another look. This time after looking at it Jibreel said: "O My Lord! By Your Honor, I am afraid that no one will be able to avoid it."
These ahadith beautifully capture the test of life. The path to hell is a slippery downhill slope. It looks attractive and promises instant satisfaction. It makes us feel good just like the drug addicts feel good when they go on a high, oblivious of the ruin that awaits them. This is the path of hedonism, consumerism, and materialism. It promises "liberation" from all norms, moral values, obligations, and higher authority, so we can become slaves of our own desires. This is the path to eternal doom and gloom. On the other hand, the path to paradise is most definitely uphill. It requires sacrifice and self control; patience and perseverance; obedience and submission to our Creator; hard work and firm commitment. It requires giving up instant satisfaction so we can get eternal satisfaction. It is paved with stumbling blocks and hardships. But should we choose our destination simply on the basis of how easy it is to get there?
Although hell is a greater horror than the worst horror all human minds put together can ever imagine, it is easier to avoid, as we have been told about paths leading to it and given the freedom of choice to avoid those paths. Although paradise is a greater treasure than all human minds put together could ever imagine, the journey to paradise is easier than the journey to treasure islands found in fables where the seekers have to find the path on their own. Here we have been shown the path and taught through Prophetic example how to travel on that path. Yes, the lure of worldly pleasures is always great. That is by design or there would be no test. But then this is a fair test. We have been given the capability to shun the temporary pleasures and embrace the temporary pains by remembering the eternal ones. All it takes is belief, commitment, and seeking help from Allah and we can overcome the roadblocks.
Our success lies not in obeying our thirsts but in controlling them in obedience to Allah. Our goal is not to maximize our pleasures here, but to reach the house of eternal pleasures. Once we embrace this perspective, it brings joy to this life as well, but it is a materially different kind of joy than one finds in obeying ones basal desires. The Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, said, "The coolness of my eyes lies in offering Salat." On the other hand, the Quran tells us that Salat is a burden except on those who have fear of Allah in their hearts. Clearly, what brings joy to a healthy person may not bring joy to a sick person. The joy righteousness brings to this life is the joy of the person who is awake and alert. In contrast the pleasure brought by satisfying our lusts is like the "pleasure" of a drunkard who has fallen in a sewer. He may be sound asleep but can anyone who knows the reality of his situation envy him?
Obeying our thirsts means falling asleep in that unseemly place. Let us heed the wake-up call from the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam: "I have not seen anything as dreadful as the Fire whose evader is asleep and anything as desirable as Paradise whose seeker is asleep." [Tirmidhi]