By contributing writer Umar Baig for KidSpirit's "Beauty and the Senses" issue. Umar responds to the following question posed by KidSpirit's Editorial Board: What do you find beautiful about your faith or wisdom tradition?
An end: an uncomplicated concept with a straightforward meaning. Yet the notion of ending makes me feel dismal and anxious. Whether it be finishing a book that I enjoyed or leaving a home that I love, endings frustrate me. When you reach a conclusion it seems as if there is nothing to look forward to anymore. My phobia of endings is something that I will likely carry with me wherever I go.
Thinking about one aspect that I find beautiful about Islam is tough for me. There are a multitude of things I love about my religion and picking one is no easy task. However, as I thought about the dread of endings my mind came across a subject most people like to avoid: death. The horror of an end to one's very existence makes many humans shiver. In an instant everything you have loved and known slips from your grasp. Your wife, children, and possessions are all gone. However, the most excruciating loss is your consciousness. Death is truly the end of everything.
Unlike many, I do not particularly fear death at all. Why? If there is one belief that I love about Islam more than any other, it is the promise of an afterlife. While I have frequently questioned the legitimacy of heaven, the mere possibility of it comforts me. The knowledge that there is perhaps something serene to experience after a chilling death not only makes me smile, it makes me feel ebullient.
Imagine a place where every single whim or desire you have can be fulfilled immediately! Heaven is where life lasts for an eternity, where death is nonexistent and miserable endings never occur. The afterlife is a place that is untainted by the evils of our real world such as greed and jealousy. There is no evil in heaven, only peace. The beauty of heaven cannot be experienced anywhere on Earth, even in the best of places. Islam teaches that heaven represents purity. The rivers in the afterlife are free of all pollutants and bacteria that plague the earth's waterways today. People will never grow hungry or jaded in the gardens of bliss. The holy book, the Quran, states that one's home in heaven will be 10 times the size of the earth and will be made using solid gold.
The material promises of paradise are even outweighed by the promise that inhabitants of the afterlife will rejoice with their loved ones. The Quran describes, "Gardens of perpetual bliss: they shall enter there, as well as the righteous among their fathers, their spouses, and their offspring." The idea of living together peacefully for eternity with friends, family, and even your favorite historical figures makes me ecstatic. On Earth, our parents depart from our lives too early, while our spouses and children arrive too late. Despair and poverty will finally cease to exist and all of humankind will be immersed in prosperity and joy. Were I to continue speaking on about the benefits of paradise I would spend a week writing. Doesn't this make death seem so much more tolerable?
The afterlife is in stark contrast to our lives in the real world. It seems to me that everywhere I look I see suffering and hardships. It is as if humankind is in a constant state of loss and misery. God acknowledges the strife of humans in the Quran by stating: "I swear by time itself, man is in a constant state of loss indeed." Were you to research any period in human history, while there would be some good, I think the bad outweighs the good every single time. Our world is poisoned by evil traits such as poverty, greed, jealousy, and hatred. Hunger and unemployment are climbing while food supplies slowly wither. Mankind's situation currently seems dire and saddening.
There are two conditions that Muslims must fulfill in order to gain entry into Heaven: believing in God and doing good deeds. A majority of Muslims agree that hardships are brought upon us to test our faith in God to see if humans will turn their back on him. The Quran also mentions the purpose of trials and tribulations, "Or do you think that you shall enter the Garden of bliss without such trials as came to those who passed away before you? They encountered suffering and adversity, and were so shaken in spirit that even those of faith cried: 'When will come the help of God?'" Keeping the faith is important to Muslims and those who do so will enter into Heaven. In contrast, the other condition of doing good deeds is somewhat vague and difficult for me to define. However, what is important is that one should improve their character, and do actions that will benefit the world around them. My personal belief is that no matter what religious background you come from, if you were a human of good character and did good deeds then you deserve to be in Heaven.
If the description of paradise in Islam is accurate, then maybe death will not be something to mourn. Perhaps the closing stages of my life on earth are just the beginning of something greater. I see death not as an end, but as a transitional period until I reach my real home in heaven. That is the true beauty of Islam, and it is something I find extremely compelling and exciting. Every single day I wake up in the morning I think about the promise of a better life soon to come. The belief in paradise is what keeps me striving to be a better person in this life. Could I be wrong about the existence of an afterlife? Of course; I would be a fool if I were so narrow-minded. However, considering the struggle humans have to go through during our time on earth, it seems senseless that all the effort would be in vain when we die. I'd prefer to take a leap of faith and believe in the afterlife. Will I be right after all? We shall see.
Umar Baig is from Frederick, Maryland. When he wrote this he was a junior in high school.
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