4

مَّثَلُ الْجَنَّةِ الَّتِي وُعِدَ الْمُتَّقُونَ فِيهَا أَنْهَارٌ مِّن مَّاءٍ غَيْرِ آسِنٍ وَأَنْهَارٌ مِّن لَّبَنٍ لَّمْ يَتَغَيَّرْ طَعْمُهُ وَأَنْهَارٌ مِّنْ خَمْرٍ لَّذَّةٍ لِّلشَّارِبِينَ وَأَنْهَارٌ مِّنْ عَسَلٍ مُّصَفًّى وَلَهُمْ فِيهَا مِن كُلِّ الثَّمَرَاتِ وَمَغْفِرَةٌ مِّن رَّبِّهِمْ كَمَنْ هُوَ خَالِدٌ فِي النَّارِ وَسُقُوا مَاءً حَمِيمًا فَقَطَّعَ أَمْعَاءَهُمْ

Quran 47:15 (above) has varying translations. Two examples are:

A parable of the garden which those guarding (against evil) are promised: Therein are rivers of water that does not alter, and rivers of milk the taste whereof does not change, and rivers of drink delicious to those who drink, and rivers of honey clarified and for them therein are all fruits and protection from their Lord. (Are these) like those who abide in the fire and who are made to drink boiling water so it rends their bowels asunder. -- Shakir

and

Is the description of Paradise, which the righteous are promised, wherein are rivers of water unaltered, rivers of milk the taste of which never changes, rivers of wine delicious to those who drink, and rivers of purified honey, in which they will have from all [kinds of] fruits and forgiveness from their Lord, like [that of] those who abide eternally in the Fire and are given to drink scalding water that will sever their intestines? -- Sahih International

These translations seem to be inconsistent: one suggesting a literal interpretation, one suggesting a non-literal interpretation.

Question: Are the rivers of milk, wine, and honey in paradise to be taken literally?

Googling the question title (here) yields e.g.:

  • Oliver Leaman, The Qur'an: An Encyclopedia, p.487, writes:

    ...there is an old exegeical tradition that regards the houris and other parts of the Qur'anic description of paradise as metaphors or allegories. According to this tradition, the descriptions of paradise were -- like those of hell -- not to be taken literally.

  • Mohamed Mahmoud, Quest for Divinity, p.100, quotes Mahmoud Mohammed Taha:

    ...the words are meant to be taken literally. Paradise concretely contains what God promises in the Qur'an.

Which again gives inconsistency, although it's hard for me to judge which of these are more reliable.

  • 2
    I wouldn't trust what Leaman writes here; I haven't seen it said that the pleasures of paradise or the tortures of hell are allegorical by any Islamic scholar. – G. Bach Dec 18 '16 at 1:57
  • I have prepared a very extensive philosophical draft answer to this question as a rather comprehensive account of afterlife, but don't know when I get to wrap up and publish it, but by the time I recommend you studying about the astral plane. In short, paradise and hell are part of the astral plane wherein our beliefs and deeds appear to us in bodies that have shape, color and taste etc like this-worldly bodies but they don't consist of natural elements. – infatuated Dec 18 '16 at 4:44
4

I'm no scholar, but since no one else answered, I'll share my thoughts. Paradise/Hell are not part of our world, and as such, we have no knowledge about them except what Allah swt chose to reveal to us. Further, it would be quite futile to try to figure out if the descriptions given by Him are in fact literal - because:

  1. we don't have any other source of knowledge to compare/contrast against, and come to a logical conclusion about what paradise/hell are in fact like
  2. even if we were able to conclude either way, it doesn't really benefit us...

Whether or not paradise is the way it is described, we know that paradise is real, and Allah swt describes it in detail in order to motivate us to do our best to get there by doing good. Similarly, He describes hell in detail to motivate us to stay far away from it by avoiding sin. To this end, it doesn't matter if paradise/hell are "in reality" different from their description - all we have is their descriptions.

My personal opinion is that we have no reason to suspect that they aren't the way they are described... The rules of our world don't apply in heaven/hell, and so it is certainly possible that paradise/hell are the way Allah swt described them.

I hope the following verses of the Holy Quran will put your mind at rest:

I hope you find this answer helpful. Once again, I'm no scholar, nor have I studied Islam more than random articles/YouTube videos... so I pray Allah swt forgives any mistakes I made in my answer here, and that He guides us all to the straight path. Ameen.

  • - "We don't have any other source of knowledge to..." - "We do!", muslim Mystics and Philosophers would beg to differ! Intuition (kashf wa shuhud) and reason (aql) are two sources of knowledge that these two distinguished groups of thinkers have postulated and exercised in order to discover the nature of transcendent beings asserted by religion. See Murtadha Muthhari's Islamic Theory of Knowledge as a primer on this theory. – infatuated Dec 21 '16 at 4:55
4

The translations that use "parable" are misleading. The reason they use the word parable is understandable though. The Arabic word "مثل" which is used here, is the one also used for parables. So, it might follow the pattern to mean "parable."

But, the problem is "مثل" has the meaning of "description" as well rather than just "parable." But, "parable" in English has only the meaning of a fictional story. As noted by Lane's Lexicon:

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The correct usage to denote a parable is "مثل كمثل" or "-مثل ك" literally meaning "the example of [something] is like the example of" and "the example of [something] is like" respectively. It is used with "like." This is shown where a parable is denoted in the Quran:

The example of those who spend their property in the way of Allah is like the example of a grain growing seven ears (with) a hundred grains in every ear; and Allah multiplies for whom He pleases; and Allah is Ample-giving, Knowing. (2:261)

The example of the two parties is like the blind and deaf, and the seeing and hearing. Are they equal in comparison? Then, will you not remember? (11:24)

Because there is a lack of a "like" (which is denoted by a "-ك"), it is not correct to assume that the description in the ayah of the description of Paradise is a parable.

This is also noted in Ibn Kathir that the meaning of "مثل" in the Ayah of the question is of description:

(The description of Paradise which is promised for those who have Taqwa...) `Ikrimah said, "This means its description." (Tafsir Ibn Kathir)

Regarding Leaman, I have not heard of any scholarly tradition believing this description to be metaphorical. Perhaps he is referencing some small or obscure sect in history.

-1

Great question! There are generally two kinds of verses in the Quran. Ones that are quite straight forward and to the point and ones that carry a lot of symbolism with them.

I have reflected a great deal on this and my conclusion is, that the descriptions of heaven and hell may well be metaphoric in nature, in the sense that the heaven and hell are not part of this world and may be totally new places never experienced before (literally out of this world). But since heaven and hell are not part of this world, there had to be descriptions that would make sense to the human mind. Remember, human mind is limited to what it has experienced. It may well be that a literal description of heaven and hell may not make sense to the human mind simply because the human mind would not be able to relate / compare those places without having a reference point in the world that they live in.

To support my views above, I would like to share a beautiful verse from Surah Al-Imran that is verse 7:

"It is He who has sent down to you, [O Muhammad], the Book; in it are verses [that are] precise - they are the foundation of the Book - and others unspecific. As for those in whose hearts is deviation [from truth], they will follow that of it which is unspecific, seeking discord and seeking an interpretation [suitable to them]. And no one knows its [true] interpretation except Allah . But those firm in knowledge say, "We believe in it. All [of it] is from our Lord." And no one will be reminded except those of understanding."

source: https://quran.com/3/7

-1

The literal meaning makes more sense considering the time and place where the book was written. It was written in Arab in the 7th century. If you see the geography of Arab then you can easily understand that water, milk, garden, gold, women, wine etc. were the top attractions for anyone living in Arab.

-5

I think It is an interesting question. I am not a scholar either, and I have never seen the english translation of this Verse as I have only read it in Arabic. The use of the word ''مثل '' in the beginning of the verse is the most controversial part for the translation. I am not an arabic expert , so in order to understand the real meaning of this word I would try to find other usages of the word ''مثل ''in other verses in the quran and try to infer from them.

  • 2
    This looks more like a comment than an answer! – Medi1Saif Dec 21 '16 at 12:48

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