The Garden and the Fire

The Garden and the Fire: Heaven and Hell in Islamic Culture

Nerina Rustomji
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/rust14084
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  • Book Info
    The Garden and the Fire
    Book Description:

    Islamic conceptions of heaven and hell began in the seventh century as an early doctrinal innovation, but by the twelfth century, these notions had evolved into a highly formalized ideal of perfection. In tracking this transformation, Nerina Rustomji reveals the distinct material culture and aesthetic vocabulary Muslims developed to understand heaven and hell and identifies the communities and strategies of defense that took shape around the promise of a future world.

    Ideas of the afterworld profoundly influenced daily behaviors in Islamic society and gave rise to a code of ethics that encouraged abstinence from sumptuous objects, such as silver vessels and silk, so they could be appreciated later in heaven. Rustomji conducts a meticulous study of texts and images and carefully connects the landscape and social dynamics of the afterworld with earthly models and expectations. Male servants and female companions become otherworldly objects in the afterlife, and stories of rewards and punishment helped preachers promote religious reform. By employing material culture as a method of historical inquiry, Rustomji points to the reflections, discussions, and constructions that actively influenced Muslims' picture of the afterworld, culminating in a distinct religious aesthetic.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51183-4
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)

    Marco polo once related a fantastic story about a mysterious leader called the Old Man of the Mountain who fooled his adherents into believing that Paradise could be experienced on earth. The story goes that the Old Man built lush palaces encrusted with jewels and surrounded by gardens graced with fountains of honey, milk, wine, and water. The architecture of the palace compound was astoundingly immense, with each level topped by an even more beautiful garden. At the highest level, the Old Man of the Mountain and his devotees reveled in the finest environment and enjoyed sumptuous food. Female companions...

  6. 1 THE GARDEN, THE FIRE, AND ISLAMIC ORIGINS
    (pp. 1-20)

    No period in Islamic history elicits such careful examination and divergent interpretation as prophet Muhammad’s life in Mecca and Medina. There are other eras that figure prominently, of course, but the life of the prophet holds a special lure. Not only does studying Muhammad’s career allow for appreciation of the central figure in Islamic history, but focusing on his life in Mecca and Medina also offers the main way of assessing the nature of the new faith and the behavior of its followers. The allure of focusing on the history of Mecca and Medina is the opportunity not just to...

  7. 2 VISIONS OF THE AFTERWORLD
    (pp. 21-39)

    Muhammad’s message not only promised humanity an afterlife, but it also detailed an afterworld. While the notions of an afterlife and afterworld are often conflated, they occupy different conceptual spaces. The afterlife signifies life after death and transforms earthly experience into merely one stage in the greater progression of life, death, judgment, resurrection, and final judgment. The promise of eternal existence further frames earthly time as a preamble to a fuller life. The more glorious life is in a world whose parameters are ultimately mysterious. Within this eschatological spectrum, humanity experiences death and judgment and then ultimate pain and reward....

  8. 3 MATERIAL CULTURE AND AN ISLAMIC ETHIC
    (pp. 40-62)

    Life in the Garden and the Fire necessarily follows life on earth. Yet, because the Garden and the Fire act as metonymies for reward and punishment, they do not exist solely as distant realms. Within the Qur’an and hadiths, they also provide a guiding force in a believer’s life. Given that statements of whether the behavior will warrant a place in the Garden or the Fire often accompany injunctions or prohibitions, eschatological realities could have been felt within the temporal parameters of believers’ lives. Thus, while the Garden and the Fire act as ends, they are also the very means...

  9. 4 OTHERWORLDLY LANDSCAPES AND EARTHLY REALITIES
    (pp. 63-76)

    The garden and the Fire may have been articles of faith, but within hadiths they were ultimately represented as spaces. These spaces are not abstract worlds characterized by platonic ideals or God’s love. Instead, the Islamic afterworld is a designed realm with an orderly nature and an urban setting. The Fire is not just heat and flame, but also individualized cells that constitute an intricate world of punishment. The Garden is not just lush flora and abundant water, but also a multitiered world filled with tents, pavilions, and marketplaces. Neither realm is primordial. The Fire is not related to the...

  10. 5 HUMANITY, SERVANTS, AND COMPANIONS
    (pp. 77-97)

    When earthly time yields to otherworldly timelessness, humanity assumes its place in the afterworld and fully realizes the consequences of earthly choices. Inhabitants of the Garden and the Fire are introduced to their new lives as they enter the otherworldly realms. Those destined for the Garden will be led in crowds to the gates. As the gates open, gatekeepers will greet people by saying, “Peace be upon you! Well have ye done! Enter ye here to dwell therein” (39.73). Those destined for the Fire are not greeted with such a gracious invitation. Instead, they are violently flung into it. Whereas...

  11. 6 INDIVIDUALIZED GARDENS AND EXPANDING FIRES
    (pp. 98-122)

    The terrors of the apocalypse and the possibility of life in the Fire led to anxieties about death and promoted a religious culture of exhortation. From admonitory hadiths to highly performative storytelling, exhortation was one of the ways that Muslims learned about what awaited them in eschatological time. The Garden and the Fire became objects of rhetoric for the religious learned (‘ulama), who aimed to develop believers’ religious sensibilities and behaviors.

    Eschatological warnings, in both oral and written forms, sought to instill the importance of moral education and behavior. Preachers and storytellers often employed dramatic warnings about the punishments that...

  12. 7 LEGACY OF GARDENS
    (pp. 123-157)

    The garden and the Fire are not realms that believers can enter until the end of time. Believers can dream about or create narrations about the afterworld; however, according to Islamic narratives, only Muhammad was privileged with an actual visit. For everyone else, the Garden and the Fire were unseen worlds whose signs only God could manifest in the earthly world. For believers, a cool stream, a vision of a houri, and dreams of living in a palace were some of the ways that Paradise could have been invoked within earthly life. To enter the actual Garden while on earth...

  13. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 158-164)

    In march 1997, Time magazine reported on the belief in the afterlife with the cover story, “Does Heaven Exist?” After treating the intellectual developments and controversies of the afterlife from Genesis to the twentieth century, the article presented a poll of Americans’ religious beliefs. It found that the majority of those polled believe in a heaven where people live forever with God and in a hell where others are punished after they die. Other questions drew out the enduring faith in Saint Peter and angels. In another development, in the summer of 1999, La Civiltà Cattolica, a Jesuit magazine closely...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 165-178)
  15. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 179-180)
  16. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 181-192)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 193-201)