“It’s an incredible con job when you think about it, to believe something now in exchange for something after death. Even corporations with their reward systems don’t try to make it posthumous.” – Gloria Steinem
So let us examine Heaven for a bit. Monotheists in particular have quite an interesting concept there: A post-mortem reward for the good and pious, the most appealing of which is the one reserved for good Muslims. While the Christian version is rather boring and metaphysical, the Muslim one is packed with physical action, to say the least.
In Christianity, there are five heavenly crowns mentioned in the New Testament that are awarded to believers. To them, heaven is a place of great joy, without the negative aspects of earthly life. There is no longer a separation between God and man. The believers exist in resurrected and brand-new bodies, and there is no sickness, no death and no tears (check Revelation 21:4).
In Islam, on the other hand, everything one longs for in this world will be there in Paradise (Jannah). Nothing is spared, and the whole lot is described in rigorous detail. It is a place with lush gardens and shady valleys; rivers of water, milk, honey and wines; delicious fruits of all seasons without thorns. The believers wear fancy robes, bracelets and perfumes as they partake in exquisite banquets, served in priceless vessels by immortal youths while they recline on couches inlaid with gold or precious stones. And let’s not forget the “houris.” Based on various Hadiths, every Muslim man who has done good deeds on this earth, has believed that there is one God and that Mohammad is the final prophet of God, will be rewarded by being wed to 72 virgins with “full-grown,” “swelling” or “pear-shaped” breasts (depending on the guy’s taste) that are not inclined to dangle. Other Hadiths add that he will also have, mind you, an ever-erect penis that never softens—or else how could he take care of the 72 virgins? (Check in particular Ibn Kathir’s Tafsir of Surat Al-Rahman and other verses.)
Now, there has been some talk about misinterpretation of the word “houris,” and that they actually mean “raisins,” not virgins. But The Quran describes the physical characteristics of the houris in many places, and raisins, to my knowledge, cannot have lovely wide eyes and big breasts. They cannot be described as chaste, nor can they be wed to men.
The first thing that pops into one’s mind, after having read the above depiction of Jannah—if one is rational and sane, that is—is: Why all virgins? Isn’t that too much work? Wouldn’t a couple of professionals be of help, or, at least, consolation? Well, joking aside, I think this is yet another glaring proof of male insecurity, not to mention possessiveness, since the man cannot handle the idea of not being the first in a woman’s life, and that he must “own” her body. Because that’s what the patriarchal pattern, and the absurd myth of virginity, entail: an enormous lack of self-confidence in men who stress it. They refuse to realize that this valued “flower” that needs to be saved from “shame and dishonor” is just a useless membrane, not a precious gift to one special guy. (Note on this subject the ridiculous Arab saying: “A woman’s honor is like a match: it can only be lit once.”)
The second question is: What about good Muslim women? What do they get? Their husbands can have four wives on earth and 72 in paradise, while they get nothing? No sexual reward for them? Of course not, since it is the man and the man alone who has sexual libido and desires; the woman simply undergoes the process as a duty. Which brings us again to the double standards in religion. And Islam is not the only one to blame. Let’s not forget that there were mainly two types of women in the New Testament: the whore/sinner and the pious virgin. In both we find the same phallocentric way of dividing the world into black and white, good and bad, etc. In addition, most of us have been taught from a young age that “Sex is a sin. Sex is bad. Sex is evil.” And yet the man will be rewarded in heaven by the abundance of what is considered “bad” and “sinful” on earth. Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?
I know that many believers will feel offended by my words, questions and sarcasm. In the vein of what I get in most of the hate mail I receive daily, many will say that I should be “minding my own business.” Well, guess what, as an atheist and post-feminist, expressing these thoughts is minding my business. And while you feel offended by me expressing my non-belief in your God, you need to start acknowledging that I, and others like me, feel as much offended by you expressing your belief in him everyday, everywhere around us. Atheist language and materialization can in no way level up to the religious exhibitionism that you drown us in continuously.
I also realize that I am alienating lots of people who could be won to the cause of women’s rights were I more conciliatory. But conciliation is not my strongest quality, especially when I read stuff like this:
- For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. The New Testament, 1 Corinthians 11:8–9
- Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more strength than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill conduct, admonish them first, next refuse to share their beds, and last beat them. The Quran, The Women: 34
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. The Old Testament, Exodus 20:17
When you stop being offended by my refusal to believe the stuff above, and my considering it insulting to my dignity as a woman and human being, and when you start being more tolerant toward my existence and that of other non-believers, then I might rest my case. (Oh, and by the way, tolerance does not mean refraining from burning or stoning us, as good hypocritical Christian readers keep reminding me to convince me that their religion is better. We do not need to be thankful for practicing our right to express ourselves without being killed in return.)
Will I be condemned to eternal damnation and denied the ultimate pleasures of Heaven? So be it. I am ready to take that risk. And all of you who feel outraged by my unpopular words should rather rest tranquil since you “know” for a fact that your god will punish me. So why all the fuss?
Heaven, you say? With all due respect to people who believe in fairy tales (and need them), what could paradise be other than a wonderful illusion invented by a few geniuses (sometimes they are called prophets, other times saints and mystics, depending on the cultural and social contexts) in order to control the masses, promising them in return a reward that they will never be able to grant? Or, at least, a reward with no guarantee of delivery? Can you imagine an easier, yet more Machiavellian trick pulled on millions and millions of minds, eager to be comforted in their fears and doubts and day-to-day challenges and crises? Do you really want to bet your life, and principles, and behavior, and choices on that? Wouldn’t it be healthier, and more rewarding, to set for yourself an earthly ethic and morality, based on decency, respect and universal humanistic values?
Back to the top: Rivers of Chardonnay and plenty of beautiful, breasty women… Why read Dante’s Divine Comedy? Religious texts are so much more gratifying. In short: Heaven is a Hugh Hefner palace that thrives on sex and alcohol. The only missing elements, to make it perfect, are drugs and rock and roll. But then again, who knows?
These might be a surprise bonus up there!
P.S. For those questioning my articles on the pretext that my arguments are not referenced, this is not an academic study. As for the references, they are out there, widely available on Google for those willing to do their homework. Those who are not ill-intentioned know very well I am not inventing anything. As for the ill-intentioned… well, the adjective “ill” is not there randomly.
Follow Joumana Haddad on Twitter @joumana333
Joumana Haddad is author of many books, among which “I Killed Scheherazade.” Her latest book, “Superman is an Arab – On God, Marriage, Macho Men and other disastrous inventions” (Westbourne Press, London, 2012) is now available in Lebanese bookshops and on Amazon.