Gardens of Paradise

Surah 37 (Al-Saffat/Those Arranged in Ranks): 40-49

40. Except the chosen (faithful) devotees of Allah,
41. There shall be a known provision,
42. Fruits, and they shall be honored
43. In the Gardens of Delight (Paradise),
44. On the thrones facing one another,
45. Served around (them) with a cup of pure wine,
46. Crystal-white, delicious to the drinkers.
47. Neither they will have any kind of hurt, headache or sin in that, nor will they suffer intoxication from that.

48. With them will be chaste females restraining their glances (for husbands only) with wide and beautiful eyes,
49. As if they were delicate eggs closely guarded.


Paradise (‘Jannah’) in the Qur’an is described variously as one garden, or two, four or an unspecified number of gardens, sometimes vineyards, often ‘with streams running beneath’. The Gardens are mentioned in many of the Quran’s surahs, and described in particular detail in {37.40-49} (produced above), {38.52}, {44.54}, {52.17-27}, {55.56-78}, {56.11-40} and {78.31-37}.

They are called the Gardens of Eden (‘Adn) in {9.72}, {13.23}, {16.31}, {18.31}, {19.61}, {20.76}, {35.33}, {38.50} and {40.8}, making it clear that these are the same gardens from whence Adam and his wife, were expelled at the start of the human story, see 16. above, and, since the Ka’aba was the First House of {3.96} 2. sometimes envisaged to be suspended directly above modern Mecca.


The Gardens are presented as an abode of sensual pleasure. Fowl and fruit are each mentioned as food {56.21} with rivers of water, milk, wine and honey, {47.15}, and cups ‘seasoned with camphor’, {76.5} (per Ali Qarai), to drink. Believers are enrobed in green silk embroidered with gold, {44.53} and {76.12 & 21}, and further adorned with pearls and more gold, {18.31}, {22.23} and {35.33}.


Famously, men shall have provided for their pleasure houris, supernatural ‘maidens of modest gaze’, of like age to the believer, with ‘wide’ and ‘lustrous’ eyes, ‘like concealed pearls’, {56.24}, or ‘hidden eggs’, {37.49}, and with ‘swelling breasts’ (for Sarwar ‘pear-shaped breasts’, {55.56}; to Ibn Manzur: ‘young girls whose breasts are beginning to appear’). In {55.56} these heavenly creatures are described as those ‘whom neither man nor jinn has ever touched‘, and in {56.35-38} the pleasure that they are created to give is unambiguously erotic:

{56.35} Truly we brought (resurrected believers) into being as a new creation,

{56.36} Then made for them virgins,

{56.37} Amorous peers,

{56.38} For the companions of the right

In {44.54} and {52.20} these are described as available for men to marry; in {4.57} they are presented as ‘spouses made pure’, the distinction between marriage and concubinage being, if anything, less important in heaven as it is was on earth , see 57.  Subsequent Islamic commentators have speculated that houris are completely hairless, transparent, created without the need to urinate, defecate or menstruate, and even that they remain virgins despite repeated intercourse . No number of houris is ever given in the Qur’an, the popular belief that martyrs will receive seventy-two being based upon a hadith .


In Paradise, believers will be reunited with ‘those who were righteous from amongst their fathers, their spouses and their progeny’, {13.23}, {25.74}, and {52.20-21} whereupon they shall sit on couches facing one another, {15.47} and {37.44}, and partake in ‘no idle talk’ but only say to one another only ‘Peace, peace’, {19.61}. It has been observed that the references to family reunions in Paradise do not occur in the same surahs as references to the houris, and suggested that an initial promise of unashamed Bacchanalian licentiousness in the afterlife became, as the Quranic community became more established, toned down and more family-orientated.


The Gardens are accessed through gates, {7.40} and {39.73}, that are traditionally said to be eight in number. Hadith report Muhammad saying that there are seven or a hundred levels of Paradise, but {56.7-40}, describes in detail just two levels of Paradise, one for ‘the foremost’ and the other for ‘the companions of the right‘, see 〈97.〉 In Surah 55 a four-garden scheme is laid out with one pair of gardens, described in verses {55.48-60}, the other pair in {55.62-76}.


In both Surahs 55 and 56 the superior Garden is described as more enticing in every way than the standard.


The gardens occupied by the foremost:

Abounding in green branches’, {55.48}

The gardens occupied by the companions of the right: 

Of deepest green’, {55.64} with

Thornless lote trees, clustered plantains and extended shade{55.28-30}.



The gardens occupied by the foremost:

Beds lined with rich brocade’, {55.54}

The gardens occupied by the companions of the right:

Green cushions’, {55.76}

Fountains (of alcohol-free wine, {56.19})

The gardens occupied by the foremost:

Flowing’, {55.50} 

The gardens occupied by the companions of the right:

Bubbling, {55.66}



The gardens occupied by the foremost:

Two kinds of every fruit’, {55.52}, and ‘the meat of birds’ as desired, {56.21}.

The gardens occupied by the companions of the right:

Fruit, date palms and pomegranates’, {55.68}.


The gardens occupied by the foremost:

by ‘Immortal youths wait upon them with goblets, ewers and a cup’, {56.17-19}.

The gardens occupied by the companions of the right:

fruit is ‘Neither out of reach nor forbidden’, {56.33}.



The gardens occupied by the foremost:

Maidens of modest gaze whom neither man not jinn has ever touched, like ruby and coral stone’, {55.56-58},

The gardens occupied by the companions of the right:

Wide-eyed, like concealed pearls’, {56.56-58}.

Maidens in secluded pavilions, untouched by men and jinn’, {55.64}, ‘amorous’, {56.37}.


For many, the attractions of even the Garden of the Foremost will seem underwhelming. Reclining with friends and family in a shaded garden with plentiful fruit and fowl, whilst no doubt a stylised vision of Paradise, is a reality that for many can be readily created upon the earth. The prospect of the pleasant alfresco scene lasting for eternity, and the additional lure of unlimited emotion-free intercourse with delectable houris, will inevitably carry more appeal for some people than others. However, it can hardly be denied that the Qur’an author’s descriptions of the attractions of Jannah lack the imagination and passion that he invested in his terrifying accounts of the Hellfire.