A person in Paradise wanted to see what Hell was like, so He asked God if he could go and see Hell. God tells him that He encourages him to stay but that he is always free to leave. So the man thinks, okay, well, I guess there is no harm in checking it out, so he goes to see how things are in Hell, expecting that he will go there and quickly come back to Paradise.

But to his surprise, when he gets there, it looks incredible. Everyone is playing, having fun, and partaking in all kinds of debauchery, and he is mesmerized. He stays for the day and has a blast, then stumbles back into Paradise.

Then the next day, He asks God again if it is okay for him to go and see Hell. God again tells him that He encourages him to stay but that he is always free to leave. So he was thinking, okay, maybe his experience yesterday was a fluke, so he goes back to Hell, and this time everyone is thrilled to see him, and he has even more time than the previous visit.

After that, he made up his mind that he was going to leave Paradise and spend eternity in Hell. So he goes and tells God his decision. God again encourages him to stay, but he is always free to leave. The person says thanks God, but I made up my mind.

So he grabs his things and descends back to Hell, ready for an eternity of fun and debauchery, except as soon as he got to the gates ready to start his escapades, he is immediately grabbed, shackled, and thrown into an iron pot only to be incessantly tortured, burned, and scalded with boiling water. The man was stunned. He pleads to figure out where was all the fun and enjoyment he experienced the other days, and he is informed, “Oh, that is for the guest, but this is how we treat our residents.”

This little joke gives a good depiction of how Heaven and Hell look from the perspective of individuals in this world. This world is a kind of halfway house where we can experience both Heaven and Hell, except in this domain, Satan makes Hell look irresistible and enticing, while Heaven, on the other hand, looks like hard work and no fun.

For instance, how do people perceive Submission?

  • Rules
  • Obligations
  • Fasting
  • Giving to charity
  • Rituals
  • Ablution
  • Salat
  • Maintain your oaths
  • Live for the Hereafter

Contrast this to how the masses view life without religion:

  • Live for this life
  • Do what you want
  • No rules
  • No rituals
  • No authority
  • No punishment
  • No prohibitions
  • Keep all the money you can obtain for yourself
  • Eat and drink what you want
  • Sleep in, be lazy, and focus on what makes you happy to the exclusion of everyone else

The irony is, how does this end for people? Does the absence of religion actually make people happier and more fulfilled? The data on this is clear, people who are religious are generally happier in this world. What is interesting is that it doesn’t seem to matter too much which faith the person ascribes to; all in all, if a person is religious in their life and makes God a priority, then they will be generally happier than the one who does not.

In a Pew Research report on this topic, they found the following facts:

  1. Actively religious people are more likely than their less-religious peers to describe themselves as “very happy” in about half of the countries surveyed.  Sometimes the gaps are striking: In the U.S., for instance, 36% of the actively religious describe themselves as “very happy,” compared with 25% of the inactively religious and 25% of the unaffiliated. Notable happiness gaps among these groups also exist in Japan, Australia, and Germany.
  2. There is not a clear connection between religiosity and the likelihood that people will describe themselves as being in “very good” overall health. Even after controlling for factors that might affect the results, such as age, income, and gender, there are only three countries out of the 26 where the actively religious are likely to report better health than everyone else — the U.S., Taiwan, and Mexico. Religiously active people also don’t seem any healthier by two other, more specific measures: obesity and frequency of exercise.
  3. At the same time, the actively religious are generally less likely than the unaffiliated to smoke and drink. Religions often frown on certain unhealthy behaviors, and that tendency seems reflected in data on smoking and drinking. In all but two of 19 countries for which data are available, the actively religious are less likely than the unaffiliated to smoke, and, in all but one country, less likely than the inactively religious to do so. The actively religious also tend to drink less, although the findings are not as stark: In 11 of the 19 countries, people who attend services at least monthly are less likely than the rest of the population to drink several times a week.
  4. People who attend religious services at least monthly often are more likely than “nones” to join other types of (nonreligious) organizations, such as charities and clubs. This is true in eight of the 26 countries surveyed. And in 12 countries, the religiously active are more likely than inactively religious people to join nonreligious groups. In the U.S., for example, 58% of actively religious people are also involved in at least one nonreligious voluntary organization, compared with just 51% of the inactively religious and 39% of the unaffiliated.

Even rituals, which are constantly mocked by the irreverent, have been found to have great worldly benefits for the people abiding by them. These are practices that command focus attention that typically involve symbolic actions that must be done in a meticulous way that do not appear to provide any practical results in the external world have been shown to provide tremendous benefits to the well-being of people who practice them almost irrespective of the faith. However, this will serve as a good topic in a future post; the idea is that the rigidity that religion offers seems to make people generally better off in the worldly sense than the non-religious.

How do we reconcile that if this trend holds true for the 26 countries surveyed across all religious faiths? Does that mean that religious beliefs don’t matter? The way I think about this is that abiding by a religious standard will net worldly benefits for people irrespective of their faith; this is because all major religions promote the basic concepts of goodness. These benefits will be of value to anyone, irrespective of their faith, but it is only those who do the following that will have both the benefits of this world that come from faith as well as the Hereafter.

[2:62] Surely, those who believe, those who are Jewish, the Christians, and the converts; anyone who (1) believes in GOD, and (2) believes in the Last Day, and (3) leads a righteous life, will receive their recompense from their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.

 إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَالَّذِينَ هَادُوا وَالنَّصَارَىٰ وَالصَّابِئِينَ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا فَلَهُمْ أَجْرُهُمْ عِنْدَ رَبِّهِمْ وَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ

Sometimes you will see people who fast as an act of solidarity with Muslims during Ramadan, even though they don’t ascribe to the fact that this is a religious obligation. These people may even be atheists, but even then they will still reap the worldly benefits of Ramadan that comes with fasting. They will reduce their calorie intake, reach a state of ketosis, burn fat, and be that much more appreciative of the food they eat when they break their fast. These benefits are great, but nothing compared to the one who observes Ramadan for God. That person will benefit not only in this life but manifold in the Hereafter for the work they have done, nurturing and growing their soul while taming and overcoming their worldly desires.

Usually, we hear the expression, “you have to see it to believe it.” The opening of the Quran says the opposite. In the first verses of Sura 2 of the Quran, it states that we have to believe in the unseen.

[2:2] This scripture is infallible; a beacon for the righteous;

 ذَٰلِكَ الْكِتَابُ لَا رَيْبَ فِيهِ هُدًى لِلْمُتَّقِينَ

[2:3] who believe in the unseen, observe the Contact Prayers (Salat), and from our provisions to them, they give to charity.

 الَّذِينَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْغَيْبِ وَيُقِيمُونَ الصَّلَاةَ وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَاهُمْ يُنْفِقُونَ

[2:5] These are guided by their Lord; these are the successful ones.

 أُولَٰئِكَ عَلَىٰ هُدًى مِنْ رَبِّهِمْ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ

One of the follies of the human being is that we are easily deceived by illusions of reality.

[75:5] But the human being tends to believe only what he sees in front of him.

(٥) بَلْ يُرِيدُ الْإِنْسَانُ لِيَفْجُرَ أَمَامَهُ

Satan knowing this shortcoming of ours, seeks to abuse it. In this domain, he presents the path to Hell as fun, exciting, and endless pleasure and the path to Heaven as hard work, restrictive, and boring. And from the external perspective, it may appear that way, but we should not mistake the journey for the destination. It is true the journey does include hardship and can even be painful at times, but it is in the pain and hardship we find purpose and meaning.

[94:5] With pain there is gain.
[94:6] Indeed, with pain there is gain.
[94:7] Whenever possible you shall strive.

 فَإِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا
 إِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا
فَإِذَا فَرَغْتَ فَانْصَبْ

God encourages the believers to pick the path of difficulty.

 وَهَدَيْنَاهُ النَّجْدَيْنِ
فَلَا اقْتَحَمَ الْعَقَبَةَ
 وَمَا أَدْرَٮکَ مَا الْعَقَبَةُ
فَكُّ رَقَبَةٍ
 أَوْ إِطْعَامٌ فِي يَوْمٍ ذِي مَسْغَبَةٍ
 يَتِيمًا ذَا مَقْرَبَةٍ
 أَوْ مِسْكِينًا ذَا مَتْرَبَةٍ
ثُمَّ كَانَ مِنَ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْمَرْحَمَةِ
 أُولَٰئِكَ أَصْحَابُ الْمَيْمَنَةِ
 وَالَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا بِآيَاتِنَا هُمْ أَصْحَابُ الْمَشْأَمَةِ

[90:10] Did we not show him the two paths?
[90:11] He should choose the difficult path.
[90:12] Which one is the difficult path?
[90:13] The freeing of slaves.
[90:14] Feeding, during the time of hardship.
[90:15] Orphans who are related.
[90:16] Or the poor who is in need.
[90:17] And being one of those who believe, and exhorting one another to be steadfast, and exhorting one another to be kind.
[90:18] These have deserved happiness.
[90:19] As for those who disbelieved in our revelations, they have incurred misery.

The natural instinct for humans is to avoid pain and seek pleasure. God is telling us to fight that urge and first seek righteousness. Then it confirms that if we don’t do that, we will incur misery. Those who inevitably chase the vanities of this world will incur misery, both in this world and ultimately for all eternity in the Hereafter. In order to save ourselves from such a fate we need to fight some of our predispositions e.g. our pride, vanity, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and laziness.

[62:9] O you who believe, when the Congregational Prayer (Salat Al-Jumu’ah) is announced on Friday, you shall hasten to the commemoration of GOD, and drop all business. This is better for you, if you only knew.
[62:10] Once the prayer is completed, you may spread through the land to seek GOD’s bounties, and continue to remember GOD frequently, that you may succeed.
[62:11] When some of them come across a business deal, or some entertainment, they rush to it and leave you standing! Say, “What GOD possesses is far better than the entertainment or the business. GOD is the best Provider.”

 يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا نُودِيَ لِلصَّلَاةِ مِنْ يَوْمِ الْجُمُعَةِ فَاسْعَوْا إِلَىٰ ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ وَذَرُوا الْبَيْعَ ذَٰلِكُمْ خَيْرٌ لَكُمْ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ
 فَإِذَا قُضِيَتِ الصَّلَاةُ فَانْتَشِرُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَابْتَغُوا مِنْ فَضْلِ اللَّهِ وَاذْكُرُوا اللَّهَ كَثِيرًا لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
 وَإِذَا رَأَوْا تِجَارَةً أَوْ لَهْوًا انْفَضُّوا إِلَيْهَا وَتَرَكُوكَ قَائِمًا قُلْ مَا عِنْدَ اللَّهِ خَيْرٌ مِنَ اللَّهْوِ وَمِنَ التِّجَارَةِ وَاللَّهُ خَيْرُ الرَّازِقِينَ

Many people think that leaving their fun enterntainment or work in favor of the Friday Congregational Prayer is too difficult, and from the outside perspective they may be right, but God informs us that if we choose this path He will make it easy.

[7:163] Remind them of the community by the sea, who desecrated the Sabbath. When they observed the Sabbath, the fish came to them abundantly. And when they violated the Sabbath, the fish did not come. We thus afflicted them, as a consequence of their transgression.

 وَاسْأَلْهُمْ عَنِ الْقَرْيَةِ الَّتِي كَانَتْ حَاضِرَةَ الْبَحْرِ إِذْ يَعْدُونَ فِي السَّبْتِ إِذْ تَأْتِيهِمْ حِيتَانُهُمْ يَوْمَ سَبْتِهِمْ شُرَّعًا وَيَوْمَ لَا يَسْبِتُونَ لَا تَأْتِيهِمْ كَذَٰلِكَ نَبْلُوهُمْ بِمَا كَانُوا يَفْسُقُونَ

[65:4] As for the women who have reached menopause, if you have any doubts, their interim shall be three months. As for those who do not menstruate, and discover that they are pregnant, their interim ends upon giving birth. Anyone who reverences GOD, He makes everything easy for him.

 وَالّٰٓیِ يَئِسْنَ مِنَ الْمَحِيضِ مِنْ نِسَائِكُمْ إِنِ ارْتَبْتُمْ فَعِدَّتُهُنَّ ثَلَاثَةُ أَشْهُرٍ وَّالّٰٓیِ لَمْ يَحِضْنَ وَأُولَاتُ الْأَحْمَالِ أَجَلُهُنَّ أَنْ يَضَعْنَ حَمْلَهُنَّ وَمَنْ يَتَّقِ اللَّهَ يَجْعَلْ لَهُ مِنْ أَمْرِهِ يُسْرًا

wamanوَمَنْAnd whoever
yattaqiيَتَّقِ[he] reverences
l-lahaاللَّهَGod,
yajʿalيَجْعَلْHe will make
lahuلَهُfor him
minمِنْof
amrihiأَمْرِهِhis affair / matter
yus’ranيُسْرًاeasy.

“Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.”

Jerzy Gregorek

So we can make excuses that following the path of Submission is difficult. It is hard to get up at dawn to do Salat, to recite Quran. It is hard to fast during Ramadan. It is hard to avoid intoxicants and gambling. It is hard to control our anger, to forgive, to respond in the best possible response. All this sounds difficult, and it is, but it is through this regiment that God makes our lives easy.

The purpose of these practices is not just so we get really good at fulfilling these obligations, but that these are the foundational pillars to purifying our souls. This is the training we do regularly to purify our souls, to get to be our best selves. This is the regiment needed to tame our wild beast within, which wants to push us toward the sinful life, and it is through these practices that when we are tested in life, we perform with excellence.

Because it is easier to be righteous when things are calm, but the real test is whether we can perform with integrity when things appear dire.

[29:2] Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe,” without being put to the test?
[29:3] We have tested those before them, for GOD must distinguish those who are truthful, and He must expose the liars.

 أَحَسِبَ النَّاسُ أَنْ يُتْرَكُوا أَنْ يَقُولُوا آمَنَّا وَهُمْ لَا يُفْتَنُونَ
 وَلَقَدْ فَتَنَّا الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِهِمْ فَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا وَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ الْكَاذِبِينَ

[2:214] Do you expect to enter Paradise without being tested like those before you? They were tested with hardship and adversity, and were shaken up, until the messenger and those who believed with him said, “Where is GOD’s victory?” GOD’s victory is near.

 أَمْ حَسِبْتُمْ أَنْ تَدْخُلُوا الْجَنَّةَ وَلَمَّا يَأْتِكُمْ مَثَلُ الَّذِينَ خَلَوْا مِنْ قَبْلِكُمْ مَسَّتْهُمُ الْبَأْسَاءُ وَالضَّرَّاءُ وَزُلْزِلُوا حَتَّىٰ يَقُولَ الرَّسُولُ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَعَهُ مَتَىٰ نَصْرُ اللَّهِ أَلَا إِنَّ نَصْرَ اللَّهِ قَرِيبٌ

Recently on the news, Kathleen Casillo, 54-year-old New York City mother-of-three, refused to take a plea deal for the second time and opted for a jury trial for driving her BMW through a BLM protest in 2020 because she feared the mob that was surrounding her car was trying to pull her and her daughter from the vehicle. The plea deal would have resulted in a one-year suspension of her driver’s license and six days of community service, but now she can face up to seven years in prison if she is found guilty. When asked why she turned down the plea deal, Casillo said she turned down the plea deal in December because she did not do anything wrong, saying: ‘I’m going to court to clear my name because I’m not guilty.’

I am not saying that she is right or wrong in her assertions, but consider the level of integrity it would take to not do what the majority of the population would do in such a circumstance. Suppose you knew definitively that you were innocent. Would not most people take the plea deal to avoid not only the hardship of dealing with the uncertainty of the outcome but to avoid the possibility of a long-term prison sentence?

Now consider the history of Joseph. Joseph was wrongfully convicted and sent to prison for a crime everyone knew he did not commit. Finally, when the king at the time went to free him from prison, he first asked the king to go and investigate the women who falsely accused him. This shows his certainty in God’s justice and that God alone was the One who had all control. It was God who put him in prison, and it was only God alone who would take him out when He willed. God not only pulled him out of prison, but He also established him as the treasurer of all of Egypt from that ordeal.

[12:50] The king said, “Bring him to me.” When the messenger came to him, he said, “Go back to your lord and ask him to investigate the women who cut their hands. My Lord is fully aware of their schemes.”
[12:51] (The king) said (to the women), “What do you know about the incident when you tried to seduce Joseph?” They said, “GOD forbid; we did not know of anything evil committed by him.” The wife of the governor said, “Now the truth has prevailed. I am the one who tried to seduce him, and he was the truthful one.
[12:52] “I hope that he will realize that I never betrayed him in his absence, for GOD does not bless the schemes of the betrayers.
[12:53] “I do not claim innocence for myself. The self is an advocate of vice, except for those who have attained mercy from my Lord. My Lord is Forgiver, Most Merciful.”
[12:54] The king said, “Bring him to me, so I can hire him to work for me.” When he talked with him, he said, “Today, you have a prominent position with us.”
[12:55] He said, “Make me the treasurer, for I am experienced in this area and knowledgeable.”
[12:56] We thus established Joseph on earth, ruling as he wished. We shower our mercy upon whomever we will, and we never fail to recompense the righteous.
[12:57] Additionally, the reward in the Hereafter is even better for those who believe and lead a righteous life.

In contrast, recently, in the news, we have someone who appeared to have everything that a person would want in a worldly life. The person was Stephen “tWitch” Boss. He was a freestyle hip-hop dancer, choreographer, actor, television producer, and television personality. In 2008, he finished second place on the American version of So You Think You Can Dance. He was featured on The Ellen DeGeneres Show as a co-host, and he was also a co-executive producer of the program. He was married to another celebrity. He was wealthy, had beautiful children, status, and everything millions of people dreams of obtaining. Then on December 13, 2022, he got himself a hotel room and killed himself.

It was found in one study that suicidal ideation was ~6 times more common among celebrities than non-celebrities. The deaths of chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade and numerous other public figures spotlight the correlation between celebrities, status, and depression. Instead of bringing them happiness and freedom, for many, being sought-after, rich and at the top of their game leads to depression, unappreciation, and loss of meaning.

Consider the mindset one has to be to have all the worldly pleasures people seek but to be left with such despair. Is it not time for us to reassess our priorities and abandon this illusion that Satan manifests for the people and to trust in God and go after what will give us true happiness both in this life and in the Hereafter.

There is a verse in the Quran that is typically translated as the following:

[53:48] He is the One who makes you rich or poor.

 وَأَنَّهُ هُوَ أَغْنَىٰ وَأَقْنَىٰ

1wa-annahuوَأَنَّهُAnd that [He]
2huwaهُوَHe
3aghnāأَغْنَىٰ[He] made free from need / rich
4wa-aqnāوَأَقْنَىٰand [He] caused to acquire / made satisfied.

But as we see, this is more about being rich or poor, as the word for rich in Arabic ( أَغْنَىٰ ) is one who is free from need, while the word here ( أَقْنَىٰ ) is one who is satisfied. This shows that being truly free from need and being satisfied comes from God alone. If we fail to understand that, we will spend our whole life searching for this, only to be left wanting more.

[13:14] Imploring Him is the only legitimate supplication, while the idols they implore beside Him, cannot ever respond. Thus, they are like those who stretch their hands to the water, but nothing reaches their mouths. The supplications of the disbelievers are in vain.

 لَهُ دَعْوَةُ الْحَقِّ وَالَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ مِنْ دُونِهِ لَا يَسْتَجِيبُونَ لَهُمْ بِشَيْءٍ إِلَّا كَبَاسِطِ كَفَّيْهِ إِلَى الْمَاءِ لِيَبْلُغَ فَاهُ وَمَا هُوَ بِبَالِغِهِ وَمَا دُعَاءُ الْكَافِرِينَ إِلَّا فِي ضَلَالٍ

[24:39] As for those who disbelieve, their works are like a mirage in the desert. A thirsty person thinks that it is water. But when he reaches it, he finds that it is nothing, and he finds GOD there instead, to requite him fully for his works. GOD is the most efficient reckoner.

 وَالَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا أَعْمَالُهُمْ كَسَرَابٍ بِقِيعَةٍ يَحْسَبُهُ الظَّمْآنُ مَاءً حَتَّىٰ إِذَا جَاءَهُ لَمْ يَجِدْهُ شَيْئًا وَوَجَدَ اللَّهَ عِنْدَهُ فَوَفَّاهُ حِسَابَهُ وَاللَّهُ سَرِيعُ الْحِسَابِ

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