Janna (Ar. "garden," pl. jannat; Persian firdaws "paradise," "enclosure," "orchard") is the designation for the primordial paradise of Adam and Eve and for the paradisal garden (or gardens) in the hereafter, where the blessed will dwell for eternity after passing the trial of the last judgment. This dual significance of the garden in Islamic cosmography is rooted in ancient Near Eastern myths and afterlife visions that were subsequently adapted to biblical narratives about the origin and destiny of the human being, and were further elaborated within the communities of rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity. In Islamic discourse, janna is usually juxtaposed to nar ("fire"), the hellish abode of wrongdoers (nar and jahannam).
Muslims usually conceive of janna as a real place where humans experience contact with supramundane beings, as well as pleasurable bodily existence. This understanding of paradise was canonized in the Qur an and elaborated further in the hadith, theological tracts, and visionary literature. Thus, Adam and Eve enjoyed communion with God and the angels, and consumed the fruits of the garden until they ate of the forbidden tree (2:35–36, 20:117–123), which caused their fall into the abode of mortal life. God then promised their return to immortality in the hereafter. In contrast to the Bible, extensive passages of the Qur an deal with the subjects of resurrection and the afterlife, beginning with chapters traditionally consigned by scholars to the Meccan phase of Muhammad's career (c. 615–622 c.e.). In the Qur anic afterlife world, paradise is a domesticated arboreal garden or park perfumed by musk, camphor, and ginger, through which rivers of milk, honey, and wine flow (47:15). It is populated by families of immortal believers who dress in elegant garments and who dwell in heavenly mansions furnished with couches, carpets, and precious household vessels (9:72, 15:47, 36:55–58, 88:10–16). Angels greet them (13:23–24), and handsome youths and beautiful houris (black-eyed maidens) offer food and drink (43:71, 52:19–24, 76:15–22). The Qur an also intimates that the blessed will enjoy the vision of God there (10:26, 39:75, 75:22–23), a doctrine that was later subject to much debate among theologians and Qur an interpreters. The hadith mention that paradise has eight gates, each named for a virtue through which the blessed possessing that virtue will enter. They also speak of the existence of eight paradises rather than a single one, each deriving its name from a Qur anic term or phrase, such as dar al-salam (House of peace), jannat al-khuld (Garden of eternity), and jannat Aden (Garden of Eden). In number, therefore, paradise surpasses hell, which is said to have only seven levels or gates (jahannam). It is also speculated that God's throne (kursi) stood above paradise. Sufis acknowledged the lower levels of paradise, but stressed the ecstasy of communion with God in the heart, or in the highest level of paradise—that of the elect.
Ideas of paradise so captured the Muslim imagination that they inspired caliphs and sultans, artists and architects, learned scholars—even ordinary people—to invest the cultural landscape with heavenly significance. According to the hadith, the Ka ba and the Black Stone in Mecca originated in paradise, and the span between the Prophet's grave and the minbar in his Medina mosque is one of the gardens of paradise. Representations of heavenly gardens occur on the Umayyad Grand Mosque in Damascus (seventh century c.e.), in the Alhambra of Granada (fourteenth century c.e.), on Persian royal pavilions (seventeenth century), and in illuminated Turkish and Persian manuscripts of the Muhammad's Night Journey and Ascension (fifteenth to eighteenth centuries). The city and palaces of Baghdad, the imperial capital of the Abbasids (r. 750–1258), were named and described as earthly paradises. In India, the enclosed park within which the Taj Mahal, the grand mausoleum of Shah Jahan (r. 1628–1657) and his queen Mumtaz Mahal (d. 1631), was constructed was an adaptation of the "four garden" (chahar bagh) design of royal Persian gardens, a microcosmic image of paradise with its four rivers. The magnificent building itself may well represent God's throne in heaven, believed to be located above paradise. Elsewhere, inscriptions and murals in mansions and ordinary Muslim homes created metaphorical relations between the domestic spaces of the living and the abodes of the blessed in the hereafter.
Blair, Sheila, and Bloom, Jonathan M., eds. Images of Paradise in Islamic Art. Hanover, N.H.: Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, 1991.
Ghazali, Abu Hamid al-. The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife (Kitab dhikr al-mawt wa-ma ba dahu): Book XL of the Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya ulum al-din). Translated by T. J. Winter. Cambridge, U.K.: Islamic Texts Society.
Juan Eduardo Campo