With its recurring refrain, this new surah — The Lord of Mercy — is more poetic than any other I have seen thus far.  Throughout the chapter an aspect of creation is mentioned then humanity and the jinn are asked:

Which, then, of your Lord’s blessings do you both deny? (55:13). 

This refrain is stated thirty-one times throughout the surah.  As a Christian, today’s reading reminded me of Psalm 136 with its refrain: “His love endures forever.”

The message of the surah is simple: Be sure you know what you are denying if that is really going to be your choice, because judgment is coming.  The images, however, are picturesque.  For example:

They [who are in Paradise] will sit on couches upholstered with brocade, the fruit of both gardens within easy reach. (55:54)

This surah advances Islamic cosmology as well.  The afterlife is described here having three possible destination for humans (and three parallel destinations for the jinn, if I am reading this correctly).  The painful punishment of Hell is described first (55:43f).  Then “two gardens” are mentioned (55:62f), both luxurious and filled with reward.  More will be said about these in the next surah.  Translator Haleem gives this note here:

Paradise exists in two ranks: the higher level for the truly favored, and this lower level described for the less exalted pious.

So it seems we have Hell, a lower Paradise, and a higher Paradise. 

It is easy to see in this surah (55:56, 70-74) that the stereotype that Muslims believe in a male-centered afterlife where the follower is rewarded with “virgins” (or “maidens” as it says in my translation) is not completely untrue.

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