I guess this is my first offical post. And what better way to start it off by presenting this short story. A friend sent me this link one night and I have been in love with the story ever since. Once you read it, you will understand. I encourage everyone to visit his blog. There is some amazing poetry there that he has written. The link is at the right side of the page…”Realm of Mystics and Seekers.”
Arsalan and the Seventy-Two Virgins
an original story by Jehanzeb
Part 1 of 3
“And there will be companions with beautiful, wide, and lustrous eyes likened to well-guarded pearls, a reward for what they used to do. They will hear no idle or sinful talk there. Only clean and wholesome speech… We have created their companions of special creation and made them virgins, Loving by nature and equal in age for the companions of the Right Hand.”
– The Holy Qur’an (56:22-25, 56:35-38).
A thunderous and violent clash of metal spun me onto the brink of darkness as I felt an indescribable surge of pain pierce my frail body. My face slammed hard into the airbags that knocked me into the fog of confusion. I tried so hard to stabilize myself, but I felt something crushing and pressing against my chest. Slowly… painfully…
I tasted the blood dripping excessively from the top of my face, onto my lips, and soaking my shirt. Slits of glass had cut into my left eye and the side of my face. Several bones of mine must have been broken for I did not feel anything. I tried to reach my cell phone, but my right hand did not respond. I felt nothing. So weak. So shattered.
They tried to open the door but it was no use. The other vehicle had slammed directly into my driver’s side. I saw their hands reaching through the window as slashes of light teased me with hope. I saw their mouths moving, but all I could hear was the music still playing in my car…. a mystic woman wailing in a made-up language. Then I heard my mother’s voice… How many times did she tell you to stop listening to music in the car? How many times did she tell you to take Allah’s Name? But I do… I try to put up a weak fight with these thoughts. I remember God in my heart as much as I can. Ask Him… He Knows…
Even when tears escaped, the pain stung harder. I saw them outside… on their cell phones, calling the ambulance probably. I tell them in my thoughts: It’s too late. Too late for me. “Every human will taste death,” “Short is the enjoyment of this world,” says the Qur’an. I want to smile, I want to rejoice… as the Sufi Master Rumi had said, “Laugh at death.” But I can’t let go of these memories so easily. I think of my family, my friends, the people who knew of me… I think of how hard I worked in this life to fulfill my purpose. I was only a college student aspiring to be a photojournalist in different parts of the world. I did not even begin my ambitions to make the world a better place. What was the purpose of my struggling if God wanted me to die now? What was the use of it all? What was the point? How could I have fulfilled my purpose? Did I make a mistake, my Lord? Did I wrong You? What if You are not pleased with my lack of progress in this world?
Then my thoughts find her… Arezu, the one I Loved for so long… the one I left just two days before. I was upset at her; she was upset at me… I wanted to call her, but couldn’t. I would give anything just to hear her voice again… just once more… Is this how it’s supposed to end? Is this what it has come to: an informal goodbye? My mind began to close; the scorching torment was too much. My head slowly fell back onto the headrest… my hands lay in the puddles of blood… my eyes looked skyward… soon, all light faded into a black abyss as I felt the sharp metal finish its task in splitting and crushing my heart, so it would never beat again.
* * *
In darkness, I lay… not alive, not dead… somewhere caught in the transition, buried deep within the earth. My thoughts were reborn. I see, but my eyes are not open. I feel, but my body does not function. A black spider the size of a kitten steps on my lifeless corpse and sinks its teeth into the side of my neck. I feel it extracting the dry blood out of my body. I feel my insides complain about the suffering, but suddenly a light enters and makes the top of the coffin vanish. “Do not be afraid of the Spider’s Kiss,” said the Divine voice, “She is removing your Soul of all the pain and sufferings you endured in your worldly life.” Somehow, through my eyeless vision, I saw the numerous cockroaches and venomous reptiles surrounding my body, but knotted in the web of the Spider. The Heavenly Light expanded and soon, encircled me. I saw numerous luminous beings with white faces like the Sun descend and sit around me. They couldn’t have been anything else in my mind but Angels. Their eyes fixed on me so Lovingly and tenderly, as if I were a child of theirs. One of them said to me, “O good Soul, come forth to forgiveness from Allah and His pleasure.” This whole moment contained a scent of the finest musk on the face of the earth. The Angels ask, “Who is your Lord?” I say, “Allah.” They ask, “What is your religion?” I reply, “Islam.” They ask, “Who is the Beloved of Allah?” I answer, “Muhammad, the Praised One.” Then I heard a voice call out from heaven, a voice so pleasant, so soothing and Divine that it could give life to my dead corpse. “My slave has spoken the truth, so prepare for him a bed from Paradise, clothe him from Paradise, and open for him a Gate to Paradise.” The fragrance and the incredible wind overwhelmed me so much that I could feel my bodies aching for wanting to embrace the experience, but it remained lifeless. I saw the most handsome man I had ever seen walk towards me dressed in simple, yet elegant attire. The aroma surrounding him was like that of a pure spring. As if it were magic, I could feel myself again. He helped me to my feet out of the coffin and into this new Realm of Light.
“Receive the glad tidings that will bring you Joy this day,” he said to me.
“Who are you?” I ask slowly.
He returned a pleasant smile. “I am your righteous deeds.”
I was at a loss for words. “I have sinned many times in my life…”
“Indeed,” he said while observing my trembling hands.
“I’m afraid,” I said before he could ask.
“That’s why the Gates are open for you,” he said. Unlike death, all I saw next was Light.
* * *
The blinding vision of light soon came into focus and awakened to a shiny bright sky. I think it’s the Sun, but its not, it’s the entire sky.
I found my body laying on a large, green lily pad which floated tenderly across a soothing water stream. It looked to be the freshest water I had ever seen. I looked at my surroundings and almost fell off the large green leaf. The vision was so stunning and enormously lush. Green hills with pure, rich grass, blossoming flowers of wholesome youth, trees with Golden and Silver trunks, bearing salivating and ripe fruits unlike I had ever seen… I saw deer galloping, butterflies praising the warmth of this air, birds chirping and singing a Romantic tune, things I have seen before, but… something was different. There was a certain glow and majesty around this moment, as if one stepped into the canvas of a painting – This whole vision surrounded these pure waters.
But had happened to my wounds? The glass in my face, the broken bones, the blood running down my nose – all of it was gone. I felt as if I was in a dream. I tried looking towards the sky for answers, but all I saw was never-ending space, as if someone had stretched its height to an impossibly infinite length! The clouds were a nourishing milk-white and glided softly like comfort cushions. I could almost taste the healing flavor of the clouds if they were to shed raindrops. I suddenly felt the exquisite taste on my tongue. So surprised was I that some of it trickled down my lips of my slightly opened mouth, but I embraced the moment and kissed the warm, buttery, and creamed liquids. I felt it enter my body as I swallowed, it navigated through my body like this very water stream and lit candles of magic in areas of myself I forgot existed. Did I do that just by thinking?
I looked at my clothing to see where the blood had spilled, but instead found myself fashioning dark purple traditional attire of my South Asian heritage as if I had been transported to the forgotten ages. Before I could think further, I heard a soft, ethereal sound coming from one of the hills. I looked far off into the distance and saw a female figure whose dress was of a fine pink and silk garment with golden embroidery; she sat on an extravagantly designed carpet and played a serene and sensual melody on her flute. I was mesmerized by her beauty as I stood on the giant leaflet; my eyes were lured by her aura of enchantment. I never felt such a blaze of passion when her crystal eyes dove into mine; telling me she was already conscious of my presence. Her sharp gaze struck my heart with lightning, and yet, at the same time, it brought forth a relaxing stillness. My eyes never felt so invasive, but even stranger, I never felt so invaded myself. Those sparkling and polished gems of hers disguised as eyes were like unseen, ecstatic passion doves swooping down upon the ocean of my Soul and snatching innermost secrets and desires that I never shared with anyone before. I couldn’t comprehend this experience of feeling so stripped, and yet, so free. A seductive smile formed on her luscious red lips when her mouth rested a beat from the flute’s intimacy. I felt as if she was enticing and welcoming me by her side.
Not even an instant later, I began to lose my balance on the leaf. I had not seen the waterfall at the end of the river. I felt the cold waves soak down my back as I plummeted downwards, towards the bottom of the ocean I could not see at all. All I could see was an unimaginably enormous Kingom of greenery, palaces, gardens, rivers, and majestic buildings below. My hands scrambled, desperately trying to grasp a hold of something, anything… I felt the pure waters moisten my hands, and then, magically, transformed into a human hand. I felt overwhelming warmth touch my body as I witnessed the liquid materialize into a beautiful woman. She emerged out of the raining river like a soaring Angel, arching her body elegantly while lifting me far into open sky. The moment was so surreal; I felt the wind brush against my skin and the tickling water drip off my body. The flying woman pulled me softly, yet so strongly, to make sure my face was in between her hands. Her enticing eyes were like pearls, shimmering like the moon. Her smooth skin glowed a golden-brown, as if the Sun ran along the beauty of her face. When she smiled, heavenly light shined through teeth. She gently stroked my face with her angelic hands while we still soared through the air. I heard beautiful, ethereal voices singing all around me. Who was singing? I started to ask myself.
She pulled me closer and I felt the warmth of her breath blow against my ear. “What you hear is the singing of the Seventy-Two Wives in Paradise.”
I felt the rest of her body wrap around mine, like a warm garment of affection. The scent of her flawless skin was intoxicating and carried an aroma of sweet vanilla almonds and desire. I heard the soft, dream-like, angelic voices: oooooooooo-ooooooooh ooooooo-ooooooooh.
Then softer female voices crept in behind the wailing: din-ta-na-na-na-din-ta-na-na-naaa-aaaaah, din-ta-na-na-na-din-ta-na-na-naaaaa-aaaaah.
“The Song of the Virgins are more beautiful than the voices of Angels, the Prophets, and even more beautiful than the Speech of the Lord of the Universe,” she said in her Divine voice.
She moved away from my ear and locked her eyes onto mine as I reflected on her words. “Virgins?” I asked slowly; so mesmerized by her beauty.
Her lips whispered teasingly close to mine, “Yours.” She left me with a friendly and affectionate smile while my senses were thrown into a cloud of disbelief. As if I was moving in slow motion, I felt myself moving away from her, but no matter what I thought, I couldn’t keep my eyes off hers. I felt her hands travel down my arms and brush past my hands while I descended. My fingers savored the blessing of each touch until my hands felt nothing but the breeze of the wind again. I was falling, and she watched me, still smiling.
Time sped to normal as I felt myself fall into the arms of another majestic being. I turned and gasped in alarm as I saw a face of white light and sharp ice blue eyes. “Do not be afraid, dear Arsalan,” said the Angel as his hands massaged my shoulders. He flew me towards a luminous Garden of Romance below. I looked above to see where the woman had gone but she was nowhere in sight. The women of Paradise – I had read about them before in my Islamic studies but they were hardly mentioned in lectures, speeches, or discussions. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I did not know what to think of them. How was I supposed to behave in front of them?
“You shall recline on raised thrones righteous one,” said the Angel tenderly. “You will see here neither the excessive heat of the sun nor the excessive bitter cold, for there is no Sun and no moon. The shade will be close upon you, while ripe fruit will hand low within your reach. Crystal clear cups made of silver will be passed around amongst you and the blessed inhabitants to share cups of wine from the fountain called Salsabeel. Wholesome boys of ever-lasting youth will serve you; you will know who they are when you see them for they are like scattered pearls. When you look here, Arsalan, you will see a Realm of Eternal Delight that could never have been possibly imagined in your earthly life.”
I heard flutes and tantra drums playing slowly in the blooming Garden below. Everything about this place was filled with pure romance, even the roses blossomed with a charm of sensual excitement. The drummers were middle-aged men with gorgeous long black hair and well-built physical features. Others played on Sitars, Santurs, and other exotic instruments. Servants dressed in 12th century attire were young boys of everlasting youth just like the Angel had described. In their hands, they held goblets and cups, serving the beautiful, luminous inhabitants with drinks from the River of Paradise.
I saw the two beautiful women I had seen earlier as the Angel set me down on the soft grass. They sat together beneath a tree of sacred fruit.
“But most of all, blessed Servant,” continued the Angel, “Your wives are blossoming with perpetual youth. Meet them in Love, and speak whatever you desire regarding the union of Lights. She is better than the world before you and all that was in it. Her youth shall never fade, her clothing is never worn out, and no one in her presence can become bored for her attention is restricted to her husband because she desires none but him, just as his attention is restricted to her as the sole object of his desire.”
Their wide, sparkling eyes glanced at me as the Angel spoke.
“And here, you shall be in utmost safety and security with your companions: Blessed Virgins untouched by man and Jinn.”
The Angel led me to my throne, where I could look down upon this portion of God’s vast heaven. He told me the Seventy-Two Virgins fashioned their own unique characteristics, were of different ethnicities, and dressed in different colors; all to satisfy the believer. Tides of questions raced through my mind… I didn’t understand the significance of these women. How could I be in Paradise when my mind was still in confusion? Weren’t all the answers here? I realized that all I could think about was the one I Loved. The one I left on Earth… Arezu. I had to ask someone if they knew where she would be.
“For you, our dear Arsalaan!” said one of the young boys serving me with a crystal clear glass. His eyes were like pearls indeed, and his face glowed in a rosy red, with innocence and tender age. I took the glass from his hands and was going to consult the Angel, but he disappeared from the Garden.
The glass was filled with wine. No matter how much one were to consume, one would never get drunk, and while I knew this was true, I wasn’t ready to indulge myself in this blessing.
“Aw, look friends, he’s soaked,” said one of the handsome instrument players.
He approached me and told me to sit down on my gold throne. “I’m fine,” I said trying to be polite.
“Don’t you want to see your Palace?” he asked.
I couldn’t express the shock as I gazed into his eyes. Who was this man?
“I resemble the face of Adam, the Father of Humanity,” he said, answering my question as if he read my mind.
The moment I sat on the throne, the servants and young men lifted my chair and carried me to open field. I saw the lovely virgins, all standing as spectators and watching me with their majestic eyes. Some were black-skinned and brown-skinned, while others were olive and white-skinned. I remember what the Angel said about each having unique attributes. The one playing the flute by the river must have been fond of music. The one emerging from the river must have been one who mastered the art of touch.
I looked ahead and saw the large, gold Palace with an exotic onion-shaped dome design. Letters of poetic Arabic fashioned all around the exterior of the building. I couldn’t comprehend the truth that this was mine. The servants, the drinks, the fruits, the musicians, the virgins, the Garden, the Palace… All of this… was mine.
* * *
Their names were Zubaida, Razia, Sahar, Sidrah, Jaliyah, and Hadiqah. I felt the sensitivity of their hands through the rich towels they gently pressed on my body, cleansing me of the wine water that soaked me. Zubaida, Razia, and Sahar sprinkled fresh water on my head. I felt it sink into my hair and drip down my cheeks. I felt a wave of uncomfortable shyness when the others wet my skin with heavenly soap that contained the fragrance of sweet fruits. I never bared my upper body for any girl on earth, but here I was, inside the massive hot tub of my Palace surrounded by red drapes and allowing these companions to wash me clean.
They were all attractive in their nature, but one of them won my glance, no matter how hard I tried to restrain myself. Her name was Tehzeeb.
She smiled as her smooth fingers ran through my wet hair. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Nothing,” I responded shyly with a tremor in my voice, as if my vocal cords never adjusted at proper age. The other Virgins giggled after listening to my frightened voice. Tehzeeb’s eyes lit up in fascination as she covered her mouth to hold her laugh and save me from more embarrassment. Their eyes soaked up my blush… they adored me, and I felt somewhere, that they wanted me to adore them too.
“You remind me of someone,” I said finally.
“Someone on Earth?” she asked.
I hesitated, but as I did, I noticed how attentive the Virgins were. Their bright, exotic faces and glowing eyes clung to me as they listened to my words.
“A friend,” I answered.
“What was her name?” Tehzeeb asked.
Tehzeeb smiled. “I can hear the Passion in your voice when you say her name. Were you married?”
“No,” I said while reminiscing. “I never asked her. I never told her about my feelings. I was planning to.”
She raised an eyebrow. “What happened?” she asked.
“I died,” I responded.
Again, the Virgins laughed. I didn’t know why at first until I listened to my response and heard how funny it sounded. I was so entranced by these women, even they laughed, it radiated with a modesty so lacking in women on earth. It wasn’t an outburst, but it wasn’t hidden either, it was just perfect.
Tehzeeb captured my thoughts and commented on them, “Virginity is not only about one’s physical nature. It also exists in modest character, choice of words, and moderation in speech. We are not loud in speech for we only speak words of flowing poetry, like the verses of Divine Scriptures. A loud voice without meaning or direction harshly snaps a branch of a woman’s virginity for if revealed to anyone besides her Lover; it reveals a portion of her sexuality, though she does not realize it. That voice should be preserved for her Lover only.”
“We all lose elements of our virginity if that is so,” I said.
“That’s why the Lord of Paradise created companions for every Human Soul. So that they may embrace the inner source of Love and Beauty.”
“Not every woman listens to her Lover…even if it was a command from God,” I said.
Tehzeeb smiled, “Maybe because they view God too much as a man. If only all of the women on Earth were aware of their charm and enchantment, they would have experienced how beautiful God really made them. Many of them are unaware of their sensual and Divine nature. Our Father Adam could not rest any nights without our enchanting Mother, Eve. What other creature could have been created to comfort his desires if not a woman? But the women of your world neglect Eve’s modest and Loving example and chase after worldly images.”
“And most men don’t follow the modest example of the Prophet,” I responded.
“That’s why we desire you, dear Arsalan,” she said. Her words were like inviting Stars that lured me to her radiance. “For you are among the unique of your kind.”
I felt her lean closer. There was nothing impulsive or animalistic about her wanting to kiss me, but I wasn’t comfortable with it, so I turned my head before her lips could touch mine.
“I’m sorry… I can’t,” I said.
“You miss her,” she said, reading my thoughts.
“Is she here in Paradise too?” I asked.
“Only God knows the answer to that,” Tehzeeb said.
“If she really Loved you, she would be with you now,” said one of the other Virgins, Sahar.
They all saw the sorrow that came over my eyes. They shared their sympathetic faces with me as they helped me put my white tunic on.
“We’re sorry, Arsalan jaan,” said Tehzeeb. “There is another for you. It is as God willed it.”
“Was it because of the argument I had with her? Was it because I didn’t tell her how I felt? Was I too late?” I asked desperately.
Tehzeeb’s warm hand palmed on the side of my face.
“We don’t know, dear heart,” she said.
I saw the same young boy who served me the drink come running in the room with another crystal clear glass of wine.
“But we do know of God’s Word,” Tehzeeb continued, “He said: No soul knows what Joy is kept hidden in store for them as a reward for what they used to do.”
“Arsalan jaan! Arsalan jaan!” shouted the boy. “You never drank your wine! Here, another glass for you!”
“Send your worries away and come with me to the Garden of Pleasures,” Tehzeeb whispered to me.
They all smiled at me, their eyes told me to be at peace. I felt comfort in my heart when I was reminded that God wanted me to be happy. I slowly let my lips kiss the crystal glass and then tasted the wine. A sensation of delight and ecstasy shook my body and senses. I felt as if I had consumed the entire sky; consumed all its fresh air to bring new life within. The juicy and addictive taste caused me to close my eyes and fantasize about a breathtaking view of the Garden Tehzeeb spoke of. And then I understood: I was tasting the Glory of God’s Beauty… I savored and devoured the appetite of Love.
A rush of excitement burned through me; I heard passionate music playing all of a sudden, a rapid strumming of an erotic Pakistani violin, bending and curving like a mystic woman’s dance for her Lover; provocative and sensual tabla drum rhythms, rousing flutes that stimulated human impulses to the Sky, and Sitars and hammered dulcimers resonating with exotic euphoria.
I felt my hair being stroked by Tehzeeb as I opened my eyes to find myself resting in her lap while she sat on a soft carpet in the Garden of Pleasures. We were surrounded by the live musicians; all playing with such incredible passion and devotion. I followed Tehzeeb’s eyes and saw Seven Virgins dancing before us. They were like Goddesses, dressed in their fine and colorfully Persian-decorated garments, their movements were seductively precise, unhurried, and sensually coordinated with the tabla players. When their hips swayed with temptation to reveal their voluptuous, curvy figures, the long-haired male tabla players shouted out of joy in Arabic, “Bak’hin! Bak’hin!” Their expression of joy and excitement harmonized beautifully with the music.
They were all stunningly attractive, but again, one stood out from them all and it was the one in the front, leading the dance like a celestial princess. “Her specialty is in dance,” Tehzeeb said.
“What is her name,” I asked.
“Zayb-an-Nisa” she responded.
I watched her look at me as her ravishing figure swayed slowly to seduce my senses. Her eyes and smile were pleasingly magnetic; I felt the sensations pass through me and capture my innermost fantasies. I felt so bare, and yet so secure, knowing that my secrets were safe with her. Her wholesome body carried the perfume of pure desire and danced like an undying passion flame while her hands crossed her upper body and chimed enchantment with mystic finger cymbals. Her stomach and hips rolled as she descended slowly and seductively. Her hands moved in an exotic circular motion, while her hips responded to their sensuous movements and ascended again. Her bare, silky leg crept out of her dress as her hands and body stretched to the infinite sky; her hips responded provocatively to the prominent tabla drums and then swung like flowing silk to the opposite side. Her irresistible body descended again, her hips now moving left to right, so perfectly and gracefully, while her fingers played the zills at her side. Her body shifted soon again, and like waves passing through an ocean, her belly swam, over and under. Her black hair dangled in front of her emerald eyes as she gazed at me and smiled flirtatiously.
My thoughts started to disturb me with temptation. I felt myself longing for her. My body wanted her. Even more, I felt a tinge of fear because I knew I could have her if I wanted. She invited me to the opportunity. Is this lust, I asked myself. Was this appropriate? What if it’s a test? Is it different than on earth when a woman tempts you? Should I abstain and save myself from committing a sin?
“There are no snakes in Heaven,” Zayb-an-Nisa said to me.
I didn’t know what to say. I was afraid to even touch these women. Zayb-an-Nisa moved closer to me and stretched her hand out. She invited me to touch her hand. I slowly began to embrace her hand…
“True sexual intercourse brings the Universe to a state of wondrous Union, it brings life back to the wounded Souls, and invites the Lover and his Beloved to experience God’s Divine Gift of Absolute Love” her whisper sailed to me.
I had to restrain my hand. I don’t know what caused me to look up, but I did, and in the clouds I saw the face of Arezu formulating. It sped past the sky quickly and vanished. I jumped to my feet immediately. The music stopped, the Virgins, and the young servants looked at me attentively and curiously.
“What’s wrong, Arsalan?” Tehzeeb asked.
“I know she’s here,” I said.
“Arsalan…” she started.
I escaped her comforting touch and walked towards the other of the Garden.
“I’m sorry, I can’t be here… I can’t indulge myself in these pleasures without true Love.”
“This is the True Love, Arsalan jaan, you just don’t realize it” said Zayb-an-Nisa.
I looked at all of them. Just think, I thought to myself, these aren’t even all Seventy-Two of them. There are so many of them, of so many colors, perfect in figure and personality, and you want just one? The one on earth whom you don’t even know whether or not she Loved you? I was so confused. Where was God? When would I be able to speak to Him and get the answers? Was I on a different level of Heaven that restricted me from such direct communication?
I was driven by something I couldn’t explain. Arezu was somewhere… she had to be. I didn’t know where, I didn’t even know why, but all I knew is that my heart wanted nothing more but to find her.
Part 2 of 3
“Verily, the Chief of the Muslims (Muhammad) was foremost of them in his Passion for women.”
– Ibn Abbas, the Prophet’s cousin
I was running so fast that I did not feel my feet ascend from the hill. When I noticed that I was higher than the forest ahead of me, I looked below and panicked. No one was holding me, I had not grown wings; I was flying by myself. But not for long. I hit the slope of the green hill and rolled to the bottom. Amazingly, I felt no pain. I returned to my feet and tried to take flight again, but the result was the same as it was on Earth: gravity pulled me back to the surface. How did I fly? Was I not concentrating hard enough?
I gave up after my fourth or fifth try. I really tried focusing and concentrating; I tried moving my hands and legs again, but nothing seemed to work. I knew I saw Arezu’s face in the clouds. I knew she had to be here. How could none of the others know about her whereabouts? Maybe she is still alive on Earth? But weren’t the Gates of Paradise only open after the Day of Resurrection? I was so confused. I was beginning to wonder why I haven’t met any others from Earth yet. I remember reading in the Qur’an that the righteous ones will be sitting amongst one another on comfortable couches with their beloved companions. I’m sure they would understand me better. I didn’t know if the Angels or even the Virgins understand what it feels like to lose a friend.
The closer I walked towards the green forest, the more I realized that it was not a forest at all, but one single tree which had a shade that seemed to go on forever! I noticed a beautiful four legged animal walking by and chewing on some grass. Surely I had seen deer on earth before, but there was something so magnificent about the deer in Paradise. His horns were sparkling with majesty and his fur was so clean and lively that it made me want to pet him. I slowly made my way to him because I didn’t want him to run away. As I came closer, his head rose and his eyes gazed directly at me. I stalled for a moment, but then waved and said “Hi.”
“Hello Arsalan,” I heard a voice enter my mind.
I reacted immediately; looking behind me, searching the skies, and wondering where this voice came from.
“Over here, my friend,” the male voice said again.
I looked at the deer and realized that he was speaking to me telepathically. I was amazed; deer could talk here!
“We always could talk. Except this time, you can hear us,” he replied. “My name is Sofiyan.”
“You can read my mind too…” I said in astonishment.
He walked closer to me; on impulse I moved back. I heard the smile in his voice.
“You don’t have to be afraid of me, Arsalan,” he said. “Everyone here is your friend.”
“I’m… I’m sorry,” I said.
“I understand,” he said, “You need time to adjust.”
“Yes…” I said softly.
He moved closer as his face lifted so that he could look into my eyes.
“So much sorrow in your eyes,” he said observantly. “I was listening to your thoughts while you were walking. You pondered if anyone here ever lost a friend. I have. It was back on Earth when my beloved died. I didn’t know if I could live on, but my Lord blessed my patience in this afterlife when I was finally reunited with her.”
A beautiful female deer emerged with three baby deer and stood next to Sofiyan. “It seems you are on a search for your beloved as well,” he said to me.
“Could it be that she is still on Earth?” I asked.
“That doesn’t matter. If she really Loves you, she would be with you no matter what the circumstances are. Love has an ever-presence that the ones absorbed in worldly matters will never understand.”
I felt discouraged. It was obvious that Arezu wasn’t by my side at the very moment.
“You need to understand God’s will, my young friend,” Sofiyan said. “God knows what is best for you. Sometimes, the Universe must intervene in our lives and lead us unto paths that we may not appreciate at first, but over time, we realize it was for the better.”
“But… I never told her how felt,” I said.
“Only God knows for sure if she felt the same way,” the deer said.
“Why are there so many unanswered questions here? Am I not in Paradise?” I asked.
“You are only on the first heaven, Arsalan. You’re still adjusting to transition from death to rebirth.” I could hear the deer smile in my mind. “In time, you will discover how to ascend to the other heavens.
I nodded. For the first time, it made sense. I’m sure God wanted me to find comfort in this new world. Maybe I had to develop a certain level of understanding before I could actually meet Him. I felt my body shiver at the thought of meeting God.
“I am your friend,” said Sofiyan, “and regardless of what you wish, I will help you in every possible way I can.”
* * *
As we walked under the shade of the massive tree, I couldn’t help but stare at the endless branches and leaves above.
“It is said that if a rider were to travel one thousand years beneath this tree, he would never surpass the shade,” the deer said.
“Has anyone ever tried passing it?” I asked.
Sofiyan’s wife responded. Her voice was soft and elegant. “This is a Lover’s park, Arsalan. They enjoy traveling beneath this shade; sometimes with their families, and sometimes alone. After all, we all have eternity to spare.”
I was about to question the point of walking in this direction if we were going to be under the shade the whole time, but something emerged from the tree. It hit me hard on the head and knocked me to the ground. The next thing I saw was a floating figure wearing a black cloak speed towards me. I scrambled and tried to push the deer aside.
“Look out!” I shouted. As I tried to save them, I slipped and fell on my stomach. Before I could get to my feet, I heard giggling from behind me.
I looked and saw two Virgins covering their giggles with their veils. I saw the figure take off the black cloak and reveal the third Virgin beneath it. She smiled at me and said: “We told you there is no evil here Arsalan.”
I looked at the deer and could see the smile on Sofiyan’s face. “These are the Virgins of Play.”
I felt embarrassed. How could I think something here could possibly harm others? Their names were Nasira, Shadha, and Johara. They were more child-like than the other Virgins. I looked at the deer and finally asked them what was on my mind.
“Why have you brought me here when this shade never—”
I couldn’t finish the question because something round and hard slammed into my stomach. I saw it bounce in front of me as I fell to my knees. A soccer ball, of all things. I wanted to catch my breathe, but to my surprise, I wasn’t gasping for air, I was laughing because of how much it tickled.
“I said ‘heads up!’” called a female voice from afar. I looked and saw the fourth Virgin walk towards me. She had hair tied back and wore a track suit. What a contrast with all the other virgins, I thought. Her face was sweating from, what it appeared to be, playing soccer!
“You should have been paying more attention, handsome,” she said.
“It’s okay,” I said with a half chuckle, still on my knees and favoring my stomach. “It’s just… amazing… it tickles.” She grabbed her ball and crouched down to see if I was okay.
“I would patch you up and all, but I’m not like the other Virgins, sweetheart,” she said with a cocky wink.
“This is Faizah,” said Sofiyan, “the Virgin of Sport. She can help you find what you are looking for.”
“Her?” I said bewildered.
“I’ll only help him on one condition,” she said while trying to spin the soccer ball on her finger.
“What’s that?” I said.
“You have to race me, and win,” she said with a laugh.
“Oh no, I can’t do that. I’m going to lose.”
“Well in that case, you’ve already lost,” she replied. “How can you win if you don’t believe in yourself mentally?”
I smiled. “Arezu would say something like that to me all the time.”
“And I bet she beat you in a foot race,” Faizah said.
“Actually… we never did such a thing.”
“How sad,” she replied teasingly. “Come on; you afraid you’ll get beat by a girl?”
“No,” I said with a laugh.
“Then what are you afraid of?”
I looked at her and felt my smile fade. Beyond her physical beauty, I could see how full of energy and life she was. I was attracted to the humor in her voice and body language. Maybe I was afraid of falling in Love with someone else besides Arezu.
“I’m afraid I’ll embarrass you in front of all your friends,” I said with a smile. I caught myself flirting with her. I couldn’t believe it.
“Hey, I’m not the one who thought he was being attacked in Heaven, pal” she said, causing the others to giggle.
She had a point.
“So where’s the finish line?” I asked.
“You’ll know,” she said.
“… okay…” I said confused.
Just then, I felt her hands push me to the ground while she ran into the heart of the shade. “Hey!” I shouted as I quickly got to my feet and chased after her.
She was fast. But I was also amazed at how fast I was catching up too. I felt myself gasping for air, but at the same time, I didn’t feel fatigued. I ran along side her and said: “That was cheating.”
“Who said there were rules?” she quipped back.
She pushed me again, this time the ground was no longer there. I was falling into a small river below, but I managed to grab a hold of a dangling branch from the tree. The branch didn’t hold long before it snapped and sent me splashing into the river.
I heard another splash afterwards and saw Faizah swimming to the other side of the river. I admit I was having fun and enjoyed the competition. I was reminded of the story when Prophet Muhammad raced his wife, Ayesha. I Loved the story because it showed how much of a romantic he really was. I would always believe that the aspect of Muhammad’s marriages weren’t emphasized enough in orthodox Islam, for if it was, the concept of True Love would have been more encouraged.
I swam faster and caught up to her. I didn’t know if I should put my hands on her or not, but I chose not to, even though I was tempted to. She climbed out of the river first and kept running further. The scenery was amazing. I couldn’t believe we were still beneath the shade. I heard birds singing a graceful tune as I ran towards Faizah. Ahead of us, I noticed something utterly spectacular. There was a cliff and below was a whole other realm of the first Heaven, and yet, all of it was still beneath the shade of the single tree! The drop was too far; there was no where else to run. I turned to Faizah, “What now?!”
She held her hand out to me. I looked at it and hesitated, not knowing what she had in mind. Were we really going to jump?
“Come on, man, don’t be shy,” she said.
At the last second, I grabbed a hold of her hand and suddenly felt myself ascending instead of falling.
Faizah was… soaring to the clouds in the sky. I felt the intensity of the wind blow against my face as we only flew higher and higher. I felt the cool rain drops of the clouds splash against my face as we passed through them.
We emerged of the clouds and landed on another platform of rich green grass. I looked up and felt the light give warmth to my skin; the shade was not there anymore. Did I ascend to the next Heaven? Faizah continued to run, laughing.
“Hey, wait!” I shouted after her, “Slow down!”
I had to get answers from her. I caught up to her on the hill and tried to gently grab a hold of her, but the wet grass caused me to slip and bring her rolling down the hill with me.
At the bottom of the hill, I found myself half way on top of her. “I’m sorry,” I said with my voice trembling, “Are you alright?” I asked.
“I’m fine,” she said with a beautiful smile.
“I didn’t mean to…” my voice trailed off as her eyes looked into mine. I never felt so close to someone before.
“You’re pretty aggressive. Is that how you treat women?” she said sarcastically with a flirtatious smile on her face.
Her soft hand ran through my hair and to back of my head. She pulled me closer for a kiss, but I immediately withdrew and rose to my feet.
“I’m sorry…” I said and walked to the edge of the hill. My whole body was trembling. I was so nervous and frightened.
“Did I do something wrong,” Faizah asked.
“No…” I said while trying to slow down my breathing. I turned around to look at her. “Look, I know you and the others are Gifts from God, but what if this isn’t something I want?”
Faizah walked closer. I wanted her to stop, I wanted her to step away from me, but something within let me move closer. Her hand was on my face again.
“Is that true Arsalan? Do you really not want us?”
“I don’t know…” I said.
There was a brief silence as Faizah studied me. “Maybe that’s why things never worked out between you and Arezu,” she said.
“You’re too hesitant about your feelings,” she responded. “Sweetheart, if you Love someone. Tell her.”
Her hand left my face and gave a heavy shove on my chest. I fell off the edge of the hill and landed in a small canoe that was floating down a stream. I saw Faizah blow me a kiss from above and leave the hill. I sat up in the canoe and saw a Virgin dressed in a sparking and elegant blue dress rowing the boat.
I didn’t feel like talking to anyone. I felt hurt by Faizah’s words. It was as if she was telling me that I was too late. How was I supposed to know that I was going to get into an accident and die? More guilt clouded my mind as I thought about times when I felt like opening up to Arezu, but I was too nervous, too hesitant, because I was afraid of rejection. Why was I such a fool? I asked myself. Why couldn’t I be stronger and more confident?
“It wasn’t your fault,” the Virgin rowing the canoe said.
I looked at her and forced a smile. I couldn’t disrespect these women at all. They possessed such Divine Beauty and mystery that I didn’t quite understand. I knew they were trying to help me. I knew God Himself was trying to help me realize things.
“Where are you taking me?” I asked her politely.
“To the Virgin of Comfort,” she replied. “Don’t worry, she can help you.”
Everyone sounded so confident here. I couldn’t think straight anymore; maybe it was because I was hungry. My hunger was answered almost immediately when I smelled a delicious aroma coming from a house on the side of the river. The Virgin rowed towards the old-fashioned house which rested quietly, surrounded by a small garden.
“She is waiting inside,” the Virgin said.
I realized that she wasn’t coming with me. “Thank you,” I said. I made my way out of the canoe and walked to the house. I felt a stillness in the air; one which created an awkward silence. I knocked on the door and felt comfort that my ears were okay. I took a moment to enjoy the beautiful sunset. “It’s a Beautiful painting, my Lord,” I said softly as my eyes filled with tears.
The door creaked open to reveal a shy young woman adjusting her white headscarf. She looked more human than any of the other Virgins. Like before, I was speechless. I pointed to the river to tell her how the other Virgin led me here, but she didn’t need the explanation.
“You’re starving,” she said with a face like that of a concerned mother. “Come inside, please.”
The meal was absolutely delicious; She had cooked my favorite meal, which was rice, chicken, and cooked vegetables, but even though I’ve ate them before on Earth; they never tasted so better in Paradise. I was so hungry that I couldn’t even comprehend how great the food was. I stopped myself in the middle of the meal and looked at the Virgin who had served me so kindly; I hoped that she did not think of me as a pig or something.
“What is your name?” I asked her politely.
“Bilqis,” she answered.
“That’s a nice name,” I said.
“And so is yours.”
“Thank you,” I smiled back shyly.
The conversation we had was overwhelming, especially considering how comfortable I got with her. I spoke to her about my family and how I missed them, but she assured me that I would see them again. I spoke a lot about my mother and how much I Loved her. It seemed that this Virgin made herself so accessible to me, but in a way, she reminded me of how Arezu and I spoke a lot about things I didn’t normally share with others.
When Bilqis picked up the plates, I felt her eyes observe me. “Your clothes are soaked,” she said.
She led me upstairs and to a small room where she handed me fresh and dry clothes.
“I hope you find these comfortable. I believe they are your size,” she said shyly. Her voice was like a song. Each time I heard it, the more I wanted it to sing in my ears.
She left the room and closed the door behind me. When I was dressed, she entered and put sheets and blankets on the bed.
“You don’t have to do that,” I said to her.
She looked at me and smiled. She continued to make the bed. The image of her cooking, cleaning, dressing me, and making my bed made me think about all the stereotypes that people on Earth attacked Islamic lifestyles. I didn’t like the idea of her doing all these things for me; it made me think as if she was my slave.
“Listen, you’re not my slave, I can do all those things myself,” I said.
“Prophet Muhammad said, ‘It is forbidden for a human being to lay in prostration before another human, but had it been permissible, every wife would have been ordained by Allah to prostrate before her husband,’” she responded.
“I’m not your husband,” I replied.
Her crystal-like eyes rose to look at me. She looked away and nodded. She left the blanket on the bed.
“Very well,” she said, “Get some rest.”
As she left the room, I felt like stopping her and apologizing but it was too late. I felt so exhausted, more mentally than physically. I concluded that I would talk to her after I took a brief nap. The moment I closed my eyes was the moment I slipped into a dream of memories.
* * *
They probably didn’t call dreams in Paradise “dreams” because of how real everything feels, but since I had no other word to describe it, I’ll just say it was a dream. I felt like I was an invisible being visiting a moment in my past.
I saw Arezu and me attending some comedic event at my college. I realized this was the day when I had an argument with her. The comedian was saying a lot of vulgar jokes and I got upset about that. I couldn’t believe that my Muslim friend, Arezu, standing right beside me was tolerating it. Her friends were present and laughing along with the comedian and the rest of the room.
I stormed out of the room without telling Arezu, but it wasn’t long for her to notice my absence. She caught up to me outside the building.
“Arsalan, what’s wrong?” she asked with a fading smile.
“I can’t believe you Arezu,” I said.
“How can you sit in there and listen to all that?”
“Arsalan… what are you talking about—”
“It’s not right, for you, as a covered Muslim girl, to sit in there and listen to all that profanity and vulgarity, it’s haram,” I responded quickly.
“Look, we went over this before, Arsalan. I’m not in there to feed on all the profanity, you know me better than that. I’m in there because this is Chelsea’s event and she brought a lot of people to our event; if you need me to refresh your memory, she helped raise an extra $150 for our fundraiser—”
“So that makes it okay for us to attend an immodest event?” I quipped.
Arezu sighed out of frustration. “You know, it’s not as bad as you think it is in there. You know darn well that people could make much worse jokes than he is.”
“Look, why are you behaving this way, huh?” she asked.
“I don’t know, Arezu. I’m just… sick of having to put up with this all the time with you.”
“Put up with what? Arsalan—”
“You lied to me; you and I always talk about how we hate how the world is so corrupt, how people swear, how people go to parties to hook up, how girls dress like sex objects, but in reality, you surround yourself by the same people who do those things. I’m sick of seeing a covered girl walking around with girls who dress in their miniskirts just to feel accepted by the rest of this Godforsaken world!”
I felt my heart pounding so fast and my blood boiling. I turned around and made my way to the car. Arezu however, unsurprisingly wasn’t going to let that be the last word.
“All right, you know what?” she started; foreshadowing how she was going to unload a comeback on me. She walked in front of me to stop me from walking.
“The rest of this Godforsaken world isn’t as ‘perfect’ as you. Just because I’m being courteous and respectful to one of my friends, all of a sudden you’re the better Muslim? This hijaab isn’t for you, nor is it for anyone else, it is for Allah. These people are people I work with; I thought you knew me better than that Arsalan, but apparently, you forget that the only person I talk to about my whole life is you, not them. You can’t mould me into someone I’m not—”
“No, no, no, that’s not what—” I started to protest.
“And you want to know another thing? I’ve noticed how all the women in your poetry and paintings are so perfect and Goddess-like, but honestly, Arsalan, I pray that you learn something from this life experience about women, because real women aren’t the way you wish them to be. We’re not Goddesses or sinless; we’re human beings with real-life problems and flaws. You feel things like Love and hate, but we’re not excluded to those emotions either. We make mistakes; we have struggles with ourselves too. That is the way God created all of us, not just men, women too. I pray that you learn this because no girl is going to change herself for you, no matter how much you submit and change yourself for her. I want you to remember that.”
* * *
I awoke with a feeling of guilt jammed in my throat. I needed a glass of water, but as I sat up in bed, there was Bilqis with the water.
“Relax,” she said softly.
I took a sip of the water. “It’s Zam-Zam, the Holy water of Mecca” she said. As if magic, I felt my whole body heal. The sweat had shrunk back into my skin and I felt at peace.
“Bad dream?” she asked.
“Revisiting some old memories, that’s all,” I said.
I hung my legs off the side of the bed and watched her adjust herself closer to me. I thought a lot about Arezu said. I should have let things be. I had no right to tell her what to do or not do, or who to hang out with; I should have just faced the facts. What bothered me the most was her impression that I was trying to shape into a different person. I never consciously wanted to do that to her, nor was I even aware of it.
“Love is blind sometimes,” Bilqis said to me, reading my thoughts. “Feelings fade away; and over time, you become attracted to a different person. A person who you thought could have never possessed the same qualities your previous beloved had, but time keeps going, and you begin to realize that there are many people out there who share the same, if not, better personalities to your liking—”
“No no, I don’t want to think about that…” I said slowly. I tried to bat the thoughts out of my mind.
“But it’s the Truth, Arsalan,” she said. “Look at me.”
I made eye contact with her. “I’m not trying to upset you,” she said. “I want to help you understand. You’ve been so patient with your passion, and now, when God wants you to release it, you are restraining yourself. Why?”
“I don’t know any of you,” I said. “It’s just not the same. With Arezu, we knew each other for years; our Love would have been something special. Something that I could have really felt from within.”
“You’re wrong about not knowing us, Arsalan. You know us more than you know. Whenever you were down, whenever you were frightened, whenever you had no one else to talk to, whenever you sought the Unseen world…. Those whom you cried to were us. Don’t you see, Arsalan? We are the manifestation of God’s Love.”
She touched my face slowly. I gently touched her wrist and slowly moved it away. “Even back on Earth, women with your beauty would make me think, ‘no wonder Muhammad had so many wives.’ But there were also times when I didn’t like the way most women were. They cared too much about their appearances and felt they needed to show off their physical nature to be accepted in the world.”
“But you know all women aren’t like that. Do I look like that type of woman to you?” She said with a smile.
I smiled back shyly and looked at her head covering. “It’s so beautiful you cover,” I said.
She slowly removed her headscarf from her head and down poured a shimmering wave of black hair. I was attracted to her more than the others because it wasn’t just physical anymore, it was emotional as well. I let her put her hand on me again. She drew my face closer to hers. I felt as if the chains of restraint had finally released me as I moved closer. I had saved these lips for someone special; someone who I thought was Arezu. But she was not with me anymore. The inhabitants of Paradise said themselves that if Arezu really Loved me, she would have been here already.
I felt her warm breath breathing against my lips. I remembered what Faizah said about hesitation. It was time for me to embrace what God had gifted me with in the after life. My lips and Passion were finally going to be shared with someone, and that someone was Bilqis, the Virgin of Comfort.
Part 3 of 3
“O happy day when in Your Presence, my Ruler, I shall die!
Where would death be for the Lovers? Impossible is that! For in the fountain of the Water of Life – There I shall die!”
~ Jalaluddin Rumi
At the last second, I turned my lips away from Bilqis, the Virgin of Comfort, and I made my way to the window of the room.
“I can’t go along with this,” I said while pressing my forehead.
“Forgive me if I have offended you,” Bilqis said softly.
“No,” I replied, “You did nothing wrong.”
Silence filled the room while I stared out the window and fixed my eyes on the pleasant waterfall. I watched as it fell endlessly and how nothing in this place could infect the river with impurity. Even if one could find a way to intoxicate the sea with waste, the river would magically consume it and remain clean and uncontaminated.
“Maybe I don’t know how to be immortal,” I said in a voice that resonated with a sorrow unknown to all of paradise.
“I can see that you really Love her,” she said behind me as I still stared outside.
I felt the tears build in my eyes, my soul crucified by memories of Arezu.
“When did you start Loving her?” Bilqis asked.
I didn’t have to think hard. The memory came to me in vivid pictures. “The moment I saw her,” I said. “The first time we met.”
It seemed so long ago that it felt as if it never happened. As if it was a dream. And then the memory left me, like a balloon escaping the hand of a child and floating away to the blue sky until it burst into nothingness.
“I was afraid,” I said aloud, thinking about why I had not said anything to her. “But… if God had given me more time, I would have told her eventually. I would have told her on the first day if I knew this was going to happen to me.”
“Maybe she already knew,” Bilqis said.
I stopped staring, and looked at the reflection of Bilqis in the window. Something about the way she looked sent a cold shiver down my back. I turned around and looked at her for an answer of some sort, but I didn’t know what the question was!
“What is it?” she asked with all concern.
There was something about her that I recognized. I couldn’t figure out what it was exactly until… her scarf. The one that she had taken off, I recognized the colors and flower patterns. She followed my eyes and lifted her scarf for me to hold.
“She had the same scarf,” I said.
“Thousands of girls have the same scarf, Arsalan.” Bilqis tried persuading me to sit besides her, “You’re thinking too much, you really need to let all of this pass through you, you need to give it time.”
“I can’t stay here, Bilqis,” I tried to say as politely as I can even though I was being very impatient. “Thank you for everything, but I need some time alone please.”
I heard her open the front door behind me as I walked away from the peaceful house, but I knew she wasn’t going to stop me. I turned around and saw her give me a concerned, yet warm smile. I continued to walk and gazed up at the soothing sunset. There’s something they’re not telling me, I thought to myself.
I found a pathway between a lovely forest and did my utmost to enjoy the wonderful scenery. I remember back on earth, when I’d look at nature or animals, I would speak to God in my thoughts: ‘It is a wonderful creation, my Lord.’ But for a place like this, how does one begin to describe? How can one possibly begin with words? Colorful leaves rained from the tall trees above and I saw cheerful squirrels race to the branches, but all this scenery was incomplete to me. As the wind blew, I heard the sound of a mellow violin whining not too far from where I was. A dove swooped from above and landed on my shoulder, carrying a bouquet of blooming flowers in its beak.
“Flowers feed the Soul,” she said without having to move her beak or making a chirp. She took off and ascended to one of the trees as I held the flowers in my hands.
“Thank you,” I whispered. I smelled the flowers and was maddened by its scent, which reminded me of the perfume that Arezu wore. I took another whiff of the flowers and closed my eyes. I wanted to absorb myself in the romantic aroma, the violin’s longing, and the memories of my cherished Love. I know she is here, I told myself hopefully.
It wasn’t long before I found a larger clearing in the woods, where a woman dressed in elegant medieval attire played the sad song on her violin. Without thinking too much, I sat on the soft ground and closed my eyes. The mourning of the violin perfectly captured how I felt. The Virgin spoke to me while she played the instrument, and my eyes remained closed.
“How does one suffer in the eternal fountain of youth?” she asked tenderly.
“Like this,” I said, pressing my eyes shut harder and letting my soul mourn with the music.
“How is one sure of his feelings for his beloved? How is one sure he wants to spend eternity with her?” her questions were not like questions, but part of the song.
“Like this,” I answered again. Why did I have to use words to explain my Love for someone? Why did I have to respond with “reason”? The gates of my heart are open, please come inside if you want to understand.
I just wanted her to keep playing the song; I wanted to be at one with the strings, at one with the source that created such music and sorrow. I just sat there and swayed gently back and forth, back and forth, trying to feel closer to… something, someone. I opened my eyes slowly and saw the Virgin playing the violin with her eyes closed and a relaxed smile on her face. She looked so enlightened, at peace, and at one with everything around her. I imagined how things were for her; I imagined being inside of her and making contact with the beauty that allowed her to create. I imagined being inside of her to experience what she was experiencing, to feel what she was feeling. I looked at her hand holding the bow; I looked at it as if it was mine and as if I was feeling something too. I sat next to her on the log and politely made her stop by placing my hand on hers. Her eyes opened and met mine immediately; she already knew I was sitting next to her.
“Teach me,” I said.
She smiled and then kissed my hands before handing me the violin and the bow. I noticed her earrings and was astonished to see that they were similar to the ones Arezu wore. Before I could ask, she was already on her way walking towards the end of the forest. I held the violin and bow, and suddenly realized I knew how to play it. Miraculously, I started to play the same exact song the Virgin was playing. It was then when I realized that she was expressing what was within me. It was like I was looking into a mirror.
I rose to my feet and continued to play the song. I closed my eyes and started to whirl like a dervish. I played the music louder and passionately, only thinking about my beloved. The one who didn’t know about my feelings for her, the one who I wanted to share my life with, the one I felt was my mirror, the one who I Loved so much that I would turn down seventy two virgins in paradise.
I began to spin faster and I cried out with my heart: “Hear me, Arezu. Please. For God’s sakes, hear me. I know you can. I’m tired of words, listen to my song. If you can’t hear my song, then imagine it, imagine as if you can. Everything I want to say to you is here, right here in this song.”
I am not sure why, but something made me open my eyes just for a brief moment, and in that brief moment, I saw Arezu – so clearly – spinning with me, her eyes locked on me, and her smile glowed with a friendly invitation. It took me a split second to realize that I had just seen her; my eyes shot open and I dropped the violin, but when I looked around, I saw no one. No, I had to have seen her. I trusted my eyes, even in this fantastical place. I frantically searched the forest, I called her name, I pleaded for her to reveal herself, I wandered and wandered, tormented by that brief vision of her. “I forgot how beautiful you were…” I whispered to myself.
I was running so fast and madly in the forest that I stumbled and to the ground face first. It didn’t hurt of course, but the reason why it took me a while to get back to my feet is because my eyes caught sight of two pairs of horse hoof directly in front of me. I looked up and saw a mythical creature that had the body of a horse, the wings of an angel, the tail of a peacock, and a human face with prominent feminine features. The magical animal glowed luminously and its deep set eyes watched me closely. I knew what I was looking at, I had remembered reading about Prophet Muhammad’s journey to the seven heavens and how he rode on such an animal known as al-Buraq. My realization caused Buraq to smile.
“They wish to see you now,” Buraq said affectionately.
“The Angels on your shoulders. Come with me, my friend.”
I looked on my shoulders but didn’t see anyone. What did he mean? Never mind, I thought and simply put trust in the animal and made my way on top.
The power and strength of the animal amazed me as it galloped briefly and then soared out of the forest. I felt the wind blow against my face and saw God’s wonderful kingdom below. I can never grow tired of this sight, I thought to myself. I made myself comfortable on al-Buraq and closed my eyes as we ascended closer to the clouds. I felt the soft splash of water kiss my face before opening my eyes to see a green and majestic hill Buraq was flying to.
On top of the hill, I saw two Angels standing and waiting my arrival. One of them was dressed in black and the other in white. Buraq landed in the middle as I was greeted by both of the Angels.
“I must attend others now Arsalan jaan,” Buraq said, “but we shall surely meet again in Allah’s beautiful realm.”
And with that, he galloped and flew to the white clouds below. The Angel to my right dressed in white asked, “Do you know who we are, Arsalan?”
“Buraq said you are the angels on my shoulders,” I answered.
“Were the angels on your shoulders,” said the black-dressed Angel to my left. “I took note of your bad deeds.”
“And I of your good deeds,” said the white-dressed Angel.
There was a noticeable difference in their tone of voice. The black-dressed Angel seemed to speak faster, louder, and bluntly, while the white-dressed Angel on my right spoke gently.
“We understand you have questions,” said the white-dressed Angel.
“Wait, let me guess!” the black-dressed Angel interjected, “I know what you’re going to ask. ‘Where is Arezu?’”
Before I could respond, he spoke again, “wait, tell me, that’s what you were going to ask, right?”
“Why, yes,” I said.
He laughed and said: “How well do I know you, Arsalan? After all, I sat on your shoulder for over twenty years.”
“Since it seems that question of mine can’t be answered for whatever reason, I would like to know why God took my life so young,” I asked impatiently.
“Everything happens according to God’s will,” the white-dressed Angel said.
“Oh come on, you don’t want to hear that, Arsalan,” the black-dressed Angel said. “Why don’t you keep pondering and stressing about those questions, just like you did on Earth.”
“The Shaytaan loves it when servants of God walk around with faces devoid of smiles, with hearts lacking happiness, and minds with no sense of direction. So many times I’ve seen you make the same mistake over and over again, and I just concluded, this boy is never going to learn.”
“I-I don’t understand, I always tried to pray—”
“Pray?!” The black-dressed Angel shouted. “You had time to write love letters and poems, you had time to polish your shoes, to iron your shirt, to buy yourself a book that you never read; you had time to watch TV, but no time to pray to your Creator?”
I turned to the white-dressed Angel on my right.
“But you were mindful,” he said to me with a smile. “And for that, God returned His Love.”
“But God’s Love never seemed to be enough for you, did it, Arsalan?” the black-dressed Angel said quickly. “You wanted something else.”
Just then I saw Arezu’s face in the sky.
“What do you know of Love, Arsalan?” asked the black-dressed Angel. “You couldn’t even tell her of your feelings. You see how her image is in the sky now? What will you do to get up there? You can’t fly because you have no courage, you’re a coward! You had so many opportunities to tell her; remember this time?!”
I saw the clouds become a pond that displayed images. Memories. I saw her and me sitting and talking to each other. I remember the day so clearly, I remember I had the chance to say something, but I was too afraid.
“Or what about this time?”
Another image appeared. “What about the time when you ignored her?” Another image, another memory. Anger, guilt, rage, sorrow, all sorts of emotions mixed within me, I didn’t know how to respond. Tears rolled down my face.
“Never let yourself be led on by fear! Isn’t that what you always preached and advised to all your friends? That’s the problem with you humans; you never follow your hearts, always thinking with your mind! Always manifesting false thoughts out of fear and worry, anger and frustration, you don’t realize how beautiful God made you. You don’t realize how Special Love is and how it is worth taking the chances.”
I looked at him and thought about some of the stories I’ve read about Angels being jealous of humans… was he jealous? “And for that I am being punished?” I asked him.
“No, you were being patient, Arsalan,” the white-dressed Angel finally said. “You were unsure, and as many of your writings taught you, there is nothing wrong with walking with the staff of precaution.”
“His spiritual writings also taught him that if he sees the pearl in the ocean, he cannot obtain it just by looking, he must have the courage to dive,” responded the black-dressed Angel.
The white-dressed Angel placed his hand on my trembling shoulder. “After you died, Arezu was devastated. She rushed to your funeral and helped your family cope with the loss. She read about your feelings for her when your mother gave her your journal, but Arezu always knew about how you felt about her. In your journal, she was particularly moved by something you wrote… about life after death. Do you remember?”
As the Angel spoke, I was reminded of some of the profound things I wrote, but now it all had brand new meaning to me. I often thought about what I would do if I was married and I lost my wife. Would I remarry? If I remarried, what would I say to my first wife in the afterlife?
“Arezu helped get your writings published when she grew older and she shared your work with many great people. But most importantly, she learned so much more about herself after you died, because your death taught her about the value of life. You awakened her, Arsalan,” the white-dressed Angel said.
“He’s leaving out a detail, Arsalan,” the black-dressed Angel said with a laugh. “Just a tiny detail.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“The Truth can be a beautiful thing, Arsalan, but it can be painful too,” the white-dressed Angel. “Are you sure you want to know?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” I said to the white-dressed Angel. I turned to the Angel of my life and said, “Tell me, I’m tired of these questions, I need to know what happened to her.”
The black-dressed Angel looked at me seriously in the eyes. Before he said it, I felt like I knew what he was going to say. “What if I told you that Arezu is in Hell?”
I felt as if a dagger had been thrown into me and pierced through my heart. “No…”
“No what?” he asked.
I turned to the white-dressed Angel, but he didn’t say anything. He ducked his eyes.
“I don’t… I mean, how is that possible?! What happened to her? What did she do wrong?!” I demanded for answers.
“We cannot answer those questions, Arsalan,” said the white-dressed Angel.
I dropped to my knees because my legs were shaking so much. “No, that’s impossible…what could she have possibly done? Why does God let His children go to Hell?”
“What makes you think He’s responsible for that?” the black-dressed Angel said.
A dead silence surrounded me. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. But what good would it have done? I was powerless. Minutes passed and passed, and all I could do was remain frozen. My knees on the hill and thinking about Arezu. I finally got to my feet and decided it was time to walk away.
The black-dressed Angel asked, “If you could, would you venture into Hell to be with her?”
I turned around and faced the black-dressed Angel. I looked him straight in the eyes. “I would, but you wouldn’t understand that.”
“I would like you to put your words into action,” he said. “I can make it possible. Is that what you want, Arsalan. You would leave all this for her? For Arezu?”
The Angel was right. For too long I was weak and afraid. I was ready now, I didn’t care. I just wanted to be with her. If this Heaven I was in was supposed to be what God thought I wanted, then I felt that God didn’t know what I truly desired.
“Without Arezu, what is Heaven?”
The Angels exchanged glances and then looked back at me. “Good bye, Arsalan,” they said.
Suddenly, the ground shook violently, and the sky tore apart. I saw a blaze of fire tear through the sky and charge furiously at me. The green grass below vanished and left my feet hanging in the air. The fire burned through me and I felt the scorching pain again. I screamed as I felt the fire travel through my body and torture my insides. I screamed in pain and then at God: “I don’t care!! I don’t care!!” My screams became sobs, I felt my body floating and ascending while the fire consumed me.
Then I saw dozens of faces soaring around me. Beautiful faces. The faces of the Seventy-Two Virgins. I was so confused by the images that I didn’t even notice that I was on fire anymore. In fact, I didn’t even feel the fire anymore, I felt nothing. I continued to watch them as they swirled around me like a school of fish in the sea. I felt myself ascending higher and I heard the Virgins speaking to me in their Divine voices, “When you add numbers in the spiritual realm, everything equals One.”
As I ascended, I looked at my hand and saw the blazing fire, yet it did not hurt me anymore. It glowed all around my body. Then I saw the black-dressed and the white-dressed Angel. “Is this Hell?” I asked them.
“The flame that has consumed you is the flame of Love,” said the black-dressed Angel.
They stepped aside and revealed a large clearing in the woods where colorful trees and greenery surrounded us. I saw a human body lying on the ground, but I couldn’t see it too well because the seventy-two virgins were still flying around. Then, I saw the Truth:
The virgins flew towards the human body on the ground and became transparent, like ghosts or spirits, and merged into the human body. One by one, they went inside the human vessel as the white-dressed Angel said: “A woman has Seventy-Two Special attributes that define her true Beauty and Divinity.”
As I moved closer, I began to realize what was happening. I looked at the human on the ground, who was none other than Arezu! I understand now, I thought to myself. I saw the Virgins of Play, the Virgin of Sport, the Virgin of Comfort, and thought about how they were manifestations of a specific characteristic of Arezu’s personality! That’s why there was something so familiar about them. That’s why they reminded me of her! I recalled when the Virgin of Comfort said: “You’re wrong about not knowing us, Arsalan. You know us more than you think.” Arezu was kind, friendly, Loving, athletic, sarcastic, artistic, musical, playful, beautiful – she was all these wonderful things, even if she didn’t know how to play a violin or the flute, she had the aspirations in her heart.
I was mystified by the whole experience, and finally, when all the Virgins finally finished entering her, half of the flame on my body separated from me and entered Arezu. The remaining half gathered around my chest and then made its way into my heart without burning anything. I felt my body drop from where I was floating from and I landed on the surface.
I saw Arezu awaken from what looked like to be a sleep for a thousand years. She sat up and rubbed the back of her head. “Arezu?” my voice trembled as I attended her.
She looked at me and her eyes filled with tears. “Arsalan?” Her voice brought life back into me, just like when God Himself breathed His Spirit into us when He created the Father of Humanity. I wanted her to talk more, I wanted to be beside her, I wanted to say everything I wanted to say.
“Arsalan, is that you?” she asked.
Before I could answer, she embraced me. I felt as if I was holding paradise itself in my arms. She withdrew momentarily and touched her own face. “I’m… I’m young again,” she said.
I didn’t understand at first, but then I realized that she had lived longer than me. She had died an old woman. “You never married?” I asked her.
She shook her head, “I kept seeing visions of you. I kept seeing you in my dreams. You were playing a violin and dancing in forest… you told me that you Loved me. And I imagined being there with you. There came a point when I thought I was dreaming too much, but then I said that I didn’t care anymore because remembering that dream of you is what helped liberate my soul from the world.”
Could have it been true that whenever I thought about her, I would appear in her dreams while she was on Earth and when she thought about me, she would appear in Heaven? Regardless of where she was or where I was, we were always together. We were always inside of each other.
“My good deeds spoke to me in the grave,” she said, “and she said she would send me where I belong.”
“Arezu, I…” I stopped because there was nothing else to say.
“Arsalan?” she said softly.
“I’m tired of words.”
The next thing I knew, we were slowly floating to the sky and I had a feeling that it was time to reach the final heaven where we would meet the One who brought us together. We held each other in arms and turned and turned.
I found Beauty in realization, Beauty in discovery, but most of all, Beauty in what was yet to be revealed. There was so much more to learn, even in Paradise, even after life, I learned that God wants us to realize and discover things for ourselves because there is Beauty in that. Imagine how less passionate and unmoving it would be if all the answers were simply given to us. Why wait for someone to give you the answers when you can walk the path and discover who you really are? Why not take the challenge of practicing True Love?
Her mesmerizing eyes looked into my soul and saw all the feelings I wanted to convey to her. I wanted her to be inside of me, I wanted her to look around, and I wanted her to feel all that I felt. When I looked into her eyes, I knew that she was feeling the same way. No words were needed for our experience. Seventy-Two Virgins, Arezu, Self-Discovery, God – it was all One to me. One Truth. One Love.
“Kiss me” she whispered.
Our lips leaned forward as the Heavenly Brilliance shined all around us like a carnival of lights.
At last, and forever.
Jinke sar ho Ishq ki chaanh
Pao ke niche Jannat hogi
(translated from Urdu)
He whose head is in the Shadow of Love
Will have Heaven at his feet