What connotes heaven to every religion varies resulting from diversity in belief, which has left room for its dynamic interpretations. But one singular noticeable similarity existing among many of these religions is the existence of a supernatural being, a “GOD” the one who knows the “beginning and the end”, the author of our very existence, aside from this similarity there has been a lot of chauvinism and jingoistic remarks aired towards the beliefs and practices of several religions from believers of each one. If we truly serve one God why is there so much hate and conflict over something that is meant to be pure and blissful? Why has there been so much blood shed all for the cause of making a place that may or may not exist? All these facts made me wonder what heaven actually is which brought about this topic.
This article is geared towards the juxtaposition of what heaven means to each religion vis-a-vis its mode of worship, its criteria for entry and how religion is one of the major causes of poor decision making in Africa.
Pardon the following lecture, but as this is a three part series, I would like to use the first part to properly establish a platform rid of bias, so we can continue smoothly and not be distracted from the point later on.
What is Heaven? Where is Heaven? Does it exist? These are questions that have been on the minds of conscious millennials with no viable answers.
Heaven to me is a metaphysical construct presented in an astral plane earned by believers who have been devoted to the norms of their faith. In the common religious parlance, it is a cosmological, transcendent place where beings such as God, angels, saints or venerated ancestors are said to reside, and also seen by most as the final resting place of every believers soul.
Heaven To A Christian.
Heaven to a Christian is the throne of God The Father, The Son, The Holy Spiritand it’s Angels. The final destination for all Christian believers. An early apostle, Father Clement of Rome does not mention entry into heaven after death but instead expresses belief in the resurrection of the dead after a period of slumber at the Second coming. The proof of existence of heaven can be seen in various instances in the Bible ranging from the transfiguration story to the baptism story. The only three people in the Bible who were recorded to have seen Heaven are Enoch, Elijah and Jesus. The apostles creed often used by the Catholics and Anglicans for liturgical and catechetical purposes can also be seen as proof of the existing belief in Heaven. The apostle creed is recited by millions daily for conviction. At death the soul and body separate. King Solomon said, “The dust will return to the ground as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:17).
How does one make heaven as a Christian ?
In the Old Testament. God gave Moses the 10 commandments, these commandments were given because of the high rate of sin in Israel at the time.These commandments were given to guide their daily lives as Christians. The Bible tells us in Exodus 20 that Moses received the ten 10 commandments on Mount Sinai. They are;
- You shall have no other gods before Me.
- You shall not make idols.
- You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
- Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
- Honor your father and your mother.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet.
The aforementioned rules were those guiding the path for them as followers of God back in the Old Testament and a breach of which will disqualify you from heaven.
Another guiding set of principles mentioned for Christians in the New Testament is the beatitude.
“The Beatitude is a possession of all things held to be good, from which nothing is absent that a good desire may want. Perhaps the meaning of beatitude may become clearer to us if it is compared with its opposite. Now the opposite of beatitude is misery. Misery means being afflicted unwillingly with painful sufferings.”
Reading the Text Matthew 5:1–12
Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him,
He began to teach them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
These rules were given to calm the hearts of those who were going through persecution at the time. The Bible makes us believe that persecution is an integral part of Christianity which precedes blessing.
Paradise to Muslims.
Islam is said to have started in the 7th Century and has continued till date, its history is characterized by many significant battles, which brought about Islamization of its conquered regions. After the time of Prophet Muhammadthe founder of Islam, the Umma leaderships came from four caliphs for about thirty years Abu Bakr (632–634), Umar (634–644), Uthman (644–656), Ali (656–661) AD. Ali was the closet blood relative of Muhammad and was externally revered, and his followers were given the name called Shia. Ali was later assassinated by Muawiyah in 661 AD who took over the leadership of the Umma, this event triggered a split in Muslim loyalty.
The Muslims refer to heaven as paradise (Jannah) and God as “Allah”. The Qu’ran describes paradise as “…a beautiful place of final return-a garden of eternity whose doors will always be open to them”-Qu’ran 38:49–50. Paradise is a place of non-suffering. There there is no death, sickness, sorrow, but everlasting joy. And those who feared their Lord will be led to the garden in crowds, until, behold, they arrive there it’s gates will be opened, and its keepers will say “peace be unto you, you have done well, enter here to dwell therein (Assalmualaikum)”- Qu’ran 39–73
The tenets of Islam are the basic guides to how Muslims live their lives. These tenets are: Shahadah, Salat, Zakat, Sawm, Hajj.
(1) Shahdah (Declaration of Faith): The first tenet of faith in Islam is the declaration of faith in Allah as the one true God and Prophet Mohammed as the one true Prophet of Allah in Islam. A Muslim should have full faith on this statement. It is 1st Pillar of Islam.
(2) Salah (Prayer): As a Muslim, one is required to pray five times a day in the early morning, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and evening. Prior to praying, muslims perform a common practice observed before prayer called ablution a symbolic purification by washing the hands and feet after which they pray facing Mecca bowing which represents their submission to Allah.
(3) Zakat (Charity): According to the Islamic faith, everything belongs to God, including wealth. Sadaqah is the giving of alms to the needy. In Islam one must give at least 2.5% of his income annually to the needy. A Muslim who is able to earn enough to satisfy his needs and family needs is only eligibe to give Zakat, one who is not, is not bonded to give rather he could receive Zakat.
(4) Sawm (Fasting): This takes place during the month of Ramadan. Each year during the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims are expected to not participate in eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse. The fasting lasts from sunrise to sunset.
(5) Hajj (Pilgrimage): Hajj is an annual pilgrimage to Mecca, held in last month of Islamic calender ‘Dhu-al-Hijj’. There are certain rituals in Hajj like circumblating Kaaba, stoning devil, etc. A Muslim who has resources and wealth which is enough for his needs is eligible for obligation of Hajj, one who does not is exempted from Hajj. Obligation of Hajj is only once in a life time, you may go as much as you can but it will not be an obligation.
Heaven (Paradise) has eight principal gates that will be entered first by Prophet Mohammad who will usher those who lived in abject poverty and the pious. Each of these eight gates explicitly provides for its prerequisites for entry.
These gates and their criteria for entry are:
(1) BAAB AS-SALAAT: Those who were dedicated and never missed their prayers will be ushered in through this gate.
(2) BAAB AL-JIHAD: Those who died in defense of Islam will be granted entry through this gate.
(3) BAAB AS-SADAQAH: Those who were cheerful givers will go in through this gate.
(4) BAABAR-RAYYAAN: People who observed fasting during Ramadan shall have passage through this gate.
(5) BAAB AL-HAJJ: Those who observe the pilgrimage will be admitted through this gate.
(6)BAAB AL KASZINEN AL GHAIZ WAL AAFINAA ANIN NAS: Those who withhold their anger and forgive others will pass through this gate.
(7) BAAB AL-IMAN: Those who put their faith and trust in Allah and strive to follow his teachings will have passage through this gate.
(8) BAAB AL-DHIKR: Those who constantly remember Allah have a pass through this gate.
Prophet Muhammad stated “To those who reject our signs and treat them with arrogance, no opening will there be if the gates of heaven, nor will they enter the gardens, until the camel can pad through the eyes of the needle such is our reward for those who sin.”
Now that we have a better understanding of the two most practiced religions in Africa we can now discuss how these practices have affected our development and truncated our reasoning as Africans.
What most Africans do not know is when to apply the dictates of religion morality as opposed to reason and most would risk the best of opportunities all because of the consequences of their individually practiced religion. While some say that logic and religion coexist, others will disagree.
It is no hidden fact that religion affects morality at least to a certain extent but this should not affect your reasoning. According to Stephen Gaukroger: “It was generally assumed in the 17th century that religion provided the unique basis for morality, and that without religion, there could be no morality.” An individual should be able to step into a neutral zone and view from both sides of the spectrum with an unbiased mind which is truly right and just.
Why is it so hard to make certain decisions? How much does religion affect decision? Is a decision meant to be something you can make using “common sense?” The truth is the so called “common sense” is not so common amongst individuals as it takes most a while to take a stand and still end up making the poorest of decisions and a select few minimal amount of time to take executive decisions.
In part two, I expand on religion as a major premise for poor decision making in Africa and the effects of such decisions towards the development of our societies.