Ismaili Special Collections Unit

The chosen titles from ISCU bring to our attention three works that provide both visual and conceptual presentation of Paradise in Muslim Imagination. These works address themes related to the concept of Paradise that may not always seem directly related to the concept, but in the literary tradition of Islamic world in general and Persian literature in particular they are featured in various forms. These themes include spiritual experience of union with the divine which is the mystical interpretation of Paradise in Sufi literature. The “Mi’raj”, Prophet Muhammad’s experience of ascension to Heaven is a theme that has repeatedly inspired literary and intellectual productions among Muslim authors. From a broader religious perspective, certain Islamic rituals such as prayers are designed and performed in the hope that it will lead them to Paradise. In our selection of manuscripts, we have included texts that cover this aspect of Muslim culture as well.

Maʿārij al-nubuwwah fī madārij al-futuwwa

Author: Mawlāna Muʿīn al-Dīn b. Ḥājī Muḥammad Farāḥī (d. 907/1501)
Copyist: Qurbān Khwājah b. Muḥammad Khwājah Bukhārī on 1037/1627 (MS Per 278)

This work contains an extensive introduction, four chapters and an epilogue. According to Farāhī himself, he began a series of fifty lectures on the life and the conduct of the Prophet in the Friday mosque of Herat for the nobles and dignitaries of the city. He was encouraged to arrange and revise his lectures which he compiled in four volumes. He gave the present title to the work because of the detail that he accorded to the Prophet’s miʿrāj (Ascendance to Heaven).

In a passage on the interpretation of the Quranic Verse “And [he] was at a distance of but two bow-lengths or (even) nearer” (53:9), he writes that on the occasion of miʿrāj, “the Prophet became as a mirror in which he could see the eternal beauty of the Divine in that mirror”.

Urdu Commentary on Mathnawī of Rumi MS TEM 2017.1

Undated (early 19th century)
Anon Artist

This manuscript is a Sufi work in Urdu on certain mystical notions in Mathnawī-yi maʿnawī by Rumi. The author of the text is unknown, but it seems that he was a well-versed in Islamic mystical tradition and Persian literature. The text contains numerous quotations from Rumi’s Mathnawī, the Qurʾān and the Ḥadīth. It begins with an interpretation of a story in the fifth chapter of Mathnawī about Prophet Muḥammad. There are ten miniatures in this manuscript in total which belong to the Indian school.

The above miniature depicts a private feast at the presence of a King in nature. The combination of shining colours on a dark base and floral decorations along with the raised glasses of wine resonate descriptions of Paradise in the Qur’an.

Zād al-maʿād (Book of Shi‘i prayers) (MS Per 234)

Author: Muḥammad Bāqir Majlisī (d. 1110/1698)
Copyist: Mukhtār al-Raḍawī
Date: 1255/1839

The prayers and invocations in this text are ascribed to the Prophet and the Shīʿite Imāms. These prayers are intended for the sacred occasions of the year according to the Islamic calendar. Majlisī wrote this book in 1107/1695 in Iṣfahān, during the reign of Sulṭān Ḥusayn Ṣafawī. In one of the prayers, the reward of entering Paradise is described as follows:

“Then God Almighty guides this servant to Paradise, so the angels of God meet him with love and dignity, and they carry him on beams of light and humble horses, and he arrives at a bliss that does not end, and a house that does not disappear, its inhabitants do not have to leave, the youths do not grow old and the children do not turn old, its happiness and feasts do not end, its newness does not perish and its happiness does not turn into sorrow.”