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Narrated 'Abdullah bin Abi Aufa: Allah's Apostle said,"Know that Paradise lies under the shade of swords."
Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 52, Number 73

The expression "Paradise lies under the shade of swords" is found in canonical Islamic texts including the famous collection of Muhammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari. It is often seen quoted by both Islamists and anti-Islamists with approbation or horror respectively.

The phrase is striking both in its vivid, characteristic eloquence and its apparently sinister connotations. It's easy to see in it the image painted by the classical Orientalists of Muhammad with the Koran in one hand and a sword in the other. Or indeed the image of men tying bandannas to their heads and explosives to their chests and standing in front of a video camera.

But is that really what the quotation is saying? It seems to me to carry a meaning similar to the expression "Those who would have peace must be ready for war." Anyone who has had children or known love will know the desire to protect their loved ones and the willingness to defend them.

The expression could be seen as a beautiful one. Ultimately, words are words and their interpretation as benign or malignant as the interpreter. Actions are what must concern us.

As I sit here and write, in comfort and security, I can't help but be grateful that my nation has an Army to protect it, even as I deplore the fact (as I see it) that that army is often sent out unjustly to destroy the peace of others. An ideal world would have no need of armies but this is not that world. I do not believe in a Paradise beyond one we could construct on this Earth, in this Life. As long as human nature is what it is (I'm thinking about Hobbes here) I would agree with Muhammad - that Paradise will lie under the shade of swords.

I believe there is more to clarify this statement, as many people jump to conclusions. Under the Islamic principle of a "just war," (which would be things like liberating the oppressed) those who give their lives while fighting and/or defending are considered martyrs. One who dies the death of a martyr, or shaheed, is promised Paradise, and basically goes straight in to its highest level without the turmoil and waiting of Judgement Day. It's worth pointing out that those who lead unjust wars or are unrighteous aggressors aren't considered for this privilege.

As to the title, it is a line from a generally accepted hadith. When a sahaba asked the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) why those people would skip the hearafter's turmoil, he replied because the testing/tribulation of seeing the flashing of swords over ones head was turmoil enough.

That's not to say that under the shade of swords is the only way into Paradise. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) also is known to have said, “Paradise is at the feet of the mother.”

“Be at your mother’s feet and there is the Paradise.” (Ibn Majah, Sunan, Hadith no. 2771)

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