Figments of Patriarchal Imagination: 72 Virgins

After I had finished laughing at the desperately fabricated concept of the 72 virgins and the bigoted men who illustriously invented the idea for their own sexual satisfactions, there was a feeling of sorrow and heartbreak for such a beautiful thing to be twisted and corrupted and made revoltingly obscene. And there is also rage–as when patriarchy makes its claim it does not only destroy what is beautiful, but it does so by stealing it in an attempt to greedily misuse its power.

Men have no shame.

In Heaven, there are beings. Despite man’s assertions that these beings are “virgins” for him, to be owned by him, to be used by him–imagine that! it’s worse than Voldemort killing innocent, pure unicorns!–the Qur’an uses a different word:

Companions.

In Arabic the word is houri, derived from hur, which means bright-eyed. An adjective, neither male nor female. When the word takes the plural the ending confirms that it is a gender neutral noun–either both masculine or feminine, or neither. And God, over and over, emphasizes that these are the companions of both men and women:

Thus shall it be. And We shall espouse them with companions pure, most beautiful of eye. (Qur’an 44:54)

The verb used to express espouse, or pair or match, has a root subject–referring to one of a pair–of gender neutrality. The one is both masculine and feminine, clearly stating that both men and women who enter Heaven are promised companions–definitely not just men, and not just martyrs.

In these [gardens] will be mates of faithful gaze, whom neither human nor invisible being will have touched ere then. (Qur’an 55:56)

(Again, mates is gender neutral.) The idea of virginity comes from this verse, because apparently no one has touched them… but naturally men have taken this to a whole new level: supposedly if you end up having sex with one, and then return again, you’ll find that she (because she is she to them) is a virgin once more.

This is where I usually say something like reading comprehension/world understanding fail!, but seriously, at this point it’s obviously just someone’s wet dream taken to a “scholarly” level.

Most translators also translate the term faithful gaze as modest gaze, undoubtedly to reinforce the idea of virginity. But it is unsuited in the context. I am translating it as faithful gaze, and I would be as radical as to say that most times, when the Qur’an is translated to say modest, it should really be translated to say faithful. Modest can be as deep as faithful, but thanks to how its been abused the connotation has changed to a drastically shallow existence. Faithfulness is a promise of friendship, a declaration of loyalty, a commitment of trust, a proclamation of love–the love for God, the love for friends, and the love for lovers.

It is boundless depth, and it is most suited for this verse because of the exact words used in Arabic. The Arabic words used here [qasirat at-tarf] refer to not a modest gaze but a restrained one–i.e. I only have eyes for you. The word faithful is more suitable a translation than modest. So if it fits so perfectly, why isn’t it used? Because men.

I’m using it. It’s correct, and modest is wrong.

And this may be extended to other verses. I only have eyes for God–no doubt men will find a way to corrupt it eventually and replace God with themselves. Until then. We will always have the original.

So that’s where they derived the idea that these beings are virgins. Because analysis and translations have been so shallow, when men think of virginity they think of sex–even though the Qur’an emphasizes a purity of heart.

And [in that paradise] We shall mate them with companions pure, most beautiful of eye (Qur’an 52:20)

Not pure as in virgins, pure as in pure!

The word for virgin is rooted in the same word for pure–but we don’t have a noun form of it in English, or if we did–if you consider virgin the noun form–it’s usually used with a much shallower connotation.

The shallow way this verse is interpreted isn’t entirely shallow; men have interpreted that other ways these beings are pure is that they don’t urinate or menstruate or give birth or sweat or do other things us disgusting earthly women do. Yup. That’s about as deep as it gets. (These assumptions are all baseless, if you didn’t guess already.)

So what are they, the hour’in? From these verses, they don’t seem human. And many conclude that they aren’t quite human. After all, if they were, they would be here on Earth with us. (Could there be reasons certain humans are excused of living this life first?) However, there is also a suggestion that they are us: the companions are what we will be to each other once we’ve died.

And with them will be their spouses, raised high: for, behold, We shall have brought them into being in a life renewed, having resurrected them as virgins.(Qur’an 56:34-36)

Resurrected in Heaven. Through this interpretation the beauty described in text is the accumulation of good deeds taking an outside, visible form of beauty in correct portions that ideally express the pure heart within.

And what could be more Heavenly than friendship? It’s one thing to promise, you’ll have everything of that you ask! and another to say there will be pure, unconditional love. Love in its truest form, unrestrained and uncontrolled and limitless. There will be friends who understand you, who are loyal to you in the highest degree of nobility, with whom you may laugh and with whom you may love and with whom you may express and enjoy pristine happiness.

Science has defined life for us with a list of conditions, including to change and to adapt and the ability to die. But there is also another.

To want.

And it is wanting and pursuing that drives us to live. And when we have all we want, perhaps we’ve then died. And what does any of us want, really, other than love? We purchase things like large houses and fancy cars because we think I’ll impress people and they’ll like me. But we don’t always realize this, and instead we think we want the material, and so we charge after it continuously–but really we are seeking that affection.

I don’t think I need to go over what men have turned this into: after trying to change the text so that the hour’in are only female–female beings who don’t urinate or menstruate or sweat and who obey their husbands–for centuries they’ve used the concept as a weapon against their wives and earthly women. They’ve fabricated hadith that say treat your husband right because he’ll have better women after you–God says so. They’ve asserted even more strongly that women are filthy (hour’in don’t menstruate!) and can do no right. Nice try, douchebags. Oh, and 72 is a weird number.

36 thoughts on “Figments of Patriarchal Imagination: 72 Virgins

  1. I don't count any of the ahadith on this subject as valid. I think it's all a collection of men (perhaps some of them noble who didn't realize they would be recorded) using their… imagination.78:33 is, according to the translations of Shakir, Asad, and Yusuf Ali, "companions of equal age, well matched." Some translators use maidens and breasts to signify the age… I guess because they use breasts they feel they have to use maidens, despite the fact that in a literary sense breasts have so much more meaning. It does signify age, and the adjective before it is swelling which can refer to a heart; "bosom friends."

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  2. what is the linguistic root for he term Kawa3ib, do you know?And has it been used in different places in the Quran?The description that comes in the explanation of Ibn Kathir makes it quite hard to say that it is only meant by breasts, because (not only does he specify the gender, but also says that their breasts are rounded and firm and 'not dangling') Can all of this be derived from one word?And, could you put the ahadith anyway?

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  3. The word Kawa'ib is associated with breasts. Check out those ahadith I just foundUmme Salamah R.A narrates that she said to Rasûlullah SAW "O Rasûlullah, are the women of this world superior or the hûrs?" He replied, "The women of this world will have superiority over the hûrs just as the outer lining of a garment has superiority over the inner lining." Umme Salamah R.A then asked, "O Rasûlullah, what is the reason for this?" He answered, "Because they performed salâh, fasted, and worshipped [Allah]. Allah will put light on their faces and silk on their bodies. [The human women] will be fair in complexion and will wear green clothing and yellow jewelry. Their incense-burners will be made of pearls and their combs will be of gold. They will say, 'We are the women who will stay forever and we will never die. We are the women who will always remain in comfort and we will never undergo difficulty. We are the women who will stay and we will never leave. Listen, we are happy women and we will never become sad. Glad tidings to those men for whom we are and who are for us.'" (Tabrânî) Muhammed ibn Ka'b Al-Qurazi t narrates from a person of the Ansâr (people of Madînah) that Rasûlullah SAW said, "I take the oath of that Being who sent me with the truth, you are not more acquainted with your wives and houses than the people of Jannat. A person of Jannat will come to 72 wives which Allah specially created in Jannat (hûrs) and 2 human wives. The human wives will have virtue over the [hûrs] because they worshipped Allah in the world.(Targheeb Vol.4 Pg.534)

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  4. Seriously, he did? He's not supposed to specify the gender it's CLEARLY neutral.And I wouldn't be surprised if they shared a root. Arabic is really, really fluid.And okay, I'll add the hadith there. Just a second.

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  5. Oh you've already got it. xDIt's rooted in breasts but the word itself doesn't mean it. It's much more flexible. And yeah, 72–and every other description–isn't mentioned the Qur'an and no mortal person can know it. It's fabricated.

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  6. All the search engines online return kawa3ib with breasts :/How'd you know that the word means Full grown?Also, are the ahadith Sahih? It makes it MUCHHHHH harder to fabricate sahih hadith (though it definitely doesn't render it impossible)

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  7. @zeina, it's the adjective that comes before it. The translation itself is only going to translate the word, not the context. If we tried to translate an outdated English word for heart (like bosom) we'd end up with the word "breast." It's not untrue, but we know that's not NEARLY the limit.And there's also what KelsShells said. The Prophet happened to be talking to men in that hadith. It doesn't mean that they're all women. And I really think it's fabricated! Fair skin? Green clothing?

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  8. So I just did some quick research on the description of "breasts that don't dangle" it's originally from Ibn Maja… he's not authentic at all, and isn't a sahih hadith. Also, it contradicts the Qur'an, and therefore is invalid.

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  9. LOL! Thanks Debora, for pointing out the obvious and hitting me on the back of the head with a wooden board."Swelling breasts" referring to males, especially when the Qur'an emphasizes gender neutrality through every subject noun, would further confirm that there's more than actual… breasts. Actual female breasts, as we think of them.

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  10. I think this is something that is easy and even appealing to speculate about, and that is why there are so many ahadith.But if the Qur'an itself uses gender neutral words, and swelling can also be translated as full grown, and breasts has multiple meanings like heart, it is really clear.On top of that, the hadith can still be true and not be entirely contradictory. It only mentions the female hur'ayn, so it's left out the males. I think it might be that the Prophet did say something about the males, but scholars chose not to record it.

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    1. melor

      I agree, the Quran itself definitely uses gender neutral words but… there is so much misinterpretation and misconception of the Quranic verses and al Hadith according to their own desire.

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  11. zeina, if you look at the root of the word, it means "base." It's also related to the word "heel" (as in the heels of your foot)–I fully suspect that, as words tend to be closer to their roots in classical Arabic, it didn't even mean breasts yet…

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  12. Why 72? And why not 70? (I like whole numbers). On a more serious note, I find it alarming that people can be influenced by such nonsense to commit heinous acts. I also find it sad that people are so vulnerable that they can be influenced in this way and totally rationalize what they are about to do.In third world countries the average person does not have much. They have poverty, desperation and the joy of being oppressed. What they have that no one can take away is their faith. Hey if it can't be taken away lets manipulate it and influence them and control them with it. It is sickening that Religion is a tool; a means to an end. I never saw Bin Laden nor that random Imam strap a bomb and walk in front to blow himself up. What happened to "lead by example"? Besides what is hard about being a suicide bomber? Press a button and it’s all over. Where is the Jihad? Where is the struggle? If you die in battle then sure you are a martyr but when you strap a bomb and enter a mosque (yes a mosque) and press that button; where is the battle?Being human these days is an enormous feat. Why? Ones humanity should exist by default. Why is that too much to ask?You know if I had my way, there would only be bananas and grapes with seeds in heaven. Now that’s heavenly!

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  13. 70 is only a round number to you because you're using base 10. It's just the product of 7 and 10. 72 is 9 and 8 which is prettier because that's also 3^3 * 2^3.I think the idea of bananas in Heaven is a great idea. Nahida will be corrected so she no longer finds bananas objectionable, as that's clearly a defect from her sinful nature as a human.

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  14. Grapes with seeds; very healthy with an amazingly bitter taste. There is nothing better.Aziza and flint are my heroes. Stay strong !For every banana Nahida eats I will eat a seedless grape. Deal?

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  15. Hello, this is the second blog post of yours i am reading today. I am new in Islam, recently "converted" as people stamp me, but i'm really trying to understand the Quran and practice islam properly – with clear understanding why things should be the way they're writen. It is my first day of fasting and just had my period. I was told i shouldn't pray or fast because.. yeah, the "being dirty" reason.I also was really confused by the lack of equality in the afterlife where women still need to serve men and all the interpretations i heard from muslims.Anyways, I find your thoughts really logical and clear. And I'm glad i finally found something that makes sense :)Thank you, you made me understand and love Islam even more.Ramadan Mubarak!

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  16. Welcome, and thank you! Ramadan Mubarak to you as well, may this month bring you many blessings. And insha'Allah, you will find that understanding will come easy and practice Islam on your own without anyone speaking for you. =)

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  17. Amena

    I have just had the most annoying conversation with an asshat who is so completely secure in his bubble of patriarchal bullcrap that I’m completely bewildered. How can people have such great confidence in something so weak?

    I just don’t know how to make them understand as I’m not a very articulate speaker

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  18. Assalamu aleikum Nahida.

    I’ m currently researching about Islam and I hope I will revert soon in sha Allah. I came across the hur al ayn thing a few years back while researching and I can’ t explain how much it hold me back. The feeling of unfairness and hearing people just say “In heaven you won’ t be jealous because Allah is just and we will be different so think about how to get there first”. How can I think about how to get there if I don’ t like it there? What made me “sure” that the hur al ayn wasn’t a misinterpretation was the fact that even some famous sites I trusted and that I would go to for reference (including some imaams I think) never told me “You will get what you want” but “it will be like this and you will be happy”. I was being forced and I didn’ t like going to heaven. Now I came to doubt these things but I wanted to ask you a few questions. First, what about this one hadith:

    “Sahih Muslim, Book 040, Number 6793:
    Muhammad reported that some (persons) stated with a sense of pride and some discussed whether there would be more men in Paradise or more women. It was upon this that Abu Huraira reported that Abu’l Qasim (the Holy Prophet) (may peace be upon him) said: The (members) of the first group to get into Paradise would have their faces as bright as full moon during the night, and the next to this group would have their faces as bright as the shining stars in the sky, and every person would have two wives and the marrow of their shanks would glimmer beneath the flesh and there would be none without a wife in Paradise.”

    It is from Sahih Muslim so won’ t it be for sure sahih? So every husband MUST have two wives no matter what? Why almost no one (including females) question it? No one says the ahadith are weak honestly… They say they are sahih. That’ s why I’ m having some doubts in what you say. How can almost no one question something you say is weak? Can you please answer this questions? Because I’m really having a hard time because of this. However, of course, I don’ t pretend you solve my problems, I need just an opinion. I get what you wrote about the Qu’ran but I’ m curious about that particular hadith (and there are a lot similar).

    Also do you know of more people who question the concepts of the “72 virgins” and maybe link me their articles or books?

    Thank you very much, I read your articles a lot and I learned a lot alhamdulillah, I hope you have a great day!

    R.

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  19. Discussions of 72 virgins, Nisa 34, and polygamy are really killing my spirit. However I am happy to see another woman thinking and reexamining verses that are clearly interpreted by misogynistic men. Insha’Allah this will become standard and these much needed discussions will have no more need because everyone will know it is the truth. #Equality #Reason

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