72 virgins in Paradise?

If you ask a random person what they know about Islam, you will get some random responses. People generally know that Muslims worship Allah, but don’t know much else. Plenty of people will venture incorrect guesses, like ‘Islam is an Arab religion” or “Islam is only about Jihad” along with the mistaken idea that the word means Holy war. One of the more popular ideas that is now spreading is that “Terrorists are promised 72 virgin women when they die.”
The “72 virgins” idea is probably the most overblown idea that people seem to remember about Islam. It’s turning into a real stereotype. Forget the doctrines of monotheism and tolerance, it seems all people want to hear about is the virgins. There’s a lot more to Paradise than just sex and physical pleasure, you know.

Before I go describing them in detail, I want to note that I’m taking the issue and the verses out of context. One really should read the whole Surah (chapter) to get a better understanding of the religious signifigance. Nearly a third of the Qur’an talks about the life after this one, so while there are chapters and chapters to describe the hereafter, I’m just discussing a few verses which talk about the servants; a minor perk in the grand scheme of Paradise. Personally I think the greatest reward is to be in the presence of God Almighty. Plenty of non-Muslims take one of these single verses and generalize that all of heaven is lascivious, but that simply isn’t the case. I’m just focusing on the virgins, since that’s what you came here to read.

To start off, you need to understand what the rewards in Jannah (Paradise) are. The Quran says that those who do get into Paradise will be rewarded with blessings that eclipse anything on earth; unlimited food of your choice, riches, and wishes come true. Things considered sinful on Earth such as wine will be allowed, and people will be able to eat and drink all they want and not get full or hungover or sick. People will be reunited with their friends and relatives, we will all be made young again, and there will be no anger or pain. Everyone will be given palaces to live in, and clothing fit for royalty, with luxurious couches and thrones for everyone. There will be rivers of the purest water, milk, wine, and honey, all of which are better than any you will find on earth. Those who get to the highest part of Paradise, Jannah al-Firdaus, will also be able to see Allah with their own eyes. So, in a sense, Heaven is a paradise filled with pleasures. You need to imagine the context of when this idea of Paradise was revealed to the people; of the extremely stark and difficult life of ancient Bedouin Arabia. Something as simple as the constant flow of water in a stream was considered miraculous, so it would be natural to imagine heaven depicted this way, flowing with streams of water under the shade of huge trees. (Well what did you expect Paradise to be? Clouds, wings, and harps?)

Also, the believers who make it into Paradise, male and female, are promised beautiful companions, known as “Houris” in Arabic. The Quran describes them in some detail as such:

“Serving [the believers] will be immortal youths with jeweled and crystal cups filled with the purest wine which will neither give them headache nor hangover, with fruits and meats of their desire. They will be fair ones with lovely intense eyes like guarded pearls; A reward for the good deeds of their past life.” (56:17-24)
“We have created mates for them and made them virgins, matched in age, for the companions of the right hand.” (56:35-38)

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