Being an ex-Muslim who goes to atheist meet-ups puts me into some very weird situations sometimes. I find myself in one of those in particular far more often than you think.

I have to explain the concept of virgins.

Well, not just any kinds of virgins, but the hour al-ayn, or houris, as the term is sometimes Anglicized. In plainer terms, the houris are the heavenly virgins that Muslim men are supposed to get in Jannah after death.

People seem to think it is incredibly clever to comment on the seventy-two virgins thing to an ex-Muslim. Setting aside the fact that it is just as silly as exclaiming that you like Oprah to anyone who is African-American, most people get it wrong.

Everyone has heard of the infamous “seventy-two virgins” that suicide bombers are promised to get in Jannah by their leaders, but not much more. There are a lot of misconceptions floating around about houris that people use to criticize Islam. There is plenty to criticize about the Islamic heavenly virgins without resorting to cheap shots made in the dark  (in fact, it was the Islamic conception of heaven that made me first doubt my faith).

Misconception #5: They’re actually white raisins, not virgins.

This one is has been widely popularized by the less-harsh critics of Islam, notably Irshad Manji. While I respect the work that she does from the inside (reforming Islam is a tough goal), the scholarship that suggests that “virgins” is a mistranslation of “raisins” is shaky at best. Beyond the well-recognized linguistic issues with the raisins idea, there is plenty in both the Quran and Hadith to point to the reward in heaven being women, not dried fruit.

Misconception #4: Having to teach all of those virgins would be tedious.

The virgins in Jannah are supposed to be everything that men desire. Furthermore, the ancient Arabs’ conception of the highest in sexual pleasure is penile-vaginal intercourse with a woman who has never had sex, so the idea was the utmost in sexual pleasure, not tedium.

Misconception #3: They wouldn’t be virgins for very long.

The houris’ virginity is described as eternally renewable, similar to that of Aphrodite in ancient mythology.

Misconception #2: Seventy-two is an arbitrary number.

Seventy-two, in classical Arabic, is a number used for exaggeration. It is similar to saying “If I told you once, I told you a thousand times” in English. No one literally means a thousand times; what is intended is countless times. Taking into account the Arab conception of virgins, seventy-two virgins, then, means more sexual pleasure than could be imagined.

Misconception #1: The virgins are from Earth.

Image courtesy of boris.rasin via Flickr

This is, by and large, the most common misconception. Random people on the Internet did it. Family Guy did it. Even The New Yorker did it.

The joke is, of course, that the “virgins” are not nubile women, but the types of people on Earth who tend to, at least stereotypically, stay virgins their whole lives, such as World of Warcraft players (that assumption is a fallacy itself, of course). Where the joke falls flat for those in the know, like me (and, soon, you), is that the houris are not human beings from Earth who died without having had sex, but are supposed to be heavenly maidens especially created to sate the lusts of men as understood by Muhammad.

What the Houris Actually Are in Islam

Sexbot courtesy of Ken Green (moleratsgotnofur on Flickr)

I once called houris “Allah-created sex-bots” and a friend of mine thought I was exaggerating. I wasn’t. “Booty call robot girls” works, too.

They are, basically, creatures designed for nothing but physical sex appeal: beautiful and lacking in reproductive or digestive systems. Additionally, much of Muhammad’s descriptions of them are incredibly woman-hating, describing a houri as superior to a human woman because the houri does not even have the slightest acquaintance with men other than her husband, does not voice her own opinions, and does nothing but remain sexually available to her husband.

Of course, though some atheists seem to enjoy the idea of a woman who does nothing but cater to sexual needs, the rest of us find the concept, well, rather icky.

Oh, and why did the concept of houris make me doubt my faith? Not only did the idea of heavenly sex-bots awaiting my future Muslim husband trigger my insecurities, I was pissed off that I, as a woman, would not get my own sex-bots.

Have a question about Islam that you would like me to answer? Feel free to drop me a line at [email protected]

Heina Dadabhoy

Heina Dadabhoy

Heina Dadabhoy [hee-na dad-uh-boy] spent her childhood as a practicing Muslim who never in her right mind would have believed that she would grow up to be an atheist feminist secular humanist, or, in other words, a Skepchick. She has been an active participant in atheist organizations and events in and around Orange County, CA since 2007. She is currently writing A Skeptic's Guide to Islam. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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103 Comments

  1. Profile photo of scribe999
    January 5, 2012 at 11:14 am —

    Nothing appealing about voiceless, opinionless hordes of women … regardless of phyiscal looks, it just conjures up this image:

    http://static.flickr.com/63/183350730_dea561ec3c.jpg?v=0

    brrrrr

  2. Profile photo of Eternally Learning
    January 5, 2012 at 11:20 am —

    I literally did a spit take at the sex-bot picture! Well done! My personal favorite joke about the 72 virgins is the Muslim man greeted by 72 gay men saying, “no one ever said we’d be female virgins.” Never knew the 72 wasn’t literal though. Thanks for a fun article!

    -EL

    • Profile photo of Heina Dadabhoy
      January 5, 2012 at 11:35 am —

      Oh, they’re conjugated as female in the Arabic, so no confusion, there.

      There are, however, mentions of bright-eyed servant boys in Jannah as well, and some of the randier/cooler Muslim women I know joke that they’re the equivalent of houris. There’s no textual evidence for that, but a girl can dream, right?

      • Profile photo of Eternally Learning
        January 5, 2012 at 11:46 am —

        I figured there was something backing up the female part, still makes me laugh to think about though :). Out of curiosity; where do earthly women fit into in Jannah?

        • Profile photo of Heina Dadabhoy
          January 5, 2012 at 11:58 am —

          Earthly women die and are judged for their deeds just as men are, then are placed into paradise where they get to recline on couches and be waited upon by the aforementioned servant boys for all eternity.

          • Profile photo of Eternally Learning
            January 5, 2012 at 12:39 pm

            Wait… I just thought this through a bit. So the implication is that men inherently just want to bone, and women inherently just want to be lazy? Well, that’s nice…

  3. Profile photo of Praedico
    January 5, 2012 at 11:23 am —

    “The houris’ virginity is described as eternally renewable…” This is something I’ve seen Catholics say about Mary’s virginity too, and I have to ask: what the hell does that even mean?

    I can’t figure out what ‘virgin’ must mean to these people.

    Or maybe I’m taking it too literally and what they really mean is that they can make it feel like they’re virgins, because every second you’re not actually having sex with them, they’re doing kegels.

    • Profile photo of Eternally Learning
      January 5, 2012 at 11:29 am —

      I assume for the houris, it means a physical regeneration of the hymen. Not sure I’ve ever heard Mary’s virginity described as “renewable,” just eternal; as in “she never lowered herself to that disgusting act of sex.” I’ve heard Christians talk about renewable virginity before though, and while sometimes they mention an actual physical regeneration of the hymen as a miracle, I think it’s intended to be a form of repentance and forgiveness for previous sexual “misdeeds,” in which God makes you “spiritually pure” again if not physically.

      • Profile photo of TheNerd
        January 5, 2012 at 11:35 am —

        I am wondering that too. Is it really a hymen fetish? I suppose that would make more sense than a spiritual state, since I’ve never figured out how to have sex with an idea.

        • Profile photo of Eternally Learning
          January 5, 2012 at 11:50 am —

          My take is that it’s probably at least a simple correlation between intact hymen and tightness, i.e. no hymen means no previous sex and no previous sex means tighter. The two just probably became equated I’d imagine. Also, it seems like breaking the hymen indicates a sense of ownership over the woman; perhaps the allure is that of constantly asserting ultimate sexual ownership of the houris?

          • Profile photo of BeccaTheCyborg
            January 5, 2012 at 1:36 pm

            Even though that correlation isn’t actually much of a real thing, it certainly is one in the popular imagination.

      • Profile photo of emmastaf
        January 5, 2012 at 3:46 pm —

        I thought that Mary and Joseph had children after Jesus was born (that he had half-brothers). I figured that Mary was eternally a virgin in the sense that she forever remained in the pure state that normally only accompanies virginity, even after she was no longer technically a virgin.
        It’s interesting to me that Islam was/is so focused on explicitly sexual pleasure, while Christianity seems to deem sexual pleasure as base (and heavenly pleasure is not the same kind of pleasure). But this is just my impression. I wonder how Judaism historically viewed sexual pleasure.

        • Profile photo of Eternally Learning
          January 5, 2012 at 4:38 pm —

          There’s a verse in the Bible which references Mary coming to visit Jesus with his brothers. Jesus says something pithy about everyone being his brother and sister as a lesson of some sort. I was never Catholic, but it was my understanding that they fight the literal interpretation of this verse and maintain that Mary never had sex ever. I don’t think many Protestants share that view.

          • Profile photo of Noadi
            January 8, 2012 at 8:38 pm

            One of the Catholic interpretations of that verse is that his siblings were Joseph’s children from a prior marriage. This is also part of the portrayal of Joseph as much older than Mary in art.

            Certainly weak but at least makes slightly more sense than the reading of it being entirely metaphorical.

        • Profile photo of Luarien
          January 6, 2012 at 6:37 pm —

          Jesus’ siblings are part of the Apocrypha, or writings considered outside of the Holy Scripture but not Heretical, or counter to the Church.

          What records we have of the early Councils of Nicaea point to the possibility of dozens of gospels which may have included references to other children by Mary and Joseph.

          The current ‘party line’ is that Mary was always a virgin, though.

    • Profile photo of Heina Dadabhoy
      January 5, 2012 at 11:59 am —

      It probably does mean something along the lines of hymen/tightness, but the meaning is never elaborated upon in quite so much detail.

      • Profile photo of almulhida
        January 5, 2012 at 6:36 pm —

        I think they didn’t go into detail because the concept is too fuzzy to withstand any clarification. Intuitions over disgust/purity aren’t exactly rational; it can probably best be understood as a magical restoration of purity.

    • Profile photo of violets
      January 5, 2012 at 4:19 pm —

      Fun fact time! Guinea pigs are “renewable virgins” – whenever they are no longer in estrus, their hymens grow back until the next time. Maybe the houris are some kind of guinea pig hybrid?

      • Profile photo of Heina Dadabhoy
        January 6, 2012 at 4:52 am —

        Oh yeesh… now I have an unholy conglomeration of the California Raisins and guinea pigs and sex-bots in my head.

  4. Profile photo of haleyomar
    January 5, 2012 at 11:28 am —

    hahaha, man, this is great. I wish my husband knew anything about Islam except that it’s “how to be a good person because Mohammad was awesome”.. :| Does every muslim man get these ladies or is it just those who die as martyrs?

    • Profile photo of Heina Dadabhoy
      January 5, 2012 at 11:37 am —

      The number varies depending on how good of a man he was and how he died, but all Muslim men are entitled to them in Jannah, sadly. Some of the most depressing pieces I stumbled across in my research for this piece were written by Muslim women trying to reconcile themselves to being second-best to houris (one example: http://www.teenperspectives.com/hoor-al-ayn-a-personal-view/)

      • Profile photo of Eternally Learning
        January 5, 2012 at 12:11 pm —

        Holy smokes that was depressing…

        This blew my mind:

        What these scholars do not seem to understand is that I cannot pray, I cannot listen to Qur’an, and ultimately, I cannot connect with Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala if I have this topic stuck in my head!! After all, the scholars are men, perhaps of the kind who are looking forward to this reward in Jannah.

        I have come to the conclusion that people should focus on the Qur’an, pray five times a day, give Zakah, fast during the month of Ramadan (and even more if they like), and try to make a pilgrimage to Hajj at least once in their lifetime.

        Is it me or is she basically admitting that she has to force herself not to think about how disgusting the concept is in order to have faith in Allah? Also, if Allah having created you is all the reason you need to believe you will receive equal treatment, is not the fact that he created the houris too and they are treated much, much worse than the men evidence enough that this is a bad position?

        • Profile photo of Heina Dadabhoy
          January 5, 2012 at 12:53 pm —

          I’ve been in her place before. It can take a lot of rationalization to be a believer, especially if that means being an intelligent female Muslim.

          • Profile photo of Eternally Learning
            January 5, 2012 at 1:20 pm

            Makes me think of Michelle Bachmann saying that she was subservient and obedient to her husband in all things cuz you know, the Bible. Odd that someone so subservient would run for the highest office in the nation.

  5. Profile photo of cornelioid
    January 5, 2012 at 11:31 am —

    This was incredibly helpful! Thank you for pointing things out that it doesn’t occur to many of us need pointing out.

    Heaven (for men) sounds essentially like the town of Stepford (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073747/).

    Are there, out of curiosity (and no experience), literalist Muslim sects who champion an exact figure of 72, analogously to literalist Christian sects who take every number in the Bible as exact?

    • Profile photo of Heina Dadabhoy
      January 5, 2012 at 11:39 am —

      Actually, no one champions a literal 72 — at least, no one of which I am aware.

      People who want to be more metaphorical usually champion the notion that 72 virgins = limitless sexual pleasure = the best way Allah had to describe to the people at the time of how much pleasure and joy they would get in Jannah.

      • Profile photo of cornelioid
        January 5, 2012 at 12:08 pm —

        Actually, this discussion prompts another question. Is there any acknowledgement of non-binary people (gender-nonidentified, intersex, . . .) in Islam? In particular, are people with penises equated with men?

        • Profile photo of Heina Dadabhoy
          January 5, 2012 at 12:13 pm —

          I remember some discussion of intersex people where they are considered Allah’s creations and thus worthy of respect, but not much more. In terms of the actual treatment of and attitude towards non-binary people, it varies from Islamic culture to Islamic culture. This inquiry is probably worth its own post.

          • Profile photo of cornelioid
            January 5, 2012 at 12:18 pm

            I would love to read it! Thanks so much for continuing to write.

        • Profile photo of almulhida
          January 5, 2012 at 6:33 pm —

          That’s an area that I’ve been meaning to delve into for some time and haven’t gotten around to doing it yet, but from the top of my head the classical jurists did recognize the existence of intersex people but were generally concerned with categorizing them into one gender or another to preserve the gender binary. How the categorization worked I don’t know.

          As Heina mentioned, how they’ve been treated in practice no doubt differs from place to place, from time to time. There’s 1400 years of Muslim history over a huge geographic area, after all.

  6. Profile photo of arkady
    January 5, 2012 at 11:36 am —

    The sex robot thing makes me wonder if you could accuse the company (companies?) who make(s) Real Dolls of playing Allah.

  7. Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
    January 5, 2012 at 11:38 am —

    Wow, quite a few interesting concepts here.

    – Orgasms in heaven
    – Heavenly Real Dolls
    – Some dude writing down his fantasy and actually having it be believed by billions
    – Americans thinking muslims have NEVER heard the 72 virgins joke
    – Renewable Virginity (This violates the 2nd law)

    And yeah, most religions have never thought to actually appeal to women, they all kinda say “go sit in the corner, do woman things and enjoy it”, that’s a total drag.

    • Profile photo of Heina Dadabhoy
      January 5, 2012 at 11:42 am —

      Muslim heaven for women is getting to recline on couches for all eternity, being waited upon by lovely servant boys. Some Muslim women like to think that the servant boys are male houris.

      I did once ask my mother’s religious teacher if we women would get beautiful spouses in heaven. My teacher’s response was to laugh knowingly and say that by the time I was old and had been married, I would want a break from a husband. I was the only young girl in the class that my mother attended and all the other ladies in it laughed at that, including my mother.

      Now, of course, I feel kind of bad for them. Married life so bad that you’d want to forgo all sexual contact forevermore in the afterlife? Sad.

      • Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
        January 5, 2012 at 11:49 am —

        //Married life so bad that you’d want to forgo all sexual contact forevermore in the afterlife? Sad.//

        Yeahhhhh….. living devoutly is reallllly boring. I don’t know why people imagined creators to be such drags.

        However, it’s no surprise that they all wrote the laws to match their desires for women. Apparently the creator of the infinite universe has a dick.

        • Profile photo of MarianLibrarian
          January 7, 2012 at 9:58 pm —

          “I don’t know why people imagined creators to be such drags.”

          Probably because they lived in a time and culture when their own lives sucked, so they needed a creator and a better afterlife to be able to feel better about it, but they also needed to imagine that god is perfect and make no mistakes, so they had to imagine their own lives were the “right” way to live, because god made it that way, so how could it be wrong? So the afterlife and god end up being not that much better than what they had to begin with.

          If we created a monotheistic, authoritarian religion in modern American culture from scratch right now, I imagine it would probably involve slightly faster iPhones that never dropped calls and slightly larger flat screen TVs than we have right now. Or maybe less annoying 3D. God would be a rich white dude who chose whom to bestow riches upon. And everyone in heaven would be “hot” without having to diet, exercise or get expensive beauty treatments and plastic surgery. In other words, unimaginative and in line with the crap we’re supposed to want in life, but just slightly better and more obviously out of reach. I’m also betting there would be sexbots.

    • Profile photo of Buzz Parsec
      January 6, 2012 at 2:51 am —

      Violates the 2nd Law? “A houri must obey any orders given to her by a human being, except when to do so would violate the 1st Law.” Has any human being ordered all houris not to renew their virginity? I don’t understand.

      • Profile photo of mrmisconception
        January 6, 2012 at 4:21 am —

        Buzz,

        No, no, no; It’s The change of momentum of a houri is proportional to the virginity impressed on the houri, and happens along the straight line on which that virginity is impressed.

        It is violated since, anyone knows, perpetual virginity is not a straight line…

        it is bent.

  8. Profile photo of athorist
    January 5, 2012 at 11:48 am —

    So basically, you wanted your own heaven, with blackjack and sexbots?

  9. Profile photo of BeardofPants
    January 5, 2012 at 12:03 pm —

    I don’t even know what to say to this. The muslim male idea of heaven is a bunch of holes to stick their peeners in? I mean, I’d heard of all the tropes before, but this… this is actually WORSE than my imagination had ventured to. It reminds me of the Buffy bot from BTVS.

  10. Profile photo of Tristan Salazar
    January 5, 2012 at 12:12 pm —

    That’s really interesting about the number 72. I had always assumed it had numerological significance, like the ages of Adam or Methuselah; it’s neat to learn that it’s equivalent to “hrair” in Watership Down (rabbits in that novel can count to three, and four or more is “too numerous to count” or “a thousand”).

  11. Profile photo of Eternally Learning
    January 5, 2012 at 12:14 pm —

    Side-note BTW; any relationship between the words “hour al-ayn/or houris” and “whore?” The correlation in sound and meaning (though not in connotation of that meaning) make me wonder. Can’t seem to find anything referencing one though.

    • Profile photo of Heina Dadabhoy
      January 5, 2012 at 12:17 pm —

      I wondered that as a teenager, myself. It’s nice to know I’m not alone. Etymologically speaking, there is no connection to Arabic from houri to whore (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=whore).

      • Profile photo of Eternally Learning
        January 5, 2012 at 12:26 pm —

        Actually, I found that before posting the question. This line made me still consider it possible:

        “Whore itself is perhaps a Germanic euphemism for a word that has not survived”

        Seems conceivable it was adopted from exposure to Islamic ideas, and since Islam wasn’t exactly popular in that region it makes sense the root-meaning could have been lost. Then again, two correlating points is hardly statistically improbable to have happened by chance.

        • Profile photo of gworroll
          January 5, 2012 at 2:19 pm —

          They could derive from a common source in a prior Indo European language. Irish and English have a few words like that, which appear to date to when the Celtic and Germanic languages were still one language, or at least closer dialects.

          Of course, that’s somewhat speculative, given the lack of a written form of these ancient languages, and no surviving speakers.

          • Profile photo of MarianLibrarian
            January 7, 2012 at 10:05 pm

            Just an aside, Celtic languages are much more closely related to Latin than Germanic languages, so any words that descended from a common “ancestor” language would have to date all the way back to an ancient Indo-European tongue and be common throughout Europe and parts of Asia. If there are words that Celtic and Germanic languages had in common before English was heavily infused with Latin-descended French vocabulary that they didn’t share with other languages, it’s more likely they would have borrowed them from one another due to close geographic proximity.

        • Profile photo of jesse
          January 5, 2012 at 11:03 pm —

          @Eternally Laarning– It would be exceedingly unlikely that “whore” and “houri” they have a common root or are in any way related. Just because they sound alike doesn’t mean much and the chain of events in your hypothesis doesn’t match up — the word “whore” would date from early Germanic and at that time very few German speakers ever met a Muslim of any kind. (You have to remember that most people never went more than 10 miles from home — that was a day’s travel ca. 900 AD).

          Further, the etymological chain of events you posit seems a bit unlikely. There are many words in English/ Germanic languages that came from Arabic. Algebra is one. Azimuth is another. Qanat, wadi and camel. Alcohol, alchemy, syrup, sugar, tamarind, and a load of others I can’t think of right now. But note that most of them are all the kinds of things that people trading and doing ordinary things would use or run into. Some (admiral) are related to military use. But the kind of chain of events you are talking about — a word that has bad connotations in English (Germanic) being used because it referred to what amounts to a mythical female spirit in paradise, because the borrowers were looking for a bad word — man, that seems pretty Rube-Goldberg-like.

          (English has a lot of loanwords, but that’s because the places where English speakers happened to be were crossroads — London, New York, Cape Town, for instance — and a big seafaring tradition, to say nothing of the British Empire).

          • Profile photo of Luarien
            January 6, 2012 at 5:17 pm

            As was pointed out, though, it could definitely come from a shared word in an Indo-European tongue that hasn’t survived. There are definite linguistic patterns that can be seen in certain structures of Germanic and Arabian tongues. Especially if you look at related patterns from nearby nations (like early Persian, what survives of it).

            But that’s all anthropological speculation.

          • Profile photo of jesse
            January 6, 2012 at 11:11 pm

            @Luarien – You’re still going by what sounds alike tho.

            Is it possible there is a shared root? Maybe. But I am not going to bet on it.

            1. The first letter of “houri” is an “h” sound in English (it would be silent in French) and is a “breathy” h sound in eastern Arabic (I can’t think of a better way to describe it being a non-native with a *very* basic knowledge of actually speaking Levantine-type Arabic). The “wh” conflated sound is quite different. In Germanic languages — specifically Old English — is is from a “hw” sound. The two would sound very different to someone in 1000 AD. If “whore” and “houri” were related one might expect “whore” to be spelled “chor” (German) or “Choer” or something like that, and come to English with a single H.

            2. Arabic and English are genetically speaking really far apart. In fact, AFAIK, Arabic isn’t considered an Indo-European language at all. (This may have changed my info is likely way out of date). Semitic languages bear little resemblance, syntactically, to anything spoken in Europe. (Hebrew and Arabic, and a couple of others in Ethiopia I think are the last examples of widely-spoken Semitic languages). They simple aren’t closely related enough to have the kind of common root you are looking at.

            BTW to give an example of convergent evolution in linguistics. “Teo” in Nahuatl and some Mesoamerican languages is a prefix meaning the divine. (See: Teotihuacan, “place of the gods.”) Now, “Theo” is a Greek prefix meaning the same thing (“Theology”). I don’t think you would posit that Greek and Nahautl are related, right? Or even that they have anything to do with each other.

            Or take the Hungarian word “a” which is “the” and “a” which is an indefinite article in English. The two don’t relate to each other much, if at all. Hungarian has given English words like “coach” (kócs) but the two are related not at all.

            I get on this because folk etymologies really bug me, and real ones are more interesting. Sorry.

          • Profile photo of Buzz Parsec
            January 7, 2012 at 4:10 am

            So the word (in German) goes back to 900 CE which is before the Crusades, so it could not have been brought back by returning soldiers, if I understand you correctly? It would be nice if true. The idea of an invading army completely misunderstanding the concept and slightly mispronouncing the word involving a topic of so much interest to armies everywhere has a certain appeal. :-)

  12. Profile photo of Kaloikagathoi
    January 5, 2012 at 12:51 pm —

    I’d like to know what the Wikipedia article’s source was for Aphrodite having infinitely renewable virginity. I didn’t think the ancient Greeks had an obsession about virginity. “Parthenos” and “kore” are often translated as “virgin”, but as far as I know both words really just meant “young unmarried woman”.
    I had also thought the concept of Mary being a virgin (in our sense of not having had sex ever) was a later tradition, and that originally it referred to her as simply being a young unmarried woman. The Greek word is, again, “parthenos”, but of course the word might have changed its meaning by the time the New Testament was written.
    Is there any chance that the houris were originally also not virgins in the modern sense, but simply young attractive women who weren’t married to another man?

    • Profile photo of Heina Dadabhoy
      January 5, 2012 at 12:56 pm —

      I can’t speak to the Aphrodite thing in Greek mythology nor the virgin thing in the Bible, but Muhammad (and Arab society, as a whole) were pretty obsessed with virgins in the modern sense. In the Quran, “virgin” really does literally mean a virgin. In fact, their definition might even be stricter because the definition that’s often given is “a woman whom no jinn nor man has touched.” Touched might be a euphemism for sex, of course, but isn’t necessarily limited to penile-vaginal contact.

  13. Profile photo of Luarien
    January 5, 2012 at 2:40 pm —

    It’s pretty insulting, to me, that there’s a presumption that all I’d want to do is have sex all the time in heaven. But, then again, Mohammed probably didn’t know the joys of a properly run Mage:The Awakening chronicle.

    Also, I giggled a little bit when I saw BeccaTheCyborg’s username after reading this post. Not gonna lie.

    • Profile photo of Mark Hall
      January 5, 2012 at 3:51 pm —

      “But, then again, Mohammed probably didn’t know the joys of a properly run Mage:The Awakening chronicle.”

      I will say, the idea is attractive, at least for a while. It’s the kind of thing that sounds awesome when you’re single and desperate, and have lots of people around for other purposes of interaction.

    • Profile photo of BeccaTheCyborg
      January 6, 2012 at 3:10 pm —

      Hey now. I’m not that sort of cyborg! I’m mouthy and I giggle at my own farts, for one. :D

      (White Wolf is pretty awesome.)

      • Profile photo of Luarien
        January 6, 2012 at 5:14 pm —

        Doesn’t mean I won’t giggle. Especially now since I’ve got a habit of thinking of mouthy cyborgs as heavenly (…damnit, I forgot I don’t get rimshots in text).

        White Wolf is such an underloved game company in the scene. I get what little respite I can at a forum I help moderate at :P.

  14. Profile photo of KathyO
    January 5, 2012 at 3:05 pm —

    That was fascinating. Thank you so much for posting.

  15. Profile photo of yarro
    January 5, 2012 at 3:23 pm —

    On Earth you have found your soulmate. A woman you have loved and cherised your whole life. Raised children, enjoyed grandchildren. All the up and downs of life shared together. And then in heaven, you find your soulmate has been replaced by Cherry 2000’s.
    That doesn’t sound very appealing to me. There must be more to afterlife than just sexual gratification. Surely?
    What do (intelligent) muslim men think about the whole concept of houris?

    • Profile photo of Luarien
      January 5, 2012 at 3:30 pm —

      Muslim marriage isn’t predicated on love, or soulmates. I don’t remember what the word is (I’m sure Heina’ll mention it), but the word for marriage in Arabic translates pretty much literally to contract.

      The woman gets fed and housed, as well as resources to do so for her children, while the man gets sexual access. It has nothing to do with love; love is for bromances.

      • Profile photo of jesse
        January 5, 2012 at 11:27 pm —

        To be fair, marriage wasn’t for usually love in the US or Europe either until oh, 1920 or so. (The concept of dating starts around then). But read Ibsen or Henry James. And in Japan a “love marriage” is still a bit of a newfangled concept.

      • Profile photo of Heina Dadabhoy
        January 6, 2012 at 4:53 am —

        “Nikah” is the word which you seek, and yes, literally translated, it simply means “contract.”

      • Profile photo of yarro
        January 6, 2012 at 6:26 am —

        That’s interesting. Thanks for enlightening me on Muslim marriages.
        Being a Dutch (tax) lawyer I’ve always considered the act of marriage to be nothing more than a civil law contract. One that as such should be open to same sex partners. For tax purposes same sex couples could register at the Dutch tax authorities as partners and be treated as married couples for decades. So why not extend it to civil/family law? Only seems rational.
        But that’s the bone dry legal part of it. Being the hopelessly romantic that I am, the concept of marriage as a mere contract seems a bit lacking.

    • Profile photo of Heina Dadabhoy
      January 6, 2012 at 4:54 am —

      Men are permitted to ask for their spouses to join them in Jannah, and righteous Muslim women are also made beautiful and young in the afterlife.

      • Profile photo of yarro
        January 6, 2012 at 6:53 am —

        So it’s optional for the man. How convenient.

        But surely, there must be love marriages in the muslim world?

        • Profile photo of Heina Dadabhoy
          January 6, 2012 at 7:09 am —

          There certainly are. I myself am a product of such a marriage.

          • Profile photo of yarro
            January 6, 2012 at 5:15 pm

            Nice to know there’s romance amongst muslims.

            I still have a question.
            In the article about ms. Watson winning an award the name of my compatriot Ayaan Hirsi Ali was mentioned. Her name brought back some memories about her past. She was married against her will to a Canadian cousin. Without her consent and without her even being there. Is that according to islamic law, or it it just a Somali thing?

          • Profile photo of Heina Dadabhoy
            January 6, 2012 at 5:28 pm

            More awesome questions that are hard to answer in a short comment. Keep ‘em coming!

            In Islam, a woman is suppose to consent to being married. She doesn’t have to be present to give consent; traditionally, she is supposed to give it through 2 male guardians. Muhammad did say that people should not be wed against their will but at the same time said that an unmarried girl’s silence is her consent and that prepubescent girls can be wed without consent (although consummation was suppose to wait until after puberty).

  16. Profile photo of gregladen
    January 5, 2012 at 3:30 pm —

    Well, I’ll be a jelly donut!

    But seriously, thanks for writing this.

    A while back I said on my facebook status “anybody else in the Twin Cities going to the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit at the Science Museum” and well meaning but, well, … well meaning facebook friends who are atheists responded with things like “why would I want to read the scribbling s of innocent bronze age sheep herders.”

    So, the Atheist response to the prospect of seeing, in real life, some of the oldest preserved writing in the world is to say something derogatory about almost all people that existed anywhere for several thousand years. Nice.

    Religion is a big whopping pain in the ass but for much of history it is interference with the rest of culture. And, frankly, the idea of a heaven-built entity of any kind is always fascinating. When looking at African hunter gatherer and pastoral art (overlaps with my area of study) we are always trying to figure out (= guess) what things drawn represent something natural or cultural or otherwise real (is that a snake? is that a honeycomb?) vs. something that exists only in the other world(s) (is that a dream symbol? Is that a shaman’s familiar thingie?)

    Imagine discussing the corpus of early 21st century movies and tv and utterly ignoring, and not even knowing about, the distinction between things that are aliens, things that are dead but still animated (like zombies and vampires) and just regular movies. You would be ignorant and boring.

    It is disturbing but also a little entertaining to see otherwise highly intelligent people become idiots when they discuss certain topics because their beliefs about those topics are pre determined and received. Especially when those beliefs are held by atheists about religion.

    • Profile photo of gregladen
      January 5, 2012 at 3:32 pm —

      “innocent bronze age sheep herders.”” = “Ignorant Bronze Age sheep herders”

      “it is interference” = “it is integrated”

      DAMN YOU AUTOCORRECT DEMONS!!!

    • Profile photo of emmastaf
      January 5, 2012 at 4:01 pm —

      Did your friends think they’d be able to read the scrolls? If they were scholars with that kind of knowledge, maybe they already studied the scrolls and figured going to the exhibit was for plebes.
      Maybe “interference” was a Freudian slip.
      But in seriousness, I also find religion fascinating in that it’s inseparable from the history of humanity. I understand if someone is honestly just not very interested in a topic, but I do hate it when atheists (or anyone else, really) is dismissive of topics, as if their understanding of what’s real and important is so complete that deigning to freakin learn something would be shameful.

      • Profile photo of gregladen
        January 5, 2012 at 5:29 pm —

        Well, as it happens, I went twice and once with a friend who was able to read them!

        I suppose I should plug the post inspired by the event:

        reethoughtblogs.com/xblog/2011/09/17/being-a-voyeur-of-religion-politely/

  17. Profile photo of emmastaf
    January 5, 2012 at 3:53 pm —

    What about sexual pleasure in the earthly realm? I’m guessing men are supposed to get what they want. Is women’s pleasure favored/ discouraged/ ignored?
    Also, I just pictured sex with Robin Williams’ “Genie” from Disney’s Alladin.

    • Profile photo of Heina Dadabhoy
      January 6, 2012 at 4:55 am —

      It’s more ignored than anything. That’s a post waiting to happen, too.

      As for the jinn thing, jinn are considered to be independent moral agents just as people are and thus able to make choices like having sex with a woman. The jinns ability to interact with people thing isn’t necessarily agreed upon by all Muslims, though.

  18. Profile photo of sevendaysofnot
    January 5, 2012 at 4:29 pm —

    So when you dispel the myths that make Islam look ridiculous you get to the true mythology that makes Islam look ridiculous.

  19. Profile photo of utakata
    January 5, 2012 at 5:08 pm —

    “…such as World of Warcraft players (that assumption is a fallacy itself, of course).”

    Yes, that is an assumption. Since many which I know breed like rabbits. (Although those players should know, children interrupt game time.)

    …and incase you’re wondering: No I am not either. Though I am very reclusive for a WoW player…to which many of my colleagues are not. I am surpised they have time to play at all. O.O

  20. Profile photo of momoelektra
    January 5, 2012 at 5:26 pm —

    Thank you. I didn’t know that. Have to check my third-hand-sources more often.

  21. Profile photo of almulhida
    January 5, 2012 at 6:53 pm —

    Yup. I had the same reaction you did when I first learned this stuff. “What do the women get?” It didn’t shake my faith, but I did pretty much ignore this part of what I was taught as “the teacher doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” In retrospect, I did that a lot; doubt the people rather than the religion.

    I don’t know what context you learned this in, but I learned it in fifth grade religion class. It was a Saudi school, so it was gender segregated, of course. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but in retrospect having a school teach 11 year old boys that they’ll get virgins in heaven is incredibly alarming.

    • Profile photo of Heina Dadabhoy
      January 6, 2012 at 4:57 am —

      I mostly came across it in self-study and asked my religious teachers about it later. I think that a lot of my religious teachers (the vast majority of whom were women) themselves didn’t like to think about it, either.

  22. Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
    January 5, 2012 at 6:56 pm —

    So I have a question to you Heina.

    What do you think is the prognosis for Women’s rights in countries where Islam is the dominant religion?

    Also, thanks for clearing up the heavenly virgins thing, I actually thought that this was a myth that people who didn’t like Islam made up. Kinda blows my mind to know that it’s actually real.

    • Profile photo of almulhida
      January 5, 2012 at 7:07 pm —

      If only it was :/

    • Profile photo of Heina Dadabhoy
      January 6, 2012 at 4:58 am —

      That is a good question, if one that I’d be unable to answer too succinctly. As with the gender-binary-breaking people query, it really depends on the Islamic culture in question.

  23. Profile photo of Filias Cupio
    January 5, 2012 at 9:52 pm —

    Bizarrely, I was wondering about your point #1 just this morning.

  24. Profile photo of bernieg1
    January 5, 2012 at 11:47 pm —

    Thanks for linking to my article (some atheists seem to enjoy …), it’s appreciated.

    As for female Muslims when they get to Jannah, their souls become males with permanent erections. Just because you are a female on Earth does not mean you will be so in Paradise. So do not feel short-changed.

    • Profile photo of Heina Dadabhoy
      January 6, 2012 at 5:01 am —

      I’m not sure if that was a joke or not. Just in case all of you readers out in Internet-land are wondering, though, Muslim women get to be beautiful, young women in Jannah.

  25. Profile photo of Jieming
    January 6, 2012 at 3:02 am —

    I’ve been Knoten to make jokes about the 72 virgins-thing myself, since the idea was so ridiculous IMO. So thanks for the clearing up! But holy crap, that idea is depressingly creepy! –.–

    • Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
      January 6, 2012 at 6:16 am —

      Well, it’s one of those things that obviously proves that a large swath of canonical text in major world religions were often just people writing down shit they really wanted and calling it god.

      I mean seriously, spirit-being-virginity-renewing sex slaves? That’s just some guy’s horny daydream.

  26. Profile photo of Lyr
    January 6, 2012 at 6:52 am —

    “Well, it’s one of those things that obviously proves that a large swath of canonical text in major world religions were often just people writing down shit they really wanted and calling it god.”

    You hit the nail on the head.

  27. Profile photo of daedalus2u
    January 7, 2012 at 8:57 pm —

    Actually, I think it is what a guy at the top of a patriarchy with lots of wives would dream up to get young virgin men with no wives or girlfriends to fight to the death or martyr themselves for in the support of the patriarchy that he was the head of.

  28. Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
    January 8, 2012 at 2:14 pm —

    //Actually, I think it is what a guy at the top of a patriarchy with lots of wives would dream up to get young virgin men with no wives or girlfriends to fight to the death or martyr themselves for in the support of the patriarchy that he was the head of.//

    Yeah, bingo.

  29. Profile photo of azforeman
    February 29, 2012 at 1:43 pm —

    This is one of those things that seems highly contextual. I have no doubt that h?r?s are indeed, for many (including many of the authors/transmitters of the relevant hadith) a bunch of transcendental temptresses that instill loyalty in the penis as well as soul- just as many christians (including many of the church fathers) think that heaven is a real physical place and hell really does have flames. Hell, a sizable number of americans even expect to see their pets in heaven.

    But whatever the patriarchal origins of the Houri myth, and whatever be the description of them as literal women in e.g. Al-Bukhari, I don’t think this can be said without mentioning (if only in passing) the fact that many muslims -of today and yesteryear- have concieved of the Houris in other terms. Many, when they hear/see the houris mentioned in e.g. Surat Al-Rahman, do not necessarily imagine an actual heavenly Baywatch cast anymore than Sufi poets are necessarily referring to actual wine and actual hangovers. That doesn’t make it necessarily non-bullshit or non-patriarchal, mind you. But I would argue that, at least in the case of some believers, it’s patriarchal bullshit of a different order.

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