Houri

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In Islam, the word Houri (Arabic: حورية,‎ also ḥūr or ḥūrīyah) refers to heavenly angels, splendid beings,[1] or celestial virgins who await the saved in paradise after death; alternatively, the term may designate delicious white raisins found in the Qur'anic account of paradise.[2]

Islam teaches that heavenly delights await believers in paradise.[3] Usually translated as "virgins," the Houri appear frequently in Muslim writings. Their various accounts and descriptions have been the source of much speculation and debate concerning the role of sexual intercourse in heaven.[4] The topic of the Houri raises interesting soteriological issues regarding the nature of the body and flesh in the afterlife, views of gender relationships, and the literal or figurative nature of sexuality in heaven.

Contents

Etymology

In classical Arabic, Hur'in is made of two words Hur and In. The former word literally means "most beautiful eye" irrespective of the person's gender, while the latter word means "companion." Thus, the English rendering of the compound word Hur'In is "Pure companions with most beautiful eyes,"[5] and it is applicable to both male and female.[6] Often, this description has been translated as "dark-eyed virgins" or "wide-eyed virgins." The emphasis on eyes is explained by the Quranic statement that a person’s eye reflects the soul more clearly than any other part of the human body (Qur'an 52: 20).[7]

The modern philologist Christoph Luxenberg, however, argues that the word 'houri' does not mean wide-eyed virgin but actually translates as white grapes.[8] He suggests that the word comes from early Christian descriptions of Paradise as abounding in pure white grapes.

Nevertheless, the word "houri" has entered into several European languages with a meaning of a "voluptuous, beautiful, alluring woman"[9][10]

Description

The houri are frequently mentioned in Muslim scriptures and commentaries as the source of much speculation and intrigue. They are variously described as "chaste females",[11] "restraining their glances",[12][13] having "modest gaze",[14] "wide and beautiful/lovely eyes",[15][16][17][18][19] "untouched / with hymen unbroken by sexual intercourse",[20][21] "like pearls",[22] "virgins",[23] "voluptuous/full-breasted",[24][25] "with large, round breasts which are not inclined to hang"[26] "companions of equal age"[27][28], "non-menstruating/urinating/defecating and childfree"[29][30], "60 cubits [27.5 meters] tall"[31][32][30], "7 cubits [3.2 meters] in width"[30], "transparent to the marrow of their bones",[33][34] "eternally young," [35] "hairless",[36] "pure",[37] "beautiful",[38] "white"[39], "revirginating",[40] and "splendid",[41] among other descriptions.

In Muslim Writings

The Holy Qur'an

The Holy Qur’an contains several references to the Houri including the following descriptions:

  • "And Hur (fair females) with wide lovely eyes. Like preserved pearls."(Qur'an, Surah Al-Waqia (56):22)
  • "We have created [their Companions] of special creation, and made them virgin-pure [and undefiled after their old age in this life] (Qur’an, Surah Al-Waqia (56):35-36)
  • "In these [gardens] will be mates of modest gaze whom neither man nor invisible being will have touched ere then." [Chapter (Surah) Ar-Rahman (The Most Beneficent(55):56][42]
  • "[There the blest will live with their] companions pure and modest, in pavilions [splendid] [Chapter (Surah) Ar-Rahman (The Most Beneficent)(55):72][43]
  • "reclining on couches ranged in rows!” And We shall mate them with companions pure, most beautiful of eye [Chapter (Surah) At-Tur (The Mount)(52):20][44]
  • "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 [Chapter (Surah) Al-Waqi'a (The Event)(56):34-36][45]

Hadiths

The Islamic Hadith (traditions of the Prophet) also describe the houri although not all hadiths are equally trustworthy. The most authentic hadith collection named Sahih Bukhari, authored by the Sunni Islamic scholar, Muhammad al-Bukhari (810 - 870 C.E.), gives the following traditions:

  • "… the houris, (who will be so beautiful, pure and transparent that) the marrow of the bones of their legs will be seen through the bones and the flesh." (Sahih Bukhari, Book 54 "The Beginning of Creation," Hadith 476)

According to Ibn Kathir, Muhammed said that men in heaven would have sex with one hundred virgins in one day.[46] Some companions of Muhammad are reported to have said that men in heaven will be "busy in deflowering virgins."[47] Ibn Kathir says that the houri "are delightful virgins of comparable age who never had sexual intercourse with anyone, whether from mankind or Jinns, before their husbands."[48] Others such as Al-Hasan Al-Basri and Isma`il bin Abi Khalid have said, "they will be too busy to think about the torment which the people of Hell are suffering." Qatadah implied "with the delights which they are enjoying." Ibn Abas said, "this means that they will be rejoicing." While Mujahid said, "Their spouses,(will be in pleasant shade) means, in the shade of trees."Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, `Ikrimah, Muhammad bin Ka`b, Al-Hasan, Qatadah, As-Suddi and Khusayf said, "beds beneath canopies."[49]

Al-Tirmidhi (824 - 892 C.E.) was a medieval collector of hadiths, some deemed controversial and unreliable.[50] In a collection by Imam at-Tirmidhi in his "Sunan" (Volume IV, Chapters on "The Features of Heaven as described by the Messenger of Allah," chapter 21: "About the Smallest Reward for the People of Heaven," hadith 2687) and also quoted by Ibn Kathir in his Tafsir (Qur'anic Commentary) of Surah Qur'an  55:72, it is stated that:

"It was mentioned by Daraj Ibn Abi Hatim, that Abu al-Haytham 'Adullah Ibn Wahb narrated from Abu Sa'id al-Khudhri, who heard the Prophet Muhammad saying, 'The smallest reward for the people of Heaven is an abode where there are eighty thousand servants and seventy two houri, over which stands a dome decorated with pearls, aquamarine and ruby, as wide as the distance from al-Jabiyyah to San'a.[51]

Muslim commentarors have written that "all righteous women, however old and decayed they may have been on earth, will be resurrected as virginal maidens and will, like their male counterparts, remain eternally young in paradise."[7]

Ibn Kathir says that the houri "are delightful virgins of comparable age who never had sexual intercourse with anyone, whether from mankind or Jinns, before their husbands." [48] by commenting,"in the other life, after they became old in this life, they were brought back while virgin, youthful, being delightfully passionate with their husbands, beautiful, kind and cheerful." [52]

  • Al-Hasan Al-Basri says that an old woman came to the messenger of Allah and made a request, O’ Messenger of Allah make Dua that Allah grants me entrance into Jannah. The messenger of Allah replied, O’ Mother, an old woman cannot enter Jannah. That woman started crying and began to leave. The messenger of Allah said, Say to the woman that one will not enter in a state of old age, but Allah will make all the women of Jannah young virgins. Allah Ta’aala says, Lo! We have created them a (new) creation and made them virgins, lovers, equal in age. (Surah Waaqi’ah, 35-37).[53]
  • "[Muhammad] was heard say: "The smallest reward for the people of Heaven is an abode where there are eighty thousand servants and seventy two wives, over which stands a dome decorated with pearls, aquamarine and ruby, as wide as the distance from [Damascus] to San'a"[54].(This hadith has a weak chain of narrators)[50]
  • "A houri is a most beautiful young woman with a transparent body. The marrow of her bones is visible like the interior lines of pearls and rubies. She looks like red wine in a white glass. She is of white color, and free from the routine physical disabilities of an ordinary woman such as menstruation, menopause, urinal and offal discharge, child bearing and the related pollution. A houri is a girl of tender age, having large breasts which are round (pointed), and not inclined to dangle. Houris dwell in palaces of splendid surroundings."[55]

Ibn Maja (824 - 887 C.E.) was a medieval hadith collector, not all of which were authentic. His collection is named the Sunan Ibn Maja:

  • "Houris do not want wives to annoy their husbands, since the houris will also be the wives of the husbands in the afterlife. "Mu’adh bin Jobal (Allah be pleased with him) reported that Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, ‘A woman does not annoy her husband but his spouse from amongst the maidens with wide eyes intensely white and deeply black will say: Do not annoy him, may Allah ruin you.” He is with you as a passing guest. Very soon, he will part with you and come to us."[56]

Ibn Kathir's Tafsir (Qur'anic Commentary) of Surah Rahman (55), ayah (verse) 56:

"In these [gardens - paradise] will be mates of modest gaze, whom neither man nor invisible being [Jinn] will have touched them then [after they have been created again]."[57]

Interpretations

The concept of 72 virgins in Islam refers to a controversial aspect of Islam in modern times. While being disarmed by the Israeli troops in 2004, 14-year-old would-be suicide bomber Hussam Abdo, said:

"Blowing myself up is the only chance I've got to have sex with 72 virgins in the Garden of Eden."[58]

However, Margaret Nydell states that mainstream Muslims regard this belief about 72 virgins in the same way that mainstream Christians regard the belief that after death they will be issued with wings and a harp, and walk on clouds.[59]

Christoph Luxenberg argues that the Houri actually translates to a portrayal of paradise as a lush garden with pooling water and trees with rare fruit, including white raisins (considered to be delicacies at the time that the Qur'an was written), not virgin maidens.[60][61]

Misconceptions

In the history of Muslim-Christian relations, the concept of "houri" has been used as a polemical tool in both the vilification of Muslims by Christians, and in Muslim rhetoric describing heavenly rewards for martyrs in their struggles against alleged infidels. In the first instance, the term has been used in the western world by critics of Islam, and has even been offensively equated with the word "whore." However, it wrong to etymologically connect "Houri" with the English word "whore." The latter term come from the Danish hore (Swedish: hora, Dutch: hoer, German: hure, Gothic: hors, Proto-Germanic: khoron, Indo-European: *gar), which has an original meaning of "lover" and is not etymologically related to the Arab non-Indo-European word "houri."[62][63]

In the second instance, various Islamisist organizations have used the Qur'anic visions of the Houri as a heavenly reward or incentive to encourage martyrdom operations (e.g. suicide bombings). It is misleading, however, to depict Houri in this way because they are said to be available to all in paradise, not just martyrs.

Notes

  1. Surah Al-Waqiah (56): 38, note 15. in Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qur'an. (The Book Foundation; Bilingual edition, 2003.)
  2. 2002-01-12, Virgins? What virgins?The Guardian (UK), Retrieved November 19, 2008.
  3. "Heaven," The Columbia Encyclopedia (2000)
  4. Ibn Kathir emphasises the literal nature of sexual intercourse in Paradise by the following Hadith:

    "The Prophet was asked: 'Do we have sex in Paradise?' He answered: 'Yes, by him who holds my soul in his hand, and it will be done dahman, dahman (that is intercourse done with such shove and disturbance." (Ibn-Kathir, vol. 8, 11, commentary on Q. 56:35-37, (Dar Ash-sha'b.)

  5. Asad, "Message of the Quran in 56:22," [1]. awaj.com. Retrieved November 19, 2008.
  6. Dr. Israr Ahmad Khan, Department of Quran & Sunnah Studies. Quranic Description of The Paradise. (IRKHS, International Islamic University of Malaysia) [2] Retrieved November 19, 2008.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Asad, 2003, Surah Al-Waqia (56):22
  8. Christoph Luxenberg. Die syro-aramaeische Lesart des Koran; Ein Beitrag zur Entschlüsselung der Qur’ānsprache. (Berlin, Germany: Das Arabische Buch, First Edition, 2000.)
  9. Online Etymology Dictionary: Houri
  10. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000. Retrieved November 19, 2008.
  11. Sura: 37:48
  12. Sura: 37:48
  13. Sura: 55:56
  14. Asad, 2003, Surah Sad (38):52
  15. Sura: 37:48
  16. Sura: 40:54
  17. Sura: 52:20
  18. Sura: 56:22
  19. Qur'an  56:22-23
  20. Sura: 55:56
  21. Sura: 55:72-74
  22. Sura: 56:23
  23. Sura: 56:36
  24. Sura: 78:33
  25. Qur'an  78:33
  26. Al-Tirmidhi. Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Vol. 2.
  27. Sura: 78:33
  28. Asad, 2003, Surah Al-Waqiah (56):38, note 15
  29. Al-Tirmidhi. Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Vol. 2.
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 Al Ghazzali, Ihya Uloom Ed-Din. The Revival of the Religious Sciences. Vol. 4
  31. Sahih Bukhari, vol.4, book 55, number 544
  32. Ibn Kathir: The Reward of Those on the Right After
  33. Al-Tirmidhi. Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Vol. 2.
  34. Sahih Bukhari: Vol:4 Book :54, Number: 476
  35. Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan al-Tirmidhi, hadith: 5638
  36. Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan al-Tirmidhi, hadith: 5638
  37. Sahih Bukhari: Vol:4 Book :54, Number: 476
  38. Sahih Bukhari: Vol:4 Book :54, Number: 476
  39. Al Ghazzali, Ihya Uloom Ed-Din (The Revival of the Religious Sciences) Vol. 4
  40. Al-Suyuti
  41. Asad, 2003, (Surah) An-Naba (The Tiding) (78):33, note 16
  42. Asad, 2003, Surah Ar-Rahman (The Most Beneficent (55):56
  43. Asad, 2003, Surah Ar-Rahman (The Most Beneficent(55):72
  44. Asad, 2003, Surah At-Tur (The Mount)(52):20
  45. Asad, 2003, Surah Al-Waqi'a (The Event)(56):34-36
  46. The Reward of Those on the Right After - Ibn Kathir's commentary on Quranic surah 55, Al-Waqia
  47. Will men in Paradise have intercourse with al-hoor aliyn?[3] Fatwa 10053. islam Q & A. Retrieved November 19, 2008.
  48. 48.0 48.1 The Delight of Those Who have Taqwa in Paradise - Q Tafsir on Quran 55:56
  49. Ibn Kathir. Tafsir ibn Kathir (Qur'anic Commentary). "The Life of the People of Paradise," [Chapter (Surah) Ya Seen (O Thou Human Being)(36):55-57], (Dar-us-Salam Publications, 2000, ISBN 1591440203)
  50. 50.0 50.1 Salahuddin Yusuf. Riyadhus Salihin. commentary on Nawawi, Chapter 372, (Dar-us-Salam Publications, 1999).
  51. Questions answered by Islamic scholar Gibril Haddad How Many Wives Will The Believers Have In Paradise?livingislam.org.
  52. Ibn Kathir, (Surah) Al-Waqiah (That Which Must Come To Pass)(56):35-36],
  53. Shamaa-il Tirmidhi, Chapter 035, Hadith Number 006 (230)
  54. Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan. Vol. IV: "The Features of Heaven as described by the Messenger of Allah." Chap. 21. Hadith: 2687, and also quoted by Ibn Kathir in his Tafsir (Qur'anic Commentary) of Surah Rahman (55), ayah (verse) 72.
  55. Al-Tirmidhi. Sunan. Vol. II
  56. Abu Hamid AL-Ghazali, Book on the Etiquette of Marriage; Etiquette for the women Translated by Madelain Farah, ghazali.org. Retrieved November 19, 2008.
  57. Ibn Kathir, Tafsir ibn Kathir (Qur'anic Commentary), "The Delight of Those Who have Taqwa (God-Consciousness) in Paradise," Surah Ar-Rahman (The Most Gracious)(55):56 (Dar-us-Salam Publications, 2000, ISBN 1591440203).
  58. 'Little bomber' fascinates Israeli media BBC News. Retrieved November 19, 2008.
  59. Margaret Kleffner Nydell, Understanding Arabs: A Guide for Modern Times (Intercultural Press, 2006, ISBN 1931930252), 109.
  60. Vartan Gregorian, Islam: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith (Brookings Institution Press, 2003, ISBN 081573283X), 19.
  61. Alexander Stille, Scholars Are Quietly Offering New Theories of the Koran New York Times 2002-03-02, A1. Retrieved November 19, 2008.
  62. Oxford University Press Blog, Monthly Gleanings: April 2007 Retrieved October 22, 2014.
  63. Online Etymology Dictionary: Whore Retrieved October 22, 2014.

References

  • Asad, Muhammad. The Message of the Qur'an. The Book Foundation; Bilingual ed. 2003, Language: English, ISBN 1904510000
  • Fischer, Wolfdietrich. A Grammar of Classical Arabic, Third Revised Ed., Translated from German by Jonathan Rodgers, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2002.
  • Gregorian, Vartan. Islam: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith. Brookings Institution Press, 2003. ISBN 081573283X
  • Kathir, Ibn. Tafsir ibn Kathir (Qur'anic Commentary), "The Delight of Those Who have Taqwa (God-Consciousness) in Paradise," [Chapter (Surah) Ar-Rahman (The Most Gracious)(55):56], Dar-us-Salam Publications,2000, ISBN 1591440203,
  • Luxenberg, Christoph. Die syro-aramaeische Lesart des Koran; Ein Beitrag zur Entschlüsselung der Qur’ānsprache. Berlin, Germany: Das Arabische Buch, First Edition, 2000. ISBN 3860932748.
  • Nydell, Margaret Kleffner. Understanding Arabs: A Guide for Modern Times. Intercultural Press, 2006.. ISBN 1931930252
  • Stille, Alexander. "Scholars Are Quietly Offering New Theories of the Koran," New York Times, 2002-03-02, A1.
  • Warraq, Ibn. “Virgins? What Virgins?” The Guardian (UK), January 12, 2002
  • Yusuf, Salahuddin. Riyadhus Salihin, Commentary on Nawawi, Chapter 372, Dar-us-Salam Publications, 1999. ISBN 159144053X

External links

All links retrieved March 22, 2014.

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