How Did “Beautiful Virgin Women” in Heaven Become a Defining Characteristic of Islam?

In Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday, “Table 9.2 Examples of supernatural beliefs confined to particular religions contains the following” (I’ve skipped some) (p. 341):

1. There is a monkey god who travels thousands of kilometers at a single somersault. (Hindu)

3. A woman who had not been fertilized by a man became pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy, whose body eventually after his death was carried up to a place called heaven, often represented as being located in the sky. (Catholic)

6. Men who sacrifice their lives in battle for the religion will be carried to a heaven populated by beautiful virgin women. (Islam)

8. On a hilltop near Manchester Village in western New York State on September 21, 1823, the Angel Moroni appeared to a man named Joseph Smith and revealed to him buried golden plates awaiting translation as a lost book of the Bible, the Book of Mormon. (Mormon)

9. A supernatural being gave a chunk of desert in the Middle East to the being’s favorite group of people, as their home forever. (Jewish)

If somebody asked me, what’s a supernatural belief confined to Islam, I might say something like:

  • Muhammad ibn Abdullah ﷺ is God’s last messenger.
  • Pilgrimage to Makka in the southwestern Arabian Peninsula is a meritorious act.
  • Ritual prayer five times daily will absolve your sins.
  • Fasting in the 9th lunar month in the particular prescribed fashion is meritorious.

And there are many other beliefs which I could have mentioned, but I’m not sure if they are confined to Islam.

I’m not saying that Muslims don’t believe that in heaven there are al-huur al-`iin (“beautiful virgin women”, houris, الحور العين), I’m just claiming that it’s almost the last thing I’d think about as a Muslim belief. Also, they are not exclusively for men who die in battle. The texts in the Qur’an mention them as a general feature of heaven.

Looking at the partial list I’ve copied above, here are some comments:

1. I know very little about Hinduism, but I’ve never heard a Hindu talk about this.

3. Most of this is also a Muslim belief. Isn’t all of this Protestant and Orthodox and Coptic as well? More important than that, however, is this belief’s centrality to Christianity.

8. Again, I don’t know much about Moromonism, but if this is an accurate statement about Mormon belief, it at least appears to be related to the central figure, Joseph Smith, and his revelations.

9. I’m not sure how many Jews believe this. It seems provocative, just like the description of Hindus and Muslims. It does seem a lot of Christian Zionists in the USA believe this.

Ayman, aren’t you making a big deal about nothing? Well, if I was a USA white Christian employer interviewing a person whom I thought was a Hindu or a Muslim and I had just read this list, I think I’d gently throw the interview.

Is it so hard to actually represent Islam and Muslims in a way that isn’t a regurgitation of a Fox News pundit’s latest tirade?

Read my positive review of the book.

2 thoughts on “How Did “Beautiful Virgin Women” in Heaven Become a Defining Characteristic of Islam?

  1. Pingback: Abraham, Mesopotamian Patriarch | Aym Playing

  2. The definition of Islam can be varied.

    1) A Quranist for example will differ with you on the number of times the prayer should be offered in a Day. You rely on the Hadiths to support the multiple prayer timings.

    2) An Ahmaddiyya will disagree on the finality of Muhammad as a prophet.

    3) A Shia will differ on the Shahada (itself described as one of the basic features of Islam).

    The presence of Virgins in Heaven is one of the few things that is majorly accepted by all sects of Islam . No sect “Mis”-Reads it as everyone likes Sex. Moreover, Terrorists listing Virgins as one of their ways to enjoy the fruits of their Acts (Acts of Terror) doesn’t help.

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