Houri

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Houris in paradise, riding camels. From a 15th-century Persian manuscript.

In Islamic religious belief, houris (Pronounced /ˈhʊəriz/; from Arabic: حُـورِيَّـة ,حُورِيّ, romanizedḥūriyy, ḥūrīya),[Note 1] are women with beautiful eyes described as a reward for the faithful Muslim believers in Paradise.[2] The term is used four times in the Quran,[1] where they are mentioned indirectly several other times, (sometimes as azwāj, lit. companions), and hadith provide a "great deal of later elaboration".[1] They have been said to have "captured the imagination of Muslims and non-Muslims alike".[1] Muslim scholars differ as to whether they refer to the believing women of this world or a separate creation, with the majority opting for the latter.[3]

Etymology[edit]

In classical Arabic usage, the word ḥūr (Arabic: حُور) is the plural of both ʾaḥwar (Arabic: أحْوَر) (masculine) and ḥawrāʾ (Arabic: حَوْراء) (feminine)[4] which can be translated as "having eyes with an intense contrast of white and black".[5]

The word "houri" has entered several European languages from around the 17th and 18th centuries.

Descriptions[edit]

The houris are mentioned in several passages of the Quran, always in plural form. No specific number is ever given in the Quran for the number of houris accompanying each believer.

Quranic description[edit]

In the tafsirs and commentaries on the Quran, Houris are described as:

It is thought that the four verses specifically mentioning Houri were all "probably" revealed at "the end of the first Meccan period".[37]

Hadith description[edit]

Details of descriptions of houri (or ḥūr), in hadith collections differ, but one summary (by Smith & Haddad) states:[1]

they are generally said to be composed of saffron from the feet to the knees, musk from the knees to the breast, amber from the breast to the neck, and camphor from the neck to the head.[38] Working often with multiples of seven, the traditionalists have described them as wearing seventy to 70,000 gowns, through which even the marrow of their bones can be seen because of the fineness of their flesh, reclining on seventy couches of red hyacinth encrusted with rubies and jewels, and the like. The ḥūr do not sleep, do not get pregnant, do not menstruate, spit, or blow their noses, and are never sick.[39] References to the increased sexual process of those male believers for whose pleasure the ḥūr are intended' are numerous;[40] the reports make it clear that the ḥūr are created specifically as a reward for males of the Muslim community who have been faithful to God.[41]

In hadith, Houris have been described as "transparent to the marrow of their bones",[42][43] "eternally young",[44] "hairless except the eyebrows and the head",[44] "pure"[43] and "beautiful".[43] Sunni hadith scholars also relate a number of sayings of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad in which the houris are mentioned.

  • A narration related by Bukhari states that

    Everyone will have two wives from 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.[45]

  • Another, reported by Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj Nishapuri, relates that

    The first group to get into Paradise will be like the full moon during the night, and the one following this group will be like the most luminescent of the sky's shining stars shining stars in the sky; each man among them will have two spouses, the marrow of whose shanks will glimmer be visible from beneath the flesh—none will be without a spouse in Paradise.[46]

  • Al-Tirmidhi reports

    Al-Hasan Al-Basri says that an old woman came to the messenger of God and asked, O Messenger of God make dua that God grants me entrance into Jannah. The Messenger of God replied, "O Mother, an old woman cannot enter Jannah." That woman started crying and began to leave. The Messenger of God said, "Say to the woman that one will not enter in a state of old age, but God will make all the women of Jannah young virgins. God Most High says, 'Lo! We have created them a (new) creation and made them virgins, lovers, equal in age.'"[47]

  • According to a report transmitted by Ibn Majah in his Sunan:

    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."[48][49][50]

Characteristics[edit]

Meaning of the term kawa'ib[edit]

Verse Q.78:33 describes Houri with the noun ka'ib, translated as "with swelling breasts"[51] by several translators—like Arberry, Palmer, Rodwell and Sale—(it is also translated as "buxom" or "full bosomed").[52] At least two Islamic Fatwa sites (islamweb.net and islamqa.info) have attacked the use of these translations by those who "criticize the Quran",[53] or who "seek to make Islam appear to be a religion of sex and desire".[54]

Ibn Kathir, in his tafsir, writes that kawa'ib has been interpreted to refer to "fully developed" or "round breasts ... they meant by this that the breasts of these girls will be fully rounded and not sagging, because they will be virgins."[55] Similarly, the authoritative Arabic-English Lexicon of Edward William Lane defines the word ka'ib as "A girl whose breasts are beginning to swell, or become prominent, or protuberant or having swelling, prominent, or protuberant, breasts."[56][Note 2]

However, M. A. S. Abdel Haleem and others point out that the description here refers in classical usage to the young age rather than emphasizing the women's physical features.[57][58] Others, such as Abdullah Yusuf Ali, translate ka'ib as "companions",[59] with Muhammad Asad interpreting the term as being allegorical.[60]

Reference to "72 virgins"[edit]

The Sunni hadith scholar Al-Tirmidhi quotes the Muhammad as having said:

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.[61][62]

However, others object that the narration granting all men seventy-two wives has a weak chain of narrators.[63]

Another hadith, also in Jamiʽ at-Tirmidhi and deemed "good and sound" (hasan sahih) gives this reward specifically for the martyr:

There are six things with Allah for the martyr. He is forgiven with the first flow of blood (he suffers), he is shown his place in Paradise, he is protected from punishment in the grave, secured from the greatest terror, the crown of dignity is placed upon his head—and its gems are better than the world and what is in it—he is married to seventy-two wives among the wide-eyed houris (Ar. اثْنَتَيْنِ وَسَبْعِينَ زَوْجَةً مِنَ الْحُورِ الْعِينِ) of Paradise, and he may intercede for seventy of his close relatives.[64]

(This hadith is sometimes erroneously attributed to the Quran.)[65][66]

Sexual intercourse in Paradise[edit]

In the Quran, there is no overt mention of sexual intercourse in Paradise.[57] However, its existence has been reported in hadiths, tafsirs[67][68] and Islamic commentaries.[69][70][71][72]

Houri, age[edit]

The virgins of paradise "they will be of one age, thirty-three years old," according to Ibn Kathir, (as reported by Ad-Dahhak aka Ibn Abi Asim) based on his interpretation of the word Atrab (Arabic: أَتْرَابًا) in Q.56:37).[73][11]
But another interpretation of Atrab (in Q.56:37 and also Q.78:33) by Muhammad Haleen, describes Houri "as being of similar age to their companions".[74] An Islamic Books pamphlet also states Houri will "have the same age as their husbands so that they can relate to each other better", but also adds that they will "never become old";[75] (Translations of Q.56:37 and Q.78:33 -- for example by Mustafa Khattab's the Clear Quran and by Pickthall -- often include the phrase "equal age" but don't specify what the houris are of equal age to.)
On the other hand, the houris were created "without the process of birth", according to a classical Sunni interpretation of Q.56:35 in Tafsir al-Jalalayn,[Note 3] so that the heavenly virgins have no birthday or age in the earthly sense.

Other sources, including a tafsir of Ibn Kathir, (see above) emphasize the purpose of the use of kawa'ib in verse Q.78:33 "is to highlight the woman’s youthfulness", though she is an adult, she "has reached the age when she begins to menstruate";[77] and that she is of the age of "young girls when their breasts are beginning to appear".[57] At least one person (M Faroof Malik) translates Arabic: قَـٰصِرَٰتُ ٱلطَّرْفِ in verse Q.55:56 as "bashful virgins".[78]

Quranic commentators[edit]

Sunni sources mention that like all men and women of Paradise, the houris do not experience urination, defecation or menstruation.[79]

Ibn Kathir states that jinns will have female jinn companions in Paradise.[80]

Contemporary[edit]

According to Smith and Haddad, if there is any generalization that can be made of "contemporary attitudes" toward the nature of the hereafter, including Houri, it is that it is "beyond human comprehension ... beyond time", that the Quran only "alluded to analogously".[81]

Imam Reza[edit]

According to 8th Shia Imam, Imam Reza, the heavenly spouses are created of dirt (Creation of life from clay) and saffron.[82]

Gender and identity[edit]

It has traditionally been believed that the houris are beautiful women who are promised as a reward to believing men,[83] with numerous hadith and Quranic exegetes describing them as such.[84] In recent years, however, some have argued that the term ḥūr refers both to pure men and pure women (it being the plural term for both the masculine and feminine forms which refer to whiteness) and the belief that the term houris only refers to females who are in paradise is a misconception.[83]

The Quran uses feminine as well as gender-neutral adjectives to describe houris,[85][86][87][85] by describing them with the indefinite adjective عِينٌ, which some have taken to imply that certain passages are referring to both male and female companions.[88] In addition, the use of masculine pronouns for the houris' companions does not imply that this companionship is restricted to men, as the masculine form encompasses the female in classical and Quranic Arabic—thus functioning as an all-gender including default form—and is used in the Quran to address all humanity and all the believers in general.[89][90][91] [Note 4]

In The Message of The Qur'an, Muhammad Asad describes the usage of the term ḥūr in the verses 44:54 & 56:22, arguing that "the noun ḥūr—rendered by me as 'companions pure'—is a plural of both aḥwār (masc.) and ḥawrā' (fem.)... hence, the compound expression ḥūr ʿīn signifies, approximately, 'pure beings, most beautiful of eye'."[92][93]

Annemarie Schimmel says that the Quranic description of the houris should be viewed in a context of love; "every pious man who lives according to God's order will enter Paradise where rivers of milk and honey flow in cool, fragrant gardens and virgin beloveds await home".[94]

Relation to earthly women[edit]

Regarding the eschatological status of this-worldly women vis-à-vis the houris, scholars have maintained that righteous women of this life are of a higher station than the houris.[3] Sunni theologian Aḥmad al-Ṣāwī (d. 1825), in his commentary on Ahmad al-Dardir's work, states, "The sound position is that the women of this world will be seventy thousand times better than the dark-eyed maidens (ḥūr ʿīn)."[95] Muḥammad ibn ʿUmar Baḥraq (d.1524) mentions in his didactic primer for children that "Adamic women are better than the dark-eyed maidens due to their prayer, fasting, and devotions."[96]

Other authorities appear to indicate that houris themselves are the women of this world resurrected in new form, with Razi commenting that among the houris mentioned in the Quran will also be "[even] those toothless old women of yours whom God will resurrect as new beings".[97][98] Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari mentions 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.[99] Modernist scholar Muḥammad ʿAbduh states "the women of the Garden are the good believers [al-mu'mināt al-ṣalihāt] known in the Qur'an as al-ḥūr al-ʿayn, (although he also makes a distinction between earthly women and houri).[100]

On the other hand, some narratives describe hur as each intended for an individual mu'min (male believer) and "waiting eagerly for him". They look upon the earthly wives of the prospective mates "as rivals, becoming annoyed when the wife is inconsiderate to the man who will come to her in the hereafter." Earthly believing females (mu'mināt) in paradise ("daughters of Eve"), "are usually said to have one husband each", while males "are often portrayed as having all of their earthly wives plus seventy or more of the ḥūr".[37] Verses that are thought to refer to women from earth in paradise (Q.2:25, 3:15, and 4:57) talk of "purified companions" [azwāj muṭahhara], which distinguishes them from ḥūr, who are by definition "pure rather than purified".[37]

Symbolism[edit]

Muhammad Asad believes that the references to houris and other depictions of paradise should be taken to be allegorical rather than literal, citing the "impossibility of man's really 'imagining' paradise". In support of this view he quotes Quran verse 32:17[101] and a hadith found in Bukhari and Muslim.[102]

Shi'ite philosopher Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai mentions that the most important fact of the description of the houris is that good deeds performed by believers are re-compensated by the houris, who are the physical manifestations of ideal forms that will not fade away over time and who will serve as faithful companions to those whom they accompany.[103]

Similarities to other religions[edit]

The houri has been said to resemble afterlife figures in a Zoroastrianism and Hindu narratives:

The Zoroastrian text, Hadhoxt Nask, describes the fate of a soul after death. The soul of the righteous spends three nights near the corpse, and at the end of the third night, the soul sees its own religion (daena) in the form of a beautiful damsel, a lovely fifteen year-old virgin; thanks to good actions she has grown beautiful; they then ascend heaven together.[104]

Hindu stories include "Apsarasas", described as "seductive celestial nymphs who dwell in Indra's paradise,"[105] and among other things "the rewards in Indra's paradise held out to heroes who fall in battle."[106][104] On the other hand, John MacDonald writes that "the origin" of Huri "is unknown. Attempts to trace the development of the belief back to Indian or Persian religion have not been successful."[107]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ حورية is also transliterated as ḥūriyyah or ḥūriyya; pronunciation: /ħuː.ˈrij.ja/. adjectival and feminine singular formation from حُـور, plural of aḥwar أحور or ḥawrā’ حوراء the complete name, al-ḥur al-ʿayn Arabic: ألحور ألعين "literally means having eyes with marked contrast of black and white"[1]
  2. ^ islamweb.net states: "{Kawaa‘ib} means round-breasted";[53] and islamqa.info translates Q.78:33 as “And young full-breasted (mature) maidens of equal age”[54]
  3. ^
    • "Indeed, We will have perfectly created their mates" (Q.56:35)
    can be interpreted as "Verily We have created them with an unmediated creation namely the wide-eyed houris We created them without the process of birth", according to a classical Sunni interpretation of the Quran, Tafsir al-Jalalayn, (translated by Feras Hamza)[76]
  4. ^ In these verses, God addresses the believers, male and female alike, and orders them to speak وَقُولُوا (masculine form) and listen وَاسْمَعُوا (masculine form), using the grammatical masculine form although the addressed group includes females.

Citations[edit]

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  2. ^ "Houri". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  3. ^ a b Seyyed Hossein Nasr; Caner K. Dagli; Maria Massi Dakake; Joseph E.B. Lumbard; Mohammed Rustom, eds. (2015). The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary. New York, NY: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-112586-7.
  4. ^ see Lane's Lexicon, p. 666 and Hans Wehr, p. 247
  5. ^ Wehr's Arabic-English Dictionary, 1960.
  6. ^ "Quran 36:55". Islam Awakened. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
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  38. ^ Kitāb aḥwāl al-qiyāma, p. 111. References to the general description of the ḥūr are abundant in the collections of traditions; see, for example, the summary and numerous citations of Ṣoubḥi El-Ṣaleḥ, La Vie Future selon le Coran. Paris: Librarie Philosophique J. Vrin, 1971, p.25. quoted in Smith & Haddad, Islamic Understanding, 1981: p.164
  39. ^ La Vie Future selon le Coran, p.39. quoted in Smith & Haddad, Islamic Understanding, 1981: p.164
  40. ^ Mishkāt, II, 624; Ḥusn al-uswa, p. 219. Shā'ranī, Mukhtaṣar, p. 111, "relates that in the period of about a month a man will marry some 1000 ḥūr. When he comes to any one of his wives, he will find her a virgin, and his desire for her will return to him with the strength of seventy men." quoted in Smith & Haddad, Islamic Understanding, 1981: p.164
  41. ^ The Kitāb aḥwāl al-qiyāma, p. 112, relates from Ibn Masʿūd that the angel Gabriel, visiting the Garden, was so dazzled by the shining front teeth of one of the ḥūr that he thought he was in the light of God Himself. The virgin then called to him, saying: " 'O entrusted of God! Lift your head! He lifted it, looked at her and said, 'Glory be to God who has created you.' And the virgin said, 'O entrusted of God, do you know for whom I have been created?' He answered, 'No.' Then she said, 'For the one who holds the pleasure [riq'a] of God over that of himself.'" quoted in Smith & Haddad, Islamic Understanding, 1981: p.164
  42. ^ Abu ʽIsa Muhammad ibn ʽIsa at-Tirmidhi, Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Vol. 2.
  43. ^ a b c Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:54:476
  44. ^ a b Abu ʽIsa Muhammad ibn ʽIsa at-Tirmidhi, Sunan al-Tirmidhi, hadith: 5638
  45. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:54:476
  46. ^ Sahih Muslim, 40:6793
  47. ^ Shamaa-il Tirmidhi, Chapter 035, Hadith Number 006 (230)
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  56. ^ كعب in Lane's lexicon.
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  89. ^ "The Quranic Arabic Corpus - Word by Word Grammar, Syntax and Morphology of the Holy Quran". corpus.quran.com.
  90. ^ "The Quranic Arabic Corpus - Word by Word Grammar, Syntax and Morphology of the Holy Quran". corpus.quran.com.
  91. ^ "The Quranic Arabic Corpus - Word by Word Grammar, Syntax and Morphology of the Holy Quran". corpus.quran.com.
  92. ^ Ibid The Message of the Quran by M. Asad, Surah 56:22 note [8].
  93. ^ Ibid The Message of the Quran by M. Asad, Surah 44:54 note [30]. For the rendering of hur 'in as 'companions pure, most beautiful of eye', see surah {56}, notes [8] and [13]. It is to be noted that the noun zawj (lit., 'a pair' or – according to the context – 'one of a pair') applies to either of the two sexes, as does the transitive verb zawaja, 'he paired' or 'joined', i.e., one person with another.
  94. ^ Annemarie Schimmel, Islam: An Introduction, p. 13, "Muhammad"
  95. ^ al-Ṣāwī, Aḥmad (1947) [composed 1813]. Ḥashiyat ʿAlā Sharḥ al-Kharīdat al-Bahīyah [An Annotative Commentary Upon "The Resplendent Pearl"]. Cairo: Maṭbaʿat Muṣṭafā al-Bābī al-Ḥalabī wa Awlāduh. p. 67. والصحيح: أنّ نساء الدنيا يكنّ أفضل من الحور العين بسبعين ألف ضعف.
  96. ^ Bahraq al-Yamanī, Muḥammad ibn ʿUmar (1996) [composed 15th-16th century]. Ḥilyat al-Banāt wa'l-Banīn wa Zīnat al-Dunyā wa'l-Dīn [The Splendour of Girls and Boys and the Adornment of This Life and the Next]. Dār al-Ḥāwī. p. 129. والنّساء الآدميّات أفضل من الحور العين بصلاتهنّ وصيامهنّ وعبادتهنّ.
  97. ^ Asad, M. (2003). "(Surah) 56 Al-Waqiah, ayah 22". The Message of The Qur'an. Al-Hasan, quoted by Razi in his comments on 44:54.
  98. ^ Ismail ibn Kathir (2000). "(Surah) 56 Al-Waqiah ayat 35–36". Tafsir ibn Kathir. The Reward of Those on the Right After.
  99. ^ Asad, M. (2003). "(Surah) 56 Al-Waqiah, ayat 35–36". The Message of The Qur'an.
  100. ^ Smith & Haddad, Islamic Understanding, 1981: p.166
  101. ^ Quran 32:17
  102. ^ https://archive.org/stream/TheMessageOfTheQuran_20140419/55877864-54484011-Message-of-Quran-Muhammad-Asad-Islam-Translation_djvu.txt ""what is kept hidden for them [by way] of a joy of the eyes", i.e., of blissful delights, irrespective of whether seen, heard or felt. The expression "what is kept hidden for them" clearly alludes to the unknowable - and, therefore, only allegorically describable - quality of life in the hereafter. The impossibility of man's really "imagining" paradise has been summed up by the Prophet in the well-authenticated hadith; "God says: 'I have readied for My righteous servants what no eye has ever seen, and no ear has ever heard, and no heart of man has ever conceived'" (Bukhari and Muslim, on the authority of Abu Hurayrah; also Tirmidhi). This hadith has always been regarded by the Companions as the Prophet's own comment on the above verse'(cf. Fath al-Bari VIII, 418 f.). "
  103. ^ Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai, Tafsir al-Mizan
  104. ^ a b Ibn Warraq, Why I Am Not a Muslim, 1995: p.47
  105. ^ Stutley, M. J. A Dictionary of Hinduism. London, 1977., p. 16.
  106. ^ Dowson. Hindu Mythotogy and Religion. Calcutta, 1991., p. 20
  107. ^ MACDONALD, JOHN (December 1966). "PARADISE". Islamic Studies. 5 (4): 352. JSTOR 20832856. Retrieved 2 July 2022.

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