“Indeed, the righteous will be in a secure place within gardens and springs, wearing [garments of] fine silk and brocade, facing each other. Thus, and We will marry them to hoor ‘ein with large, [beautiful] eyes.”

        Surah Al-Dukhan 44:51-54


It is a widely known belief that a shaheed or martyr in Islam is rewarded a sensual prize of 72 virgins in paradise. In the Holy Qur’an, they are referred to as Hoor ‘ein – alluring virgins of an ethereal nature inhabiting the afterlife. This belief has troubled many Muslims for ages because of its concept and authenticity. The same belief confused the non-Muslims, who were introduced to this concept through the narratives that terrorists use the promise of virgins as Allah’s reward for the mujahideen to recruit Muslims to join Jihad. This article will address important issues regarding the Hoor ‘ein – do they refer exclusively to females; are there truly 72 virgins in paradise for the shaheed or martyrs; and, is the promised reward sexual in nature.


The concept of the Hoor ‘ein was introduced in three (3) chapters of the Holy Qur’an (Al-Waq’iah; Al Dukhan; and, Al-Tur) and in a hadith (Al-Rahman) of Prophet Muhammad. In Surah Al-Waq’iah, Hoor ‘ein was likened to well-preserved pearls. Looking at the word Hoor linguistically, both the Basri and Kufi schools of thought define hoor as a non-specific, plural gender. Meanwhile, Arabic lexicons associate the word Hoor with the color white and explained that Arabs usually used the term Hoor to describe city women who were much lighter-skinned because they did not work directly under the sun. Another form of the word Hoor is Hawwar which means chalk. Chalk was used in ancient times to whiten and clean the laundry. The prominent Islamic scholar Imam Al-Bukhari mentioned that hoor means “that which puzzles the sight because of its excessive beauty”. German author Christoph Luxenburg used the word Hoor in Aramaic which means white. The common denominator for all these definitions is the color white which is a symbol of purity. Hence, Hoor ‘ein is not a gendered concept and does not exclusively refer to females.


There is no mention in the Holy Qur’an of the actual number of virgins available in paradise. The number “72”, however, was found in a hadith collected by Abu Tirmidhi, an Arab scholar and author of one of the six canonical collections of hadith. It was written: “The Prophet Muhammad was heard saying: ‘The smallest reward for the people of paradise is an abode where there are 80,000 servants and 72 wives, over which stands a dome decorated with pearls, aquamarine, and ruby, as wide as the distance from Al-Jabiyyah (a Damascus suburb) to Sana’a (Yemen).” This evidence does not say that there are only 72 virgins in paradise and clarifies that the reward for Hoor ‘ein is open for all Muslims and not just the shaheed.


In a footnote commentary on Surah Al-Waq’iah of Yusuf Ali, a British Islamic scholar, he mentioned that the companionship in the afterlife “takes a higher form than the bodily form suitable to the spiritual world.” Yusuf Ali captured the proper meaning in the verse as an act of joining or pairing. Furthermore, he explains in a footnote that he viewed the words describing paradise as symbolic ones. “There will be life, but free from all earthly grossness.” Hence, the joining or pairing of righteous men with virgins is not sexual in nature. Many scholars who interpreted Qur’anic verses on hoor ‘ein infused the concept with a gendered and, all too often, sexual dimension. Their interpretations tended to restrict hoor ‘ein to a worldly perspective oblivious of spiritual and other dimensions of the afterlife.


There is a common misunderstanding of the complexities of the meaning of Hoor ‘ein which are usually associated with 72 virgins. The most important thing to note is that the verses in Surat al-Waqi’ah, Surat al-Dukhan, and Surat al-Tur promise the entities hoor ‘ein to as-sabiqoun (the premier) and al-muttaqun (the righteous), which are gender inclusive terms. So, associating the concept Hoor ‘ein with female virgins contradicts the very essence of the Qur’anic context.


In summary, human interpretations are limited, especially about the afterlife. The concept of Hoor ‘ein belongs to al-ghayb or the unseen world to which we do not have access or knowledge except what is revealed in the Qur’an or the Sunnah. The Qur’an only gives us a peak of what the Hoor ‘ein would look like in Paradise. The human mind cannot even imagine the unique beauties, abilities, and capacities of such creation.