‘Virgins’ in Muslim Paradise

Misconceptions corrected

by Dr. Zahid Aziz

The Light (UK), October 2006 Issue (pp. 7–8)

The misconceived notion that every Muslim male who reaches paradise in the hereafter, for good deeds done in this life, will be rewarded with seventy-two virgins has brought Islam into disrepute and ridicule. It has also proved a source of much amusement and mockery for those unaware of the teachings of Islam regarding the hereafter. In this article we cannot enter into a detailed discussion of the Islamic concept of paradise or the garden of the next life but the following key points are necessary to know.

Firstly, the rewards of the hereafter are not the material things that we enjoy in this physical world. The life after death is in a world that cannot even be conceived by the human mind in this life, and human beings there will have an entirely different existence that cannot be known here. The Holy Quran says:

نَحۡنُ قَدَّرۡنَا بَیۡنَکُمُ الۡمَوۡتَ وَ مَا نَحۡنُ بِمَسۡبُوۡقِیۡنَ ﴿ۙ۶۰﴾ عَلٰۤی اَنۡ نُّبَدِّلَ اَمۡثَالَکُمۡ وَ نُنۡشِئَکُمۡ فِیۡ مَا لَا تَعۡلَمُوۡنَ ﴿۶۱﴾

“We have ordained death among you and We are not to be overcome, that We may change your state and make you grow into what you do not know.” (The Holy Quran, 56:60–61)

Other English translations phrase the second part of this quotation as

“changing the nature of your existence and bringing you into being anew in a manner as yet unknown to you” (Muhammad Asad),

“producing you again in a form which ye know not” (Rodwell),


“that We may transfigure you and make you what you know not” (Pickthall).

The enjoyments in the gardens of the hereafter are of an unknown nature in this world, as the Quran says:

فَلَا تَعۡلَمُ نَفۡسٌ مَّاۤ اُخۡفِیَ لَہُمۡ مِّنۡ قُرَّۃِ اَعۡیُنٍ ۚ جَزَآءًۢ بِمَا کَانُوۡا یَعۡمَلُوۡنَ ﴿۱۷﴾

“No soul knows what refreshment of the eyes is hidden for them: a reward for what they did.” (The Holy Quran, 32:17)

This is why the description of the garden of the hereafter is called a parable, as in:

مَثَلُ الۡجَنَّۃِ الَّتِیۡ وُعِدَ الۡمُتَّقُوۡنَ ؕ

“A parable of the garden which is promised to those who keep their duty” (The Holy Quran, 13:35 and 47:15).

Secondly, the Quran has made it abundantly clear no less than eight times that men and women are equally entitled to the rewards of the heavenly life. Four such extracts are as below:

وَ مَنۡ یَّعۡمَلۡ مِنَ الصّٰلِحٰتِ مِنۡ ذَکَرٍ اَوۡ اُنۡثٰی وَ ہُوَ مُؤۡمِنٌ فَاُولٰٓئِکَ یَدۡخُلُوۡنَ الۡجَنَّۃَ

“And whoever does good deeds, whether male or female, and is a believer — these will enter the Garden …” (The Holy Quran, 4:124)

وَعَدَ اللّٰہُ الۡمُؤۡمِنِیۡنَ وَ الۡمُؤۡمِنٰتِ جَنّٰتٍ تَجۡرِیۡ مِنۡ تَحۡتِہَا الۡاَنۡہٰرُ خٰلِدِیۡنَ فِیۡہَا وَ مَسٰکِنَ طَیِّبَۃً فِیۡ جَنّٰتِ عَدۡنٍ ؕ

“Allah has promised to the believers, men and women, Gardens, in which flow rivers, to abide in them, and goodly dwellings in Gardens of perpetual abode.” (The Holy Quran, 9:72)

یٰعِبَادِ لَا خَوۡفٌ عَلَیۡکُمُ الۡیَوۡمَ وَ لَاۤ اَنۡتُمۡ تَحۡزَنُوۡنَ ﴿ۚ۶۸﴾ اَلَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا بِاٰیٰتِنَا وَ کَانُوۡا مُسۡلِمِیۡنَ ﴿ۚ۶۹﴾ اُدۡخُلُوا الۡجَنَّۃَ اَنۡتُمۡ وَ اَزۡوَاجُکُمۡ تُحۡبَرُوۡنَ ﴿۷۰﴾ یُطَافُ عَلَیۡہِمۡ بِصِحَافٍ مِّنۡ ذَہَبٍ وَّ اَکۡوَابٍ ۚ وَ فِیۡہَا مَا تَشۡتَہِیۡہِ الۡاَنۡفُسُ وَ تَلَذُّ الۡاَعۡیُنُ ۚ وَ اَنۡتُمۡ فِیۡہَا خٰلِدُوۡنَ ﴿ۚ۷۱﴾

“O My servants, … Those who believed in Our messages and submitted (to Us): Enter the Garden, you and your wives, being made happy. … in there is what their souls yearn for and the eyes delight in, and in them you will abide.” (The Holy Quran, 43:68–71)

یَوۡمَ تَرَی الۡمُؤۡمِنِیۡنَ وَ الۡمُؤۡمِنٰتِ یَسۡعٰی نُوۡرُہُمۡ بَیۡنَ اَیۡدِیۡہِمۡ وَ بِاَیۡمَانِہِمۡ بُشۡرٰىکُمُ الۡیَوۡمَ جَنّٰتٌ تَجۡرِیۡ مِنۡ تَحۡتِہَا الۡاَنۡہٰرُ خٰلِدِیۡنَ فِیۡہَا ؕ

“On that day you will see the believers, men and women, their light gleaming before them and on their right hand. Good news for you this day! Gardens in which flow rivers, to abide in them.” (The Holy Quran, 57:12)

Thus, the women among the believers will have the same rewards and enjoyments as the men of the believers.

Thirdly, all these rewards are manifestations of the good qualities shown and good deeds done by a person in this life, which are unfolded before him or her. For example, the

یَسۡعٰی نُوۡرُہُمۡ بَیۡنَ اَیۡدِیۡہِمۡ

“light gleaming before them and on their right hand” (57:12)

is not a physical lamp of this world, but a representation of their light of faith. In one place we read:

وَ اُدۡخِلَ الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا وَ عَمِلُوا الصّٰلِحٰتِ جَنّٰتٍ تَجۡرِیۡ مِنۡ تَحۡتِہَا الۡاَنۡہٰرُ خٰلِدِیۡنَ فِیۡہَا بِاِذۡنِ رَبِّہِمۡ ؕ تَحِیَّتُہُمۡ فِیۡہَا سَلٰمٌ ﴿۲۳﴾ اَلَمۡ تَرَ کَیۡفَ ضَرَبَ اللّٰہُ مَثَلًا کَلِمَۃً طَیِّبَۃً کَشَجَرَۃٍ طَیِّبَۃٍ اَصۡلُہَا ثَابِتٌ وَّ فَرۡعُہَا فِی السَّمَآءِ ﴿ۙ۲۴﴾ تُؤۡتِیۡۤ اُکُلَہَا کُلَّ حِیۡنٍۭ بِاِذۡنِ رَبِّہَا ؕ

“And those who believe and do good are made to enter Gardens, in which flow rivers, abiding in them by their Lord’s permission. Their greeting therein is, Peace! Do you not see how Allah sets forth a parable of a good word as a good tree, whose root is firm and whose branches are high, yielding its fruit in every season by the permission of its Lord?”  (The Holy Quran, 14:23–25)

After mentioning the gardens of the next life, a good word is compared to a good tree, ever bearing fruit. Therefore the trees of the gardens of the hereafter are a person’s good deeds done in this life which appear as trees that bear fruit, just as his good deeds bore fruit.

Likewise, the so-called beautiful maidens of the next life are not as women of this world with whom men will have sexual relations. They are the good qualities shown in this life, such as honesty, purity of character, charity, integrity, modesty and faith that are manifested in this form. These maidens are called

اَزۡوَاجٌ مُّطَہَّرَۃٌ

“pure companions” (The Holy Quran, 2:25, 3:15, 4:57)

because they are the appearance of the pure qualities that were one’s companions in this life.

In fact, in verse 3:15 the desirability of the “pure companions” is clearly differentiated from the sexual desire for women in this life. Verse 3:14 refers to the attractiveness of the material desires of this world as follows:

زُیِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ حُبُّ الشَّہَوٰتِ مِنَ النِّسَآءِ وَ الۡبَنِیۡنَ وَ الۡقَنَاطِیۡرِ الۡمُقَنۡطَرَۃِ مِنَ الذَّہَبِ وَ الۡفِضَّۃِ وَ الۡخَیۡلِ الۡمُسَوَّمَۃِ وَ الۡاَنۡعَامِ وَ الۡحَرۡثِ ؕ ذٰلِکَ مَتَاعُ الۡحَیٰوۃِ الدُّنۡیَا ۚ وَ اللّٰہُ عِنۡدَہٗ حُسۡنُ الۡمَاٰبِ ﴿۱۴﴾

“The love of desires is made attractive to people — of women and sons and hoarded treasures of gold and silver and well-bred horses and cattle and crop produce. This is the provision of the life of this world. And with Allah is the good goal of life.” [The Holy Quran, 3:14]

The next verse then says:

اَؤُنَبِّئُکُمۡ بِخَیۡرٍ مِّنۡ ذٰلِکُمۡ ؕ لِلَّذِیۡنَ اتَّقَوۡا عِنۡدَ رَبِّہِمۡ جَنّٰتٌ تَجۡرِیۡ مِنۡ تَحۡتِہَا الۡاَنۡہٰرُ خٰلِدِیۡنَ فِیۡہَا وَ اَزۡوَاجٌ مُّطَہَّرَۃٌ وَّ رِضۡوَانٌ مِّنَ اللّٰہِ ؕ

“Shall I tell you of what is better than these? For those who guard against evil are gardens with their Lord, in which rivers flow, to abide in them, and pure companions and Allah’s goodly pleasure.” (The Holy Quran, 3:15)

It is clearly obvious from these passages that while sexual desire for women is a craving and a necessity for this material world, better and superior than this is to strive to acquire the qualities that become our “pure companions” in the next world. This repudiates the very idea that we should wish for our physical desires of this world to be satisfied, as a reward, in the next world.

In many recent articles, published on websites and elsewhere, a saying of the Holy Prophet Muhammad from Tirmidhi is quoted, often by way of ridicule and mockery, according to which a man in paradise will have 72 “wives”, these supposedly being the 72 virgins. But in the same Tirmidhi we find, only a little later, the following report:

“Faith has seventy and something gates, the least of which is to remove from the road a harmful thing and the highest is to say ‘There is no god but Allah’.” — Tirmidhi, chapters on Faith.

It is the “seventy and something” constituents of faith, two of which are mentioned here (and one often mentioned in such reports is modesty) that, for those who possess them in this life, become represented in the next life as “maidens”.

There is also another explanation of the concept of “virgins” in the next world, based on the following verses of the Quran which refer to some of the rewards to be found there:

اِنَّاۤ اَنۡشَاۡنٰہُنَّ اِنۡشَآءً ﴿ۙ۳۵﴾ فَجَعَلۡنٰہُنَّ اَبۡکَارًا ﴿ۙ۳۶﴾ عُرُبًا اَتۡرَابًا ﴿ۙ۳۷﴾

“Surely We have created them a (new) creation, so We have made them virgins, loving, equals in age…” (The Holy Quran, 56:35–37).

The pronoun “them”, occurring twice here, is in the feminine. A commonly-accepted meaning is that this refers to the believing women. They will be raised in the next life in a new form of creation corresponding to their purity of character in this world, and thus it is said: We have made them virgins. This interpretation is also supported by an explanation of these verses reported from the Holy Prophet Muhammad, again in the same Tirmidhi:

“An old woman came to the Prophet and said: Messenger of Allah, pray to Allah that I will enter paradise. He said jokingly: Mother of so-and-so, no old women will enter paradise. The old woman went away crying, so the Prophet said: Tell her that she will not enter paradise as an old woman, for Allah says: Surely We have created them a (new) creation, so We have made them virgins.”— Shama’il Tirmidhi, ch. 35: ‘Joking of the Messenger of Allah’, report number 230.

Their resurrection as “virgins” is only a spiritual representation of the purity with which they led their lives in this world. There is no question of sexual relations in the next life as that life is not physical life which requires such relations.

It may be noted that the term “virgin” has been used in the Bible as a symbolism. The nation of Israel is called a “virgin” in many places (for example, Jeremiah, ch. 31, Amos, ch. 5). The Gospel of Matthew contains the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, which Jesus begins to relate as follows:

“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins” (ch. 25, v. 1). Obviously, virgin girls for men’s pleasure are not meant here.