According to a December 5 Palestinian Media Watch report,
Following a recent terror attack in which the terrorist stabbed and wounded 4 Israeli policemen, a host on official PA TV read a poem in the terrorist’s honor. The poem glorifies Martyrdom-death in battle and states that the 72 “Dark-Eyed” Virgins in Paradise who the Martyr marries according to Islamic tradition, are “yearning” for the Palestinian Martyr.
Who are these “dark-eyed virgins in paradise” that are “yearning” for martyrs? The proper Arabic term for these entities is al-hour al-‘ayn, commonly known by the English transliteration houri(s) [pronounced ḥoor]. They are supernatural, celestial women—“wide-eyed” and “big-bosomed,” says the Koran (56:22, 78:33)—created by Allah for the express purpose of sexually gratifying his favorites in perpetuity. (Whether or not the English word “whore” is etymologically connected to the Arabic houri appears a moot point as they both certainly seem to serve the same function.)
One of the canonical hadiths—a statement attributed to Muhammad that mainstream (Sunni) Islam acknowledges as true—which all jihadi organizations regularly invoke has Muhammad saying:
The martyr [shahid, one who dies fighting for Islam] is special to Allah. He is forgiven from the first drop of blood [that he sheds]. He sees his throne in paradise…. And he will copulate with seventy-two houris. [See also Koran 44:54, 52:20, 55:72, and 56:22.]
While the houris may invoke images of scantily-clad genies and/or other wild tales from the Arabian Nights to the Western mind—and thus be dismissed as “fairy tales” with no capacity to inspire anyone—the fact is, desire for these immortal concubines has driven Muslim men to acts of suicidal terror, past and present, as recorded in both Muslim and Western historical sources.
“As for religious enthusiasm and ardour for the holy war,” writes historian Marius Canard, “it is certain that numerous Muslims were moved by this sentiment…. There are numerous accounts describing combatants going to their deaths with joyful heart, seeing visions of the celestial houri who is calling to them and signaling to them.”
Indeed, as documented throughout my recent book, Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, the houris are ever present on the fields of battle, beckoning their would-be lovers—jihadis—to rush to their embraces by engaging in wild acts of “martyrdom.” This is evident from the West’s first major military encounter with Islam, the fateful Battle of Yarmuk (636). There, one Muslim came upon a fallen comrade “smitten on the ground, and I watched as he lifted his fingers to the sky. I understood he was rejoicing, for he saw the houris.” Another Arab chieftain told his men that a headlong charge against the “Christian dogs” is synonymous with a “rush to the embraces of the houris!” “The Muslim preachers did not cease to encourage the combatants [at Yarmuk]: Prepare yourselves for the encounter with the houris of the big black eyes,” explains a medieval Persian historian. “And to be sure, never has a day been seen when more heads fell than on the day of the Yarmuk.”
Nearly a millennium later, on the night before the sack of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman Turks also invoked the houris to kindle the men’s fighting spirit. Wandering “dervishes visited the tents, to instill the desire of martyrdom, and the assurance of spending an immortal youth amidst the rivers and gardens of paradise, and in the embraces of the black-eyed virgins [houris].” At the pivotal battle of Mohacs in 1526, seventy thousand Muslim invaders—described as devotees of “jihad and martyrdom,” eager for “a perpetually happy life” with “the houris”—defeated the hitherto mighty kingdom of Hungary, built a massive pyramid of heads, and returned to Constantinople with one hundred thousand slaves.
From the start, Western observers have corroborated the mesmerizing effects of the houri’s siren call. Marco Polo (d.1324) explained why after assassinating their target the hashashin (whence the English word “assassin,” Nizari Ismailis, a Shia sect) would not flee but wait to be hacked down by their victim’s guards or men: they were eager to enter “paradise, where every species of sensual gratification should be found, in the society of beautiful nymphs [houris].”
In an eighth century “interfaith dialogue” between Caliph Omar II and Emperor Leo III, the latter wrote: “We [Christians] do not expect to enjoy there [heaven] commerce with women who remain forever virgin,” for “we put no faith in such silly tales engendered by extreme ignorance and by paganism.” But “for you who are given up to carnal vices, and who have never been known to limit the same, you who prefer your pleasures to any good, it is precisely for that reason that you consider the celestial realm of no account if it is not peopled with women” for sex, a reference to the houris.
On becoming acquainted with Islamic teaching, one Christian in Spain wondered “what will paradise be, but a tavern of unwearied gorging and a brothel of perpetual turpitude?” For the eighth century’s Nicetas Byzantinos, a Greek historian, the Koran was “full of blasphemies against the Most High, with all its ugly and vulgar filth,” particularly its claim that heaven amounted to a “sexual brothel.” This lead to the Byzantine denunciation of Allah as an impostor deity, namely Satan: “I anathematize the God of Muhammad,” read one early Byzantine canonical rite.
If Muslims, particularly of the Salafi persuasion—virtually all jihadis are Salafis—venerate and seek to emulate the world of early Islam, it should come as no surprise that the houris are still working their magic. The evidence far exceeds the opening anecdote concerning houris “yearning” for a Palestinian terrorist who stabbed Israeli policemen—to say nothing of all the other Palestinian acts of terror connected to the houris.
For instance, Naa’imur Rahman, a Muslim man from north London, who was “found guilty of plotting to blow up the gates of Downing Street and assassinate Theresa May …. was motivated by the idea of being met by virgins in paradise after the attack, the court heard.” During discussions with an undercover officer, Rahman said that he was eager to “take her [May’s] head off, yeah. I want to go to jannah [heaven] when I’m doing it. I don’t want to come back. I want them to kill me, but I just want to do my thing before I’m killed…. [I’ve been] thinking a lot about hur al ayn [houris]… In sha allah [god willing] I meet them soon.”
Prior to the desperate battle for Mosul in late 2016, the Islamic State’s “caliph,” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, said: “All [who die fighting], without exception, will enter paradise as martyrs. Moreover, you will enter paradise with four more houris than other martyrs. For just as you stand by me now, so will they stand by you—or under you, or above you—so that you might forget what will happen to you by way of violence, death, and degradation in this war.”
Another video that appeared in September 2016 depicts a young boy surrounded by other children singing about jihad and “martyrdom”: “Oh houris, we will meet in Paradise. We accept the rule of Allah. We implement the Sharia and the Sunna.”
For another idea of just how pervasive the houri is in Islamic thought, consider its impact on Muslim women. During the Q&A of a televised Islamic program, a woman called in expressing outrage at the houris; she would be driven “mad with jealousy,” she said, to see her husband copulating with these supernaturally beautiful women all day in heaven.
The cleric responded telling her that “when you enter paradise, Allah will remove the jealousy from your heart. And have no fear, for you will lord over the houris and be their queen.” Still apprehensive, the Muslim wife pleaded: “But must he have the houris?” Laughing, the cleric reassured her: “Look, when you enter paradise, you will be more beautiful than the houris—you will be their mistress. Okay? And, when you enter paradise Allah will remove any jealousy or concerns from your heart.”
All this is a reminder that the Muslim mindset and the motivations behind the jihad are many and multifaceted—and even include those that disbelieve in Allah and the afterlife altogether.
Regrettably, few in the West seem to understand this. Thus a French reporter who infiltrated and spent time with the Islamic State said “I never saw any Islam. No will to improve the world,” only “suicidal” men looking forward to being “martyred” on, as they explained it to him, their “path to paradise,” where “women [houris] are waiting for us.”
Western secular minds would do well to stop projecting their own exclusively materialistic paradigms onto jihadis—such as when the Obama administration said that people join the Islamic State for “a lack of opportunity for jobs”—and start understanding Islam’s paradigms and motivations on their own terms.
[For more on the houris, see Ibrahim’s recent book, Sword and Scimitar.]