The Quran describes the women of Paradise as having beautiful large eyes and attractive features, untouched before by any man. It uses various terms, including hur (fair or pure), to describe them. But who are these women? Are they the women of this world who shall enter Paradise or a totally different creation brought into being only for the pleasure of the men in the afterlife? A study of the Quran and Hadith indicates that these beautiful “virgins” in Paradise shall be none other than the righteous women of this world.
Regarding the women of Paradise, Allah states in the Quran, “Indeed, We have produced them in a [new] creation, and made them virgins, devoted [to their husbands] and of equal age.” (Al-Waqiah 56:35-37) These verses point to the fact that the women of this world shall be provided new forms prior to their entry into Paradise. This is not something difficult to comprehend; death, during the worldly life, deprives a person of his or her physical form. Therefore, in the hereafter, people shall be given new bodies, which explains why the women of Paradise shall be “untouched” before by anyone. Moreover, Allah shall make these women exceedingly beautiful and provide them perfect forms as a reward for their worldly conduct.
The proof for the above argument clearly exists in Hadith. Once, an old woman came to Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and said, “O Messenger of Allah, supplicate that Allah grants me entry into Paradise.” The Prophet ﷺ replied, “O mother, an old woman cannot enter Paradise.” The woman started crying and began to leave. The Prophet ﷺ said, “Say to the woman that one will not enter Paradise in a state of old age, but Allah will make all women of Paradise young virgins.” He then recited the above quoted verses of the Quran: “Indeed, We have produced them in a [new] creation, and made them virgins, devoted [to their husbands] and of equal age.” (Shamail Tirmidhi)
At other times too, the Prophet ﷺ explained the above verses as referring to the believing and righteous women of this world. Salamah bin Yazid narrates that he heard the Prophet ﷺ say regarding these verses: “This implies the women of the world, whether they died virgins or married.” (Ibn Abi Hatim) Such ahadith clearly reveal that the virgins of Paradise shall be from among the women of this world, and not any foreign creation.
Ibn Kathir, the renowned classical scholar and commentator of the Quran, similarly interprets verses 35 to 37 of Surah Al-Waqiah to refer to the righteous women of this world. He writes, “Therefore, Allah’s statement Inna ansha’na hunna [Indeed, We have produced them] means that in the other life, after they became old in this life, they were brought back while virgin, youthful, being delightfully passionate with their husbands, beautiful, kind, and cheerful.” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir)
The same verses of the Quran – “Indeed, We have produced them in a [new] creation, and made them virgins…” – have been explained by another renowned commentator of the Quran, Abul Ala Maududi, as follows: “This signifies the virtuous women of the world, who will enter Paradise on the basis of their faith and good works. Allah will make them young no matter how aged they might have died in the world; will make them beautiful whether or not they were beautiful in the world; and will make them virgins whether they died virgins in the world or after bearing children. If their husbands also entered Paradise with them, they would be joined with them, otherwise, Allah will wed them to another dweller in Paradise.” (Tafheem ul Quran)
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Therefore, it is clearly established that the “virgins” in Paradise shall be the righteous believing women of this world. Allah shall create them anew, and make them young and beautiful – just as the men admitted to Paradise shall be made young and handsome – as a reward for having faith in Allah and doing good deeds on earth. It is also important to note that the ahadith reported by Ibn Majah and Tirmidhi stating that a man in Paradise shall be entitled to seventy-two wives are weak (daeef) according to the scholars of Hadith, and thus cannot be relied upon.
Interpreting the Term Hur
Many Muslims believe that while the women of this world shall be made beautiful in Paradise, the term hur (hoor or houri) in the Quran refers to a totally different female creation – brought about for the pleasure of the righteous men alone – that shall exist parallel to the female believers in Paradise. However, hur is one of the various descriptive terms used in the Quran for the female inhabitants of Paradise. Some Muslim scholars and exegetes – including Hasan Al-Basri, one of the most famous and outstanding taabiun – have explained that hur is a reference to the women of this world who shall be created anew and made beautiful virgins in Paradise.
The noun hur is a plural of both the masculine ahwar and the feminine hawra that describe a person with intense whiteness of the eyes and jet-black iris – considered a sign of beauty. Hur also has a connotation of being fair in color or pure. Hence, the word hur can generally be used to describe both males and females, although, it is more commonly used for females.
The Quran uses the term hur at four different places to refer to the women in Paradise who shall marry the righteous men there. However, there is no evidence in the Quran that the hur shall be a non-worldly creation, and not the women of this world. In fact, the term hur has interchangeably been used with the term abkaar (virgins) that undoubtedly describes the righteous women of this world as previously proved. There is no indication in the Quran, and hence no reason to believe, that the hur shall be any different from these virgins – the righteous women of this world created anew.
Muhammad Asad, a twentieth century mufassir of the Quran, writes, “As regards the term hur in its more current, feminine connotation, quite a number of the earliest Quran commentators – among them Al-Hasan al-Basri – understood it as signifying no more and no less than ‘the righteous among the women of the human kind’ (Tabari) – ‘[even] those toothless old women of yours whom God will resurrect as new beings’ (Al-Hasan, as quoted by Razi in his comments on 44:54).” (The Message of the Quran)
Other scholars, such as Abul Ala Maududi, also state that the hur shall be from among the women of this world. Maududi writes, “…But they will not in any case be creatures of the kind of the jinn and fairies, for man cannot cohabit with a kind other than his own.” (Tafheem ul Quran) It is, therefore, most likely that the righteous women of this world shall be the ones made virgins and exceedingly beautiful by Allah in Paradise, whose features the Quran occasionally describes, and who have been promised as wives for the righteous men admitted to Paradise.