Trying the Make Sense of the ’72 Virgins’ Myth… March 30, 2011

Trying the Make Sense of the ’72 Virgins’ Myth…

Reader Alex has several questions about the supposed Islamic belief in men receiving 72 virgins in the afterlife:

  1. Where do these 72 virgins come from?
  2. Does anyone specify that these virgins are all female?
  3. Assuming they are, are they supposed to be the souls of women who died before having sex in their mortal life?
  4. Or is there some virgin factory in heaven producing females for the sole purpose of having sex with dead men?
  5. Doesn’t that make god a pimp?
  6. And since they believe that you don’t take your body with you to heaven does it really matter if these women have or haven’t had sex?
  7. If these are souls of females who died virgins, doesn’t that mean that a good portion of these virgins would be the souls of children? (Ick… just ick.)
  8. Also, the implication is that you get to have sex with all of these virgins as your reward, but without a body, what is the point?
  9. What afterlife story do Muslim women get to look forward to? (Clearly they don’t get to be with their male loved ones as they will be hanging out in front of the virgin factory.)
  10. Or do they get forced into being *wink, wink* “virgins” for some man other than their husbands or loved ones? (That’s a lot of coordination to make sure that a man doesn’t show up for his 72 virgins and say “Hey, that one there is my wife! I know that she’s not a virgin!” That would be awkward to try to come back from.)

Seriously, this would require a huge staff of people to coordinate this effort.

One big pimping coordination party.

For what it’s worth, scholar Margaret Nydell writes in Understanding Arabs: A Guide for Modern Times that even the myth is a myth:

The [72 Virgins] belief is to mainstream Muslims as the belief that we will one day be issued wings and a harp, and walk on clouds, is to mainstream Christians.

That said, feel free to share your answers to any of the questions (or the whole “72 virgins” concept in itself) in the comments.

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  • I can assert that women do not want 72 male virgins. I have heard that the “reward” for women is to get their husbands back. Whoopee. Not sure what happens if he arrives with a coterie of maidens.

    One question I always had was whether these virgins were recyclable. Does their virginity return again and again, or are fresh virgins issued? Problematic.

    I prefer the “golden raisins” translation in the place of “virgins.” As in, “welcome to paradise, here’s your snack and your wife.”

  • Other interpretations are that the expression really means “72 white raisons” or “many precious jewels” where “72” is sometimes substituted for “many”.

    The bottom line, though, is that since religion is all made up anyway, why argue about any particular part of the made-up story? Except that it is fun to form camps and argue. Infidels!!!

  • maybe the implication isn’t about having sex with the souls of virgins… maybe it’s more about the idea of having women (or men, or children) who are completely devoted to you, and have never been physically connected to another person via sex. So it’s more of a power thing. Feeling powerful by having 72 virgins adore you and devoted to you, to do your bidding or whatever in the afterlife.

  • ACN

    Robin Williams has a funny bit about how the correct translation is actually “72 Virginians” (from his “Live on Broadway” circa 2002?)
    Def NSFW

  • Steve

    What’s so great about virgins anyways? Better to have 72 experienced women.

  • George Gauthier

    It’s not just female virgins either. The faithful are also promised the services of boys (houris) who are as beautiful as pearls. Ahem.

    See Surah 52 verse 24

    I had to laugh at one bowdlerized translation I came across where houris was translated as “manservants”

  • Ida Know

    I once heard a comedian give a routine where he talked about the “72 virgins” myth from the virgins’ point of view. Paraphrased: “You’re a good Muslim girl, you wear the veil, you don’t learn to read, you obey your father, and you remain a virgin. Then you die, and what’s your reward? You become a sex slave for terrorists!”

  • If anyone has read the Wormwood comic, Wormwood visits heaven (where everybody goes if they think they deserve it) and sees a suicide bomber spending his afterlife looking after 72 baby girls. 🙂

    This is naturally not a relaxing way to spend eternity.

  • Matt H.

    Heck yea! 72 porn stars!

  • ButchKitties

    I like to think the virgins are 72 mean, elderly Catholic nuns. With rulers.

  • siveambrai

    If these are souls of females who died virgins, doesn’t that mean that a good portion of these virgins would be the souls of children? (Ick… just ick.)

    Given that the youngest and favorite wife of Muhammad was 9 (12?) when they married the souls of young children aren’t too ick persay.

  • I blogged about this exact issue a while ago, and got a few comments. In fact, the whole thing led to a massive, massive comment debate between myself and a female muslim acquaintance. I hope it’s okay for me to link to my posts on it here and here. The second link is to the post where my muslim friend responded.

  • Former (American) Muslim here. Also spent time working in the Middle East.
    The 72 virgins thing is not made-up. It’s Islamic doctrine. Some Muslims and their liberal Western apologists try to claim it’s not really part of Islam because it’s just so damned embarrassing.
    Also, who said anything about you not having a body in Islamic heaven? In Islam, heaven is a sensual place, with good food and hot, horny chicks. It’s nothing like the modern Christian incarnation(s) of celestial bliss. Frankly, I find the Christian concept(s) of heaven to be a major drag. On the other hand, the Muslim concept of heaven is a primitive screw fest. For a young hetero man from a shit-hole, sexually repressive society, I’d say the choice was a no-brainer.
    Spend a few days (or hours) in a place like Saudi and you can see why so many guys are eager to blow themselves up.
    Because heterosexual mixing of any sort is strictly forbidden, homosexual activity is rampant over there. Young boys are constantly getting hit on and acquired as sex partners by older Saudi men. And as long as you are not on the receiving end, you are not seen as being gay. One of my married, hetero Saudi interpreter/translators was trying to nail me, yet he swore up and down he was not a homosexual.
    It’s fucking hot, miserable and depressing (the country, I mean, not the gay sex…I wouldn’t know). The same thing happens in other Muslim countries to one degree or another, but Saudi is by far the worst.
    Long story short: If I was an ignorant, indoctrinated little man-boy, I’d blow my ass up too if I thought that was the only chance I ever had of getting laid or keeping older men from buggering me.

  • Anonymous

    I believe Margaret Nydell is greatly overstating her case. Videos and discussion boards (Ummah, TurnToIslam, etc) show that this concept is discussed and explored.

    In a personal anecdote, the perfectly westernized man I met, originally from Morocco, told me that it was 20 virgins. Different interpretations come up with different numbers of virgins (hilariously discussed by Billy Connolly here NSFW language).

    I tend to look directly to Ibn Warraq for my information.

  • Hmm, sorry, there’s one more, and I thought it was the most interesting discussion of the three. Here it is.

  • Claudia

    My limited understanding of this is that:

    a- You most certainly do get a body in the afterlife. I wouldn’t be suprised if you are also promised a “perfect” body to take care of issues like inborn deformities and the like.

    b- The virgins are not human in origin. They are supposedly women more beautiful than any normal human woman and are described by clerics as having long dark hair, large dark eyes etc.

    c- Women don’t get to have 72 boytoys obviously, but not all Muslim men get the virgins either. This is supposed to be a “special” reward.

    There is a great talk on suicide bombers and their psychology on YouTube if anyone is interested.

  • @Claudia,

    “The virgins are not human in origin.”

    Correct, they are akin to succubi in nature, except with no evil intent.

  • L.Long

    well…’The [72 Virgins] belief is to mainstream Muslims as the belief that we will one day be issued wings and a harp, and walk on clouds, is to mainstream Christians’….
    Well then it means most muslins do believe the 72 virgin thing because almost all the xtians I know do believe they will be issued wings and a harp, and walk on clouds.

  • Can’t remember where I read it, I believe it was an article on suicide bombers, but it asserted that the 72 virgins thing was used by the men who recruit suicide bombers to induce them to go through with the act as in, do this and you go straight to heaven and are rewarded with 72 virgins.

  • Richard Wade

    Given enough time, everything becomes boring. Wings, harps and clouds, maybe a few days. Orgies with heavenly hookers, maybe a few years. Eventually you’ll want a vacation sitting in meditation in a cave for a few centuries. But after hundreds of millions of years, no matter what you’ve done with your consciousness, even attaining all-engulfing bliss, your endless existence will become intolerable. You’ll wish for nirvana, for oblivion, for complete annihilation. You’ll go to Mr. Big Ennui Himself, and beg for true death. He’ll understand, and will probably grant it. After all, he’s even more bored than you, since he’s not only bored in the present moment, he’s simultaneously experiencing all his eternal past boredom and all his eternal future boredom as well. Ain’t no surprises for an all-knowing being.

  • Arachobia

    How’s that for irony? Have just come back from a comedy show by Pieter Dirk Uys where he made two remarks about suicide bombers going to heaven:

    1) The suicide bombers go to heaven, but they do so in pieces and the virgins have to share ‘the smallest piece.’

    2) The bombers only learn after arrival that the virgins are all Jewish 😛

  • Nicoline

    I don’t read or speak Arabic, but I’ve heard that the 72 virgin thing is actually a mistranslation of 72 raisins. Just like christians have been driving themselves crazy over the mistranslation of the word that really just means “young woman.”

  • flatlander100

    Seems What It All Means is smily that Muslims disagree about the “true meaning” of vague texts in the Koran as various flavors of Christians disagree [heatedly] about the “true meaning” of vague texts in the Bible.

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    But why bother trying to make sense of it? It makes no sense, no more or less sense than the story about the God who committed suicide to satiate his own wrath, or the evil Lord Xenu tossing aliens into volcanoes.

  • Richard P.

    72 virgins, it was a negotiation.

  • TiltedHorizon

    According to several close Muslim friends these promises of 72 virgins, with (to quote them) large eyes and big breasts, are true. My friends don’t believe in this themselves but do admit it is part of traditional Islamic beliefs.

  • JSug

    I imagine that whether or not it is doctrine or a quaint misinterpretation depends on what sect you belong to. Much like matters of dogma in Christianity or any other religion. For instance, not all Christian sects believe in literal transubstantiation of the host.

    That said, I’ve definitely seen translated suicide bomber videos where they specifically mention their intent to obtain their share of virgins in the afterlife. So whether or not “mainstream” Muslims accept it as fact, there are certainly some who do. I think Ms. Nydell may have fallen victim to the no true Scotsman fallacy.

  • Sure the 72 virgins thing is nonsense for mainstream Islam and it is of course disingenuous to suggest that Muslims believe it – but a teenager strapping 20lbs of Semtex to his body is not mainstream. The “handlers” of these young terrorists use this 72 virgins image among others, such as the glory of martyrdom, as incentives to encourage someone to do something so horrific.

  • @Nicoline,

    “I don’t read or speak Arabic, but I’ve heard that the 72 virgin thing is actually a mistranslation of 72 raisins.”

    Other than my ex mother-in-law, when’s the last time you’ve heard of a guy giving it to a raisin?

  • Too bad it wasn’t written in any holy Islamic texts that “Thou shalt only blow yourself up to tiny bits in the privacy of your own home”.
    There would be less collateral damage.

  • @Jeff P,

    “Thou shalt only blow yourself up to tiny bits in the privacy of your own home”.

    You know there’s a Pythonesque line (or song) in there just waiting to come out…

  • Tony

    I tell you what: Westerners will stop perpetuating the “myth” of the 72 virgins once the Islamic world stops perpetuating the forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

  • Lost In The Bible Belt

    The only “reward” I see in it for women is the final freedom of death to escape a culture that is so blatently anti woman.


    without a body, it must be like a Vulcan mind meld.

  • Karen

    What man would want 72 virgins? I mean honestly, who could put up with all those tears and crying?

  • Tony, it’s not only Islam that spreads the CotEoZ myth. Pat Robertson believes in it too.

  • Sesoron

    Regarding the third point from the original list:

    I reckon that, linguistically, the word they use for the virgins has a gender connotation. That was actually true of our English word “virgin” originally, as it was originally ripped direct from the Latin virgo, virginis, which specifically meant a female. I don’t know whether Arabic has a formal system of grammatical gender like many Indo-European languages do, but it seems likely that the word in Arabic would be specific to females.

    In any case, it seems an odd question to me, whether the Arabic word could possibly mean “a male who hasn’t had sex” as well as “a female who hasn’t had sex”, in large part because our word for it is an aberration from its original sense: it first specified a female, and then the male sense was added when our society became more open and we had to start talking about “innocent” men without reference to their actual marital status.

  • No number is mentioned but “pure” companions are promised. I seem to recall that there is some doubt as to whether the original text is actually referring to dried grapes rather than women.

    Which sounds like a cue for a poem

    “Their’s not to raisin why,
    Their’s but to do and die,”

    Sura 76:18-19 also refers to young men waiting on you
    “76:18 (The water of) a spring therein, named Salsabil.
    76:19 There wait on them immortal youths, whom, when thou seest, thou wouldst take for scattered pearls.”

    Check Skeptics Annotated Quran for more goodies.

  • Ruf

    “They’re always going, don’t deal with terrorists. Let’s deal with them. What’s Allah offering you boys, 100 virgins? We’ll give you 50 slags. Or two women from Dundee…”

    Frankie Boyle, Mock the Week

  • alex

    The houri story in the Koran exists. Muslims who fight for Islam and die while fighting go straight to heaven and get some houris (“chaste women”, in other words, virgins). It might be the greatest piece of military propaganda ever invented.

    By the way, men also get young boys in heaven to pleasure them too.

    Where the number 72 came from, I don’t know.

    You can read this in the Koran yourself. Some terrorists who are questioned admit that one of their motivations is “1000 virgins in heaven”.

  • littlejohn

    I was an early bloomer (I’m a Baby Boomer) who was sexually kind of an aggressive jerk in the early 70s.
    I had sex with three virgins in my teens, and every experience sucked. The girls cried in pain, bled copiously, and clearly didn’t much enjoy the experience. As a result, neither did I. I quickly learned that sex was much more pleasant with experienced women.
    Men who want virgins, in my opinion, are simply afraid of being compared, negatively, with other men.
    But why does that surprise me? Most religions are patriarchal and sexist. Islam is simply more offensive than most.
    BTW, while 72 virgins sounds like a lot, wouldn’t anybody consider that a small number spread over a literal eternity?

  • Sinfanti

    Nadia Williams blog pointed out a good question: “So why will women outnumber men in heaven by 72:1?” Where are all these females coming from?

    I’d say that the “hell” for women in other religions could be an eternity of servitude in the Islamic “heaven”. That might make the math balance better.

  • Craig

    73 naive young suicide bombers stuck in a room together.

  • Rollingforest

    Steve said “What’s so great about virgins anyways? Better to have 72 experienced women.”

    You could make that argument, but I think that the Muslims back then were saying that a virgin female had a tighter vagina and thus was more pleasurable to fuck than a woman who had been “stretched out” through years of use.

  • Rollingforest

    @Richard: I get your point, but I’m not sure that you would necessarily plea for nonexistence. If you eat your favorite food a lot, you’ll get bored of it, but as long as you eat other things too you won’t want to totally give up your favorite food. You might get bored with the 72 virgins after a while (side note: do they become virgins again after you fuck them? Does their hymen reform every time? I’m not sure the Islamic text covers this) but I don’t think that you’d just want to throw them away. I do a lot of the same things every day, but that doesn’t make me want to kill myself. I think it helps that I don’t remember every second of every day of my life since I was born so I can do the same thing over again without it becoming too monotonous. I think there could be enough variety in heaven to keep you mildly entertained for eternity.

    Obviously this is a moot point since heaven isn’t real, but you get what I mean.

  • Rollingforest

    Sinfanti, see Claudia’s post for discussion of this.

  • Rollingforest

    There are interesting cases of this concept being used in Muslim history. Hasan-i-Sabbah, grandmaster of an Islamic sect, would give his students Hashhash, a drug that would knock them out temporarily. He would then move them to a beautiful garden full of attractive virgins. They would be told this was heaven. After a while, they would be drugged again and brought back to their poverty stricken life. They would then be told that if they wanted to go back to this heaven, they had to do whatever Hasan-i-Sabbah told them to do. The Hashhashins became trained stealth killers for Hasan-i-Sabbah. The English term ‘assassin’ comes from a reference to this group.

  • Whitney
  • I’ve always thought it was more pertinent to ask what you’re supposed to do with the 72 virgins *later*. Let’s assume that you do have some form of body that you can use. Well, how long will the 72 virgins remain intact? Then what?

    Plus, as already pointed out, why Virgins? Surely 72 porn stars with no gag reflex would be a whole lot more fun?

  • sven

    I’m just wondering why these 72 ladies are still virginal?

  • John the Drunkard


    The blithe ease with which religionists lie about the more shamefull aspects of their beliefs. The ‘dark eyed maidens’ ARE in the Quran. Mohammed DID marry a six-year-old (even though he showed holy restraint by not fucking her until she was 9). Mohammed DID change the eternal-perfect-final-revelations dictated to him by god at the drop of a hat.

  • JB

    That Craig speaks the truth would prevent the 72/1 ratio.
    That seems like Justice, too. The suicide bombers likely deserve each other.

  • Yusuf

    I do know that it’s been claimed before by and influential Arab that Muhammad had said that, in paradise, true Muslims would receive 72 ‘houri,’ 80,000 servants, and a home the size of Arabia decked with domes, rubies and amethysts. This claim is no longer supported often by the scholars of Islam, still however many mainstream Muslims believe this to be true (especially the men.) This was likely said by Muslims in order to make the Arabs willing to be martyred in order to receive these rewards.

    Scholars used to be much smarter than the common people, they knew just how selfish and gullible we are. Now we are seeing in modernity the rise of the use of reason, much to the demise of preachers of any religion.

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