Are the Hur al-`Ayn exclusively female?
The way of the commentators of Ahl al-Sunna as well as Daniel Webster is to understand the “Houris” as the female spouses of the righteous in Paradise. Our evidence is their description as “buxom girls” (kawa`ib) – in Surat al-Naba’ – who are “virginal” – in two verses in Surat al-Rahman – and their similarly unambiguous and detailed – such as their never getting menses – descriptions by the Prophet himself in innumerable authentic narrations, as well as Ibn `Abbas and the authorities in Tafsir among the other Companions and Tabi`in.
As we had agreed – I think – in a similar exchange on soc.religion. islam with Brother `Abd al-Rahman Lomax back in July 1996 (cited in full at the end of this reply), the sound narrations in the two Sahihs (al-Bukhari and Muslim) specify that:
– “there is not in all Paradise a single unmarried man”; – “Each man among them shall have two wives”; – “the marrow of each of the two wives’ shanks will be seen glimmering under the flesh” i.e. these beautiful wives will be glistening and shining; – “their wives will be the Hur al-`Ayn”;
The Qur’an further describes those wives as: kawa`iba atraban (in Surat al-Naba’) = “Kawa`ib for companions”; but what are the Kawa`ib?
According to al-Razi in his Tafsir (8:311): “The kawa`ib are the buxom girls (nawahid) whose breasts have become full (taka“abat) and round (tafallakat).” Then he moves on to the next verse. I would like to see who still desexualizes the meaning of the Huris after this.
Al-Razi in Tafsir Surat al-Rahman (8:31) also said that the order in which the rewards of the faithful in Paradise are listed is beautifully suggestive as it becomes more and more intimate, moving from the initial mention of “the two gardens” (jannatan) to “two springs” (`aynan) inside, to “paired fruits” (fakiha), to “beds” (furushin), and finally to what is inside those beds namely, the “chaste-eyed maidens” (qasirat al-tarf) [later further named “wide-eyed maidens restricting themselves to their dwellings” (hurun maqsuratun fi al-khiyam)].
Nor is the above contradicted by the quotation of al-Hasan al-Basri given in the “Scholarsboard” post, nor by Asad’s carefully selected snippet from al-Razi cited in it.
As for the hadith-qudsi retained for “sum[ming] up my [the “Scholarsboard” poster’s] understanding of the subject,” namely, “I have readied for My righteous servants what no eye has ever seen, and no ear
has ever heard, and no heart of man has ever conceived”; this hadith, if applied specifically to the Houris (which it originally does not), would refer – Allah knows best – to modality. Meaning, the like of their beauty was never experienced.
It is true that Paradise contains what cannot be imagined, but it also contains what can be imagined. Both kinds are mentioned in the texts, cf. wa utu bihi mutashabihan in the beginning of Surat al-Baqara. The Qur’an in its perfection – and the Prophet in his perfect teaching – address both spiritual and materialistic mindsets. As al-Razi said in Tafsir Surat al-Rahman (8:31):
“Among the boons of Paradise are those existing in Dunya and those not existing in it; what is known as well as what is not known; what can be described and what cannot be described; sensual pleasures and non-sensual pleasures. As it were, ‘Two Gardens’.”
In addition, there are as many different kinds of rewards as there are different kinds of Paradise, some above others in rank and level. Allah Most High manifests Himself to part of the dwellers of Paradise and not all. In fact there are several Paradises, each one greater in reward than the other, Ridwan, `Adn, Firdaws being highest.
To render abstract the very real rewards of Paradise, is not the way of Ahl al-Sunna but that of the Mu`tazila and other minority sects long since refuted. If you insist, then perhaps you should also say that the “immortal young men” of Paradise are also not actually men, and are only metaphorically young; or that the “tender meat of birds pleasurable to them” and wine of Paradise are some kind of unimaginable, intangible spiritual viand and ambrosia – ending up in metaphorizing also the punishment and reward of the grave, Hellfire, the Prophet’s Basin, the Bridge, the Balance, the Vision of Allah Most High etc.
Two questions arise:
1- Why does the Qur’an describe the Hur at length but never frankly names them by their genus (jins), “women”?
Al-Razi in Tafsir Surat al- Rahman (8:32) answers that this is a subtlety (latifa) alluding to the qualitative difference of the *kind* of woman found in Paradise with that known and observed in Dunya:
“For the name of the genus discloses the reality (haqiqa) of a thing in a way the description (wasf) does not. Secondly, in order to magnify their status in the sight of those to whom they are betrothed, for the daughters of kings are never mentioned except through their attributes.”
2- Why would the Qur’an frequently mention a sexual reward specific to men in Paradise and never its equivalent for women?
The Holy Qur’an keeps a high sense of modesty in addressing the sexual rewards of women in Paradise because clarification of such matters was and is beneath the dignity of a woman to seek, especially an Arab woman, and most especially an Arab woman of the Quraysh or the Ansar.
This does not mean that such rewards do not exist, on the contrary – Allah Most High is able to create them, plus He is Most Just and Equitable, plus He is the Most Generous of those who possess generosity! But out of tact, the “how” or “what” of this particular matter, is not broached.
A contemporary example of this sense of pudeur is that a father openly promises to fetch the best wife he can for his son – and hearing this makes the son happy -, but if he were to promise to fetch the best husband for his daughter he would hurt her feelings, as the girl does not ask but is asked – needless to say, in traditional society, not the wild West.
The least one should say is that Allah Most High is perfectly able to reward the men among the faithful with chaste maidens of great beauty in Paradise, just as explicited in the texts and without divestment of meaning; and Allah Most High is perfectly able to reward the women among the faithful with a perfect equivalent left unnamed out of regard for the greater modesty of women. No-one Allah rewards can be possibly disappointed. Then there are more rewards different than this, and greater yet different than the preceding, and higher yet, etc. and Allah is Most Knowing.
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Previous reply on the same topic on SRI in July 1999
In an article firstname.lastname@example.org (AbdulraHman Lomax) writes in part:
Then I find what Siddiqi numbers as 6793: Muhammad reported that some (persons) stated with a sense of pride and some discussed whether there would be more men in Paradise than women. [!!!] It was upon this that that Abu Huraira reported that Abu’l-Qasim (the Holy Prophet, said: The first
group to get into Paradise would have their faces as bright as the full moon during the night, and the next to this group would have their faces as bright as the shining stars in the sky, and every person would have two wives and the marrow of their shanks would glimmer beneath the flesh and there would be none without a wife in Paradise.
Now, reading this in English, I must suspect that the word for “wife” is zawj, which actually means “mate,” and does not refer exclusively to the female.
The word in the hadith of Muslim is zawja not zawj, more precisely zawjatân since he will have two wives, and yes, the word does refer exclusively to the female linguistically.
This hadith is also found in Sahih Bukhari, Book of the beginning of creation, with slight variations but the word for spouses is there also zawjatan.
This is the part of the hadith in Muslim with the mention of the wives:
li kulli imri’in minhum zawjatan ithnatan (Each man among them shall have two wives)
yura mukhkhu suqihima min wara’ al-lahmi (the marrow of each of the two wives’ shanks will be seen glimmering under the flesh) i.e. they will be whiter than white
wa ma fi al-jannati a`zabu (and there is not in all Paradise a single unmarried man)
In 6795, in reference to the “first group,” we read “their wives will be large-eyed maidens….” Of course this, if I extrapolate back to the Arabic, would be azwajuhum huwrun ‘iyn, which is our topic and our question to begin with: are the huwr exclusively female?
Correct extrapolation. The Arabic is: wa azwajuhum al-hur al-`ayn, immediately followed by: akhlaquhum `ala khalqi rajulin wahid `ala surati abihim adama. I.e. the form of their creation is that of a single man, that of their father Adam.
In other words: the hur are the wives of a group of men that all resemble Sayyidina Adam.
And from another perspective: Both hadiths are speaking of the same group, namely: “the first group to enter paradise.” That is: the female spouses of 6793 are the hur al-`ayn of 6795. Allah knows best.
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Saabirah [N N] wrote in a message
[Concerning] the subject of “houris” as you have defined the term.
Surat al-Waqi’ah, ayaat 22 and 23:
“And [with them will be their] companions pure, most beautiful of eye, (23) like unto pearls still hidden in their shells.”
I again refer to Muhammad Asad’s notes on these ayaat.
“The noun “hur” — rendered by me as “companions pure” — is a plural of both ahwar (masc.) and hawra (fem.), either of which describes “a person distinguished by “hawar”, which latter term primarily denotes “intense whiteness of the eyeballs and lustrous black of the iris” (Qamus). In a more general sense, hawar signifies simply “whiteness” (Asas) or, as a moral qualification, “purity” (cf. Tabari, Razi, and Ibn Kathir in their explanations of the term “hawariyyun” in 3:52). Hence, the compound expression “hur ‘in” signifies, approximately, “pure beings [or, more specifically, “companions pure”], most beautiful of eye” (which latter is the meaning of ‘in, the plural of a’yan). In his comments on the identical expression in 52:20, Razi observes that ‘it may be understood as “rich of soul” or “soulful”. As regards the term “hur” in it’s more current feminine connotation, quite a number of the earliest Qur’an commentators — among them Al-Hasan al-Basri — understood it as signifying no more and no less than “the righeous 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 Tazi in his comments on 44-45). end of note.
Seeing that the noun used (“hur”) is the plural form for *both* the masculine and feminine, I cannot understand on what authority we might say that Qur’an uses the plural noun “hur” to refer to “virgin, *female* dwellers of Paradise”. To be sure, even my reference does point out that the current understanding is feminine…. that does not make it the correct understanding. However, it appears that the even early commentators on the ayaat understood that the nature of the human being in Heaven is one of purity and beauty beyond knowing.
You have alluded to the fact that “we just cannot know”…. I agree with you Sister and I believe that in this case we will agree that that which we cannot know or comprehend has been promised to be pleasurable…. to say the very least. Surat As-Sajdah, Ayat 17:
“And as for all such believers, no human being can imagine what blissful
delights, as yet hidden, await them in the life to come as a reward for all
that they did.”
A Hadith in reference to this ayat is contained in the following note:
Lit., “what is kept hidden for them [by way] of a joy of the eyes” i.e., of blissful delights, irrespective of whether seen, heard or felt. The expression “what is kept hidden for them” clearly alludes to the unknowable — and therefore, only allegorically describable — quality of life in the hereafter. The impossibility of man’s really “imagining” paradise has been summed up by the Prophet in the well-authenticated hadith: “God says: ‘I have readied for My righteous servants what no eye has ever seen, and no ear has ever heard, and no heart of man has ever conceived” (Bukhari and Muslim, on the authority of Abu Jurayrah; also Tirmidhi). This hadith has always been regarded by the Companions as the Prophet’s own comment on the above verse (cf., Fath al-Bari VIII, 418 f.).