So this is something that bothers a lot of people who might be willing to give Muslims the benefit the doubt, but find this idea that in heaven you get a harem of virgins a ridiculous and very un-spiritual idea.
There was an interesting article in The Gaurdian that reviewed this topic many years ago but of course it keeps coming up because its a popular propaganda tool for the anti-Muslim folks.
Of course, the Quran doesn’t actually say 72 Virgins anywhere. As the excerpts below explain, the Qur’an describes pure male and female companions in paradise. The 72 number is mentioned in hadith and commentary.
Party Til Fajr explains the specific Quranic verses that discuss the ‘virgins in heaven’ thing by examining the actual Arabic of the text in a Q&A post on the issue. I’m quoting a some excerpts below:
I think the issue of Heaven (Jannah) is something that is beyond our perception as human beings.
We see what a Bedouin Arab would find to be the ultimate in paradise. These were the things that were the most desirable, the most rare, and they were then put forth to the Bedouin Arabs to give some semblance of a description of paradise. However, even within this framework we still get reminded that this Heaven will not be governed by the rules and frameworks of this world, and that the descriptions are that of another world, beyond the human conception.
When you read about Heaven, it becomes clear that this description is many times metaphorical, which is a process that The Qur’an acknowledges that is used in its text (see 3:7-9) and thus, we must read just how literal we take description of a world that will be beyond our human conception.
As far as the word used to describe these “virgins,” “maidens,” etc it is hur, and for some reason it is described as some sort of virginal woman, and frankly, that might be what it will be, or it might be “grapes” as others have argued (which I am actually quite skeptical about) but, regardless of what it means, the reality is that when The Qur’an wants to be very explicit about something, it is, and when something is more vague, I generally believe this underlines a metaphorical or a meaning that goes beyond our human conception. In this instance, as it involves the description of heaven, I am inclined to believe that hur is one of those terms.
Just to be thorough, let us explore the plural noun hur, which is actually a plural noun that is both masculine and feminine.
The word hur is actually the plural of the word ahwar (masculine) and hawra (feminine) which in either sense describes a “person distinguished by hawar,” which is to denote a sort of purity, by being a descriptor of the extreme “whiteness” of their eyes, which is to describe the purity of their morality since, according to Razi, “a person’s eye reflects his soul more clearly than any other part of the human body.”
Regardless of whether Razi, Tabari, or Asad are correct in their deductions of what hur means, the reality is that the word is one that is the plural form of both male and female forms, and thus, you can decide what you want to make out of that. Perhaps you can disagree with me, and that’s fine, because ultimately, I don’t think it matters what hur means, because it simply is up to the reader to determine that.
Now, there is a good reason why I am apathetic towards the description of the particulars of Heaven in The Qur’an, because I believe that this oft-forgotten phrase in The Qur’an is what underlines what Heaven truly is:
“(60) We have [indeed] decreed that death shall be [ever-present] among you: but there is nothing to prevent Us (61) from changing the nature of your existence and bringing you into being [anew] in a manner [as yet] unknown to you.” [56:60-61] Muhammad Asad
It is because of this passage from The Qur’an that I am inclined to believe that Heaven will be something beyond my conception of what true Paradise could actually be. It will be a state which I do not understand, a state which will be beyond any of our understanding, and thus beyond the politics of whether a man or a woman wants a hur or not, whether they want gardens, or whatever.
I don’t think we will be concerned with multiple spouses, because these are concerns of our humanity, and our physical bodies, constructed by our society which dictates how to understand our appetites.