Friday, January 08, 2016


Rewards for the Shahid/Martyr

There are many ways to deceive—one is the lie by omission. Critics of Islamic militants often use this tactic. One common example is to highlight suicide attacks and then to strip the acts of their larger context and ascribe purely or mostly carnal motives to the attackers.

One prime example of this is the "Martyrs rewarded with 72 Virgins" trope. The most effective lies often have a kernel of truth and that is the case here but the hadith at issue says rather more:
That the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: "There are six things with Allah for the martyr. He is forgiven with the first flow of blood (he suffers), he is shown his place in Paradise, he is protected from punishment in the grave, secured from the greatest terror, the crown of dignity is placed upon his head - and its gems are better than the world and what is in it - he is married to seventy two wives along Al-Huril-'Ayn of Paradise, and he may intercede for seventy of his close relatives."
Here's a different translation of that passage:
It was reported in the hadeeth of al-Miqdaam ibn Ma'di Karb that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said:
"The martyr (shaheed) has seven blessings from Allaah: he is forgiven from the moment his blood is first shed; he will be shown his place in Paradise; he will be spared the trial of the grave; and he will be secure on the Day of the Greatest Terror (the Day of Judgement); there will be placed on his head a crown of dignity, one ruby of which is better than this world and all that is in it; he will be married to seventy-two of al-hoor al-'iyn; and he will be permitted to intercede for seventy of his relatives."
In English, Al-Huril-'Ayn/al-hoor al-'iyn is the term usually transliterated as "houris" and translated as "virgins". At least two more things are worth pointing out: First, it's not transparently evident that the marriage depicted in Paradise is a physical one consummated sexually. By analogy, the New Testament describes the Church—the collective body of believers—as the virginal Bride of Christ (see e.g. 2 Corinthians 11:2 and Ephesians 5:22-32). Second, there is reason to believe that this alleged motivation is exaggerated or even fabricated.

To be clear, it may very well be that the 72 houris are widely understood by Muslims as a carnal reward for the shahid in Paradise. Muslims are no less capable than Jews or Christians of ignorance or dissimulation in defense of their faith. In any case, the Western media have generally chosen to decontextualize the (rather infrequent) act of the Muslim suicide bomber and to emphasize a salacious explanation to the detriment, in my opinion, of all except those want to add fuel to the fires of conflict. For a discussion of the larger context of suicide attacks I recommend Jacqueline Rose's "Deadly Embrace" in the London Review of Books.

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