Approximately two weeks prior to the attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., CBS's 60 Minutes aired a report on the Palestinian Islamist organization Hamas. Reporter Bob Simon interviewed Hamas operative Muhammad Abu Wardeh, who recruited terrorists for suicide bombings in Israel. Abu Wardeh's words were translated into English as follows: "I described to him how God would compensate the martyr sacrificing his life for his land. If you become a martyr, God will give you 70 virgins, 70 wives, and everlasting happiness."
Some Muslim leaders contended that the English translation did not match the Arabic and accused CBS of fabricating the quote. Leaders of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), a U.S. organization, wrote to 60 Minutes and demanded a retraction, an apology, and time on the show for Islamic scholars to explain their religion's true teachings regarding violence and martyrdom.
CBS translated the Arabic term hur 'ayn as "virgins." According to two native Arabic speakers, Hafez Al-Mirazi Osman, Washington bureau chief of the Al-Jazeera television network, and Dr. Maher Hathout, a scholar at the Islamic Center of Southern California, the Arabic word has no sexual connotation or gender. Hathout said that a more appropriate translation would be "angel" or "heavenly being."
MPAC's Executive Director in Los Angeles, Salaam Al-Maryati, said that the issue is important to the estimated 7 to 10 million Muslims who he claims live in the U.S., because it confirms their fears that media organizations are intent on defaming their faith. In a published report, Hathout added, "There is nothing in the Koran or in Islamic teachings about 70 virgins or sex in Paradise. This is ridiculous, and every true Muslim knows that."
Maryati's and Hathout's claims aroused the ire of Sheikh Abd Al-Hadi Palazzi, head of the Cultural Institute of the Italian Islamic Community. Sheikh Palazzi wrote: "The only ridiculous thing is that someone who claims to be an 'Islamic scholar' makes public statements who prove beyond any possible doubt that he has never read the Tafsir [Koranic commentary] or Ibn Kathir and the Sunan [religious rulings based on the customs of the Prophet] of Imam Al-Tirmidhi, which are basic books for the knowledge of Islam. Unfortunately, this seems to be the rule in American Islamic Centers controlled by the fundamentalist network of the Muslim Brotherhood."
Sheikh Palazzi states that there are 72 wives for every believer who is admitted to Paradise, not only for a martyr. Ibn Kathir in his Tafsir of Surah Al-Rahman (55), verse 72, quotes "the Prophet Muhammad saying: 'The smallest reward for the people of Paradise is an abode where there are 80,000 servants and 72 wives, over which stands a dome decorated with pearls, aquamarine, and ruby."
The "black-eyed" are mentioned in verse 74 of the same Surah, as well as three other Surahs in the Koran: Al-Dukhan 54, Al-Tur 20, and Al-Waqi'a 20. Women with 'downcast eyes,' that is, chaste women, are mentioned in three Surahs" Al-Rahman 56-8, Al Safat 48, and S, 52.
Al-Azhar University in Egypt, the main authority for Sunni Islamic rulings, also takes "the black-eyed" seriously. Sheikh Abd Al-Fattah Gam'an, deputy director for Al-Azhar's Center for Islamic Studies, has written:
The Koran tells us that in Paradise believers get 'the black-eyed,' as Allah has said. 'The black-eyed' are white and delicate, and the black of their eyes is blacker than black and the white [of their eyes] is whiter than white. To describe their beauty and their great number, the Koran says they are 'like sapphire and pearls' (Al-Rahman 58) in their value, in their color, and in their purity.
Most of 'the black-eyed' were first created in Paradise, but some of them are women [who came to Paradise] from this world, and are obedient Muslims. When the women of this world are old and worn out, Allah creates them [anew] after their old age into virgins who are amiable to their husbands. At the side of the Muslim in Paradise are his wives from this world, if they are among the dwellers in Paradise, along with 'the black-eyed' of Paradise.
Dr. Hathout described the Koran passages as nothing more than folklore, saying that such descriptions of Paradise aren't meant to be taken literally, just as many Christians do not really believe Heaven has "streets paved with gold."
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But do Muslims living in areas where Jihad has been declared—for example, the West Bank and Gaza Strip—also maintain "such descriptions of Paradise aren't meant to be taken literally"?
The death announcements of martyrs in the Palestinan press often take the form of wedding, not funeral, announcements. "With great pride, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad married the member of its military wing…the martyr and hero Yasser Al-Ashami, to 'the black-eyed,'" read one suicide bomber's death notice.
The same view is also evident in news reports in the Palestinian press. Thus, for example: "The mother of Wail 'Awad, from Deir El-Balah, did not plan on holding a second wedding for her eldest son, after his marriage on August 10, 2001 to his fiancée in a simple ceremony attended only by the family. But yesterday was Wail's real wedding day, and the angels of the merciful married him, together with the [other] martyrs, to 'the black eyed,' as all around [them] rose the cries of joy that his mother dreamed of on the day of his wedding [to his fiancée]."
Hamas official Ashraf Sawaftah told of a ceremony honoring Izz Al-Din Al-Masri, who carried out the suicide bombing of the Sbarro pizzeria in central Jerusalem on August 9, 2001: "His relatives distributed sweets and accepted their son as a bridegroom married to 'the black-eyed,' not as someone who had been killed and was being laid in the ground."
The Hamas movement educated the children in its schools, beginning in kindergarten, to believe that a martyr is given virgins in Paradise. Jack Kelley of USA Today visited Hamas schools in Gaza City, where he say an 11-year-old boy speak to his class: "I will make my body a bomb that will blast the flesh of Zionists, the sons of pigs and monkeys…. I will tear their bodies into little pieces and will cause them more pain than they will ever know." His classmates shouted in response, "Allah Akhbar," and his teacher shouted, "May the virgins give you pleasure." As 16-year-old Hamas youth leader in a Gaza refugee camp told Kelley, "Most boys can't stop thinking about the virgins."
Palestinian Muslim clerics also help instill this belief. In an interview with the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram Al-Arabi, Palestinian Authority Mufti Sheikh 'Ikria Sabri was asked what he felt when he prayed for the soul of a martyr. He answered: "I feel that the martyr is lucky, because angels bring him to his wedding in Paradise."
Sheikh Abd Al-Salam Abu Shukheydem, Chief Mufti (a professional jurist who interprets Muslim law) of the Palestinian Authority police force, has described the rewards of martyrs: "From the moment the first drop of his blood is spilled, he does not feel the pain of his wounds and he is forgiven for all his sins; he sees his seat in Paradise; he is saved from the torment of the grave; he is saved from the great horror of Judgment Day; he marries 'the black-eyed'; he vouches for 70 of his family members; he gains the crown of honor, the precious stone of which is better than this entire world and everything in it."
"The Americans and the eunuchs at their sides [i.e. the rulers of Arab and Islamic countries]…think that if they kill us, they will win," wrote Dr. Yunis Al-Astal, a lecturer in the Islamic Law Department at Gaza Islamic University, "They do not know that with their weapons they only expedite our arrival in Paradise. We yearn to reach Paradise; it is our abode, and in it are 'the black-eyed,' confined to pavilions, and also there are [women] with downcast eyes whose chastity has not been violated before us…. In contrast, the value of this world in which we live…is in our eyes not worth the wing of a mosquito."
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In an interview with the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, Sheikh Raid Salah, the leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, and the most important political and religious leader of Israel's Arab population was asked, "Do 70 virgins await a shahid [a martyr] in Paradise?" Sheikh Salah replied, "On this matter we have proof. It is written in the Koran and in the Sunna [the traditions about the life of Mohammed]. This matter is clear."
The suicide attackers who carried out the September 11 attacks also believed that "the black-eyed" were one of the rewards awaiting them in Paradise. The letter of instructions found in Nawwaf Al-Hamzi's car said: "…be confident and rest assured that you are carrying out an action that Allah likes and that pleases Him. Therefore, a day will come, Allah willing, that you will spend with 'the black-eyed' in Paradise…. Know that the gardens [i.e. Paradise] have been decorated for you with the most beautiful ornaments and that 'the black-eyed' will call to you: 'Come, faithful of Allah,' after having donned their finest garments."
Are "the black-eyed" available for sex? Some evidently think they are. The Israeli media reported on a suicide bomber caught before he managed to carry out his mission; he was wearing a towel as a loincloth to protect his genitals for use in Paradise.
The question of sexual relations was also brought up in an interview with Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi gave to the Egyptian weekly Aakher Sa'a. "It is enough that we know that Paradise offers [everything] to satisfy the soul and gladden the eye," said Tantawi. "Regarding other, private matters, only Allah knows."
In a review of the Egyptian press in the London daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, the veteran Egyptian journalist Hasanain Kurum explained that Sheikh Tantawi knowingly gave a vague answer to the question, so as to avoid a scandal like that one created a few years previously by the late author and journalist Muhammad Galal Al-Kushk. Al-Kushk wrote, "The men in Paradise have sexual relations not only with the women [who come from this world] and with 'the black-eyed,' but also with the serving boys." According to Kurum, Al-Sushk also stated, "In Paradise, a believer's penis is eternally erect."
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This is excerpted from a much longer article. To read the unabridged version, complete with source citations, visit www.memri.org.