IT has traditionally been believed that good men who go to paradise will be rewarded with the beautiful women of paradise known as houris. Women throughout the centuries never thought of asking, ‘what about us?’
But in this century of women, this question keeps coming up, even in the most conservative of circles. In several places in the Quran, where the blissful condition of the dwellers of paradise is described, mention is also made of houris. In Surah Al-Dukhan it is said, “We will pair them with large-eyed companions (44: 54).” In Surah Al-Tur, it is said, “They will be resting against pillows on couches arranged in rows. We will pair them up with beautiful companions with big, beautiful eyes (52:20).”
In Surah Al-Rehman, the Quran says, “The houris will be protected in tents, whom neither humans nor jinns have touched before (55: 72).”
According to Surah Al-Waqia among the blessings of paradise will be “…houris with beautiful eyes like hidden pearls” (56: 22).
In the same surah, the Quran goes on to describe the conditions for the righteous in paradise: “With companions most refined; Whom We have created in the best of form; We made them virgin; loving, well-matched; For those on the right” (56: 34-38). Even though the word ‘virgin’ is most frequently applied to women, according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, it is applicable to both males and females.
In An Arabic-English Lexicon, Lane gives the definition of ‘hur’ or ‘hurun’, which is the plural form of haura, and can be both masculine as well as feminine. ‘Hawar’ means, “the intense whiteness of the white of the eye and intense blackness of the black of the eye, with intense whiteness or fairness of the rest of the person”. ‘Ahwariyyun’ means “a man, white or fair of the towns or villages”. The word ‘hawariyyun’ means, “those who whiten clothes etc. by washing and beating them”. Or, “one who is freed and cleared from every vice, fault or defect”, or, “a thing that is pure and unsullied”.
According to Maulana Umar Ahmed Usmani, it is a misconception that hurun means the females of paradise who will be reserved for good men. He says that ‘hur’ or ‘hurun’ is the plural of both ‘ahwaro’, which is the masculine form as well as ‘haurao’, which is feminine. It means both pure males and pure females. He says that basically the word ‘hurun’ means white.
‘Alhawarriyat’ means the women of the towns and cities who are comparatively fairer. The word ‘al-hawariyyun’ has also been used in the Quran to refer to the disciples of Jesus, who used to wash clothes white. By whiteness here is also meant the purity of their personalities or souls.
Another word in the Quran, which has been widely misinterpreted, especially in Urdu translations and commentaries, is ‘zauj’, whose plural is ‘azwaj’. In Arabic this word means “a pair” or “one of a pair”, or “a spouse” (36:36). In Urdu, this word has come to refer to wives only. Sometimes it can also mean “various kinds”, or “variety”. Since ‘zauj’ is also used to refer to the female partner, the wives of the Prophet (PBUH) are referred to as ‘Azwaj-i-Mutaharrat’, or pure companions.
In the Quran when mention is made of those who will go to paradise, it is stated, ‘Wa lahum fiha azwajum mutaharratun’ (2:25).
‘Hum’ is a masculine preposition, but this is used as a common gender and is the manner of address adopted throughout the Quran. It actually means, “And for them will be pure companions”. Pick up any Urdu translation of the Quran and you find something like, “And for them will be pure wives”, and sometimes, “pure women”, assuming that only men will go to paradise and be rewarded with pure and beautiful wives or women.
There is also the belief that good wives here will be transformed into the women of paradise for the benefit of good men. In the case of ‘zauj’, the word itself belongs to the group of words which come under the heading of ‘ghair zawil uqool’, meaning “those without intelligence”. For the plural of this group, the grammatical female form is used.
There are numerous examples in history and the Quran of women who will go to paradise. One example is that of Hazrat Aasiya, the wife of Pharaoh. She was an extremely pious woman and did not support her husband in his cruelty, false pride and shirk. When it became clear to him that she was a staunch believer in one God and would never accept him as her god, he punished and tortured her.
At this she prayed, “O my Lord, make for me a house near You in Paradise and save me from Pharaoh and his deeds and save me from the people who are unjust” (66: 11). At this God showed her her heavenly abode and she became blissful. One wonders what the reward for Bibi Aasiya would be: would she be turned into a houri for some man’s pleasure, or would she be rewarded with pure companions, just like the male dwellers of paradise?
Since loneliness is a blight and no one likes to be alone for a long period, those who are successful will be provided with companions for their eternal life in paradise. Thus houris and azwaj in the Quran refer to the pure, chaste and beautiful companions that both good men, as well as good women, will be rewarded with, without discrimination.