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MEMRI has transcribed an interesting theological debate that appeared last month on the pages of the Saudi highbrow press: are the dark-eyed virgins promised to suicide bombers meant for sexual purposes or not?
Dr. Anwar Bin Majid ‘Ishqi, head of the Saudi Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies, says no. He was motivated to speak out, he says, by two things: the incessant use of sexual promises as inducement for teenaged boys to become suicide bombers, and the premise espoused by many religious scholars that actual, physical sex takes place in Paradise.
‘Ishqi took issue with those notions in an article published on June 11 in Al-Risala, the weekly supplement of the Saudi daily Al-Madina, called “Paradise Is Above Sex: The Dark-Eyed Virgins Are Not for Sensual Pleasure”. In it, he says the suggestion that those who enter Paradise engage in physical sex is a travesty of Islam. In Paradise, he says, people no longer feel sexual desire; they do not, in fact, have any sexual organs. References to sexual pleasure are meant to be taken metaphorically; they refer to spiritual, not physical, fulfillment. Because “human minds cannot grasp the nature of the pleasures of Paradise,” he writes, Allah “mention[ed] dark-eyed beauties, wine, milk, and fruit. Allah utters nothing but the truth, which means that there is wine [in Paradise], but it [is] not like the wine of this world, and there is food that is not like the food of this world…these are spiritual pleasures that make the sensual pleasures pale in comparison…Likewise, the pleasure [given] by the dark-eyed beauties is not sexual pleasure. That is why Allah endowed them with [beautiful eyes]: the most beautiful part of the human form is the face, and the most beautiful part of the face is the eyes… This is a spiritual pleasure, the extent of which we cannot grasp with our worldly minds. Those with deviant purposes select from the Koran that which pleases them, and interpret it in a way that serves their purposes. And thus we come to an age in which in we place religion at our service rather than [the other way around].”
‘Ishqi was roundly attacked by a number of Saudi clerics who contend that there is, in fact, ample evidence to be found in the Koran to justify a belief in sex in Paradise. They agree with ‘Ishqi that those texts are easily exploited, but contend that that exploitation does not alter their essential meaning. Interestingly, sex in Paradise appears to be (among other things) a means of extending the sanctity of marriage beyond the grave. Saudi cleric Khaled Muhammad Al-Nu’man, who published a rebuttal to ‘Ishqi in Al-Madina on July 2, cites several scholars who state that not only does sex occur in Paradise between husband and wife, but each time it does, the event concludes with the wife regaining her virginity.
Cleric Muhammad Kamel Al-Khoja came down in the yes-there’s-sex-in-Paradise camp a few days later on the pages of the daily Al-Bilad, but clarified that belief as follows: “I and all those who believe in the powers of Allah maintain that the pleasure of sex in Paradise will be higher, sweeter, and more joyous than the pleasure [of sex] in this world.” (Inshallah!) He takes issue with ‘Ishqi’s use of the word “terrorist” to describe those who use the promise of sex to tempt kids to blow people up. He approves terms like “sinful, bloody destructors who spread corruption in the land,” but deems it inaccurate to describe such people as terrorists since the spread of terror among the enemies of Islam is fundamentally a good thing.
Cleric Khaled Babtin, a lecturer at Umm Al-Qura University in Mecca and a member of the Saudi Association of Islamic Jurisprudence, took the historical approach in the online magazine Al-Wiam. “The first generations of Muslims used to encourage the mujahideen, in the heat of battle, with mention of the virgins,” he wrote. “It is recounted in the [hadith] collection of Ibn Hajar [Al-Asqalani] that in the Battle of Siffin, ‘Amar proclaimed, ‘Whoever wishes to be embraced by the virgins, let him step forward to face the enemy in order to merit reward in Paradise.’ Dr. ‘Ishqi, read along with me the verse: ‘Surely the dwellers of the Garden shall on that day be [engaged] in a joyful occupation. Together with their spouses, they shall recline in shady groves upon soft couches.’ [Koran 33:55-56] Don’t you know, doctor, that the occupation in which they are engaged is the deflowering of maidens?”
The debate is notable not only for its almost affectionate back-and-forth tone — it’s easy to imagine these fellows chatting of an evening around a table of baklawa and coffee — but also for its consistent refrain of censure against those who use the promise of sex to recruit young bombers. There are several examples to choose from, but the following comes from Al-Numan: “If those youths [seduced by the terrorists] had any sense, they would have realized that [the terrorists] are sending them to their death while sparing themselves and their own sons. If they were sincere, would they so altruistically [send other youths] to the virgins and the shady gardens, while depriving their own children of these pleasures? Truly, these deluded youths do not understand that they are instruments in the [hands] of criminals who use them to achieve their goals. Society as a whole should reach out to these youths, each [individual] in his own field, in order to guide them and teach them, lest they fall into the claws those who plan only evil things for them.”
If I may quote my grandmother, Mr. Al-Numan: From your mouth to God’s ears.