If the Qur’anic verses mentioning houris are carefully placed and critically studied in the order of their revelation, then the following picture emerges — the transition from the more sensual to the more spiritual — be especially noteworthy:
First Makkan Period
(i.e., from the first to the fifth year of the Prophet’s Mission, 612-17 CE) (classification after Th. Noldeke F. Schwally):
- “… full-breasted [damsels] of the same age…” (17:33).
- “… wide-eyed houris like treasured pearls as a reward for what they used to do…” (56:22f).
- “… We have created them by a [special] creation and made them virgins, lovers [or loving] of the same age…” (56:33f).
- “… [damsels] restraining their glances, whom neither men or jinn will have touched before them… like rubies and coral…” (55:56, 58).
- “… good and comely [damsels], houris cloistered in pavilions… whom neither men nor jinn will have touched before them…” (55:71f, 74).
Second Meccan Period
(i.e., the fifth and sixth years of the Prophet’s Mission 617-19 CE):
- “… [damsels] restraining their glances, whose eyes are like hidden eggs…” (37:48).
- “… [damsels] restraining their glances, of the same age…” (38:52).
- “… they and their spouses…” (36:56).
- “… you and your spouses…” (43:70).
Third Meccan Period
(i.e., from the seventh year to the Hijra, 619-22 CE):
- “…whoever of their fathers, their spouses and offspring have acted honorably…” (40:8 and 13:23).
(i.e., from the Hijra to the end, 622-32 CE):
- “… purified spouses…” (2:25; 3:15 and 4:47).
Now if a coherent theological picture is desired to be constructed out of this data, then the only possible conclusion at which any honest person can reach, is that the concept of houris has been used by the Qur’an in symbolic terms to allude to the excellence of the rewards for the righteous in the hereafter. The Qur’an changes its description according to the changing mental caliber and maturity of its listeners.
The sensuous imagery of the early Meccan suras was intended to capture the attention of the pagans of Mecca. It was phased out and replaced by references to “purified spouses/ companions” (i.e., for both males and females) in the Medinan suras.
Since when we are talking about the Hereafter we are dealing with a spiritual scenario, therefore everything associated with its rewards or punishments is necessarily spiritual. The same goes with the houris.
The same is clearly acknowledged and stated by Louis Massignon:
…the symbolism of the houris of Paradise… alludes basically to the simple regaining, by the human species, of the first Paradise [i.e., Garden of Eden and its heavenly prototype], where sexual life was well established.1
Now, on two occasions in the Qur’an, the verb “to wed” is used with reference to the houris:
- “and We shall espouse them (Zawwajn?hum) to wide-eyed houris.” (52:20, Arberry’s translation).
- “and We shall wed them (Zawwajn?hum) [i.e. the God-fearing believers] unto fair ones (bi h?rin `?nin).” (44:54).
Both of these verses belong to the first Meccan Period. Now consider how the same theme is introduced in the Medinan period, with special attention to the word Zawwajn?hum:
- “for them shall be spouses purified (Azw?j-un-Mutahhat-un)…” (2:25) (Arberry’s translation)
- “For those that are godfearing, with their Lord are gardens underneath which rivers flow, therein dwelling forever, and spouses purified (Azw?j-un-Mutahhat-un), and God’s good pleasure.” (3:15) (Arberry’s translation).
- “And those that believe, and do deeds of righteousness, them We shall admit to gardens underneath which rivers flow, therein dwelling forever and ever; therein for them shall be spouses purified (Azwaj-un-Mutahhat-un)…” (4:57) (Arberry’s translation).
How can you imagine the concept of marriage (Zawwajna) if the spouse (Zawj), i.e., the houris, is a grape?
This ridiculous equation of houris = grapes, was presented by the anonymous Christoph Luxenberg (assumed name), which is clearly proven false by the above statement.
Christoph Luxenberg’s basis assumption is that the term Zawwaj in 44:54 is a misreading of zay for ra and jim for ha. Instead of zawwaj, so he fancies, it is rawwah, meaning: “to refresh”. But even after making such an absolutely unfounded conjecture — “unfounded” since no such variant reading of this sort exists here or at the other instances — he still has to deal with: “… unto fair ones (bi h?rin `?nin)”; see text of 44:54 above.
So to make his wicked case, Christoph Luxenberg gives a distorted plagiarization of the previous researches of Sprenger and Tor Andrae to the effect that the Arabic word hur was possible derived from the Aramaic word for “white”, “khiv-vawr'”. But whether the Arabic word hur was derived from the Aramaic word or not, the undisputed fact is that there exists a purely Arabic root H.W.R which embodies the general idea of whiteness2.
So what would be one’s reasons for preferring to regard the Aramaic word as the root of the Arabic hur in the presence of the Arabic root? Christoph Luxenberg never utters a word on this topic.
Then we have a large number of pre-Islamic verses which employ the word h?r in the sense of a voluptuous women.
Christoph Luxenberg never acknowledges the existence of such poetry. Perhaps he regards them as spurious, even though Arthur Jeffery sees no problems in their authenticity when he approvingly quotes them in his discussion of this Qur’anic term.
What about the remaining term of 44:54, viz. `?nin?
According to Lisan al-`Arab (xvii, 177) the adjective `?n is the plural of singular feminine `ayn’ and masculine a’yan, meaning “wide-eyed.” It is thus possible to take h?r-un ?n as two adjectives used as nouns meaning: “white skinned, large eyed damsels.”
Against this absolutely logical explanation, Christoph Luxenberg advances his totally baseless conjecture of altering the ?n of 44:54 with ‘uyun (why, if one may dare to ask?), and these ‘uyun because of their roundness, must refer to the grapes!
I do not think a single word is need to be said about the total absurdity of this “explanation”.
The Qur’anic verse 44:54, whose only possible rendering can be:
“and We shall wed them (Zawwajnahum) [i.e. the God-fearing believers] unto fair ones (bi h?rin `?nin).”
is altered by means of such ridiculous blunders by Christoph Luxenberg to:
“and We will let them (the blessed in Paradise) be refreshed with white jewels”
Being “refreshed” with “white jewellery” is such an absolute delinquency which is found only with Christoph Luxenberg. What’s next? Being exhilarated with red lip-stick?