In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful
One of the rewards of Paradise mentioned in the Quran are the “pure maidens” promised for the righteous believers. These passages have been mistakenly used to disparage Islam as a religion of sex and lust. As Muslims, we need to understand them in context for our own benefit as well as to be able to answer non-Muslims well if they ask us about these verses.
Allah promises the righteous men and women who were married in the world that they will be reunited and find their spiritual happiness together in Paradise.
إِنَّ أَصْحَابَ الْجَنَّةِ الْيَوْمَ فِي شُغُلٍ فَاكِهُونَ هُمْ وَأَزْوَاجُهُمْ فِي ظِلَالٍ عَلَى الْأَرَائِكِ مُتَّكِئُونَ
Verily, the companions of Paradise that Day will be busy in amusement, they and their spouses in shade, reclining on adorned couches.
Surat Ya Seen 36:56
But what about the men who were never able to marry? For them Allah has created a special creation, the pure maidens of Paradise, to be their eternal companions.
إِنَّا أَنشَأْنَاهُنَّ إِنشَاءً فَجَعَلْنَاهُنَّ أَبْكَارًا عُرُبًا أَتْرَابًا لِّأَصْحَابِ الْيَمِينِ
Verily, We have produced the women of Paradise in a new creation and made them virgins, devoted and matched in age, for the companions of the right.
Surat Al-Waq’iah 56:35-38
The early commentators said that there were two ways to understand this passage: the pure maidens are the believing women who are resurrected in perpetual youth and beauty in Paradise, or they are angelic companions created for those who were without wives.
فقال الحسن هن عجائزكم الدرد ينشئهن الله خلقاً آخر وقال أبو هريرة إنهن ليسوا من نساء الدنيا
Al-Hasan said: They are old edentulous women whom Allah has produced in a new creation. And Abu Huraira said: They are not among the women of the world.
Tafseer Ar-Razi 44:54
It is important to understand that the realities of Paradise do not compare to our experiences in the world. The “marriage” to “maidens” will not be like our earthly marriages. In fact, all descriptions of Paradise, which use language familiar to our lived experience, are limited by the inability of words to grasp their reality.
Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
قَالَ اللَّهُ أَعْدَدْتُ لِعِبَادِي الصَّالِحِينَ مَا لَا عَيْنٌ رَأَتْ وَلَا أُذُنٌ سَمِعَتْ وَلَا خَطَرَ عَلَى قَلْبِ بَشَرٍ
Allah said: I have prepared for my righteous servants what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no heart has perceived.
Then the Prophet recited the verse:
فَلَا تَعْلَمُ نَفْسٌ مَا أُخْفِيَ لَهُمْ مِنْ قُرَّةِ أَعْيُنٍ
No soul knows what has been hidden for them of comfort. (32:17)
Source: Sahih Bukhari 3072, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi
For example, we use the word “hearing” to describe an attribute of Allah, yet this divine hearing is perfect and infinite, unlike our limited hearing as we normally understand it. Likewise, the “eating” and “drinking” and “marrying” in Paradise are similar in name only and not in their reality.
Therefore, applying a worldly conception of marriage, sex, and lust to the spiritual state of being in Paradise will miss the point entirely.
What about the reward for women? Like men, they will be given angelic servants who will wait on their every desire.
وَيَطُوفُ عَلَيْهِمْ وِلْدَانٌ مُّخَلَّدُونَ إِذَا رَأَيْتَهُمْ حَسِبْتَهُمْ لُؤْلُؤًا مَّنثُورًا
There will circulate among them young boys made eternal. When you see them, you would think them as beautiful as scattered pearls.
Surat Al-Insan 76:19
Every person in Paradise will be in a state of spiritual bliss in which the old worldly experiences of lust, envy, fatigue, and angst will no longer exist. All discontent will be removed from their hearts and they will live in happiness for all of eternity, receiving everything they desire and more.
لَّهُمْ فِيهَا مَا يَشَاءُونَ خَالِدِينَ ۚ كَانَ عَلَىٰ رَبِّكَ وَعْدًا مَّسْئُولًا
For them therein is whatever they wish, abiding eternally, a promise binding upon your Lord that must be fulfilled.
Surat Al-Furqan 25:16
However, this understanding has been lost on some non-Muslims due in part to the appalling actions of extremists who distort the concept of martyrdom. An often maligned and misunderstood tradition of the Prophet promises the martyrs in battle that they will be rewarded with maidens in Paradise. The tradition is as follows:
Al-Miqdam reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
لِلشَّهِيدِ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ سِتُّ خِصَالٍ يُغْفَرُ لَهُ فِي أَوَّلِ دَفْعَةٍ وَيَرَى مَقْعَدَهُ مِنَ الْجَنَّةِ وَيُجَارُ مِنْ عَذَابِ الْقَبْرِ وَيَأْمَنُ مِنَ الْفَزَعِ الأَكْبَرِ وَيُوضَعُ عَلَى رَأْسِهِ تَاجُ الْوَقَارِ الْيَاقُوتَةُ مِنْهَا خَيْرٌ مِنَ الدُّنْيَا وَمَا فِيهَا وَيُزَوَّجُ اثْنَتَيْنِ وَسَبْعِينَ زَوْجَةً مِنَ الْحُورِ الْعِينِ وَيُشَفَّعُ فِي سَبْعِينَ مِنْ أَقَارِبِهِ
There are six rewards with Allah for the martyr. He is forgiven with the first flow of blood, he is shown his place in Paradise, he is protected from punishment in the grave, he 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 among the pure maidens of Paradise, and he may intercede for seventy of his close relatives.
Source: Sunan At-Tirmidhi 1663, Grade: Sahih
The purpose of this tradition is to encourage bravery in defense of a just cause and the protection of the innocent. The soldiers were told about the rewards of Paradise to put their hearts at ease that their sacrifice would be worth it and any worldly pleasure they missed, in the case of their death, would be nothing to regret.
Consider that plenty of men never have the chance to marry, even as they must take up arms to defend their community. They might be tempted to commit adultery or some other sexual misbehavior, thinking they would miss out on such pleasures if they were to die, so this tradition is meant to reassure them that they would be married to pure maidens in Paradise as an incentive to keep their sexual lusts restrained in this world.
From all this, we should understand that the promise of maidens and servants in Paradise is a limited description of a spiritual truth that is beyond human comprehension in this world. Some people will continue to denigrate Islam due to their inability or unwillingness to understand, but we should not let that discourage us in our faith and knowledge of the truth.
Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.