Answered by Shaykh Faraz A. Khan
Question: I don’t understand the reward of 72 virgins in heaven. How do I make sense of this? Is there actually any basis in Islam about it, and how can i explain it to non-Muslims?
Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,
I pray this finds you in the best of health and faith.
Making Sense of Paradise
Paradise is a place of perpetual and ultimate bliss. Its reality cannot be fathomed by our minds in this life, as confirmed by the hadith qudsi:
“I have prepared for My righteous servants what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what has not even occurred to a human heart.”
The narrator, Abu Hurayra (Allah be well pleased with him), added, “Thus recite if you wish, ‘And no soul knows what joy for them has been kept hidden’ (32:17).” [Bukhari, Muslim]
So in reality, we cannot truly make “sense” of anything in Paradise - our minds simply do not have the capacity. However Allah Most High has described its pleasures in language that we use, so as to give us approximations [however distant] based on pleasures we experience in this world.
This is not to say that the pleasures of Paradise are metaphorical: they are literal and real, both physical and spiritual, and we are certain of this. Yet we cannot grasp their reality. Each type of pleasure will be perfected beyond our imagination, and devoid of the limitations found in this world.
The basis of this particular reward, with the number 72, is a hadith narrated in the Sunan of Imam Tirmidhi, in which the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said:
“The martyr has six unique traits: he is forgiven immediately; he sees his seat in Paradise and he is saved from the punishment of the grave; he is granted safety from the great terror [of the Day of Judgment]; a crown of honor is placed upon his head, a ruby of which is better than this life and all it contains; he is married to 72 maidens of Paradise; and he is allowed to intercede for 70 relatives.”
Notice that there is no particular emphasis in the hadith on the 72 maidens - it is one of several types of reward given to the martyr. Likewise, Muslims do not go about their day-to-day lives thinking of the maidens of Paradise; they are not obsessed with it the way they are often made out to be.
Also, it is worth mentioning that what is meant by “martyr” in the Islamic tradition is not what is commonly portrayed in Western media, namely, one who dies committing an act of terrorism - that is merely propaganda, and it is a lie. Terrorism has no place in Islam, and Islamic scholars have unequivocally condemned it in the harshest manner, time and time again.
The concept of martyrdom when understood properly is something valued by all religions and societies as noble and chivalrous, as it represents the ultimate sacrifice one can make to serve his Creator and his fellow man. In American history, for example, figures such as Patrick Henry are praised as courageous and honorable for statements such as, “Give me liberty or give me death.”
Different Dimensions of Reward
Human nature is such that we are driven and motivated by rewards. Westerners can particularly appreciate this, as capitalism and democracy are primarily founded upon the concept of incentives. We go to school due to the incentive of getting a job. While in school, we study for exams due to the incentive of passing the class and moving forward in our education. We work in professions due to incentives of money and status. Were it not for such incentives, many people would not get educated or work.
Spirituality and religion work in a similar fashion. God knows that we are, by our nature, lazy and prone to relax. So He constantly reminds us in revelation of powerful incentives to move us to serve Him and His creation. These incentives are of different dimensions, so as to inspire people of all types.
Some people are primarily motivated by rewards pertaining to the physical nature of humans: gardens, rivers, couches, silk garments, servants, and even maidens to dwell with and enjoy. Others are primarily motivated by rewards dealing with the intellect: knowledge, understanding, wisdom, comprehension…as Allah describes in the Qur’an, the people of Paradise will be “in an assembly of ultimate truth” (54:55).
And yet others are inspired primarily by spiritual rewards, such as: forgiveness, mercy, the company of prophets, and attaining unto Divine pleasure and love.
Our Prophet (Allah send him blessings and peace) said in a beautiful hadith that Allah Most High will say to the people of Paradise, “O people of Paradise,” to which they will respond, “At Your service and pleasure, all goodness is in Your hands!” He will ask them, “Are you content?” They will say, “O Lord, how could we not be content, when You have given us that which You have given no one else in Your creation?” Then He will say, “Would you not like Me to give you something better than that?” They will respond, “O Lord, and what could be better than that?” And He will say, “I shall cause My Good Pleasure to descend upon you, and I shall thereafter never be displeased with you.” [Bukhari, Muslim]
This is further highlighted by an incentive that surpasses all other incentives, a reward so magnificent, that all other rewards will be forgotten and effaced from memory by it. As affirmed in numerous verses of the Qur’an and prophetic hadiths, Allah Most High will grant the people of Paradise the beatific vision of His Noble Countenance - the veil will be lifted, and they will gaze upon His essence in a manner that we cannot comprehend.
For some believers, this reward is their aim, and they seek nothing else… as it is true ultimate bliss.
And Allah knows best.
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani