- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 16, 2001

A sensuous heaven, replete with all manner of delights, is a little-known but important part of the mentality that may have inspired 19 terrorists to immolate themselves in the Sept. 11 attacks.
If the terrorists held to popular Islamic conceptions of heaven, the radical Muslims believed their reward for killing infidels in the World Trade Center and Pentagon would include dozens of amorous virgins per person and rivers flowing with nonintoxicating wine in a reconstructed Garden of Eden.
Passages from the Koran and attendant commentaries, known as Hadith, describe a paradise with rivers, trees and cool breezes, perfect for a religion originating in the desert. Only Arabic will be spoken there, and the blessed will be clothed in green and gold robes and showered with jewels, each of which comes with a "black-eyed maiden," according to the Hadith. They also will imbibe and consume 100 times more food and drink than while on earth.
"It's where the payoff comes," says Barbara Stowasser, an Islamics professor at Georgetown University. "Every deed, good or bad, will come out in a balance sheet in the end and that balance sheet will decide on whether one is admitted to the garden or thrown into the fire.
"It's a cool and green and delightful place. What makes it so dear is that believers know they are in the presence of God."
The conception of an Islamic heaven is part of the popular culture of the East.
When Sheik Ismail Aal Ghadwan spoke about a martyr's reward on Palestinian TV from Sheik Ijlin mosque in Gaza on Aug. 17, he was talking about a widely perceived belief.
"The martyr," he said, "if he meets Allah, is forgiven with the first drop of blood; he is saved from the torments of the grave; he sees his place in paradise; he is saved from the Great Horror [of the day of judgment], he is given 72 black-eyed women, he vouches for 70 of his family to be accepted to paradise; he is crowned with the crown of glory, whose precious stone is better than all of this world and what is in it."
In northeastern Iraq, a self-styled emir, Abu Abdullah Al Shafi'i, preached these words one recent Friday:
"Those young men who are martyred at the hands of the infidels and enemies of Islam shall be taken up to the gates of heaven by two angels sent down by Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, within 10 minutes of their martyrdom and defense of Islam," according to kurdistanobserver.com, a watchdog Web site.
Georgetown University professor Yvonne Haddad, co-author of the 1981 book "The Islamic Understanding of Death and Resurrection," says the 10-minutes-to-paradise concept is nowhere to be found in Islamic writings.
"The sermons are to urge people to a righteous life," she says, "but that has nothing to do with killing yourself."
The Koran teaches that paradise automatically awaits a martyr, which is someone who dies in a jihad or struggle to defend Islam. The Koran says suicide is wrong, Mrs. Haddad says, but the Palestinian bombers are considered martyrs, not suicides. In a well-publicized terrorist training camp video aired by several news organizations, terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden speaks of the benefits of an early death.
"The love of this world is wrong," he says. "You should love the other world, and you should not be afraid to die, because to die in the right cause and go to the other world, that's praiseworthy."
The "other world," according to the Koran, has the virtuous reclining either on thrones, green cushions or carpets, attended by "companions" with "beautiful, big and lustrous eyes," says Sura (Chapter) 52.
These buxom companions, which are known as "hur" (in Arabic) or "houris" (in Greek), do not sleep, get pregnant, menstruate, spit, blow their noses or defecate. They are promised as a reward to the faithful Muslim, who gets all of his wives, plus 70 houris to attend him.
Muslims have not specifically addressed what happens to women and children after they die, although the women apparently are promised a place in paradise with their husbands, according to Mrs. Haddad's book, co-authored with Hartford Seminary professor Jane Smith. However, when Muhammad, the founder of Islam, got a vision of hell, "most of the inhabitants are women," he said. The chief reason: ungratefulness to their husbands.
Miss Stowasser questions whether the Koran promises unlimited sex, saying the matter "is highly debated among theologians," because "there is an emphasis on families being reunited." Women will get their due too, she added, as Sura 52 also mentions "youths handsome as pearls," who will serve the righteous.
Taha Jaber Alalwani, president of the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences in Leesburg, Va., said carnal delights were more appealing to Muslims than a Christian heaven, where Jesus specifically said believers would not marry.
"You will have sex, food, everything," Mr. Alalwani says. "The concept of the hereafter is very different. We will stay human beings. You will never lose anything from what you have now. In the Hadith, [it says] you will find everything you like there, and everything you want, you'll have immediately.
"The Koran deals with human beings as human beings and directs its discourse toward their nature: soul, spirit, desires, to convince [believers]. To accept something or reject something, you need to talk to a human being as a whole, not as a spirit and forget the material part."
However, Christian doctrine holds that believers will receive a glorified physical body in heaven.
Carol Zaleski, a Smith College professor who with her husband, Philip, co-authored the 2000 book "The Book of Heaven," says the hereafter is used in all religions to motivate the individual to deeds of self-sacrifice.
"Sensual language is used when more abstract terms fall dead," she says. "The latter doesn't really reach the imagination and inspire hope."

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide