Many Muslims, especially those exposed to Western culture, are aware of the jokes and the ridicule that the 72 Virgins legend has brought upon them and upon their brother believers. Consequently, they blame the Jews for spreading the myth in an attempt to downgrade the image of the Islamic "freedom fighters".
Despite the disclaimer by some Muslims, the truth is very clear. The 72 Virgins notion has its origins in the Qur'an. Although the holy book does not specify the number as 72, it does say that those who fight in the way of Allah and are killed will be given a great reward. It goes on to stipulate that Muslims will be awarded with women in Islamic heaven. It even describes their physical attributes—large eyes (Q 56:22) and big, firm, round "swelling breasts" that are not inclined to sagging (Q 78:33). The Qur'an refers to these virgins as houri, companions of equal age, but the highly-flavored emphasis of their bodily characteristics, including their virginity, gave rise to many hadiths and other Islamic writings.
Hadith 2687 is where the number 72 is mentioned. "The smallest reward for the people of Heaven is an abode where there are eighty thousand servants and 72 houri, over which stands a dome decorated with pearls, aquamarine and ruby, as wide as the distance from al-Jabiyyah to San'a."
Qur'anic commentator Al-Suyuti (died 1505) and Orthodox Muslim theologians such as al Ghazali (died 1111 CE) and Al-Ash'ari (died 935 CE) graphically elaborated sensual pleasures attributed to Muslims in paradise". Al-Suyuti wrote, "Each time we sleep with a Houri we find her virgin. Besides, the penis of the Elected never softens. The erection is eternal; the sensation that you feel each time you make love is utterly delicious and out of this world and were you to experience it in this world you would faint. Each chosen one [i.e. Muslim] will marry seventy houris, besides the women he married on earth, and all will have appetizing vaginas."
On the whole, the Qur'an and the hadiths are filled with sexual fantasies that Muslim men are awarded when they reach Islamic heaven. Anas bin Malik, an Islamic scholar, claimed that "The Prophet used to visit all his wives in a round, during the day and night and they were eleven in number… The Prophet was given the strength of thirty (men)." Muhammad (hadith 24) apparently claimed that devout Muslims would be given the sexual strength of 100 persons upon their arrival in Heaven. (This is apparently more than what was attributed to the prophet himself).
The sexual obsession by Muslim men as conveyed by Islamic writings, takes its cue from the founder of the religion. The description depicts him as a sexual predator. Aisha, Muhammad's wife since she was a nine-year-old girl, described her sexual experiences with the prophet. When she was six years old, he could not have intercourse with her due to her young age. As a consolation prize, he placed his penis between her thighs and massaged it softly. Aisha explained that unlike other believers, the prophet had control over his penis."
Being consistent with its sexual obsession and predatory practices, the Qur'an permits pedophilia (sura 65:4). It also discusses rape in detail. It lets you know that men can rape female slaves and captives (Q 23:6), even in front of their husbands (Q 4:24). Other writings advise that when having sex with captives, it's better if you don't pull out at the end (Sahih Bukhari 3:46:718).
It's no wonder that 72 Virgins in Paradise are a fundamental piece of Islamic culture. Sex, sex abuse, pedophilia, and enslavement of women take central stage within that religion. Encouraging martyrdom by pointing to sexual rewards in heaven is a natural corollary of that tradition. Although the Qur'an may not be as specific, it nevertheless, offers many clues, which subsequent inscriptions reinforced, interpreted, and broadened.
I have written this article in response to many questions I had been asked by book club members who'd read my book 72 Virgins. In that book, I did not discuss the roots of that evil thinking. Instead, I told a story, a thriller about a group of Jihadi terrorists and their quest for martyrdom. The story builds on the Jihadists' motivation for targeting so many innocents and exploiting the victims' massacre as a stepping-stone to their dream of eternal paradise next to Allah's throne. The real question I've tried to answer is not whether Jihadists' plots will ever cease to emerge. There's no chance of that. The question the book seeks to answer is—will the next one be stopped before it's too late?