Sunday, October 15, 2006

Virgin sun maids

By Sam Harris:
We must not overlook the fact that a significant percentage of the world's Muslims believe that the men who brought down the World Trade Center are now seated at the right hand of God, amid "rivers of purest water, and rivers of milk forever fresh; rivers of wine delectable to those that drink it, and rivers of clearest honey" (47:15). These men--who slit the throats of stewardesses and delivered young couples with their children to their deaths at five hundred miles per hour--are at present being "attended by boys graced with eternal youth" in a "kingdom blissful and glorious." They are "arrayed in garments of fine green silk and rich brocade, and adorned with bracelets of silver" (76:15). The list of their prerequisites is long. But what is it that gets a martyr out of bed early on his last day among the living? Did any of the nineteen hijackers make haste to Allah's garden simply to get his hands on his allotment of silk? It seems doubtful. The irony here is almost a miracle in its own right: the most sexually repressive people found in the world today--people who are stirred to a killing rage by reruns of Baywatch--are lured to martyrdom by a conception of paradise that resembles nothing so much as an al fresco bordello.

In the endnote to the above Harris writes:
Christopher Luxenberg (this is a pseudonym), a scholar of ancient Semitic languages, has recently argued that a mistranslation is responsible for furnishing the Muslim paradise with "virgins" (Arabic hur, transliterated as "houris"--literally "white ones"). It seems that the passages describing paradise in the Koran were drawn from earlier Christian texts that make frequent use of the Aramaic word hur, meaning "white raisins." White raisins, it seems, were a great delicacy in the ancient world. Imagine the look a young martyr's face when, finding himself in a paradise teeming with his fellow thugs, his seventy houris arrive as a fistful of raisins.

(Sam Harris, End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason, New York: W.W. Norton, 2005, p. 127, 263)

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