Houris (from Arabic alhûr "splendidly white"): mythical, stunningly beautiful virgins residing in paradise whose task is to delight righteous followers of ►Islam with their company and sensual joys throughout the eternity following the Day of Judgment.
The Quran describes the beauty of the houris in suras 44, 55 and 56, strangely omitting any direct mention of their sex. Thus, that they are female is only an interpretation (supported by almost all male muslims). That there are any male houris available for the righteous female muslims is not explicitly confirmed in the Quran — perhaps for reasons of decency — though it is not ruled out, either. In any case, houris eternally remain young and, more remarkably, remain virgins, their practice of the sensual joys mentioned above notwithstanding. In the gardens of paradise they even serve the pious alcoholic beverages — the consumption of which is, of course, prohibited during the life of muslims — that never run dry.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, a muslim does not have to die for his faith in order to obtain 72 houris and 80,000 slaves after his death. Strong faith and virtuous deeds are sufficient. However, just as in ►Christianity, the dead will first have to wait until the ►Day of Judgment before they can expect to receive their eternal rewards. So-called suicide bombers or suicide assassins (who consider themselves martyrs) believe that the joys of paradise are available for them as well; however, this is questionable. Though the Quran praises martyrdom, it condemns the murder of women and children and punishes suicide with hell. Moreover, some contemporary theologians interpret the houris as an allegory of the joys of righteousness rather than a literal description of what awaits the righteous person in paradise. In recent translations of the Quran passages in question the phrase "beautiful virgins" has been replaced by "white grapes".