The Koran and Sexuality

Koran and sexuality
Figure 1.--The Koran requires modest dress, but does not require thatr women be veiled are wear garments like burqas. Even so, some Islamic cholars and Islsmacists have advocated extreme forms of dress for women. Here is an Egyptiam portrait from the 1880s. Judgeing from the pose and props, it wa probably made to sell to European tourists. The garments, however, were worn by many Egyptian women at the time. We suspect that this samne cimage could hgave been taken centuries earlier.

The Koran is generally portrayed as advocating sexual restraint. This is best expressed in the Muslim world as modesty in dress. Many Muslim countries in particular seem obsessed with enforcing extreme modesty in women's dress. Islamic scholars debate just what is required. The most extreme form is expressed in the all-enveloping burqa, a form of dress no where mentioned in the Koran. But what is most startling about the Koran is the number of sexually charged passages in a religion with believers that advocate draconian repression of sexuality. All of these passages deal with how male Muslims will be rewarded. Most of these passages describes how deserving Muslims will be rewarded with virgins. This is troubling not only because it seems to suggest that Islamic heroes are not only rewarded by sexual relations with large numbers of women, but they are young women and given the early age of marriage at the time, actually girls. Even more astonishingly for a religious community repelled by homosexuality, there are even Koranic passages suggesting that deserving Muslims will be rewarded with beautiful boys. Perhaps our Muslim readers can explain these passages to us, but the wording seems all to clear. Remember that Muslims see these words as the very words of God. There are similarities and differences between the Bible and Koran. These passages on sexuality seem to us to be some of the most dramatic differences. As we say, we do not pretend to be Koranic scholars. We thus welcome contributions from Muslim readers explaining these passages.

Islamic Image: Modesty and Sexual Restraint

The Koran is generally portrayed as advocating sexual restraint. This is best expressed in the Muslim world as modesty in dress. Many Muslim countries in particular seem obsessed with enforcing extreme modesty in women's dress. Islamic scholars debate just what is required. The most extreme form is expressed in the all-enveloping burqa, a form of dress no where mentioned in the Koran. This and similar women';s garmets are worn in several conservative Muslim countries. Besides hiding a woman;s features they also make it difficult for women to work or engage in a rangec of sctivities. There is thus a link between such garments and poverty and education. The exception of course is oil rich countries.

Sexual Rewards

What we do not understand if Islam advocates modesty and sexual restraint, why is it that Islamic warriors and other deserving Muslims are to be rewarded in Paradise by virtually unlimited sexual pleasure, including access to large numbers of virgins. It seems to us that is is a basic Koranic contradiction as to moral standards.

Sexual Rewards to Deserving Male Muslims: Virgins

But what is most startling about the Koran is the number of sexually charged passages in a religion with believers who advocate draconian repression of sexuality. All of these passages deal with how male Muslims will be rewarded in Islamic Paradise or Jannat. There are apparently no sexual rewards for seserving female Muslims. Most of these passages describes how deserving male Muslims will be rewarded with virgins. This is troubling not only because it seems to suggest that Islamic heroes and the mere rightous are not only rewarded by sexual relations with large numbers of women, but they are young women and given the early age of marriage at the time, actually girls. This is an almost obscene concept, but is is deeply enshrined in the Holy Koran. The Koran includes passages praising marriage and fairness to women. The Koranic vision, however, appears to shift once the faithful pass on to Paradise. There the Koran no longer mentions marriage and chastity, at least for men. Once in heaven, Islamic martyrs apparently can forget their wives and gratify their sexual; desires with younger, fresh women and girls--'Houris' (beautiful virgins). Interestingly Islamic women no matter how virtuous appear to get no sexual rewards in Paradise. One is left to wonder just what deserving Islamic women do in Paradise besides watching their husbands, sons, and brothers go about deflowering all those virgins. Were these passages not part of the Koran they would be seen if not as pornographic, very suggestive.

Surah 37

Verses 37:40-48

"... They will sit with bashful, dark-eyed virgins, as chaste as the sheltered eggs of ostriches."

Surah 44

Verses 44:51-55

"... Yes and We shall wed them to dark-eyed houris (beautiful virgins)."

Surah 52

Verses 52:17-20

"... They shall recline on couches ranged in rows. To dark-eyed houris (virgins) we shall wed them..."

Surah 55

Verses 55:56-57

"In them will be bashful virgins neither man nor Jinn will have touched before. Then which of the favors of your Lord will you deny ?"

Verses 55:57-58

"Virgins as fair as corals and rubies. Then which of the favors of your Lord will you deny?"

Verses 55:70-77

"In each there shall be virgins chaste and fair... Dark eyed virgins sheltered in their tents whom neither man nor Jin will have touched before..

Surah 56

Verses 56:7-40

"... We created the houris (the beautiful women) and made them virgins, loving companions for those on the right hand ..."

Surah 78

Verse 78:31

"As for the righteous, they shall surely triumph. Theirs shall be gardens and vineyards, and high- bosomed virgins for companions: a truly overflowing cup."


Some Islamic regimes actually execute homosexuals (Afghanistan under the Taliban, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc.). Homosexuality is not, however, addressed in any detail by the Koran and there is no indication that it should be classified as a capital crime. We note only a few Koranic references to homosexuality. And while the Koran says that Homosexuals should be punished, it does not suggest that the punishment should be severe, it only says that they should be punished. Mohammad as best we can tell could not make up his mind about homosexuality. He appears to have settled on a compromise, prohibiting it on early, but allowing it as a reward in paradise. (See "Pedestry" below.) The fact that the Koran takes this view makes the current abomination which fundamentalist Islamicists hold homosexuality rather curious. Historians provide ample evidence of important homosexuality individuals in Muslim countries. Babar, the Moghul king who conquered large areas of India was in love with a young boy named Baburi. Kuttubuddin Aibak was another Muslim ruler of India who was homosexuality and used to dress and dance as a woman. While Mohammad in the Koran seems rather confused about homosexuality, this is not the case of the Muslim world today. There is a debate in Islam is not over if homosexuality is acceptable, but only about how severe the punishment should be. The Hadith are a group of passages and rights claimed to be written by Mohammad and are used in teaching Islam. Here Mohammad speaks much more forcefully against Homosexuality. He classifies homosexuality as a capital crime, but such a punishment is not included in the Koran.

Surah 4

Verse 4:16

"And if two (men) of you commit it, then hurt them both; but if they turn again and amend, leave them alone, verily, God is easily turned, compassionate."

This to us suggests that the Koran does not suggest homosexuality was wrong, but not an especially severe offense. Certainly there is no indication here that homosexuality is a capital crime.

Surah 27

Verse 27:55

"Would ye really approach men in your lusts rather than Women? Nay, ye are a people (grossly) ignorant!"

Various Surahs

Much of the Korans discussion of homosexuality deals with Lot. It is similar to a Biblical passage in which a mob wants to break into Lots home and rape male visitors who are in fact angles. They are not dissuaded when Lot offers his daughters. The Koran breaks the discussion into various surahs (4: 78-84, 11: 77-84, 26: 160-174, and 29: 28-45). Homosexuality is clearly seen as a "transgression, "Do ye approach males of all the world and leave what God your Lord has created for you of your wives? nay, but ye are people who transgress!'" [26: 165-166] But the presentation here describes an attempted gang rape and not homosexual acts between consenting individuals. Later it is described as an "evil". "What! do ye approach men? (or Do you commit sexual acts with men?) and stop folks on the highway? And approach in your assembly sin?' but the answer of his people was only to say, 'Bring us God's torment, if thou art of those who speak the truth!' Said he, 'My Lord! help me against a people who do evil!'" [29: 29-30]


Even more astonishingly for a religious community repelled by homosexuality are Koranic references to male beauty (beautiful, fresh boys). These seem to permit pedestry in paradise. They seem to be promises made to Muslim men who make it to paradise. We note, however, that there are Koranic passages suggesting that deserving Muslims will not only be be rewarded with virgin girls, but beautiful boys as well. Perhaps our Muslim readers can explain these passages to us, but the wording seems all to clear, especially as they not only refer to beauty, but "freshness". It is difficult not to see these terms as sexual references. Remember that Muslims see these words as the very words of God. This means that God had a reason for using these terms.

Surah 52

Verse 52:24

"Round about them will serve, to them, boys (handsome) as pearls well-guarded." Another translation reads, "And there shall wait on them [the Muslim men] young boys of their own, as fair as virgin pearls."

Surah 56

Verse 56: 17

"Round about them will serve boys of perpetual freshness."

Surah 76

Verse 76: 19

"And round about them will serve boys of perpetual freshness: if thou seest them, thou wouldst think them scattered pearls." Another translation reads, "They shall be attended by boys graced with eternal youth, who will seem like scattered pearls to the beholders."


The Koran includes many passages legitimizing slavery. It is notable the number of the 114 surah/sura (chapters) of the Koran that have refences to slavery. While the European Atlantic slave trade was conducted over four centuries, the Arab African slave trade was conducted over 14 centuries, and has not finally ended even in the 21st century. A factor here is that slavery is clearly scationed in the Koran and many Arabs and othet Muslims believe that the Koran is the literal word of God which can not be questioned by our more enlightened modern attitudes on social values and human rights. There are many references to slavery in the Koran. These include passages giving male slave owners the right to demand sexual favors from their female slaves. The fact that the Koran includes these passages on slavery is one reason that slavery continues in countries like the Sudan. Muslim countries because of these passages find it difficult to legislate against slavery or to enforce laws related to slavery.


We are unsure just how to interpret these passages. In might be said that they are mere poetry and not to be taken literally. But remember that a very large body of Islam believes that the Koran is the word of God and should be taken literally. Did the Arab warriors that spread Islam in the 7th and 8th century take these passages literally. Presumably they did. People at the time, both Muslims and Christians took religion very seriously. We are unsure just how modern Muslims take these passages. But even if they do not take them seriously, how do we view the sentiment involved. Most readers non-Muslim readers would find offensive the idea of rewarding men with young women and girls. It is notable that a great deal of what Jesus, Buddha, and Confucius say speak of universal truths. Readers may believe that gratifying men's sexual desires with virgins is not exactly a universal truth. One may question Jesus' divinity, but there is little to take issue with in his teachings. The Koran is very different. Passages like this would offend most modern readers of what ever religion and secular-oriented individuals as well.

Male/Felmale Differences

There are some topics very clear in the Koran and many others that are very difficult to understand. This is not just a mater of non-Muslims not understanding. The level of debate among Islamic scholars suggests that Muslims also have reached on consensus on some of these issues. In the Koran it is very clear that men are entitled to greater sexual freedom than women. A free woman upon pain of death can have sexual intercourses only with her husband. A man can, however, have sexual intercourses with all his wives (up to four) and with all his female slaves (without any limit). A slave woman cannot refuse her owner. Many teachings of scholars and local traditions go in the same way although often without a clear basis in the Koran. For example, the minimal age for marriage is the puberty. The girls reach puberty before the boys, but Islamic scholars teach that the minimal age for marriage is 15 lunar years (about 13 years and 10 months) for the boys and only 9 lunar years (about 8 years and 3 months) for girls. Moreover, it is necessary that boys have their first ejaculation, but it is not necessary for the the girls to havecmenstrated. In the same way it is the teaching about modesty. In public the men need to cover the body from navel to knees. Also scholars nteach that in public a woman has to cover all her body but the face, the hands and the feet. This rule, however, probably has not only a modesty goal, because it was not enforced for the slave women that could go bare breasted and were sometimes forced to do so. It is also clear that the local traditions are often much more severe with women, for example imposing the veil, the burka, and similar garments. We can see that also with the children. It is clear that the boys are more free than the girls. We have an example in Indonesia where boys can go naked, but girls of similar age have to wear Tudongs.

Muslim Responses

We have asked Muslim readers to explain the sexuality in these passages to us. Most were offended that we would ask this question and refuse to even consider the question. One reader responded that they do not exist. She writes, "So you claim you have read the Quran! Would you please provide me with a verse that says that martyrs are rewarded by numerous virgins? There is NO SINGLE VERSE THAT SAYS SO. See, this is the brain wash and the propaganda you want to believe in. Again , I hate that you are trying to sound so neutral and fair." [BK} She was so emphatic about this that I thought by Koran was an aberrant translation. The whole purpose of these Koranic pages is to go to the core source on the Islamic faith. So I researched the subject on the Internet.

Koranic Translations and Islamic Scholarship

I found that many, if not most, versions of the Koran do indeed use the term virgins as part of the rewards offered deserving Muslims in paradise. (We encourage readers to do their own Internet search to confirm this. A good example of what I found is this review of several translations. "What of the rewards in paradise? The Islamic paradise is described in great sensual detail in the Koran and the Traditions; for instance, Koran sura 56 verses 12 -40 ; sura 55 verses 54-56 ; sura 76 verses 12-22. I shall quote the celebrated Penguin translation by NJ Dawood of sura 56 verses 12- 39: "They shall recline on jeweled couches face to face, and there shall wait on them immortal youths with bowls and ewers and a cup of purest wine (that will neither pain their heads nor take away their reason); with fruits of their own choice and flesh of fowls that they relish. And theirs shall be the dark-eyed houris, chaste as hidden pearls: a guerdon [reward] for their deeds... We created the houris and made them virgins, loving companions for those on the right hand..." One should note that most translations, even those by Muslims themselves such as A Yusuf Ali, and the British Muslim Marmaduke Pickthall, translate the Arabic (plural) word Abkarun as virgins, as do well-known lexicons such the one by John Penrice. I emphasize this fact since many prudish and embarrassed Muslims claim there has been a mistranslation, that "virgins" should be replaced by "angels". In sura 55 verses 72-74, Dawood translates the Arabic word " hur " as "virgins", and the context makes clear that virgin is the appropriate translation: "Dark-eyed virgins sheltered in their tents (which of your Lord's blessings would you deny?) whom neither man nor jinnee will have touched before." The word hur occurs four times in the Koran and is usually translated as a "maiden with dark eyes". [Warraq] The author also writes, "Modern apologists of Islam try to downplay the evident materialism and sexual implications of such descriptions, but, as the Encyclopedia of Islam says, even orthodox Muslim theologians such as al Ghazali (died 1111 CE) and Al-Ash'ari (died 935 CE) have "admitted sensual pleasures into paradise". The sensual pleasures are graphically elaborated by Al-Suyuti (died 1505), Koranic commentator and polymath. He 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 [ie Muslim] will marry seventy [sic] houris, besides the women he married on earth, and all will have appetizing vaginas." This text is so graphic that I had to think twice about loading it on our website. What I do not understand is how a religion that is so strict and prudish has such texts in the Koran and other revered works of religious scholarship.


Many Muslims are embarrassed if not shocked by the Koranic verses we have cited. A HBC reader denies that they exist and her proff is a new translation of the Koran that she insists is The Truth. There are many respected Koranic scholars who take issue with this. But in fairness we are more than willing to add her preferred version of the Koran. She reports that the pleasures of paradise are not for martyrs and are allegorical. We have no problem with this. Our problem is with the translation of those allegorical pleasures. At any rate this is what our Muslim contributor tells us, "Do you see any girl virgins here? Please be honest and rely on honest resources. [HBC response: No we do not see virgins mentioned in the readers translsation. We do, however, see them mentioned in many other versions of the Koran.] The question you will ask next is: how come the translation you found has these twisted words and is focused on women and virgins? The answer is that those who translated these verses are Islamic scholars who are brain washed with the corrupted Hadith and Sunna ( sayings and practices claimed to be the prophet's and falsely attributed to our religion) This is why they cannot come up with an honest translation based on the original text. This is what I tried to explain to you in my very first response, but you skip lines and you do not read with the intention to increase your knowledge. Your mind has been already set and you just want to spread rumors and utter lies about the Quran and Islam. Please read the attached response one more time. Again, in black and white ink, I gave you straightforwards verses that state that all these physical, earthly descriptions of Heaven are allegorical (13:35, and 37:14)."


We are unsure at this time as to what versions of the Koran are widely used in the Muslim world, Nor do we know how to find out. Perhaps our readers will have some insights here. There are many translations of the Koran available on the internet. And readers can search for the verses here to ensure that we have not provided a translation that is not outside of the generally accepted context.

Reader Comments

The issue here are complicated and cintroversial. We welcome reader input in addressing the cissues. Several HBC readers found this page interesting and have sent the following comments and discussion.

Let me ask a question. I know some people believe in cultural relativity and that all religious traditions are of equal merit. I like to think I am tolerant, but believe that there are certain immutable human values that are not relative--the Golden Rule at the core. I see many violations of those value in the Koran. In particular rewarding old war veterans with young virgins. Now I know you would say that this is allegorical, but is not this an ugly allegory. It seems to be terribly out of place in the holy book of a great religious tradition. Do not Islmic scholsrs raise this issue.

I think that toleration can be a good attitude, but with some limits. On one hand, not everything can be tolerated (what is against the life, the dignity, the freedom...); on the other hand the toleration cannot be the final step: at least we can try to aid one another to become better. If someone thinks that he is the best cannot accept the dialogue with the others. With the fundamentalists (Muslims, Hindus and - unfortunatly - also Christians) the dialogue is often impossible. With the Muslims a difficulty comes from their idea of inspiration of the Koran. They think that it is the copy of the Book that is in the heaven and it was dictated word by word to Muhammed. Not-fundamentalist Jews and Christian have another idea. For the Jews, God spoke trough their history, for the Christian especially in the life of Jesus. The Bible is a testimony of this history. So the Bible is the word of God, but there are many human elements. In the Old Testament there are texts that we can understand as fruit of the times and not as manifestation of the will of God. An example is tha Psalm 137:8-9: "O Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy is the one who pays you back for what you have done to us. Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks!" (New Living Translation). For the Islam every word of Koran is Word of God. It is true: also as allegories some words are ugly allegories. On the other hand, the Jews and Christians changed their vision of Bible inspiration trough the modern age, but many Muslims still live in a sort of middle age. I don't know what could happen when many Muslims will leave this middle age.

I find the modern secular media which tries to equate Christianity with Islam, always quotes from the Old Testament. As you know the OT is ancient. The earliest known copies of OT books date from about 500 BC and oral traditions must go back even further. Human values have evolved over time and you can see that in the New Testament which has very few harsh passages which violate our modern values--quite amazing when you consider it is 2,000 years or so old. The Koran on the other hand returns to the ancient values reflected in some of the OT, even though it was written in the medieval, not the ancient era.

I read with interest your discussion of the relationships among the Koran, sexuality, and repression. Your discussion is quite accurate. That said, there is also plenty of repressed sexuality in the Christian Bible. There is, for example, the story of Ruth, who when widowed, goes up to a man and "uncovers his feet." In the original Amharic, this is a symbol for fellatio! And he answers, "oh, you dear woman." I teach diversity and religion, and I have had searching discussions with several Imams about the discrepancies you note. They have suggested that the Koran makes a case for women's equality, but that the rather primitive, tribal practices of most the of Islamic countries tend to negate such teachings. i.e., the demands of the culture overwhelm the commands of Islam. [Schott]


BK. eMail message, December 3, 2007.

Schott, Richard. University of Texas. eMail message (April 6, 2012).

Warraq, Ibn. "Virgins? What virgins?" The Guardian (January 12, 2002).


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Created: 4:09 AM 7/19/2007
Spell checked: 3:26 PM 11/17/2008
Last updated: 1:14 AM 4/7/2012