The New International Encyclopædia/Houri

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Edition of 1905.  See also Houri on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

HOURI, hou′rī (Ar. ḥawrâ, woman with bright black eyes, from ḥawira, to have brilliant black eyes). The beautiful celestial maidens, described in the Koran (Sura lvi. 24; lv. 55; et al.) and Mohammedan tradition as dwelling in Paradise, whose companionship is one of the rewards held out to the pious Mussulman. Numerous descriptions amplifying the notices in the Koran are found in Mohammedan writers. They repose on gorgeous couches in pavilions of pearl. Their countenances are so bright one can see his face reflected from a houri's cheek. They are made by ‘a peculiar creation,’ not of clay, like ordinary women, but of musk, saffron, incense, and amber. While retaining all the qualities of virgins, they have none of the failings of women, remain ever young and free from physical defect, and have the power to conceive and bear children at will, who within an hour grow to maturity. The later Mohammedan theologians, like Ghazali (q.v.), whose more refined instincts were offended by this rather sensual picture of Paradise, endeavored to place an allegorical interpretation upon the houri; but there can be little doubt that to Mohammed and to his immediate followers, as to the bulk of present-day Mohammedans, they represent an intense reality. This follows from the details of the houri given by Mohammed and amplified by subsequent writers, on the basis of tradition, which accord with the general view of Paradise as a place where life will be full of secret delights, where there will be plenty of water, delicious fruits, with attendants waiting on the pleasure of the inhabitants, and the like. Mohammed's conception of Paradise, while based in part on the current Jewish, and more particularly Christian views, embodies as its original factors the adaptation of these views to his own mental horizon and to that of his surroundings; and one is inclined to conjecture that the houri represent the reverse of the popular conception of demoniac beings, frequently pictured as female spirits, who plague and torture man in this world.