A. Kudriavtseva

MAE (Kunstkamera) RAS, St. Petersburg, Russia

E-mail: kudriavtsevaa@mail.ru

E. Rezvan

MAE (Kunstkamera) RAS, St. Petersburg, Russia

E-mail: efim.rezvan@mail.ru


Earthly Maiden and Heavenly Maiden (on the Interpretation of the Image of Woman in Pre‑Islamic Poetry and the Qur’an)

Abstract. Authors aim to reach a new level in understanding Qur’anic fragments depicting heavenly maidens, or houris, following the principle that “the Qur’an explains itself” and the methodology of comparative contextual analysis of the lexical items in the Qur’an and pre-Islamic poetry. The article presents multiple excerpts describing basic features of female beauty in pre-Islamic poetry, where it is associated primarily with a high social status allowing to pass one's time in sweet delight. The features refer less to the visual and more to the kinaesthetic image of the ideal female body — dense and three-dimensional, slowly moving through space, palatable and fragrant. Within the representations fixed in the text of the Qur’an, one would not find a description of the houris' tectonics. Their image is formed through a series of metaphors that may be generally understood based on the image system of pre-Islamic poetry, while some descriptive terms (abkar, kawa‘ib, ‘urub, atrab) concern mainly their age as pre-Islamic poetry demonstrates. Referring to pre-Islamic poetic texts allows, on the one hand, for a clearer understanding as to how contemporaries conceived an ideal Arab woman of the turn of the 6th century AD, and on the other, for approaching an understanding of the Qur’anic image of houris, beautiful young maidens who, in the minds of the Prophet's contemporaries, corresponded to the ideal woman as reflected in poetry.

Key words: the Qur’an, pre-Islamic poetry, Qur’anic terminology, houris, women in pre-Islamic Arabia and the Qur’an, Qur’anic paradise

Acknowledgements. The study was realized in the framework of the scientific program of the International Center for Islamic studies (Saint-Petersburg, Russia).


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