The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment.

In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Seventy Two Virgins 

A New TV Show Angers Some Arabs, according to Saudi Newspaper "Asharq Alawsat".

A new television series being broadcast around the Middle East tells the story of Arabs living in residential compounds in Saudi Arabia and the militant Islamists who want to blow them up so they can collect their rewards in heaven — 72 beautiful virgins.
The show's message: terrorism is giving Islam a bad name, and Muslims are suffering because of the actions of a few.

Nobody will be surprised that this message is not universally popular in the Middle East.

The programs, which began last Tuesday on the first day of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, have come under a blistering attack on the Internet in Arabic language chat rooms.
The critics are demanding the Saudi-owned and Dubai-based Middle East Broadcasting Corporation, a popular Arabic satellite television station that bought the show and broadcasts it across the region, cancel it.

After all, we are not great on self-criticism. "Face", you understand. For example:

Last year, some television stations canceled "The Road to Kabul," which chronicled life under Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers, after Internet threats from Islamists against everyone from actors to television executives because the show portrayed the Taliban in a negative light.

So how on earth do you portray the Taliban in a good light? Similar to what they did for the Khmer Rouge, I suppose. Let's leave that for another time.

Amongst other things, the current program portrays how

...just before one of the 2003 attacks on a residential compound in Saudi Arabia, an attacker who was in contact with his superiors was "heard on the mobile phone counting down the seconds to the 'beautiful maidens.' His last words were: 'One second to the 'beautiful maidens.' He then blew himself up."

Now I've always been fascinated by the idea of the 72 virgins or beautiful maidens. As some commenters on this blog will readily point out, I'm not totally familiar with the Quran. I agree. Same as most Christians or Jews who are not totally familiar with their scripture. We all know some of it, but we pay Priests or Imams or Rabbis or Ministers to tell us about the rest, that's what they're there for. However, there is one bit that I was always looking for when I was a spotty adolescent, with all sorts of hormones bubbling up inside me. I had heard about the maidens, but what I really wanted to know was....you know....what they....actually did. So I pored thru the Quran with all the care of a scholar, but never found this juicy bit. I learnt later, that's because it's not in the Quran, it's in a Hadith somewhere.

A Hadith is a reported saying of Mohammad, and they vary in their status, depending on who did the reporting, and who was a witness. For example, Bush's reported comments...God would tell me, George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan. And I did...is like a Hadith. The fact that it is reported by a negotiator for the notoriously corrupt and inept Palestinian Authority, with no witnesses, makes it a very dodgy Hadith indeed. But that's what a Hadith is. And I never did find the "72 beautiful virgins" Hadith.

I have, however, wondered long and hard about those virgins. Let me share some of my theological speculation with you.

Firstly, are there 72 virgins for each male, or 72 virgins, period? You see, if it's the latter, it sounds like a lot, but then there an awful lot of men in Paradise, and the number is rising all the time. And if there are only 72 to go round everyone, then we're going to need some sort of queueing system, which we're not very good at. But let's say we're better at queueing in Paradise, and we all take a numbered ticket, and wait in line. Our ticket says 18 billion and something, and the display says 3 billion and change, but not to worry, we've got eternity to play with. Eventually, we're near the head of the line. The thing is, though, some of us are going to be more attractive to the virgins than others. For example, Salah Ad Din here on the left, perhaps known to you as Saladin, was a mighty Middle Eastern warrior at the time of the Crusades, and by all accounts was also sophisticated, civilized, learned and very charming. So when he appears at the head of the line, I'm sure our young virgin will experience a shiver of anticipation. But if it's our young Jihadi on the right, it could be a different story. You see, he's probably been blown up by a bomb, which tends to make a bit of a mess. Sure, they'll do some basic surgery to sew the various bits together, but materials are limited up there, and there are limits to what you can do with a silken thread and the beak of a Humming Bird. When his number finally gets called, he's going to be standing there, trying to look his best. For most men, they'll check their tie, and perhaps quietly make sure that their fly is zipped up. On the other hand, our unfortunate Jihadi is going to be trying to hold his intestines in with the burnt-off stump of what was his hand. So that's the night that our virgin suddenly remembers that she needs to wash her hair. Luck of the draw, my friend, take another ticket, go to the back of the queue.

Alternatively, there could be 72 virgins for every male. Sounds better? Think about it. There are 72 of them and just one of you. They all have their needs and desires, both emotional and physical. So how are you going to satisfy them? Well, "one at at a time" is part of the answer. And you'll need a rota system. Plus you'll need a bit of rest and recreation yourself. Let's say you spend a night with each? It's going to take about 80 days before the virgin at the back of the queue gets to the front. So let's guess what sort of mood she is going to be in, after nearly three months of waiting for some attention. Ever kept your "significant other" waiting just 20 minutes? At a rough guess, she'll be somewhere on the scale between homicidal and genocidal. Not a good start to a relationship. Next night, it's the same, she's been waiting 80 days as well. And so on. And don't even think about limiting your favors to a select few. Maybe "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned", but don't imagine it'll be any better in Heaven either if you miss some of them out. You could of course declare that all relationships will be purely platonic, all that you want is company and conversation. Now all you need to do is find the one who's equally interested in taking motor bikes to bits. Or the one who'll enjoy watching Sumo Wrestling with you. Or the one who's any good at Darts.

To be honest, I've never really believed in the virgins. I think it's just a myth invented by unscrupulous Imams, in order to persuade gullible young men to kill innocent people and themselves. Not that our Jihadis won't meet someone. But do you expect that a Good and Just God is going to reward a terrorist bomber with some sort of sexual Disneyworld? Instead, I rather think that one second after he says "One second to the beautiful maidens", he'll discover that the number is correct, but the description was a tiny bit misleading. The shaven heads and gaolhouse tattoos could be a bit of a give-away. 72 ex-convicts, just released after doing hard time for a variety of sex and violence offenses, and he's all theirs. They aren't gay, so there won't be any affectionate banter or camp and witty humor, but as our Jihadi is their only available option, they are going to make do with what they've got. In fact, they are so excited, they've rather neglected their personal hygiene for the last three months. Better get a rota drawn up as soon as you can. Just don't necessarily assume that it'll be "one at a time".

Personally, I have different hopes. When our time has come, I'm quite happy still to spend eternity with Mrs. A. I'm sure she feels the same way, unless perhaps she spots Saladin. But my hope and prayer is also to meet seventy two .................. women soccer players! You see, because of my day job, the world has been denied its best-ever manager of a soccer team. My shouted words of advice from the terraces at Tottenham Hotspur are ignored like pearls before swine. (Remember, it's Porcine Imagery Week.) However, with 72 women soccer players, I could form four team squads, organize them into a mini-league, have semi-finals and finals, and coach them all. I can try out my theories of the 4-4-3 formation versus the 4-3-1-2. I can call myself on my cellphone and arrange complex and lucrative transfer deals. On match day, as player-manager, I could come on as substitute at crucial moments and score the winning goal (this being Paradise, I can't miss). Being the only man on the field, I'll be awarded "Man of the Match" every time. Just think of the crowds, the cheers, the adulation!

I can hardly wait.

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