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The Beauty of the Houri by Nerina Rustomji


About our guest:

Nerina Rustomji is an associate professor of History at St. John’s University and the author of The Beauty of the Houri: Heavenly Virgins, Feminine Ideals. Nerina specializes in the intellectual and cultural formation of Islamic societies and the Middle East. In her research, she is interested in aesthetics, gendered configurations, biological and commercial exchanges, secularism, and America’s relationship with Muslim worlds.


The Beauty of the Houri

Heavenly Virgins, Feminine Ideals


By Nerina Rustomji 


About the book:

Amazon – The fascination with the houri, the pure female of Islamic paradise, began long before September 11, 2001.

The Beauty of the Houri: Heavenly Virgins, Feminine Ideals demonstrates how the ambiguous reward of the houri, mentioned in the Qur’an and developed in Islamic theological writings, has gained a distinctive place in the cultural eye from the seventeenth to the twenty-first century.

The houri had multiple functions in Islamic texts that ranged from caretaker, to pure companion, to personal entertainment. French, English, and American writers used the houri to critique Islam and Muslim societies, while also adopting the houri as a model of feminine beauty.

Unlike earlier texts that presented different forms of the houri or universalized the houri for all women, writings about the houri after September 11th offer contradictory messages about Islam. In the twenty-first century, the image of the houri has come to symbolize a reward for violence and the possibility of gender


The Beauty of the Houri narrates how theological ambiguity about the houri as a caretaker, pure companion, and entertainment in earlier Islamic texts was reinterpreted as a critique of Islam and a model of universal feminine beauty in later French, English, and American writings.

These multiple interpretations of the houri are supported and challenged after September 11th when the houri has come to symbolize a reward for violence and the possibility of gender parity.

A quick review 

Review of SherAli Tareen is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Franklin and Marshall College.

In her scintillating new book, The Beauty of the Houri: Heavenly Virgins, Feminine Ideals, Nerina Rustomji presents a fascinating and multilayered intellectual and cultural history of the category of the “Houri” and the multiple ideological projects in which it has been inserted over time and space.

Nimbly moving between a vast range of discursive theaters including Western Islamophobic representations of the Houri in the post 9/11 context, early modern and modern French and English Literature, premodern Muslim intellectual traditions, and popular preachers on the internet, Rustomji shows the complexity of this category and its unavailability for a canonical definition.

The Beauty of the Houri is intellectual history at its best that combines philological rigor with astute theoretical reflection. And all this Rustomji accomplishes in prose the delightfulness of which competes fiercely with its lucidity.


The Raw Footage of the Interview with Nerina Rustomji



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