The idea of 72 virgins in Islam refers to an aspect of paradise. In a collection by Abu `Isa Muhammad ibn `Isa at-Tirmidhi in his Jami` at-Tirmidhi and also quoted by Ibn Kathir in his Tafsir ibn Kathir of sura 55 it is stated:
It was mentioned by Daraj Ibn Abi Hatim, that Abu al-Haytham 'Adullah Ibn Wahb narrated from Abu Sa'id al-Khudhri, who heard Muhammad saying, 'The smallest reward for the people of Heaven is an abode where there are eighty thousand servants and seventy-two houri, over which stands a dome decorated with pearls, aquamarine and ruby, as wide as the distance from al-Jabiyyah to San'a.
However, regarding the above statement Hafiz Salahuddin Yusuf has said: "The narration, which claims that everyone would have seventy-two wives has a weak chain of narrators." There is also a theory that the promise of 72 virgins is a mistranslation from "72 angels".
In the same collection of hadiths, however, the following is judged strong (hasan sahih):
That the Messenger of Allah said: "There are six things with Allah for the martyr. He is forgiven with the first flow of blood (he suffers), he is shown his place in Paradise, he is protected from punishment in the grave, secured from the greatest terror, the crown of dignity is placed upon his head - and its gems are better than the world and what is in it - he is married to seventy two wives among Al-Huril-'Ayn of Paradise, and he may intercede for seventy of his close relatives."
Suicide is clearly forbidden in Islam, but the permissibility of martyrdom operations (Istishhad) is an altogether different topic, with scholars being split on the issue.
Notable scholars and apologists such as Shaykh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the world's most quoted independent Islamic jurist, and Dr. Zakir Naik, known for his advocacy of "Qur'anic science", have justified the use of suicide bombing in Islam. Opinion polls have further shown that an extremely large number of Muslims from around the world support the practice.
The Qur'an states that all Muslim males, not only martyrs, will be rewarded with virgins. However, the Qur'an does also mention that those who fight in the way of Allah (jihad) and get killed will be given a "great reward", and there are also hasan (good) hadith which refer to 72 virgins as one of the "seven blessings from Allah" to the martyr. This has lead to the 72 virgins concept being widely used as a way to entice other Muslims into carrying out "martyrdom operations" for Islam.
This is witnessed in Palestine, where the actions of a mother who sends her son to die as a martyr is sometimes seen as "marrying him off", and where the concept is used in Friday sermons and music videos, both airing on official television. It has even been used in the United Kingdom, where, in one event, Muslim teens were told to train with Kalashnikov rifles with the promise that the would receive 72 virgins in paradise if they died as religious martyrs.
Contrary to what the Qur'an, hadith, scholars and Muslims themselves say, a western author named Margaret Nydell in a book that "promotes understanding between modern-day Arabs and Westerners", states that mainstream Muslims regard the belief of 72 virgins in the same way that mainstream Christians regard the belief that after death they will be issued with wings and a harp, and walk on clouds.
However, both the Qur'an and Muhammad in the hadith literature discuss the issue of virgins being provided for men in Paradise. So, unless the Bible, and more specifically Jesus in the four Gospels, claims Christians will indeed be issued with wings and a harp upon their arrival in Heaven, this claim is inaccurate and misleading.