The Islamic Sexual Morality Its Structure 1


 

This chapter deals with the practical side of sexual morality. We will first talk about marriage at the age of puberty, followed by a look into the possible ways unlawful as well as lawful of handling sexual urge if one decides not to marry soon after puberty, and finally the marriage procedure and sexual techniques will be discussed comprehensively.
It is necessary to mention that the last part of this chapter is very explicit because religious do’s and don’ts have to be spelled out in very clear terms. As the saying goes, “There is no room for shame (haya’) in [learning or asking about] religion.”

 

A. THE BEGINNING OF SEXUAL LIFE

1 . BULUGH & RUSHD

Sexual desire is aroused in human beings at the age of puberty. In Islamic legal definition puberty (bulugh) is determined by one of the following:

1. age: fifteen lunar years for boys and nine lunar years for girls;
2. internal change (in boys only): The first nocturnal emission. Semen accumulates in the testicles from puberty onwards and more semen may be formed than the system can assimilate; when this happens, semen is expelled during the sleep. This is known as nocturnal emission wet dream or ihtlam in Arabic.
3. physical change: Growth of coarse hair on lower part of abdomen.

Since the sexual urge begins at puberty and as Islam says that sexual urge should be fulfilled only through marriage, it has allowed marriage as soon as the boy and the girl reach the age of puberty. In the case of girls, it not only allows them to be married as soon as they become mature, but also recommends such marriage. It is based on such teachings that Islam discourages girls from postponing their marriage because of education; instead, it says that girls should get married and then continue their education if they wish to do so.

Physical maturity by itself, however, is not enough for a person to handle the marriage responsibilities; rushd (maturity of mind) is equally important. On the other hand, our present way of life has become so much complicated that a considerable gap has appeared between puberty and maturity both in financial and social affairs. A recent article on the American youths says, “[Y]oung Americans entering the 21st century are far less mature than their ancestors were at the beginning of the 20th. The difference is evident in all areas of youthful development: sex, love, marriage, education and work. Physically, today’s youths are maturing earlier than previous generations, but emotionally they are taking much longer to develop adult attachments.” (Newsweek, Special Edition Spring 1990, p. 55) Consequently, it is not easy for boys and girls of our atomic era to marry as soon as they become physically mature.

2. WHAT SHOULD THE YOUTHS DO?

What can the Muslims do about their next generation? In spite of the problem mentioned above, I believe there are ways by which Muslim youths in their late teens can get married without worrying about the financial aspect. Here I can suggest four possibilities:-

First: WITH FAMILY’S SUPPORT

If the parents are well to do and can support their young married children till they are financially independent, then I would strongly suggest that they encourage their children to marry and support them till they can stand on their own feet. While talking about the contract of freedom made between a slave and his master, the Qur’an says, “. . . and give them of the wealth of Allah which He has given you…” (24:33)

If Islam puts so much emphasis on financially supporting one’s freed slave so that he may stand on his own feet, it is needless to say how virtuous it would be to help one’s own children to stand on their feet!

Second: WITH COMMUNITY’S SUPPORT

On a broader level, the Muslim organizations should create funds (e.g., long term interest-free loans) to support the young Muslims who want to get married but lack financial resources. Once a person guilty of indecent sexual behavior was brought to Imam ‘All. After punishing him, the Imam arranged for his marriage at the expenses of the government. The Imam set an example of how the society can help the youths in starting a family life. By looking at the situation in the Western world, the Muslim organizations should at least morally feel obliged to provide such support for their youths. This is not a matter of charity, it is a matter of surviving as a Muslim community in a morally hostile environment.

Third: MARRIED MINUS FINANCIAL BURDEN

The boy and the girl can do their ‘aqd (Islamic marriage contract) but postpone the marriage ceremony till after they have finished their education. In other words, they would be married but still staying with their parents. They can meet each other without any shar’i objection; and if they decide to have sexual relations, then they should use permissible contraceptive means to delay the child-bearing process. In this way, they would be able to fulfill their sexual desire and be free from financial responsibilities.

Fourth: MARRIED PLUS SIMPLE LIFE-STYLE

The boy and the girl can do their ‘aqd and even the marriage ceremony but delay the child-bearing process AND adopt a very simple life-style. Thus they will be able to fulfill their sexual desire and also be free from heavy financial burden.

However, I cannot overemphasize the importance of the role played by parents in supervision of all such arrangements. I would not at all support the idea that a boy and a girl decide such matters on their own without the parents’ input or without registering such arrangements at the community center. This will protect the reputation of the girl in case things do not work out properly.

Moreover, what I have suggested above also means that parents and youngsters both will have to radically change their outlook towards the materialistic aspect of life. They will have to adopt a very simple life-style. If today’s youths intend to have a ‘standard’ financial footing before getting into marriage, then it will not be possible in the late teens; they will have to wait till they are in their thirties! The article mentioned above says that the youths “are marrying later than their parents did partly for economic reasons and many college graduates are postponing marriage beyond age 30.” (Newsweek, p. 55)

One important benefit of these suggestions is that a youngster of college age will be free from sexual anxieties and will be able to concentrate fully on his or her studies. If a Muslim youth raised in the Western society without any religious upbringing is not provided with financial and moral support by his parents, then he is at risk of melting into the permissive culture that tolerates teenage sex outside marriage. And if this happens, God forbid, the youth will no longer regard a sexual relationship as a matter of value or commitment.

“Most of us got one-night stands out of our system in college,” writes Nancy Smith, 25, in a recent essay for the Washington Post on her generation’s struggle with adulthood. “Sex outside a relationship is not so much a matter of right or wrong as: Is it really worth the hassle?” (Newsweek, p. 55) And this type of sexual behavior has serious social consequences: abortions, unwanted babies, increase in divorce ratio and single parent families. Add to this the emotional suffering the people in general and the children in particular go through in such crises.

B. HANDLING SEXUAL URGE BEFORE MARRIAGE? 

If a person cannot marry soon after becoming sexually and mentally mature, then how should he or she handle the sexual urge? In this section we will survey some ways of fulfilling the sexual urge and see whether they are permitted by Islam or not.

1. IMMORAL WAYS

(A) Pre-Marital Sex

Pre-marital sex is absolutely forbidden in Islam, no matter whether it is with a girl-friend or a prostitute. Pre-marital sex is fornication (zina). 

It is also an irresponsible sexual behavior There is no responsibility involved in such relationships. The most vulnerable person in such relationships is the woman. Statistics can overwhelmingly prove that man has often cheated innocent women in pre-marital sex. Today half of all American men and women in their thirties cohabited before marriage, many of them on the assumption that it is better to look deeply before they leap. But studies now demonstrate that couples who cohabit before marriage are more likely to divorce than those who do not. (Newsweek, p. 57)

Glen Elder, a sociologist at University of North Carolina, has this to say about cohabitation: “It’s a relationship that attracts those, mainly men, who are looking for an easy way out and it is uncertain what, if anything, it contributes to marriage.” A twenty-four year old lady wrote the following in a letter to Ann Landers: “…The line [in a previous letter] that struck home was from the teenager who said she knew lots of girls her age who had several partners ‘just for the fun of it.’ I found that odd because I was having sex at 16 and it was no fun at all. Sleeping with guys wasn’t exciting or thrilling, it was degrading. It made me feel lonelier and emptier than ever. I also worried from month to month about being pregnant. That can be a real hell…if I could talk to the young girls who read your column, I would tell them that teenage sex doesn’t solve problems, it creates more. It doesn’t make a girl feel loved. It makes her feel cheap. I’d let them know that it doesn’t make a girl ‘more of a woman,’ it can make her less of one.” (The Vancouver Sun, Dec. 5, 1989)

Allah says: Do not go near adultery, .surely it is an indecency, and an evil way [of fulfilling sexual urge].(17:32) Fornication and adultery have severely been condemned in the saying of the Prophet and the Imams. In Islam, pre-marital sex is considered an immoral act against the rights of Allah and one’s own sexual organs.

Pre-marital sex is a sin punishable by the Islamic court. If an unmarried man and an unmarried woman are found guilty of fornication in an Islamic court, their punishment will be as the following: The woman and the man who fornicate scourge each of them a hundred whips; and in the matter of God s religion, let no tenderness for them seize you if you believe in God and the Last Day; and let a party of the believers witness their punishment. (24:2) If the unmarried man or woman commit fornication more than once, then they will be punished three times by hundred wipes, and if they are proven guilty for the fourth time, then they will be put to death. (See the chapter on “hudud” in Sharaya’ and Sharh Lum’a also a;-Khu’i, Takmilah, p. 37-8) (As for adultery, its punishment is even more severe because married persons have no excuse, whatsoever, to commit adultery. The shari’ah says that married persons guilty of adultery should be stoned to death.)

Therefore, pre-marital sex is out of the question as a means of fulfilling the sexual urge.

 

(B) Masturbation

In Islamic terminology, masturbation (istimna) means self-stimulation of the sexual organ till one achieves emission of semen or orgasm. Masturbation in form of self-stimulation is forbidden in Shi’ah fiqh. While describing the believers, the Qur’an says, “The believers are… those who protect their sexual organs except from their spouses… Therefore, whosoever seeks more beyond that [in sexual gratification], then they are the transgressors.” (23:5-6) The last sentence makes it very clear that any sexual gratification outside marriage is considered a transgression of the law of God. And this verse also implies that sex is an act in which two people are involved. Once when Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq was asked about masturbation, he recited this very verse and mentioned masturbation as one of its examples. (Wasa’il, vol. 18, p. 575) In another, the Imam was asked about masturbation; he said, “It is an indecent act…” (Wasa’il, vol. 14, p. 267; vol. 18, pp. 574-5)

Masturbation is a sin for which a person can also be punished by the Islamic court. Of course, the nature of the punishment is upon the judge’s discretion. Once a person was caught masturbating and was brought to Imam ‘Ali. The Imam punished him by beating on his hands until it turned red; then he made arrangement for his marriage on government’s expenses. (Wasa’il, vol. 14, p. 267; vol. 18, pp. 574-5)

These days some scientists are telling us that there is no harm in masturbation, rather it is a natural act. To prove that it is natural, they give examples of some wild animals, like monkeys. Actually they represent those who have gone to the other extreme of sexual morality. They have degraded human beings to the level of wild animals, and then justify their deeds by finding examples in the animal world. They are, in Qur’anic expression, “like cattle, nay they are more astray; they are the heedless ones.” (7: 179) The irony is that when Muslims talk about following Islam which came just 1400 years ago, they are labeled by the secularists as ‘reactionaries,’ ‘those who want to turn the clock backwards,’ ‘anti -progress,’ and now these very people are going millions of years back (according to their own counting) and following the wild animals or the primitive societies to determine what is natural for us and what is not natural!

Many different types of sexual behavior could be found in primitive societies, but that does not automatically make it natural or right. On the contrary, in some cases, masturbation was considered an abnormal and abhorrent act! For example, Lewis Cutlow writes about the Amazon Indians that:

 

…Xinguanos are deeply disturbed by civilizados who are sexually frustrated; they cannot understand how a man can become aroused at the sight of a nude woman. In his 25 years of daily life with Indians, Orlando told me, he had never seen an Indian with an erection. It would be absurd to them. Nor has Orlando seen or heard any instances of sexual deviation among the Indians. They did not know what masturbation was until they saw a civilizado telegraph operator doing it. From then on the telegraph operator was a problem to Orlando and his colleagues at the Park. The Indians despised him because, in their eyes, he had done something reprehensible. There was nothing to do but remove him from the Park. (The Twilight of the Primitive, p. 16-7 as quoted in Sex and Destiny, p. 88)

 

Sometimes the scientists justify masturbation by saying that many people do it! But if a majority does something, it does not automatically prove that it is right. Otherwise, drugs should also be declared ‘normal’ because the majority of Americans, at one time or another, took drugs. The surveys made by sexologists like Kinsey, Masters and Johnson, and the Hite Report just reveal what the American people do in the privacy of their bedroom; it does not necessarily prove that what they do is natural and right!

Many modern psychologists say that masturbation is just like normal sexual intercourse, rather even better because you are master of yourself, you don’t have to worry about your partner’s feelings! This is an example of how low the materialist society has sunk into its self-centered and selfish attitude that even in sex it prefers to seek self-gratification with the exclusion of the spouse. “They seem to forget that in sexual intercourse all the senses contribute to the stimulation and orgasm: Man and woman see their partner, touch each other, say endearing words to each other and hear the stimulating sounds; and even the senses of smell and taste are utilized. And the penetration of male organ into the female leads to the final excitement and orgasm. But in masturbation the only source of stimulation is imagination, in which no other sense takes any part. The whole burden is loaded upon the mind; and, as a result, while normal sexual intercourse causes happiness and joy, masturbation creates emotional and psychological depression.” (Rizvi, S.S.A.,Your Questions Answered, vol. 3, p. 40-1)

This is not just an opinion of a Muslim scholar. Even the Hite Report on Male Sexuality, says: “Similarly, many men said that they enjoyed masturbating physically, but that emotionally it was depressing.” (The Hite Report on Male Sexuality, p. 489) In one of the replies, a man writes: “It is physically enjoyable, but it can leave one emotionally empty or lonely for the real thing. You can do it when you feel like it, come when you want, bring up your own images, but there is no warmth or closeness, no one to share pleasure with, no companionship. . . “(The Hite Report on Male Sexuality, p. 489) After saying that the physical effects of masturbation are negligible, Leslie D. Weatherhead in The Mastery of Sex writes: “Psychologically the results are more serious. Masturbation in the adult is nearly always due to a maladjustment…” (The Mastery of Sex, p. 103)

THE CURE FOR MASTURBATION: It is easy to stay away from fornication because it involves another person. But the danger of getting into the habit of masturbation is always there, therefore it is necessary to know how to combat this perverted sexual behavior. The following is a guide-line for releasing a person from the habit of masturbation. This has been taken from Weatherhead’s The Mastery of Sex and ‘Allamah Rizvi’s Your Questions Answered.

1. Strengthening will-power. This is possible only if one honestly and sincerely wants to get rid of this habit. Pray to Allah to help you overcome this habit, concentrate on religious teachings, and build up the spirit of taqwa, piety.

2. More and more stay in the company of other persons: If in the daytime you feel like masturbating, get up from your bed or chair and get into the presence of other people and talk to them. If it happens at bedtime, sit up in bed, read a book or write a letter. Do something to switch your mind on to other things.

3. Adopt some hobby or sports which will provide you with an outlet for the energies of your body.

(C) Homosexuality 

One way of fulfilling the sexual urge which is now becoming acceptable in the Western world is sexual relations between members of the same sex: homosexuality (which by definition includes lesbianism). By saying that it is becoming acceptable in liberal societies I do not mean to say that homosexuality is a 20th century phenomenon; no, not at all. But there is one big difference between the past and the present: in the past, homosexuality was considered a perverted sexual behavior whereas now it is being labeled as ‘natural’ and as a result of ‘inborn tendency’ !

All revealed religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam form a united front against such sexual behavior. It has been clearly condemned in the Bible and the Qur’an. The Qur’an describes the people of Lut (Lot) as follows:

 

When We sent Lut, he said to his people, “What! do you commit the indecency which none in all the nations had committed before you? Look at you! You approach the men lustfully instead of approaching your women! No, you are a people who have exceeded the limits.” The only answer of his people was that they said, ‘Expel them from your city, surely they are a people who seek to keep themselves clean!” So We delivered him and his followers, except his wife; she was one of those who tarried behind. We sent upon them a rain. So behold how was the end of the guilty people. (7:80-84)

 

The Qur’an also describes how Prophet Lut tried to reason with his people when they approached his three guests (who were actually angels in human form):

 

When the people of Lut saw the handsome young men, they came to him, running towards him. Lut had anticipated this because they had been doing evil deeds from before.

 

When the people reached close to his house, Lut saidpointing towards his daughters that, “O my people! These are my daughters, they are purer for you. Fear Allah and do not disgrace me in regard to my guests. Isn’t there among you a man of right mind?”

 

They said, “You know better that we have no desire for your daughters; and you surely know what we desire.” (11 :78-79)

 

Explaining the details of the punishment, Allah says,

 

So when Our punishment came upon the people of Lut,We turned the city upside down and showered them with stones of baked clay, one after another.(11:82)

 

So we see that as far as the Qur’an is concerned, homosexuality is an “indecency,” and that Allah had destroyed a whole nation because of this indecent sexual behavior.

In the Islamic legal system, homosexuality is a punishable crime against the laws of God. In the case of homosexuality between two males, the active partner is to be lashed a hundred times if he is unmarried and killed if he is married; whereas the passive partner is to be killed regardless of his marital status. In the case of two females (i.e., lesbianism), the sinners are to be lashed a hundred times if they are unmarried and stoned to death if they are married. (See the chapter on “hudud” in Sharaya and Sharh Lum’a also al-Khu’i, Takmilah, p. 42-44.

Why is Islam so severe in matters of fornication, homosexuality and lesbianism? If the Islamic system had not allowed the gratification of the sexual urge by lawful means (without even associating guilt with it), then it would be right to say that Islam is very severe. But since it has allowed the fulfillment of sexual instincts by lawful means, it is not prepared to tolerate any perverted behavior.

The homosexuals are considered as the high risk group for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). This shows that nature has not accepted it as a normal sexual behavior among mankind. The homosexuals are told that in order to have safe sex, they must use condoms. If homosexuality without condoms is not safe sex, then how can it be natural? Isn’t the statement that “it is natural but not safe” a contradiction in itself?

The moral bankruptcy of the West is clearly evident in the present trend where some Christian churches are willing to consider modifying the Biblical moral values to accommodate the whims of those who want to justify their immoral behavior! A high ranking Anglican cleric in Canada says that it’s time his church approved some form of service or rite that would bless the union of committed same sex couples. (See the statement of The Very Rev. Duncan Abraham. Dean of St. James Cathedral in Toronto. The Toronto Sun, Nov. 24, 1993.) After a three-hour debate in 1987, the General Synod of the Church of England “decided that homosexuality is wrong, but has refused to condemn it as a sin.” (The Globe & Mail (Toronto) Nov. 12, 1987) It seems that instead of providing moral and ethical leadership, the church is being led by the special interest groups. Such groups even want the public schools to change the definition of family so as to make their life-style acceptable.

2. LAWFUL TEMPORARY WAYS

If a Muslim cannot marry soon after puberty, then he or she just has two options: temporary abstinence or temporary marriage.

(A) Temporary Abstinence

Islam has allowed marriage as soon as a person becomes physically mature, and it also strongly recommends that at least during the early years of marriage to adopt a simple life-style so that the lack or paucity of financial resources does not obstruct a happy life.

But if a person decides, for whatever reason, not to marry soon after he or she becomes physically mature, then the only way is to adopt temporary abstinence. After strongly recommending the marriage of single people, the Qur’an says, “And those who cannot marry should practice restrain (or abstinence) till Allah enriches them out of His bounty.” (24:33)

However, abstinence from all the forbidden ways of fulfilling the sexual urge is not easy. Therefore, a few guide-lines would not be out of place. Once a man came to the Prophet and said, “I do not have the (financial) ability to marry; therefore, I have come to complain about my singleness.” The Prophet advised him how to control his sexual urge by saying, “Leave the hair of
your body and fast continuously.” (Wasa’il, vol. 14, p. 178) By saying that “leave the hair of your body,” the Prophet is asking not to remove the hair which grows on pubic area, chest, etc, by shaving or using lotion or wax; rather one should just trim the hair.

This hadith is indicating that removing the excessive hair increases one’s sexual urge. (Probably, that is why the shari’ahhas recommended the men to shave the excessive hair every forty days, and the women to remove the excessive hair by lotion or cream every twenty days.) In retrospect, it means that not removing the hair will decrease the sexual desire and help the person in abstinence. Imam ‘Ali says, “Whenever a person’s hair increases, his sexual desires have also decreased.” (Wasa’il, vol. 14, p. 178) I have not yet come across any scientific discussion on the relationship between removing of the hair and sexual urge, but I am told that the hakims believed that removing the hair from the pubic area increased the chances of direct pressure on that area and, consequently, the blood flow to the sexual organs.

The other method of decreasing the sexual urge is fasting. It is obvious that one of the greatest benefits of fasting is the strengthening of one’s will power. And no doubt, abstinence in the sexual context mostly depends on the will-power of the person. So fasting will strengthen the will-power of the person and make it easier for him or her to restrain the sexual feelings.

(B) Temporary Marriage (Mut ‘a)

If a person does not marry soon after maturing and finds it difficult to control his or her sexual desire, then the only way to fulfill the sexual desire is mut’a.

In Islamic laws, according to the Shi’ah fiqh, marriage is of two types: da’im, permanent and munqati’, temporary. Themunqati’ marriage is also known as mut’a. This is not the place to discuss the legality or the illegality of the temporary marriage (mut’a). It will suffice to say that even according to Sunni sources, mut’a was allowed in Islam till the early days of the caliphate of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab. It was in the latter period of his rule that ‘Umar declared mut’a as haram. It goes without saying that a decision by ‘Umar has no value in front of the Qur’an and the sunnah!

As for the relevance of the mut’a system in modern times, I will just quote what Sachiko Murata, a Japanese scholar, wrote in her thesis on this subject: “Let me only remark that the modern West has not come near to solving all the legal problems that have grown up because of relatively free sexual relationships in contemporary society. If any real solution to these problems is possible, perhaps a certain inspiration may be drawn from a legal system such as mut’a which, with its realistic appraisal of human nature, has been able to provide for the rights and responsibilities of all parties.” (Murata, Temporary Marriage in Islamic Laws (Qum: Ansariyan, 1991) p. 4. For a detailed discussion on the social aspect of mut’a, see Mutahhari, The Rights of Women in Islam (Tehran: WOFIS, 1981) and on the legal aspect, see Kashifu ‘l-Ghita’, The Origin of Shi’ite Islam and Its Principles (Qum: Ansariyan). For an in depth study on the Qur’anic verse and ahadith of mut’a, see at-Tabataba’i al-Mizan, vol. 8 (English translation) pp. 130-161.)

The main difference between the two types of marriage is that in permanent marriage, Islam has clearly defined the duties and obligations between the spouses. For example, it is the duty of the husband to provide the basic necessities of life for his wife and the wife is expected to not refuse sexual relations without any religious or medical reason. But in temporary marriage, Islam has given the prospective spouses the right of working out their own duties and expectation plans. For example, the husband is not obliged to maintain the wife unless it has been so stipulated in the marriage contract. Likewise, the wife can put a condition in the marriage contract that there will be no sexual relations. (Al-Khui, Minhaj, vol. 2, p. 267) Such conditions are invalid in a permanent marriage but allowed in temporary marriage.

I cannot overemphasize the temporary nature of mut’a. The message of Islam is quite clear: marry on a permanent basis; if that is not possible, then adopt temporary abstinence; if that is not possible, only then use the mut’a marriage. 

The temporary nature of mut’a can also be seen from the following saying of the Imams: Once ‘Ali bin Yaqtin, a prominent Shi’ah who held a high post in ‘ Abbasid government, came to Imam ‘Ali ar-Riza to ask about mut’a. The Imam said, “What have you to do with it because Allah has made you free from its need.” (Wasa’il, vol. 14, p. 449) He has also said, “It is permitted and absolutely allowed for the one whom Allah has not provided with the means of permanent marriage so that he may be chaste by performing mut’a. (Wasa’il, vol. 14, p. 449-450)


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