Sexual Morality (I)
A. DEFINING THE
The Islamic sexual morality is fundamentally different from that of the
Christian Church. This is because of the all-encompassing nature of the
Islamic shari'ah. Bertrand Russell says, "Great religious leaders,
with the exception of Muhammad and Confucius, if he can be called religious
have in general been very indifferent to social and political considerations,
and have sought rather to perfect the soul by meditation, discipline and
self-denial." (Marriage and Morals, p. 175-176) Yes, Islam has
surely not been indifferent to social problems.
The Islamic sexual morality is also fundamentally different from the new
sexual morality in a sense that it does not accept the concept of free sex.
Islam aims at teaching its followers not to suppress their sexual urges,
rather to fulfill them but in a responsible way.
Islam recognizes the sexual needs of human beings and believes that the
natural instincts should be nurtured, not suppressed. Islam says that the
biological parts of our body have a purpose, they have not been created
uselessly. No text in Islam can be found to equate sex with inherent evil
or sin; whatever has been taught by the Qur'an, Prophet Muhammad and his
Ahlu'l-bayt points in the opposite direction. What the Qur'an and the authentic
sunnah and I emphasize on authentic have said about sex and marriage will
now be discussed under the following headings: Islam has very highly recommended
marriage as a good deed and not as a lesser of two evils; Islam has very
strongly opposed celibacy and monasticism, and Islam believes that marriage
is not a hindrance in spiritual wayfaring, on the contrary it helps the
1. MARRIAGE IS
It is important to realize that in Islamic texts the idea of marriage is
not restricted to a platonic relationship between husband and wife, nor
is it confined to sex for the purpose of procreation . The legal term for
marriage is "nikah" which literally means sexual intercourse.
Marriage is a highly recommended deed. Allah says, "Marry the spouseless
among you...if they are poor, God will enrich them of His bounty."(Qur'an
24:32) The first word of this verse begins with "ankihu"
(Marry!) which is an imperative form of the word nikah. According
to the principles of Islamic jurisprudence, any communication in imperative
form from God can have two levels of meaning: either it is an obligatory
command or a very high recommendation. And therefore we see that in Islam
celibacy is not considered as a virtue. Based on this verse we find the
Prophet saying that, "Whoever refrains from marriage because of fear
of poverty, he has indeed thought badly of God." (Wasa'ilu 'sh-Shi'ah,
vol. 14, p. 24) In another verse Allah says, "... Then marry such
women as seem good to you two, three or four. But if you fear that you will
not do justice between your wives, then marry only one... "(4:3)
Sex has been openly recommended in the Qur'an, "When they [i.e.,
the wives] have cleansed themselves [after menstruation], you go into them
as Allah has commanded." (2:222) The phrase 'commanded you' does
not refer to any legislative command; that is, it does not mean that as
soon as a person's wife becomes clean from her period, he should immediately
have sex with her. It is a creative command and refers to the sexual urge
which Allah has placed in our nature. And when the sexual urge is counted
as a creative command of God, then who can associate it in any way with
sin and evil?!
Marriage and sex are among the signs of God's power and blessings. The Qur'an
says, "And among His signs is that He has created for you spouses
from among yourselves so that you may live in tranquility with them; and
He has created love and mercy between you. Verily, in that are signs for
those who reflect."(30:21 )
From these few verses of the Qur'an, one can easily understand that according
to Islam: (a) marriage is a sign of God's power and blessings; (b) marriage
is a highly recommended act of virtue which should not be avoided because
of poverty; (c) sexual urge is a creative command of God placed in human
nature. After equating sex with Allah's creative command, there can be no
room for equating it with guilt, sin or evil.
* * *
The Prophet and the Imams of Ahlu'l Bayt also encouraged their followers
to marry and to fulfill their sexual urges in lawful ways as can be seen
from the following: The Prophet said, "No house has been built in Islam
more beloved in the sight of Allah than through marriage." (Wasa'il,
vol. 14, p. 3) The Prophet said, "O you young men! I recommend marriage
to you." (Wasa'il, vol. 14, p. 25) Imam 'Ali said, "Marry,
because marriage is the tradition of the Prophet. The Prophet said, 'Whosoever
likes to follow my tradition, then he should know that marriage is from
my tradition.'" (Wasa'il, vol. 14, p. 3-4, 6) Imam Riza said,
"Three things are from the traditions of the messengers of God: using
perfume, removing the [excessive] hair and frequently visiting one's wife."
(Wasa'il, Vol. 14, p. 4) Ishaq bin 'Ammar quotes Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq
as follows: "Loving women is among the traditions of the prophets."
(Wasa'il, Vol. 14, p. 9)
The Prophet said, "Prayer has been made the apple of my eyes, and my
pleasure is in women." (Wasa'il, Vol. 14, p. 10) See with what
ease the Prophet moves from prayers to the pleasure of women! The Prophet
said, "No Muslim man has gained a benefit after [the religion of] Islam
better than a Muslim wife who is a cause of his pleasure whenever he looks
towards her..." (Wasa'il, Vol. 14, p. 23) Imam Muhammad al-Baqir
quotes the Prophet as follows: "Allah says that, 'Whenever I intend
to gather the good of this world and the hereafter for a Muslim, I give
him a heart which is humble [to Me], a tongue which praises [Me], a body
which can bear [worldly] affliction and a believing wife who is a cause
of his pleasure whenever he looks towards her and who protects herself and
his property when he is absent." (Wasa'il, Vol. 14, p. 23) See
with what ease Allah has combined His praise with the pleasure a man derives
from a faithful wife!
Jamil bin Darraj quotes Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq saying, "Mankind has not
enjoyed [anything] in this world and the hereafter more than the desire
for women. Allah says, 'The love of desire of women has been made to
seem fair to people.'[3 :14] The people of the Paradise do not enjoy
anything from it more desirable than sex, neither food nor drink."
(Wasa'il, Vol. 14, p. 10)
2. CELIBACY &
MONASTICISM IS FORBIDDEN
The Islamic point of view about the worldly good things is not negative,
rather it says that we should appreciate them as the blessings of God. And
Islam is, therefore, totally opposed to monasticism and celibacy. 'Uthman
bin Maz'un was a close companion of the Prophet. One day his wife came to
the Prophet and complained, "O the Messenger of God! 'Uthman fasts
during the day and stands for prayers during the night." In other words,
she meant to say that her husband was abstaining from sexual relations during
the night as well as the day. The Prophet was so much angered with this
that he did not even wait to put on his slippers. He came out with the slippers
in his hands and went to 'Uthman's house. The Prophet found him praying.
When 'Uthman finished his prayers and turned towards the Prophet, the latter
said, "O 'Uthman! Allah did not send me for monasticism, rather He
sent me with a simple and straight[shari'ah]. I fast, pray and also
have intimate relations with my wife. So whosoever likes my tradition, then
he should follow it; and marriage is one of my traditions. (Wasa'il,
Vol. 14, p. 10) Since 'Uthman was already married, the word "marriage"
in this hadith can only be applied to sexual relations.
In another incident, three women came to the Prophet and complained that
their husbands were abstaining from meat, perfume and intimate relations
with their wives. The Prophet quickly came to the mosque, went on the pulpit
and said, "What has happened to some of my companions that they do
not eat meat, they do not use perfume and they do not go to their women?!
Whereas I eat meat, use perfume and go to my wives. Therefore whosoever
dislikes my tradition, then he is not from me. (Wasa'il, Vol. 14,
Ibn Abu 'Umayr quotes that Sikkin an-Nakha'i had devoted himself to prayers
and abstinence from women and delicious food. Then he wrote a letter to
Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq seeking clarification about his actions. The Imam wrote,
"As for what you have said about abstaining from women, you surely
know how many women the Prophet had! As for food, the Prophet used to eat
meat and honey." (Wasa'il, Vol. 14, p. 4) The Imam is obviously
condemning the holier-than-thou attitude of his companion.
Imam 'Ali narrates that some companions of the Prophet had vowed to abstain
from sexual relations with their wives, from eating during the day and from
sleeping during the night. Umm Salamah, the Prophet' s wife, informed him
about this group. The Prophet went out to his companions and said, "Do
you abstain from women whereas I go to the women?! I eat during the day
and sleep during the night! Whosoever dislikes my tradition, then he is
not from me." After this speech, Allah revealed the following verse:
O you who believe! Do not forbid [for yourselves]
the good things which Allah has permitted you; and do not exceed [the law]
Allah does not like those who exceed [the law]. Therefore eat of the lawful
and good things that Allah has provided you, and fear Allah in whom you
Read this verse carefully and see that firstly,
it counts sex, food and sleep among "the lawful and good things which
Allah has permitted you;" and secondly celibacy and abstinence is considered
as "exceeding the law of God." After this verse was revealed,
those companions came to the Prophet and said, "O Messenger of God!
We have taken oath to abstain from those things." That is, how can
we now break our oath of abstinence? Then Allah revealed the following verse
"Allah will not call you [to account] for vain oaths... "(5:84)
Again, note that an oath of celibacy or abstinence from the good and lawful
things is considered by Islam as 'vain oaths!' (Wasa'il, Vol. 14,
The discouraging of celibacy is not confined to men, even women have been
discouraged from remaining single. Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq said, "The
Prophet has forbidden the women to become ascetic and to prevent themselves
from husbands." (Wasa'il, Vol. 14, p. 117)
'Abdus Samad bin Bashir quotes that a woman came to Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq
and said, "May God bless you; I am an ascetic woman."
The Imam: "What does asceticism mean to you?"
The woman: "It means that I will never marry."
The Imam: "Why?"
The woman: "By practicing asceticism, I want to acquire favor (of God)."
The Imam: "Go away! If asceticism was a means of acquiring favor (of
God), then Fatimah would have been more entitled to it than you because
none can gain more favor [in the eyes of Allah] than her." (Wasa'il,
Vol. 14, p. 117-118)
A similar incident is also narrated in relation to Imam Riza.
The Prophet said, "The most low [in status] among your dead are the
singles." (Wasa'il, Vol. 14, p. 7)
Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq says that a person came to my father. My father asked
him, "Do you have a wife? " He said, "No. " My father
said, "I would not prefer to have the world with all its riches while
I sleep at night without a wife." (Wasa'il, Vol. 14, p.7)
3. MARRIAGE HELPS
In Islam, contrary to Christianity, marriage and sex are not antipathetic
to the love for and worship of God. Instead of an obstacle, marriage is
regarded as an asset in acquiring spiritual perfection.
The Prophet said, "One who marries has already guarded half of his
religion, therefore he should fear Allah for the other half." (Wasa'il,
Vol. 14, p.5) A person who can fulfill his sexual urges lawfully is less
distracted in the spiritual journey. Love for women and faith are inter-related.
In one hadith, 'Umar bin Zayd quotes Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq that, "I
do not think that a person's faith can increase positively unless his love
for women has increased." (Wasa'il, Vol. 14, p.9) The same Imam
said, "Whenever a person's love for women increases, his faith increases
in quality." (Wasa'il, Vol. 14, p.11) He also said, "Whosoever's
love for us increases, his love for women must also increase." (Wasa'il,
Vol. 14, p.11)
Marriage even elevates the value of prayers. The Prophet said, "Two
rak 'ats (cycles) prayed by a married person is better than the night-vigil
and the fast of a single person." (Wasa'il, Vol. 14, p.7) Ibn
Fuzzal quotes Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq saying that, "Two rak'ats prayed
by a married person is better than seventy rak'ats prayed by a single person."
(Wasa'il, Vol. 14, p.6)
The Prophet said, "If anyone likes to meet Allah in purity, then he
should meet Him with a wife." (Wasa'il, Vol. 14, p. 25)
A woman came to the Prophet's house and her strong perfume soon filled the
house. When the Prophet inquired about the visitor, the woman said that
she had tried everything to attract her husband but in vain; he does not
leave his meditation to pay any attention to her.
The Prophet told her to inform her husband about the reward of sexual intercourse
which he described as follows: "When a man approaches his wife, he
is guarded by two angels and [at that moment in Allah's views] he is like
a warrior fighting for the cause of Allah. When he has intercourse with
her, his sins fell like the leaves of the tree [in fall season]. When he
performs the major ablution, he is cleansed from sins. (Wasa'il 'sh-Shi'ah,
Vol. 14, p. 74)
* * *
These quotations from the Qur'an and the sayings of the Prophet and the
Imams of Ahlu'l-bayt show that the Islamic view on sex and marriage is in
complete harmony with human nature. It can easily be concluded that in the
Islamic sexual morality: (a) marriage and sex is highly recommended and
it is in no way associated with evil, guilt or sin; (b) monasticism and
celibacy is unacceptable; (c) marriage is considered a helping factor in
attaining spiritual perfection it prevents the Muslims from getting into
sins and also enhances the value of their acts of worship. These teachings
neutralize the need for a sexual revolution in a Muslim society. Since there
is no sexual suppression, the question of a sexual revolution does not arise.