Sexual Morality (2)
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
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
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
"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.
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.
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.
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
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,
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.
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.
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 said pointing 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."
Explaining the details of the punishment, Allah
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.
If a Muslim cannot marry soon after puberty, then he or she just has two
options: temporary abstinence or temporary marriage.
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'ah has 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.
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. The munqati'
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.