By Abdul Ghafoor
One of the most fundamental aspects of human nature is the need to satisfy the sexual urge. It is an undeniable part of the human condition and has both constructive as well as destructive potential. Over the course of history, different philosophies and religions have strived to ensure that the sexual urge is satisfied in a manner that is healthy for both the individual and the society. In the last few decades, however, notions of sexual morality and the boundaries of human sexuality have been besieged by a downward spiral of unfettered individual freedom, leading to cultural degeneration and sexual anarchy.
A universally accepted outlet for sexual desire is the institution of marriage. It not only allows the husband and wife to satisfy each other’s sexual drives without promiscuity, it also provides a foundational family unit for raising children and perpetuating the human race. In that sense, it balances the pleasure one draws from sexual intercourse with the responsibilities that ensue from initiating such a relationship. On the other hand, pre-marital and extra-marital sex, pornography, prostitution, pedophilia and all other avenues of sexual expression are considered deviations by most cultures and religious teachings, including Islam. Such sexual freedom without regulations has a profoundly adverse and disruptive impact on society.
Sacred union of marriage and importance of guarding chastity
According to Islam, the institution of marriage represents a sublime manifestation of the Divine Will and Purpose. This is discernible in the following Quranic verse:
“And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): Verily in that are Signs for those who reflect.” (30:21)
Single persons who are capable of supporting a family are recommended not to delay in getting married. For those who are married, a careful attention to their sexual and emotional relationships is encouraged to ensure that each spouse remains satisfied. The achievement of sexual and emotional contentment in marriage is integral to safeguarding the husband and wife from searching for unlawful satisfaction outside of marriage.
Fulfilling sexual desire through marriage is considered not only healthy but a choice worthy of Divine reward. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said, “In the sexual act of each of you there is a charity.” His Companions wondered: “O Messenger of God! When one of us fulfils his sexual desire, will he be given a reward for that?” And he replied, “Do you not think that were he to act upon it unlawfully, he would be sinning? Likewise, if he acts upon it lawfully he will be rewarded.”
Islam teaches that human beings are accountable for their deeds in the hereafter and, hence, should be cognizant of God and His commands as they go about their lives every day. This outlook is equally relevant in the public sphere as well as the privacy of one’s home.
Islam, like many other religions, has prohibited any acts of sexual deviation that are outside of marriage and considers them to be grave sins. The word Muslim means one who submits, or surrenders, their will to the Will of God. To know which actions are pleasing to God and which will earn His anger are, therefore, foremost in the criteria for how Muslims are supposed to lead their lives. Guarding one’s chastity is considered one of the noblest characteristics of a believer.
“For men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in God’s praise, for them has God prepared forgiveness and a great reward” (Quran, 33, 35).
“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” (Quran 23, 5-6).
Committing purely to each other in a marriage and accepting the obligations that come with it are, hence, prerequisites in Islam before one may be sexually gratified.
Sexual relations outside marriage
Engaging in sexual relations outside of marriage, whether it is premarital or extramarital sex, is considered a grave sin in Islam. In both cases, the two individuals engage in an act of profound intimacy without any responsibilities attached. By asserting that sexual relations are not to be regarded in a casual manner, Islam has closed the doors to one-night stands, sex for money and “no strings attached” relationships. After all, sexual deviations may be temporarily gratifying but they have a disruptive effect on not only the individuals involved but also their families, the wider community and society at large. Emotional betrayal, mental illness, family disruption and even violence are the likely outcomes of such deviant behavior. In the long run, such deviations may become so intrinsically accepted in societies that they lead to other abnormalities in the name of freedom and individual happiness, as we are currently seeing in the case of homosexuality. They are also capable of changing the population charts for entire nations, as birth rates fall and terminal illnesses cause early demise.
God commands in explicit and unequivocal words, “And come not near unto adultery. Lo! It is an abomination and an evil way” (Quran, 17, 32).
Islam recognizes the power of the sexual desire and thus, not only prohibits illegal sexual relations, but also prescribes ways of shutting all avenues leading to it. This is achieved by prohibiting those things that could open the way for illicit sexual relations between men and women, or for promoting indecency and obscenity. Hence, Islam prohibits any act, whether in manner, attire or speech, that might stimulate the sexual urges of anyone other than one’s spouse. Both men and women have a shared responsibility to uphold modesty as explained in the Quran,
“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that will make for greater purity for them; and Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; and that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands…” (24:30-31).
Indulgence in pornography is known to be an addictive habit that perverts the individual’s morals, reduces women to sexual objects and often acts as a catalyst in motivating the individual towards sexual crimes. Scientific research has shown that the viewing of sexual images has a long lasting effect on the brain – much more than the viewing of non-sexual images. These sexual memories are so pronounced that they can last for years and play havoc with the individual’s mind and sexual urge. A person engaging in pornography is more likely to be unsatisfied with their married lives as pornography overpowers the individual with unrealistic fantasies.
In their book, Pornography and Sexual Aggression, Dr. Malamuth NM and Dr. E. Donnerstein noted:
“Certain [aggressive] forms of pornography can affect aggressive attitudes toward women and can desensitize an individual’s perception of rape. These attitudes and perceptions are, furthermore, directly related to actual aggressive behavior against women.” (Orlando, Florida: Academic Press, 1984.)
They also found that adult pornography was connected with each of the 1,400 child sexual molestation cases in Louisville, Kentucky, and child pornography was connected with the majority of them.
The fact that there are laws that make it illegal to sell pornography to minors, shows that society is aware of the doubly harmful effects it can have on young minds. The position of Islam and several other religions extends this prohibition to all, since the harm is not confined to minors but to all who are exposed to pornography.
In the mind of the porn addict, pornography reduces a woman’s worth to such a low level that they become objects, to be humiliated and subjugated to the desires of men. This is completely antithetical to the elevated status that Islam accords to women, through rights, honor and dignity. (See also Women in Islam.)
According to “Family Safe Media,” the worldwide pornography industry had revenues exceeding $96 billion in the year 2006, and the figures have only grown since then. The reality of the matter is that pornography is so lucrative in our current society that the industry has lobbied against any attempt to rein in its reprehensible business.
Homosexual acts are prohibited in Islam as in several other religions. God condemns homosexual behavior explicitly in the Quran: “Do you approach the males of humanity, leaving the wives Allah has created for you? Nay, You are a people who transgress” (26:165-166).
Some have argued that genetic factors may make one predisposed to a homosexual orientation. Even if this were true, the Islamic position is that such tendencies need to be kept under check and can be overcome. According to Islam, heterosexuality is not only the norm, but also aligned more with human nature as God created it. It is only through a heterosexual marriage that the human race can be propagated, and the raising of healthy and balanced children requires that they have a male as well as a female parent. For a person with homosexual tendencies, the struggle against such a tendency is their trial, and their acceptance of God’s prohibition is worthy of Divine reward.
Again, Islam not only prohibits the practice, but provides practical measures to help the believer. One example here is that a lustful gaze is prohibited not only between individuals of the opposite sex that are not married to each other, but also among individuals of the same sex. According to Islam, the concept of a “gay marriage” is a modern aberration that seeks to legitimize homosexuality, and shows a lack of understanding about the concept of marriage, its purpose and its impact on society as a whole.
Abstaining from Sex – Celibacy
Sex within marriage is considered healthy and a necessary part of achieving the correct balance and focus with respect to both worldly and spiritual matters. Marriage is therefore highly recommended for individuals who are physically and financially able to fulfill their marital responsibilities. Abstaining from sex can be problematic by making a person more vulnerable to sexual deviations. One is more likely to stay away from sex outside marriage, pornography, prostitution and pedophilia if they are within a committed marital relationship. Celibacy is against the natural order of things, represents a denial of a basic human urge and is an impediment to the propagation of the human race.
A form of polygamy called polygyny (when a man is married to more than one woman) has been practiced within both the Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic religions. Many of the great Prophets such as Abraham, David, Solomon and Muhammad (peace be upon them) are known to have had multiple wives. Although Islam did not originate polygyny, it continued to permit the practice, limiting it to a maximum of 4 wives, but only under conditions where each wife is treated justly and with equality.
Polygyny provides a respectful status to each wife having full and equal rights within the marriage. In contrast, adultery, which has become a wider practice in today’s society, is generally considered a hidden, shameful practice where the mistress holds a second class status without recognition and legal rights.
The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was married to a single woman, Khadija, for the majority of his married life, from the age of 25 until approximately the age of 50. This practice of monogamy is by far the overwhelming norm within the Muslim world today. It was after Khadija’s death, that the Prophet married other women. Many of these marriages were either to widows or carried out with the intent of peacefully uniting tribes, nations or families.
In conclusion, Islam provides a divine code for protection of the society as well as the individual from acts of sexual deviation. Through its prohibitions, rulings and recommendations, the sacred union of marriage is further protected, and its importance is emphasized as the essential legal unit which leads to healthy families, communities and nations.