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Articles Section > Sex Morality in Islam by Naseer Ahmad Faruqui Sahib

Sex Morality in Islam:
by Naseer Ahmad Faruqui Sahib
The Light (January 24, 1977)

1. Sex is a hot topic these days. It is a basic desire in human nature. It is, however, so potent that man has always found it difficult to control it. And because that led to immorality, religions other than Islam have considered sex to be an impediment to moral and spiritual progress. That is why celibacy was considered desirable for moral and spiritual growth. Monks, nuns, Sadhus, Brahmacharis, Buddhist Bhikshus, and even Romans Catholic clergy may be quoted as illustrations of the point that, by and large, sex was considered as an impurity, as an evil which should best be suppressed.

2. But if that is a desirable course, mankind would come to an end in one generation. And that could not be the intention of the Great Creator. Besides, man would lose the affection, comfort and blissful home and family life, which arise from a successful marriage. On the other hand, uncontrolled sex destroys homes, families and even nations. It leads eventually to great unhappiness, human degradation, and venereal diseases. What is worse, it leads, again, to the prevention of human birth. The tendency among all illicit intercourse is to avoid the birth of a child, who would need a permanent father and mother, a permanent home, parental love and affection to grow into a healthy human being -- sound both in body and mind. Illegitimate children or broken homes are responsible for the alarming rise, in Western society, of juvenile delinquency, drug addiction and hippie-ism.

3. So the extremes of celibacy and sexual promiscuity are both wrong. The via media prescribed by Islam of sex within marriage is the best solution. The misconception that concubinage is permissible in Islam is due to a gross misreading of the Holy Qur’an. It is true that concubinage was practised in Arabia before the advent of Islam. That is why some Muslims may have practised it before it was prohibited. The Holy Qur’an ruled: "And marry off those among you who are single, and those who are fit among your male slaves and female slaves" (24:32). And as female slaves were also used to earn a profit for their masters through prostitution, it was prohibited thus: "And do not compel your slave girls to prostitution" (24:33).

4. The basic principle for all Muslims was laid down thus: "And let those who cannot marry keep chaste, until Allah makes them free from want out of His grace." (24:33). The question of means to wed arose, not only because the girl and her parents expect the gift of clothes and ornaments for the bride, but also because Islam requires mehr (dowry) to be bestowed upon her to give her an independent financial status.

5. It is true that the Holy Qur’an makes a distinction between free women and "those whom your right hands possess", the latter being women taken as prisoners of war. But there could be no intimacy even with the latter without marriage as is clear from the following: "And whoever among you has not within his power ampleness of means to marry free believing women, he may marry from those whom your right hands possess from among your believing maidens: Allah knows best your faith – you are like one another. So marry them with the permission of their masters, and give them their dowries justly, they being chaste, not fornicating, nor receiving paramours" (4:25). Thus marriage for the sake of satisfying lust only, or secret marriages, are not permissible in Islam. It requires that husband and wife should live together openly in wedlock.

6. The reason why a distinction was made between free believing women and "those whom your right hands possess" is that the latter were treated differently in the matter of, say punishment: "If they are guilty of adultery when they are taken in marriage, they shall suffer half the punishment for free married women" (4:25). The standards expected from free believing women were higher than those from prisoners of war.

7. The Holy Prophet’s life provides an illustration of all the commandments of Allah. Thus occasions arose in wars, as in the case of Hazrat Safia and Hazrat Juwairiya, who were taken as prisoners of war. Being the daughters of the vanquished chieftains, the Holy Prophet was advised to take them to himself, as any other marriage or master would have been humiliating and galling to the defeated foe -- thus widening the resentment in the enemy’s mind. The Holy Prophet married each one of them. If the permission regarding "those whom your right hands possess" had meant what it was taken to mean later on when rulers with lax moral arose, he would have not married them, come what may, for he was required by Allah to put into practice what he taught.

8. Another illustration from his life is that of Mariam, the Copt slave girl sent to him as a present by the King of Abyssinia. To palm her off to somebody else would have offended the friendly King. As already stated, it was customary throughout the world in those days to practice concubinage. But the Holy Prophet set her free and married her.

9. If sex within marriage, as prescribed by Islam, is the best course, it might well be asked that other religions had prescribed it too; then why has sexual immorality become so rampant particularly in the West? The answer is that the mere prescription of marriage was not enough. Human nature being what it is, extra-marital sexual relations were bound to arise. Other religions, in prohibiting adultery, prescribed even death as punishment. Islam also prohibits adultery but made the punishment more rational by prescribing a hundred stripes in public, as punishment and public humiliation. In the case of "those whom your right hands possess " the punishment was half that for free men and women as already stated in para 5 above. It may be mentioned here that in the time of the Holy Prophet, and even for some time after him, there was no whip, and flogging was carried out by beating with a stick or with the hand or with shoes. The culprit was not stripped naked but he was required to take off thick clothes. It is further related that it is preferable to give tolerable strokes on different parts of the body so that no harm should result to any one part, but the face and the private parts must be avoided. (Ruh-al-Maani, Ch. 18, P 77).

10. In spite of the much severer punishment of death prescribed by the Bible for adultery, why has this evil existed so widely among Christians whose civilisation now dominates the world? The preponderance of women over men, after the two recent World Wars, has made the vice almost uncontrollable. But it existed even before on a much wider scale in the West than in the East. Why?

11. The answer lies in the fact that apart from prescribing the punishment of death for adultery, the Bible provided no other remedies. That even capital punishment failed to stop fornication in the western society is due to other reasons, which may be detailed below.

12. There was no restriction among Christians on women as to how they should go about. The result is that they mixed freely with men. There being no restriction about dress, the women soon began to show off their bodies, as it is part of the feminine nature to attract the male. Partial nudity, particularly on sea-beaches, in theatres, cinemas and evening functions, and even on streets during summer has now resulted in full nudity in films, on the stage and elsewhere. On the other hand, there is no restriction on men either as to how they should conduct themselves with women. But the biggest evil is the unrestricted mixing of the two sexes. A man and a woman, if they are thrown together, soon begin to get attracted sexually, however plain or even unattractive the other person may be. Dancing together again excites sexual passion.

13. What has Islam provided to meet these evils? Let us list them:

a. Muslims are required not to enter houses other than their own, without seeking permission (24:27,28).

b. The Holy Prophet prohibited a man or a woman (who are not within the prohibited degree of marriage such as brother and sister) to be under a roof unless a third person within the prohibited degree is present (Bukhari 67:112).

c. The Holy Qur’an requires that if a man has to ask of a woman any goods when she is alone in the house, it may be done from behind a curtain (33:53).

d. A woman is required to stay within her house (33:33) unless she has to go out to the mosque or to go out for her needs such as shopping, exercise, etc. (Bukhari 4:13 and 67:116).

e. When a woman goes out of her house, she is prohibited from making a display of her finery (33:33,59) such as clothes and jewellery. So, she is required to cover her body with the exception of her face and hands (24:30,31; Abu Dawood 31:30). The cover may be a plain coat or a plain Chaddar (sheet). The head covering of a woman was particularly required to cover also her bosom (24:31). This was in anticipation of the present day low necklines of dress or false brassieres to make the breasts prominent.

f. As for women who are past childbearing, there is no harm if they put off the over-garment "without displaying their adornment" (24:60). And "if they are also modest it is better for them" (24:60).

g. When walking before men, a woman is prohibited from swinging her hips or putting her feet down strongly so as to make her ornaments of the feet jingle (24:31).

h. When talking to a man, the woman is required not to use "soft speech" which may attract a man "in whose heart is a disease" (33:32).

i. Most important of all, both men and women are required to lower their gaze when passing, or dealing with each other (24:30,31)

j. Within the home, the servants are required to ask permission to enter the bedroom (i) before the morning prayer, (ii) "When you put off your clothes for the heat of the noon," i.e., during afternoon rest, and (iii) after the last prayer at night (24:58).

14. For the situation created by the preponderance of the number of women over that of men, Islam has permitted polygamy. In such an imbalance, heightened in the West by the two World Wars, even some of the Western thinkers are now advocating polygamy as the only remedy, e.g., "A case for Polygamy" by Judge Lindsay - a British jurist. Or, as an American article put it "half a husband is better than no husband" if the chastity of women is to be given a fair chance to survive, if the institution of marriage is to be saved, and if illegitimate children are to be eliminated.

15. Subject to the restrictions on women and men mentioned in para 13 above, a woman is free even to earn her living. Thus the Holy Qur’an says: "For men is the benefit of what they earn. And for women is the benefit of what they earn" (4:32). A woman can attend the mosque to join the congregational prayers (Bukhari 10:162). She can also join the soldiers in the battle-field to perform a large number of duties such as the carrying of provisions or cooking of food (Bukhari 56:66), taking care of the sick and wounded (Bukhari 56:67), removing the wounded and the slain from the battle-field (Bukhari 56:68) and even fighting, if need be. Women helped their husbands in the labour of the field (Bukhari 67:108), they could carry on business (Bukhari 11:40). And so on.

16. It will thus be seen that Islam prohibits:

a. The unnecessary mixing of sexes.

b. Nudity and the display of personal charms.

c. All avoidable opportunities for men and women to go wrong.

d. Sex outside marriage.

17. Societies which have not observed the above restrictions, particularly in the West, are now immersed in the worst possible laxity of sexual morality, rapidly spreading venereal diseases [Note: AIDS may be quoted here!], ("The Readers’ Digest" of October 1972 estimates two and a half million of new cases every year in U.S.A. alone) and sexual perversion. The institution of marriage is threatened with extinction. Even when marriages take place, they soon come to grief. Homes are broken, even if divorce (now so common) does not take place, and the children are ruined. Juvenile delinquency, drug addiction, hippie-ism, and insubordination are now common. The resulting unhappiness to parents as well as to their children is leading to an alarming rise in mental disorders. To the extent that we are following Western culture, we are also going down the hill. Tropical temperaments, being not as phlegmatic as the Western ones of cooler clime, we are likely to sink faster, unless, of course, we adopt the Islamic code of life.

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