Sex in Islam
Sex, Society and Morality
By J.S. Idris
This is another of the classic and seminal articles published by The Muslim magazine in the sixties and seventies. This article was first published in 1969.
Morality has become for so many people in the West and those who ape them elsewhere, the only immoral thing. Once you defend or criticise any action or behaviour on a moral basis, You run the risk of being branded as unscientific, irrational, and intolerant.
Morality according to such a view is at best something that is completely irrelevant to the material and spiritual well-being of individuals and societies; at worst it is the one handicap that is blocking the way of healthy progress of individuals and societies. And this is more so especially as far as sexual morality is concerned.
For such people the best attitude towards any kind of sexual behaviour is: stop talking nonsense about its being moral or immoral since these descriptions are mere expressions of the speaker's subjective and irrational attitude. And since any form of sexual behaviour is as good as the other, the best civilised, scientific and tolerant attitude is to let any one choose the form which he likes and not to impose on him the form which happens to be the choice of another individual or groups of individuals even if the latter were in the majority.
Suffice it to say that while the idea of planning is gaining grounds in nearly every aspect of society, laissez-faire has established itself as the best policy in matters sexual. Is morality, and in particular sexual morality, such a superfluous and highly relative matter that changes, without any harmful consequences, from place to place, from age to age, and front one individual to the other?
It is my belief that this is a grossly mistaken view but I do not want to enter here into a direct defence of morality. In fact, I think that the best policy here is not to talk about 'morality' at all, but about the harmful or useful consequences of adopting one or the other of the many possible forms of sexual behaviour. And I hope that the criteria in use for identifying a certain consequence as useful or harmful will be acceptable to everyone irrespective of whether he is religious or atheist, a defender of morality or a staunch enemy of such a concept.
We shall see however that the choice we finally settle on is the behaviour we call moral. And it is called moral, and enjoined by Allah not for any mysterious unknowable quality which they have but for reasons similar to the ones which I shall mention. As Muslims we believe that Allah enjoins us to do only what is good for us and avoid only what is bad or harmful for us.
There seem to be four main types of sexual relations of which we either have a society of pure homosexuals, an entirely promiscuous society, a society in which no sexual relation exists except between husband and wife or a laissez-faire society in which all these forms are tolerated. Are there any rational and objective basis on which we can choose among these types of societies?
Let us start with the easiest one to rule out. If men continue to be moral then a society of pure homosexuals is a self-defeating one, since it severs the enjoyment of sex from its reproductive function. An entirely promiscuous society seems to many to be the best, and in the long run the inevitable form of sexual relations. In such a society sex, it is thought, ceases to be a problem, since here we shall for the first time combine complete freedom with the deepest enjoyment as well as the reproduction of children. This however is a mere dream in which one does not see the facts as they are but as one wants them to be. Here are some of the difficulties that beset such a society.
Far from being the natural or ultimately the inevitable, and even if man is viewed as a mere animal, this is a dream which shall never be realised. This is because
The facts are therefore against those who argue that man is basically promiscuous.
In such a society people are sure to be obsessed with sex, as the search for the younger, the more beautiful, the what not becomes a full time job. If time is a valuable asset then much of it is unnecessarily wasted in such a society. And this leads inevitably and naturally to the commercialisation of this human need, a commercialisation which through advertisements, pictures, specialised magazines, the employment of sexually attractive girls, and a hundred other satanic devices, only increases the obsession with sex.
The natural outcome of this is a distortion of human values. I do not mean by this anything metaphysical or mysterious. I only mean that in such a society a person's worth will depend on the accident of his being in a certain age or having a beautiful body. Girls are rewarded, socially and materially and even 'crowned' not for anything they achieved but for a thing they had at their hour of birth. By implication the less beautiful girls are punished for no fault of theirs. What a cruel society!
A promiscuous society is definitely a cruel one. Even in a normal society, the feeling that one is getting older is somewhat annoying. What if the older one becomes one loses not only one's vitality and smartness, but even some of one's worth as a human being.
If many criminal tendencies both among the young and the old are discovered to have their origins in broken homes and unstable families, what is going to be the fate of that army of parentless children which a promiscuous society produces? I cannot go here into the detailed problems of the mass bringing-up of children.
These then are some examples of the consequences of living in an entirely promiscuous society. Contemplating them one might say; well no one ever seriously advocated this kind of society. All we stand for is a society where every individual or group of individuals shall have the freedom to lead the kind of sexual life which they prefer. In such a mixed society married people will live side by side with promiscuous individuals and homosexuals, each appreciating and respecting the ideas and choices of the others and tolerating their behaviour. But this will not do either.
Firstly because the bad consequences of homosexuality (with the details of which I have not concerned myself) and promiscuity, will not be eradicated by having those who practise them living among married people. All the complications will be there but on a narrower scale,
Secondly, if the consequences are admitted to be harmful why then encourage and not lessen the factors responsible for them? And the unfortunate fact is that tolerating homosexuality and promiscuity means encouraging them and pushing more and more people to practise them so much so that the inevitable result will be a promiscuous and homosexual society with a minority of "eccentric" married people, who shall not however be tolerated as the example of Lut's people shows.
"And Lut! (Remember) when he said unto his folk: Will ye commit abomination such as no creature ever did before. "Lo! ye come with lust unto men instead of women. Nay, but ye are wanton folk. "And the answer of his people was only that they said (one to another): Turn them out of your township. They are folk, forsooth, who keep pure." (Surah 7:80-82)
By elimination then, and also by implication, the society with the least evil and most good is a society of married people who do not tolerate, but do their best to eradicate all the causes of homosexuality and promiscuity. But the elaboration of this is the topic of another article which I hope to write, insh'Allah.