Sex in Islam
Sex as Sadaqa
An excerpt from 'The Muslim Marriage Guide', By Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood (Amana Publications).
"Women shall have rights similar to the rights upon them; according to what is equitable and just; and men have a degree of advantage over them." (Quran, 2:216)
They do indeed! This passage of the Holy Quran was revealed in connection with the rights of women following a divorce, but it also has a general sense. One basic right of every person taking on a contract never to have sex other than with their own legitimate partner is that each spouse should therefore provide sexual fulfillment (imta') to the other, as part of the bargain.
Now, every man knows what sexual things please him--but some men, particularly those who have not been married before and are therefore lacking experience, don't seem to know much about how to give the same pleasure to the woman; even worse, some men do know but they can't be bothered to make the effort. Yet this is vital if a marriage is to succeed and not just be a disappointing burden for the woman, and it is a vital part of one's Islamic duty.
It is not acceptable for a Muslim man just to satisfy himself while ignoring his wife's needs. Experts agree that the basic psychological need of a man is respect, while that of a woman is love. Neither respect nor love are things that can be forced--they have to be worked for, and earned. The Prophet (s) stated that in one's sexual intimacy with one's life partner there is sadaqa (worship through giving):
Allah's Messenger (pbuh) said: "In the sexual act of each of you there is a sadaqa." The Companions replied: "O Messenger of Allah! When one of us fulfils his sexual desire, will he be given a reward for that?" And he said, "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." (Muslim)
This hadith only makes sense if the sexual act is raised above the mere animal level.
What is the magic ingredient that turns sex into sadaqa, that makes it a matter of reward or punishment from Allah? It is by making one's sex life more than simple physical gratification; it is by thought for pleasing Allah by unselfish care for one's partner. A husband that cannot understand this will never be fully respected by his wife.
Neither spouse should ever act in a manner that would be injurious or harmful to their conjugal life. Nikah is the sacred tie between husband and wife, that sincere and devoted love without which they cannot attain happiness and peace of mind.
"Of His signs is this: that He created for you spouses that you might find rest in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy." (Quran, 30:21)
Now, every Muslim knows that a man has a right on his wife. However, because nikah is a contract never to seek sexual satisfaction outside the marriage bond, Islam commands not only the women but the men in this respect, and makes it clear that if a husband is not aware of the urges and needs of his wife, he will be committing a sin by depriving her of her rights.
According to all four orthodox jurists, it is incumbent upon the husband to keep his wife happy and pleased in this respect. Likewise, it is essential for the wife to satisfy the desire of the husband. Neither should reject the other, unless there is some lawful excuse.
Now, it is fairly easy for a woman to satisfy a man and make herself available to him, even if she is not really in the mood. It is far harder for a man to satisfy a woman if he is not in the mood, and this is where an important aspect of male responsibility needs to be brought to every Muslim man's attention, and stressed strongly.
The jurists believed that a woman's private parts needed "protecting" (tahsin). What they meant was that it was important for a Muslim husband to satisfy his wife's sexual needs so that she would not be tempted to commit zina out of despair or frustration.
A Muslim wife is not merely a lump of flesh without emotions or feelings, just there to satisfy a man's natural urges. On the contrary, her body contains a soul no less important in God's sight than her husband's. Her heart is very tender and delicate, and crude or rough manners would hurt her feelings and drive away love. The husband would be both foolish and immoral to act in any way unpalatable to her natural temperament, and a man selfishly seeking his own satisfaction without considering that of his wife is a selfish boor. In fact, according to a hadith:
"Three things are counted as inadequacies in a man. Firstly, meeting someone he would like to get to know, and taking leave of him before learning his name and his family. Secondly, rebuffing the generosity that another shows to him. And thirdly, going to his wife and having intercourse with her before talking to her and gaining her intimacy, satisfying his need from her before she has satisfied her need from him." (Daylami)
This is another of the things implied by the saying that one's wife is "a tilth unto you." (Quran, 2:223) The imagery is that of a farmer taking care of his fields. According to Mawlana Abul-Ala Mawdudi:
"The farmer sows the seed in order to reap the harvest, but he does not sow it out of season or cultivate it in a manner which will injure or exhaust the soil. He is wise and considerate, and does not run riot." (Afzalur Rahman, Quranic Sciences, London 1981, p.285)
Likewise, in the case of husband and wife, the husband should not just:
Take hold of his wife and rub the seed and finish the business of procreation. The damage in this case could sometimes be irreparable, because a woman, unlike a farm, is very sensitive and has emotions, feelings, and strong passions which need full satisfaction and attention in a proper and appropriate manner. (Afzalur Rahman, Quranic Sciences, London 1981, p. 286)
If this is not taken into consideration, and the wife is not properly prepared to start lovemaking, or is unsatisfied when it is finished, there could be many psychological and physiological complications leading to frigidity and other abnormalities. Indeed, many husbands eventually become disappointed with their wives, believing them to be frigid or unable to respond to their activities (unlike the sirens on the film or TV screen), and they wonder what is wrong with them. A possible explanation will follow in a moment.
Allah created male and female from a single soul in order that man might live with her in serenity (Quran, 7:189), and not in unhappiness, frustration and strife. If your marriage is frankly awful, then you must ask yourself how such a desperate and tragic scenario could be regarded by anyone as "half the Faith." According to a hadith:
"Not one of you should fall upon his wife like an animal; but let there first be a messenger between you." "And what is that messenger?" they asked, and he replied: "Kisses and words." (Daylami)
These "kisses and words" do not just include foreplay once intimacy has commenced. To set the right mood, little signals should begin well in advance, so that the wife has a clue as to what is coming, and is pleasantly expectant, and also has adequate time to make herself clean, attractive and ready. As regards intimacy itself, all men know that they cannot achieve sexual fulfillment if they are not aroused. They should also realise that it is actually harmful and painful for the female organs to be used for sex without proper preparation. In simple biological terms, the woman's private parts need a kind of natural lubrication before the sexual act takes place. For this, Allah has created special glands, known to modern doctors as the Bartholin glands, which provide the necessary "oils."
It is still possible to read old-fashioned advice to husbands that a desirable wife should be "dry"--which is remarkable ignorance and makes one really grieve for the poor wives of such inconsiderate men. Just as no one would dream of trying to run an engine without the correct lubricating fluids, it is the same, through the creative will of Allah, with the parts of the female body designed for sexual intimacy. A husband should know how to stimulate the production of these "oils" in his wife, or at the very least allow her to use some artificial "oils." This lack of knowledge or consideration is where so many marital problems frequently arise.
As Imam al-Ghazali says: "Sex should begin with gentle words and kissing," and Imam al-Zabidi adds: "This should include not only the cheeks and lips; and then he should caress the breasts and nipples, and every part of her body." (Zabidi, Ithaf al-Sada al Muttaqin, V 372) Most men will not need telling this; but it should be remembered that failure to observe this Islamic practice is to neglect or deny the way Allah has created women.
Insulting a wife with bad marital manners
Firstly, a husband must overcome his shyness enough to actually look at his wife, and pay attention to her. If he cannot bring himself to follow this sunna, it is an insult to her, and extremely hurtful. Personal intimacy is a minefield of opportunities to hurt each other--glancing at the watch, a yawn at the wrong moment, appearing bored, and so on. A husband's duty is to convince his wife that he does love her--and this can only be done by word (constantly repeated word, I might add--such is the irritating nature of women!), and by looking and touching.
Many people believe that the expression in the eyes reveals much of the human soul. Certainly the lover's gaze is a most endearing and treasured thing. Many wives yearn for that gaze of love, even after they have been married for years. If you cannot bring yourself to look at her while paying attention to her, she can only interpret this as a sign that you do not really love her. And even though it may be irritating to you, and seem quite superfluous, most women are deeply moved when a man actually tells her that he loves her.
Sex is clean!
A modest upbringing is part of good character. The Prophet (s) himself said: "Modesty brings nothing but good." (Bukhari and Muslim) But another, also important, part of Islamic teaching says that all of Allah's creation is beautiful and pure, particularly when it is part of the body of human beings, who are designed as His deputies upon the earth. In some religions, people traditionally believed that the woman's private parts are in some way unclean, or dirty, or even evil.