Sex in Islam
Human Sexuality and the Shariat
by Professor Dr. Omar Hassan Kasule Sr.
Separate Gender Identity
Allah created 2 different and distinct genders as a pair (75:39, 53:45, 92:3). The male is different from the female (3:36) although ultimately both are from the same source (4:1, 7:189, 16:72, 30:12, 39:6). Each gender is encouraged to maintain its biological, psychological, emotional, and social identity. This is for the purpose of facilitating and regulating relations between the two genders for the good of the whole society. Parity, a basic phenomenon of creation, requires that men and women complement one another each bringing to the relationship unique features of the respective gender identity. This complementation would be meaningless if the two genders lost their separate identities.
On the demographic level, there should exist equal numbers of men and women. This is maintained in a normal social setting. In abnormal situations the balance may be lost leading to social problems. One of the signs of the impending last day, yawm al qiyamat, will be gender imbalance with too many women for few men (KS p. 106). This will be followed by a lot of adultery, zina (KS p. 264). Gender awareness develops very early in children. Sexual awareness develops towards puberty.
Gender separation has been used in a wrong way to discriminate against women on the basis of their sexuality. In contemporary western society the woman's body is sometimes treated as a sexual object to be exploited in the commercial advertisement and entertainment industries. In pre-Islamic Arabia, jahiliyyat, there was despise for females, idhlaal al nisa. There was preference for male births and hatred for females (6:137, 6:140, 6:151, 17:31, 60:12, 81:8-9, 16:58-59). Parents were sad on birth of a daughter (16:58-59, 43:17). Infant daughters were considered a blemish, aar (16:58-59, 43:17) and were buried alive, wa'ad al banaat (6:137, 6:140, 6:151, 16:58-59, 17:31, 60:12, 81:8-9). Women were inherited as goods (4:19) and were denied the good things of life (6:139).
In Christendom, women were blamed fior the original sin of Adam and Hawa and suffered discrimination as a result. Islam has emphasized gender identity while rejecting all forms of discrimination against the woman on the basis of her sexuality.
The Qur'an makes it clear that both Adam and Hawa were misled (2:36, 7:22, 20:121). They both sought forgiveness from Allah and were forgiven (7:23). In 2 verses it is Adam and not Hawa who is mentioned as seeking forgiveness (2:37, 20:122). Human sexuality could be a cause of corruption. Women because of their sexual attractiveness can be a source of fitnat (MB #1837 Qur'an 64:14). This has been misunderstood as derogatory to the moral standards of women. In practice it is men who are more often the active or aggressive party in sexual corruption and should take the blame. Any situation of corruption involves both a man and a woman and both are morally guilty. The law equalizes their guilt and their punishment (24:2). In the same way Islam equalizes their reward for good work (3:195, 4:124, 16:97, 40:40, 33:35). Men can also be a sexual attraction as the Qur'an tells us in the story of Yusuf (PBUH). His beauty was a temptation, fitnat, for women (12:26).
The law considers any blurring of the gender distinction between males and females as highly undesirable. This applies to the way of dressing, talking, behaving and socializing. Effeminate men must not be allowed to enter homes (MB #948). Severe punishment is reserved for men who try to appear like women, mukhannath, and women who try to appear like men, mutarajjil, (KS p. 190, KS p. 540). The law specifies acceptable clothing and other bodily ornamentation for men and women (KS p. 266, KS p. 466). Only women can use silk (MB p. 947, KS p. 465) and gold (KS p. 213). It is recommended for men to grow a beard as a sign of their masculinity (KS p. 468).
EXPRESSION OF HUMAN SEXUALITY
Human Sexuality is Normal
Allah created sexual desire, shahwat, in humans (3:14, 7:81, 27:55). It is as normal as is the desire for food or shelter. Like other desires that Allah created in humans it is powerful and can overwhelm a weak human (23:106). Sexual desire like the desire for food can be satisfied legally or illegally. It is illegal to satisfy the sexual desire outside marriage or with a partner of the same gender (7:81, 27:55), or with animals or inanimate things. Humans differ from animals in that their sexual desire is there all the time. Animals develop the desire only in the period just before copulation and in their reproductive season or phase. This period is called estrus in apes. It is clear that human sexual desire is not only for reproduction but also for pleasure. In animals sexual desire is strictly related to the reproductive function. Expression of human sexuality involves the male and female together. This has been the convention since the creation of Adam. The mutual needs of men and women for one another are illustrated in the case of Adam and Hawa (KS p.41). Allah told him to settle in heaven with his wife.
Monasticism is Forbidden
Islam forbids complete rejection and suppression of the sexual instinct (MB #1828, 1829, 1830, KS p. 253). The prophet forbade his companions from castrating themselves so that they may be devoted to worship, ibadat, all the time. Monasticism as practiced in some Christian sects and other religions is a human invention (57:27) that goes against basic human nature.
Allah has created in each gender features that attract the other gender. These include the physical beauty of the body (shape, size, movements, texture, color), the voice (pitch and depth), scalp and body hair (length, distribution, texture). Studies in animals have shown the existence of pheromones. These are chemical sexual attractants emitted by females. Their existence in humans is being studied. Physical beauty is appreciated by Islam and is considered one of the 4 reasons for marrying a woman (MB #1835). The intending spouses must see one another before marriage (MB #1846). This is to ensure that there is enough sexual attraction between them and prevents the regrets that may occur after marriage. Physical beauty deteriorates with age. Virginity enhances female sexual attraction and is considered desirable (56:36, 66:5). Marrying virgins is preferred (MB #1831) but there is no prejudice against the elderly widowed (2:234-235) or divorced (2:232) women. Aisha was the only wife of the Prophet who was a virgin. Shaitan exploits the sexual attraction between the genders to inflame passions that lead to sexual transgression. Each person always has shaitan with him or her (KS p. 48). The sexual attractiveness of the woman is generally more than that of the man. Thus in sexual relations it is the male who usually seeks out the female. The extra beauty and attractiveness of the woman can be a temptation for both her and for men (12:23-24 & 12:30-34). A woman conscious of her beauty may exploit it by being flirtous and thus exposing herself to men. Men will be attracted by her beauty and may lose control and commit sexual transgression.
Enhancing Sexual Attractiveness
Human sexual attraction is enhanced in many ways; some are legal whereas others are not. Clothes enhance physical appearance besides the functions of covering nakedness and protecting the body against the elements of the weather. Perfumes and other good smells perhaps play the role of pheromones in humans. Women and men can dye their hair (KS p. 215). It is however forbidden to dye the hair black or to use artificial hair. Circumcision (khitaan) is exercised in many societies for both men and women. Some societies consider that it enhances sexuality whereas others consider it to decrease sexuality and use it to control sexual transgression. Islam did not forbid it but requires that it be moderate and considerate (KS p. 214). Circumcision of men is of hygienic importance.
REGULATION OF HUMAN SEXUALITY
The 2 hollow organs will lead most people to hell: the mouth, fam, and the genitals, farj (KS p. 178). Both are involved in sexual corruption one negotiates whereas the other commits the crime. The law has regulations for proper conduct of sexual relations. These either aim at decreasing sexual stimulation or removing antecedents of adultery. Normal functioning of society requires that marriageable men and women interact. Both genders, in their appearance and behavior, can stimulate sexual passions. This results into a higher likelihood of sexual transgression. The physical acts of sexual transgression are preceded by acts that may not innately be illegal. They are however forbidden or restricted because they could lead to or facilitate the commitment of sexual transgression. These restrictions come under the rubric of prevention of approaching adultery, qurb al zina (6:151, 17:32). The severe punishment for adultery, hadd al zina, (24:2-3) is a social or public deterrent in cases of flagrant violation of the law. Under normal circumstances, actual regulation should be social exercised by the family and not the state.
Control of Sexuality
It is wrong to consider control of human sexuality. It must be expressed. The issue is the manner in which it is expressed. This may be right or wrong. For the youths who are not able to marry, fasting is recommended as a means of controlling the sexual urge for a short time (MB 440). For the married fasting should not be overused. The fasting person must remember that the family has rights (MB p 454). Thus conjugal rights of the husband or wife can not be abolished on the basis of non-obligatory, nafil, fasting. The individual can exercise control over the sexual urge even in the presence of extreme provocation. A husband and wife need not be separated in situations in which coitus if forbidden like pilgrimage, fasting, or menstruation. A fasting couple are not allowed to engage in behavior that may make them lose control and engage in coitus. Kissing of spouses in fasting is allowed provided there is no fear of transgression otherwise it is forbidden (KS p. 138).
The family and society must erect psychological barriers that make the commission of sexual transgression difficult. Severe punishment is reserved in the hereafter for a person who allows sexual misconduct in his or her family, duyuuth (KS p. 263). There should exist in society a psychological revulsion to sexual corruption. Sexual misbehavior, fahishat, should not be allowed to broadcast openly (4:148, 24:19). Thus accusations of marital infidelity, al qadhaf, should not be made without proof and severe punishment is reserved for the accuser who can not produce 4 witnesses (KS p. 435, 24:4, 24:11-19, 24:23). Talking about sexual infidelity openly and lightly will eventually make the crime look ordinary and common and thus easier to commit. Those who committed sexual transgression should be socially isolated by not allowing them to marry chaste people but to marry only among themselves.
Adultery is a major sin. It has antecedents and if these are avoided the major ultimate sin may be avoided. The sexual urge is so strong that many people involved in an antecedent of zina may not be able to control themselves from going on to commit the illegal coitus. The concept of non-coital adultery refers to acts and behaviours that lead to zina. The various organs of the body can therefore be said to commit non-coital zina, zina al jawarih (MB #2061, KS p. 264). The eye, the ear, the mouth, and even the legs that walk from place to place can be accessories to the ultimate sin of illegal coitus. Thus there are regulations to prevent people from ever getting near adultery (17:32). The measures that protect the genitals from the ultimate crime are referred to as hifdh al farj (70:29-30) and inhsan al furuj (21:91, 24:33, 66:12). Men who protect their genitals are called al muhswinin and women are called al muhswinat (4:24-25, 5:5, 24:4, 24:23.
The Islamic term haya is not perfectly translated by the English term, shyness. Haya is an inner spiritual protective device that makes a person shun sin and what may lead to it. It is not bashfulness or being introvert as some may think of it. Haya is considered part of faith, iman (KS p. 206). It is the morality of Islam (KS p. 206). Haya is always for the good and can never be negative (KS p. 206). It is a characteristic attribute of all messengers (KS p. 206). The Qur'an describes in detail the haya of the daughters of Shuaib in their meeting with Musa (PBUH) which should serve as a model for other women (28:23-28).
Covering Nakedness, Satr al Awrat
Awrat are those parts of the body that could elicit sexual stimulation if seen. Covering awrat prevents sexual corruption. Nudity of varying degrees is found in societies according to their level of sexual morality. Both men and women must cover the awrat. The awrat of men is different from that of women. The woman's awrat is all her body except the face and the hands. The man's awrat is confined to what is between the navel, surrat, and the knee, rukbat. The extent of covering awrat also depends on the person likely to see and the person being seen (24:31). More of the awrat could be exposed to close relatives within the confines of the home (24:31, 33:55). A close male relative is not allowed to see a woman's nakedness except what is between the navel and the knee. The regulations of hijab are relaxed for an elderly woman with no hope of marriage (24:60). The laws on exposing nakedness start applying to children from the age of 7. They should seek permission before entering rooms of adults in the home for fear of accidental exposure of awrat. Male and female children should not share beds after the age of 7. The law regulates the use of public baths. Where it is not possible to cover awrat, public baths are forbidden (KS p. 203). Naked persons are not allowed in such baths (KS p. 203). The laws of hijab contain special provisions for women as was described in the verses on hijab (KS p. 541). It is not enough for the woman to cover her nakedness. The law of hijab specifies in detail how that nakedness has to be covered. For example it must be covered in such a way that the shape of the body is not definable. Clothes through which the color of the skin can be seen are not permitted. In general the woman should cover all of her body except the face and the hands. In cases of high temptation due to her beauty she may have to wear a full veil covering her face as well.
It is forbidden for a women to be alone with a marriageable man (KS p. 540, MB # 1868). Whenever a man is with a woman in seclusion, shaitan comes between them. Shaitan is always trying to misguide as he did with Adam and Hawa (2:36, 7:22, 7:27). Seclusion is defined as a man being with a marriageable woman who is not his wife in a place where others can not see them.
The law prohibits men and women mixing without necessity. When men and women are together the natural sexual attractiveness could lead them into temptation. When mixing is unavoidable for societal necessity, certain etiquette have been prescribed by the law to guide male-female interaction. Awrat must be covered as prescribed by the law, satr al awrat (24:31). The regulations of hijab for women must be followed. Men and women who are strangers to one another have to lower their gaze, ghadh al basar(24:31), and not look at each other fixedly and for a prolonged time. Both genders must have haya (28: 23-25). If a man and woman talk to one another they must be serious, jidiyyat al takhatub (33:32) and not engage in frivolous talk that could lead to temptation. An atmosphere of solemnity, wiqaar, must be maintained during the whole period of interaction (24:31).
Sexual Display, Tabarruj
Women are supposed to conceal their ornamentation from public display (24:31). Women are discouraged from going out of their homes heavily adorned with attractive ornamentation (KS p 539). This includes wearing very heavy perfume in public. Such ornamentation should be reserved for the home. The ruling is more severe for a wife whose husband is absent (KS p. 540).
Privacy of the Home, Hurmat al Bayt
A stranger is not allowed to enter a home unless given permission. This is to preserve the privacy of the occupants. The stranger may enter unannounced and find them in various degrees of nakedness. Thus permission to enter ensures that the house occupants' nakedness will not be exposed accidentally (MB #2060). A wife can not admit a stranger to her home without the permission of her husband (KS p. 542). Rooms within the home are also private territory that should not be entered before asking for permission.
HUMAN SEXUALITY AND MARRIAGE
Marriage and Satisfaction of Sexuality
Marriage is a natural human institution. Adam and Hawa were the first couple (2:35). Marital relations have continued ever since. A spouse is a source of psychological tranquillity (30:21, 25:74, 7:189). Marriage is the only institution that allows full expression of human sexuality in a responsible way. It is described by the Qur'an as a deep and serious relationship (4:21). The spouses give good company to one another, mu'asharat (4:19). Islam encourages marriage for all (KS p. 546). Marriage is protection against sexual immorality (KS p. 547, 60:10). If a man sees an attractive woman he should go to his wife immediately because that protects him from potential sin (KS p. 155). Marriage also serves the purpose of procreation to maintain the human race and rear children until adulthood (3:47, 4;1, 16:72, 19:20). Marriage is a public affair that must be announced and known in the community that a couple are husband and wife to avoid any suspicions that arise in secret marriages (KS p. 547, 2:235). The spouses must freely consent to enter into a marital relation (4:191). Desire for sexual satisfaction is a major reason for marriage. It is considered offensive by the law for a person who has no sexual desire at all to get married. A person who has desire for sexual satisfaction but has impediments like poverty or physical disability (disease, impotence) should control the desire by fasting. The sexual relation in marriage is wider that coitus. It involves mutual enjoyment such as kissing and fondling. The marital relation is much wider than a sexual relation. It involves social and psychological bonding. The husband and wife have to be close physically, psychologically and emotionally. Mutual good treatment and sympathetic consideration sustain love after the initial period of passionate involvement (4:19). The husband and wife can bathe together and see each other's nakedness (MB p 123/p). The husband can not keep away from contact with the wife because of menstruation. He can sleep with his menstruating wife provided both can control themselves to avoid copulation (MB p. 147). It is forbidden for a wife to withhold sexual favors from her husband without a valid reason (KS p. 542). The wife can not fast nafilat without the permission of the husband (MB #1860) because that would deny him his conjugal rights.
Prohibition of Temporary Sexual Relations
There are 4 types of temporary sexual relations: (a) temporary marriage, mut'at (b) prostitution, bighaa (c) adultery between consenting adults, zina and (d) marriage with the hidden intention to divorce after a time, zawaaj bi niyyat al talaq. They are forbidden because they reduce the sexual relation to its physical form without regard to the emotional, psychological, and social dimensions. They undermine and destroy the fabric of society. Temporary marriage, mut'at, is forbidden by law (MB #1844, KS p. 549). This is a type of marriage contracted by both parties for a fixed period of time. It violates the need for children to be reared in a permanent family. Humans require at least 15 years to be reared to adulthood. Prostitution is the exchange of sexual favors for money. It is physical enjoyment without emotional or psychological involvement. The law prohibits forcing girls into prostitution (24:33) for the sake of money. Adultery, zina, may have some form of emotional and psychological involvement besides the physical enjoyment but these are temporary. Some scholars have quoted evidence on the permissibility of marriage with the intention of divorcing. In our view the practice involves dishonesty on the part of the husband by failing to disclose his full intentions to the partner. Disclosure would of course turn this type of marriage into a form of mut'at marriage.
Privacy of the Sexual Relationship
The sexual attributes of a woman are private between and her husband. It is forbidden for one women to describe the sexual details of another women to her husband (MB #1869, KS p. 539). It is forbidden for both spouses to disclose their sexual experiences to any outside parties (KS p. 540).
Sexual Attractiveness in Marriage
The sexual attractiveness is a continuous process that is necessary to bind the 2 spouses together. Some people misunderstand this to mean that a woman is attractive before marriage in order to attract the man and need not maintain her attractiveness after that. A married women must always look attractive to her husband (KS 540). This prevents him from being tempted by other women. The prophet forbade the return of a husband from a trip at night because he may surprise his wife who will not be able to prepare herself and be in the most attractive form (MB #1871). The wife is entitled to articles of hygiene to maintain her beauty. This however does not include cosmetics.
The word ghiirat has been translated incorrectly into English as jealousy. It is more than simple sexual jealousy. It is a drive in the spouse and other members of the family to protect the chastity of both males and females. Ghiirat is commendable (MB p. 904 chapter #30) and is necessary for proper functioning of society. Too much of it could be destructive.
Prohibited marriages, Maharim
For proper functioning of the extended family, free and easy social intercourse must exist among its members. More intimate contacts will occur among the family members that is possible with outsiders. Sexual attraction and the sexual desire being human and natural could also exist within the extended family. The door to this was closed by the law by declaring degrees of relatives who are not marriageable (4:23) and with whom close social intercourse is allowed within the family.
Coitus serves 2 purposes: reproduction and sexual enjoyment. It is the most intimate and intense physical expression of human sexuality. All other expressions of sexuality precede or prepare for it. Sexual enjoyment in marriage, al istimtau fo al zawaj, is normal and is encouraged (4:24). Some scholars have argued that this enjoyment is confined to vaginal coitus. The majority argue that the enjoyment covers all parts of the body unless specifically prohibited by law.
Coitus is necessary for child-bearing. Children are a bounty from Allah, n'imat al dhuriyyat (25:27, 42:49). It is difficult to describe the benefits of health to physical and psychological health. It is however known that its deprivation for prolonged periods of time leads to psychological and emotional disorders
Consummation of Marriage
Marriage is annulled when coitus is physically impossible and there is no hope for a medical or surgical solution. This may be due to anatomical or physiological anomalies in both the male and the female. With recent developments in surgery some of these may be correctable. Psychogenic factors may cause vaginismus or frigidity in female and impotence in males. Appropriate treatment may be undertaken to prevent marital annulment. In cases of male impotence a grace period of 1 year is allowed while treatment is being sought. After that the marriage has to be annulled because it can no longer fulfil the fundamental purpose of protecting chastity of both partners. The marriage is considered consummated when successful coitus is achieved at least once. Coital failure after that is not an automatic annulment of marriage. The marriage payment, mahr, is not due in marriages annulled before sexual consummation.
Both husband and wife have rights to sexual satisfaction. The conjugal rights are enforceable by law. None of the spouses can refuse under reasonable conditions. The refusal of a wife is considered rebellion, nushuuz, and the law has prescribed remedial measures for it.
Like all other human activities there should be a balance between too little and too much coitus. Too much indulgence could be harmful in both the physical and psychological dimensions. Too little could be similarly harmful. The law does not stipulate any particular frequency. Each couple should find out for themselves what frequency is sufficient to satisfy and protect, ihswaan,, them from sexual corruption. Some jurists have argued that once every 4 days is the ideal based on the reasoning that a man with 4 wives can rotate among them in 4 days. Omar decreed that no soldier would be kept away from his wife for longer than 6 months which perhaps sets the upper limit of sexual deprivation.
Conditions in which Coitus is Forbidden
There are a few conditions in which coitus is prohibited for health or religious reasons. Coitus with menstruating women is forbidden (2:222). The same applies to women in the period of post-natal or post-abortion bleeding, nifaas. Coitus is prohibited during the day for fasting persons but is allowed at night (2:187). It is prohibited at all times during the period of ihram in pilgrimage, hajj (2:197). Coitus is forbidden in the mosque (2:187). A divorced woman is required by law to stay in her former husband's home for 3 months. He is prohibited from having sexual relations with her during this time and if he does the divorce automatically lapses. There are disputes about the permissibility of coitus with a lactating woman, ghayla. The best opinion is that it is permissible. It is inconceivable that sexual relations could be stopped for the period of 2 years that the Qur'an recommends for breast-feeding.
Actions Prohibited in Sexual Ritual Impurity, Janabat
After coitus and before ritual bath, ghusl, the following acts are forbidden: (a) reciting the Qur'an (KS p. 163), (b) prayer, salat, (c) circumbulating the kaaba, tawaaf.
Adab of Sexual Conduct
Coitus is an act of love and not mere physical satisfaction. It should be approached with that end in mind. Foreplay is a sunnat and it allows both parties to be psychologically and physiologically prepared. It is preferable that there is desire in both parties. Preparation for coitus includes reciting the (KS p. 154) and a supplication, dua, (MB# 1854, KS p. 155). There is no control of the manner or postures of coitus provided it is vaginal (KS p. 154) and is natural. Coitus interruptus ('azl) is permitted (KS p. 154). It is considered offensive, makruh (KS p. 155). It can not done without the permission of the wife (KS p. 155). Coitus with women is vaginal. Anal intercourse is forbidden with both women and men (KS p. 155). It is recommended to make wudhu if coitus is repeated. Ritual bath, ghusl, is required after coitus. It has to be undertaken by mere contact of the male and female genitalia even if no fluids were emitted.