Concept of Sex in Islam and Sex Education
by Syed Ali Ashraf
Spiritual, Moral and Physical aspects of Sex: Integral Relationship
the Islamic belief, God is the uncreated Transcendental being who
is neither male nor female, but is always addressed as He. His essence
is beyond duality and beyond creation and hence beyond any classification
and specification and also beyond human power of perception or realisation.
He generated within Himself the ability to Create. Thus He brought
into existence the entire 'creation'. In order to maintain the on-going
process of creation, He created sexual duality in creation. According
to His own words, i.e., the Qur'an, it is He who has created everything
in this universe on the dual principle of male and female (51:49).
Even things which come out of the earth are said in the Qur'an to
have this duality (36:36).
In so far as
human beings are concerned, God brought Man into existence first.
Out of that Man his wife or companion was brought into existence
(Qur'an, 39:6). Out of these two started the whole process of coming
into existence of all human beings (Qur'an, 4: 1). The Qur'an speaks
of this process repeatedly and asserts that all of us have come
out of that one person (7:189).
you (all) from a single person: then created of like nature, his
The reason of
creating the first woman out of the first man has been stated as
twofold: they will be of the same nature and because of this they
might dwell in peace and essential need and desire for complementary
love (Qur'an, 7:189). Thus there is in both sexes a natural innate
desire of companionship of the other sex.
This means they
need each other. This is the mysterious, process of creation. Man
and Woman complement one another, physically, mentally and spiritually.
That is why Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and give him peace)
is a possession and the~ best possession is a virtuous woman".
love is not merely physical; it has a spiritual perspective. Sex
therefore, gives a foretaste of the felicity of paradise. The Prophet
(may Allah bless him and give him peace) also said:
is half of the faith, the other half is patience".
He also said
(may Allah bless him and give him peace):
and I break the fast, pray, sleep, I go in unto women; beware whosoever
deviates from my Sunnah (example) is not among my followers".
not praised because of the complementarity of the two. The Qur'an
are a garment to you, them" (2:187).
In this complementary
relationship the female plays a very important role. That is why
Yusuf Ali commenting on the of the Qur'an referred to earlier (7:189),
male is apt in the pride of his physical strength, to forget the
all-important part which the female plays in his very existence,
and all the social relationships that arise in our collective human
lives. The mother that bore us must ever have our reverence. The
wife, through whom we enter parentage, must have our reverence.
Sex, which governs so much of our physical life, and has so much
influence on our emotional and higher nature, deserves-not our fear,
or our contempt, or our amused indulgence, but our reverence in
the highest sense of the term. (Qur'an, Yusuf Ali, Note no. 506)
This sense of
reverence indicates that the differences between the sexes must
be regarded as a process through which human beings can participate
in the creative process of life. Though the human being cannot give
life, which God alone gives, God has given human beings the ability
to participate in God's creative process through the sexual act.
This sense of
reverence further indicates that the sexual act through marriage
and love is not done just to fulfill one's lust but to get spiritual
strength of the unity of two souls. Extra-marital act is mainly
lust-fulfilment, hence it is considered as sinful. Al Hujwiri says,
permissible to all, both men and women. It is obligatory on all
who otherwise cannot abstain from sin. And Satan who is with the
solitary adorns lust and presents it beautified to the mind.
No human companionship compares with marriage in quality of reverence
and saving power when husband and wife are well-suited. But no pain
or care is a worse evil than an uncongenial wife. Therefore, the
Dervish must consider well what he is about, weighing in his imagination
the evils of marriage against the evils of celibacy, so that he
may choose that state whose evils he personally can more easily
master. Neither marriage nor celibacy are disastrous in themselves:
the mischief lies in self-assertion and in surrender to desires.
The root of the matter is the difference between Retirement and
Companionship as modes of life. Those who choose Companionship are
right to marry; but for those who retire from human affairs celibacy
is an ornament. (Kashf al-Mahjub)
therefore, marriage becomes a means of the reintegration of the
male and female principle through man and woman into their metaphysical
prototypes, Adam and Eve.
It is because
of this metaphysical principle of unity through sexual union that
all forces of lust are condemned and deserve to be controlled through
marriage. That is why fornication and adultery are condemned in
Islam. Also any intercourse during menstruation is prohibited just
as anal intercourse is prohibited and violence and force against
a partner's will is condemned. Otherwise, as the Qur'an says, there
are hardly any restrictions in sexual relationship,
are your fields; go to your fields as you wish" (2:224).
therefore, must be based on love and moral restraint. Lust and moral
laxity must remain controlled because the physical act of union
must be regarded as a means of bringing into the world a servant
of God who will be able to glorify Him. This is how a human being
tries to fulfill the purpose of his creation by God. It is because
of this sense of reverence that the Prophet (may Allah bless him
and give him peace) advised the couple to recite the following prayer
just before the sexual act:
We are starting
in the name of Allah. 0 Allah, protect us from the machinations
of Satan and save the child that you would bestow on us from Satan's
A sexual act
is thus not regarded merely as a means of fulfilling only a physical
desire. Had this been the case, the divinely sanctioned rules and
regulations and all restrictions forbidding adultery and fornication
and all prescriptions of punishments for such actions would be absurd
and hence unnecessary. A human being is a servant of God. The sexual
act is the means of bringing into the world another servant who
possesses a spirit in its body-a spirit which is endowed with faith
in God. God says in the Holy Qur'an that he assembled all the spirits
which He had brought into existence and asked them,
Am I not
thy Lord?" They replied, "Yes, we testify" (Qur'an,
This, God says,
is the covenant between human beings and God. Hence a sense of purity
is necessary and also a sense of reverence.
A human being
is thus not treated in Islam as just a physical, biological entity.
Its existence on this earth is grounded in transcendence endowed
to its whole being by the spirit which, as God says in the Qur'an,
was breathed by Him into the body of Adam (peace be upon him), a
human prototype, from His own spirit (Qur'an, 15:29).
In view of this
intimate relationship between the physical and the spiritual, sexual
union is considered as having a spiritual and moral dimension. On
the one hand, love and companionship between the two is a primary
necessity as well as a basic result. With love and understanding
if two persons have that union, then it should increase the sense
of love and also the sense of self-sacrifice for one another. In
addition to this, as both the partners are fully aware of the spiritual
dimension and the resultant birth of the servant of God, they are
constantly aware of their duty from the act of union till the birth
of the child to see that they themselves lead a life of piety, understanding
and goodwill so that the child in the womb is not affected with
something immoral and not permitted by God.
This means that
not only will the parents be good to each other, they will also
carry on certain activities in their normal day-to-day life which
will arouse and increase the spiritual sensitivity of the mother
and her love of God and the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give
him peace) and therefore make her spiritually and morally more and
more conscious and good. Therefore basic moral values of goodness,
justice, compassion and charity will be transmitted from the mother's
mind to the child's mental make-up. As value consciousness is considered
to be an imperative necessity for every faithful human being and
as the impact of the mother's sensitivity and also the father's
attitudes have a tremendous influence on the coming baby, this sexual
relationship is to be regarded as a moral act intimately related
to the physical beings of the individuals. Hence it is necessary
to know and obey God's commands and the practice of Prophet Muhammad
(may Allah bless him and give him peace) regarding a sexual relationship.
It is because
of this need for generating a sense of purity and moral restraint
in sex relationship that marriage is prescribed by God. "Safe
and free sex" is condemned. Islam is a total way of life as
prescribed by God. A human being has been created by God to serve
Him. God says:
created jinns and human beings only to serve Me" (Qur'an, 51:56).
That is why
no difference is drawn between the secular and the divine. Marriage
is regarded as a contract between two adults who in the presence
of two witnesses promise in the name of God to accept one another
as husband and wife and therefore obey all rules and regulations
and accept all duties and responsibilities prescribed by God and
exemplified by Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
Stress is placed
on marriage as a compulsory precondition for sexual relationship
because marriage leads to mutual responsibilities and duties along
with mutual love and companionship and establishes the family as
the basic unit of the society of believers. The legal recognition
given in England to non-marital companionships is regarded by Muslims
as the violation of the Divine code and hence the legal recognition
of a sinful act.
a man to have four wives. Though Allah gives this permission, He
says categorically that the husband should treat all the wives equally
and if he cannot do so, it is proper for him to stick to one wife
only (Qur'an, 4:3). This privilege is granted to a man and not to
a woman obviously because a man is regarded as the head of the family
and hence he can have four families. But as the woman is the producer
of a family, she can have another husband only after she gets a
divorce or after her husband dies. This shows that preservation
of the family as the basic unit of the society is, according to
Islam, a principle enunciated by God, hence free sex or extra-marital
sex or adultery and fornication have been severely condemned and
severe punishment has been prescribed for them. Besides the necessity
of establishing and teaching the religious principle of abstinence
and control, it seems God wants to save humanity from the conflict,
confusion and violence or brutality that is generated by such extra-marital
sexual activity because of a sense of broken promises, jealousy,
cruelty, selfishness and all kinds of bitterness and unhappiness
that such extra-marital sexual activity prompts and gives birth
It is obvious
that Islam does not permit any kind of educational process that
will assume and encourage free sex as understood today in the West.
That is why the first important thing done in the family and at
the social level is to create in the mind of children a sense of
modesty (haya') in so far as a sexual relationship is concerned.
That is why women are advised to dress in such a manner that the
sexual passion of men will not be roused, and men and women are
advised not to look at each other lasciviously. This indicates the
necessity of moral restraint. This also indicates that there is
a spiritual training that each individual has to practice internally
because it is only God who can see and judge their mental attitudes.
From childhood therefor parents are required to take steps so that
a sense of respect for the other sex is developed and also so that
children get habituated to self-restraint.
sex is totally forbidden. Hence, children are not supposed to know
about the sexual act before they reach the adolescent period. Similarly,
children are taught that extra-marital sex or adultery is a serious
offense punishable by stoning to death.
In order to
achieve this end, attention has to be given to the way children
dress up, talk to each other and play games. As pictures have a
tremendous impact upon the sensibility of children, images that
would arouse sexual passion are completely forbidden. As girls start
becoming mature when they are nine years old, segregation of boys
and girls should start from that age. That is why Muslims all over
the world insist on single sex secondary schools. That is also why
Muslims in England often withdraw their children from sex education
classes. When children grow older, both girls and boys are taught
rules regulations regarding sexual relationship. As the question
of impurity is ingrained in a sexual relationship, there regulations
about sexual behaviour, the sexual act and the follow-up processes.
Children are taught these at an period when they are expected to
get married, but all these are presented to them only with the understanding
that sex within the context of married family life.
is condemned with equal emphasis. The act is a sin because it is
unnatural. If anyone upholds this act as a right, he or she is condemned
for preaching something sinful. The examples of Sodom and Gomorrah
are given in the Qur'an as a severe punishment from God for , upholding
and practicing homosexuality and flouting the principle of normal
heterosexual union preached by Lot (peace be upon him). In the Islamic
education system, students are informed of this principle.
Islam thus preaches
and upholds that which is natural. That is why Islam is described
as a natural religion. Islam wants moral principles to be followed
in the sex relationship including the sexual act so that love and
not lust is cherished, the feeling of self-sacrifice for the companion
is generated and the desire to get a child who will be a true servant
of God is strengthened.
There is a tendency
now to adjust oneself to changes in society. The idea is that everything
is evolving and hence changing. Technological advancement means
material changes. Hence, it is automatically expected that a human
being's inner self must change and he or she must learn to adapt
himself or herself to these external changes.
This theory is entirely false, according to Islam. Islam differentiates
between the moral and spiritual norm and the physical norm. Physical
changes should be controlled for the good of the human being and
should not be allowed to control our conduct and behaviour. Just
because some people or a section of society become agnostic or atheistic
or start believing in some anti-religious ideas or theories, it
is not imperative that religious people should adjust themselves
to the situation and amend their religious code to suit the time.
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said that after him no other
prophet would come but reformers would rise to bring the Muslim
society back to the original path of faith.
On the basis
of this basic principle, a Muslim cannot accept the anti-Islamic
code of conduct in sexual behaviour, nor can he or she support the
type of sex education in schools that is based on the concept of
amoral, 'free' and 'safe' sexual activity. From the Islamic point
of view this type of sex education is insulting to religion, an
insult to the code of behaviour that Islam upholds and asserts and
hence an insult to the Muslim community as a whole. It is openly
anti-religious and it openly encourages children to flout religious
codes of behaviour and all moral restraints. It seduces a human
being to a mental condition that prevents him or her from rising
above all 'temptations' through exercise of moral constraint over
physical passions. Sexual passion is whetted by such education.
There is no attempt to control it. Therefore the whole policy is
anti-religious. From the Islamic point of view this policy destroys
the possibility of moral and spiritual development of the human
personality and therefore stunts the growth towards the status of
becoming a true representative of God on the Earth.
Muslim Education Ouarterly
Vol. 16, No. 3, 1999
Islamic Academy, Cambridge, U.K.