Islamic sexual jurisprudence
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Islamic sexual jurisprudence and sexuality in Islam is largely described by the Qur'an, the sayings of Muhammad (hadith) and the rulings of religious leaders' (fatwa) as being confined to marital relationships between men and women. While most traditions discourage celibacy, all encourage strict chastity and modesty with regards to any relationships between genders, holding forth that their intimacy as perceived within Islam – encompassing a swath of life broader than intercourse – is largely reserved for marriage. This sensitivity to gender difference and modesty outside of marriage can be seen in current prominent aspects of Islam, such as interpretations of Islamic dress and degrees of gender segregation.
While prohibitions against extra-marital sexual relationships are strong, sex itself is not a taboo subject. Permissible sexual relationships are described in Quran and Hadith as great wells of love and closeness for the couple involved. Specific occasions – most notably, daytime fasting and menstruation – are times forbidden for intercourse, though not for other ways of touching and being close to one another. Actions and behaviours such as abortion (other than for medical risk to the pregnant woman) and homosexuality are also strictly forbidden; contraceptive use is permitted for birth control.
- 1 Sex within marriage
- 2 Sexual techniques
- 3 Fornication and adultery
- 4 Homosexuality
- 5 Concubines
- 6 Rape
- 7 Restrictions on sexual intercourse
- 8 Sodomy
- 9 Purification and hygiene
- 10 Fasting and Ramadan
- 11 Menstruation
- 12 Masturbation
- 13 Contraception
- 14 Abortion
- 15 See also
- 16 Notes
- 17 References
- 18 External links
Sex within marriage
In Islamic law, marriage legalizes sexual intercourse between the husband and wife. Marriage is not restricted to a platonic relationship nor is it only for procreation. Marriage is greatly encouraged in Islam, partially because it provides a lawful institution in which to fulfill one’s sexual urges. Islam does provide extensive rules regarding sex; however, within the conditional institution of marriage, there are sources in both the Qur'an and hadith, which promote the well being of humans and their natural sexual instincts. In the Surah Baqarah (2:222), sex in married life is openly recommended: "When they [i.e. wives] have cleansed themselves [after menstruation], you go into them as Allah has commanded."[Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project 1] Additionally, sources of hadith illustrate similar promotion of fulfilling sexual urges in lawful ways within a marriage. The Wasaelush Shia (vol. 14, p. 25) quotes Muhammad as encouraging his followers to marry, saying: "O, you young men! I recommend marriage to you."[Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project 2]
One of the areas of Islamic sexual jurisprudence in which there are not many restrictions is the discussion of sexual techniques. Almost all of what is practiced under Islamic law concerning sexual techniques and the act of sexual intercourse come from hadith, which are not restrictive in nature. The main tendency within these hadith are saying for Muslims to follow in the bedroom, saying which "clearly show that the husband and the wife should feel completely free when they are engaged in mutual stimulation which is known as foreplay. There is nothing wrong, according to Islam, for a woman to be active and responsive during sex."[Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project 3] These sayings recommend foreplay and put no real restrictions on the type of techniques used during foreplay or during intercourse.
Conversely, one area of sexual techniques that is generally prohibited is anal intercourse.
Allah says in the Qur'an: "Your wives are a tilth for you, so go to your tilth (have sexual relations with your wives in any manner as long as it is in the vagina and not in the anus), when or how you will, and send (good deeds, or ask Allah to bestow upon you pious offspring) for your own selves beforehand. And fear Allah, and know that you are to meet Him (in the Hereafter), and give good tidings to the believers (O Muhammad)." (Al-Baqarah: 223)
In the foregoing verse the word harth (tilth) indicates that only vaginal sex is permissible in Islam, because it is from this place children are produced. The semen lodged in the womb from which offspring comes is likened to the seeds that are planted in the ground, bringing vegetation. Both of them are substances from which something else is produced.
All Muslim jurists agree that anal sex is haram (prohibited), based on the hadith of Muhammad :"Do not have anal sex with women." (Reported by Ahmad, At-Tirmidhi, An-Nasa'i, and Ibn Majah.)
Khuzaymah Ibn Thabit also reported that the Messenger of Allah said: "Allah is not too shy to tell you the truth: Do not have sex with your wives in the anus." (Reported by Ahmad, 5/213.)
Ibn `Abbas narrated: "The Messenger of Allah said: "Allah will not look at a man who has anal sex with his wife." (Reported by Ibn Abi Shaybah, 3/529, and At-Tirmidhi classified it as an authentic hadith, 1165)
Further, it is reported that Muhammad referred to such an act as "minor sodomy". (Reported by Ahmad and An-Nasa'i)
It is reported that `Umar Ibn Al-Khattab came one day to Muhammad and said, "O Messenger of Allah, I am ruined!" "What has ruined you?" asked the Prophet. He replied, "Last night I turned my wife over," meaning that he had had vaginal intercourse with her from the back. The Prophet did not say anything to him until the verse cited above was revealed. Then he told him, "[Make love with your wife] from the front or the back, but avoid the anus and intercourse during menstruation." (Reported by Ahmad and At-Tirmidhi)
Fornication and adultery
Just as Islamic law fosters sexual actions within a marriage, there is also judicial opinion concerning sexual relations outside of a marriage. These laws, however, observe much stricter restrictions. Additionally, these laws have textual confirmation from the Qur'an.
Verse 24:2-3 states that outside marriage and concubinage, Islamic law prohibits sexual relations as zina [fornication]. Verse 24:2-3 establishes that male and female fornicators are to be flogged one-hundred times and that they are then allowed to marry only other fornicators or non-Muslims.
Furthermore, one practice outside marriage that does exist within Islamic law is legal sexual relations between a man and an unmarried female slave whom he owns. Malik ibn Anas cites a report in which "Umar b. al-Khattab says that when a female slave gives birth to a child by her master, then the slave becomes an umm walad (mother of a child, concubine).”"
Illegal sex (fornication)
Similar to laws that prohibit extramarital sexual relations, the Qur'an also stipulates categories of women with whom men are prohibited from engaging in sexual intercourse. Verse 4:22-4 lists mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces, wet nurses, wet nurses' daughters, wives’ mothers, daughters of wives from different fathers, wives of sons, and women already married.
Additionally, Verse 2:222 prohibits sexual relations with women during menstruation. Muhammad specifically restricts the injunction “to segregate the women” and “not go near them” in 2:222 to a prohibition against sexual relations with menstruating women.”
Qur'an strictly prohibits homosexuality through the story of Lot (see Qur'an verses 7:80-84, 11:69-83, 29:28-35; which is also rendered in the Biblical Book of Genesis). This was the verse addressed directly to Muhammad and his followers:
"We also sent Lot : He said to his people : "Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you? For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds."—(Qur'an 7:80-81)
In another verse, it has been also pointed out,
"Do you approach males among the worlds And leave what your Lord has created for you as mates? But you are a people transgressing."—Quran, Surah 26 (165-166), trans. Sahih International
All major Islamic schools disapprove of homosexuality, Islam views same-sex desires as an unnatural temptation; and, sexual relations are seen as a transgression of the natural role and aim of sexual activity. Islamic teachings (in the hadith tradition) presume same-sex attraction, extol abstention and (in the Qur'an) condemn consummation.
Some jurists believe there should be severe punishments, such as death or floggings, while others disagree. Early caliphs were known to have had both partners executed in various ways, but, even with this precedent, there is still no consensus for a punishment for homosexuality. Other jurists believe that there is no punishment that will serve as an effective purgative for this act, and therefore its immorality precludes an earthly punishment. Some jurists are so morally offended by homosexuality that just the discussion around it is cause for excommunication and anathematizing. However, all the jurists unanimously hold the same opinion that Homosexuality is undoubtedly a clear offense and is strictly prohibited in Islam.
Islamic law establishes two categories of legal, sexual relationships: between husband and wife and between a man and his concubine. All other sexual relationships, according to Islamic law and exegesis of the Qur'an, are considered zinā (fornication), including adultery and homosexuality. There is no punishment for a man who sodomizes a woman because it is not relevant to procreation. However, other jurists insist that any act of lust in which the result is the injecting of semen into another person constitutes sexual intercourse.
Islam allows and promotes filial love between siblings of the same sex. However, sexual activities between them are totally prohibited. Ibn Hazm, Ibn Daud, Al-Mutamid, Abu Nuwas and many others used this edict to write extensively and openly of brotherly love between men while proclaiming to be chaste.
The discourse on homosexuality in Islam is primarily concerned with activities between men. There are, however, a few hadith mentioning homosexual behavior in women; The fuqaha’ are agreed that "there is no hadd punishment for lesbianism, because it is not zina. Rather a ta’zeer punishment must be imposed, because it is a sin..'". Although punishment for lesbianism is rarely mentioned in the histories, al-Tabari records an example of the casual execution of a pair of lesbian slavegirls in the harem of al-Hadi, in a collection of highly critical anecdotes pertaining to that Caliph's actions as ruler. Some jurists viewed sexual intercourse as possible only for an individual who possesses a phallus; hence those definitions of sexual intercourse that rely on the entry of as little of the corona of the phallus into a partner’s orifice. Since women do not possess a phallus and cannot have intercourse with one another, they are, in this interpretation, physically incapable of committing zinā.
A concubine is a relationship between a man and an unmarried female slave whom he owns; the term refers to the status of the female. If she gives birth to a child by her master, the slave becomes umm walad ("mother of child", "concubine"). The Hanbali jurist Ibn Qudama explains that the father is not allowed to sell or transfer ownership of his concubine, though he is entitled to have sexual relations with her, to employ her service, to hire her out and to marry her. Ibn al-Humam adds that the slave-owner must acknowledge the kinship of the child.
"Concubine" (surriyya) refers to the female slave (jāriya), whether Muslim or non-Muslim, with whom her master engages in sexual intercourse. The word "surriyya" is not mentioned in the Qur'an. However, the expression “that which your right hands own,” which occurs fifteen times in the sacred book, refers to slaves and therefore, though not necessarily, to concubines. Concubinage was a pre-Islamic custom that was allowed to be practiced under Islam.
Islamic jurisprudence sets limits on the master’s right to sexual intercourse with his female slave. A man’s ownership of his unmarried slave-girl gave him an exclusive right to have sex with her that he could not sell to others. A man could own a limitless number of concubines, but could not have access to the slave-girls owned by his wife. Marriage between the master and his concubine was only possible if she was granted free status first. To avoid pregnancies, the master had the right to practice coitus interruptus. The birth of progeny would change the legal status of the concubine to that of umm al-walad ("mother of the child"); as such, the concubine could not then be sold. On the (lawful) death of her master, she would automatically acquire free status and her children would be considered free and legitimate.
Rape is forbidden under Islamic law. It is defined as having extramarital intercourse by force or fear, including any subsequent injury both to the victims mental and physical health. According to Islamic law, it is classified as hirabah, i.e. a violent crime causing disorder in the land in the manner described in the Qur'an as fasad (anarchy). A similar crime, for example, would be highway robbery, as it puts fear in people going out or losing their property through violence. Some other branches of Islamic law consider it to be part of zina, as a crime called "forced adultery" (zina-bil-jabr). In Sharia, rape is punishable by stoning to death.
Under Islam, sexual intercourse is regarded as a loving act within marriage and should only be by mutual consent. There is, however, no explicit concept of rape within marriage in Sharia; a wife is deemed to have accepted conjugal relations as part of the marriage contract. She can only refuse on grounds which are specified as prohibited for sexual intercourse such as when she is fasting, menstruating, undergoing post-natal puerperal discharge, or whilst on Hajj or Umrah.
Classical Islamic law defined what today is commonly called “rape” as a coercive form of fornication or adultery (zināʾ). This basic definition of rape as “coercive zināʾ” meant that all the normal legal principles that pertained to zināʾ – its definition, punishment and establishment through evidence – were also applicable to rape; the prototypical act of zināʾ was defined as sexual intercourse between a man and a woman over whom the man has neither a conjugal nor an ownership right. Sane adult male and female convicted of zināʾ were to receive a fixed corporal punishment (ḥadd):
- One hundred lashes and exile for unmarried free persons;
- Stoning to death for married or previously married free persons;
- Fifty lashes (without exile) for slaves.
Zināʾ was established, according to classical law, through confession by one or both parties as well as proof. A second type of evidence – pregnancy in an unmarried/unowned woman – was contested between the schools. The stringent evidentiary and procedural standards for implementing the zināʾ punishment may have functioned to offset the severity of the punishment itself, an effect that seems to have been intended by legal authorities, who in the early period developed legal maxims encouraging averting the ḥadd punishments as much as possible, whether through claiming ambiguity (shubhah) or a lack of legal capacity (ahliyya).
What distinguished a prototypical act of zināʾ from an act of rape, for the jurists, was that in the prototypical case, both parties act out of their own volition, while in an act of rape, only one of the parties does so. Jurists admitted a wide array of situations as being “coercive” in nature, including the application of physical force, the presence of duress, or the threat of future harm either to oneself or those close to oneself; they also included in their definition of “coercion” the inability to give valid consent, as in the case of minors, or mentally ill or unconscious persons. Muslim jurists from the earliest period of Islamic law agreed that perpetrators of coercive zināʾ should receive the ḥadd punishment normally applicable to their personal status and sexual status, but that the ḥadd punishment should not be applied to victims of coercive or nonconsensual zināʾ due to their reduced capacity.
According to the Mālikī, Ḥanbalī, and Shāfiʾī schools of law, the rape of a free woman consisted of not one but two violations: a violation against a “right of God” (ḥaqq Allāh), provoking the ḥadd punishment; and a violation against a “human” (interpersonal) right (ḥaqq ādamī), requiring a monetary compensation. These jurists saw the free woman, in her proprietorship over her own sexuality (buḍʾ), as not unlike the slave-owner who owns the sexuality of his female slave. For them, in the same way that the slave owner was entitled to compensation for sexual misappropriation, the free woman was also entitled to compensation. The amount of this compensation, they reasoned, should be the amount that any man would normally pay for sexual access to the woman in question – that is, the amount of her dower (ṣadāq or mahr). As far as abortion in the context of rape, most jurist do not consider rape to be a valid reason: the sanctity of the new life takes precedence over the autonomy of the pregnant women.
Restrictions on sexual intercourse
Sexual intercourse is prohibited:
- during menstruation;
- for forty days after childbirth (puerperium);
- during the daylight hours of the month of Ramadan (i.e. while fasting);
- on pilgrimage; while in the sanctuary (in Ahram) at Mecca, pilgrims are not allowed to have intercourse. Marriages performed during the pilgrimage are invalid.
Marriage (and thus intercourse) with an idolatress is forbidden (2:221). As well as marriage to one’s father’s wives (4:22), one’s mother, daughters, sisters, father’s sisters, mother’s sisters, brother’s daughters, sister’s daughters, foster-mothers, foster-sisters, mother-in-law, stepdaughters born of women with whom one has had conjugal relations, the wives of blood-sons, and two sisters from the same family (4:23), as well as all married women except slaves already owned (3:24).
Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a contemporary Sunni Muslim scholar, states that sodomy is prohibited. As the act is forbidden in the Islamic marriage contract, a wife must abstain from it should her husband demand it and may seek divorce if her husband persists or tries to force it on her. The act in itself, however, does not nullify the marriage and the wife must seek divorce if she is to leave her husband.
Muslim scholars justify the prohibition on the basis of the Qur'anic verse 2:223, saying that it commands intercourse only in the vagina (i.e. potentially procreational intercourse). The vaginal intercourse may be in any manner the couple wishes, that is, from behind or from the front, sitting or with the wife lying on her back or on her side.
There are also several hadith which prohibit sodomy.
Islamic law establishes two categories of legal, sexual relationships: between husband and wife, and between a man and his concubine. All other sexual relationships are considered zināʾ (fornication), including adultery and homosexuality, according to Islamic law and exegesis of the Qur'an. From the story of Lot it is clear that the Qur'an regards sodomy as an egregious sin. The death by stoning for people of Sodom and Gomorrah is similar to the stoning punishment stipulated for illegal heterosexual sex. There is no punishment for a man who sodomizes a woman because it is not tied to procreation. However, other jurists insist that any act of lust in which the result is the injecting of semen into another person constitutes sexual intercourse.
Sodomy is often falls under that same category as sex between and unmarried man and women engaging in sexual acts. Male-male intercourse is referred to as liwat (literally, "joining") while female-female intercourse is referred to as sihaq (literally, "rubbing"). Both are considered reprehensible acts but there is no consensus on punishment for either. Some jurists define zināʾ exclusively as the act of unlawful vaginal penetration, hence categorizing and punishing anal penetration in different ways. Other jurists included both vaginal and anal penetration within the definition of zināʾ and hence extended the punishment of the one to the other.
Religious discourse has mostly focused on sexual acts, which are unambiguously condemned. The Qur'an refers explicitly to male-male sexual relations only in the context of the story of Lot, but labels the Sodomites's actions (universally understood in the later tradition as anal intercourse) an "abomination" (female-female relations are not addressed). Reported pronouncements by Muhammad (hadith) reinforce the interdiction on male-male sodomy, although there are no reports of his ever adjudicating an actual case of such an offense; he is also quoted as condemning cross-gender behavior for both sexes, but it is unclear to what extent this is to be understood as involving sexual relations. Several early caliphs, confronted with cases of sodomy between males, are said to have had both partners executed, by a variety of means.While taking such precedents into account, medieval jurists were unable to achieve a consensus on this issue; some legal schools prescribed capital punishment for sodomy, but others opted only for a relatively mild discretionary punishment. There was general agreement, however, that other homosexual acts (including any between females) were lesser offenses, subject only to discretionary punishment.
Currently, sodomy is punishable by death in a number of Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia and Yemen, as well as in Nigeria’s Sharia courts.
Purification and hygiene
After partaking in sexual activity where penetration or ejaculation occurs, both men and women are required to complete a full-body ritual ablution known as ghusl in order to re-establish ritual purity before prayer. Ghusl requires clean, odorless water that has not been used for a previous ritual and begins with the declaration of the intention of purity and worship. A Muslim performing complete ablution then washes every part of his or her body.
Fasting and Ramadan
According to Qura'nic verse 2:187, one may have sex during the month of Ramadan but not during the time of fasting. As such, sex during Ramadan is only permitted at night. Although this passage is explicitly addressed to men, the regulations on sex in regard to fasting are universally taken to apply equally to both male and female Muslims.
Verse 2:222 in the Qur'an implies that sexual relations during menstruation are prohibited. However, unlike Jewish tradition, Islam does not forbid men from interacting with menstruating women entirely. Ibn Kathīr, a muhaddith, narrated a hadith that describes Muhammad's habits with his menstruating wives. This hadith demonstrates that Muhammad gave license to all forms of spousal intimacy during the period of menstruation with the exception of vaginal intercourse. Women are required to perform ritual cleansing (ghusl) before resuming religious duties or sexual relations upon completion of her menstruation.
There are varying opinions on the permissibility of masturbation. The Qur'an has been cited as being ambiguous on the issue of masturbation. The hadith regarding masturbation are, too, not considered to take a definitive stance on the subject. As such, positions on masturbation vary widely. According to alDin Tarbiyyah, it is permissible if done out of necessity. He also permitted masturbation as a means whereby soldiers, far away from their wives on a tour of duty may remain chaste. According to Ahmed ibn Hanbal, it is permissible for prisoners, travellers and for men and women who have difficulty in finding a lawful spouse. There has always been a view to permit masturbation as the lesser of two evils (so as to ward of falling into fornication). Thus it is categorically incorrect to state that all Islamic scholars of the early Islamic age have unanimously agreed upon its complete prohibition. Jurists distinguish between those who masturbate out of necessity and those who have these means yet still masturbate to gratify their lust.
The Qur'an does not contain explicit text regarding contraception. Muslims refer to the hadith on the question of contraception. The companions of Muhammad are cited when addressing this issue. For example, Jabir, one of Muhammad’s companions, relates a hadith in which a man came to Muhammad and said
″I have a slave girl, and we need her as a servant and around the palm groves. I have had sex with her, but I am afraid of her becoming pregnant.″ The Prophet responded, ″Practice coitus interruptus with her if you so wish, for she will receive what has been predestined for her.″
As such, the withdrawal method of contraception is allowed according to the hadith. Muslim jurists concur with its permissibility and use analogical deduction to approve other forms of contraception (e.g. condom usage). Supporting Sunnah include:
A man said: "Apostle of Allah, I have a slave-girl and I withdraw from her (while having intercourse), and I dislike that she becomes pregnant. I intend (by intercourse) what the men intend by it. The Jews say that withdrawal method (Al-azl) is like burying the living girls on a small scale." He (the Prophet) said: "The Jews told a lie. If Allah intends to create it, you cannot turn it away."—Hadith from Sunan Abu Dawud
"O Allah's Apostle! We get female captives' booties as our share of booty, and we are interested in their prices, what is your opinion about coitus interruptus?" The Prophet said, "Do you really do that? It is better for you not to do it. No soul that which Allah has destined to exist, but will surely come into existence."—Hadith from Sahih Bukhari
Islamic schools of law have differing opinions on abortion, though it is prohibited or discouraged by most. However, abortion is allowed under certain circumstances, such as if the mother’s health is [seriously] threatened. If the abortion is necessary to save the woman's life, Muslims universally agree that her life takes precedence over the life of the fetus. Muslim jurists allow abortion in this context based on the principle that what is considered the greater evil – the woman's death – should be warded off by accepting the lesser evil of abortion. In these cases, the physician is considered a better judge than the scholar. Abortions of pregnancies that are merely unplanned or unwanted is generally haram (forbidden). The Qur'an forbids the abortion of a fetus for fear of poverty:
- ...kill not your children on a plea of want; We provide sustenance for you and for them (Qur'an 6:151)
- Kill not your children for fear of want: We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you: verily the killing of them is a great sin. (Qur'an 17:31)
Most Muslim scholars hold that the child of rape is a legitimate human being and therefore subject to the same laws of abortion (i.e. its abortion is permitted only if the fetus is less than four months old, or if it endangers the life of its mother). Some scholars disagree with this position. Some Muslim scholars also argue that abortion is permitted if the newborn might be sick in some way that would make its care exceptionally difficult for the parents (e.g. deformities, mental retardation, etc.).
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