Sexual desire is a test from God. People are responsible for learning how to weaken its power to control them.
By Amber Khan
Islam considers sex a normal, healthy act of worship and a form of charity. However, recognizing its great responsibility, we are to be married before engaging in it. Amy Adamczyk and Brittany E. Hayes’s 2012 study on religion and sexual behaviors found that Muslims are the least likely to have extramarital sex (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0003122412458672). But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. A 2001 research study by Dr. Sameera Ahmed (executive director, The Family & Youth Institute), found that 54% of Muslim American college students have had premarital sex. A 2014 study by Sobia Ali-Faisal, Ph.D. (cofounder, MAC Research: Excavating Truth to Create Cultural Change) surveyed Muslim North Americans aged 17-35 and reported that 67% have had premarital sex; of those who didn’t, 50% have considered it.
Focusing on why waiting until marriage benefits and protects us and how to handle sexual desire and pressure can help us embrace the wisdom behind its ruling.
Why is Sex Outside of Marriage Prohibited?
For many Muslim youth today, waiting until marriage seems impossible. Ali-Faisal’s study revealed that their greatest source of sex education is media, which often presents sex as normal, consequence-free and casual. In the real world, casual sex comes with many risks, such as:
Physical Risks. Sexually transmitted diseases (STD) spread when having oral, anal or sexual intercourse with an infected person. The more partners, the higher the chance of contracting an STD, especially if protection is not used. According to “Sunan Ibn Majah,” the rise in sexual diseases is a sign of the Day of Judgment: “If zina prevails until people advertise for it in public, then God will afflict them with diseases that did not exist in their forefathers.”
Another physical risk is unwanted pregnancy, an oft-forgotten fact when the focus is on pleasure. This shows the great responsibility of choosing one’s sexual partner. In Islam, this relationship must be legitimate and recognized so each accepts responsibility when intimate. “And they who guard their private parts except from their wives or those their right hands possess, for indeed, they will not be blamed” (23:5-6).
Mental Risks. Premarital sex can also strongly impact how we feel about ourselves. Thomas Moore (“The Soul of Sex: Cultivating Life as an Act of Love,” 1999) states, “We have a habit of talking about sex as merely physical, and yet, nothing has more soul… Even if sex is loveless, empty, or manipulative, still, it has strong repercussions in the soul, and bad sexual experiences leave a lasting, haunting impression.”
Social Risks. Engaging in premarital sex doesn’t just affect those involved, but everyone in society. It can lead to others becoming influenced, a rise in STDs, unwanted pregnancies, children born without a family unit, sexual violence, immoral sexual acts and more.
Spiritual Risks. Incidents of Muslims dating and engaging in kissing, touching or oral sex are on the rise. They may make the excuse that it’s okay because they aren’t having sexual intercourse. However, all extra-marital sexual acts are sinful, and justifying a small sin only makes it easier to justify a bigger sin. The Quranic warning “Do not draw to zina …” (17:32) clearly states not to get near it, which is different from not committing it, for “… it is a fahisha (indecency) and its way is evil.” Premarital sex can lead to an indecency in the heart.
How Can I Control my Sexual Desires?
Take Preventive Measures. Lowering one’s gaze in both the real and digital world can help in this regard. “Tell the believing men that they should lower their gaze … Tell the believing women that they should lower their gaze…” (24:30-31). These verses also talk about guarding one’s private parts, such as in dress and behavior. Outer modesty can fuel inner modesty in thoughts, speech and behavior.
Another way is to regulate gender interactions according to the following guidelines: Focus on sharing knowledge, asking questions, giving advice and avoiding unnecessary personal questions and flirting; stay in the presence of others; and maintain personal space through modest attire and behavior.
Take Active Measures. According to the 2018 U.S. Census Bureau’s report, the average age of marriage is the highest in recorded history: 28 for women and 30 for men. This has led to making halal hard and haram easy. Marriage is so much more than just fulfilling one’s sexual urges. If one isn’t ready, then, “O young men, whoever among you can afford it, let him get married, for it helps him to lower his gaze and protect his chastity. And whoever cannot do that, let him fast, for it will be a protection for him” (“Sahih Muslim,” hadith no. 1400). Fasting instills self-control and discipline in all areas of life.
If one is still completing his or her higher education but struggling with chastity, then make marriage a priority and seek the parents’ financial help. “There are three whom God is bound to help: the mujahid who strives for the sake of God, the slave who wants to pay off his manumission, and a man who gets married, seeking to remain chaste” (Tirmidhi,” 1655).
Other action measures include enjoying single life through healthy productivity such as activism, volunteering, exercising, learning a new hobby, spending time with friends and family, traveling, holding firm to the daily salah and making dua.
Remember the Reward for Chastity. Rather than viewing abstinence as something embarrassing or to be ashamed of, view it as one of our greatest qualities. After all, it signifies our perseverance and nobility. Not many people are capable of such self-control, so be proud. Chastity is a characteristic of the righteous, such as Maryam and Prophet Yusuf (‘alayhum as salam) and greatly rewarded. “There are seven whom God will shade on a day when there is no shade but His … a man who is tempted by a beautiful woman of high status, but he rejects her, saying, ‘I fear God’…” (“Sahih al-Bukhari,” 629). Conversely, because Islam assigns equal right to both, this hadith also applies to women.
As for those who have slipped up and succumbed, know that no sin is greater than the mercy of God. “…Surely, God will forgive all sins. Surely, He is the One who is the Most-Forgiving, the Very-Merciful (39:53).
This is a small introduction to a much larger discussion. Sex education and other health-related topics that center the Muslim narrative form the basis of my book series, “Islamic Health” (Noorart, 2022), the first of its kind to address Muslim youth’s most common health questions. It is specifically designed for Islamic and weekend schools, youth study circles and at-home discussions. For updates, follow @IslamicHealthSeries on Instagram or contact IslamicHealthEducation@gmail.com.
Amber Khan, D.O., author of the “Islamic Health” book series, shares the importance of teaching Muslim youth about health from the Islamic perspective.
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