SEX EDUCATION: AN ISLAMIC PERSPECTIVE
|SEX EDUCATION QUESTIONS FROM MUSLIM YOUTH|
|Written by Dr. Shahid Athar|
After my presentation on sex education guidelines for Muslim youth and parents at the Islamic Center in Toledo, Ohio, in 1992, many questions were asked by Muslim youth. The Toledo Muslim community is progressive, affluent and has an even mixture of Arab and Indo-Pakistani immigrants.
I compiled all the written questions submitted to me, answered them to the best of my knowledge, and then sent the questions to the late Dr. Mahmood Abu Saud, the well-known scholar, for a second opinion. He did not know my answers. Some of the answers have already been published in the Islamic Monitor, the magazine of the Islamic Society of Toledo, in English and Arabic.
After each question, Dr. Abu Saud's reply and my reply are given for comparison.
1. Please explain the importance of hijab: What is the degree of sin if mature Muslim sister does not wear a dress properly (cover her head, etc.)?
Abu Saud: The word "hijab" is used in the Holy Quran in its linguistic original sense, i.e., a barrier, something to separate two things from one another. The Prophet's wives were ordered by God to observe hijab, meaning not to face all mature males who are entitled to marry them. They had to speak to such males from behind a curtain or a door so nobody would see them.
2. When one is engaged, are you allowed to go out with your Fiancee?
Abu Saud: Yes, provided there is no touching, necking and no staying behind closed doors or in a place where they would not be seen by others. Engagement in Islam is not a contract of marriage binding on either party .
3. Can a Muslim marry someone his parents disapprove of?
Abu Saud: Yes, as long as the marrying person is legally entitled to marriage.
4. What are your views on Muslim teens (boys/girls) talking socially?
Abu Saud: It is healthy for boys and girls to talk and socialize as long as they do that within the Islamic moral code: no obscenity, no touching, no secret appointments, etc. They should talk socially in order to know each other as ordained by God in Quran (Surah al-Hujrat). However, one must be careful about what this social talking leads to.
5. If you think abortion is murder, then what would happen if it were illegal? Ladies would do it at home, punch themselves in the stomach, and then they and the babies would die.
Abu Saud: Most of the Muslim jurists do not think that abortion before the end of the third month is murder, although they declare it reprehensible unless there is a legitimate justification. If it is illegal, then it is the woman's problem; she should have taken enough precaution not to get pregnant.
6. According to statistics, the majority of teenagers who do not even have orgasm when they have sex. The orgasm they get is when they talk about it in the locker room.
Abu Saud: If so, why have sex? Orgasm is the acme of sexual pleasure. However, talking about it simply arouses the instinct and does not help in sublimating the desire. Granted, girls and boys cannot avoid thinking of it, but it would be more healthy to talk about it in the open with a responsible person, although in such cases, most probably there will be no orgasm.
7. How does one go about finding a suitable practicing Muslim spouse?
Abu Saud: Islamically speaking, both boys and girls are entitled to propose to the other sex. Thus, frequent gatherings of Muslims allow you to talk to whomever you feel like being your mate, one or more, take their addresses and write to them, invite them into your house and keep your parents informed of what you are doing. Attend youth conferences. Try to participate in discussions and lectures so as to expose yourself and become noticeable. You may also publish an advertisement in Islamic Horizon.
8. You are giving the wrong idea to the parents. You are making them think when girls and boys are friends, it is bad ... WHY?
Abu Saud: When boys and girls work together for doing good, they become friends. When they meet in public such as in conferences, youth camps and in study rooms and the like, they become friends. When boys and girls start meeting in hiding, or in secrecy without informing their guardians, when they start to touch each other's bodies, when they start a love affair, even without sleeping together, this is not an innocent friendship, and should he discouraged.
9. You talk about monogamy. Our society in the Muslim world is not monogamous but polygamous. They are allowed to have four wives. Those are their right to possess as well as slaves.
Abu Saud: There is no question to answer, but the above statement is a wrong point of view. Polygamy is not common in the Muslim world, although it exists. There are strict terms set in the Quran on marrying more than one woman, and they are really difficult to observe. However, a woman can always indicate in her marriage contract that she would not accept to be with another wife. and can even insist on an important compensation in case she is divorced for no fault of her own. Whatever the case may be, to have another wife is much better than to have a mistress. If in the inquirer's view, polygamy is slavery, the second wife should not accept it.
10. Is there any harm in men and women sitting together, in this lecture hall for instance. It seems natural that a family sit together with other family and friends. We seem to do this everywhere except here.
Abu Saud: There is no harm in men and women sitting together. They used to do so in the days of the Prophet, and the books of hadith are full of such instances. You are right in your observation, and it is for you and others of some moral courage and clean thoughts to stand up and DO JUST THAT: SIT TOGETHER.
11. What should a Muslim boy do if he is constantly rejected when he proposes?
Abu Saud: He must be following the wrong approach and procedure, or there must be something basically wrong with him. Counseling would be very useful in this case.
12. What is the Islamic rule concerning masturbation?
Abu Saud: There is no authentic text prohibiting masturbation, although it is reprehensible on account of two man factors: It leads to sexual arousal and more desire, and it actually affects the health, especially for boys. Sex is like any other natural instinct in that the more you think of it, the more it is accentuated. Generally speaking, humans sublimate and administer their instincts. We want to possess, but we work and earn; we want to eat, but we control our eating habits: and we want to have sex, but we marry.
13. If you are an unmarried Muslim girl and pregnant, what choices do you have: Abortion, adoption, etc.?
Abu Saud: The first option is to marry the father of the child. The second is to have an abortion in the first three months of pregnancy. The third is to keep the child, and the fourth is to give him/her up for adoption providing the child keeps his father's name.
14. In what circumstances are abortions allowed and are we Muslims allowed to use contraceptives?
Abu Saud: About abortion, see question #6. About contraceptives, they are allowed in Islam by explicit statement of the Prophet (PBUH) where he did not forbid coitus interruptis.
15. What is the right age to get married in this society?
Abu Saud: There is no fast rule fixing such an age. When a person is mature enough, can live independently and is ready to meet the responsibilities of marriage, he/she can marry.
16. How does one go about proposing to either a boy or a girl?
Abu Saud: If you know the person, simply talk about your desire to get married and wait for the reaction. Then, if the reaction is positive, just express your desire to engage the person. If the answer is positive again, inform both families and arrange for the "official" engagement.
17. 1 see a lot of women in this hall without hijab. We know this is against Islam and against the Prophet's teaching. I would like to know why.
Abu Saud: The answer depends on what you do mean by hijab (see question #I). If it is only uncovering of hair while the body is well covered, then the question is controversial. Slave women during the days of the Prophet even used to pray without covering their hair. Men never were seen uncovering their hair in public, but that was a societal convention. The idea of covering hair is the same as covering the adornment and the body of the woman. In simple words, as women are very proud of their hair and do consider it a part of their beauty that attracts the attention of men, it is then supposed to be covered.
18. All religions prohibit premarital sex and consider that as sin. Why don't all religious leaders put their point across to the government and not leave this subject to the big "L" liberals?
Abu Saud: Because sex in the society in which we live is liberal; and accordingly, the government elected by the people is liberal.
19. Is abortion allowed if the life of the woman is in danger and/or you have amniocentesis and find the child could be handicapped/ Down's syndrome?
Abu Saud: If there is danger for the mother, abortion would be allowed. If there will definitely be a congenital defect, then the matter depends on the degree of this defect. If it is so serious that the child will not be able to function at all, or will not be able to live on his own, then the question is controversial. In all cases, if abortion takes place in the first three months (that is, four months from the last period), it may be carried out.
20. What if you want a child but don't want to get married?
Abu Saud: Adopt a child according to the Islamic rules: Mainly, keep the child's father's name and no inheritance. He will never be YOUR child.
21. Is there anything wrong with being married young?
Abu Saud: No, as long as you are ready for marriage. See question #15. The Prophet (PBUH) says, "He who can afford to get married, let him marry. . . "
22. What is sex?
Abu Saud: Sex is the cohabitation of a male with a female for the purpose of reproduction. A married couple may decide not to have children and still they legitimately perform sex. Sex without marriage is illegitimate and is obviously harmful to the individuals and their society.
23. Why are Muslim men allowed to marry non-Muslim women and Muslim women not allowed to marry non-Muslim men?
Abu Saud: The Quran says, "Do not marry (your girls) to unbelievers until they believe" (2:221). The family structure is so paternal that the non-Muslim father would dominate and dictate. This meant that the children would be non-Muslims, that the wife would not be free to practice her religion, and that the different laws of Islam (such as inheritance, alimony, guardianship, etc. ) cannot be observed. Accordingly, such marriage would lead to what is prohibited and thus becomes prohibited.
24. Are Muslim girls allowed to play sports?
Abu Saud: Yes, of course. In public, she must be covered, and if she plays with boys, there should be no touching.
25. Islam is a very patriarchal and sexist religion. Why is the podium faced toward the men? Why don't you direct your speech toward the women? A woman will look attractive to a man, and that is why she must cover up, right? Well, have you ever thought that maybe a woman will also find a man attractive? Why should not he cover up? Why are men placed on a higher stool than women? Is that really what God wants?
Abu Saud: Islam is not patriarchal or sexist; it is YOUR society which is both. The Prophet (PBUH) used to talk to women directly, facing them. He, and the caliphs after him, used to address them, answer their questions and sell to and buy from them. Both men and women are required to cast down their eyesight and be modest. By instincts men are more attracted to the woman's body than vice versa, and that is why she must cover up. However, man, being obligated to earn the living of the family and to protect it, has to work and mix with others, such that covering up would not be practical.
26. What is the right age to get married in this society? Can you marry a person whom your parents do not approve of?
Abu Saud: See question #3 and question #15.
27. Right of inheritance to a fetus: the rape situation in Islamic countries where rape is monumental and CANNOT be proved.
Abu Saud: The embryo is a prospective inheritor; i.e., if the father dies during the pregnancy of his wife, the estate inheritance division will be suspended until the birth or miscarriage of the fetus. There is no evidence that rape in Muslim countries is monumental, nor is it a fact that proving it is impossible. However, if the father is not known, there would be no inheritance except from the mother.
28. Is placing of the private parts to the mouth harmful, for boys and girls alike?Abu Saud: Oral sex is not forbidden in Islam as long as it is practiced between husband and wife.
Athar: No, but only with your spouse. "Your women are your tilth for you, so go to your tilth as ye wish" (2:223). Thus, all sexual positions except anal intercourse are permitted between husband and wives. There may be some medical harm in oral sex if organs are not clean or have infection. In that case they should seek medical treatment first before engaging in sex.
29. Are Muslim boys allowed to wear earrings, or is it a woman's dress?
Abu Saud: The general rule is that men should not try to look like woman and vice versa. If conventionally agreed and accepted, earrings are used only for women; then a Muslim boy should not wear them.
30. Are girls or boys allowed to talk about the opposite sex in a way that conveys a feeling?
Abu Saud: It is human to have feelings towards the other sex. But to talk about it is another matter that depends entirely on what sort of talk it is. Modesty is the key word in this context. One must be decent and modest. One must be clean in thought and deed. God knows what is in the hearts of His servants and the servants must be aware of His cognition.
31. Are women allowed to work, leaving their children at home?
Abu Saud: There is no prohibition for women to work. If they have children, it is the responsibility of both parents to look after them. However, it is biologically the mother who should cater to the needs of the child in his early age. Whether she can leave him at home during her working hours or not, is a matter of circumstances and age of the child. What is essential is consideration of the interest of the child as the first priority.
32. What are the Islamic jurisdictions toward marriage?
Abu Saud: In Islam, marriage is a civil (though divine) contract, witnessed first by God, then by the society. The main terms of an Islamic marriage are: the free consent of both spouses, the public declaration of marriage, the dower to the wife, the respect of the terms that either party may opt to include in the contract (such as the wife's condition to be the sole wife, to divorce herself without the consent of the husband without mentioning any reason, or to get her dower at any certain time, etc. ), and that the information in the contract is correct (for instance, whether or not either spouse is married, whether or not either of them has a disease, etc.)
FINAL REMARKSIt is not necessary for the youth or parents who have read the above answers to agree with either mine or those of Dr. Abu Saud, as sometimes we did not agree with each other, either. It is also possible that both of us may be wrong. The purpose of this particular article is to make parents aware of youth's questions and stimulate discussion within a family.
Muslim youth, instead of taking our answers for granted, should seek more explanation from their parents, Sunday school teachers, Imam of the mosque and above all, from the Quran and Sunnah."It is not befitting a believing man or a believing woman that when God and His Messenger have decided an affair for them, they should after that claim have any say in their affairs and whosoever is rebellious to God and His messenger, he verily goes astray in error manifest" (33:36).