Muslims and Pre-marital Sex

A few months ago I stumbled on a Christian website called Relevant Magazine, and I’ve been hooked ever since, right-wing politics aside. I love the way commonalities between practising Christians and Muslims just jump off the page at me, but most of all I love the honesty and openness of many of their featured articles, particularly when it comes to relationships. (Duh, what else?) Perhaps someday I’ll get around to setting up something like this for Muslims, given the pressing need for it.  But in the meantime, I recently had a read of an article on the prevalence of pre-marital sex called ‘The Secret Sexual Revolution’ which really got me thinking.

The article was interesting to me because it raised several points I’d been mulling over in relation to this topic. Obviously for Muslims, the rule is no touching at all before marriage vs. no sex before marriage for Christians, but nevertheless many of the points really resonate with the Muslim experience. I found this point particularly relevant:

“We have to recognize that people are not married during the years when their hormones are hardest to control,” McKnight says. “So weʼre dealing with a very serious issue that needs to be treated from a variety of angles and not simply the moral angle that itʼs wrong outside of marriage.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always thought it was a bit rich of parents to urge their kids to wait for years until until they’re ‘ready’ to get married, but then be shocked to the core if their kids are caught out doing something . In fact, it seems some parents are willing to turn a blind eye-in effect, a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. They hope that their kids aren’t doing anything, but if they really turned their minds to the issue, they’d realise that being in a relationship for years outside of marriage presents plenty of opportunities to succumb to temptation.

There are very few studies, if any, on levels of sexual activity amongst Muslims outside of marriage. Very few people would admit to it, partly out of social conditioning, partly out of the very real shame which accompanies any type of sin. We’re told to keep our sins secret, after all. But does that mean no Muslims ever do anything at all outside of marriage? Of course not. In saying this, I’m not trying to normalise or condone it, but simply acknowledging reality.

If people are doing things the ‘traditional’ way i.e. some stranger coming to their house to get to know them, it’s generally quite easy to avoid physical contact before marriage. Even if the thought crossed either party’s mind, circumstance simply wouldn’t present itself. But for some people an engagement is enough license to have some level of physical contact. We’ve all seen the photos of engaged couples standing very close together, or maybe even with a sneaky arm around the waist. When it’s parentally-sanctioned, it can be easy to forget that it’s not necessarily God-sanctioned.

When people meet of their own accord at uni or community events, things can get a bit sticky. Things get especially sticky when you put two young people together who are both at uni and thus are unlikely to be able to get married any time soon. Not only are their hormones running wild, but they also have a lot of time on their hands as full-time students and a lot of chances to ‘bump into each other’ in various places. Hormones + opportunity=plenty of temptation. If you don’t acknowledge this, you’re simply in denial.

Then there are those Muslims who date non-Muslims and thus enter a world where sex before marriage is the norm. Many of these people will re-enter the Muslim scene at some point and if they’ve managed to keep their ‘double life’ quiet, can do so without attracting much notice or suspicion. These people tend to discard their past sins like rubbish and hope that it never surfaces and starts to stink up their new ‘Halal’ relationship.

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For Muslims who do succumb, the guilt, shame and self-loathing can be difficult to bear. These factors can often contribute to the complete failure of the relationship in question. These people will then often feel the failure of the relationship is a punishment for their sins and will come to terms with it as such. For others, the physical intimacy can act as a glue: the parties can feel they have no choice but to get married, even if they don’t necessarily want to. They feel that once they’ve taken the step of having physical contact, there’s no way out. They may fear a new person would find out about their past and as such feel that they’d be ‘safer’ just sticking with the person they’re already with.

From my perusals of Relevant Magazine, I’ve stumbled across the concept of ‘restoring virginity’. This is where individuals or couples who have previously engaged in pre-marital sex make a commitment to abstain from now until such time they get married. Again, it’s hard to say how many Muslim couples make commitments like this, but I’d imagine it’s not unheard of. I’ve certainly observed couples who were quite openly ‘dating’ make the switch to a more socially and religiously accepted form of courtship. This public switch may then also necessitate serious overhauls of the rules of private engagement.

As I’ve said many times in many posts, no one is perfect. No one. While it’s unhelpful to think that ‘everyone else is probably doing it too’, it’s also unhelpful to think that no one has ever done it, because that means that the issue is simply swept under the rug. I’m pleased to see a few tentative steps towards more openness in discussing these issues in the Muslim community, but we still have a long way to go. It’s not enough to simply tell people it’s wrong; that much is obvious to even the least observant of Muslims. In another Relevant Magazine article, I was struck by the practicality of some of the tips on avoiding pre-marital sex, including, rather hilariously, advising women not to shave their legs.

Do you think there needs to be more discussion on these issues? Have they affected you and people around you?

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6 responses to “Muslims and Pre-marital Sex

  1. Good piece. The thing is, the discussion is taboo’d in a lot of homes. I see with the new generation coming, who are now in their mid 20’s such as myself, are more open minded to these types of discussions. I discuss these things openly with anyone and everyone because it’s the reality of it now-a-days, no matter where you are. Mixed gender interaction is inevitable and being attracted to the opposite sex is also inevitable, unless there is something really wrong with you.

    You should be able to discuss this stuff openly. Getting married early in your life saves you from zina (fornication) and much more but parents are so stuck in, “not my kid” or “not yet, first finish your studies.” When your hormones are raging or you are interacting with the opposite sex often, things are going to get going to a certain place. Parents who are approached by their teenagers or even adults, wanting to fulfill the sunnah, then their parents say no, only put themselves in a problem that they think wont exist.

    Find someone, get married. Screw all the dating stuff. Save yourself the heartache that can come with dating and save yourself from falling into abortions, stds and all that. Make things halal and be open with your parents. You have to break that barrier. They wont break it. They are stuck in culture. We need to break it. Sorry for the long thought lol

    • Thanks for all your thoughts. I have to agree with everything you’ve said! It’s just not feasible to avoid discussing these topics and to do so only leaves people ill-equipped to meet challenges. Inevitably, people will be faced with some kind of challenge in this area.
      I agree that parents should really facilitate Halal relationships and many shuyukh have come out and said this. But it’ll take time for people to come around and start to feel comfortable with the idea of their children marrying young. Obviously young marriage isn’t for everyone, but I certainly don’t think it should be discouraged.
      And I definitely agree that when you find someone, you should just get married rather than drag things out unnecessarily. Thanks again for sharing 🙂

      • You are welcome. It’s true though. The longer we leave these issues not discussed within the home, the more curious people will become. It’s not to say, teens wont be curious but we let them know what Islam says about these things and what they may lead to. We educate them and then after that, we do our best to guide in the right way. Nothing else we really can do.
        The more culture is involved within the home, the less likely parents will be acceptive of marrying early and marrying people from other cultures/ethnicities. Then they worry about money and education and all that. That isn’t a problem if you make a plan with your spouse that, eh, let me finish my education first before we really get started having a family. Obviously things can happen in between but most spouses in the early stages want acceptance and understanding. I am not married yet but I know what it takes to make relationships work, alhumdulilah.

        You are welcome 🙂 I look forward to sharing more of my thoughts on your articles. Keep writing!

      • Well, you seem to have it all figured out! I agree, it’s all about communication, both between parents and children and husbands and wives. There needs to be compromise-though that’s easier said than done!

  2. I attended a marriage seminar years ago where the concept of marrying – but staying in your own home – was brought up – i.e. a couple marries young, but they don’t move in together yet. Because of university or whatever other circumstances that would normally suggest they aren’t ‘ready’, each stays in their own home with their family, but then have their weekends or whatever together. It was really intriguing to me because it removes the artificial barriers that are so rampant nowadays, and gives young people a halaal outlet for their needs.

    It’s probably still a very outlandish concept for the older generation, but i think if it was promoted more strongly in our communities, it could save a lot of trouble for guys and girls these days.

    One other point i’d like to bring up here – about the ‘engagement period’ – is that there’s more than just physical raging going on inside. It’s emotional too. The fact that you’re engaged to (or in a halaal way ‘courting’) someone gets you thinking about the future, and allows you to mentally and emotionally indulge in thoughts about how you’d like to spend time with them, the future etc.

    I think practically-speaking, it’s difficult for young couples – pre-marriage – to just deny those feelings, or put them on hold until the nikah. So one idea is for them to make use of ‘delayed writing’: write letters to their future spouse – going all out in saying whatever they want to, getting into the emotional side, and whatever else…BUT don’t give the future spouse that letter yet. Keep it safe and give it only once they’re married.

    In that way, they have an emotional outlet BEFORE marriage; and they can then share that after the nikah – and insha-Allah it’ll help build the love even more in those early days of marriage.

    • I like the idea of flexible ‘marriage’ arrangements, based around firstly what’s Islamically appropriate and secondly the couple’s circumstances and needs. If less regard were given to what’s the ‘done thing’ and more to the latter factors, I think we’d have more successful, durable relationships.
      The letter idea is great! It’s something I’ve never really come across but I like it!

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