Eyes wide shut: Positions on sex

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Although many Muslim communities find it difficult to talk about sex, there are some surprising opinions about different sexual acts in Islam. By Lina Lewis.

Image: iStock
Image: iStock

When God created desire, He made it into 10 parts and gave nine to women and the remaining one to men – at least that’s what Ali reportedly said. So, according to the author of Love in a Headscarf Shelina Janmohamed, it is no wonder that women are ahead than men when it comes to understanding sexuality.[i]

Growing up as an Asian Muslim girl, I did not receive any sort of sex education from my parents, none of that birds-and-bees talk.

In school, invited guests talked to us about the reproductive system and showed us a video on childbirth (I still believe the gory video was to put us girls off unwanted pregnancy).

In Islamic religious classes, sex education was unheard of. All the teachers drilled into our heads was “sex=bad”. Sex was something for a married couple and since we were mere students, we had no reason to get curious about it. The topic of sex remained taboo, right up to the last day of these lessons.

So how I learned about sex was through books (practical books that were illustrated with clinical-looking images that were not exciting in any way), and adventurous and “advanced” friends. Internet wasn’t easily accessible back then and in a country where smut is banned, I never saw “magazines for men” either.

But because the topic of sex is such a taboo, it was years before I finally found out about the guidelines for sex in Islam. Here are some of the interesting guidelines listed by prominent North American Islamic scholar Ahmad Kutty.

  1. What happens in the bedroom, stays in the bedroom. Couples cannot divulge their sexual exploits to anyone else and must keep everything strictly confidential between themselves. This, in one fell swoop, strikes out any sexual act involving more than two people.
  2. Touch anywhere but the anus and do not inflict pain. So, no anal sex and none of that bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism – play nice.
  3. It is haram to think of another man/woman while have sex with your spouse. According to Imam Maliki, fantasising about sex with another person while carrying out the actions with your wife constitute a kind of zina, or adultery – which is haram. He compared it to drinking a tankard filled with water while pretending and imagining that the water is alcohol – the water becomes haram

But there’s another school of thought says since there is no physical zina committed, there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of fantasy to inject some excitement into a married couple’s sex life. This is based on a hadith that differentiates between thoughts and actions.[ii]

Another interesting guideline I read was that a man is obliged to have sex with his wife whenever she wants it (as long as it does not fall during a time when sex is not permissible, such as during the day in the month of Ramadan). In fact, according to Islamic Marriage, a marriage handbook by Syed Athar Husain Rizvi, husband should have sex with his wife at least once in four months unless there’s a valid reason not to or if she waives her rights.

For a comprehensive read on sharia-compliant sex, I must say I found the Islamic Guide to Sexual Relations by Mufti Muhammad Ibn Adam Al-Kawthari very informative. It discusses everything from foreplay to sexual positions. The Mufti is also the author of Birth Control and Abortion in Islam.

So, how about masturbation?

I remember a Muslim Afghan boy I met while working in Belgium. In a moment of mischievous curiosity, my friends and I asked him if he thought masturbation was alright. The boy looked at us in horror and said, “No, it’ll make you blind!”

Of course, we burst out laughing, but it made me curious at the same time. After some research, I learned that most scholars of jurisprudence thought it forbidden, with the exception of Imam Hanafi, who believed that the act becomes permissible if the person is unmarried and he/she fears that without the release, he/she would be driven to commit zina. In short, it’s about picking the less of two evils. However, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) reportedly said that marriage was best, though fasting was possible to reduce sexual desire.[iii]

As Malaysia’s Mufti Datuk Dr Asri Zainul Abidin once said, “Islam is not a nonsensical and troublesome religion”. Although he was speaking in reference to another issue, I find that this statement rings true. Islam is not intended to make our lives difficult – it is there to put in place guidelines in a bid to nip possible undesirable outcomes in the bud.


[i] Shelina Janmohamed, ‘What Muslim women really want in the bedroom’, The Telegraph, 2 May 2013, available here
[ii] Narrated by Abu Huraira, in Ibn Majah, available here
[iii] Narrated by Abdullah, in Bukhari, available here

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