By Aslam Abdullah, TMO Editor-in-Chief
Living together before marriage is generally accepted as a normal practice in the USA and Europe. Pre-marital sex in the USA and European societies has become a norm and even though adultery is illegal in 23 states in the USA, since 1983 no one has been punished while some 60 percent men and 42 per cent women reportedly commit acts of adultery in the country. In those states where adultery is still on the statute books, penalties vary from life sentence in Michigan to a $10 fine in Maryland to a Class B misdemeanor in New York to a Class I felony in Wisconsin and to a fine of $500 in South Carolina.
Islam advocates celibacy before marriage and defines pre-marital and extra-marital relations as greater sins and proposes strong penalties.The Quran says, â€œNor come closer to illicit sexual intimacy (zina) for it is a shameful (deed) and an evil, opening the door (to other evils).â€ 17:32
Yet many in the Muslim community living in Europe and the USA and elsewhere cannot claim to be strict followers of their faith. A good number of single men and women as well as married couples, mostly men, seem to be involved in pre-marital or extra-marital relations. There is no sociological study to substantiate the statistics, yet there are reports based on independent research of many journalists and social scientists that suggest incidents of pre-marital sex among Muslim men far exceed the incidents of similar behavior among Muslim women. By and large, Muslims avoid discussion on this subject often living under the assumption that their community is free from these acts. Few would dare any write up and those who do would generally be looked down upon.
Yet it is an issue that one has to face especially when it impacts the image of Islam and the health of the community. There are many disgruntled women, mostly non-Muslims, who feel betrayed by their Muslim boyfriends after living together for several years and there are many Muslim women who out of fear and social pressure are not willing to admit the intimate nature of their relations with their boyfriends in secrecy. It is an issue that deserve to be addressed openly, fearlessly and seriously.
With sex and the discussion about sex everywhere, the Muslim community cannot claim to save itself from its impact. It cannot simply close its eyes and say that â€œitâ€™s a non-Muslim problem.â€ It has to deliberate the issue and work to strengthen young men and women to stand their moral grounds no matter how tough the circumstance may be. Sex is a physical activity but it is born in the mind and ideas. But it is not a physical necessity (prior to developing authentic relations assuming their responsibility and consequences) without which a human cannot survive like food or water. So it is possible that if the mind is properly trained and the ideas are channelized into positive energy, people can control their sexual urges within a moral frame. But this would happen only when the discussion is open and objective.
It is one thing to say that God frowns upon those who indulge in illicit sexual relations, But it is another to study the causes of this life style and pragmatically take steps to channelize the sexual urges within an ethical framework for the good of all.
Not many are willing to admit that pre-marital sex is common among single Muslim male students in various colleges and universities especially among those enrolled as foreign students. There are incidents of extra-marital relations among students who live without their spouses.
Among the male students, this happens in different ways. The boy either enters into a temporary marriage relationship with a non-Muslim girl for a specific period of time or maintains relationship in secrecy. In some cases, the boy even marries the girl in what he defines â€œIslamicallyâ€, without any legal contract or paper work. In this situation, the couple approaches either an Imam or anyone they trust to conduct marriage Islamically. The marriage is not recorded under the assumptions that God is the greatest witness along with two other male witnesses. Such marriage are also solicited by married men. The women are generally non-Muslims and they are told that at a later time when it is appropriate the husband would divorce his first wife.
Temporary hookups through chat sites and dating agencies are also not uncommon among Muslim singles and married men. Usually, Muslim men and women come to these chat sites with non-Muslim names regardless of the region they live in and slowly and gradually they reveal true identify once the possibility physical hookup become a reality. Usually, Muslims would avoid entering into these kinds of hookups with fellow Muslims of opposite or same gender, yet, these unions are not rare.
Single Muslim men often start facing the trouble, when their partner wants to declare their relations open. Most of the time such single Muslim men, who are not serious do not introduce their girlfriends to their Muslim circles. However, when girlfriends ask for declaring these relationship in open, they refuse and offer religious explanations admitting that they were wrong in maintaining these relations. This either terminates the relationship or assume different dimensions.
Ironically, many non-Muslim women take these relationship seriously and some try to familiarize them with Islam or even considering to become Muslims. Single Muslim men often avoid discussions about marriage under the plea that either they are not ready or their families are not. In this situation, the couple usually breaks up.
So what needs to happen to address the situation? First of all, Muslim social scientists and leaders should acknowledge that the issue is real and take it seriously and conduct objective studies to assess the true dimensions of this issue. Simultaneously, we should also develop a curriculum that addresses the issue of relationship between boys and girls and men and women sociologically and pragmatically. The basic guidelines on this issue are given in the Quran explicitly, but often we, the believers, have failed to transmit this basic message in a manner that would empower individuals to take control of their lives. This should happen from an early age because in public or private schools and in circles of their peers they are exposed to sex-related issues at a very tender age.
While, we Muslims, generally, leave it to an individual to navigate his or her way through the maze of information on sex, others offer structured courses on the subject to students as young as nine or ten. By the time, we intervene on behalf of our religion, the children are already exposed to information far better and tempting than the one offered by us. In fact, intervention at this time becomes counter productive as it leads to stealth sexuality that no one would want to admit to oneâ€™s elders or one self. The situation often becomes explosive when the girl gets pregnant. This either results in the termination of pregnancy or sending the girl away from her circle. Very rarely, a Muslim girl uses DNA to determine the paternity to receive child support as this would violate the honor of the family. Often, the girl is punished while the sin of boy is generally ignored. In situation the boy often abandons the girl assuming that the secret would never come out . But with non-Muslim girls the situation is different. So, it is important that we begin the process of education at an early state. We have to decide when it would be appropriate to introduce such subjects to students.
Only when one would have a strong foundations in a life style guided by the divine teachings, one can hope to reduce such incidents in real relationship. The solution lies in empowering individuals with a knowledge that would inspire them to be responsible and disciplined in every aspect of life. Where self-control would be an assertive way of life and where the relationship would not be used to serve feelings of self-indulgence. It is possible to control sexual urges but it would not come through condemning sexuality but giving it a positive spin within a moral framework that is useful for everyone. Humans are their best supervisors and controllers, but we have to be empowered with the knowledge that would strengthen those aspects of our character inwardly.