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SEX EDUCATION QUESTIONS FROM MUSLIM YOUTH
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.
In our times, the word is usually used to indicate the dress of a woman in accordance with the Islamic requirements. What is definite for man and woman is that neither gender should dress or act in a way that is intended to attract the attention of the opposite sex. By instinct, males are more attracted to females' bodies than vice versa. Accordingly, Islam ordained that women should not show of their bodies what would particularly attract the attention of males. Besides, they should not show of their adornment other than that conventionally shown by women in an Islamic society.
As for the degree of sin, it depends upon the degree of violating these rules and the intention of the female who violates them. There are no fast rules determining the details of how to dress and cover other than to be modest and not show off.
Athar: hijab is an injunction from God (33:59). The extent of hijab can be questioned. However, obeying/disobeying an injunction altogether is a reflection of the faith of the person. The degree of sin or forgiving is up to the Law Maker
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
Athar: No, not alone, unless a third adult member of the family is present, i.e., brother, sister or one of the parents.
3. Can a Muslim marry someone his parents disapprove of?
Abu Saud: Yes, as long as the marrying person is legally entitled to
Athar: Yes, however, one must find out why the parent(s) object to this marriage, as maybe they are right. Is the person you plan to marry an alcoholic, a drug dealer, a pimp? This is not a question of your or your parents' right but a question of your communications with your parents.
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.
Athar: They should talk socially in order to know each other as ordained by God in the Quran (Surah al-Hujrat). However, one must be careful in 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
Athar: A crime is a crime, no matter how noble your intention is and means to achieve it. In this case both fetus and mother may die (a double crime).
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
Athar: Not true! Orgasm is related to duration and extent of foreplay and not intensity of sex. In the locker room, they can pretend they have orgasm to impress others.
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
Athar: Stay in the community of practicing Muslims, doing things in the community in which you are known, and let your friends and family know that you are ready and available. Once you find one, let him/her know indirectly that you like him/her, preferably through your parents.
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.
Athar: I did not give this idea. See answer #4.
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
Athar: Muslim society in the Muslim world is by practice monogamous. There is less than one percent polygamy, and that is by permission and not injunction. In the West, men who can control their desire, have one wife and one to four mistresses. Also in the West, they practice polygamy but not at the same time, i.e., cycle of marriage, divorce, marriage and divorce several times in their lives.
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.
Athar: Islam believes in separation of sexes in social gatherings unless people are mahram to each other (see Surah Ahzab and Surah Nur). This is natural, even in secular schools, that girls like to sit, walk or play with girls rather than boys. Unnecessary social mixing may lead to other wrongs. The Creator of the human body knows what is good for us and we don't.
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.
Athar: He should find out why he/she is being rejected. Maybe it is the way he/she proposed, etc.
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.
Athar: Masturbation is considered makruh (detestable) in Islam; i.e., it is between lawful and permitted. Some scholars of the past have permitted it to students and soldiers who are single in a non-Muslim society where temptation is high, in order to save them from adultery. The medical harms are not confirmed.
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.
Athar: Abortion if the health of the mother is physically or mentally threatened; otherwise, carry to term, then adoption or even marriage with the boy if possible. Hopefully, Muslim girls don't come to this difficult stage and marry beforehand. If they are ready for sex, they should be ready for marriage.
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.
Athar: Abortions are not allowed unless it is a matter of rape and incest, and the health of the mother is concerned. Chemical contraceptives, i. e ., birth control for married women, is allowed though not promoted because of its many medical side effects.
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.
Athar: In this society, about a million girls get pregnant each year, and if they were married, they would not be counted in teenage pregnancy statistics. This right age is when you are ready to marry. If you have achieved puberty, then you must abstain from sex until you think you are ready for marriage. Otherwise, you may fall into the sin of premarital sex.
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.
Athar: You let him/her know your intention to marry him/her, through your parents or trusted friends.
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.
Athar: See answer #I.
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.
Athar: Government does not control personal expressions or emotions. The good and bad, and right and wrong have to be recognized and accepted individually.
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
Athar: Yes, under medical decision.
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
Athar: You will have to have another man's sperm, which is adultery. When the child is born, he/she would like to know the father. What will you tell him/her that will satisfy and make him/her happy?
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. . . "
Athar: No, unless you are marrying a man who is too old.
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.
Athar: Sex is the act of intimacy between two people of the opposite or same sex, starting with being together, to foreplay and the sexual act. The best sex organ is said to be the brain; other organs are hand and mouth.
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.
Athar: Not true. Muslim men are allowed to marry women from only people of book (Jews and Christians), not Hindu or atheist, etc. Even then they are encouraged to prefer believing women even if she is a slave than idolater. The reason Muslim women are not allowed non-Muslim men are many to include the future of children.
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.
Athar: Yes, only with girls.
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
Athar: Not true, as men and women in the audience could hear the speaker the same way.
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.
Athar: See question #3. The right age is when a person is physically and emotionally mature and ready for marriage. In this society, more than a million teenage girls become pregnant each year. If they are ready for sex, they should be ready for sex with responsibility and commitment which comes from marriage.
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.
Athar: In the U.S.A., 200,000 women are raped every year, nearly two per minute, but half of the rapes are not reported. The reporting of rape in Muslim countries is related to weakness within women, for shame or whatever else.
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.
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.
Athar: Men are not allowed to mimic women in dress or other ways including jewelry.
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.
Athar: Yes, but be cautious not to give the wrong emotion. To play with someone's emotions is not right.
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
Athar: Not a good idea. This deprives children of her mother's love and presence, both of which are badly needed.
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.)
Athar: Marriage is ordained by God and is a tradition of Prophet Muhammad. He said marriage is half of faith and that it is a shield against wrongdoing.
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.