Sunday, 23 October 2011

Sexuality and marriage in Islam

Following my researches on sex and gender in Christian and Catholic thought, I want to turn briefly to the response of Islam to human sexuality.

Gender relations

The Islamic attitude towards interactions between men and women appears to derive from two basic principles.  First, sexual contact outside marriage is sinful.  Second, women present a strong and dangerous source of sexual temptation to men.  Contact with women outside of marriage is therefore dangerous and must be carefully regulated.  This outlook is summed up in the following ahadith:
Narrated Usama bin Zaid:  The Prophet said, "After me I have not left any fitnah [affliction] more harmful to men than women." (Al-Bukhari, 7.62.33)
Abu Saeed Al-Khudri narrates that the Messenger of Allah said, "The world is sweet and green and verily Allah is going to install you as successors upon it in order to see how you act.  So be on guard against [the deception of] the world and be on guard against [the allurement of] women.  Verily, the first trial for the Children of Israel was caused by women." (Muslim, 6606)
The Shari'ah imposes strict rules on the interaction of men and women, except where the individuals concerned are too closely related to be marriageable (mahram is the term used to denote this *).  This is the context of the well-known hijab dress code, which requires women to veil their whole bodies, exposing at most only their hands and face. * * *  In more general terms, the sexes are carefully segregated. * *  A man cannot physically touch a woman. * *   Men and women are permitted to speak to each other, but anything resembling flirtatiousness must be avoided. * * *  They are not permitted to be alone together. *

One consequence of all this is that Western-style dating is not permitted. * * *  A man is encouraged to meet with a prospective wife, but only under controlled conditions. * * * * 

Marriage

It is said that two remedies were prescribed by the Prophet Muhammad for sexual desire - fasting and marriage (nikah):
Narrated 'Abdullah:  We were with the Prophet while we were young and had no wealth whatever.  So Allah's Apostle said, "O young people! Whoever among you can marry, should marry, because it helps him lower his gaze and guard his modesty, and whoever is not able to marry, should fast, as fasting diminishes his sexual power."  (Al-Bukhari, 7.62.4)
Islam is largely endogamous.  Muslim women are not permitted to marry non-Muslims (Qur'an, 2.221, 60.10).  Muslim men are permitted to marry Jewish and Christian women, but it is not encouraged. * *  The consent of the parents - in particular, that of the woman's guardian or wali - is at least desirable, though there seems to be some disagreement as to whether it is absolutely necessary. * * * * * *

Islamic marriage is patriarchal in character:
Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High, Exalted, Great. (Qur'an, 4.34)
As this verse suggests, the husband is obliged to support his wife financially. *  An integral part of an Islamic marriage is the mahr, or dowry paid by the husband. * * *

Each spouse is obliged to have sex with the other on request. * *  Contraception is permitted by most Islamic scholars in certain defined circumstances, at least in principle. * * *

Divorce

Divorce in Islam is permitted but strongly discouraged. * * *  When a marriage is in difficulties, the families of the parties are given a specific role in trying to effect a reconciliation (Qur'an, 4.35).

A man can divorce his wife unilaterally by means of the well-known talaq procedure.  However, the controversial practice of pronoucing the three talaqs on a single occasion, so that the divorce immediately becomes final and irrevocable, is of unclear legal status. * * * *

A second form of divorce is khula.  This can arise by mutual agreement between the parties, though many scholars teach that an Islamic judge (qadi) can grant the wife a khula divorce over her husband's objections. * * * * *  The wife may be required to return her dowry.

There is a third form of divorce, known as mubarat.  This resembles a consensual khula.