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Ethics

Regulating Sex by Morality

The first question is that, "Can sexuality be regulated by morality?" We are told that "there cannot really be such a thing as a specifically sexual morality. Morality ... attaches not to the sexual act, but always to something else, with which it may be conjoined. We may reasonably forbid sexual violence, say, but that is on account of the violence; considered in and for itself, and detached from fortuitous circumstances, the sexual act is neither right nor wrong, but merely 'natural'."1 The conclusion of this idea is simple: since there can be no real sexual morality, therefore, there should be no restrain, whatsoever, in sexual gratification. Nothing should be considered immoral or unlawful!

This idea by itself is absurd. Sexuality is an act which mostly involves two persons, and whenever two persons are involved -even on secular basis- laws and regulations become necessary to regulate their behaviour.

To provide a rational basis for this idea it is sometimes said that many nervous and mental disorders take place because of the feeling of sexual deprivation. The preventive measure for such nervous and mental disorders is unrestrained gratification of sexual instinct. What they want to say in simple words is that the more you restrict sex, the more people will be attracted towards it and suffer the feeling of deprivation.

The libertine culture of the West actually enforced the unrestrained sexual behaviour in the West during last thirty years. And, by keeping in mind the above arguments, one would expect to see a decline in the number of nervous disorders, sexual frustration, rape, incest, child abuse, and sexual assault. But has this really happened? No, of course, not! A look at the statistics show that all the so-called effects of sexual deprivation has increased manifold in spite of the unrestrained sexual mood of the 60s, 70s and 80s!

What actually happened was that the Western world, after revolting against the suppression of sex by the Christian system, mistook unrestrained sex for nurtured sex. Islam does not accept the idea of suppressing the sexual instincts, instead it encourages the nurturing of those feelings and fulfilling them in a responsible way. Whatever restrictions Islam imposes on sex are based on the idea of nurturing it. It is not different from the way we fulfill the desire for food: you must eat, but not overfeed yourself. Similarly you must fulfill your sexual desires, but not at the expense of the rights of others and of your own body.

After rebelling against the suppressive sexual morality of the Church, the libertarian culture went to the other extreme of absolutely unrestrained sex. They made a big mistake in thinking that restrictions, in any form, were unnatural and wrong. Even Bertrand Russel, who strongly supports the libertarian view, had to accept that some restrictions in sexual morality are necessary. He writes, "I am not suggesting that there should be no morality and no self-restraint in regard to sex, any more than in regard to food. In regard to food we have restraints of three kinds, those of law, those of manners, and those of health. We regard it wrong to steal food, to take more than our share at a common meal, and to eat in ways that are likely to make us ill. Restraints of a similar kind are essential where sex is concerned, but in this case they are much more complex and involve much more self-control."2

Russell, however, had difficulty in finding a new basis for sexual morality. The dilemma which the Western world is facing at the present time is very eloquently reflected in what Russell has written. He says, "If we are to allow the new morality [of unrestrained sex] to take its course, it is bound to go further than it has done, and to raise difficulties hardly as yet appreciated. If, on the other hand, we attempt in the modern world to enforce restriction which were possible in a former [Christian] age, we are led into an impossible stringency of regulation,against which human nature would soon rebel. This is so clear that, whatever the dangers or difficulties, we must be content to let the world go forward rather than back. For this purpose we shall need a genuinely new morality. I mean by this that obligations and duties will still have to be recognized, though they may be very different from the obligations and duties recognized in the past ... I do not think that the new system any more than the old should involve an unbridled yielding to impulse, but I think the occasions for restraining impulse and the motives for doing so will have to be different from what they have been in the past."3

If Russell had an opportunity to study Islam from close, I am sure he would have found in it "a genuinely new morality" which regulated sex without leading into "an impossible stringency of regulation."

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1. Quoted in Scruton, Sexual Desire, p.2.

2. Russell, Marriage and Morals, p.293-4.

3. Russel, Marriage & Morals, p.91-2.

Adapted from: "Marriage & Morals in Islam" by: "Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi"