Recently, a course was advertised in our city teaching aspects of sexual intimacy between married couples. Some people in our community objected saying that such a course goes against Adab and modesty. Are there any grounds for this?
Islam is a complete way of life that provides guidance in every aspect of a believer’s life, from purity and prayer, to trade regulations, marriage and inheritance laws. There is little place for the separation of religion from the state, rather, Islam insists on adherence to the full spectrum of its teachings – from the fundamental articles of faith (aqa’id) and devotional worship (ibadaat), to financial transactions (mu’amalaat), social and communal etiquettes (mu’ashara) and moral ethics (akhlaq). Allah Most High says:
“O you who believe, enter into Islam completely, and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Surely he is an open enemy for you.” (Qur’an 2:208)
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), being an exemplar of perfection, showed us the way to that which is of benefit in both worlds, even in the mundane realities of everyday life.
Imam Muslim (Allah have mercy on him) relates in his Sahih from the Companion Salman al-Farisi (Allah be pleased with him) that some polytheists approached him saying, “Your Prophet has taught you everything, even about excrement [i.e. etiquettes of relieving oneself].” He replied: “Indeed! He has forbidden us from facing the Qibla when excreting or urinating, and from cleaning ourselves with our right hand, and from cleaning ourselves with less than three stones, and from cleaning ourselves with dung or bone.” (Sahih Muslim 262 & Sunan Abi Dawud 7)
Sayyiduna Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) relates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Verily, I am to you like a father, I teach you [i.e. do not be ashamed in learning even the basics from me]. If any one of you goes to relieve himself, he must not face the Qibla nor turn his back toward it, and must not clean himself with his right hand…” (Sunan Abi Dawud 8)
Similarly, Islam does not neglect one of the most private moments in an individual’s life – namely, the sexual relationship between a husband and wife. Detailed and explicit rulings regarding sexual behaviour can be found in the Qur’an, Sunna and works of classical scholars. It is common to find scholars dedicating whole chapters in their works to this delicate, yet important, subject. Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali’s Ihya Uloom al-Din, Al-Tibb al-Nabawi by Imam Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya, Imam Ibn Qudama’s Al-Mughni, Imam Nasa’i’s Ishrat al-Nisa’, Imam Abu ‘l-Faraj Ibn al-Jawzi’s Sayd al-Khatir, the Ghunyat al-Talibin by Shaykh Abdul Qadir al-Jilani and countless other classical works deal with this topic in some detail. The major reference works in all four Sunni Schools of Islamic law (madhhabs) also discuss many aspects of sexual relations and what married couples may and may not do.
The reason for this is that a healthy sexual relationship is absolutely vital in marriage. Scholars today generally agree that one of the primary reasons for failed marriages is failed sexual lives. The root cause of marital discord is often sexual dissatisfaction, with problems in the bedroom often leading to unhappiness, frustration, and, at times, even divorce. Among the objectives of marriage is to satisfy one’s sexual needs in a lawful manner, and if either spouse is unfulfilled, the temptation to look elsewhere can become overwhelming. Often, a spouse will refuse to engage in a form of sexual activity, mistakenly believing it to be unlawful, which could easily sour their relationship. It is therefore of key importance for married couples to learn and understand the teachings of Islam regarding sexual behaviour.
Moreover, in the modern world, there is a kind of fixation with sexuality. The topic has been institutionalised in the school curriculum under the banner of “sex education”, where children are taught what some may consider shameful and sordid acts. The increasing pervasiveness of sexual imagery is affecting Muslims, with growing numbers becoming addicted to pornography and other unlawful means of sexual gratification.
In this environment, it is not only permitted but crucial to present the Islamic stance on this subject; otherwise Muslims will be left to learn about it from un-Islamic resources, damaging their character, spirituality and physical health.
Unfortunately, some Muslims consider any discussion on sex to be offensive and a breach of religious propriety (adab) and modesty (haya), unaware that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) himself explained this subject in considerable detail. Several hadiths describe how the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) taught men and women matters relating to sexual relations.
Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim (Allah have mercy on them) both record a hadith in their Sahih collections, related by Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him), in which the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) was teaching his Companions the rules of having a ritual bath (ghusl), when he said: “When a man sits amidst her four parts and then exerts pressure on her, a ritual bath becomes obligatory upon him.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 287 & Sahih Muslim 348)
In this hadith, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) describes explicitly how a man might have sex with his wife such that it necessitates a ritual bath of purification. There are numerous other examples which illustrate the frankness with which the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) discussed these matters.
The Companions (Allah be pleased with them) also did not shy away from asking the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) questions of a sexual nature. In a famous incident, Sayyiduna Umar ibn al-Khattab (Allah be pleased with him) asked the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) about the permissibility of penetrating one’s wife from behind, i.e. penetrating the vagina, and not the anus. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) did not rebuke him for asking an “offensive” question, but waited until Allah Most High Himself revealed verses of the Qur’an to answer his question. (See: Sunan al-Tirmidhi 2980)
Remarkably, women also felt able to ask the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) questions of a sexual nature without any reluctance or being ashamed of such enquiry. Rather, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) did not shy away from answering them, even though he was shy by nature.
Umm Salama (Allah be pleased with her) relates that Umm Sulaym (Allah be pleased with her) came to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and said, “O Messenger of Allah, Surely, Allah is not shy of the truth. Is it necessary for a woman to take a ritual bath after she has a wet dream?” The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) replied: “Yes, if she notices a discharge.” Umm Salama covered her face and asked, “O Messenger of Allah! Does a woman have a discharge?” He replied: “Yes, let your right hand be in dust [an Arabic expression said light-heartedly to someone whose statement you contradict], how does the son resemble his mother?” (Sahih al-Bukhari 130)
Here, a woman has no qualms in asking the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) about something as intimate as a wet dream. Umm Sulaym’s statement, “Allah is not shy of the truth” is a clear indication that there is no shyness when it comes to learning about matters of Deen. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) used this phrase himself when he prohibited anal sex, saying: “Allah is not shy of the truth; do not enter women in their anuses.” (Sunan Ibn Majah 1924, Musnad Ahmad & others)
It is clear from the above that there is nothing wrong in discussing this subject for instructional purposes, as long as it is done with decency. In fact, it is a mistake to shy away from the teachings of Allah Most High and the Messenger (Allah bless him & give him peace), even those regarding sexual matters.
Imam Bukhari relates from Mujahid who said: “Sacred knowledge (ilm) is not gained by a shy person or an arrogant one (Sahih al-Bukhari 1:60)
Likewise, he relates from Sayyida A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) who said: “How praiseworthy are the women of Ansar; shyness does not prevent them from having a deep understanding of religion.” (Ibid)
Those who feel uncomfortable with this subject should keep in mind the words of Allah Most High, His Messenger (Allah bless him & give him peace) and the Companions: “Surely, Allah is not shy of [expounding] the truth” (Qur’an 33:53, Sahih al-Bukhari 130 and Sunan Ibn Majah 1924).
Modesty is, without doubt, a fundamental element of our religion, but when it comes to religious matters it should not prevent one from learning, but rather, modesty should be exhibited when learning about such matters. In the modern world, questions of sexuality are openly discussed, often indecently; why then should we, as Muslims, feel ashamed of learning the pure and decent teachings of Islam on this subject?
In conclusion, there is nothing wrong with teaching, studying and learning the rules of Shari’ah regarding sexual relations with one’s spouse. However, one should be careful not to violate the spirit of Islam of modesty, decency and bashfulness. Proper care should be taken of the language used and examples given. It would be wise that male students are taught by a male teacher, and female students by a female teacher. If these matters are taken care off, not only will this be allowed, it would fulfil a great need of the time, Insha Allah.
And Allah knows best
[Mufti] Muhammad ibn Adam
Leicester , UK