The Concept of Sex in Islam and Sex Education

by Syed Ali Ashraf

Spiritual, Moral and Physical aspects of Sex: Integral Relationship

According to the Islamic belief, God is the uncreated Transcendental being who is neither male nor female, but is always addressed as He. His essence is beyond duality and beyond creation and hence beyond any classification and specification and also beyond human power of perception or realisation. He generated within Himself the ability to Create. Thus He brought into existence the entire ‘creation’. In order to maintain the on-going process of creation, He created sexual duality in creation. According to His own words, i.e., the Qur’an, it is He who has created everything in this universe on the dual principle of male and female (51:49). Even things which come out of the earth are said in the Qur’an to have this duality (36:36).

In so far as human beings are concerned, God brought Man into existence first. Out of that Man his wife or companion was brought into existence (Qur’an, 39:6). Out of these two started the whole process of coming into existence of all human beings (Qur’an, 4: 1). The Qur’an speaks of this process repeatedly and asserts that all of us have come out of that one person (7:189).

“He created you (all) from a single person: then created of like nature, his mate” (39:6).

The reason of creating the first woman out of the first man has been stated as twofold: they will be of the same nature and because of this they might dwell in peace and essential need and desire for complementary love (Qur’an, 7:189). Thus there is in both sexes a natural innate desire of companionship of the other sex.

This means they need each other. This is the mysterious, process of creation. Man and Woman complement one another, physically, mentally and spiritually. That is why Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said:

The world is a possession and the~ best possession is a virtuous woman”.

This earthly love is not merely physical; it has a spiritual perspective. Sex therefore, gives a foretaste of the felicity of paradise. The Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) also said:

Marriage is half of the faith, the other half is patience”.

He also said (may Allah bless him and give him peace):

I fast and I break the fast, pray, sleep, I go in unto women; beware whosoever deviates from my Sunnah (example) is not among my followers”.

Celibacy is not praised because of the complementarity of the two. The Qur’an says:

Women are a garment to you, them” (2:187).

In this complementary relationship the female plays a very important role. That is why Yusuf Ali commenting on the of the Qur’an referred to earlier (7:189), says,

The unregenerate male is apt in the pride of his physical strength, to forget the all-important part which the female plays in his very existence, and all the social relationships that arise in our collective human lives. The mother that bore us must ever have our reverence. The wife, through whom we enter parentage, must have our reverence. Sex, which governs so much of our physical life, and has so much influence on our emotional and higher nature, deserves-not our fear, or our contempt, or our amused indulgence, but our reverence in the highest sense of the term. (Qur’an, Yusuf Ali, Note no. 506)

This sense of reverence indicates that the differences between the sexes must be regarded as a process through which human beings can participate in the creative process of life. Though the human being cannot give life, which God alone gives, God has given human beings the ability to participate in God’s creative process through the sexual act.

This sense of reverence further indicates that the sexual act through marriage and love is not done just to fulfill one’s lust but to get spiritual strength of the unity of two souls. Extra-marital act is mainly lust-fulfilment, hence it is considered as sinful. Al Hujwiri says,

Marriage is permissible to all, both men and women. It is obligatory on all who otherwise cannot abstain from sin. And Satan who is with the solitary adorns lust and presents it beautified to the mind.
No human companionship compares with marriage in quality of reverence and saving power when husband and wife are well-suited. But no pain or care is a worse evil than an uncongenial wife. Therefore, the Dervish must consider well what he is about, weighing in his imagination the evils of marriage against the evils of celibacy, so that he may choose that state whose evils he personally can more easily master. Neither marriage nor celibacy are disastrous in themselves: the mischief lies in self-assertion and in surrender to desires. The root of the matter is the difference between Retirement and Companionship as modes of life. Those who choose Companionship are right to marry; but for those who retire from human affairs celibacy is an ornament. (Kashf al-Mahjub)

Ultimately, therefore, marriage becomes a means of the reintegration of the male and female principle through man and woman into their metaphysical prototypes, Adam and Eve.

It is because of this metaphysical principle of unity through sexual union that all forces of lust are condemned and deserve to be controlled through marriage. That is why fornication and adultery are condemned in Islam. Also any intercourse during menstruation is prohibited just as anal intercourse is prohibited and violence and force against a partner’s will is condemned. Otherwise, as the Qur’an says, there are hardly any restrictions in sexual relationship,

your women are your fields; go to your fields as you wish” (2:224).

Sexual relationship, therefore, must be based on love and moral restraint. Lust and moral laxity must remain controlled because the physical act of union must be regarded as a means of bringing into the world a servant of God who will be able to glorify Him. This is how a human being tries to fulfill the purpose of his creation by God. It is because of this sense of reverence that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) advised the couple to recite the following prayer just before the sexual act:

We are starting in the name of Allah. 0 Allah, protect us from the machinations of Satan and save the child that you would bestow on us from Satan’s evil influences.

A sexual act is thus not regarded merely as a means of fulfilling only a physical desire. Had this been the case, the divinely sanctioned rules and regulations and all restrictions forbidding adultery and fornication and all prescriptions of punishments for such actions would be absurd and hence unnecessary. A human being is a servant of God. The sexual act is the means of bringing into the world another servant who possesses a spirit in its body-a spirit which is endowed with faith in God. God says in the Holy Qur’an that he assembled all the spirits which He had brought into existence and asked them,

Am I not thy Lord?” They replied, “Yes, we testify” (Qur’an, 7:172).

This, God says, is the covenant between human beings and God. Hence a sense of purity is necessary and also a sense of reverence.

A human being is thus not treated in Islam as just a physical, biological entity. Its existence on this earth is grounded in transcendence endowed to its whole being by the spirit which, as God says in the Qur’an, was breathed by Him into the body of Adam (peace be upon him), a human prototype, from His own spirit (Qur’an, 15:29).

In view of this intimate relationship between the physical and the spiritual, sexual union is considered as having a spiritual and moral dimension. On the one hand, love and companionship between the two is a primary necessity as well as a basic result. With love and understanding if two persons have that union, then it should increase the sense of love and also the sense of self-sacrifice for one another. In addition to this, as both the partners are fully aware of the spiritual dimension and the resultant birth of the servant of God, they are constantly aware of their duty from the act of union till the birth of the child to see that they themselves lead a life of piety, understanding and goodwill so that the child in the womb is not affected with something immoral and not permitted by God.

This means that not only will the parents be good to each other, they will also carry on certain activities in their normal day-to-day life which will arouse and increase the spiritual sensitivity of the mother and her love of God and the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) and therefore make her spiritually and morally more and more conscious and good. Therefore basic moral values of goodness, justice, compassion and charity will be transmitted from the mother’s mind to the child’s mental make-up. As value consciousness is considered to be an imperative necessity for every faithful human being and as the impact of the mother’s sensitivity and also the father’s attitudes have a tremendous influence on the coming baby, this sexual relationship is to be regarded as a moral act intimately related to the physical beings of the individuals. Hence it is necessary to know and obey God’s commands and the practice of Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and give him peace) regarding a sexual relationship.

It is because of this need for generating a sense of purity and moral restraint in sex relationship that marriage is prescribed by God. “Safe and free sex” is condemned. Islam is a total way of life as prescribed by God. A human being has been created by God to serve Him. God says:

I have created jinns and human beings only to serve Me” (Qur’an, 51:56).

That is why no difference is drawn between the secular and the divine. Marriage is regarded as a contract between two adults who in the presence of two witnesses promise in the name of God to accept one another as husband and wife and therefore obey all rules and regulations and accept all duties and responsibilities prescribed by God and exemplified by Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.

Stress is placed on marriage as a compulsory precondition for sexual relationship because marriage leads to mutual responsibilities and duties along with mutual love and companionship and establishes the family as the basic unit of the society of believers. The legal recognition given in England to non-marital companionships is regarded by Muslims as the violation of the Divine code and hence the legal recognition of a sinful act.

Islam allows a man to have four wives. Though Allah gives this permission, He says categorically that the husband should treat all the wives equally and if he cannot do so, it is proper for him to stick to one wife only (Qur’an, 4:3). This privilege is granted to a man and not to a woman obviously because a man is regarded as the head of the family and hence he can have four families. But as the woman is the producer of a family, she can have another husband only after she gets a divorce or after her husband dies. This shows that preservation of the family as the basic unit of the society is, according to Islam, a principle enunciated by God, hence free sex or extra-marital sex or adultery and fornication have been severely condemned and severe punishment has been prescribed for them. Besides the necessity of establishing and teaching the religious principle of abstinence and control, it seems God wants to save humanity from the conflict, confusion and violence or brutality that is generated by such extra-marital sexual activity because of a sense of broken promises, jealousy, cruelty, selfishness and all kinds of bitterness and unhappiness that such extra-marital sexual activity prompts and gives birth to.

Sex Education

It is obvious that Islam does not permit any kind of educational process that will assume and encourage free sex as understood today in the West. That is why the first important thing done in the family and at the social level is to create in the mind of children a sense of modesty (haya’) in so far as a sexual relationship is concerned. That is why women are advised to dress in such a manner that the sexual passion of men will not be roused, and men and women are advised not to look at each other lasciviously. This indicates the necessity of moral restraint. This also indicates that there is a spiritual training that each individual has to practice internally because it is only God who can see and judge their mental attitudes. From childhood therefor parents are required to take steps so that a sense of respect for the other sex is developed and also so that children get habituated to self-restraint.

Pre-marital sex is totally forbidden. Hence, children are not supposed to know about the sexual act before they reach the adolescent period. Similarly, children are taught that extra-marital sex or adultery is a serious offense punishable by stoning to death.

In order to achieve this end, attention has to be given to the way children dress up, talk to each other and play games. As pictures have a tremendous impact upon the sensibility of children, images that would arouse sexual passion are completely forbidden. As girls start becoming mature when they are nine years old, segregation of boys and girls should start from that age. That is why Muslims all over the world insist on single sex secondary schools. That is also why Muslims in England often withdraw their children from sex education classes. When children grow older, both girls and boys are taught rules regulations regarding sexual relationship. As the question of impurity is ingrained in a sexual relationship, there regulations about sexual behaviour, the sexual act and the follow-up processes. Children are taught these at an period when they are expected to get married, but all these are presented to them only with the understanding that sex within the context of married family life.

Homosexuality is condemned with equal emphasis. The act is a sin because it is unnatural. If anyone upholds this act as a right, he or she is condemned for preaching something sinful. The examples of Sodom and Gomorrah are given in the Qur’an as a severe punishment from God for , upholding and practicing homosexuality and flouting the principle of normal heterosexual union preached by Lot (peace be upon him). In the Islamic education system, students are informed of this principle.


Islam thus preaches and upholds that which is natural. That is why Islam is described as a natural religion. Islam wants moral principles to be followed in the sex relationship including the sexual act so that love and not lust is cherished, the feeling of self-sacrifice for the companion is generated and the desire to get a child who will be a true servant of God is strengthened.

There is a tendency now to adjust oneself to changes in society. The idea is that everything is evolving and hence changing. Technological advancement means material changes. Hence, it is automatically expected that a human being’s inner self must change and he or she must learn to adapt himself or herself to these external changes.
This theory is entirely false, according to Islam. Islam differentiates between the moral and spiritual norm and the physical norm. Physical changes should be controlled for the good of the human being and should not be allowed to control our conduct and behaviour. Just because some people or a section of society become agnostic or atheistic or start believing in some anti-religious ideas or theories, it is not imperative that religious people should adjust themselves to the situation and amend their religious code to suit the time. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said that after him no other prophet would come but reformers would rise to bring the Muslim society back to the original path of faith.

On the basis of this basic principle, a Muslim cannot accept the anti-Islamic code of conduct in sexual behaviour, nor can he or she support the type of sex education in schools that is based on the concept of amoral, ‘free’ and ‘safe’ sexual activity. From the Islamic point of view this type of sex education is insulting to religion, an insult to the code of behaviour that Islam upholds and asserts and hence an insult to the Muslim community as a whole. It is openly anti-religious and it openly encourages children to flout religious codes of behaviour and all moral restraints. It seduces a human being to a mental condition that prevents him or her from rising above all ‘temptations’ through exercise of moral constraint over physical passions. Sexual passion is whetted by such education. There is no attempt to control it. Therefore the whole policy is anti-religious. From the Islamic point of view this policy destroys the possibility of moral and spiritual development of the human personality and therefore stunts the growth towards the status of becoming a true representative of God on the Earth. 
Muslim Education Ouarterly
Vol. 16, No. 3, 1999
Islamic Academy, Cambridge, U.K.