Put the words Islam and sex together and it seems you almost have an oxymoron. It is a fact that in the early Middle Ages Islam was seen by the West as a religion which promoted promiscuity and those who followed it as sexually perverse. Now, when the West has broken free of the chains of the Church and ‘liberated’ itself, Islam has become the religion of oppression and strict sexual conservatism. This of course reveals much more about the anxieties of the West than it does of Islam. The West has throughout history used Islam as a permanent ‘other’, lazily defining itself against it: Muslims are either lascivious (see Shakespeare) or sexually repressed and uptight.
Unlike early Christendom, Islam sees sex as a natural individual and social process, it is something which is part of men and women’s needs just like eating or drinking. It is believed that a strict, permanent abstaining from it (as in the monastic tradition) is unhealthy and theologically impermissible. The message is not necessarily to go out and do it, but that doing it is part of being human. Yet Islam always provides a holistic approach to life, pragmatic as much as principled, so that where it admits human need it provides a complete framework within which to work. Virginity, that word which in the West sounds so archaic, is dignified. People are taught to be proud of their abstaining till marriage not because they are frail, unmanly, or less pretty than others – all the negative connotations given to it by the majority of the West. The prospective husband or wife knows that in choosing each other for marriage each believes the other to be that person with whom they are willing to share the most unique relationship there is. The cynics may of course think it won’t last; all this foreplay with words (excuse the pun) is useless since after a break up all that is done with, and since virginity is a one-way street, making it so special is pointless.
But of course, Islam has a comeback. It knows that individuals are social beings living with and being affected by others. Hence it orders men and women to build a society in which virtues and morality (words that have lost meaning in the West’s relativist tradition) are central. The result being that a cyclical process is initiated where children are nurtured to become responsible adults cherishing a value system where any deviation is an exception to the rule, as opposed to the West, where is has becomethe rule.
Beset with teenage pregnancies, affairs, divorce rates that are sky high, sexually transmitted diseases occurring amongst children as young as twelve, and rampant pornography, it is surprising the West has the boldness to turn the finger on Islam. This is not the fault or misdeed of individuals alone but directly attributable to society, which exposes its children to 90,000 sexual scenes per year, teaches them all about sex then provides them with condoms, sending them the message that because this is a natural desire it is permissible to satisfy it whenever and in whatever way possible – “just do it with caution dear”. Set up as it is, Western societies pump out a message of hedonism encouraging children and adults alike to go out and hoard all the pleasure they can with no real regard for responsibility. A condom is the emblem of that avoidance – we want the animalistic enjoyment but not the human responsibility – this is the hard face of reality and what follows is just “the chickens coming home to roost”.
There will be some who – unable to bring themselves out of their hedonistic bubble – will argue that Islam wants to reintroduce those shackles it took so many centuries to remove. Like an optical illusion, however, the philosophical truth is: the hedonism which the West so craves, constitutes its new shackles; it is an unhealthy addiction, the more you feed it the more you crave it and though one may think this is healthy enough so does the crack addict whom one insist needs help.
Islam offers the solution because Islam is the way of life that has the answers. It is a pity that after all the years of ‘Renaissance’ and ‘Enlightenment’ the West has gone through, it still views Islam through a medieval lens of prejudice and suspicion. Having said that it is time that the Muslims stepped up to the mark. If the West is still ignorant about Islam – wilfully or otherwise – it is our job to fulfil our commitment to convey the message. In order for this to happen we need a more concerted effort, more funding for such social-change-through pedagogy projects, and we need more collaborative approaches between people of different skills and experiences – from managers, to academics, from media savvy individuals to ;those experienced in promotions and promulgation.
Islam is still the guide for mankind; be it sex or anything else, but Muslims are the ones who carry it and the arms for this work will be constantly weak lest we firmly believe in what we have.
A PhD candidate at SOAS and English teacher.