A curious religious debate is raging in Egypt. The question is: should you keep your clothes on when having sex?
began when Dr Rashad Khalil, an expert on Islamic law from al-Azhar
university in Cairo warned that being completely naked during
intercourse invalidates a marriage. His ruling was promptly dismissed
by other scholars, including one who argued that "anything that can
bring spouses closer to each other" should be permitted.
religious scholar suggested it was OK for married couples to see each
other naked as long as they don't look at the genitals. To avoid
problems in that area, he recommended having sex under a blanket.
It's not entirely clear whether Dr Khalil has considered the full
implications of his edict. Doesn't the prospect of all those virile
baton-wielding Egyptian riot policemen (for example) doing it in their
boots and black uniforms sound just a little bit kinky? But we'll let
Christianity, which tends to be squeamish about sex, Islam has a long
tradition of talking about it openly. Up to a point, this is much more
healthy. While Catholic priests are enjoined to remain celibate, Muslim
clerics are expected to marry and indulge heartily with their wives in
the pleasures of the flesh. In many parts of the Muslim world,
especially where folk are poor and uneducated, the local imam is the
person many turn to for guidance on matters relating to sex and
Over the last few years, hundreds of Islamic "fatwa"
websites have also sprung up on which clerics - often with uncertain
qualifications - answer all manner of questions that have been sent to
them by email, including questions about sex. Some of their answers
about what "good Muslims" should or shouldn't do in bed are very
explicit, so readers under 18 should stop here. While some of the
advice is sensible, a lot of it is completely daft, so remaining
readers over the age of 18 may wish to get a second opinion before
putting it into practice.
Actually, it had never occurred to me
that Muslims might be required to keep their clothes on during their
most intimate moments until a few months ago when I was browsing
through IslamOnline, the website supervised by the prominent (and
controversial) Qatar-based cleric, Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
a fatwa on oral sex, 79-year-old Dr Qaradawi describes it as a
disgusting western practice, resulting from westerners' habit of
"stripping naked during sexual intercourse". But he continues: "Muslim
jurists are of the opinion that it is lawful for the husband to perform
cunnilingus on his wife, or a wife to perform the similar act for her
husband (fellatio) and there is no wrong in doing so. But if sucking
leads to releasing semen, then it is makruh (blameworthy), but there is
no decisive evidence (to forbid it) ... especially if the wife agrees
with it or achieves orgasm by practising it."
On this issue, Dr
Qaradawi's views are more permissive than those of several other
clerics on the internet. One states that oral sex is definitely
forbidden, adding that "this hideous practice will draw the anger of
Allah". Another, asked if oral sex is permitted, replies: "I don't know
what is oral sex, please define it."
Masturbation is generally
frowned upon by Islamic scholars, though they disagree about how sinful
it is. The Inter-Islam website describes it as an indecent practice
that has "crept into the youngsters of today". Masturbation has become
prevalent, the website says, because of the modern tendency for young
people to marry later (contrary to the advice of the Prophet). As a
result, they feel a need "to fulfil their carnal desires but ... cannot
do so in the normal way, ie sexual intercourse". Islamic Voice
describes masturbation as an "abominable and wicked act" which is
forbidden in Islam. "Its harms are great and it has disastrous
consequences as established by doctors."
The "proven" medical
effects of masturbation - which, of course, include damage to the
eyesight - were once listed by Abd al-Aziz bin Baz, the late Grand
Mufti of Saudi Arabia, and his list is reproduced on numerous Islamic
websites. According to bin Baz, masturbation causes disruption of the
digestive system, inflammation of the testicles, damage to the spine
("the place from which sperm originates"), and "trembling and
instability in some parts of the body like the feet". In addition,
there is a weakening of the "cerebral glands" leading to decreased
intellect and even "mental disorders and insanity". Furthermore, "due
to constant ejaculation, the sperm no more remains thick and dense as
it normally occurs in males". This results in sperm which is not
"mighty enough" to make a woman pregnant or produces children who are
"more prone to disease and illness".
Other scholars argue that
masturbation is basically forbidden but may be permitted if the person
is unmarried or masturbates in order to avoid a more serious sin such
as adultery, or if the masturbation is to release "sexual tension"
rather than to fulfil "sexual desire". In a fatwa for IslamOnline,
Sheikh Mustafa al-Zarqa says: "I conclude that the general principles
of sharia [Islamic law] go against this habit, because it is not the
normal way of fulfilling sexual desire ... it is a deviation - and that
is enough to condemn it, even though this act does not fall under the
category of absolute prohibition."
There is generally more
consensus among scholars on the question of kissing. Males and females
should not kiss unless they are related by blood or marriage. Same-sex
kissing, on the other hand, is allowed as long as it is done without
"lust" and avoids the person's mouth. Hands and cheeks are the
preferred places to kiss. The forehead is also good because the Prophet
reportedly once gave a man a smacker between the eyes.
context, the ethics of kiss-of-life resuscitation are considered by
IslamOnline. The website quotes Dr Ahmad Muhammad Kan'an, head of the
infectious diseases department at the Primary Medical Care
Administration in the eastern region of Saudi Arabia: "The kiss of life
is legally permissible because it is a means of resuscitation, if Allah
wills. Yet, it goes without saying that it is impermissible unless
necessary. So, if it is certain that the victim has already died,
mouth-to-mouth resuscitation becomes impermissible, for there is no
necessity in such a case." While administering the kiss of life,
IslamOnline adds, rescuers should be careful to do it with "neither
lust nor pleasure".
There is much disagreement on Islamic
websites about anal sex between men and women. Grand Ayatollah Ali
Sistani, the highest-ranking Shia cleric in Iraq, says it is "strongly
undesirable", but permissible if the wife agrees. This seems to be
quite a common view, though many Sunni clerics maintain that consent is
irrelevant. "Anal sex is a grave sin and is completely forbidden,
regardless of whether the wife agrees to it or not," one says.
most common religious objection to anal sex is that it frustrates the
main purpose of marriage - to produce children - and the same objection
is applied to masturbation. "Islam strictly forbids the waste of
seminal fluid," one website says.
It is precisely to avoid having
too many children that some Muslims practice anal sex. One man, writing
to the Islamic Q&A website, says that his wife doesn't have any
problem with it. "I think this is the best way of family planning
instead of using condoms," the man writes, though he adds that many of
his friends have told him otherwise. "People are confusing me so please
tell me what to do." Mufti Ebrahim Desai replies: "The futile excuse of
it being better than a contraceptive doesn't carry any weight. If you
are justified in using a contraceptive, then there are many different
options on the market which could be adopted, instead of this hideous
Although Muslim scholars regard pregnancy as the
primary goal of sex and marriage, they are generally more pragmatic
than the Roman Catholic church about family planning. Contraception is
allowed, though the rules can be rather complicated.
often seem to be more flexible in sexual matters than Sunnis. For
example, "temporary marriage" is a Shia tradition which in effect
legalises prostitution. Sunni clerics, especially those influenced by
Saudi Wahhabism, like to assert their authority by forbidding anything
that might be remotely pleasurable.
Much of the discussion is
sadly reminiscent of the old Christian debate about the number of
angels that can dance on a pinhead, but sex is only one part of the
problem. The current fashion for online fatwas has created an amazingly
legalistic approach to Islam as scholars - some of whom have only a
tenuous grip on reality - seek to regulate all aspects of life
according to their own interpretation of the scriptures. It is much
harder to find any discussion on Muslim websites of matters that some
would say form the basic substance of religion, such as the nature of
love and spiritual experiences.