Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine

August 2005
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Our Dialogue - By Adil Salahi

A Question of Incest

Q. I know of a widow who used to have an affair with her nephew. Now that their affair has been made public, the nephew is going to marry her daughter in an attempt to preserve respectable
appearance. Can such a marriage be allowed?

A. The lesson which we learn from modern western societies which call themselves “permissive” is that when people relax their scruples and exceed the bounds of morality, it becomes easy for them to sink into depths of indecency which they themselves could not have imagined. In the case this reader has mentioned, the woman does not merely commit the gross indecency of illegitimate sex, but she chooses to do that with her own nephew. In other words, she commits incest. This may have come about because it is always easy for a nephew to visit his aunt. His motive may have started as a genuine desire to help his aunt who has lost her husband. A usual degree of familiarity may have developed. The result is that which you describe in your letter. This shows that even among the closest of relatives, observance of the strict Islamic moral code is very important. There is no harm in a nephew visiting his aunt. Their conversation, however, should at no time be allowed to touch on subjects of impropriety.

It is not surprising, although much distributing, that a move is being contemplated to cover up one wrong with a worse one. Having had an incestuous affair, the widow and her nephew are seeking to regain appearances of propriety by arranging a marriage with the woman’s daughter. How ghastly! When a person commits fornication or adultery with a women, both her mother and daughter become forbidden for him to marry.

In the case you have mentioned, the man is originally allowed to marry the woman’s daughter, as she is his cousin. The fact that he has an affair with her mother, however, creates a prohibition which does not allow him to marry her.

From another point of view , have these people seriously considered the effects of this marriage on their lives? The daughter may not be aware of the affair between her mother and her cousin. She may, however come to realize it after her marriage. What would be her feelings then? Moreover, if the widow still loves her nephew passionately and wants to keep up her incestuous relationship with him, will she not be exposing herself, her daughter and nephew to a very dangerous relationship?

The proper course of action to follow is for the nephew to stay away from his widowed aunt and her daughter. He should allow the gossip to die down and he should at the same time turn to Allah in repentance.

Punishment of Stoning for Adultery

Q. In what cases of adultery does the punishment of stoning apply in an Islamic country?

A. Stoning to death is the punishment for married adulterers. Those who are unmarried and indulge in illicit sex are punished by flogging. Each of the two parties receives one hundred lashes in public.

Both punishments are undoubtedly very severe because adultery is a crime against the community. Obviously a married person commits a bigger crime when he or she is guilty of adultery. Having known the clean method of satisfying his natural desire the adulterers seeks the dirty way to indulge in an animal type of satisfaction. Nothing of the compassion and love that exist between a man and the wife can be cultivated between adulterers. They simply degrade themselves and humanity as a whole by their action. Hence, a punishment commensurate with the crime has been decreed.

We have to bear in mind that these punishments are prescribed when four male witnesses testify to having seen the act of adultery. Their testimony would be rejected it they say that they have seen the accused in a condition which ‘suggests’ or ‘leads them to believe’ or ‘strongly indicates’ that they have committed the crime.

The other case in which the prescribed punishment is meted out is the case of clear and valid confession, given voluntarily by the adulterer. Confessions in such cases are made because the person concerned wants to atone for his crime in this life.

Islam prefers that people who indulge in sin do not come out with confessions; they should rather pray to Allah for forgiveness.. Once a clear confession is made the ruler must carry out the prescribed punishment unless the confession is later withdrawn or he has reason to believe that the confessor is not telling the truth.

Confession of Adultery

Q. After working five years abroad, visiting his family at home on occasions, a man discovered on questioning his wife closely that she had committed adultery twice with one of his friends. Before admitting her guilt, she obtained from him a promise that he would not punish her. On learning this, the husband was agitated and he did not know what attitude to take towards his wife. My question is whether her guilt causes automatic separation between them. If so, what is she to do, considering that she has no brothers or sisters and both her parents are deceased.

A. The fact that this women was guilty of adultery, according to her own confession, does not have any effect on the validity of her marriage. She remains married to her husband. What is greatly important, however, is for that woman to turn to Allah in repentance and firmly resolve not to commit that sin again. Moreover, she should try hard to atone for her mistake by voluntary worship and praying to Allah frequently for forgiveness. If her husband knows that she has genuinely repented of her guilt and she harbours no intention of doing it again, then he may resume his marital relationship with her without the need to go through any formality. It is, of course, open to him to divorce her if her character remains suspect.

Sex Without Marriage

Q. Does Islam permit a master to have sexual intercourse with his maidservant without marrying her?

A. No, Islam does not allow anything of the kind. What grounds are there for allowing any such relationship? Do you mean to say that a male employer can have sex with his woman employee, a doctor with the nurse, a lawyer with his secretary, a shop keeper with his woman cashier? Nothing can be more outrageous!

How can anyone suggest that the relationship between a master and a maidservant is different from any of these relationships? There is a difference in the nature of the jobs those women do, it is true. But how can this difference in the nature of jobs be a factor in deciding whether sexual intercourse may be permissible or not. The fact that a maidservant does housework for her master has no bearing whatsoever on her relationship with him. She remains a free woman who is entitled to establish marital relationship with the man of her choice. If her master wants to have sex with her, his only permissible way is through marriage.

It is true that there are cases where a master seduces or persuades or forces his maidservant to yield to his desire. He exploits her weakness in relation to him in order to get what he wants of cheap fulfillment of carnal desire. There are also cases where the servant willingly consents to have sex with her master. Let me say absolutely clearly that any such relationship is totally forbidden. It is a case of fornication or adultery. There is no doubt whatsoever that it is an illicit relationship, i.e., it is absolutely forbidden.

Islam is a religion of very serious moral outlook. It cannot and does not sanction any such relationship. If forbids any relationship which adversely affects the moral fabric of the society or leads to promiscuity or is likely to affect the rights of any individual. The relationship which you have mentioned leads to all three evils.

Let us pose the question: why should a master want to have sex with a servant without marrying her? There can be only one answer to his question: that he wants to fulfill his desire without talking on the responsibilities of marriage. On the other hand, he may find the maid attractive, but he does not think that she is socially suitable to be his wife. His attitude in either case is outrageous from the Islamic point of view. As I say, the only lawful way to have sexual intercourse is through marriage.

Prohibition of Masturbation

Q. Is masturbation forbidden in Islam? If so, what is the alternative for an unmarried man or one who is away from his wife to satisfy sexual urge?

The only legitimate way of satisfying the natural sexual desire is marriage. Any other way is not acceptable. Islam is a practical religion. It does not provide theoretical answers to practical problems. It tries to give practical solutions always. In a perfectly Islamic society, one expects the average age of marriage to be much lower than in our modern societies. The fact remains that not all young men and women can marry early and that most Muslims today live in societies which are not perfectly Islamic. Dealing with this problem, the Prophet (Pbuh) teaches us: “ Young men, he who can afford it, let him be married. Marriage helps you to lower down your eyes (meaning not to cast indecent glances at women) and fortify yourselves against the temptation to fall in sin. He who cannot afford marriage, let him fast, for fasting gives him a degree of immunity.”

This tradition of the Prophet (Pbuh) is self-explanatory. Marriage should be the aim as early in life as possible. If one’s circumstances do not help him to get married, or if he is forced to stay away from his wife, then the solution recommended by the Prophet (Pbuh) is to fast as many days as necessary. Fasting reduces the intensity of the sexual urge in two ways: first, hunger has such an effect on one, and secondly, the fact that fasting is a form of worship serves as a constant reminder of Allah, thus helping one to be more conscious of Him.

The other thing one could do in such circumstances is to find something to occupy his time. Perhaps loneliness is the worst enemy of a single person. If he has something to do always in which he can be absorbed, then he has less chance to think of his sexual desire. The prohibition of masturbation is derived from the Quran in which Allah describes the believers as those “who safeguard their chastity (not giving way to their desires) with any, but their spouses or those whom they rightfully possess.” (23: Verse 5-6).

Pre-Marital Sex

Q. Does a solid agreement between a man and a woman who are Muslims that they will eventually get married make it permissible for them to have sexual intercourse?

A. No sexual relationship between a man and a women may be established outside the bond of marriage. A pledge of the sort you mention is not enough as a substitute for the conditions which make a marriage valid, such as a marriage contract, and acceptance in the presence of witnesses. Indeed, I cannot see the point why a man and a woman should want to enter into such a sexual relationship while delaying their marriage for any period of time.

We have to remember here that such a relationship may lead to either party losing its rights. What happens if either the man or the woman dies before the marriage takes place? Who would recognise that the relationship between the two was a virtual marriage? Would the surviving partner be able to claim a share in the inheritance of the deceased partner? What about the children who may be born of such a relationship? Who would acknowledge their legitimacy? What happens if things go wrong in such a relationship and one partner walks out on the other?

As you see, such a relationship may lead to enormous complication. Islam is a religion of serious morality and well defined rights and wrongs. As such, it cannot sanction a relationship which leaves the door open for all sorts of misbehaviour and unacknowledged rights and duties. Marriage, according to Islam, imposes certain responsibilities on both husband and wife. No matter what arrangements people may enter into, these responsibilities remain valid and must be observed. A relationship of the type you describe can only lead to the non-fulfillment of these responsibilities and to the loss of rights given by Allah. It is, therefore, a relationship which cannot be permitted by Islam. What this means is that if a man and a woman who are not married have sexual intercourse, then they have committed a grave sin which is punishable according to Islamic rules.