Is masturbation lawful in Islam? – Part 1
Brethren, once again, I thought today was settled. I had thought that our sermon today would explore the drama that unfolded last week when the name of the Almighty appeared on a Moringa tree in a town in Ogun State. It was a matter of surprise for me to hear that some compatriots of mine and yours, men and women, later went to the tree and began to, was it out of ignorance or mischief, pray on to it the same way the Makkans used to pray unto their various idols before the advent of Islam.. When I eventually saw the images of those men and women who stood beside the tree, held up bottles of water and began to pray ceaselessly and fervently for one favour or the other, I immediately switched on my sense of empathy. What else could I have done other than to pity those men and women who basked in empty spiritual fantasy? Brethren, how could you have imagined that an ordinary tree could grant unto you what the Almighty withholds? How could you conflate illumination with the Sun or the tree for the Forest? When men and women begin to adore the messenger in utter neglect and disregard of the message and its Owner then one comes to the understanding of the reasons nations before us suffered perditions and interdictions. Brethren, the Moringa tree was a message, the owner of the message is the Almighty; it is unto Him not the tree or any other creature that you should direct your prayers and requests to. He is ever alive; He never dies.
But I had to side-step all of the above in today’s sermon when I received an anonymous text from a compatriot of mine. He wrote to ask for my opinion on masturbation. He wanted to know whether masturbation is a grievous sin that is punishable by the Almighty on the day resurrection. Just before I sat down beside my computer to do this piece, I thought I needed a professional input. I then put a call across to a medic friend and brother of mine. I asked him: ‘Brother! What is the medical position on masturbation?” He responded: “You know what Prof! I do not know of any negative medical implication that could result from indulgence in masturbation. What I do know however from interactions with those who practice it, is that masturbation does not guarantee maximum sexual satisfaction. Those who practice it usually experience hallucination. Instead of the act providing sexual succour and gratification it only usually makes the desire for sex stronger…”
Thus when our friend and reader of the Friday Sermon sent the text message to me asking about the position of Islam on masturbation, I resisted the urge to send a reply to him the moment the message came in. I thought I should widen the geography of the enquiry a bit to include other prohibitions that Muslims are aware of and which are recipes for healthy life and living. I therefore sought the medical opinion on masturbation not in anticipation of a response that would give the practice a ‘clean bill of health’. Rather, I did that with the intention to argue that hardly is there a prohibition in Islam that reason or medical practice would conflict. For example, a thousand four hundred and thirty seven years ago, Islam forbade the consumption of alcoholic drinks and beverages. I do not know, as at today, of a medical opinion which says alcoholism is good for your body. “Do not go near fornication” so says the Quran (17:32); tell me of a culture or civilization that says illicit sexual practice is a virtue.
Now a reader of the Quran would not see an equivalent in Arabic for masturbation which is al-Istimna. The latter in English refers to sexual stimulation of one’s own genitals for sexual arousal or other sexual pleasure, usually to the point of orgasm. The stimulation may involve hands, fingers, everyday objects, sex-toys such as vibrators, or combinations of these. It is not only men who engage in this, women equally do. The last time I visited a mall in United States, I saw various sexual equipments on sale; in America you do not need the opposite gender before you pleasure yourself to hell!
Now at least two perspectives are available in Islamic jurisprudence in regard to masturbation: the permissive and the prohibitive. Scholars who consider the act permissible do so based on necessity. They have argued that when a married or unmarried person experiences sexual urge and he finds no legal avenue to assuage his desire he could turn himself to both the “actor” and the “acted upon”. In other words, masturbation is a lesser evil in comparison to fornication and adultery. Scholars who travel this path would also argue that the verse we prefaced this sermon with does not explicitly mentions masturbation and as such the law is ‘silent’ on it.
Another group of Muslim jurists consider masturbation as Makruh (something detestable in Islam). Actions that are considered to be Makruh straddles the ‘dangerous’ space between the lawful and the permitted. Some scholars of the past have permitted it to students and soldiers who are single in non-Muslim societies where temptations are usually high, in order to save them from adultery.
However, a larger group of Muslim jurists, exegetes and legists consider masturbation as completely forbidden.
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