IslamQA

Answers to questions received on my islamic-art-and-quotes tumblr blog.

Is reading erotica permitted in Islam?

I wanted to know if it’s haram to read smut and if so what are the punishments for it.

The seeking of any form of sexual pleasure outside the context of erotic love between married couples is either forbidden or in a gray area in Islamic law. The Quran says, in its description of pious people:

29. And those who guard their chastity.

30. Except from their spouses or those whose right hands possess, for then they are free of blame.

31. But whoever seeks to go beyond that—these are the transgressors.1

For a person who seeks to please God to the utmost, “whoever seeks to go beyond that” would be sufficient to make them stay away from all forms of sexual pleasure that is not within the context of marriage. However, it could be argued that reading erotica is merely a pleasure of the mind and has no connection with one’s chastity.

The Quran also contains many admonishments regarding the avoidance of fāḥshāʾ (as in verses 7:28, 16:90 and 24:21), which is translated as “indecency” by Arberry, “all that is shameful” by Muhammad Asad and “lewdness” by Pickthall. Personally I prefer to translate it as “engaging in obscenity”. To engage in obscenity, according to the British philosopher Sir Roger Scruton in his Sexual Desire: A Philosophical Investigation, is to engage in any act in which humans are not treated as persons, but as bodies. Pornography is obscene, and watching it is an obscene act, because in it we see humans not as honored persons, but as mere bodies that one looks at for pleasure. Pornography reduces humans to zoo animals that we enjoy looking at; their humanity is taken away from them.

Humans know naturally that pornography is obscene, they also know that obscenity is harmful and repulsive. Even the most irreligious and progressive families would not find it acceptable to sit down as a family to watch a pornographic film, even if every member of the family is an adult. There is something “gross” about a family doing that even if no one is harmed in production of the film (if it is an animation) and even if they all get sexual pleasure from watching it. The grossness comes from the fact that we humans are subjects, rather than objects, and we have a natural tendency to find it repulsive when other humans, even imaginary ones, are treated as mere bodies, commodities to be enjoyed rather than persons to be interacted with and respected.

Sexual pleasure is only wholesome when it is between two subjects who continue to respect each other as persons during the act, with neither person using the other as a merely instrument of pleasure. Wholesome sexual pleasure is interpersonal, it is between two persons who respect one another. Enjoying pornography is not interpersonal, it is lust aimed at an object that cannot answer back.

If it can be agreed that something constitutes fāḥisha, then this would make it one of those things forbidden by the Quran. In Scruton’s view voyeurism (taking pleasure in watching others engage in sexual intimacy) is obscene, because it does not involve the interpersonal, social aspect that is present in sexual intimacy between a married couple. Reading an erotic novel or story is voyeurism through text, one takes pleasure in imagining others engage in sexual intimacy.

In the example of the family that sits down to watch pornography, what they are engaging in is voyeurism. They are subjects who take pleasure in something that does not look back at them. The all-important interpersonal element is taken out of the sexual act. The result is that the family members cannot respect each other anymore. When they all, together, take sexual pleasure in dehumanized human bodies, in humans treated like animals used for pleasure, it is only a very small leap of the imagination to transfer this way of thinking to each other. The son will no longer respect his father, his attitude toward him will be, “Why should I consider myself bound by an duty toward you when you and I treat other humans as mere bodies? You too are merely a body. For me to respect you, prove to me that you are more than a body. But you yourself treat other humans as mere bodies, therefore you cannot prove that to me.” Such thoughts would of course take time to develop. The family’s feeling at first would be that they are only keeping up a pretense by respecting each other like before. Slowly the respect will break down. This does not only apply to sexual morality but to all forms of morality; a family involved in any form of crime that objectifies and dehumanizes people (say a kidnapping business) is going to suffer an equal break down in respect for one another. Many Hollywood films glorify that lives of criminals, telling us that they are really good people on the inside. That has nothing to do with reality. A person who commits crimes against people is dehumanizing them, and by extension dehumanizes everyone around him. A mugger is much more likely to also be a rapist, as statistics show, because the two crimes come from the same mindset: the mindset of seeing other humans as instruments for gain and pleasure, rather than as honored persons. A mugger who dehumanizes a man by forcibly taking his wallet from him is equally capable of dehumanizing a woman by violating her sexually. In both cases, he is simply treating other humans not as subjects to be honored, but as objects that can be acted upon.

The problem with obscene pleasures is that they degrade us, taking us from the world of humans to the world of animals, from the warm world of wholesome society to the cold, harsh underworld of the criminal. A person who has been watching a pornographic film or reading an erotic novel for 30 minutes will feel out of place, like a stranger, if they were to go sit down in a social gathering. Obscene pleasures always involve dehumanizing others, while in society we are supposed to treat others as humans. There is a deep conflict between these two modes of interaction. That person who has been enjoying humans as objects for the past 30 minutes is now going to feel like he is only maintaining a pretense by treating the humans around him as subjects.

It will require a long essay to fully clarify the conflict between high human society and the underworld of obscenity. Those interested can read Scruton’s book. Back to the question of erotic writings, personally I consider it an obscene pleasure. It contains an element of fāḥshāʾ (obscenity), meaning that the general Quranic prohibition on engaging in fāḥshāʾ applies to it. The point of an erotic book is to help you gain sexual gratification by imagining that you are looking at other humans having sex. It is pornography without pictures, and everything that applies to pornography applies to it. Taking pleasure in erotica is a disguised form of voyeurism.

Voyeurism is evil because it is a violation of the sanctity of the human. In voyeurism a person takes pleasure in only part of a human; a full human is a subject who can look back at you, who is free and who is honored by God. But the human that is the object of voyeurism is a human that is cut apart; we are no longer interested in their souls but only in their bodies and their physical sensations. The sanctity of human life requires that we treat them as subjects and only take pleasure in them with their consent. In voyeurism, this sanctity is violated, the human is taken pleasure in without their opinion being asked, without their involvement as free-willed partakers in the act of the voyeur’s sexual gratification. The voyeur looks at a woman and takes sexual pleasure in her without caring whether she is a murderer or a good person, that part of her is destroyed by voyeurism, she is no longer really a human. And she cannot look back at the voyeur, for the voyeur she is an object. Now in production of erotica no one is harmed. The harm is to the reader alone, because by engaging in fantasy voyeurism, he sinks more and more into the underworld of obscenity where humans are mere objects and where all morality and respect and duty are mere pretenses.

You meet many such people on the Internet. They have no respect for their families because to them each family member is like an animal in human form. They do not consider their father or mother intrinsically worthy of respect; they have to earn that respect by titillating this sunken person’s ego and desires. They do not believe in duties, they believe that they should do anything they can get away with to get the maximum pleasure they can get. I believe that the whole culture of the West is experiencing this sunken-ness to some degree. You cannot mention social duties and responsibilities to most people without them becoming almost violently hostile. To a sunken person society is just an ATM to take resources from and has no rights of its own. For them society is just a collection of objects who should be used for the maximum pleasure and profits. It is not a collection of subjects who have to be honored as sacred and inviolable persons.

There is no punishment specified for engaging in voyeurism as far as I am aware. A person who engages in it is doing something degrading to himself, and he is harming his relationship with God by doing something He disapproves of. The enjoyment of any form of obscene pleasure goes against true piety and fear of God. But if someone is overcome by desire (as in the case of someone who cannot avoid masturbation) into doing it, then it is not a big deal. They can repent and go on with their lives. God does not ask us to be have super-human self-control. But those who have sufficient self-control to avoid an obscene pleasure, and who know full well that it is something God disapproves of, then if they do engage in it, they degrade themselves greatly in the sight of God.

There is no obvious “harm” in a man admiring a woman’s picture, or in a person reading a sexually suggestive story. The harm is not in the act in itself, but in its effects on the person’s relationship with the humans around him/her and with God. It is a slippery slope whose harms can take years to become appreciable. The more we engage in obscenity, the more anti-social we become, the more we feel as if we are merely pretending to be moral and upright in society, and even worse, we start to believe everyone around us is also just pretending. For a person seeking a meaningful life, engaging in obscenity leads to a sense of loneliness and disengagement with those around them. The warmth of human society leaves their lives; sex in its physicality becomes paramount, they start to see the humans around them as objects rather than persons. It becomes difficult to respect even their own parents when they start to see them as mere animals with sex organs rather than seeing them as honored persons. Obscenity forces an animalistic, sunken worldview that is directly in conflict with maintaining a human society in which people are honored.

Reading one or five erotic novels may have no appreciable harm on a person. But they shouldn’t be surprised if this makes them less honoring and respectful towards those around them, and if those around them start to develop a dislike for them in return. And they shouldn’t be surprised if they start to feel as if they are living a lie, as if they are only pretending to be moral. It is impossible to maintain one’s inner sense of moral dignity while engaging in obscenity in private, because the two things contradict one another.

On Islamic prayers for fertility

I have been married for 1.5years. There are some issues with fertility. Is there any help/duas that can help? Sometimes i lack faith, but i remember this is a test from Allah swt of sabr and imaan. Please could you help in terms of duas? Jzk.

I do not believe in the superior power of specific prayer words as opposed to others. I believe what matters is one’s level of piety and submission to God. A person who is involved in a sinful activity (such as having a savings or retirement account that earns interest, or owning bank stocks) should not expect their prayers to be answered, since they are insulting God with one hand while praying with the other.

One thing you can try is what is known as nadhr, which is to ask God to give you something (in your case, a child) and promise to give something in return. For example you can promise God to give a specific amount of money or jewels in charity if God answers your prayer. You may also do a nadhr with an act of worship, such as promising God to fast every Monday and Thursday for a certain period of time (6 months, etc.) if God answers your prayer, or promising to read a certain amount of Quran every day or week for a year. Keep in mind that the nadhr promise cannot be broken once it is made; it would be highly sinful to ignore the promise after God has answered your prayer.

Best wishes inshaAllah.

Is adopting preferred to having one’s own child in Islam?

Is having ones own biological children preferred over adopting, or is it equal?

I cannot find any scholarly opinions on whether one is better than the other. From a biological perspective not having your own children means that your genes will be lost, which can have what is known as a dysgenic effect on society, reducing society’s overall fitness by reducing genetic diversity. A single person choosing not to have children is not going to have a noticeable effect in this regard, therefore it is not something to worry about unless too many people try it. Therefore as it stands, it appears to be entirely a matter of personal choice.

Is kosher meat and meat from Christian Orthodox countries halal?

Can we eat kosher meat? Also, i have heard from a few Islamic teachers that we can eat meat from Christian Orthodox countries like KFC in Poland. Is this true?

Anything certified kosher is automatically halal. Kosher certification for slaughterhouses requires the presence of a person from a Jewish religious institution who oversees the slaughter to make sure it is carried out according to Jewish religious law, which is compatible with Islamic law.

We are technically allowed to eat food from Christians, provided that there are no other issues with the food. We cannot eat pork even if it is from a Christian country, since pork is forbidden regardless of its source. In the same way, animals that are dead at the time of slaughter are impermissible to eat regardless of the source, and since a significant portion of the meat and poultry coming from Western non-kosher slaughterhouses is from dead animals/birds (as much as 10%, as was discovered by the European Fatwa Council), we cannot eat it. The meat you buy from a supermarket and the meat in a typical burger chain’s offerings could be from an animal or bird that was dead before slaughter for all that you know, for this reason Muslims have to avoid it.

If you know Christians who slaughter their animals and birds properly and allow the blood to leave the carcass, you are allowed to eat the meat they sell. But if it is slaughterhouse meat, or if it is from Christian farmers who do not bleed the carcass, or who perform the slaughter in other ways not compatible with Islamic law, you are not allowed to eat it.

In general, Christians have no religious standards regarding slaughter, therefore one should consider meat provided by them automatically haram unless one knows the source well and knows that they conduct the slaughter and bleeding properly. As for meat from Jewish kosher-certified sources, one can automatically assume it is halal since the slaughtering involves the presence of a religious representative.

On Muslims working for companies that deal with interest

I just wanted to ask you since my major is economy and some jobs involves working with the interest rate especially if it's a firm that works with lending money. Can I still work with them? There's a lot of competition here in this country regarding this major so saying no to a job means it's very difficult to find any other job.

Working for a lender who charges interest is similar to working for a company that you know systematically steals money from people, or working for a company that runs brothels. It is not an honorable thing to do, and by helping them, you share a part of their sin. The same applies to for-profit insurance companies. It is far better to lose a job opportunity and find a lower paying job than find a great job and have a cursed life.

If you are completely desperate for a job, you might make an exception for yourself, saying that you have no choice, and it is even possible that God will accept your excuse. However, you can never be sure that God is pleased with you, and true love and fear of God requires that one should avoid all questionable things (not only forbidden things, but those things that are in a gray area).

If I were you, I would refuse to accept jobs in usurious lending and for-profit insurance the way I would refuse to work for any other evil and unethical company. Many times in your life you will be offered the choice between something ethical and something unethical that promises greater rewards. People fall into the trap of making the unethical choice today, thinking that down the road they can make up for it. Reality it does not work like that. A person who finds it to make the ethical choice today and instead goes for the unethical choice will find it just as difficult to make the ethical choice tomorrow. It never gets easier. If you accept that job, thinking that down the road you will find an equally good but ethical job, in reality such a job may never appear, and you may never be able to leave the current job without making a big sacrifice for it.

Humans like to think “I will be a good person when it becomes easy for me to be good,” and in this way they can spend their whole lives as corrupt and lowly servants of God waiting for the day when they can be pure and angelic servants of God without having to sacrifice anything, a day that will never come. The tests that God throws at us are designed specifically for us, to bring out our true natures and show Him our level of dedication to Him.

Unethical companies would go out of business if no one accepted to work for them. By working for them, we become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Best wishes inshaAllah.

I just read your answer on the banking job. I got the work as a financial officer in the bank. I feel confused about your answer, because applying that logic it means that Muslims can't work in banks but how is that possible when banks are everywhere even in Muslim countries. After doing some research I found that it is even haram to be security guard for a bank. But then how come we use credit cards from the banks? we are still their customers even if we don't take interest

We cannot use credit cards unless there is a desperate financial need for it since they charge interest. I guess you meant how we can have bank accounts and debit cards. The reason is that using a service from an unethical company when you don’t have a good alternative is very different from working for them. Ideally we should have our bank accounts and debit cards with Islamic banks that do not deal in usury, but there are no reliable and respected banks of that kind in the United States, though your country might have them.

Muslims can work in banks, as long as the banks do not deal with usury. There is a whole field of Islamic finance that can do everything an ordinary bank does without usury.

When we Muslims use debit cards from a bank, we are simply using a halal service offered by a company that deals in both halal and haram. It is similar to buying groceries from someone who also owns an unethical business. Ideally we wouldn’t buy from such a person, but sometimes we don’t have alternatives.

Which Islamic school of thought should we be following?

Out of the schools of Islamic thought which one is the most popular and which one should we be following?

The division of Islamic thought into “schools” was a product of historical circumstances. Before the development of the schools, there was a period, known academically as the “formative period”, in which each respected scholar was considered his own “school”. During the time of Imam Mālik (d. 795 CE), who saw the end of the Umayyad Empire and the rise of the Abbasid one in his lifetime, there were many respected scholars in the city of Medina, none of whom belonged to a specific school. They respected each other’s opinions and when they disagreed, instead of attacking one another, they would consider the conflicting opinions as potentially valid alternatives. For the details of this period of Islam, see professor Yasin Dutton’s The Origins of Islamic Law: The Qur’an, the Muwatta’ and Madinan Amal and professor Umar Abdallah Wymann-Landgraf’s important work Malik and Medina: Islamic Legal Reasoning in the Formative Period.

I believe that the schools answered a specific need during the historical period from the 9th century to the 20th century, but that there is no longer a need for Muslims to limit themselves to a school. They should instead follow the scholars they know to be the most honorable and knowledgeable, which also studying the evidence for themselves when it comes to important and controversial issues.

One important issue today in the West is that of halal meat. Is supermarket meat from non-Muslims halal or not? Rather than following a specific school’s opinion, I studied the opinions of the respected scholars I found; the European Fatwa Council had done a study in which they discovered that slaughterhouses often killed the animals or birds before slaughtering them, meaning that there is no guarantee that the meat bought at a supermarket is not from an animal that was dead at the time of slaughter. This means that all meat from Western supermarkets is haram (except for kosher or halal-certified products). A Shāfiʿī scholar ruled that Western red meat is not halal while poultry is. A Ḥanafī scholar said that both should be considered haram.

In such issues, instead of “submitting” to any school, thinking that that takes away one’s responsibility if their opinion is wrong, one should find the opinion that is most reasonable and that is most likely to please God. While eating supermarket meat would make my life easier (since I wouldn’t have to go out of my way to find halal stores), and while I can find scholarly opinions permitting me to buy chicken and turkey from non-halal places, I have to follow the opinion I know to be right and reasonable, which is that all Western-produced meat is haram except for that which is certified kosher or halal.

As I mentioned in a previous answer, saying “I followed the wrong person” is not a valid excuse for Muslims when it comes to the scholars and opinions they follow, because you are considered sufficiently intelligent and capable to distinguish between good and evil yourself. In two passages (2:165-167 and 34:31-33) the Quran mentions God rejecting the excuses of people on the Day of Judgment who say they were only following others.

By the above I do not mean that every Muslim should become a fiqh scholar in order to judge everything for themselves. When it comes to most things, it is safe to follow the opinions of well-known and respected scholars. As long as you do not find in their opinions something that conflicts with your reason and conscience, or that conflicts with a Quranic verse or hadith narration you know of, then it is safe to follow the mainstream opinion. But when it comes to issues of controversy, such as halal meat or interest, that is when you are obligated to look deeper instead of following the opinion that fits your desires.

Islamic rulings on ear, nose and tongue piercings

The contemporary Azhar-educated Egyptian scholar Dr. Khālid ʿAbd al-Munʿim al-Rifāʿī says in a fatwa1 that the four schools agree that piercing the ear is permissible due to the fact that it serves a common need among women, and that there is no clear evidence against it. He quotes the Ḥanbalī scholar Ibn al-Qayyim (d. 1350 CE) saying in his Tuḥfat al-Mawdūd:

ويكْفِي في جوازه عِلْمُ الله ورسولِه بفعل الناس له وإقرارهم على ذلك فلو كان مما ينهى عنه لنهى القرآن أو السنة

It is sufficient [evidence] for making it permissible the fact God and His Prophet had knowledge of people doing it and authorized their act. If it was something to be forbidden, the Quran or the Sunnah would have forbidden it.

Regarding the issue of nose piercings, he quotes the Saudi scholar Ibn ʿUthaymīn saying that if it is a common practice among women in a place to do so then there is no issue with it, while he himself apparently dislikes it.

The Saudi Ḥanbalī scholar ʿAbdul Muḥsin al-ʿAbbād has the same opinion regarding both ear and nose piercings, that they are both permissible.2

Tongue piercings

 

The scholarly view appears to be that if a certain type of piercing is a common cultural practice and has no harms to one’s health then it is permissible. The issue of tongue piercings is complicated by the fact that it has negative health effects. From a 2012 study:

Within the limitations of this study, this case control study has demonstrated the adverse long-term effects of tongue piercing. A significant correlation between wearing a tongue piercing and an increased incidence of enamel fissures, enamel fractures and gingival recessions (especially in the lingual region of mandibular incisors) was revealed.

Based on this and other data available and the numerous dental complications which have been reported, individuals should be advised against having a tongue piercing. Subjects who already have a piercing object inserted should be informed with conviction about the risks they are facing.3

Another study from 2015 concluded:

Both lip and tongue piercings are highly associated with the risk of gingival recession, and tongue piercings are also associated with tooth injuries.4

Since tongue piercings seem to have a greater potential for harm, it appears to me that it would be more in accordance with Islamic law to consider them forbidden than allowed.

On rejoining Islam after a sinful life

I am a Muslim but in my past, I have done terrible things. I have sex with multiple women, went to clubs, did drugs and drank alcohol. I have always wanted to repent and now I think I have found my calling. But, I don't know if I am still considered a Muslim after what I've done. What should I do?

In the Quran, God promises that He forgives all sins, as in the following passage which applies directly to your situation:

53. Say, “O My servants who have transgressed against themselves: do not despair of God’s mercy, for God forgives all sins. He is indeed the Forgiver, the Clement.”

54. And turn to your Lord, and submit to Him, before the retribution comes upon you. Then you will not be helped.

55. And follow the best of what was revealed to you from your Lord, before the punishment comes upon you suddenly, while you are unaware.

56. So that a soul may not say, “How sorry I am, for having neglected my duty to God, and for having been of the scoffers.”

57. Or say, “Had God guided me; I would have been of the pious.”

58. Or say, when it sees the penalty, “If only I had another chance, I would be of the virtuous.”

59. Yes indeed! My Verses did come to you, but you called them lies, turned arrogant, and were of the faithless.1

Start to read the Quran as if it was sent to you personally, as the Pakistani poet Muhammad Iqbal says his father taught him, and you will find everything you need in it.

If you renew your allegiance to God by accepting to obey His commandments from now on, then you are a Muslim. Repentance is sufficient to erase the sins of the past:

70. Except for those who repent, and believe, and do good deeds. These—God will replace their [past] bad deeds with good deeds. God is ever Forgiving and Merciful.

71. Whoever repents and acts righteously—has inclined towards God with repentance.

72. And those who do not bear false witness; and when they come across indecencies, they pass by with dignity.

73. And those who, when reminded of the revelations of their Lord, do not fall before them deaf and blind.

74. And those who say, “Our Lord, grant us delight in our spouses and our children, and make us a good example for the righteous.”2

Also see:

How to repent from zina (sex outside of marriage)

God has not abandoned you

On the ritual purity of cats in Islam

Does cat fur invalidate our prayers?

Regarding cats, the Prophet Muhammad is quoted as saying:

إنها ليست بنجس، إنها من الطوافين عليكم

It is not impure. It is allowed to be a tawwāf (that which freely moves around) upon you (in your homes).1

The purity extends to its hair according to the Yemeni scholar al-Ṣanʿānī (1687 – 1768 CE).2, meaning that there is no issue with praying with cat hairs on you while praying.

A man who refuses to marry the woman he had premarital sex with

I’ve committed zina with this one guy and we promised to get married in future. Suddenly one day he told me that he wants to stop seeing me, and he wants to perform umrah. He said he wants to repent but never to be responsible for marrying me. Somehow i feel like i’m being cheated on, why don’t we repent, got married, and perform umrah. Why he seems to just leave me alone? Hope you can give me some good advise to calm my heart. Thank you.

The reason he is not eager to marry you is something that humans have probably known for thousands of years, which is that men are extremely eager to marry the woman they desire as long as she refuses to sleep with them, but if she gives in to their desires before marriage, they lose interest in marrying her. It is only men who have a strong sense of honor, in other words a small minority of men, who do not act like that and who consider themselves responsible for the woman’s welfare after sleeping with her.

I cannot tell you what is going through his mind. Perhaps if he has sincerely repented, the fact that the relationship was sinful may make him want to selfishly end it and start a new one without the negative associations. Perhaps he just wants to wait.

The best and most honorable thing for you to do would be to sincerely repent then go on with your life, maintaining only a formal relationship with him and leaving it to him to propose if he wants. If he does not have sufficient honor and maturity to take responsibility for his actions, he is probably not worth marrying. I know it will probably require superhuman strength to end the relationship and make things formal. You are in a difficult situation and there is no easy solution for it, and there is no way to guarantee what the outcome will be. The only solution is patience; leave it to God to take care of you while doing your best to improve yourself. See my essay The Road to Maturity: On Dealing with Life’s Unsolvable Problems for a guide on dealing with such situations.

You may also be interested in these other answers on sinful relationships.

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