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IslamQA: Masturbation is not clearly forbidden or allowed in Islam

The generally accepted principle of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) is that when it comes to enjoying sexual pleasure, everything is forbidden unless it is explicitly allowed. The Quran’s general teaching on sexuality is that Muslims should “guard their privates” except when taking pleasure in the context of a religiously sanctioned intimate relationship.

A strict interpretation of this verse is that all sexual pleasure is forbidden unless it is had with a spouse. A non-strict interpretation is that all sexual intercourse is forbidden unless it is had with a spouse, which means that masturbation is not included in the prohibition.

The Quran never mentions masturbation, so we cannot use it to reach a final judgment. As for hadith, there isn’t a single authentic narration that mentions masturbation1, therefore hadith cannot help us either in reaching a definitive judgment.

ʿAmr bin Dīnār, one of the Tabiʿīn (belonging to the generations that came after the Companions) and a hadith and fiqh scholar says, “I see no issue with masturbation.”2 Jābir bin Zayd, known by the nickname Abu l-Shaʿthā, student of the Companion Ibn ʿAbbās also says he sees no problem with it.3 Ibn ʿAbbās says that marriage is better than masturbation, and masturbation is better than fornication.4. Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal, founder of the Ḥanbalī school of fiqh, says there is no issue with it.5

The most famous scholar to permit masturbation was al-Shawkānī (d. 1839 CE), a widely respected reformer and revivalist. While he ruled that masturbation is permitted in Islam without conditions (other scholars have said that there are conditions needed to make it permissible, but al-Shawkānī says no conditions are needed), he says:

There is no doubt that engaging in this act is a flaw (in one's character), a show of a lack of self-respect, and a show of abasement in manners and a lack of willpower.

He criticizes the act, but says there isn’t sufficient evidence to forbid it.

In the modern world, the Moroccan scholar Abdel-Bari Zamzami (d. 2016 CE) allowed masturbation for men and women, saying that since it helps one avoid illicit sexual acts, and since there is no clear evidence that it is forbidden, permitting it is more beneficial than forbidding it.

The Mālikī and Shāfiʿī schools say that masturbation is forbidden.

Making sense of the situation

What scholars have often done is try to take the vagueness out of the Islamic texts by enforcing their own interpretations, either saying masturbation is a sin, or saying that there is nothing wrong with it. Both of these approaches ignore an important teaching of the Prophet ﷺ in dealing with vagueness in religious matters, expressed in this hadith narration from Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim:

Allah's Messenger addressed us and said: O people, Allah has made Hajj obligatory for you; so perform Hajj. Thereupon a person said: Messenger of Allah, (is it to be performed) every year? He (the Holy Prophet) kept quiet, and he repeated (these words) thrice, whereupon Allah's Messenger said: If I were to say" Yes," it would become obligatory (for you to perform it every year) and you would not be able to do it. Then he said: Leave me with what I have left to you, for those who were before you were destroyed because of excessive questioning, and their opposition to their apostles. So when I command you to do anything, do it as much as it lies in your power and when I forbid you to do anything, then abandon it.6

The above narration can be considered support in favor of silence over the issue of masturbation.The Quran and the Sunnah do not explicitly prohibit it, and they do not explicitly allow it, leaving it in a gray area, therefore Muslims should neither condemn masturbation, nor should they promote it.

To a pious person who is eager to please God, the meaning of these things is as follows:

  1. It is not important enough to be explicitly forbidden or allowed by God and His Prophet .
  2. Every Muslim’s aim should be to avoid it if they can, since true love and fear of God means that a person should avoid everything that has even the slightest possibility of displeasing Him.
  3. If someone is overwhelmed by desire into doing it, or cannot control their impulses so that they habitually do it, they should not obsess about, they should repent and go on with their lives, knowing that what they have done is a small lapse in manners, rather than a crime.

The Issue of Corporealization

Humans have a built-in revulsion toward masturbation due to the fact that it is a corporealizing act; it places focus on the human body in its physicality; it reduces a human to a mere animal, making a human’s individuality irrelevant during the act. Masturbation has little to do with sexual intimacy between two humans who love one another and who continue to see each other as individuals (rather than mere bodies) throughout the sexual act. Masturbation is obscene, it can never be made respectable or acceptable in society. For more on this, please see my essay:

The Philosophy of Pornography and Masturbation

It would be quite wrong to assume that Islamically ruling that masturbation is not prohibited would lead to an epidemic of masturbation throughout the Islamic world. It would probably not make the slightest difference in that regard (because humans are genetically inclined to feel disgust at masturbation and other corporealizing sexual acts); it would only reduce the feelings of guilt of those who already do it.

Masturbation, teenagers and scholarly humility

Teenagers, especially teenage boys, have heightened sexual desire while also having poor impulse control, since the brain’s prefrontal cortex does not finish developing until after the age of 25. These two factors (increased sexual desire, low ability to control urges) can make it very difficult for them to avoid masturbation. Making teenagers feel bad about masturbation is a short-sighted and destructive thing. It only serves to decrease these teenagers’ religious self-esteem, making them feel as if they will never be good Muslims, since they are supposedly committing a great sin and cannot stop themselves.

The result is that these teenagers start to think of Islam as an outdated and cruel religion that is asking them to do the impossible.

The balanced approach is to tell teenagers that it is best if they avoid it since it is in a gray area, while also telling them that it is not clearly forbidden, therefore if they cannot help themselves and end up doing it, they should not obsess about it, but repent and go on with their lives.

Rather than making baseless statements about masturbation, saying it is allowed or saying it is forbidden, we must acknowledge the vagueness of the Islamic texts on this issue, while also respecting the wisdom of the scholars and human nature in their dislike for it.

Conclusion

Different stages of growth and different life circumstances affect a person’s desire for masturbation. Depression, loneliness and a lack of social interaction, for example, makes it more likely that a person will want to masturbate, and not just among humans. I have seen many articles mention that monkeys in captivity masturbate, but those who live in the wild do not.

Most of our scholars consider masturbation an undignified act that a self-respecting person would not do. While they are right about this when it comes to themselves, they should have empathy for younger people living in very different circumstances and subject to far stronger sexual desires and a lower ability to control their impulses due to the fact that their brain development is not complete. Instead of asking the impossible of young people, of having perfect control over their desires like the scholars themselves, they should treat them with kindness and forgiveness, telling them that there is a consensus among Muslims that masturbation is not a dignified thing to do, but that Islam does not clearly forbid it, and that as people age, it becomes easier to avoid it.

Footnotes

  1. IslamWeb.net, fatwa #35889.
  2. المصنف لعبد الرزاق /ج7/ ص 392 / ط المجلس العلمي بتحقيق الأعظمي
  3. المصنف لعبد الرزاق /ج7/ ص 391
  4. توضيح حول ماجاء عن ابن عباس في الاستمناء إسلام ويب، رقم الفتوى: 131921
  5. https://fatwa.islamonline.net/17803
  6. Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 1337. In-book reference : Book 15, Hadith 461. USC-MSA web (English) reference : Book 7, Hadith 3095.
And God knows best.
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18 thoughts on “Masturbation is not clearly forbidden or allowed in Islam

  1. Anonymous

    I’ve always felt guilty after masturbating but this has helped me believe that I’m not a bad person for doing such an act!

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    I myself feels guilty of doing the act. however this article helps me a lot. It maybe not clear that masturbation is forbidden but I pray that Allah will guide us as he alone knows everything and may he (Allah s.w.t) stop us doing the act if he knew that its wrong.

    Reply
  3. Anonymous

    I have been struggling with this issue for quite a few years, I was always very confused and wanted a clear answer because unfortunately I’m a person that’ll literally do something all the time without stopping unless and until someone tells me it’s haraam. What I’ve learnt from this is that you should never do something that has the slightest risk of being bad, we should give it up; that’s what our prophet S.A.W teaches us. Also, the main conclusion I’ve reached is that IN THIS DUNYA THERE ARE SOME THINGS LEFT OUT (INTENTIONALLY BY ALLAH S.W.T) JUST TO TEST US AND REVEAL WHO WOULD STOP SUCH A THING DESPITE IT BEING CLEARLY HARAAM, FOR ALLAH S.W.T – JUST TO AVOID THE RISK ALHAMDULILLAH. THANK YOU GUYS SO SO MUCH oh and one more thing….. What about RAMADAN? Is it Haraam in Ramadan then? Ok thank you may Allah bless u and guide u ameen.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      Porn is haram though. You arent allowed to look at forbidden things.
      But masturbating isn’t..

      Al-Bukhaari (5269) and Muslim (127) also narrated from Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him), that the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, will forgive my ummah for whatever crosses their minds so long as they do not act upon it or speak of it.”

      Reply
  4. Anonymous

    Thank you very much for clearly explaining this controversial topic. May Allah reward you and protect you and the entire Muslim ummah.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    Thank you for clear writing, the nice history, the reasoning. I found it very helpful for me, as muslim, in my journey/struggle quitting this act that grew on me as habit. I pray Allah to help me in this endeavour inshallah. May Allah bless you brother.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      yeah, because its:-
      1. sometimes we cant control our thoughts
      2. porn is literally watching people commiting an indecent act and mainly it has bad morals.
      3. Our memories of porn remain for a LOT of time comparing to our mind.
      4. Thinking is natural and we cant stop our mind for the urge, its nautural, but best to stay away from the thoughts too, thinking of those thoughts a lot and for a lot of time too may actually lead to you commiting bad deeds.

      Reply
  6. Anonymous

    Thank you this helps. However I have a question. What materials can be used to help to masturbate? I understand porn is haram, so pictures of celebrities? Cam we imagine them as our spouses? Please guide me regarding this

    Reply
  7. Anonymous

    Thank you this helps. However I have a question. What materials can be used to help to masturbate? I understand porn is haram, so pictures of celebrities? Cam we imagine them as our spouses? Please guide me regarding this, I really need help.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      All of it is fine but Islam doesn’t have any grey areas. Plus wasn’t there a hadith which said that If Allah and his Prophet silent on something then it becomes permissible/jayez. So i dont get which hadith should be followed. Because indeed Allah is not forgetful. If he wanted to make something impermissible and there was even any slight chance that Allah wouldn’t like it, then wouldn’t have Allah made it haram ? And since he is silent on it so it becomes automatic permissible. But how is that it lies in grey area?

      Reply
  8. Anonymous

    Assalamu-Alikum.. I hope all of you’re doin well alhamdulillah..
    And firstly for my Author (brother/sister).. My greatest Salam to you.. Your knowledge are very highly amazing by the grace of almighty Allah.. MahshaAllah.. Your words, understanding, justification, information, every single paragraph ..they are very rightly powerful.. I find it very very inspiring, powerful and perfect.. Subhanallah

    And I want to address a fact about Mastrubation, which seems very important to me, and I found it was not clearly addressed here,, which I want to point out.. Please forgive me if I write something wrong.. And if it get a bit detailed and inappropriate..

    Everybody wants to know if it’s haram or not haram.. If they can do it or not do it.. And our Author made it clear with pure justification that they can or cannot do it.. It depends on the relationship between them and their lord (Our lord Allah SWT).. Of how much strong a servant’s fear/love can be towards their lord..

    But its also very difficult to prevent yourself from doin such things at some age.. By psychologically, biologically too..
    And Allah (SWT) knows.. He understands/knows you/us more then yourself/ourselves.. He is our lord, our creator,, he definitely understands our feelings, situation more then ourselves,,..
    So he also knows it when you/we try to do mastrubation by Satan’s order (addictively /inappropriately) or when you/we really need it to do it to distract ourselves from some bad/sad situations or something like that.. As it definitely very much better then to going out clubs / have alcohol /doin fornication.. Mastrubation seems definitely better then doing these huge sins [For non Muslims too]..

    But what I want to point out it,,, when you do Mastrubation, with ‘WHOM’ you imagine the scene.. yes the ‘opposite ‘ character..
    I think it will depends if its haram or not by your imagination.. Like when your pleasuring yourself,, with whom you’re imaginaing it as your opposite partner matters..

    Such as: If your imaginaing ‘it’ with hot mafia boss OR some hot CEO Or some hot women /men you saw Or some fiction character from some stories Or any celebrities Or just anyone you find very “hot” and want to intimate with them.. Then according to me it’s definitely goin to be haram / sinful…
    And as nowadays people shamelessly do things like theresome/foursome
    (Astaghfirullah).. If you imagine things like this then definitely it’s goin to be haram.. There’s not much difference between them and fornication.. These things are very sinful to even start with…

    But if you imagine the scene with your Future Spouse / Spouse,, then I personally don’t think it will be haram..(Allah STW knows best) Because in future whomever you Spouse will be,, You have the right to do it or imagine it with them and them only… I don’t think it will be haram if when you masturbate you think/imagine of your future spouse
    ( Which means – blank character) with The one your lord Allah (SWT) made for you, choose for you,
    Instead of thinking / imaginaing some random unappropriate person / character..
    As simplely it will be unfair and disrespectful towards your future spouse / spouse too..

    And I kind of think the same about the ‘”erotica stories /sexual fiction'” things too.. Like if you imagine yourself and your future spouse /spouse in the characters.. It can’t be haram.. Cuz it’s repectfull and has tender privacy too..but that doesn’t mean you should just read anything harshly forbidden..because which is forbidden that is forbidden..

    But the One and only Allah (SWT) knows best..
    That’s just my opinion..
    So my real point is : Mastrubation is haram or not.. It depends on,, with whom you’re imagining doing it.. Your future spouse / spouse (blank character) or any other inappropriate character..
    That’s my question towards the Author too..
    I don’t know if I could address my point correctly or not.. But Is my point right or wrong Author ???
    I would greatfull if my author /anyone let me know..
    Thank You
    [ May Allah (SWT) bless us and forgive all of our sins ]
    Take my Salam again!
    Assalamu-Alikum!!

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      wouldn’t it be disrespectful towards our future spouse as we have never had the act with them before? ( as were makig false memories )

      Reply
  9. Anonymous

    Hello, i was wondering and got really scared because i somewhere read about your that you masturbated with being cut off on judgement day, and this article helped a lot. I am still always unsure who to trust? Is there a specific punishment for this? I’m only a teenager

    Reply

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