Sexuality In Islam

Views and laws about sexuality in Islam are largely predicated on the Quran, the sayings of Muhammad (hadith) and the rulings of religious leaders (fatwa) confining sexual activity to marital relationships between men and women. While most traditions discourage celibacy, all encourage strict chastity, modesty and privacy with regard to any relationships between genders, holding forth that their intimacy as perceived within Islam is largely reserved for marriage. This sensitivity to gender difference, gender seclusion and modesty outside of marriage can be seen in current prominent aspects of Islam, such as interpretations of Islamic dress and degrees of gender segregation.

In Islam, prohibitions against extramarital sex are strong and permissible marital sexual activities are familiar subjects. Marriage is the only permitted sexual relationship and it is described in Quran and hadith as bringing about strong love and closeness. Contraceptive use is permitted for birth control. Actions and behaviours such as certain abortions and homosexuality are strictly forbidden.

Islamic scholarly perspectives and rulings on sexuality are codified as either sexual jurisprudence (الفقه الجنسي) or marital jurisprudence (فقه النكاح), which both in turn also contain components of Islamic family jurisprudence, Islamic marital jurisprudence, hygienical and criminal jurisprudence.

Sex education

Islam has a long tradition of pragmatism with respect to sex education, with sex being readily discussed and not subject or taboo as long as the topics under discussion were Islamically permissible. A hadith attributed to Muhammad’s wife Aisha states that the Ansar women in particular were not shy about asking questions regarding sexual matters as long as they are halal. From as early as the 14th-century, entire manuscripts devoted to Islamic sexual education were being written in Arabic in Baghdad, which at that time was a great literary centre within the Muslim world.

In modern practice, sex education is not recommended until the approach of puberty, children are expected to be taught the signs of this and the characteristics which distinguish men from women. Islamic tradition also encourages that sexual education be entwined with morality, explaining Islamic rules involving the covering the intimate parts of the body, ‘awrah, and the Islamic positions on modesty, chastity and avoiding promiscuity.


See also: Khitan (circumcision) and Khafd

Khitan or Khatna (ختانختنة) is the term for male circumcision carried out as a cultural rite by Muslims and is considered a sign of belonging to the wider Islamic community. Whether or not it should be carried out after converting to Islam is debated among Islamic scholars. The Quran does not mention circumcision, either explicitly or implicitly, in any verse, while some hadiths mention circumcision in a list of practices known as fitra (acts considered to be of a refined person). However, different hadiths contradict on whether circumcision is part of fitra or not. According to some traditions Muhammad was born without a foreskin (aposthetic), while others maintain that his grandfather Abdul-Muttalib circumcised him when he was seven days old. Islamic sources that advocate for circumcision also do not fix a particular time for circumcision, which can depend on family, region and country. The preferred age is usually seven although some Muslims are circumcised as early as the seventh day after birth and as late as the commencement of puberty.


Main article: Baligh

Bāligh or bulūgh (بالغ or بُلوغ) refers to a person who has reached maturity or puberty, and has full responsibility under Islamic law.

For example, in issues pertaining to marriage, baligh is related to the Arabic legal expression, hatta tutiqa’l-rijal, which means that a wedding may not take place until the girl is physically fit to engage in sexual intercourse. In comparison, baligh or balaghat concerns the reaching of sexual maturity which becomes manifest by the menses. The age related to these two concepts can, but need not necessarily, coincide. Only after a separate condition called rushd, or intellectual maturity to handle one’s own property, is reached can a girl receive her bridewealth.

Nocturnal emission

Nocturnal emission is not a sin in Islam. Moreover, whereas a person fasting (in Ramadan or otherwise) would normally be considered to have broken their fast by ejaculating on purpose (during either masturbation or intercourse), nocturnal emission is not such a cause. They are still required to bathe prior to undergoing some rituals in the religion. Muslim scholars consider ejaculation something that makes one temporarily ritually impure, a condition known as junub; meaning that a Muslim who has had an orgasm or ejaculated must have a ghusl.


Main article: Menstruation in Islam

The Qur’an makes specific mention of menstruation in Verse 2:222 that instructs Muslims to “keep aloof from the women during the menstrual discharge and do not go near them until they have become clean; then when they have cleansed themselves, go in to them as Allah has commanded you”, language that is taken to clearly imply that sexual relations during menstruation are prohibited. Ibn Kathīr, a muhaddith, narrated a hadith that describes Muhammad’s habits with his menstruating wives. This hadith demonstrates that Muhammad gave licence to all forms of spousal intimacy during the period of menstruation with the exception of vaginal intercourse. Women are required to perform ritual cleansing (ghusl) before resuming religious duties or sexual relations upon completion of their menstruation.

Erotic scene from the Persian Safavid period c1660. Photo courtesy the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Erotic scene from the Persian Safavid period c1660. Photo courtesy the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Modesty and chastity

Main article: Chastity In Prophet Muhammad’s Words

Islam has strongly emphasized the concept of conservatism, decency and modesty; besides the lawful sexuality, priority is given to modesty and chastity both inside and outside the marital relationships. The Quran warns against fahisha or immoral lust, and the hadith literature, modesty has been described as “a part of faith”. Islam strictly discourages nudity and public nakedness, and it is also forbidden for spouses to spread the secrets of what happens between them in their private marital life.

Legal sexual behaviour

Legal relationships

In Islam, there are two types of permitted sexual relationship: marriage and concubinage.


Main articles: Marriage in IslamIslamic marital jurisprudence, Mahram, and Interfaith marriage in Islam
See also: Islamic Marriage Contract and Mahr

In Islam, marriage is a legal contract between two people. Both the groom and the bride are to consent to the marriage of their own free wills. Marriage is an act of Islam and is strongly recommended. In Islamic jurisprudence, the primary purpose of sex between marriage and concubinage is procreation. Islam recognizes the strong sexual urge and desire for reproduction and supports a pro-natalist view of procreation.

In Islamic law (sharia), marriage (nikāḥ نکاح) is a legal and social contract between two individuals that outlines the rights and responsibilities of the groom and bride. Polygyny is permitted in Islam under some conditions, but polyandry is forbidden. Divorce in Islam can take a variety of forms, some executed by a husband personally and some executed by a religious court on behalf of a plaintiff wife who is successful in her legal divorce petition for valid cause.

In addition to nikah, there is a different fixed-term marriage known as zawāj al-mut’ah (“temporary marriage”) permitted only by the Twelver branch of Shi’ite for a pre-fixed period. There is also Nikah Misyar, a non-temporary marriage with the removal of some conditions such as living together, permitted by some Sunni scholars.

Interfaith marriages are recognized between Muslims and Non-Muslim “People of the Book” (usually Jews, Christians, and Sabians). According to the traditional interpretation of Islamic law (sharīʿa), a Muslim man is allowed to marry a Christian or Jewish woman but this ruling doesn’t apply to women who belong to other Non-Muslim religious groups, whereas a Muslim woman is not allowed to marry a Non-Muslim man of any Non-Muslim religious group. However, marriage with an idolatress or idolater is forbidden,

In the case of a Muslim-Christian marriage, which is to be contracted only after permission from the Christian party, the Christian spouse is not to be prevented from attending church for prayer and worship, according to the Ashtiname of Muhammad, a treaty between Muslims and Christians recorded between Muhammad and Saint Catherine’s Monastery.

Marriage is not allowed between most relatives with whom relations would typically considered incestuous, including a man marrying his mother, daughter, sister, aunt, niece or mother-in-law. Other prohibited marriages include step-daughters born of women with whom one has had conjugal relations, two or more sisters from the same family.


Before the abolition of slavery, Islamic law allowed a man to have sexual intercourse with his female slaves. Concubinage, which was a sexual relationship between a Muslim man and an unmarried female slave whom he owned, was the only legal sexual relationship outside marriage in Islamic law.

“Concubine” (surriyya) refers to the female slave (jāriya), whether Muslim or non-Muslim, with whom her master engages in sexual intercourse. The word surriyya is not mentioned in the Quran. However, the expression “Ma malakat aymanukum” (that which your right hands own), which occurs fifteen times in the sacred book, refers to slaves and therefore, though not necessarily, to concubines. Concubinage was a pre-Islamic custom that was allowed to be practised under Islam through some reform with Jews and non-Muslim people. Muhammad also inspired to free “converted pious” concubines and marry them.

Islamic jurisprudence sets limits on the master’s right to sexual intercourse with his female slave. A man’s ownership of his unmarried slave-girl gave him an exclusive right to have sex with her under the condition that he could not sell her to others (in order to prevent prostitution of slaves) and neither harm her. A man could own a limitless number of concubines that he could afford and maintain their upkeep, but could not have access to the slave-girls owned by his wife. Marriage between the master and his concubine was only possible if she was granted free status first. To avoid pregnancies, the master had the right to practice coitus interruptus. The birth of progeny would change the legal status of the concubine to that of umm al-walad (“mother of the child”); as such, the concubine could not then be sold and her child would be seen as legitimate and free. On the (lawful) death of her master, she would automatically acquire free status.

The Ashtiname of Muhammad, a treaty between Muslims and Christians, was recorded between Muhammad and Saint Catherine's Monastery, which is depicted in this icon.

The Ashtiname of Muhammad, a treaty between Muslims and Christians, was recorded between Muhammad and Saint Catherine’s Monastery, which is depicted in this icon.

Sexual techniques

One of the areas of Islamic sexual jurisprudence in which there are not many restrictions is the discussion of sexual techniques. Almost all of what is practised under Islamic law concerning sexual techniques and the act of sexual intercourse come from hadith, which are not restrictive in nature, but followed by a mutual etiquette known as foreplay.

In Islam, the husband should have intercourse with his wife according to what satisfies her, so long as that does not harm him physically or keep him from earning a living. The husband is obliged to treat his wife in a kind and reasonable manner. Part of that kind and reasonable treatment is intercourse, which he has to do. The majority of scholars set the time limit beyond which it is not permissible for the husband to forego intercourse at four months, mentioning this tradition. According to other scholars, there is no time limit. However, most scholars say that, it is obligatory on women alike not to refuse their husbands if they call them, so long as the woman who is called is not menstruating or sick in such a way that intercourse will be harmful to her, or observing an obligatory fast. If she refuses with no excuse, then she is cursed.

Sexual intercourse is also prohibited during menstruation, for forty days after childbirth (puerperium), during the daylight hours of the month of Ramadan (i.e. while fasting), and, on pilgrimage, while in the sanctuary (in Ahram) at Mecca, pilgrims are not allowed to have intercourse and marriages performed during the pilgrimage are invalid.

Purification and hygiene

Main articles: Islamic hygienical jurisprudence and Junub

Sexual hygiene in Islam is a prominent topic in Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) due to its everyday nature. After partaking in sexual activity where penetration or ejaculation occurs, both men and women are required to complete a full-body ritual ablution known as ghusl in order to re-establish ritual purity before prayer. Ghusl requires clean, odourless water that has not been used for a previous ritual and begins with the declaration of the intention of purity and worship. A Muslim performing complete ablution then washes every part of his or her body.

During Ramadan, sexual activity is only permitted at night. Although this passage is explicitly addressed to men, the regulations on sex in regard to fasting are universally taken to apply equally to both male and female Muslims.

Ambiguous sexual behaviour


There are varying scholarly views of masturbation (استمناءromanized: istimnā’) in Islam, largely because the Qur’an does not specifically mention the subject. There are some references to it in the hadiths, but these are classified as unreliable. The hadith regarding masturbation are, too, not considered to take a definitive stance on the subject. As such, positions on masturbation vary widely.

Masturbation has nevertheless been considered haram or prohibited by many jurists historically, though often with the caveat that it may be permissible if done out of necessity. For example, one scholar notably permitted masturbation as a means whereby soldiers, far away from their wives on a tour of duty might remain chaste. At the same time, in certain points in history, masturbation has also been considered among the great sins, and subject to discretionary punishments ta’zir under Islamic law, with stronger punishments in case of repeat offense.

The four Sunni schools of jurisprudence or fiqh (Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki and Hanbali), have differing stances on the issue. Some see it forbidden in certain cases (i.e. if it leads a man/woman to ignore their spouse sexually) but recommended it when they see it as a lesser evil to illicit sex. In the Maliki and Shafi’i schools, masturbation is typically fully prohibited, while in the Hanafi and Hanbali schools, it is typically prohibited unless one spouse is unattainable and one fears adultery or fornication (i.e. in a state of extreme sexual desire), in which case, it is permissible to seek a relief through masturbation.

The Maliki and Shafi’i position stem from it being considered prohibited by both Imam Malik ibn Anas and Imam Al-Shafi’i, the latter stating that verses in the Qur’an about guarding one’s chastity and private parts applied to masturbation. At the same, there is a minority opinion within the Maliki school that allows masturbation if done in private and without the use of illicit materials such as pornography and drugs. Some Hanbali jurists meanwhile also excuse that those under the desire pressure from not being married, and Ahmad ibn Hanbal also said it is permissible for prisoners, travellers and for men and women who have difficulty in finding a lawful spouse. In Hanafi scholarship, a wife masturbating her husband is meanwhile disliked, but not prohibited, meaning it would be preferable not to do so but doing so will not incur sin.

In Shia jurisprudence, masturbation is generally considered prohibited, though there has always been a view to permit masturbation as the lesser of two evils (so as to ward off falling into fornication). Those jurists who permit masturbation in different cases distinguish between those who masturbate out of necessity and those who have these means yet still masturbate to gratify their lust. Ja’far as-Sadiq also cited the Quran’ic verses on guarding one’s chastity and private parts. The modern Iranian jurist Ali al-Sistani has stated that masturbation, while emphasising that it is haram in all other circumstances, is permissible in case of medical necessity, provided there was no lawful means to achieve ejaculation.

Oral sex

In Islam, oral sex between a husband and wife is considered “Makruh Tahrimi” or highly undesirable by some Islamic jurists when the act is defined as mouth and tongue coming in contact with the genitals. The reason behind considering this act as not recommended is manifold, the foremost being the issue of modesty, purification (Taharat) and cleanliness.

The most common argument states that the mouth and tongue are used for recitation of the Quran and for the remembrance of Allah (Dhikr). The status of contact between genitals and mouth and genital secretions is also debated among the four Sunni schools, some scholars viewing them as impure and others not.

Illegal sexual behaviour

Main article: Zina

According to Islamic laws made by exegesis of the Quran and the hadiths, all sexual relationships except with a spouse (or a man’s concubine) are considered zinā (fornication). Zina must also be committed by a person of their own free will. According to traditional jurisprudence, zina can include adultery, fornication, prostitution, rape, sodomy, incest, and bestiality.

Prostitution was practised by some Arabs during the 6th century, but was banned in Islam from the 7th century after Muhammad declared it forbidden on all grounds. Incestuous relationships in Islam (zinā bi’l-mahārim) are those with any of a person’s mahram, a definition of nuclear and extended family derived from the hadith.


Main articles: Zina § Rape and zinaHirabah § Rape, and Rape in Islamic law

Rape is considered a serious sexual crime in Islam, and can be defined in Islamic law as: “Forcible illegal sexual intercourse by a man with a woman who is not legally married to him, without her free will and consent”.

Classical Islamic law defined what today is commonly called “rape” as a coercive form of fornication or adultery (zināʾ). This basic definition of rape as “coercive zināʾ” meant that all the normal legal principles that pertained to zināʾ – its definition, punishment and establishment through evidence – were also applicable to rape; the prototypical act of zināʾ was defined as sexual intercourse between a man and a woman over whom the man has neither a conjugal nor an ownership right. Zināʾ was established, according to classical law, through confession by one or both parties as well as proof. A second type of evidence – pregnancy in an unmarried/unowned woman – was contested between the schools. The stringent evidentiary and procedural standards for implementing the zināʾ punishment may have functioned to offset the severity of the punishment itself, an effect that seems to have been intended by legal authorities, who in the early period developed legal maxims encouraging averting the ḥadd punishments as much as possible, whether through claiming ambiguity (shubhah) or a lack of legal capacity (ahliyya).

What distinguished a prototypical act of zināʾ from an act of rape, for the jurists, was that in the prototypical case, both parties act out of their own volition, while in an act of rape, only one of the parties does so. Jurists admitted a wide array of situations as being “coercive” in nature, including the application of physical force, the presence of duress, or the threat of future harm either to oneself or those close to oneself; they also included in their definition of “coercion” the inability to give valid consent, as in the case of minors, or mentally ill or unconscious persons. Muslim jurists from the earliest period of Islamic law agreed that perpetrators of coercive zināʾ should receive the ḥadd punishment normally applicable to their personal status and sexual status, but that the ḥadd punishment should not be applied to victims of coercive or nonconsensual zināʾ due to their reduced capacity.

According to the Mālikī, Ḥanbalī, and Shāfiʾī schools of law, the rape of a free woman consisted of not one but two violations: a violation against a “right of God” (ḥaqq Allāh), provoking the ḥadd punishment; and a violation against a “human” (interpersonal) right (ḥaqq ādamī), requiring a monetary compensation. These jurists saw the free woman, in her proprietorship over her own sexuality (buḍʾ), as not unlike the slave-owner who owns the sexuality of his female slave. For them, in the same way that the slave owner was entitled to compensation for sexual misappropriation, the free woman was also entitled to compensation. The amount of this compensation, they reasoned, should be the amount that any man would normally pay for sexual access to the woman in question  – that is, the amount of her dower (ṣadāq or mahr). As far as abortion in the context of rape, most jurist do not consider rape to be a valid reason: the sanctity of the new life takes precedence over the autonomy of the pregnant women.

Anal sex

All Muslim jurists agree that anal sex is haram (prohibited), based on the hadith of Muhammad.

Many scholars point to the story of Lot in the Quran as an example of sodomy being an egregious sin. However multiple others hold the view that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was not specifically due to the sodomy practiced in those towns, but as a combination of multiple transgressions. The death by stoning for people of Sodom and Gomorrah is similar to the stoning punishment stipulated for illegal heterosexual sex. There is no punishment for a man who sodomizes a woman because it is not tied to procreation. However, other jurists insist that any act of lust in which the result is the injecting of semen into another person constitutes sexual intercourse.

Sodomy often falls under that same category as sex between and unmarried man and women engaging in sexual acts. Male-male intercourse is referred to as liwat while female-female intercourse is referred to as sihaq. Both are considered reprehensible acts but there is no consensus on punishment for either. Some jurists define zināʾ exclusively as the act of unlawful vaginal penetration, hence categorizing and punishing anal penetration in different ways. Other jurists included both vaginal and anal penetration within the definition of zināʾ and hence extended the punishment of the one to the other.

Religious discourse has mostly focused on sexual acts, which are unambiguously condemned. The Quran refers explicitly to male-male sexual relations only in the context of the story of Lot, but labels the Sodomites’s actions (universally understood in the later tradition as anal intercourse) an “abomination” (female-female relations are not addressed). Reported pronouncements by Muhammad (hadith) reinforce the interdiction on male-male sodomy, although there are no reports of his ever adjudicating an actual case of such an offence; he is also quoted as condemning cross-gender behaviour for both sexes and banishing them from local places, but it is unclear to what extent this is to be understood as involving sexual relations. Several early caliphs, confronted with cases of sodomy between males, are said to have had both partners executed, by a variety of means. While taking such precedents into account, medieval jurists were unable to achieve a consensus on this issue; some legal schools prescribed capital punishment for sodomy, but others opted only for a relatively mild discretionary punishment. There was general agreement, however, that other homosexual acts (including any between females) were lesser offences, subject only to discretionary punishment.


Main articles: Zina and Homosexuality and Islam

The Quran strictly prohibits homosexuality through the story of Lot (also in the Biblical Book of Genesis), in Al-Nisa, Al-Araf and possibly verses in other surahs. The Hadiths consider homosexuality as zina, and male homosexuals to be punished with death. For example, Abu Dawud states, Al-Nuwayri (1272–1332) in his Nihaya reports that Muhammad is “alleged to have said what he feared most for his community were the practices of the people of Lot.”

All major Islamic schools disapprove of homosexuality. Islam views same-sex desires as an unnatural temptation; and, sexual relations are seen as a transgression of the natural role and aim of sexual activity. There is disagreement over what punishments should be administered according to the above Quranic and prophetic orders. Early caliphs were known to have had both of the male partners executed in various ways. Some other jurists believe that there is no punishment that will serve as an effective purgative for this act, and therefore its immorality precludes an earthly punishment. Some jurists are so morally offended by homosexuality that just the discussion around it is cause for excommunication and anathematizing.

The discourse on homosexuality in Islam is primarily concerned with activities between men. There are, however, a few hadith mentioning homosexual behaviour in women. Although punishment for lesbianism is rarely mentioned in the histories, al-Tabari records an example of the casual execution of a pair of lesbian slavegirls in the harem of al-Hadi, in a collection of highly critical anecdotes pertaining to that Caliph’s actions as ruler. Some jurists viewed sexual intercourse as possible only for an individual who possesses a phallus; hence those definitions of sexual intercourse that rely on the entry of as little of the corona of the phallus into a partner’s orifice. Since women do not possess a phallus and cannot have intercourse with one another, they are, in this interpretation, physically incapable of committing zinā.

Family planning

The Quran does not contain explicit text regarding contraception. Muslims refer to the hadith on the question of contraception. According to Muslim scholars, birth control is permitted, when it is temporary and for a valid reason. As such, the withdrawal method of contraception—’Azll—is allowed according to the hadith. Muslim jurists concur with its permissibility and use analogical deduction to approve other forms of contraception (e.g. condom usage).

Under normal circumstances, sterilization is not considered to be permitted in Shari’ah. The irreversible nature associated with both the male and female sterilizations contradicts one of the primary purposes of marriage which is to have children, as mentioned by Abu Hamid al-Ghazali in his Ihya’ Ulum al-Din. Furthermore, sterilization is considered a form of self-mutilation (muthla), which is forbidden. Only in cases of absolute necessity is sterilization permitted.

As early as 1980, authoritative fatwas issued from Egypt’s famed Al-Azhar University suggested that in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and similar technologies are permissible In Islam as long as they do not involve any form of third-party donation (of sperm, eggs, embryos, or uteruses).


Main article: Islam and abortion

Islamic schools of law have differing opinions on abortion, though it is prohibited or discouraged by most. However, abortion is allowed under certain circumstances, such as if the mother’s health is threatened. If the abortion is necessary to save the woman’s life, Muslims universally agree that her life takes precedence over the life of the fetus. Muslim jurists allow abortion in this context based on the principle that what is considered the greater evil – the woman’s death – should be warded off by accepting the lesser evil of abortion. In these cases, the physician is considered a better judge than the scholar.

Abortions of pregnancies that are merely unplanned or unwanted are generally haram (forbidden).

Muslim views on abortion are also shaped by the Hadith as well as by the opinions of legal and religious scholars and commentators. In Islam, the fetus is believed to become a living soul after four months of gestation, and abortion after that point is generally viewed as impermissible. Many Islamic thinkers recognize exceptions to this rule for certain circumstances; indeed, Azizah Y. al-Hibri notes that “the majority of Muslim scholars permit abortion, although they differ on the stage of fetal development beyond which it becomes prohibited.”

Most Muslim scholars hold that the child of rape is a legitimate human being and therefore subject to the normal laws of abortion, that it is permitted only if the fetus is less than four months old, or if it endangers the life of its mother. Some scholars disagree with this position. Some contemporary fatwas have also laid out the position that abortion is permitted if the newborn might be sick in some way that would make its care exceptionally difficult for the parents, such as through congenital deformities or mental retardation.


Intersex persons in Islam are referred to as Khunthaa in the books of Fiqh. Mukhannathun (مخنثون “effeminate ones”, “men who resemble women”, singular mukhannath) were men who acted in ways interpreted as feminine. As time went on, the mukhannathun were forced to be castrated. There has been significant mention of “mukhannathun” in ahadith and by scholars of Islam. The word refers to a person who behaves like a woman in gentleness, speech, appearance, movements and so on. The mukhannath or effeminate man is one who is male presenting, which may be unlike the khuntha (intersex). It is generally prohibited for a person to undergo sex changes operations within Islam.

Intercourse with jinn

Islamic belief includes the existence of jinn or genies, and among are said to be those that have sexual intercourse with humans. There are some hadiths, considered fabricated (maudhu) by some Sunni hadith scholars (muhaddith), in support of this view. Lory states that, in Islamic belief, love is one of the most frequent causes of relationships between humans and jinn, according to Sylvaine Camelin, in her study of exorcism in the Yemeni province of Hadramawt. Some scholars say that, while marriage is permissible between a jinn and a human, it is undesirable (makruh) while others strongly forbid it.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Leave a Reply