A few months ago I stumbled on a Christian website called Relevant Magazine, and I’ve been hooked ever since, right-wing politics aside. I love the way commonalities between practising Christians and Muslims just jump off the page at me, but most of all I love the honesty and openness of many of their featured articles, particularly when it comes to relationships. (Duh, what else?) Perhaps someday I’ll get around to setting up something like this for Muslims, given the pressing need for it. But in the meantime, I recently had a read of an article on the prevalence of pre-marital sex called ‘The Secret Sexual Revolution’ which really got me thinking.
The article was interesting to me because it raised several points I’d been mulling over in relation to this topic. Obviously for Muslims, the rule is no touching at all before marriage vs. no sex before marriage for Christians, but nevertheless many of the points really resonate with the Muslim experience. I found this point particularly relevant:
“We have to recognize that people are not married during the years when their hormones are hardest to control,” McKnight says. “So weʼre dealing with a very serious issue that needs to be treated from a variety of angles and not simply the moral angle that itʼs wrong outside of marriage.”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always thought it was a bit rich of parents to urge their kids to wait for years until until they’re ‘ready’ to get married, but then be shocked to the core if their kids are caught out doing something . In fact, it seems some parents are willing to turn a blind eye-in effect, a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. They hope that their kids aren’t doing anything, but if they really turned their minds to the issue, they’d realise that being in a relationship for years outside of marriage presents plenty of opportunities to succumb to temptation.
There are very few studies, if any, on levels of sexual activity amongst Muslims outside of marriage. Very few people would admit to it, partly out of social conditioning, partly out of the very real shame which accompanies any type of sin. We’re told to keep our sins secret, after all. But does that mean no Muslims ever do anything at all outside of marriage? Of course not. In saying this, I’m not trying to normalise or condone it, but simply acknowledging reality.
If people are doing things the ‘traditional’ way i.e. some stranger coming to their house to get to know them, it’s generally quite easy to avoid physical contact before marriage. Even if the thought crossed either party’s mind, circumstance simply wouldn’t present itself. But for some people an engagement is enough license to have some level of physical contact. We’ve all seen the photos of engaged couples standing very close together, or maybe even with a sneaky arm around the waist. When it’s parentally-sanctioned, it can be easy to forget that it’s not necessarily God-sanctioned.
When people meet of their own accord at uni or community events, things can get a bit sticky. Things get especially sticky when you put two young people together who are both at uni and thus are unlikely to be able to get married any time soon. Not only are their hormones running wild, but they also have a lot of time on their hands as full-time students and a lot of chances to ‘bump into each other’ in various places. Hormones + opportunity=plenty of temptation. If you don’t acknowledge this, you’re simply in denial.
Then there are those Muslims who date non-Muslims and thus enter a world where sex before marriage is the norm. Many of these people will re-enter the Muslim scene at some point and if they’ve managed to keep their ‘double life’ quiet, can do so without attracting much notice or suspicion. These people tend to discard their past sins like rubbish and hope that it never surfaces and starts to stink up their new ‘Halal’ relationship.
For Muslims who do succumb, the guilt, shame and self-loathing can be difficult to bear. These factors can often contribute to the complete failure of the relationship in question. These people will then often feel the failure of the relationship is a punishment for their sins and will come to terms with it as such. For others, the physical intimacy can act as a glue: the parties can feel they have no choice but to get married, even if they don’t necessarily want to. They feel that once they’ve taken the step of having physical contact, there’s no way out. They may fear a new person would find out about their past and as such feel that they’d be ‘safer’ just sticking with the person they’re already with.
From my perusals of Relevant Magazine, I’ve stumbled across the concept of ‘restoring virginity’. This is where individuals or couples who have previously engaged in pre-marital sex make a commitment to abstain from now until such time they get married. Again, it’s hard to say how many Muslim couples make commitments like this, but I’d imagine it’s not unheard of. I’ve certainly observed couples who were quite openly ‘dating’ make the switch to a more socially and religiously accepted form of courtship. This public switch may then also necessitate serious overhauls of the rules of private engagement.
As I’ve said many times in many posts, no one is perfect. No one. While it’s unhelpful to think that ‘everyone else is probably doing it too’, it’s also unhelpful to think that no one has ever done it, because that means that the issue is simply swept under the rug. I’m pleased to see a few tentative steps towards more openness in discussing these issues in the Muslim community, but we still have a long way to go. It’s not enough to simply tell people it’s wrong; that much is obvious to even the least observant of Muslims. In another Relevant Magazine article, I was struck by the practicality of some of the tips on avoiding pre-marital sex, including, rather hilariously, advising women not to shave their legs.
Do you think there needs to be more discussion on these issues? Have they affected you and people around you?