Islam 5.6 Sexual relationships outside marriage
Objectives: Know and understand the Muslim attitude to pre-marital sex (sex before marriage), adultery and pornography.
Pre-marital sex: A sexual relationship which takes place before marriage.
Adultery: Sex outside marriage where one or both of the couple are already married to someone else.
Islamic view on pre-marital sex: Islam forbids pre-marital sex. It is called zinā or fornication. The Quran says that if an unmarried man or woman is found guilty of fornication, and they live in a country that practices Shari’ah law, they must be lashed one hundred times. This lashing is not meant to kill or maim (so that part of the body is permanently damaged) the recipient.
الزَّانِيَةُ وَالزَّانِي فَاجْلِدُوا كُلَّ وَاحِدٍ مِّنْهُمَا مِائَةَ جَلْدَةٍ ۖ وَلَا تَأْخُذْكُم بِهِمَا رَأْفَةٌ فِي دِينِ اللَّهِ إِن كُنتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ ۖ وَلْيَشْهَدْ عَذَابَهُمَا طَائِفَةٌ مِّنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ – 24:2
“Those who fornicate, strike each one with a hundred lashes of the whip. Let not pity for the two hold you back from obedience to God, if you believe in God and the last day. And let a party of the believers witness their punishment.” (Quran 24:2)
Anything that leads to pre-marital sex is also forbidden and strongly discouraged. The Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) told his followers that if two unmarried people (a man and woman) were left secluded together, the devil would become the third, tempting them to sin; so, free mixing of the sexes is discouraged. Women have to dress modestly so that they are not a temptation for men.
Sex before marriage is a major sin, disobedience to Allah and is punishable in the life after death. Muslim parents use sex education to make it clear that the only certain way of not getting pregnant is to avoid courtship and sex before marriage. There is no allowance in the Muslim religion for boyfriend and girlfriend relationships which are commonplace in Western societies. This type of courtship is forbidden because it leads to temptation and eventually fornication. Muslim parents also use sex education to warn of the danger of sexually transmitted infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, etc. Practising Muslims strongly disapprove of anything that encourages pre-marital sexual relations between young people including GP prescription of contraception to teenagers. In British society, many people choose to live together rather than get married. Islam forbids these types of relationships.
Activity 1: Two real-life scenarios.
A) A Muslim teenager at university ends up sharing a house with two Muslim boys and two Muslim girls. Here are some opinions on his situation:
“This is wrong. He is opposing Allah’s guidance and upsetting his parents who are practising Muslims.”
“He is learning how to share with others, and how to get on with women. This will be useful when he gets married.”
“This is OK; his parents don’t mind, that’s the main thing.”
“He is facing too much temptation. He is showing disobedience to Allah. Islam teaches one to care about his honour and the honour of others.”
B) A Muslim man and his partner Helen have chosen to live together rather than get married. They have a young son. Here are some opinions on this situation:
“This is forbidden in Islam and is called fornication. He should have married first. He should have invited her to Islam. Also, Islam allows a man to marry a chaste Christian or Jewish woman; so he should not have taken her as a girlfriend as that is prohibited in Islam. Marriage gives rights to the husband, wife and children – it brings families and communities together.”
“This is not a good example for a child as he grows up.”
“A wedding is only words and only a formality, it doesn’t matter that they are not married. His parents wouldn’t have let him marry her, she’s not a Muslim. What matters is that they love each other. Religion surely cannot come in the way of love?!”
- Do you think the student is right? Explain which comment is most correct.
- Do you think the unmarried man is doing right? Explain which comment is most correct.
Adultery: According to Muslim belief, if any married person has a sexual relationship with someone other than their spouse then they are committing adultery. Adultery is seen as something even more serious than pre-marital sex. This is because the person doing it already has a partner who can satisfy their sexual needs and has broken the trust to their spouse of loyalty that Allah commands in the Quran. They are also showing a total lack of respect for their partner.
Muslims believe that Allah has forbidden sex outside of marriage for very good reasons. These relationships lead to many problems in society:
- disobedience to the Lord of the worlds who has wisely legislated marriage,
- a disregard for family values,
- lack of commitment and mutual respect for something that is very intimate,
- disrespectful to women (and men) who are used and then usually discarded,
- maintenance rights are taken away from women who are left alone,
- single mothers struggling to look after children on their own,
- many children who never know who their father is,
- mental anguish for children who feel unwanted,
- lack of comfort and security found in a loving family,
- increase in violence upon women who are left without the protection marriage offers,
- the break-up of extended family structures and communities because the mother lives with a series of different men having children with them,
- loss of lineage and parental lines that can be traced which provide an anchor for families.
So pre-marital sex, adultery and loose sexual morals lead to exploitation of women and children as well as discord and breakdown in society.
Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said: “Allah fixed the precise portion of fornication which a man will indulge in – there is to be no escape from it. The fornication of the eye is the lustful look, the fornication of the ears is listening to lewd talk, the fornication of the tongue is lewd speech, the fornication of the hand is the lustful grip (or embrace), the fornication of the feet is to walk to where he intends to commit fornication and the heart yearns and desires for what he may or may not put into effect.” (Sahih Muslim 2658)
And he said: “A fornicator who fornicates is not a believer while he commits fornication, and the one who steals is not a believer while he commits theft, and the one who drinks alcohol is not a believer while he drinks it, and repentance may be accepted after that.” (Sahih Muslim 57) This explains that faith (imān) decreases because of disobedience and its perfection is diminished. The Prophet also stated: “Any man who fornicates with a woman then the child born from fornication does not inherit, nor is it inherited from.” (Tirmidhi 2113, sahih) In this situation, the child is attributed only to the mother and not the man she fornicated with.
Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, asked his Companions about fornication and they said, “It is unlawful. Allah and His Messenger have made it unlawful.” He said, “It is less serious for a man to fornicate with ten women than for him to fornicate with his neighbour’s wife.” Then he asked them about stealing. They replied, “It is unlawful. Allah and His Messenger have made it unlawful.” He said, “It is less serious for a man to steal from ten houses than it is for him to steal from his neighbour’s house.” (Al-Adab Al-Mufrad 103, sahih)
A woman confessed to adultery in the time of Allah’s Messenger and she was executed. So afterwards he prayed for her (the funeral prayer). The Companion, Umar said: “Are you praying for her even though she committed fornication?” He said: “She has repented such that if it were to be shared among seventy of the people of Madinah it would suffice them all. Have you ever seen repentance better than the one who sacrificed herself for the sake of Allah, the Mighty and Sublime?” (An-Nasā’i 1957, sahih)
The decline in the Fabric Society and Health:
Dr Chris Iliades, MD states: Having a large number of sexual partners has been linked to poor sexual health and decreased longevity. Why? The more sexual partners you have, the greater your risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening conditions like prostate cancer, cervical cancer, and oral cancer. “Promiscuity is one example of a class of high-risk behaviours,” says Deirdre Lee Fitzgerald, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 19 million new STD infections occur each year. Among the most common STDs are chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and syphilis, but the most common of all is the human papillomavirus (HPV). Additionally, research shows the couples who are in long-term relationships are much less likely to suffer from domestic violence. 
A report in 2004 stated: With few exceptions every month uncovers more evidence of the declining sexual health of the UK population. Levels of chlamydia have more than doubled in the past 10 years, nearly forgotten infections such as syphilis have returned to plague new generations and overall, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are higher than at any time since the National Health Service began in 1948. Furthermore, while some reductions have been made in teenage pregnancy rates, these have been modest and still leave the UK with one of the highest rates in Europe. By and large our attempts to avoid a sexual health crisis and, more recently, to manage it have failed. 
In the United States, (a source of broadcast content for many countries), 64% of general television programmes contain some form of sexual activity. Equally, in the UK, adverts use strong sexual imagery to sell everything from alcohol to cars. [ibid]
History: Punishment for Fornication and Adultery in Elizabethan England (1558–1603):
Fornication and incest were punishable by ‘carting’: being carried through the city in a cart, or riding backwards on a horse, wearing a placard describing the offence – an Elizabethan version of naming and shaming. Many offences were punished by the pillory – the criminal stood with his head and his hands through holes in a wooden plank. This could be as painful as public opinion decided, as the crowd gathered round to throw things at the wretched criminal. Stones were banned, in theory, but if the public felt deeply, the offender might not finish his sentence alive. Sometimes one or both of the offender’s ears were nailed to the pillory, sometimes they were cut off anyway. A sentence of whipping meant that the offender’s back was laid open raw and bloody, as he staggered along the appointed route through the city. 
The penalty for Adultery and Fornication in the Bible:
Christians and Jews: Most practising Christians and Jewish people around the world strongly disagree with sex before marriage. Also, all three religions (Islam, Judaism and Christianity) completely forbid adultery.
The penalty for adultery in the Bible is death: “And the man that commits adultery with another man’s wife, even he that commits adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” (Lev 20:10) (Deu 22:22) The act of Fornication and Adultery (between a man and a woman) is the same, but the death penalty is always prescribed for Adultery in the Bible, and at times for Fornication. The difference would be due to the fact that Adultery involves the wife of another man: “You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife… nor anything that is your neighbour’s.” (Exo 20:17) “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” (Heb 13:4); “You shall not commit adultery.” (Exo 20:14).
The Bible prescribes the death penalty for other evil activities such as:
- Murder (Exo 21:12,14, Lev 24:17,21)
- Harming pregnant woman (Exo 21:22,23)
- Sorcery (Exo 22:18)
- Bestiality (Exo 22:19, Lev 20:15,16)
- Homosexuality (Lev 20:13)
- Blaspheming the name of the Lord (Lev 24:16)
- Worshipping false gods (Deu 13:6-10)
- Prostitution (Deu 22:24) and others.
Pornography: A Gateway to Fornication, Adultery, Sexual Immorality and Depression
From the greatest adverse effects of the growth of the internet and the spread of social media is the exponential rise in the production and viewing of online pornography. An article from the Reward Foundation  stated: “Over time constant bingeing and seeking that dopamine reward hit, can lead to a deep habit that is hard to kick or cause ‘pathological’ learning in the form of addiction.”
This means that the porn addict craves this behaviour despite its negative consequences. The negative feelings are experienced when he misses the habit, such as depression or feeling flat, so this drives him back to it, again and again, to try and restore feelings of pleasure. Consuming pornography tends to make people more prone to seeking new relationships and are more likely to become promiscuous and seek illicit and non-conventional sexual gratification (e.g. prostitution, group sex, rape (acting or real), etc). Research shows that consuming pornography correlates with a lack of commitment to one’s wife. In a study of university-age males, difficulties with social functioning increased as pornography consumption rose. This applied to psychosocial problems such as depression, anxiety, stress and reduced social functioning. Research also reported a strong link between high levels of pornography consumption and low sexual desire (for one’s wife for example). The 2008 Study of Sexuality in France found that 20% of men 18-24 have “no interest in sex or sexual activity”. In Japan in 2010: an official government survey found that 36% of males aged 16-19 “have no interest in sex or have an aversion to it” and they prefer virtual dolls or anime! [4a]
Dr David J. Ley Ph.D. states: “When we hear people talk about starting with one form of pornography, like Playboy Magazine, and ending up later looking at some extreme forms of porn like rape porn or bestiality, it makes common sense for us to worry that porn could have a tolerance effect, that might lead people to pursue harder and harder forms of it, in order to reach the same level of stimulation. That need for greater stimulation could also make it so that men can’t get erect with real women, but only when faced by their fantasy images. If that slippery slope of porn tolerance might lead men to watch extreme porn like rape porn, then might it not lead them to act on those desires?” 
Summary: You should now know and understand the Muslim attitude toward pre-marital sex, adultery and pornography. All of these are forbidden in Islam and Muslims believe that they are forbidden by Allah for good reasons.
- Explain what is meant by ‘pre-marital sex’.
- Explain what is meant by adultery.
- Give two reasons why not allowing pre-marital sex may be a good thing.
- ‘Adultery is always wrong.’ Why do Muslims believe this?
 Bellis MA, Hughes K, Ashton JR The promiscuous 10%? Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health 2004;58:889-890.
 Common Sense about the Effects of Pornography: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog
[4a] Ibid (adapted).