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Sexual Ethics in Islam and in the Western World

Sexual Ethics in Islam and in the Western World

Publisher: www.al-islam.org

This book is corrected and edited by Al-Hassanain (p) Institue for Islamic Heritage and Thought


Sexual Ethics in Islam and in the Western World

Islam and traditional sexual ethics, sexual freedom, sexual ethics in modern world, love, sexual discipline, and chastity

Author(s):Ayatullah Murtadha Mutahhari

Translator(s): MuhammadKhurshid Ali

Publisher(s): Foreign Department ofBethat Foundation



This version is published on behalf of www.alhassanain.org/english

The composing errors are not corrected.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Islam and Traditional Sexual Ethics 5

Notes 8

Chapther 2: Sexual Ethics as Conceived by Modern Thinkers 9

Chapther 3: Proposed New Sexual Freedom 13

Notes 17

Chapter 4: A Critical Examination of The Theoretical Basis of The Proposed New Sexual Freedom 18

Chapter 5: Basic Need for Humane Conditioning of Natural Instincts And Desires 23

Chapter 6: Love, Sexual Discipline and Chastity. Democratic Morality, Love in Personality Growth 33

Notes 39

Concluding Remarks 40

Notes 43

Chapter 1: Islam and Traditional Sexual Ethics

For Muslims, the institution of marriage based on mutuality of natural interest and cordiality between spouses represents a sublime manifestation of the Divine Will and Purpose. This is discernible in theQur’anic verse cited below:

وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ أَنْ خَلَقَ لَكُم مِّنْ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا لِّتَسْكُنُوا إِلَيْهَا وَجَعَلَ بَيْنَكُم مَّوَدَّةً وَرَحْمَةً

And one of His signs is that He created mates for you, that you may find rest in them, and He envisaged between you love and compassion (Quran, 30:21)

According to Islamic tradition (sunnah ), marriage has been deemed to be an essential requirement. Celibacy has been regarded as a malevolent condition fraught with evils.

The Islamic approach concerning marriage and morals differs from what is known about some of the traditional moralizations of a negative kind. Surprisingly enough, certain traditional moralists regarded sexuality as something basically wicked. They viewed sexual intercourse; even with ones legal spouse, as impure, evil, undesirable, destructive, and as if it were characteristic of the guilty and fallen.

Still more surprising is the generalized viewharboured in the West that the traditional world commonly believed in the superstition that ascribed an evil connotation to everything pertaining to sex. The famous Western philosopher, Bertrand Russell, is no exception in this regard. In his book: Marriage and Morals, he generalizes that:

" ... anti-sexual elements, however, existed side by side with the others from a very early time, and in the end, where ever Christianity and Buddhism prevailed, these elements won a complete victory over their opposites. Westermarck gives many instances of what he calls 'the curious notion that there is something impure and sinful in marriage, as in sexual relations generally.

In the most diverse parts of the world, quite remote from any Christian or Buddhist influence, there have been orders of priests and priestesses vowed to celibacy. Among the Jews the sect of theEssenes considered all sexual intercourse impure. This view seems to have gained ground in antiquity.

... There was indeed a generalized tendency towardsascetism in the Romanempire . Epicureanism nearly died out and stoicism replaced it among cultivated Greeks and Romans. The neo-Platonists were almost as ascetic as the Christians. From Persia the doctrine that matter is evil spread to the West, and brought with it the belief that all sexual intercourse is impure. This is, though not in an extreme form, the view of the Church ..."1

Negative sexual attitudes continued through the centuries to affect masses of credulous people, in an adverse and also frightening manner of repugnance towards sex. The high incidence of psychosomatic disorders and spiritual ailments is largely and uniquely attributed by some psychoanalysts to a widespread prevalence of deeply ingrained negative sexuality.

What could have been the causative factors in the misconceptions about sexuality? What could be the reasons for men to deny themselves the natural satisfaction and the psychosomatic well being associated with healthy and desirable sex? Why should people lead their lives, so as to virtually condemn an essentially wholesome part of their lives? These are some of the complex questions for which thinking men have yet to provide meaningful and convincing answers. Yet, we all know that there could be many different reasons for, and causes of, aversion to human sexuality.

Apparently, the reasons include prejudicial thinking about sexual desire and intercourse. The prejudice was carried to the extreme among the Christians, in organizing their churches and the clergy.

The celibacy of Jesus Christ inspired them to the effect that married status for saints and preachers was considered tantamount to pollution of their chastity and piety. Accordingly, Popes are always chosen from among unmarried priests. In fact, all the members of the Catholic clergy are bound by their oaths of celibacy towards remaining virtuous.

Bertrand Russell says:

"Two or three beautiful descriptions of this institution (marriage) have been culled out of the immense mass of the patristic writings; but in general, it would be difficult to conceive anything more coarse or repulsive than the manner in which they regardedit . The object of the ascetic was to attract men to a life of virginity, and as a necessary consequence, marriage was treated as an inferiorstate . To 'cut down by the axe of Virginity the wood of Marriage' was in the energetic language of St. Jerome, the end of the saint"2

Church approves marriage for purpose of human procreation. The need for propagation of human species is not construed as something adequate to lift the stigma of impurity from any sexual act. Another reason for conceding marriage is to eliminate fornication between men and women. Again to quote Bertrand Russell:

"Christianity, and more particularly St. Paul, introduced an entirely novel view of marriage that it existed not primarily for the procreation of children, but to prevent the sin of fornication"3

The Catholicchurch regards marriage as sacrosanct and binding until death intervenes. Accordingly, dissolution of marriage, or divorce, is not permitted. The prohibition of annulment of marriage or divorce may have something to do with a possible desire to atone for the original sin, resulting in the expulsion of Adam and Eve in an unmarried state.

Irrational attitudes towards women prevailed among some of the ancient peoples. These included a notion that a woman was not a complete human being; for, her situation as a creature might well lie somewhere between a human being and an animal. Also, she was devoid of an articulate spirit, so that she could never make it to Heaven! Similar other superstitions were rampant in the past.

Fortunately, however, the aforementioned beliefs and notions were not universally carried to the extreme. Any natural limits of women, as identified and evaluated in the past, were not encroached upon. Any impact of traditional ways of thinking did not go beyond cultivation of a sense of pride by men and inculcation of a sense of inferiority among women through generations.

Apparently, the belief in the inherent wickedness of sexual desire and intercourse made men and women absolutely and equally distressed in spiritual terms. Moreover, it caused a rather demoralizing conflict between the natural instinct's urge and the religious or sectarian belief about wickedness of carnal desire and sexual intercourse.

Spiritual ailments and unhappiness arising from the aforementioned conflict included disharmony between genuine natural desires and socially induced aversion towards theirfulfilment . The problem assumed extraordinary proportions, in as much as it became the subject of intensive investigations by psychologists and psychoanalysts.

In the above context, the revolutionary logic of Islam can be of extraordinary interest. Islam gives no slightest indication to the effect that sexual desire is evil in itself, or that it is necessarily fraught with evil consequences. On the contrary, the Islamicendeavour in this regard is aimed at regulating human sexuality in a most humane manner.

In the perspective of Islam, human sexual relations are limited only by the genuine interests of the present society, or the posterity. In this connection, the Islamic approach follows well knownguidelines, leading neither to any sense of sexual deprivation and frustration, nor to any repressed or inhibited sexual desire. It is a pity that scholars, like Bertrand Russell, who has evaluated the Christian and Buddhist morals, have refrained from specifically commenting on Islamic ethics.

In his book: Marriage and Morals, Bertrand Russell mentions in passing about Islam. For example, he says:

"Great religious leaders, with the exception of Mohammad­ and Confucius, if he can be called religious - have in general been very indifferent to social and political considerations, and have sought rather to perfect the soul by meditation, discipline and self-denial."4

Nonetheless, it is true that from the Islamic point of view sexual desire is not only compatible with human intellectuality or spirituality, but is evidenced as part of the nature and temperament of the prophets. According to one tradition (hadith ), love and affection for women were characteristic of the moral conduct of the prophets:

من اخلاق الانبياء حب النساء

“It is part of the morals of the prophets the love for women..” 5

There are several other traditions and narrations indicating prophetic regard for women. According to some, the Prophet of Islam and the pious Imams too have all explicitly demonstrated their love and regard for their wives and the womenfolk. At the same time, they have strongly disapproved of any human inclination towards celibacy or monasticism.

One of the companions of the Holy Prophet,Uthman ibn Maza’un , devoted himself to Allah's worship to such an extent that he kept fast practicallyeveryday , as well as regular nightly vigils in prayers. His wife brought the matter to the attention of the Prophet, who reacted with visible annoyance and proceeded at once to where his companion was and said:

"OUthman ! Know that Allah has not deputed me to encourage any monastic life. MyShariah laws are meant for enhancing and facilitating human accomplishment of their natural lives. Personally, I offer my prayers, keep fast and maintain my conjugal relations. Accordingly, to follow me in Islam means conforming to the traditions laid down by me, which include the requirement that men and women should marry and live together harmoniously"

The Islamic position as explained above makes it clear that human sexuality in itself neither represents any inborn wickedness, nor it invariably signifies evil consequences. Furthermore, it clarifies that wickedness has been traditionally ascribed to human sexuality in the process of evolving religious morality in the Western world. Now, the Western world has taken a 180- degree turn in reversing its extreme traditional morals.

At present, the Western world believes in respecting and freeing sexual desires and involvements through lifting of traditional moral restraints. In fact, many Westerners nowfavour sexual permissiveness. They contend that whatever morality has been inherited by them carries no more than a religious connotation. They claim that today's new morals are based on not only philosophical, but scientific reasons.

Unfortunately, the negative sexuality traditionally and recently evolved in the West has penetrated the moral fabric of our society, too.

This is despite all the erstwhile difficulty of international communication. Now with the improved means of communication and regular international contacts, the modernistic Western speculations are virtually flooding our society, as will be explained later on herein.


1. Bertrand Russell: Marriage and Morals, George Allen andUnwin Ltd., London, Paperbacks Ed. 1976, p.p. 31-32.

2. Bertrand Russell: Marriage and Morals, George Allen andUnwin Ltd., London, Paperbacks Ed. 1976, p.p. 39-40.

3. Bertrand Russell: Marriage and Morals, George Allen andUnwin Ltd., London, Paperbacks Ed. 1976, p.p. 35.

4. Bertrand Russell: Marriage and Morals, George Allen andUnwin Ltd., London, Paperbacks Ed. 1976, p.p. 175-176

5.Wasail , vol.3, p. 3

Chapther 2: Sexual Ethics as Conceived by Modern Thinkers

Sexual morals constitute an integral part ofbehavioural ethics applicable to human beings. Included in sexual ethics are some of the various social norms, personal habits andbehavioural patterns, which are associated directly with the sexual instinct. Some aspects of the sexual ethics and practices are specified below:

Female modesty, male sense ofhonour concerning female members of a household, female chastity, a wife's faithfulness to her husband; female inclination to cover her private parts, or her aversion to exposing any bodily nakedness in public; prohibition of adultery, interdiction of any visual or physical intimacy with women other than one's legal wife or wives; prohibition of incest, or marriage between persons too closely related; avoidance of sexual intercourse with menstruating women; debarring pornography or obscenity; and treating celibacy as either too saintly or undesirable.

Sexual instinct is by its very nature quite extraordinary. Also, it is powerful in its manifestation. Accordingly, sexual morals are part of the most important of all ethics.

In his book entitled: Our Oriental Heritage, Will Durant highlighted the fact that marrying and settling down was always considered to be one of the very important moral duties of human beings. He said that the natural human capability for procreation involved difficulties, not only at the time of marriage, but before and after that, as well.

The difficulties could be aggravated by the intensity and vehemence A the sexual instinct, as well as its aversion to moral and legal constraints. Further, it might even lead to deviation from its natural course. All these and more, as mentioned by Will Durant, meant extreme confusion andorganisational disorders, if and when a society could not provide necessary and effective safeguards.

Any scientific and philosophical discussion of sexual morals need first consider their origins and evolution. For instance, it is necessary to know how modesty and chastity of women have come to be safeguarded. The fact that men traditionally protect their women, as part of their own sense ofhonour , could be due to identifiable or specific reasons.

The male aptitude for possessiveness and protection of women may not necessarily be attributed to any inborn jealousy of men. For, human jealousy has universally been considered a negative emotion. Has an exception been made infavour of jealousy so as to safeguard husband- wife relationship?If so, why? If there are other reasons for men protecting thehonour of their women, as if it were a question of their ownhonour , how can these be explained?

Likewise, the desires and social normsfavouring clothing or covering of female body, curbing sexual promiscuity, prohibiting marriage between persons too closely related and similar other moral and legal restraints need be explained. Their examination can be in terms of whether or not they have their roots in the human nature, physiological and psychological.

Then, one may as well ask as to whether or not sexual morals are linked to the natural requirements of gregarious livingOr , is it part of their inborn tendencies, feelings and concerns towards an appropriate human survival in the natural process. Or, is there any possibility that historical causes, other than natural, have gradually affected and influenced human conscientiousness andbehaviour ?

If the source of human morality has been entirely rooted in nature, it is hard to explain how not only the ancient savages, but today's isolated primitive tribes, living in the manner of their ancestors,were and are quite unlike the civilized people.

The origins and raisond'etre of sexual morality may be diverse. So can be the historical conditions of social evolution, with reference to human sexual ethics in particular. Nevertheless, the question relevant to us now is as to whether or not the traditional morals are valid in the modern conditions towards achieving overall human progress.

Specifically, we must ask ourselves whether or not we must now safeguard the traditional sexual ethics or replace them by instituting new morals.

Will Durant does not trace human sexual morality to any origins in themother nature . He attributes moral evolution to reasons arising from historical experience, even some occasionally unhappy or cruel happenings in the past. Hefavours retaining the substance of traditional morals, while allowing continued evolution of the forms, in order to selectivelypractise the best without shortcomings.

Referring to morals concerning female virginity, modesty and bashfulness, Will Durant observes to the effect that traditional values and customs evidence a natural process of moral selection, involving trials and errors through centuries. According to him, virginity and modesty are relative qualities linked with conditions of marriage and traceable to even a past situation requiring purchase of, or bargaining for, wives.

Will Durant recognizes that the moral and social requirements of female chastity and modesty are of basic importance to any society, even if these qualities are sometimes capable of giving rise to psychosomatic and nervous disorders. Moreover, the relevant social regulations are essential for Promoting a harmonious continuity in sexual relations in the context of marriage and family living.

Freud and his followers subscribed to a different view of sexual morals. They sought to dispense with the traditional sexual morality, or to replace them with something altogether new. In the opinion of Freud and his followers, morals were based on limitations and prohibitions concerning human sexuality. They claimed that the limitations and prohibitions caused many human afflictions and gave rise to emotional disturbances, including subconscious fears and obsessions.

Basically similar arguments have been put forward by Bertrand Russell. He defends in his own way the position that nothing should be regarded as taboo. His views concerning marriage and morals are independent of any moral considerations, such as those of chastity, rectitude, modesty, any male sense ofhonour encompassing the female (which he suggests is actually jealousy) and similar others.

The proposed liberation of human sexuality from traditional moral restraints is tantamount to claiming that nothing ugly, bad or disgraceful can come out of it. The impression conveyed is one of relying on nothing but the human intellect and its rationalizations. The proposal concedes no more restraint on sex than any natural limitation of food intake!

Elsewhere, Bertrand Russell tried to answer a question as to whether or not he had any advice to give those who wanted to follow a correct and sensible path in matters of sex. His reply was to the effect that, after all, one should examine the question of sexual morality in the same analytical manner as in the case of any other problem. If, as a result of adequate examination, it was found that others would come to no harm from one's pursuing a certain manner of sexual conduct, we would have no reasons to condemn any such individual rationalization and practice.

Bertrand Russell replied in the negative to a second question as to whether or not, in his -opinion, any violation of female chastity could be viewed as an exception to his contention that actions causing no harm or loss to others should not be condemned. He explained that loss of virginity could be due to an act between two individuals. However,If it was construed as an act of violation of the chastity of a virgin, there should be evidence to the same effect before it could be condemned as rape.

For the time being, we may refrain from a detailed examination of the question as to whether or not human traits like modesty, or sexual chastity, are rooted in themother nature . For, the question is very broad in scope. One can hardly give a completely scientific answer. However, whatever has been indicated thereon, so far, can neither be assumptive, nor approximate. For., it is recognized that those who base their opinions on assumptions often lack consensus:

For instance, human inclinations like sexual modesty are viewed differently by Freud, Will Durant and Bertrand Russell. The nature and content of their difference need not be detailed herein. Suffice it to mention that these writers seem to base their views on the assumption that human qualities like female modesty are not inborn or in any way specific to human nature. If so, their understanding of human characteristics shows what appears to be disinclination to seek a correct justification, or a microscopic approach.

Be that as it may, we can indeed make two assumptions regarding sex habits and inclinations. Firstly, we may assume that sex-orientedbehavioural qualities have no connection whatever with the innate nature of human beings. Secondly, we may suppose that the "habits" are inculcated as part of other human practices and norms, under some kind of a social contract, designed to harmonize individual and social interests, as well as towards assuring peace and well being of mankind.

Let us now ask ourselves as to whether or not logic and reasoning demand intrinsic values and safeguards for assuring complete psychological harmony and maximizing human well being and peace. We may further ask ourselves as to whether or not any elimination of moral and social restraints and limits will be conducive towards achieving complete psychosomatic harmony of individuals and enhancing social welfare.

Then, we may well realize that logic and reasoning deem it advisable for us to oppose every customary practice and superstitious habit, which implicitly treats human sexuality as unclean and pernicious. At the same time, we are likely to consider it necessary that we should refrain from promoting any unrestrained sexual freedom which causes widespread excesses, transgressions and agonies.

The supporters of the proposed new sexual liberty base their arguments on three premises,

(1) Freedom should be ensured for every individual, as it does not interfere with that of others;

(2) All inborn sexual desires and aptitudes should be freely nurtured and brought tofulfilment without any inhibition or restraint, since their curbing or frustration leads to disorders of the ego; and,

(3) Any natural desire subsides when it is fulfilled, and it becomes insistent and excessive when it is subjected to any negative moral restraint or ill conceived prohibition.

The sexual liberationists argue that emotional instability arises from discriminating among the natural instincts and desires, so that only part of these are satisfied while the others remain frustrated. So, they say, equal nurturing and development of all human inclinations is necessary for personal and societal well being.

Furthermore, they suggest that, for avoiding constant preoccupation with sex, the only correct way is to lift all moral restraints and social prohibitions. They claim that liberation of the natural process of sexualfulfilment will also pre-empt mischief, malice and vengeance characteristic of a situation involving moral restrictions.

The foregoing arguments constitute the basis on which the new sexual morality is proposed. God-willing, we should be able to render these arguments untenable, through an adequate investigation and a thorough evaluation of the three basic premises mentioned above.

Chapther 3: Proposed New Sexual Freedom

A critical analysis of the basic principles of the proposed new sexual freedom has been indicated in the preceding chapter. In this chapter, we concentrate on examination of the salient features of the proposed new sexual liberation, especially on its reformatory content in relation to conventional morality. This will be conducive to a detailed analysis, which is not likely to be thorough otherwise.

That there are people who are already convinced about the reformatory content of the proposed new sexual conduct is to be recognized. At the same time, it is worthwhile - even necessary - that social problems, including those of sexual morality, are discussed from various angles. For, the question of sexual ethics has received the attention of famous thinkers of our age.

Above all, it is notable that the proposed new, approach to human sexuality has tended to be readily accepted by young people, without evidencing any skepticism. Views of well - known personalities of our modern times are apparently taken to be infallible.

In our considered opinion, it is necessary that the esteemed readers are made aware of all the implications of even any rudimentary assimilation on the part of our impressionable young people of the novel ideas from the West, including some with innocuous labels, such as freedom, and equality. This is because we must know in which direction we are applying our minds, to what purpose and towards what end. If whatever we think and do is believed to be correct without verification, does it necessarily enable mankind to continue progressing?

Or else, does the Western intellectual and cultural penetration of our society represent too ill - informed and too ill-conceived a propaganda strategy that, if allowed to spread, is bound to lead mankind towards self -destruction?

The above questions are intended to be discussed herein, in a necessarily brief manner.1

With regard to the modernistic reform of the traditional sexual morals, the speculative reformers claim that the very basis of the latter no longer exists, or is in the process of vanishing. Since the reasons, the causative factors and the original conditions have changed, or are changing, they say that we have no longer any justification to continue practicing the old morality, the severity of which has occasionally been evidenced.

Furthermore, they point out that, aside from the changed or changing conditions, there have been in the historical past events involving the old morality in an ignorant and cruel manner. They believe that the past experiences were inconsistent with the concepts of freedom, justice and human dignity. So, even for the sake of humanity and justice, they appeal that we must oppose all moral restraints on sex.

Opponents of the traditional sexual morals say that the old concepts gave rise to the following:

• Male sense of possession of his female,

• Male jealousy,

• Male concern for establishing his paternity of a child,

• Asceticism and monasticism based on the assumed sinfulness and wickedness of human sexual relations,

• Female sense of impurity arising from her menstruating nature,

• Male abstinence from sexual relations with a menstruating female,

• Severe punishments at the hands of men undergone by women throughout recorded history; and,

• Causing women to remain economically dependent on men.

They claim that the above state of affairs is attributable to the conventional sexual morality, indicative of the cruel and superstitious individual and social restraints applied under primitive conditions. They seek to replace the old values by modernistic permissiveness. For one thing, they pointout, modern wives are not to be treated as chattels.

In the same vein, they proclaim that today contraceptives preempt any need to ensure paternity of a child in a forcible manner such as implicit in the old moral prescription of the female chastity!

The supporters of the proposed new sexual freedom further affirm that old ascetic and monastic orders and beliefs are dying out. Knowledge and sanitary means of personal hygiene are said to have freed women from harboring any sense of pollution while menstruating. They are convinced that the days when men could manage to be cruel and oppressive are gonefor ever .

They conclude that enslaving or ill-treatment of women and making them utterly dependent on men are now things of the past. For, women are regaining socioeconomic freedom. Moreover, modern governments are gradually taking upon themselves major socioeconomic responsibilities of a husband and father, includingmothercare and childcare. On the other hand, human jealousy is on the decline with the spread of modern sexual attitudes and behavioral norms. Accordingly, they suggest that we should no longer cling to the old moral system.

The foregoing criticism of old morality is offered by sexual liberationists as the basis of their proposed new morals. Of course, this is to be expected of those who oppose conventional morals.

Now, let us examine the reformatory content of the proposed new morals. At the: outset, we recognize the fact that their intended casting away of the traditional moral constraints on human sexuality constitutes the axis around which the proposed new morals revolve. Accordingly, the very first thing that is likely to receive their attention is what they consider to be a need to ensure freedom of individual action towards fulfilling one's sexuality, or towards bringing about conditions of free sexual love.

In pursuit of sexual liberty, they affirm the unrestrained joys of not only premarital but post marital experimentation with one's sexuality. They point out that, through the least expensive and rather safe means of contraception, sexual enjoyment can be diversified without necessarily involving any risk of pregnancy, legitimate or otherwise.

Thus, they claim that any spouse can safely pursue his or her love affair to her heart's content, by taking lovers or becoming a love object without necessarily undermining their marriage. Moreover, they imply that not only illegitimate pregnancies can be avoided, but a wife can chose to have a legitimate child, without any moral concern about her extramarital affairs.

Any communism in sexual matters is obviously undesirable. Also, it is impracticable if the genetic need to ensure paternity of a child is to be ensured. Even those who propose the new sexual freedom seek to retain legitimacy of a child, or to safeguard the paternity as something not to be eliminated. After all, a father's blood relationship with his son and the latter's filial obligation and affinity towards the former are always recognizable.

This is the philosophy behind selection of a particular spouse and one's marital undertaking to voluntarily confine sexual relations to her or him. In fact, conventional morality highlights no other, or greater, need than for rendering sexual relations in marriage specific to the couples themselves.

Bertrand Russell's proposed new morals are cited below:

"... Contraceptives have made parenthood voluntary and no longer a result of sexual intercourse. For various economic reasons... it seems likely that the father will have less importance in regard to the education and maintenance of children in the future than he has had in the past. There will therefore be no very cogent reason why a woman should choose as the father of her child the man whom she prefers as a lover or companion.

It may become quite easily possible for women in the future, without any serious sacrifice of happiness, to select the fathers of their children, by eugenic considerations, while allowing their private feelings free sway as regards ordinary sexual companionship. For men it would be still easier to select the mothers of their children for their desirability as parents.

Those who hold, as I do, that sexual behavior concerns the community solely in so far as children are involved, must draw from this premise a twofold conclusion as regards the morality of the future. On the one hand that love apart from children should be free, but on the other hand, that the procreation of children should be a matter far more regulated by moral considerations than it is at present."2

Bertrand Russell elaborates further as follows:

"When science becomes able to pronounce on this question (of eugenics) with more certainty than is possible at present, the moral sense of the community may come to be more exacting froman eugenic point of view. The men with the best heredity may come to be eagerly sought after as fathers, while other men, though they may be acceptable as lovers, may find themselves rejected when they aim at paternity ...."3

Bertrand Russell's statements and proposals sometimes evidence a moral angle, too. For instance, he believes that traditional morality has been designed to cope with the strong and potentially troublesome human emotions, such as jealousy, which he advises men and women to consciously overcome. He says, in effect, as follows:

"According to the moral system that I propose, it is only right that couples should value mutual faithfulness. Alternatively, however, I, recommend that they overcome jealousy. A sober way of living is not possible without self­ control.

So, it is better to discipline the potentially strong and troublesome emotion of jealousy, and not to allow it to prevent or impair the growth of the feelings of love and affection. Any shortcoming of conventional morality does not lie in its justification of self- control, but in the manner of exercising it.”

In other words, what Russell indicates is that he recommends the same self control as prescribed by the ancient moralists. However, he envisages self-control, not in any conventional terms of ensuring self ­respect and rectitude, but in completely overcoming jealousy. He contends that the ancients sought to unduly limit human sexuality.

In contrast, he advocates jealousy-free attainment of human sexuality. Conventional morality, providing for personal honor as well as vindication of individual modesty and self-respect, is considered by him to be outmoded. Instead, it seems as if he would like to see husbands who are least jealous of their wives' intimacy with other men and who are even grateful for the social permissiveness that allows extramarital relations with third persons.

At the same time, Russell says to the effect that children ought to be born to married couples only. He would like to ensure this through adoption of different contraceptive means of sterilizing any premarital, extramarital or post marital sexual relations. Furthermore, he recommends that:

"It is also by no means impossible that the jealousy of husbands, by a new convention, adapt itself to the new situation, and arise only when wives propose to choose some other man as the father of their children. In the East, men have always tolerated liberties on the part of eunuchs which most European husbands would resent. They have tolerated them because they introduce no doubt as to paternity. The same kind of toleration might easily be extended to liberties accompanied by the use of contraceptives..' 4

The foregoing typifies a kind of reform of the extant social ethics, which in all probability would entail a never-ending process. No doubt, it will mean radical changes in the other ethics, too, including legal safeguards concerning the female modesty, incest, pornography, homosexuality, abortion, sexual intercourse during menstruation and similar others.

Some of these, like protection of female modesty and banning pornography are sometimes upheld. Other questions like homo- sexuality have been occasionally treated outside the purview of sexual ethics, and in a clinical manner, so that medical reasons, and not necessarily moral restraints, can prevent any deviant behavior!

The modernistic sexual ethics described above require to be thoroughly examined before any ready acceptance. In the present context, only its basic elements will be discussed and evaluated. Then, the philosophy underlying Islamic morals, which are quite distinctive from the Western - traditional as well as modern - morality, will be explained. This will highlight the Islamic position to the effect that:

"The only school of thought still capable of guiding humanity, through the distressingly unwholesome effects and untoward consequences of Western speculations concerning the dynamic philosophy of human living and sociological evolution, is that of Islam. It is high time that West­ oriented societies, with all their scientific and industrial advantages, realize their continuing need to turn Eastward in the process of their assimilating a salutary philosophy of life, as they have indeed done in their past epochs."


1. A more elaborate discussion of the relevant issues will be found in the author's book: The Rights of Women in Islam also available on line at: http://www.al-islam.org/the-rights-of-women-in-islam-murtadha-mutahhari

2. Marriage and Morals, George Allen &Unwin Ltd., London. Paperbacks Ed. 1976,pp . 173-174

3. Marriage and Morals, George Allen &Unwin Ltd., London. Paperbacks Ed. 1976,pp . 173-174

4. Marriage and Morals, George Allen &Unwin Ltd., London. Paperbacks Ed. 1976, pp. 194-195.