Chapter: Themes II: Our Youth...The Essential Model, Book: World Of Our Youth, Author: Ayatullah al-'Uzma al-Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlullah, Translator: Khaleel Mohammed, Publisher: Organization for the Advancement of Islamic Knowledge and Humanitarian Services (O.A.I.K. & H.S.), Montreal, Quebec, Canada
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The Islamic Perspective on Adolescence
Adolescence is a Normal State
The Islamic Nurturing of the Adolescent
Adolescence and Maturity
Counsel and Guidance
Masturbation ... The Perpetrator and the Victim
Temporary Marriage and Registered Sexual Activity
Sex Education and Societal Norms
What is the View of Islam on Love
Instinctive Love and Platonic Love
Sex Education: How do We give it to Our Youth
Islam Adopts Sex Education
The Mandatory Steps in Sex Education
The Responsibilities of the Home and the School
The Sexual Atmosphere
The Concept of Deficiency
Sex Issues as Educational Issues
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The essential stage in biological life, and the stage at which Islamic legal liability is assumed, is adolescence. On this subject, the doctors of education, psychology, sociology, have averred that it is the most important stage in life. How should we regard the state of adolescence?
When Islam directs the human being, it directs the kinetics of his being, emphasizing the elements of "practical anxiety" in his inner self. When God speaks of Adam as an example to humankind, He says: "And we had taken the covenant of Adam, but he forgot and We found in him no firm resolve" (Ta Ha, 20:115). The discourse here is about Adam as an example, in his role as a person who does not possess the strong resolve of God's words: "The human being is created in haste, I will show you My signs, but ask Me not to hasten" (al-Anbiya, 21:37); "And the human was ever hasty" (al-Isra, 17:11); "Man was created weak" (al-Nisa, 4:28); "God is He who shaped you out of weakness" (al Rum, 30:54); and "Neither do I absolve myself of blame for the human self is prone to evil except that on which my Lord has bestowed His Mercy" (Yusuf, 12:53). We see, then, in more than one verse, that the emphasis is on the fact that, when created, the human being was not cast with monolithic strength, but that there are elements of weakness residing in his being.
When we study these elements of weakness, we see that they reside in the personality of the human being, just as we see the function of the positive instincts which he demonstrates during the course of his life in the inevitable situations to which his instincts propel him.
Moreover, there are the negative elements in the workings of the instincts impelling towards deviant things which mar human life when one loses balance and perspective. So, the human being in fact stands between these two poles: the negative and the positive instincts, for which God (Exalted) emphasizes the intellect as an element among the elements of internal motivation ensuring the balance of perspective against the assistance of desire.
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On contemplating all of the above, we see adolescence as a normal state in the life of a person, being a condition to which one enters spontaneously. The process of physical growth begins with vague impulses, then places the person in an environment of rejection and revolution, propelling him from a stage of submissiveness and acquiescence to others, to one of realization of individuality and independence. This occurs without clear or proper guidelines for him to establish his individuality and independence.
The stage of adolescence is exactly like regulating the waves of the sea. In the same manner, a person enters the second wave in a new being which prepares him to be another person, setting the rule for a new stage. The role of (adolescent) education is to prevent the person from being lost, because the influence of the instincts entails the awakening of revolution in the person, the examination of new horizons not yet understood. All this can cause the person to lose his balance of perspective, since he has not acquired the necessary experience on which he can rely to establish a balance.
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Islam encourages child rearing in the manner described in the following hadith: "Leave him free for seven years, discipline him for seven, and be his companion for seven." Instruction between 7-14 years of age determine how the person will move towards the right guiding principles by focusing on the inner person, the natural elements of his personality, until adolescence comes along in the fourteenth year, or thereabouts. When it does, there is subjection to established controls. From 14 to 20 years of age, supervision over the adolescent tendencies of the individual personality continues until the person behaves in a normal manner, with a view to the future.
I do not wish to downplay the dangers of the stage of adolescence in the personality of the youth, but I do not perceive the issue as being of the danger as claimed by some, except that it is compulsory that the nurturing at this stage be done in a manner whereby the child does not mature with restrictions which strangle him within himself, warping his mind and he becomes psychologically sick. Nor should he be given such total liberty that he takes absolute license, distancing himself from the balanced principles of human activities. Nurturing then must take place between the two extremes; there should be discipline without harshness and freedom without licentiousness.
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The stage of adolescence is marked by lack of experience and incomplete maturity. Hence, we see many aspects of misbehaviour. Does Islam provide any guidelines to correct adolescent misconduct and to protect it from the pitfalls?
Islam wants the parents to shepherd the spiritual aspect in the character of the child before he gets to the stage of adolescence. This may be done by accustoming the child to worship and by creating situations where he gradually becomes conscious of God. Islam has imbued the child with self-confidence, be it male or female, by giving it the right to be an independent and legally recognized entity. When the child reaches the age of mental maturity, when he can conduct his own affairs, Islam relieves him from his guardianship: "And test the orphans until, at adulthood, if you see maturity in them, then give them their property" (al-Nisa, 4:6) - i.e., the guardianship of the elders is removed from a mentally mature boy or girl.
Maturity is a mental state stemming from the intelligent examination and contemplation of things, sothat the person is able to behave in a proper, balanced manner, in the normal way that people conduct their affairs and relations. This means that adolescence is not an unnatural stage, rather merely a state by which the person goes from a stage of development to the stage of maturity.
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Islam makes a person legally liable at maturity, so that he has responsibilities both in negative and in positive conditions. This means that Islam does not treat the stage of adolescence as one where the person lets up on responsibilities and obligations. For adolescence may persist until the last stages of life. This implies that the workings of the instincts which influence the negative side of a person through internal or external factors remain forever with that person-from the time of puberty to the end of his life. We know that there are adolescents in their forties, fifties, or even sixties; puberty is not a clearly defined age, but rather a stage, the effects of which begin at puberty and the mental and physical influences of which continue with the progression in life of the person who undergoes the awakening of instincts, in one form or another.
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Therefore, we must begin the work of spiritual, mental, and social instruction and all the other forms before puberty, so that we could prevent the conflict which the youth faces when he is faced with any impulse which might arise at this stage. This nurturing must continue at every stage, and we must apply the principles of instruction and care in such a manner that this new person does not retain the concept of the former one with respect to the issues that will emerge later in life. We should not seek to constrain him within a closed mind, but rather to open his "thinking and spiritual" lungs to breathe the clear air of life.
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In order that we do not digress from the topic, the main matter that needs explanation in the light of the Shariah and instruction is the "secret practice," or what is known as masturbation.
"The secret practice" is forbidden Islamically, since Islam wants that sexual matters be satisfied through spousal relations only. This is removed from the strange situations where sexual relations occur purely as something negative, a physical joining of the bodies bereft of any supporting spiritual thought. This is in addition to the negative results on the mind and the outlook.
Thus, masturbation is forbidden in every way, shape, or form-including the sexual imagination that leads to the orgasm. But when we face this prohibited act (haram), we must understand the normal, natural circumstances that push pubescent boys and girls to indulge in this evil practice. For the call of impulse and passion, and the resorting to this practice as a habit intended to satisfy these impulses, make masturbation oneof the easiest methods to fall back to, especially under social pressures which prevent any interaction between man and woman outside the limits of permanent marriage. Another influencing factor too is the economic pressure preventing the youth from early marriage; or the aspect of imitation which prevents the girl from welcoming an early marriage, and similar factors placed by social restrictions.
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Islam has dealt with the issue of early marriage, and rates marriage as a natural state. It is far removed from the pitfalls which others have placed in its path, in terms of mental maturity, society, financial means, etc. Islam sees one of the benefits of marriage is to provide a means of satisfying the sexual appetite of man and woman. It recognizes that other issues may develop and grow with this bond, which may be nurtured in exactly the same way as in other relations.
As for the problem of pregnancy and child rearing, adequate solutions are possible, on the realization that we live the problem outside of early marriage and in it. Islam, however, emphasizes early marriage for youths, regards the marital gift (mahr) as a mere formality, focuses on making marriage easy in respect of the economical or financial requirements imposed by the community.
When we understand the general Islamic outlook, we can see that it is possible for students to marry and pursue their studies, to live in their parental homes or a single room which they rent while at university. They can focus on this event in their life with the same ease that they do the university milieu.
We see that imitating society by placing economic and societal restrictions or iron curtains on marriage-to the point where marriage is not entered into until one is in his thirties or later, while early marriage-with all its problems-is one basic solution in Islam.
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From the Imamiya point of view, there is another solution, and that is "temporary marriage", or the "breakable contract", which may have Shariah or non-Shariah limits on it, specifically in relation to virgins. With respect to widows and divorcees, however, there is no difficulty.
Islam does not regard the issue of sexual relations between the two genders for the purpose of satisfying the sexual appetite as a reprehensible contract, or that it assails the honour of a woman, for Islam regards sex as a natural need, in exactly the same way it does food and drink. When the human being wants to sate this carnal hunger by going to another human being it does not impugn the honor of that person. But, when we see sex only in light of the pitfalls which an air of excessive restriction create, then we go very far from the naturalness of sex.
Sex is a natural condition, indeed, and it is possible for a woman to seek the satisfaction of her impulses, in a natural manner, with a man with whom she reaches an agreement in all candor. So, too, it is possible for a man to do this with candor, without any party hurting the other, since it is a practice allowed by God. If they cannot enter into permanent marriage, they will instead enter a temporary one according to Shariah guidelines, under certain social control and when society reaches a level where it is convinced of the validity of this marriage.
We may face the issue of the children born unexpectedly, in view of the fact that they are legitimate children. The problem stems from the fact that society may bar its youths every opportunity by which they can sate their hunger, which comes to light at this time and which drives them to masturbation, whether the society realizes it or not.
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In view of the difficult societal stance, how can a proper understanding of sex be had, devoid of distortions and misconceptions?
A proper understanding can only come about when the persistent social outlook on sex is changed, and the idea that it is something dirty or an affront to the dignity of the woman is abandoned. A social revolution must change the general views on marriage in such a way as to make us see that this institution provides the means to establish a simple and natural bond, without inviting the social pitfalls which we have inherited from non-Islamic cultures. This is because Islam considers that marriage is essential between man and woman.
The crux of the matter is that the marriage contract does not need religious authority, nor does it require any societal convention to fall within the scope of the Shariah. With the requisite Shariah conditions regarding the man and the woman, it is sufficient for the woman to say to the man: "I marry myself to you, with the marital gift (mahr) value of so and so"; and that he say to her, "I accept this marriage according to the agreed mahr or the agreed conditions." With this, they are regarded as mates before God (Exalted).
In the Imami Shia madhab, we notice that it is not stipulated that there should be two witnesses in marriage, but that it is commendable; since people may need to be married in circumstances where there are not two witnesses. Recording the marriage in an official or Shariah registrar is exactly like registering any other contract or agreement-it may be deemed legally established, but has no impact on the Shariah marriage. The Shariah status of the bond is by virtue of the agreement between the two people as something specific between them, exactly as in the case of a business transaction, incorporation, etc.
The solution to the sex problem, free of deviancy, obliges us to facilitate the matter of marriage and to abandon this pile of bugbears-the product of a social tradition which has made marriage a difficult hurdle in the life of our youth. Because of this, our girls have been driven to deviation through its widest doors.
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What is the view of Islam on love between the two sexes, between boy and girl; is it something allowed by the Shariah, especially if we know that it can occur sometimes in a non-desirable manner?
Islam wants all of humankind, male and female, to experience human love, which allows people to feel for one another and thus makes them feel united within the sphere of humanity. This love leads to nurturing, guarding, protecting, and taking care of needs, preserving honor, respecting women, and so forth. Thus, we see the Messenger of God associating faith with love, for he said: "None of you is a true believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself, and hates for his brother what he hates for himself." This makes us understand that-according to this hadith-Islam emphasizes the issue of love which makes you feel with the feelings of the other.
Consequently, you are not a true believer if your view regarding others is one of emptiness, unconcern, without any feeling for their affairs. Hence, we find that the well known hadith stipulates this: "Who does not concern himself with the affairs of the Muslims is not a Muslim."
The issue is that a human must love another in humanness. According to a hadith, when some people asked him about love, Imam Jafar al-Sadiq replied, "And is religion anything but love?" This then is the issue, in its separation from humanness.
But there is also the aspect of human impulse which causes a person to love another in the same way that he loves his food and drink. His love is directed to the sexuality that drives the person towards others. This is what most youths experience at the stage of adolescence and thereafter-an attraction for physical beauty, sexual activity, and so forth. We notice that Islam wants humankind (male and female) to experience this love in a manner that culminates in love. There is no objection against a man loving a woman, admiring her beauty, and wanting to marry her. Islam allows a man to look at a woman whom he wants to marry in order to reflect on his attraction and desire for her from one perspective or another.
However, love which is a game, an infatuation, or where sex is not limited to the legal boundaries of marriage, is rejected by Islam. In fact, everything that leads to sexual aberration, regardless of whether it is from the heart, the eyes, the tongue, the hands or other organs, and everything that leads to the sex act, regardless of whether it is arranging, affecting through petting, is repudiated by Islam, for it leads to moral problems, wherein a person distances himself from the proper path prescribed by God.
When we speak of love as a mental state, not by choice, then we cannot dictate any law regarding this emotion, for God does not hold a person liable for that of which he is incapable or that which is beyond his understanding. However, Islam wants emotions to be kept under control, and therefore pushes the person, carefully and intelligently focusing his emotions, to think things deeply, rather than dealing only with the surface. Islam tries to inculcate in its youth the ability to prevent them from acting solely after first impressions, or on the basis of skin-deep ideas. Islam did not propound this solely for spousal relations, but for every human relation, such as friendship, etc.
From another perspective, Islam has put controls on this love and does not push the two parties to remain alone in private; it does not permit them to express their love through petting or other forms which lead to the influence of impulses which we indicated earlier. On the other hand, Islam does not prohibit innocent talk, which expresses the emotion in a way that accords with a Shariah-based relationship.
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Is it possible for us, with respect to love, to speak of what is termed "platonic love" or virtuous, sentimental love?
When you speak of love as an emotion, you cannot categorize it as "platonic", on the one hand, and "instinctive", on the other. But we may say that there is a state of sexual impulse which some people may term "love"-i.e., a state where there is a physical attraction between one body and another body, not a state where one person loves another person. The issue of physical attraction represents a physical act where one body gets close to another without there being any place for the facet of humanness in it.
But love is a human emotion which attracts you to another person by way of the beautiful, ideal, functional, or other attributes. The onus is on us to differentiate between the emotion which plays a role in physical contact, and that which plays a role in the appreciation of a person, in a natural relationship structured on the basis of mutual respect.
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How may we teach sex education to our youth?
I do not limit the issue to any particular range; we may need books to explain a particular idea, as we must also tell the people of the injunctions of the Shariah on the issues of sex so that they may know their responsibilities in the area according to the Shariah.
I began an attempt to answer questions directed to me, and I spoke candidly on some sex issues which affect the community. Sex education is like any other subject; we have to teach it but with a functional approach, regardless of whether it is through books or school programs, conversations at home, or general debate.
Sex is something that affects the body of a person and how he deals with his impulses. It is normal that one should know all this. What we view as socially forbidden may be a result of imitation or traditional baggage. Therefore, confronting custom means that we must substitute wisdom to avoid creating more negative aspects than those we are trying to rid ourselves of.
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What are the parameters of this education? Is there a specific age at which we can begin instruction?
Islam has opened the door to sex education for all Muslims with respect to the sexual relations which the Quran discusses somewhat candidly. Indeed, on the subject of marriage, the Quranic terminology employs linguistic forms which suggest more sexual than contractual connotations, as in its use of the term "nikah".
Indeed, if we want to study the noble Sunna, we find that there are hadiths on sexual issues which pertain to relations between a man and his wife in commendable matters, legal rulings, and ancillary topics. In more than one hadith, sexual organs are so candidly and naturally covered that one can only infer that the milieu of the (prophetic) message saw nothing immoral in the topic.
We may find some hadiths which deal with the conversation between the Prophet and someone who came to confess to having committed adultery (zina). We see that the last question directed to the perpetrator concerning the sex act used a term which people today may shy away from expressing.
In this manner we find related hadith issues pertaining to women in menstruation, pre-menstruation, the postpartum period, as well as matters pertaining to the state of man after sexual relationship (janabah), etc.
When we study the books of the jurists and the chapters that relate to sex, we see that there are clear, candid discussions on the specifics of sex, regardless of whether they pertain to sexual organs, the sex act, or some related issue.
We also find that the earlier scholars discussed sex in their books through rare stories, witticisms, and jokes transmitted in a manner that may be considered immoral by the present society. We find that some old books written by pious, ascetic, pure scholars consist of chapters that describe methods which are not conventional and familiar in the sex act. Their justification was that they felt books such as these might make the spouses learn sexual conduct, whereby they would comply their own natural desires as well as those of their spouses, and would therefore need not satisfy those desires outside of the marital life.
This confirm that Islam adopts sex education by virtue of its relationship to the Shariah rulings-the commendable, the obligatory, or the forbidden-which relate to this aspect of the life of the human being. When we study this issue, however, we focus on it in the light of the principle that this discussion is not within the sphere of the forbidden but that of the lawful.
The evolution of cultural and social mores may have helped cultivate negative attitudes towards sex education or some specific aspect of it. This is especially true if the circumstances surrounding these mores, in the reflection of the youth or children, lead to negative results: it will cause subconscious reactions in the child or youth, leading him to stray from Islamic guidelines.
From this perspective, the subject has to be studied in much detail and caution before its thematic associations could be known-relating to the personality of the human being seeking such instruction or the factors that influence his life. What I would like to stress is that sex education did not begin with contemporary developments. Islam did so earlier on every issue so far discussed.
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On the issue of instructing the coming generation in this regard, steps must be drawn up for this in terms of the methods, issues, and milieus, so that the emphasis remains on the education technique, with no elementfrom the old concepts. This means stressing to the child or youth that his sex organ is not something odd, but that it is quite natural; it does not imply strangeness, deficiency or any such thing. Rather, there are Shariah laws which call for the covering of this organ, and for using it within a specific scope of activity, as directed by God-who has spoken about other organs in relation to forbidden matters, such as not eating this or that, not looking, etc.
Nevertheless, before all this the issue calls for an appropriate setting, and it is imperative that we structure this setting, because many social mores rate sex education as a work or subject that is immoral. If we can undertake this, we will be able to instruct the coming generation in sex education through a functional, objective approach, going all the way to subjects like childbirth, where the fetus comes from. We must be straightforward, but with an approach structured on gradually divulged details in this area.
The nature of these things may incite some children to experiment, just as we observe that some of them who watch films of television are quick to put them into practice, and may be hurt as a result. There are also those who read books on sex, or watch erotic films, may attempt to do what they see, living the experience in a twisted form, at a moment when the person's inner impulses combined with the outer surroundings are so influenced that they push him to experiment with whatever he learns. At the same time, however, I stress that the present mode of instruction affecting every house, through television, newspapers, disseminate sexual information which allows youths and children to know much more about sex than the mother or the father.
A telling instance of this is when some women were speaking to one another, one said to the other, "My daughter has now attained puberty, so how can I speak to her about matters related to puberty and sex?" The other replied that she should give her the impression that she knows as much as her daughter, since it was possible that the daughter knew more than her mother!
Sex education may be all the more urgently needed nowadays because it is given to teenagers by way of films and cheap books, with no controls or limits. It may, therefore, be necessary for the specialists in Islamic methodology to draw up a special program to rescue the present generation from all the distorted information on sex.
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Which is better, teaching sex education in the family or at school?
We are not able to delineate the issue so clearly that we can classify it to within a particular scope, for children may need one type of teaching within the home, when they ask about childbirth, become conscious of their private parts, find siblings who are anatomically different. In this case, fathers and mothers may certainly teach the children in a well-balanced manner, giving the child correct but comprehensible answers.
We also need the school, for the systematic education of schools is necessary, especially since some school subjects relate to health, the study of animals and their reproduction, etc. The children are taught subjects they need to know, and through these they receive detailed explanations on subjects relating to the body.
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A problem which we face is that, as a result of western culture, the general social environment has become quite sex conscious. The issue of sex has become one of absolute right, as generally with other rights. If Eastern cultures did not possess some discipline or restraint, this perverse cultural conditioning could have transformed the Eastern outlook from an Islamic reality into something more akin to what people are in the West.
When, therefore, you initiate sex education without strict prudence in this atmosphere, you could easily pervert sex education. What I say is not dependent on the type of prudence known in present-day society, but rather that of ensuring a strong foundation when providing sex education, so that it may not lead to corruption in practice.
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The concept of deficiency is the same as its lexical meaning: a flaw in the character, body, or conduct which may cause a moral or ethical deviation. Fornication by a youth is considered by the family to be a deficiency; the public exposure of one's private parts is considered a deficiency-in view of the Shariah prohibition of both actions. This prohibition makes them deficient in respect of religion and flawed in respect of social norms.
Islam, however, does not see that a person should suffer the faults of others, and I do not participate in the deficiency of one of my deviant relatives, even if he is closely related. This is because Islam avers that: "No bearer of burden shall bear the burden of another" (al-Anam, 6:164).
Consequently, targeting the entire family for the sexual transgression of a woman is indeed a jahili concept, not an Islamic one. Islam charges the woman or the man who has fornicated, and determines that their moral depravity is something specific to them, not to the members of their two families or any other person who may be socially connected to them.
There are those who say that sexual deviation or perversity does not stem from any error in sex education or lack thereof, but rather results from the sexual repression prevalent in our society.
I do not say that sex education is the cause of deviancy whenever it is connected to such practice. I say that it may open the avenues to deviations by people who have no previous experience in this area.
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What is the method for explaining these issues to our sons and daughters? To what length should we go when discussing these issues with them?
These issues are exactly like the other educational issues which need to be explained to children. There may not be a need nor a conducive atmosphere to offer a detailed analysis to a child; we may explain childbirth exactly as we do planting or the incubation of an egg.
With respect to the foregoing questions, I have indicated that society strongly rejects these methods, even though they may be evident. It is absolutely necessary that we educate society in this respect, and introduce the matter as a general societal perspective, providing fathers and mothers with the proper methods of sex education which they may give their inquisitive children.
What about a special program for sex education in schools?
I support that, but it is normal that every subject should be examined for its positive and negative influences on the students to whom it is taught, and what these can lead to in society at large.