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[Sexuality and Law]

By:
Sara Omar
Source:
The [Oxford] Encyclopedia of Islam and Law What is This? An English-language legal reference for scholars of Islamic studies and Western engaged readers presenting the history and development of Islamic Law.

    [Sexuality and Law]

    Masturbation

    The Arabic term most commonly used in classical Islamic jurisprudential texts in reference to masturbation is istimnāʾ (literally, causing one's semen [manī] to be released). The juridical treatment of masturbation was, first and foremost, rooted in the Qurʾān and the ḥadīths. Explicit mention, description, and punishment of masturbation are completely absent from the Qurʾānic verses pertaining to sexual conduct (e.g., 23:5–6, 70:29–31, 4:25, 24:33). Instead, the Qurʾānic command to safeguard one's private parts except from one's spouse or concubine led jurists to permit what they coined as “masturbation with one's spouse” (al-istimnāʾ bil zawja), that is, using one's spouse for nonpenetrative intercourse (e.g., intercrural [tafkhīdh] or using a partner's stomach [tabṭīn] or hand, etc). There are ḥadīths that specifically mention masturbation (e.g., the person who masturbates will be among the “seven persons God will not look at on the day of judgment nor will He purify nor will He include among the rest of creation and will be the first to enter Hell, except if they repent” (al-Jāmiʿ li-Shuʿab al-Imān, al-Bayhaqī)), but these are considered uniformly unreliable by Muslim jurists and are thus used only as corroborative or heuristic material. In the absence of clear textual evidence, positions on the permissiveness of masturbation differ widely.

    Jurists distinguished between those who do not have the means to marry or purchase a concubine, and hence masturbate out of necessity, and those who have these means yet still masturbate to gratify their lust. Most jurists prohibited masturbation for the latter, as such individuals were viewed as possessing legally sanctioned outlets for their sexual desires and had no reason to exceed these bounds through masturbation. However, some Ḥanafīs, Shāfiʿīs, and Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal (d. 241/855) deemed masturbation makrūh tanzīhan, that is discouraged, rather than prohibited, those who masturbate are not punished under law, those who refrain are rewarded by God.

    Jurists were more conflicted when it came to individuals who do not have the means to marry or purchase a concubine and consequently masturbate out of fear of committing zinā (illicit sexual intercourse). Some Mālikī jurists and (dubiously) Ibn Ḥanbal are attributed with prohibiting masturbation under such circumstances, because the individual has a lawful alternative in fasting, a means of quieting sexual lust. However, most jurists, such as some Mālikīs and the influential Ḥanbalī Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawzīyah (d. 751/1350), argue that if a man is overtaken by his lust and he fears committing a sin, then masturbation is permissible. Their discussions were detailed to the point of including different methods of masturbation, such as by carving a hole in a watermelon or dough.

    Women are discussed in a similar vein. Mujāhid Ibn Jabr (d. 100-4/718-22) is attributed with saying that the ruling for women is the same as it is for men, “the predecessors used to order their youths to practice masturbation, and the women likewise may insert something” (al-Muṣannaf, ʿAbd al-Razzāq). And likewise, jurists’ discussions of women's masturbation were quite detailed. Ibn Qayyim, for example, writes that if a woman has no husband and lust overcomes her, then some Ḥanablīs have permitted her to use an akranbag, something made out of leather in the shape of a penis, or anything that resembles it, such as a cucumber or squash.

    Some jurists go even further and argue that the absence of lawful means makes masturbation, although acknowledged as an unlawful act, permissible through necessity (ḍarūrah), or as a means of choosing the lesser of two evils (akhaff al-ḍararayn). That is, masturbation is less evil than zinā. This view is most often attributed to Ibn ʿAbbās (d. 68/687), who in response to a frustrated unmarried youth who confesses to masturbating, tells him, “having intercourse with a slave-woman is better than masturbation, and masturbation is better than committing zinā” (al-Muṣannaf, ʿAbd al-Razzāq).

    Finally, some jurists implicitly accept masturbation's permissibility, and instead restrict their discussions to whether or not it is discouraged. For example, Ibn Ḥazm (d. 456/1064) dislikes the practice, for it is neither among the virtuous characteristics nor the good qualities, yet he includes a list of those who permit it. Al-ṭabarī (d. 310/923) in his Ikhtilāf al-Fuqahāʾ argues that al-ʿAlāʾ b. Ziyād (d. 94/712) said that masturbation is acceptable, and that the Companions used to do it during military campaigns and travel. Al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (d. 110/728), al-Ḍaḥḥāk b. Muzāḥim (d. 105/723), ʿAmr ibn Dīnār (d. 126/743), and others made similar arguments. The influential Salafi scholar of Yemen, al-Shawkānī (d. 1834), in his treatise on masturbation, also makes several arguments for its permissibility.

    [See also ZINā.]

    Bibliography

    • al-Bayhaqī, Abū Bakr, al-Jāmiʿ li Shuʿab al-Imān, edited by Mukhtār Ahmad al-Nadawī, volume 7, pp. 329-30. Saudi Arabia, Mamlkat al-Rushd, 2003.
    • ʿAbd al-Razzāq b. Hammām al-Ṣanʿānī, al-Muṣannaf, edited by Ḥabīb al-Raḥmān al-Aʿẓamī, volume 7, pp. 391-92. Beirut, Tawzīʿ al-Maktab al-Islāmī, 1983.
    • Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawzīyah, Badāʾiʿ al-Fawāʾid, edited by Maʿrūf Muṣṭafā Zurayq, et al., volume 3, pp. 81. Beirut, Dār al-khayr, 1994.

    Sara Omar

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