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Singles, Sex, and Faith

Living together before marriage is acceptable as a routine practice in the USA and Europe. Premarital sex in the USA and European societies is a norm. Even though adultery is illegal in 23 states in the USA, since 1983, no one has been punished. Some 60 percent of men and 42 percent, women reportedly commit acts of adultery in the country. In those states where adultery is still on the statute books, penalties vary from a life sentence in Michigan to a $10 fine in Maryland to a Class B misdemeanor in New York to a Class I felony in Wisconsin and a fine of $500 in South Carolina.

Islam advocates celibacy before marriage and defines premarital and extra-marital relations as greater sins and proposes substantial penalties. The Quran says, "Nor come closer to illicit sexual intimacy (Zina) for it is a shameful (deed) and an evil, opening the door (to other evils)." 17:32

Yet many in the Muslim community living in Europe and the USA and elsewhere cannot claim to be strict followers of their faith. A good number of single men and women and married couples, mostly men, seem to be involved in premarital or extra-marital relations. There is no sociological study to substantiate the statistics. Yet, there are reports based on independent research of many journalists and social scientists that suggest incidents of premarital sex among Muslim men far exceed the incidents of similar behavior among Muslim women. By and large, Muslims avoid discussion on this subject, often living under the assumption that their community is free from them. Few would dare any write up, and those who do would generally face ridicule.

Yet it is an issue that one has to face, significantly when it impacts Islam's image and community's health. Many disgruntled women, mostly non-Muslims, feel betrayed by their Muslim boyfriends after living together for several years. Many Muslim women, out of fear and social pressure, are not willing to admit the intimate nature with their boyfriends in secrecy. It is an issue we should address openly, fearlessly, and seriously.

With sex and the discussion about sex everywhere, the Muslim community cannot claim to save itself from its impact. It cannot simply close its eyes and say that "it's a non-Muslim problem." It has to deliberate the issue and work to strengthen young men and women to stand their moral grounds no matter how challenging the circumstance may be. Sex is a physical activity, but it is born in the mind and ideas. But it is not a biological necessity (before developing authentic relations, assuming their responsibilities and consequences) without which a human cannot survive like food or water. So it is possible to train our mind properly and channel the ideas into positive energy, people can control their sexual urges within a moral frame. But this would happen only when the discussion is open and objective.

It is one thing to say that God frowns upon those who indulge in illicit sexual relations and another to study the causes of this lifestyle, and pragmatically take steps to channelize the sexual urges within an ethical framework of all.

Not many are willing to admit that premarital sex is common among single Muslim male students in various colleges and universities, especially among those enrolled as international students. There are incidents of extra-marital relations among students who live without their spouses.

Among the male students, this happens in different ways. The boy either enters into a temporary marriage relationship with a non-Muslim girl for a specific time or maintains a secrecy relationship. In some cases, the boy even marries the girl in what he defines "Islamically" without any legal contract or paperwork. In this situation, the couple approaches either an Imam or anyone they trust to conduct marriage Islamically. The wedding is not on records under the assumption that God is the most excellent witness and two other male witnesses. Married men also solicit such marriage. The women are generally non-Muslims hoping that the husband will register it later when it is appropriate. In most of these cases, the husband divorces his first wife after some time with legal consequences.

Quick hookups through chat sites and dating agencies are also not uncommon among Muslim singles and married men. Usually, Muslim men and women come to these chat sites with non-Muslim names, regardless of their region. Gradually and gradually, they reveal true identity once the possibility of physical hookup becomes a reality. Usually, Muslims would avoid entering into these kinds of hookups with fellow Muslims of the opposite or same gender, yet, these unions are not rare.

Single Muslim men often start facing trouble when their partner wants to declare their relations open. Most of the time, such single Muslim men, who are not severe, do not introduce their girlfriends to their Muslim circles. However, when girlfriends ask for declaring this relationship in the open, they refuse and offer religious explanations admitting that they were wrong in maintaining these relations. It either terminates the connection or assume different dimensions.

Ironically, many non-Muslim women take this relationship seriously, and some try to familiarize them with Islam or even consider becoming Muslims. Single Muslim men often avoid discussions about marriage under the plea that they are not ready or their families are not. In this situation, the couple usually breaks up.

So what needs to happen to address the situation? First of all, Muslim social scientists and leaders should acknowledge that the issue is real and take it seriously and conduct objective studies to assess its true dimensions. Simultaneously, we should develop a curriculum that addresses the relationship between the two genders. The basic guidelines on this issue are given in the Quran explicitly. Still, often we, the believers, have failed to transmit this basic message in a manner that would empower individuals to take control of their lives. It should happen from an early age because, in public or private schools and circles of their peers, they talk about sex-related issues at a very tender age.

While, generally, we Muslims leave it to an individual to navigate his or her way through the maze of information on sex, others offer structured courses on the subject to students as young as nine or ten. By the time we intervene on behalf of our religion, the children have information far better and tempting than the one offered by us. Intervention at this time becomes counterproductive as it leads to stealth sexuality that no one would want to admit to one's elders or oneself. The situation often becomes explosive when the girl gets pregnant. It either results in the termination of pregnancy or sending the girl away from her circle. Very rarely, a Muslim girl uses DNA to determine the paternity to receive child support, as this would violate the honor of the family. Often, the girl faces the punishment, while most families ignore the sin of the boy. In such a situation, the boy often abandons the girl assuming that the secret would never come out. But with non-Muslim girls, the problem is different. So, we must begin the process of education at an early stage. We have to decide when it would be appropriate to introduce such subjects to students.

Only when one would have a strong foundation in a lifestyle guided by the divine teachings one can hope to reduce such incidents in real relationships. The solution lies in empowering individuals with knowledge that would inspire them to be responsible and disciplined in every aspect of life. Self-control would be a powerful way of life, where the relationship would not serve feelings of self-indulgence; it is possible to control sexual urges. Still, it would not come through condemning sexuality, but giving it a positive spin within a useful moral framework for everyone. Humans are their best supervisors and controllers, but we have to empower them with the knowledge that would strengthen those aspects of our character inwardly.

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© Aslam Abdullah