Sexual desire is aroused in human beings at the age of puberty. In Islamic legal definition, puberty (bulugh) is determined by one of the followings:
1. age: fifteen lunar years for boys and nine for girls;
2. internal changes:
In boys: The first nocturnal emission. Semen accumulates in the testicles from puberty onwards and more semen may be formed than the system can assimilate; when this happens, semen is expelled during the sleep. This is known as nocturnal emission and wet dream or ihtlam in Arabic. In girls: Menstruation. Right from their birth, the girls’ ovaries contains about 400,000 immature eggs; at puberty, the eggs start maturing, usually one ovum each month. If no egg is fertilized, the egg together with the lining of the womb is discarded in form of what is known as menstruation and monthly period or hayz in Arabic.
3. physical change
Growth of coarse hair on lower part of abdomen.
Since sexual urge begins at puberty and as Islam says that sexual urge should be fulfilled only through marriage, therefore, it has allowed marriage as soon as the boy and the girl reach the age of puberty. In case of girls, it not only allows them to be married as soon as they become mature, but also recommends such marriage. It is based on such teachings that Islam discourages girls from postponing their marriage because of education; instead, it says that girls should get married and then continue their education if they wish to do so.
But just physical maturity by itself is not enough for a married life, rushed (maturity of mind) is equally important. On the other hand, however, our present way of life has become so much complicated that there has appeared a considerable gap between puberty and maturity -both in financial and social affairs. A recent article on the American youths says, “[Y]oung Americans entering the 21st century are far less mature than their ancestors were at the beginning of the 20th. The difference is evident in all areas of youthful development: sex, love, marriage, education and work. Physically, today’s youths are maturing earlier than previous generations, but emotionally they are taking much longer to develop adult attachments.”1 Consequently, it is not easy for boys and girls of our atomic age to marry as they become physically mature.
So what how should the youths handle their sexual urge? What can the Muslims do about their next generation? In spite of the problem mentioned above, I believe there are ways by which Muslim youths in their late teens can get married without worrying about the financial aspect. Here I can suggest three possibilities::
1. If the parents are well to do and can support their young married children till they are financially independent, then I would strongly suggest that they encourage their children to marry and support them till they can stand on their own. While talking about the contract of freedom made between a slave and his master, the Qur’an says, “… and give them of the wealth of Allah which He has given you …” (24:33) If Islam puts so much emphasis on financially supporting one’s freed slave (so that he may stand on his own feet), it is needless to say how virtuous it would be to help one’s own children to stand on their feet!
On a broader level, the Muslim organizations should create funds (e.g., long term interest-free loans) to support the young Muslims who want to get married but lack financial resources. Once a person guilty of indecent sexual behaviour was brought to Imam ‘Ali. After punishing him, the Imam arranged for his marriage at the expenses of the government. The Imam set an example of how the society can help the youths in starting a family life. By looking at the situation in the Western world, the Muslim organizations should at least morally feel obliged to provide such support for their youths. This is not a matter of charity, it is a matter of surviving as a Muslim community in a hostile environment.
2. The boy and the girl can do their ‘aqd (marriage contract) but postpone the marriage ceremony till after they have finished their education. In other words, they would be married but still staying with their parents. They can meet each other without any shari’ah objection; and if they decide to have relations, then they should use permissible contraceptive means to delay the child-bearing process. In this way, they would be able to fulfill their sexual desire and be free from financial responsibilities.
3. The boy and girl can do their ‘aqd and even the marriage ceremony but delay the child-bearing process AND adopt a very simple life-style. Thus they will be able to fulfill their sexual desire and also be free from heavy financial burden.
However, I cannot overemphasize the importance of the role played by parents in supervision of all such arrangements. I would not at all support the idea that a boy and a girl decide such matters on their own without the parents’ input or without registering such arrangements at the community center. This will protect the reputation of the girl in case things do not work out properly. Moreover, what I have suggested above also means that parents and youngsters both will have to radically change their outlook towards the materialistic aspect of life. They will have to adopt a very simple life-style. If today’s youths intend to have a ‘standard’ financial footing before getting into marriage, then it will not be possible in the late teens; they will have to wait till they are above thirties! The article mentioned above says that the youths “are marrying later than their parents did -partly for economic reason- and many college graduates are postponing marriage beyond age 30.”1
One important benefit of these suggestions is that a youngsters of college age will be free from sexual anxieties and will be able to concentrate fully on his or her studies. On the other hand, if a Muslim youth raised in the Western society without any religious upbringing is not provided with financial and moral support by his parents, then he will most probably melt in the permissive culture that tolerates teenage sex outside marriage And if this happens, God forbid, the youth will not longer regard sexual relationship as a matter of value or commitment. “Most of us got one-night stands out of our system in college,” writes Nancy Smith, 25, in a recent essay for The Washington Post on her generation’s struggle with adulthood. “Sex outside a relationship is not so much a matter of right or wrong as: Is it really worth the hassle?”2 And this type of sexual behaviour has serious social consequences: abortions; unwanted babies; increase in divorce ratio and single-parent families. Add to this the emotional suffering the people in general and the children in particular go through in such crisis.
1. Newsweek, p.55.
Adapted from: “Marriage & Morals in Islam” by: “Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi”