What you read above was a brief historical and social background of the Christian West against which the New Morality was emerging. The Church made a serious error in suppressing the most nature urge of human beings, the very means of their perpetuity. And it is obvious that natural urges can never be suppressed. ‘Allamah Rizvi writes:
- If a religion shuts its eyes to the intricacies of family problem, its followers, sooner or later, will revolt against it, destroying all religious tenets in the wake of rebellion … Christianity ignored the claims of human nature, extolling the idea of celibacy. Many zealous people tried to live up to that ideal. Monks and nuns shut themselves in monasteries. For a short period, this scheme worked well. Then the nature took its revenge; the monks and abbots cultivated the idea that they were representatives of Christ, and the nuns were given the titles of ‘brides of Christ’. So with easy conscience they turned the monasteries into centres of sexual liberties.
Commenting on the attitude of Christian clergy, Russell writes, “It was only towards the end of the thirteenth century that the celibacy of the clergy was rigidly enforced. The clergy, of course, continued to have illicit relations with women …”2 Pope John XXIII was condemned for adultery and incest; the abbot-elect of St. Augustine, at Canterbury, in 1171 was found to have seventeen illegitimate children in a single village; Henry III Bishop of Legie, was deposed in 1274 for having sixty-five illegitimate children. The writes of middle ages are full of accounts of nunneries that were like brothels, of the vast multitude of infanticides within their walls, and of incest among the clergy which forced the church to announce that priests should not be permitted to live with their mothers and sisters.3
This and nothing else could have been the consequence of an unnatural sexual morality. Those who could not suppress their natural urges, indulged in sinful acts secretly; others, like Martin Luther, revolted against the church and started the reformation movement which abandoned celibacy.
And when the Christian Church lost its influence in social affairs of the Western world, even the lay man revolted. This revolt gained momentum after the two World Wars; and the Christian West started the sexual revolution in reaction to the sexual suppression. A reform movement takes the society from extremes toward moderation; whereas a revolution, in its early stages, takes the society from one extreme to the other. ‘Allamah Rizvi comments, “Nature can be compared to a steel spring which, when pressed down, jumps back with equal force. When it took its revenge upon Christians, it turned Christian societies into the most permissive, libertine and undisciplined ones the world had ever seen.”4
Thus the New MOrality emerged in the West and leaped to the other extremes. From the extreme of suppressing natural desires, some preachers of the new morality went to the extreme of unrestrained sexual freedom which is the realm of the animal world. They propounded the idea of “sex for fun”, “sex for its own sake” and “free sex” which eventually would have completely destroyed the concept of family, the fabric of human society. In late eighties, it can be said that now the spring of nature is coming down to its normal position. Katchadourian and Lunde, writing in 1980, say, “The morality of ‘sex for fun’ or ‘sex for its own sake’ never appealed of even the majority of the young. The romantic ideals of marriage, fidelity, and a stable home life for rearing children were still very much alive and influential in American life. a new synthesis of values is arising. Many of the changes in sexual attitudes of the 1960s have been retained, but the more radical beliefs have been found to be unacceptable by most people. Many individuals are willing to approve of prematerial exploration, but they went to be certain that no one gets hurt. Many have found that ‘sex for its own sake’ was not as gratifying as it looked when it first became popular; and others have seen so many people hurt by irresponsible sex that they are asking for a new morality of responsible sex.”5
To summarize, we can say that firstly, the West travelled from one extreme -that of sexual suppression- exemplified by the Christian Church to the other extreme -that of free sex and sex for fun- exemplified by the liberal sexual morality. Secondly, the West has realized that free sex and sex for fun is not acceptable to human sensibilities. Finally, after jumping from one extreme to the other, the West is longing for “a new morality of responsible sex”. In our view, the morality of responsible sex is the balanced sexual morality of Islam to which we shall turn soon.
The reason why I discussed the religious and social background in which the sexual revolution has taken place is to let the Muslims -whether residing in West or East- know that this revolution was not a by-product of science and technology per se (although some scientific technologies like contraceptive have made it easier); rather it was a reaction to the suppressive sexual morality of the Christian Church. This, I hope, will also break the myth among many Asians and Africans, especially the elite class, that every behaviour and norm of the West is based on sound scientific reasons!
1. The Family Life of Islam, p.8.
2. Marriage and Morals, p.64.
3. History of European Morals, vol.II, p.350-351.
4. The Family Life of Islam, p.8-9.
5. Fundamentals of Human Sexuality, p.420.
Adapted from: “Marriage & Morals in Islam” by: “Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi”