I am really confused about the fact that in Islam… looking at the opposite sex is not allowed… how is it possible for a teenager to not go through the basic instincts of life… being attracted to the opposite sex?
It would not be very accurate to say that Islam disallows looking at the opposite sex. Islam recognizes the natural attraction that a man feels for a woman and vice versa. In fact, it is because of this – sometimes overpowering – attraction that Islam prescribes certain etiquettes that it wants its adherents to follow, while interacting with the opposite sex. According to the prescribed etiquettes of Islam, among other things1, one of the directives is to avoid staring at each other. This is what the phrase ‘lowering of gaze’ or ‘turn one’s eyes away from temptation’, as used in Al-Noor 24: 31, implies. However, I do appreciate that one can easily construe even these prescriptions of Islam as undue restrictions. Nevertheless, Islam is adamant about adherence to these etiquettes, even if one were to perceive them as Islam’s apathy toward the feelings and emotions of ‘teenagers’. The reason for this, apparent, apathy toward what you have called ‘the basic instincts of life during the teenage’ is that Islam views the teenage (or the age immediately following it) only as a part of the complete life cycle of an individual, which consists of infancy, childhood, adolescence, maturity (in years), middle age and old age. Islam holds that if these ‘basic instincts’ – however strong they may be during the teenage and a few years following it – are allowed to override the prescribed limits, they would easily result in the complete undoing of the very foundations of the family structure and, thereby, the society. A family structure and a society, which – even if a person fails to realize during his teenage – is a basic requirement of an infant, a child, a middle-aged and an old person.
Islam holds the values of Hayaa2, chastity, loyalty, faithfulness and commitment as not only required to qualify man for the eternal bliss of paradise, but also to provide him with a stable family structure and a pious collectivity (society). It is precisely for these reasons – of cleansing the human mind, body and soul and of providing the foundations for a stable and a pious society – that Islam has prohibited certain relations for marriage; it has prohibited fornication and adultery and considers them a punishable crime; and has restricted the allowance of sexual relations to the institution of Nikah (marriage). In one of my previous responses, I had written:
The basic principle on which Islam builds its social structure is that a man – for his healthy and natural physical, mental, emotional and psychological development – needs a family. At the time of his birth he needs a mother (or someone in place of a mother) to look after him. At that time, if his needs are ignored, his very existence can so easily be jeopardized. Although at this stage, the father is playing an important role in the back ground, but in his subsequent years, the role of the father becomes more and more prominent with that of the mother. Then his brothers and sisters, contribute to his psychological and emotional development as well. As he grows older, his society, his tribe, his neighborhood and his family teach him the lessons which have a great significance in shaping his personality. Some years later, this child grows strong and young. These are the few years of his life during which he believes that he is independent enough to live his life without sharing and even without asking others to share with him. These are the years in which – due to his emotional and physical independence – he is sometimes prone to adopt an attitude of taking all the pleasure that life has to offer without accepting the responsibilities that should naturally entail these privileges (or pleasures). Nevertheless, soon after this phase is over, the mental, physical and emotional weaknesses start creeping in once again and once again, as was the case in the first stage (of childhood and infancy), he becomes emotionally dependent on others. Not before long, he reaches the threshold of old age. Now once again, besides his emotional dependence he also becomes physically dependent on others. Sometimes, he also reaches a stage where his very existence becomes dependent on the care and attention of others.
Islam wants to shape the society in a way that would take care of the needs of the complete man and not just a part of his life. Islam therefore builds the society in such a way that a family is formed, relationships are created and thus, not only the needs of a young man are satisfied but also those of the infants and the old. Islam, therefore, builds the society on the institution of marriage. An institution, which is primarily based on firm commitment, love, trust and chastity.
This is the reason why Islam holds fornication, not only to be a spiritual crime but a social crime, which is punishable by flogging in public. This is exactly the reason why Islam directs us to observe certain etiquettes while in the company of the opposite sex, not related to us (mehram).
After the disqualification of certain relations for Nikah; the restriction of sexual interaction to Nikah only; and the prohibition of fornication and adultery, Islam has prescribed the referred etiquettes of interaction between males and females to help the individuals stay within the prescribed boundaries of interaction. The prescribed etiquettes of interaction, in a way, are to minimize the factors that may incite and provoke individuals to go beyond the prescribed limits.
Thus, seen in this perspective, through the prescription of the referred etiquettes of interaction, Islam, on the one hand, wants to secure a stable social setup (as is required by man) and, on the other, to inculcate and promote such values in the individuals, which guarantee their ultimate success in the hereafter. One may construe these prescriptions of Islam as apathy toward the teenagers. Nevertheless, Islam wants to secure the stated objectives for the individual as well as the collective good of all humankind, even at the cost of being construed apathetic by the teenagers.
September 20, 2000
- For explanation of the prescriptions of the Shari`ah, refer to one of my earlier responses to a question, titled: “The Etiquette of Interaction Between Men and Women“. [↩]
- Hayaa is one of the basic values that Islam wants to inculcate and promote among its adherents. Due to the lack of an accurate synonym in the English language, I have used the Arabic word, which, over here, implies ‘the suppression of sexual interaction within certain limits and the avoidance of all potential instigation of sexual attraction or being instigated by sexual attraction beyond those limits”. [↩]