Physical intimacy is not simply a biological action and reaction. It is bigger than that. It is more about the value system that one prefers and adopts because it affects not only the individual, family and the society but human civilizations and cultures as well as the rise and fall of nations.
On the one hand are Freudian followers who argue that civilization is a byproduct of repressed sexuality and on the other hand are those who in the words of J.D. Unwin believe that “in human records there is no instance of a society retaining its energy after a complete new generation has inherited a tradition which does not insist on pre-nuptial and post-nuptial continence.”
Unwin, a sociologist at Cambridge University, published “Sex and Culture” in 1934. He studied 86 societies and found no exceptions to the rule that the cultures flourished during eras that valued sexual fidelity and discipline. He demonstrated through empirical data that whenever sexual mores loosened, the societies declined, and whenever they followed rigid sexual discipline they rose again.
In our recent history, the fall of the Soviet society offers a recent example where Vladimir Lenin espoused a “glass of water” theory about sex, explaining that sexual desire is just like desire for food or water. The theory collapsed, and with it collapsed the Soviet society.
However, new interpretations are being offered to explain the Freudian ideas. Barbara Ehrenreich, a widely read and award-winning author of 21 books, wrote not very long ago that sex, preferably among affectionate and consenting adults, belongs squarely in the realm of play. This “de-moralization” of sex is promoting a new sexual ethics that legitimizes and justifies everything in the name of pleasure and freedom.
What was presented as his personal opinion by President Barack Obama about same-sex marriage is an effort to legitimize the de-moralization of sex to develop a new culture where every sexual activity is fine as long as individuals engaged in the act have their consent and pleasure.
His perspective is based on a world view, a world view that Islam does not share. Islam regards physical intimacy as an act of responsibility between a man and woman within the confines of contractual marriage. Islam, on the basis of its value system, takes a strong stand on pre-marital and post-marital physical relations as well as on physical relations between people of the same gender. Islam calls for sexual discipline in society and recommends restrictions in sexual behavior to help people channel their energy in matters that are fundamental in preserving the interests of people.
However, Islam does recognize the rights of people to reject this world view and acknowledges the freedom of people to adopt an alternative perspective with the admonition that people are responsible for the consequences of their action in the eyes of God.
Marriage is an institution promoted and protected by all religions. Islam recognizes it as part of the revealed knowledge, a knowledge that is given by the divine to help human beings find their way to a better life in this as well as in the hereafter. Obviously, those who do not believe in the idea of divine revelation would find it hard to accept this notion. But this is what Islam expects its adherents to accept.
Accepting an alternative definition of marriage is like changing the revelation and the divine guidance, an act that is not supported by Islam.
Obviously, Obama and those who want to demoralize sexuality and promote the idea of extending the term “marriage” to same-sex unions would not find support among the followers of Islam, because Muslims would view it a challenge to their own value system.
They can give whatever term they want to this type of relationship, but when they would refer to that as a marriage, it would be seen conflicting with Islamic value system. This does not mean that people who do not view Islamic value system should be discriminated and denied their basic rights including the rights and privileges in matters of health and education and opportunities. If Islam recognizes the right of people to reject the idea of God as the creator and master of the universe, it also recognizes the rights of people to follow an alternative value system.
Muslims owe it to ourselves and our future generation an education that promotes the value system that we deem right for ourselves and others. We must speak out on this important issue to let the people know about what we stand for.
Our political pundits have already presented the Obama perspective as an electoral and political issue. It is much more than that. It is about the value system that we adopt as our guiding principle. It is our right to share our value system with others without being intimidated and trying to be politically correct. If others have a right to promote their ideas based on Freudian ideas, we Muslims also have the right to present our perspectives based on revealed knowledge.
Dr Aslam Abdullah is director of the Islamic Society of Nevada, Vice president of the Muslim Council of America (MCA) and the President elect of the Nevada Interfaith Council. He has authored several books and published more than 400 papers on issues related with Islam and contemporary issues. He has taught at colleges in India as well as in the US. He is also Editor-in Chief of America’s largest circulating Muslim weekly, The Muslim Observer.