What are some of the religion's teachings in the area of
by John Kaltner
general, Muslims tend to hold traditional and conservative views
regarding human sexuality. Islam teaches that sexual relations are
appropriate only within the context of marriage. Muslim men are
allowed to marry women from among the People of the Book (i.e.,
a Jew or a Christian), but a Muslim woman can only marry a Muslim
difference is due to the belief that the husband is the head of
the household and the wife is expected to follow the law of his
community. She must marry a fellow Muslim because it would be inappropriate
for a Muslim woman to come under the authority of Judaism or Christianity.
Muslim attitudes regarding the rearing of children also influence
who may marry whom. Since the religion of
the father typically determines the religion of the offspring, a
woman should not marry a non-Muslim. There are exceptions
to these norms, but this remains the general practice throughout
the Islamic world.
of the more unusual differences between the two main branches of
Islam is that Shi‘a Muslims may enter into a temporary marriage,
something that is not permitted for Sunnis. This practice, called
mut‘a, allows a man and woman to become legally married
for a set period of time that they mutually agree upon. After that
point the marriage is dissolved, but the man is required to provide
for and support any children that are conceived during the course
of the marriage. This practice has been criticized by some as nothing
more than a form of legalized prostitution, but its supporters argue
that it is an effective way to promote individual responsibility
and accountability within society.
marriage between a man and a woman is the ideal state, homosexuality
is not considered to be a valid form of sexual expression in Islam.
Gay and lesbian Muslims are becoming a more vocal part of the ummah
in the modern world, particularly in the West, but they are still
often marginalized by their fellow Muslims. In some countries homosexual
activity is a punishable offense that is against the law, so gay
Muslims in those areas must exercise discretion and caution in how
they live their lives. There is no tradition of celibacy in Islam,
with some texts of the Qur’an criticizing it as a lifestyle.
It is therefore an expectation within Muslim societies that one
will marry someone of the opposite sex and raise a family.
control is generally permitted in Islam, although it is not mentioned
in the Qur’an. The legitimacy of birth control is sometimes
debated in the modern day, but most experts say it is permissible
as long as both partners are in agreement about using it. In some
countries, like Egypt, where population growth is a cause for concern,
the ruling government openly promotes birth control through the
media and official publications. Sterilization is generally not
allowed in Islam because it alters creation from God’s intended
purpose and cuts off the possibility of procreation. Some who oppose
birth control do so for a similar reason in that they maintain it
puts humans in the place of God, who alone should have ultimate
authority over the creation of human life.
abortion is frowned upon in Islam it is allowed when the life of
the mother is in danger. In that situation it is permissible to
terminate a pregnancy because the mother’s life takes precedence
over that of her unborn child. Legal experts disagree on when the
soul enters the body and the related ethical questions regarding
when human life begins. Some say it is at the moment of conception,
while other argue that the fetus is not a human being until 120
days after conception. Those who hold the latter view claim that
abortion is permitted up to that point but not beyond.
attitudes and practices regarding sexuality often play an influential
role in shaping the views of Muslims who do not live in Islamic
countries. For this reason, it is important
to avoid overgeneralizations regarding what Muslims think about
matters related to human sexuality. Despite the
range of opinions, however, all Muslims are taught by their faith
to believe that sexual expression is something healthy and good.
It was given to humanity by God so that men and women might enjoy
each other and perpetuate the human family.
©2006 John Kaltner
Kaltner is a member of the Department of Religious Studies
at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee where he teaches courses
in Bible, Islam, and Arabic. Among his books are Islam:
What Non-Muslims Should Know (2003); Inquiring
of Joseph: Getting to Know a Biblical Character through the Qu’ran
Instructs Isaac: An Introduction to the Qur’an for Bible Readers
(Collegeville: Liturgical Press/Michael Glazier, 1999).
from What Do Our Neighbors Believe?: Questions and Answers on
Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Howard Greenstein, Kendra
Hotz, and John Kaltner are used by permission from Westminster John
Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. The book will be available for
purchase in December 2006.