ISLAM AND SEXUAL REPRESSION
Western psychologists accuse religion of repressing the vital energy of man and rendering his life quite miserable as a result of the sense of guilt which especially obsesses the religious people and makes them imagine that all their actions are sinful and can only be expiated through abstention from enjoying the pleasures of life. Those psychologists add that Europe lived in the darkness of ignorance as long as it adhered to its religion but once it freed itself from the fetters of religion, its emotions were liberated and accordingly it achieved wonders in the field of production.
Such psychologists often say: Do you want us to return to religion? Do you want to fetter the emotions which, we the progressives, have set free? Do you want to embitter the lives of the youth by incessantly reminding them of what is right and wrong?
Let the Europeans say whatever they like about their religion. Whether we believe it or not makes little difference at present because we are not concerned with religion in general: we are discussing Islam.
Before discussing whether or not Islam represses the vital energy we should define the meaning of repression which has been misunderstood and misapplied by both the "cultured" and the half-educated.
Repression is not the result of abstention from performing the instinctive act. It is the result of believing that the instinctive act is dirty, and of refusing to admit to oneself that such a motive may come to one's mind or engage one's thinking. In this sense repression becomes an unconscious feeling which may not be cured by performing the instinctive act. He who performs the instinctive act but believes that he is committing a degrading and dirty act is a person who suffers from repression, though he may commit such an act twenty times a day. Every time he commits such an act, there shall ensue a conflict within his psyche between what he has done and what he ought to have done. It is this conscious and unconscious conflict which gives birth to complexes and psychological disorders.
This definition of repression is not invented by the writer. It is the definition given by Freud who spent his life in criticizing religion for repressing people's activities. Freud says in his book "Three Contributions to the Sexual Theory" (p. 82) that "distinction should be made between the unconscious repression and the abstention from performing the instinctive act-which is a mere suspension of the act"
Now that we have come to understand that repression is synonymous to the feeling that the instinctive act is dirty rather than a temporary suspension of it, let us proceed with our discussion of repression and Islam.
No religion is as frank as Islam in recognizing the natural motives and treating them as clean and healthy. The Holy Qur'an says:
"fair in the eyes of men is the love of things they covet: women and sons; heaped-up hordes of gold and silver, horses branded (for blood and excellence) and (wealth) cattle and well-tilled lands” (iii : 14).
In this verse, the Qur'an names the earthly desires and recognizes them as a matter of fact and states that they are desirable things in the eyes of men, but does not object to these desires as such nor does it disapprove of such feelings.
It is true that Islam does not permit people to give way to such desires or to be dominated or enslaved by adam. If everyone becomes a slave to his passions, life will be running in the wrong direction. Humanity aims at development and improvement; it can never achieve such aims as long as it is dominated by its unruly passions which exhaust all the energy and lead it downwards to animalism.
Islam does not allow people to descend to the level of animalism but there is a great difference between this and the unconscious repression which holds that such passions are dirty in themselves and which drives people to abstain from even entertaining such feelings in the name of purification and elevation.
In its treatment of human soul, Islam recognizes, in principle, all the natural emotions and does not repress them in our unconscious but it permits the practical performance of such instinctive acts to an extent such as may give a reasonable degree of pleasure without causing any harm or injury to the individual or the community. An individual who is thoroughly absorbed in satisfying his passions bril1gs about an early enervation of his viral energy. Besides, a person who is enslaved by his unruly passions will not be fit for doing anything. All his efforts and thoughts will be devoted to the satisfaction of his desires.
Similarly, the society too suffers a great setback from the exhaustion of the vital energy of its members in one direction alone instead of being used for diverse purposes as originally planned by its Creator, as this leads to the neglect of so many other ends that are no less worthy of realization. It will also lead to the destruction of family ties and to social disintegration: "Thou wouldst think they were united, but their hearts are divided". This makes it very easy for others to attack and annihilate them like what happened in France.
Subject to the limits that are meant to prevent the individual from inflicting harm upon his own self, other individuals, the family or society, Islam permits him full enjoyment of the pleasures of life. In fact, Islam frankly calls on people to enjoy the pleasures of life. The Qur'an says: "Say, who hath forbidden the beautiful gifts of God which He hath produced for His servants, and the things clean and pure which He hath provided for sustenance?" In another verse the Qur'an says: "And neglect not thy portion of the world"; "Eat of the good things We have provided for you"; "Eat and drink but Waste not by excess".
Islam recognizes the sexual instinct so frankly that the Apostle himself said: "From the pleasures of the world, perfume and woman were endeared to me; and the delight of my eye is prayer". The sexual instinct is elevated to the rank similar to that of the best perfume on earth, and it is bracketed with prayer which is the best means by which men may come closer to God.
The Apostle once said:
"A man is recompensed for the sexual act he performs with his wife," and when some of the surprised listeners asked the Apostle of God: "Is the person rewarded for satisfying his passions?” the Prophet answered: "'Do you not see that if he were to satisfy it in a prohibited manner he would be committing a sin? So if he satisfies it in a lawful manner he will be recompensed." (Muslim)
This is why repression will never originate under the rule of Islam. If young people feel the urge of the sexual instinct there is no evil in that, and they need not regard the sexual instinct as a dirty, repulsive feeling.
What Islam requires of the young people in this respect, is to control their passions without repressing them, to control them willingly and consciously, that is, to suspend their satisfaction until the suitable time. According to Freud, suspension of the performance of the sexual act is not repression. Unlike repression, temporary suspension of the performance of the sexual instinct does not overtax the nerves nor does it lead to complexes and psychological disorders.
This call for controlling the passions is not an arbitrary ordinance intended to deprive people of the pleasures of life, for history bears witness that no nation could safeguard its sovereignty without being able to control its passions or abstain willingly from some permitted pleasures. On the other hand, no nation could withstand international conflicts unless its people were trained to endure hardships and were able to suspend the satisfaction of their desires for hours, days, years as the need of the hour may be.
Hence, the wisdom of fasting in Islam. Some libertines, when they talk about fasting, say: What is this nonsense which aims at torturing the bodies with hunger and thirst and depriving man of food, drinks and the pleasure which he desires to have, and for what purpose? Just to comply with arbitrary orders unmotivated by wisdom or reasonable end!
To such libertines we should say: "What is man if he does not exercise his power of restraint? How can he help humanity if he cannot abstain, even for a few hours, from satisfying his desires? How can we have the patience to fight evil on earth and deprive ourselves as a result thereof of so many pleasures?”
How could the communist whose propagandists in the Islamic East make fun of fasting and other means of self-restraint have withstood against the Nazis in Stalingrad if they had not been trained to endure the vilest hardships which tortured both their souls as well as their bodies. It is strange that these communists approve of self-restraint when it is ordered by the "State", the concrete authority that can inflict immediate punishment, but start crying against it when it is demanded by God, the Creator of the state and all living creatures.
It is often said that religion embitters the life of those who follow its rules and lets the ghost of sin haunt them. But this does riot apply to Islam which mentions forgiveness far more than it speaks of any castigation.
Sin, according to Islam, is neither a ghoul ever haunting people nor an endless darkness shadowing their lives. Adam's great original sin is not a sword unsheathed in the face of humanity, nor does it require any further purification or ransom: "Then learnt Adam from his Lord words of inspiration and his Lord forgave him” (ii : 37). Adam's repentance was accepted simply and without any formalities.
Like their father, the children of Adam are not excluded from God's mercy when they commit sin. God knows the limits of their nature and He does not overburden them with what they cannot bear: "On no soul doth God place a burden greater than it can bear" (i: 286). The Apostle says, “All the children of Adam are wrong-doers, and the best of all wrong-doers are those who repent”.
The verses of the Qur'an which describes God's mercy, forgiveness and repentance are very numerous but we are content to quote the following verse:
“Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and for a garden whose width is that (of the whole) of heavens and of the earth prepared for the righteous-those who spend (freely) whether in prosperity or in adversity; who restrain anger, and pardon (all) men;-for God loves those who do good; and those who having done something to be ashamed of, or wronged their own souls, earnestly bring God to mind, and ask for forgiveness for their sins,-and who can forgive sins except God? -and are never obstinate in persisting knowingly in (the wrong) what they have done".
"For such the reward is forgiveness from their Lord, and gardens with rivers flowing underneath,-on eternal dwelling: how excellent a recompense for those who work (and strive)” (iii:133-136).
How vast and far-reaching God's mercy is! He not only accepts the repentance of souls but also absolves them of their sins and grants them His acceptance and kindness and even elevates them to the rank of the righteous.
After such mercy could there be the slightest doubt as to God's forgiveness? How could torture and sin haunt the souls of people when God accepts and welcomes them if they truly utter one word: repentance.
There is no need to quote further texts in support of our argument. But, nonetheless, we shall quote the saying of the Apostle : "By He in whose hand my soul doth lie, had you not committed any sin God should have taken you away to replace with others who would commit sin and ask God's forgiveness which will be granted to them".
It is, then, the will of God that He forgives people's sins. In conclusion, we quote this wonderful verse of the Holy Qur'an:
“What con God gain by your punishment, if ye are grateful and ye believe? Nay, it is God that recognizeth (all good) and knoweth all things" (iv : 147).
Yes, what can God gain by torturing people when He loves to grant them His mercy and forgiveness?