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Consent in Sex in Islam

I think it is quite a general knowledge that Islam prohibits any form of sexual activities before marriage. So technically, the concept of ‘consent’ is not really there, in terms of premarital sex. With that being said, some said the concept of ‘consent’ is totally non-existent in Islam, that women are sex slaves to their husbands, and must obey whatever their husbands want, even if she does not want or unable to do so. Women who did so are labelled as disobedient wives and would be sent to hell!

Is this true?

Based on my observation, when we’re talking about consent, there are 2 context; general and specific.

  • General – sex is okay is everyone as long as he/she consents.
  • Specific – sex is ONLY okay with someone when he/she consents.

In regards to the first context, the answer is clear; sex is not okay with everyone, even if he/she consents. Sex is ONLY okay with your spouse in Islam.

"When one of you have sex with your wife, it is a rewarded act of charity." The Companions were surprised and said, "But we do it purely out of our desire. How can it be counted as charity?" The Prophet replied, "If you had done it with a forbidden woman, it would have been counted as a sin, but if you do it in legitimacy, it is counted as charity.” — Muslim. Number 1674
"Those who guard their chastity (ie. private parts, from illegal sexual acts) except from their wives or (the captives and slaves) that their right hands possess, - for them, they are free from blame. But whoever seeks beyond that, then those are the transgressors" - Al-Mu'minun 23, 5-7
"And those who guard their private parts. Except from their wives or those their right hands possess, for indeed, they are not to be blamed. But whoever seeks beyond that, then they are the transgressors" - Al-Maarij, 29-31

(yup the last different verses from two different chapters talk about the exact same thing, in the exact same order! 😮)

Secondly, is it true that sex is ONLY okay with someone when he/she consents?

Yes, it is true.

Well, how does this align with the first fact that we’ve learned? That sex is okay is everyone as long as he/she consents?

Yes, sex outside of marriage is sinful. But someone who rapes (having sex with someone who doesn’t consent) have committed an even greater transgression, with tremendous heavy weight of sins upon it. It causes such a heavy trauma that affects one’s life greatly, and almost impossible to recover from.

Whether you’re a Muslim or not, the trauma is tremendous regardless of your geography, religion, belief and culture. We don’t get to downplay that by saying, ‘You shouldn’t walk alone at night’, ‘You shouldn’t dress like that’, etc.

The rapist is guilty, not the victim.
The rapist is guilty, not the victim.
The rapist is guilty, not the victim.

This brings us to the next question; what about marital rape? What does Islam say about marital rape? Because remember those sayings that in Islam, women are sex slaves, and those who do not obey are bound to be in hell? Some might use this argument, that it is better to look for sex outside of marriage, as long as he/she consents. It is far better than forcing your spouse onto yourself, right?

Alright, let’s talk about that.

Firstly, if Islam is the religion of peace & mercy, surely it does not allow let alone encourage marital rape. Surely it would heavily condemn causing trauma to one’s spouse for only his/her pleasure.

"And due to the wives is similar to what is expected of them, according to what is reasonable." - Al-Baqarah, 2:228
"And live with them (women) in kindness." - An-Nisaa', 4:19‘I give you counsel that you be good to your women’ - from Prophet Muhammad's last sermon“The best of you are the best to their women.” - Sunan Ibn Mājah, number 1978

It’s just, ‘marital rape’ is not yet to be understood as its own thing, or as a stand-alone concept, at the moment, i.e., it would be included in abuse, & not treating the spouse the right way.

When do you think US started criminalizing marital rape? It’s during the 1990s. It was not until the 1990s that the ICC statute recognized crimes of sexual violence as violent crimes against the person.

So, do we think that before 1990s, or before 600 A.D. as a matter of fact, marital rape did not happen? Of course not, right? In fact, it happens all over the world, undiscriminating of geography, religion, belief and culture.

“Wait, what about the hadith where a wife refusing sex with her husband would be cursed?”

Here is the full text:

‘If a man calls his wife to his bed and she refuses [and does not come], and he spends the night angry with her, the angels will curse her until morning.’ – al-Bukhaari, number 4794

So why? Why such woman deserve such woe?

Because, in Islam, sex is a responsibility, not an entertainment.

What does this mean?

I noticed this, when I felt weird that Westerners in general are very defensive about their freedom on entertainment things, such as casual sex and alcohol (disclaimer: it’s merely out of of cultural & background difference that I felt weird, and not in a condescending way).

I mean, the bad consequences are clear. Being drunk takes your consciousness away, causing you to do stupid/illegal things, that may not even desire to do in the first place. And how do you talk someone who is drunk out to ‘control themselves’? They are already out of control!

And casual sex creates an unsafe dating culture, where social cues and body languages would easily be misunderstood or manipulated, and hence unintentionally (or may be intentionally) causing sexual trauma.

I mean, what’s the ROI (return of investment)?

Yes, they can list down the benefits of alcohol and casual sex. And I may not deny that at all actually.

But I’m asking about direct ROI. Like, what are they doing this for?

Entertainment. That’s it, right?I mean, the euphoric feeling of being drunk, and the pleasure of sex, especially when you meet more and more attractive person each time, is definitely great. I can understand that, and I don’t deny that.

But… that’s it, right?

So, given in this world full of pleasurable forms of entertainment, why not just easily cut these two forms off when there are clearly a lot of bad consequences without tangible ROI?

Then I realized; it is due to their culture and background, that they easily view regulations as threats to their freedom.
It’s not that they don’t acknowledge the bad consequences, it’s that they are afraid that if one form of entertainment is being closed, it opens the door to possibly more forms of entertainment may even be closed too. And further, this might extend not only to entertainment, but ultimately to life essentials as well.

I mean, amidst this COVID-19 pandemic, take a look at quite a lot of US citizens protesting against wearing masks being compulsory. I was surprised initially that there was quite a lot of them, even if they don’t make up the majority. This is not an entertainment matter; this is a life-and-death matter!

But it took me a while to understand, that they don’t necessarily deny the graving situation, but they are afraid that more aspects in their lives would be controlled by the government. And some of them are scared so much, that they spread lies and fake news, to ensure masks won’t be compulsory (e.g. the COVID-19 virus itself is not real).

I understand that ultimately, it is a cultural difference of how we perceive freedom.

For the rest of the world, especially Asians, we don’t look at it that way.
We understand that regulations are meant to… well, regulate us. Tight regulation on one aspect, does not equate to our freedom being jeopardized.

Coming back to our topic here, I just want to stress that in Western cultures, sex is mainly seen as entertainment. While in Islam, sex is clearly stated as a responsibility.


Because the ROI of sexual relations in a marriage, if done properly, is HUGE to the society.

"And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquillity in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought." - Ar-Rum, 30:21

Tranquility. Affection. Mercy. Love.

You don’t get to buy those, you know?

“Sex is a responsibility? Why does it sound so boring and heavy?”

You see, even before Islam, humanity has existed for a long time, and they have already lots of sex practices.
Islam just shows how to do it properly, in ways and manners that is beneficial for us.

Wait, I think actually it’s the actual opposite. As matter of fact, I think Islam just highlights what NOT to do, due to the harm that the prohibited practices caused. So you actually have a wide array of practices still. Just minus the NOT to do thing, which is not that much to begin with.

In Islam, sexual practices with spouse are counted as act of worshiping God as well, and you got a lot of deeds rewarded to you!

"Having intercourse (with one’s wife) is a charity.” They said, “O Messenger of Allah, if one of us fulfils his desire, is there reward in that?” He said, “Do you not see that if he does it in a haram way he will have the burden of sin? So if he does it in a halal way, he will have a reward for that.” - Narrated by Muslim, number 1674

And natural instinct here does not only mean the action if sex itself. We all innately want to have companionship, intimacy (in all aspect, not just physical one), having kids, a sense of being in a community, etc. The intensity might vary, some might even be relatively low that we perceive that ‘they don’t want it’, but my point is, it’s innate to us in some extent.

One interesting instinct that I would like to elaborate, is the instinct of wanting to be exclusive to others. Like, have you ever gotten jealous when someone claims your best friend as their best friend? Or even someone who tries to be close with your best friend, you’ll be kind of annoyed by that, even though you completely know there’s nothing wrong with it you have no intention of prohibiting it either?

Or… when you immediately feel like groaning when you plan a date night, suddenly a friend wanting to tag along? Or, that irky feeling when you goes on date and you do things that you used to do with your ex?

Yeah… that kind of instinct.

We all have that instinct to have ‘a thing’, only exclusively to a special person that you have a form of relationship with. And I’m not talking just about spouse here. I mean, how you prefer to spend your time with your mother, could be totally different with how you prefer to spend time with your father.

So in terms of exclusivity with your spouse, marriage secures that with clear bond and agreement towards each other that was spoken/expressed out loud (called akad). Exclusivity of sex is the main thing Islam provided to fulfill the instinct. I mean, you can tell your partner secrets, you can cry with him/her behind the door when no one is watching. But to some extent, you do that with other people as well, with varying issues and level of depth. But Islam gives you security in regards of sex, where it is preserved only for both of you. So go enjoy it like you deserve to.

That is what it meant by sex is a responsibility. Yes, it is a serious thing. Yes, it needs to be conducted properly. Because the ROI is not just the satisfaction, it expands all the way to family and community building.

This is why Islam highly encourages marriage, if one is ready with the mindset to do it right.

"And marry the unmarried among you and the righteous among your male slaves and female slaves. If they should be poor, Allah will enrich them from His bounty, and Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing." - An-Nur, 24:36 
"Do not delay in three things; 1) The offering of the obligatory prayer. 2) The offering of the funeral prayer when the deceased’s body is present . 3) The marriage of a woman when her couple is found" - Sunan Tirmidhi, number 171 & 1075 

Remember the keyword – with the mindset to do it right.

Because only with the right mindset, the right actions would be taken. Then only the ROI will be reaped.
Granted, we’re not perfect. Sometimes we will do mistakes despite wanting to get it right. That’s why I bolded the mindset instead of the actions. At least, we must want to get it right. Then we can ensure that we would take the best, if not right, actions.
How to prepare for the right mindset?

  • Equip yourself with correct and sufficient knowledge
  • Be in good character to family members
  • Provide alimony (nafkah), in all of its forms
  • Still maintaining ikhtilat after marriage – i.e. keep the proper boundaries of interacting with the opposite sex

So, the hadiths which made it seems like Islam is promoting marital rape, is actually targeted towards those who PURPOSELY neglect their responsibilities in terms of sexual relations with their spouse.

Let’s take an example of a wife who may be feverish on one night where the husband wants to be with her. This could go 2 ways.

Firstly, the wife would be frank about her condition and her reluctance for that night. Thus, the husband would understand and nothing would happen that night.
Secondly, the wife would be frank about her condition, yet stills decide to go on. Thus, the husband would understand, and ‘take it easy’ that night.

This is an example on how consent plays in Islam, in regards of being married with the right mindset.

In the first situation, where the wife would be reluctant, the husband’s common sense is to not do anything, because he knows it is among his responsibilities also to take a good care of her welfare, which includes not to break her consent just for the sake of his lust.

In the second situation, though she is feverish, she acknowledges her responsibilities when her husband calls, and she shall be rewarded when she fulfills that call. So, she chooses to endure her discomfort to fulfill it. And her husband knowing this, would ‘take it easy’ that night, as he knows it is among his responsibilities also to take a good care of her welfare, by not burdening her too much.

In both cases, consent is not broken at all.

Consider a third scenario, where the wife may not be feverish at all, but just rejects his husband without no reasonable explanation. Imagine that somehow becomes a norm in their marriage. What would the husband feel? And I am not talking just about pure sexual rejection here. The husband could be ruminating, asking himself if he did something wrong although he never did. He could be emotionally devastated, or angry, that the woman she rightfully deserved to be with, does not even want to touch him.

This further could result in coldness between them, especially if the wife acts like she did nothing wrong. This could affect their marriage, as a foundation to their society. And this further perpetuates them to take not-so-right actions. Examples, even if they do not seek pleasure outside their marriage, they could do things such as raging around the house, fighting unhealthily, or not talking at all.

Thus, the act of rejection without a solid purpose is not considered being in the right mindset and taking the right action. It could be disastrous because the foundation of the marriage is not preserved.
And that, is why such woman deserve such woe.
(And the same goes if the husband also rejects the wife for no reason! The husband would also get the woe he deserves, because sex is considered a form of alimony that is compulsory to be given to his wife in the way that she pleases)

This is why there is no a stand-alone concept of consent or marital rape in Islam being introduced in the first place.
Because the concept of sex alone is intertwined with marriage, and therefore the notion that sex is a responsibility, not an entertainment.

This is why there are many regulations in Islam on this matter.

Because we take it seriously.
Because it is a responsibility.
Not a mere entertainment as the Western culture portrays.

Sex cannot be taken lightly.
Sex MUST NOT be taken lightly.
Marriage MUST NOT be taken lightly.

"There are three things which, whether undertaken seriously or in jest, are treated as serious; Marriage, divorce and taking back a wife (after a revocable divorce)." - Tirmidhi number 1184, Sunan Abi Dawud number 2194, Sunan Ibn Majah number 2039

So, as a conclusion,

  • Sex is allowed only with your spouse in Islam.
  • Yet it still does not undermine one’s consent in sexual relations, be it in a legitimate marriage, let alone outside of marriage.
  • In Islam, sex is a responsibility, not an entertainment, because of its ROI that fulfills a lot of human needs.
  • With the right mindset, comes the right actions – both husband and wife must take care of each other’s welfare in their relations. It’s a sin actually to not do that in marriage.

“Wow, girl, so much talk, yet you’re still single?
Don’t talk too much, know where your place is.”

Yes, you don’t have to rub that fact in my face 😐

And yes, precisely because as someone who is not married, that I am talking this much to explain.

Because if I, an average Muslim, not yet married, not yet having that much responsibilities towards those called husband and kids,
can see this,

so should you.
So should everyone.

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