I’m following a gentleman on Facebook who is visiting many faiths by “trying on” each one for a month (see Project Conversion) . He has dipped into Bahai, Hinduism, and several other religions, and this month he is learning about Buddhism. In his most recent blog post, he mentioned that his wife was having trouble with one of the aspects of being married to someone who was seeing what it was like to be a monk. Celibacy. He was practicing monkish aceticism for the day and she was a bit put out at not being able to be intimate with him. He described his separation as a way of extinguishing desire so that he could be more able to focus on worship and his search for the divine.
Now, I’m all for taking a step back and evaluating one’s life. We Muslims fast in the month of Ramadan (which this man will be experiencing along with us), during which time we abstain from food, drink, and, yes, marital intimacy during the daylight hours. We are encouraged to fast other times during the year, and we are warned against overindulgence in any area of life. Moderation is the key. But giving up permanently the generous gifts that Allah has given us is not a part of our religion. Just as we have an innate need to eat and drink, our sexuality is a part of us that needs to be nurtured and fulfilled, not whipped and beaten into submission.
Narrated by Anas bin Malik: “A group of three men came to the houses of the wives of the Prophet asking how the Prophet worshipped (Allah), and when they were informed about that, they considered their worship insufficient and said, “Where are we from the Prophet as his past and future sins have been forgiven.” Then one of them said, “I will offer the prayer throughout the night forever.” The other said, “I will fast throughout the year and will not break my fast.” The third said, “I will keep away from the women and will not marry forever.” Allah’s Apostle came to them and said, “Are you the same people who said so-and-so? By Allah, I am more submissive to Allah and more afraid of Him than you; yet I fast and break my fast, I do sleep and I also marry women. So he who does not follow my tradition in religion, is not from me (not one of my followers).” (Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim)
A person who seeks to stamp out his sexual desire is stamping out a part of him that is part and parcel of his very nature. It is a misguided attempt to purify, because there is nothing “base” or dirty about sexuality when it is practiced moderately within the bounds of marriage. Why would God create us with this need and then tell us that we have to get rid of it in order to be truly faithful and close to Him?
We have another bodily function that is distinctly less clean than our sexuality. Every human being urinates and defacates. It is part of our physical nature. So, can a person who truly seeks to find God cleanse himself of the filth of the body and train himself to extinguish the need to relieve himself? It’s not possible, and God never would ask it of us. It is a normal human function. Yet even though dealing with our bodily wastes is necessary for the highest priest or the lowest acolyte, no one would be so foolish as to suggest that they have to stop pooping and peeing in order to be spiritual. We accept this as part of our lives and then get on with our lives.
If you are hungry, don’t give up food (which is impossible anyway). Go have a sandwich, and then you can return to your worship in a calm manner. If sex is a distraction, don’t give up sex, get married and fulfill your desire in a permissible fashion with your spouse. Then go and pray. Enjoy the pure gifts that God gave us in moderation. Don’t deprive yourself of something that God gave you. That would be ungrateful, and being ungrateful to God will send you in the opposite direction from the one you want to go in.