A young companion once came to the Messenger ﷺ asking for permission to fornicate. The companions present at the time erupted with rage and told him to stop talking. The Prophet ﷺ gently asked the young companion to sit by his side and—speaking to him very calmly—asked him if he would approve if his mother or sister were to engage in such behavior. The young man answered in the negative. “Just as you wouldn’t approve it for your family,” the Prophet said, "neither would others approve it for theirs”. He then placed his hand on the young man’s heart and made a prayer for him, “Oh God, forgive his sins, purify his heart, and guard his chastity”. (1)
We live in a hypersexualized world. Just have a look at the current pop-culture trends here in America. At the time of writing, some of the more popular television shows include Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Grey’s Anatomy, and True Blood. To one degree or another, each of these shows revolves around sex and infidelity, which are dutifully portrayed in near-pornographic fashion. Take a gander at the billboard charts and you will see “Blurred Lines” as the top hit in America, a song which revolves around the tantalizing refrain, “I know you want it”. The sexually suggestive content which we are bombarded by on a daily basis works its way into our subconscious, ultimately influencing the ways we think and act. So how do we keep our guard up and not fall prey to our desires? The answer is not simple.
Understanding Your Nature
As humans, we fall under the sway of impulses and proclivities. It is simply part of our nature. God touches on this in the Qur’an when He says, “Made beautiful for mankind is the love of desires, for women and offspring, of hoarded treasures of gold and silver….” (2). The desires for sex, children, and money are common to us all. When balanced, these desires become harmonious with our primordial nature (fitra), and are even spiritually compensated by Allah; when imbalanced, these desires can lead to spiritual and physical ruin. Of all the aforementioned primal urges, many have argued that the human libido is the strongest.
The Messengerﷺ did not shy away from dealing with the realities that his community faced in struggling to guard their chastity. He gave some straightforward advice on how to handle this particular issue. Speaking to a group of youth, he advised, “Any of you who can afford to should marry. It restrains the eye and protects the private parts. Anyone who is unable to marry should fast, as it restrains the appetite”. (3) Among the many benefits of marriage, one is making that which would be otherwise sinful virtuous. The companions once asked the Prophet ﷺ, “Oh Messenger of God, might one of us satisfy his passions, and be rewarded for it?” The Prophet replied, “Have you seen how if one yields freely to what is haram, he becomes burdened with sin? Likewise, if one yields freely to what is halal he earns reward.”(4)
To be very clear, marriage is not the "be all and end all" to the taming of one’s carnal desires. It simply provides a lawful means of sexual fulfillment. There are many who still struggle with keeping their carnal desires in check even after they are married. A deeper-rooted dilemma exists that we all must personally address: the impurity of our own souls. We have become a people obsessed with our physical composition. We shower daily, perfume our bodies, stare at the mirror before leaving the house, buy nice clothes, hit the gym, and eat only the most nutritious of foods. We do this day in and day out, making sure our bodies are properly attended to. At first sign of any physical ailment we take any and all measures to restore our health—and yet we completely ignore the wellbeing of our very souls.
Regarding the soul, God tells us in the Qur’an, “Successful is the one who purifies it and a failure is the one who corrupts it” (5). Just like the physical body, the soul can be filled with diseases if not cared for properly—diseases which require proper spiritual medicine to heal. Sexual lust, the drive for power, greed, self-righteousness, and arrogance are but a few of the sicknesses of the soul that must be cured.
For anyone who is serious about trying to cure the soul and keeping their desires in check, I highly recommend the following CDs as a starting point: Purification of the Hearts by Shaykh Mokhtar Maghraoui and Refinement of the Hearts by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Reflections of the Hearts by various Scholars.
(1) Abridged from the Musnad of Imam Ahmad
(2) Qur'an (3:14)
(3)يَا مَعْشَرَ الشَّبَابِ مَنِ اسْتَطَاعَ مِنْكُمُ الْبَاءَةَ فَلْيَتَزَوَّجْ، وَمَنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَعَلَيْهِ بِالصَّوْمِ فَإِنَّهُ لَهُ وِجَاءٌ
(4)قالوا: يا رسول الله، أيأتي أحدُنا شهوَته ولَهُ فيها أجْر. فقال: أرأيتم لو وضعَها في حرام أكان عليه وِزر، فكذلك إذا وضَعها في الحلال كان له أجر
(5) Qur'an (91:9-10)
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