Sex and the Shari’a: Defining Gender Norms and Sexual Deviancy in Shi’i Islam
77 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2015 Last revised: 7 Jul 2016
Date Written: October 1, 2015
This paper demonstrates that modern authoritative jurists working within the Shi’i tradition have developed their rules respecting sex regulation to serve three primary commitments. The first of these is that there is an intense and near debilitating desire on the part of human beings generally, though mostly men, for a great deal of sex. This desire must be satisfied, but it also must be tightly controlled. This is because of the second commitment, which is that excessive licentiousness is a form of secular distraction from a believer’s central obligation to worship God. Finally, and perhaps the most interesting, is the commitment to maintain and uphold gender differentiation in order to ensure the preservation of traditional gender roles within a gendered hierarchy firmly established in the marital contract. That is, there must be clear delineations between men, on the one hand, and women, on the other, if hierarchies relating to the respective roles of husbands and wives are to be maintained. Having described the commitments, the paper sets out some of the key implications that result from them. These include fierce intolerance of nonmarital sex, which is presumed to distract the believer from the worship of God, and an even fiercer intolerance of homosexuality, which challenges the strict gender norms established in marital contracts. Interestingly, however, other consequences of Shi’i Islam’s commitments are relative tolerance of sex change operations, and acceptance of at least some forms of sexual gratification with child wives. The conclusion offers brief remarks on the relationship of this normative framework to actual law and social practice in contemporary Shi’i societies.
Keywords: sex, shari'a, family law, Islamic law, Shiism, Islamic criminal law, zina, sodomy, homosexuality, transgender
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