Lust in Islam is best understood as a lack of temperance that leads one astray from Allah, the proper name for God in Islam. Sexual desire is not at all forbidden in Islam so long as it remains within the boundaries of a committed relationship between two consenting adults. However, unbridled lust, be it pornography, masturbation, promiscuity, etc., is considered harmful and not in keeping with the tenets of Islam that extoll temperance as a governing virtue for a Muslim’s various appetites sexual or otherwise.
The Role of Satan
Lustful acts are not damning in Islam, per say, but considered behaviors done under the influence of Shaytan, or Satan and, therefore, in error. For example, the Quran states, “Satan threatens you with want, and orders you to commit shameful acts, but Allah promises His pardon and Grace, for Allah is bounteous and all-knowing.” (Quran 2:268) When a Muslim indulges in lustful behavior he or she is forgetting Allah and, instead, following the suggestions of Satan.
In order for a Muslim to better adhere to the precepts of their faith and draw closer to Allah, they must gain control of their many wayward behaviors including lust. In order to do so, Muslims must temper their nafs (often translated as ‘lower self’ or ‘animal soul’). The nafs is the aspect of a Muslim’s soul that thrives on the appetites (lust, anger, gluttony, etc.) if left to its own volition and is easily led astray by Satan. Therefore, it becomes an incumbent duty for a Muslim to gain mastery over their nafs.
Fasting As A Method To Gain Temperance
Fasting is an imperative for Muslims, in part, because it diminishes the nafs and, consequently, lustful behavior. By temporarily depriving the physical body of basic sustenance, i.e., food, water, etc., the Muslim, ideally, gains self-control over the appetites, especially carnality. From Muhammad, the messenger of Islam, to Rumi, Islam’s most famous sage and poet, the virtues of fasting are held in high regard as an integral method of taming desires and maintaining virtue. Rumi states it quite eloquently in a bit of verse:
“When you fast, good habits gather like friends who want to help. Fasting is Solomon's ring. Don't give it to some illusion and lose your power, but even if you have, if you've lost all will and control, they come back when you fast, like soldiers appearing out of the ground, pennants flying above them.”
The Role of Forgiveness In Relation To Desire
While lust in Islam is categorized as a sin, it is important to note that one of the common words for sin in Islam, ghafla, is better translated as ‘forgetfulness’ or ‘heedlessness’ rather than an act that jeopardizes their relationship with Allah. This is an important distinction, especially when a Muslim feels overwhelmed by their lustful appetites. Instead of reveling in shame and guilt or, worse, abandoning faith, the individual reorients toward Allah again by asking forgiveness:
“But whoever repents after his wrongdoing and reforms, indeed, Allah will turn to him in forgiveness. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” (Quran 5:39)
Forgiveness in Islam plays a vital role in relation to lust. It serves as an antidote to the shame and guilt that can often consume a Muslim when their indulgences seem out of control. Instead of growing despondent as a Muslim continually sins, the individual becomes more and more hopeful for Allah’s mercy and forgiveness. This hope, then, diminishes the voice of Satan in the Muslim’s ears to a distant murmur as Allah’s grace resounds in the believer’s conscience in spite of their perceived failings.
Though lust in Islam is considered wrong and not in keeping with the values a Muslim ought to cherish, lust and desire are not considered abominations that indicate a lack of faith. Instead, lust is treated as a heedless pursuit that ought to be tempered by fasting when the need arises and through diligent remembrance of Allah’s grace and forgiveness.
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