Q. A couple of weeks back I stumbled upon your website, and I find it to be a very interesting, informative, and above all, a logical take on Islam. Now, I have a question about masturbation in Islam.

I know that in the time of the Prophet (SAW), people used to marry at a very early age and thus were able to fulfill their sexual desires with their spouses. However, in today's society, with all of the sexualized images around, and where people tend to get married in their late twenties (or even later), it often becomes difficult to control one's desires if one is unmarried. 

So, I have looked on the Internet at a number of websites and the various views have been as follows:

1) Masturbation is totally haram.

2) Masturbation is permissible if a person is not married.

3) Masturbation is permissible if a person believes that not indulging in it will lead to adultery.

4) Masturbation is permissible.

I was wondering what your opinion is on this issue, and also whether you had any suggestions on how to prevent oneself from resorting to this act.

A. Our view is that of the psychologists on the subject, and you should consult with them. As far as our understanding, the needs and wants of the sexual human creature is often decided by circumstances. One of the unique things about Islamic law is that it takes the individual situation into account, so much so that it is often impossible for any serious scholar to rule for a definitive yea or nay on certain subjects. This becomes a greater problem when such a matter is not covered in the Qur'an, since our view is that when God prohibits something, we have to find clear evidence for such proscription in scripture. If we cannot, then we prefer to go with the idea that if God has not prohibited it, then it is lawful under normal circumstances, unless logic or other factors dictate otherwise.

Note that our view is that there is no such thing as "Islamic" psychology or medicine, since there is no criterion that would make a science un-Islamic. Knowledge is what it is, and a professional has studied the negative and positive aspects of any practice, which is why we refer you to a psychologist. It is certainly true that there are Muslims who will seek to impose their understanding of Islam on their professional practice, and that is their right. The problem is that some may mistakenly prohibit what God has allowed, or vice-versa. We feel that any specialist, Muslim or not, listening to a particular case, can better provide an answer.

It might be of use to you to know that some jurists would apply the rule "committing the lesser of two evils" in the case you ask, given the choice between fornication and masturbation. The problem, however, with such a method raises the question: "Is masturbation an evil to begin with?" If you prefer a Muslim psychologist, I am sure that there must be a board of professional psychologists who can give you the contact information for one in your area. While we recommended psychologists, do note that there are other professionals who can assist, among them medical doctors. You may surf the web and assess the answers that you find based on your intellectual analysis. Our position is, I think, pretty clear; we cannot find a reliable prohibition.

Posted October 23, 2008