Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me (It’s Haraam)
By Abdul Latif
T he “Green Book” taught me all I needed to know about Islam – or so my naive, adolescent self had imagined. It was a frequent reference for the teachers at my Islamic school, where the well-meaning instructors clung to the dogma presented within its pages with all their might, not wanting to indicate any gap in knowledge to the students. When peppered with questions of the deeper reasoning behind a ritual or ideology, they would often respond: “Because…it’s in the Green Book.”
I was often told how virtuous it was to be a good Muslim and wanted to make my parents proud, so I intensely focused on The Green Book, trying to mentally scan each page into memory. Even now, I can still see almost photographic representations of certain pages of The Green Book: The confusing ”Contents” page with my doodling in the top left corner, the top right hand side of ”page 5” that featured the important “Pillars of Islam,” and the infamous page that crushed my burgeoning, pubescent spirit, “Halal and Haraam.”
Sex was something I had just learned about at school – both in class and from the cool kids, who regaled the others with titillating tales of things they had heard or even, apparently, experienced. And it sounded so exciting! Health class had given us a detailed and mechanical breakdown of the process, but now I knew there was more. I could feel it – the frequent, random erections were a sign.
My peers disseminated misinformation about sex voraciously, almost as if it was a challenge to see who could spread the most ridiculous rumor: “Jenny and Mark already tried it! James said you can also put it in the butt! Fred said sex is the best feeling in the world!” The last one only piqued my curiosity and I knew I had to understand more – I needed to study this in detail. I wanted to be an expert.
Family trips to the local library resulted in espionage-like efforts to slip out of view from my parents to make it to the “Health” section. I felt like James Bond, evading authority figures and investigating my targets (any books that had “sex” in the title). It was a huge effort, but it was worth it.
I grabbed a handful of books and stored them in a less frequented area of the library, creating my own conveniently hidden stash. I needed to read these encyclopedias of excitement and chuckled to myself when I heard my father say later that day, “you can learn so much from books.”
As I read more and more about sex, I naturally felt an enormous urge to try it. I needed to do it. I wanted to experience what I had heard and read about – it seemed magical. And seriously, these random erections were getting really annoying.
My days were filled with anticipation, of not just the first time I would try sex, but estimating how often I could have it, or with how many girls I would experience it with and how nothing in the world would be that bad in my life when I was a little older, because, I could always have sex. I thought that 16 would probably be the start of my sex years – but who knows, it could happen sooner. If I wasn’t mistaken, that new girl in Math class was definitely looking at me.
Then my hopes and dreams were dramatically crushed in Islamic class and The Green Book. The Halaal and Haraam section had always been fascinating. It was a long list and there were some complicated words on there I hadn’t seen before and didn’t understand – masturbation and fornication were the two that stood out. After health class, I understood the definition of masturbation and immediately realized that this was one Haraam that I would have to be flexible with – I needed some way to rid myself of that very modest but noticeably frequent bulge in my pants.
But the Haraam section never listed sex. So, I was in the clear, until my inquisitive self decided to look at the dictionary for the exact definition of fornication. Nothing could prepare me for the utter desolate despair that followed in those moments when I realized that all my hopes and dreams for an exciting and adventurous youth were firmly opposed to the Islamic beliefs that I held so dear. Fornication meant pre-marital sex – and that was Haraam.
In the days that followed I started investigating my options. I still felt an enormous amount of guilt over masturbating but justified the act as a necessary evil to ensure my sanity as a teenager. But, that horrible feeling of shame when I finished was only magnified by the realization that what I had done was Haraam. It was a vicious condition, and something I felt would only be intensified after sex, if I broke the rules.
Then Islamic class received a new teacher, one who was clearly more involved and passionate about cementing Islamic values in his students. As one of the older children in the class, I was selected for more private individual instruction on subjects that the other kids weren’t quite ready for: “You are getting older and I want you to know that sex before marriage is completely forbidden! Also, remember to trim your pubes.”
This confirmed my deepest fears. Sex was out of the question – the teacher had vehemently and explicitly called it out. But I clung to the faintest possibility that maybe somewhere, somehow there were exceptions?
I went back to the library, the original source of all my titillating fantasies, looking for some glimmer of hope. This time I looked for Islamic books, with “youth” or “teenage” in the title. I knew those code words would be sure to have a section on what I needed.
My previous reading material left me looking for a quick route to the bathroom to take care of obvious problems that arose when a teenager reads about sex. But now, I slunk down in my chair, depressed and deflated. I had searched and scoured the source material looking for some expert opinion that would allow me the possibility of sex before marriage but alas, I could not find it. It was decision time.
I had already compromised on masturbation before I even knew that it was classified as Haraam by The Green Book. That guilt still persisted, but I knew I needed some kind of sexual release so I did it anyway. But, I couldn’t justify sex if I had the relief of masturbation. I just had to accept that.
This was made much easier when I realized that girls aren’t exactly throwing themselves towards an awkward, chubby boy who regrettably wasn’t using deodorant until it was embarrassingly called out for him by others. The painful reality of sex turned from a desire to be a good Muslim, to the torment of being undesirable to the opposite sex.
My 16th birthday came and went without excitement. I had resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to be popular with the ladies and on the rare chance that a girl was interested, I knew I couldn’t, or wouldn’t take it very far.
My free time became less consumed by the pursuit of girls and sex and more on reading, writing and sports. I began to develop a more engaging personality and used humor to connect with people in a deeper way than I ever had before.
I found a more balanced life of refined interests to replace my teenage curiosity. But, that carnal desire was always lurking, ready to envelope my senses whenever I saw a pretty girl. The struggle to control the natural inclination of any young man to be intimate with a girl would continue long into my mid-20s. In fact, it continues even today.
The daily battle with my inner desires can occasionally be overwhelming. Especially when in a healthy, exciting relationship where the natural desire to make love is only held up by the lack of a wedding ring.
I really need some help. And so I ask, frequently and with sincerity: “Dear Big Man, please give me the strength to continue this whole chastity thing. I still want to be a good Muslim boy and make my parents proud.”
But, it’s really hard.
June 26, 2012