Priestly purity (?) and the Islamic concept of sexuality

Saida Rahman

The recent scandals of sexual abuse by catholic clergies especially in the USA and Australia, which is deemed to be the tip of the iceberg, have brought the priestly celibacy at the centre of criticism. In this article, some aspects of this priestly purity (?) and celibacy will be briefly assessed with a special reference to the Islamic concept of sexuality.

Over the recent months several regrettable incidents, though not a new problem, encircling the fleshly thirst resulted in desire revealed that many priests in many churches have been at fault with molesting minors, involved in inter-priest homosexual affairs, thus breaking the vows of religiously-mandated chastity as well as the trust put on them by the 
parents of those victimized children. That all these unfortunate happenings have been perpetrated with connivance has been established by the fact that the US bishops were well informed about these problems for long; but they maintained a policy of reticence for the interest of image preservation.

The reaction is severe. People lost their trust, the very crucial element to cement the bond between churches and common people. A.W. Richard Sipe, a former priest, comments, "People used to think of a few bad priests doing a few bad things. Now we see there's a system that encourages this behaviour."

Celibacy or the renunciation of marriage is mandatory for clergies in the Roman Catholic churches. Though not required by the Bible, it is regarded as a purely disciplinary law sanctioned by some articles of the New Testament. Once a priest accepts celibacy, he is henceforth unable to contract a valid marriage, and any serious transgression in the matter of this vow is not only a grievous sin in itself but incurs the additional guilt of 

Now let us go back to the recent church crises. Some of the statistics show that around 6% of all priests have been sexually involved with minors. What is revealing of the acuteness of the crisis, homosexuality is 10 to 20 times more common among priests than it is among the average male population in the West. According to Sipe, only half of the priests are in reality abiding by the commitments of their vows of sexual abstinence. The Archdiocese 
of Boston reportedly released a list of 80 paedophilic priests who had sexually molested minors over the last 50 years. Similar data were revealed from the churches of Chicago, Philadelphia, and other places.

Different views have come into light in the recent months while looking into the causes of this grievous crisis. Some people are trying to defend the priests, on the plea of human fallibility, by judging the statistics of child abuser priests against that of common people, passing over the sheer absurdity of such line of comparison, as the morals and values of the two parties are completely different. The education, the environment, the 
level of commitment, the responsibility, the trust, and other guiding principles are, according to the verdicts of churches, not the same for priests and for average people. Priests are expected to have some human and religious qualities at a much higher level, which in most cases, deny them many instinctive human needs. Surrendering to a base desire, that is sexual yearning, in whatever form (either in heterosexuality, homosexuality, or paedophilia) is unthinkable for a priest.

Among the probable causes of these perverted crimes among the priests, the most popular view is that celibacy reflects a hatred and contempt for sexuality—and for women—and that it turns priests into frustrated loners who express their inner conflicts through twisted sexual behaviour. On the other hand, many hold a different opinion. According to Frances Kissling, head of the US dissident group of Catholics for a free choice, “Neither celibacy nor homosexuality is the cause of paedophilia, but celibacy contributes to sexual immaturity, and the presence of a significant number of married priests would alleviate that problem.” To most people, as it is supported by human reasoning, celibacy is an abnormal and impossible state to live in; and as such there has been noticed a remarkable decrease in the interest of young people to go for the vocation of priesthood.

The discussion above is a general picture depicted in various recent articles that accommodate views of different people who have arrived at a unified conclusion that the catholic churches should rethink the issue of making celibacy optional for their priests. We don't know certainly whether or not the celibacy is at the heart of the church's recent crises; but the truth no one can contend is that denial of sexual need for the priests, which the Catholic Church imposed in the twelfth century, is an unnatural phenomenon and something in opposition to innate human yearning. The divine revelation does not require it either. When humans impose something against the law of nature in the form of intervention in divine rulings, it potentially brings about human catastrophe, which eventually opens ways to overrule it easily. In my opinion, this excessiveness in the moral discipline is the main problem of the churches. This is why the priests are failing to live up to commitments, or simply they are not caring about their commitments.

Now let us look at the attitude of Islam towards sexuality. To put the 
balanced Islamic position on sexuality in a nutshell, it may suffice to 
quote what Dr Jamal al-Badawi, a North American Islamic scholar, says:

The Islamic view on sex can be best appreciated by contrasting it with the extremes which have occurred in history. On the one hand, there have been examples of complete moral looseness leading to promiscuity, which was backed by philosophers who said that pleasure is at the basis of morals. On the other hand, there were and are people who think that the sexual urge is unclean, dirty, satanic and evil. Islam provides a balance between the two 
because it calls for the recognition of the basic human instincts without making a person feel guilty, but at the same time provides also some limitations as to how they can be satisfied. These limitations and encouragements are as follows:

a) Prohibition of sexual relationships outside marriage.
b) Strict prohibition of adultery and fornication.
c) Allah created people with an instinctive desire to fulfil their sexual desire, enjoy children and property etc. Therefore, Islam does not make people feel guilty for satisfying these desires in a legitimate way. It does however, remind people to look to the life hereafter as well as this life.
d) The Qur'an proclaims that the desire for marriage is a desirable thing in itself and having a good spouse is said to be a blessing from God.
e) Monasticism and celibacy hold no virtue according to Islam. In the sayings of the prophet (PBUH) monasticism is discouraged in many ways. (Islamic Teachings Course; vol. 2)

Thus Islam provides a realistic and logical attitude towards sex, which facilitates an easy and honourable life satisfying the instinctive needs within its moral code and within the periphery of divine regulations enshrined in Shariah. Any transgression in the cases of sexual morality is treated very seriously to the extent that sexual misconduct sometimes results in stoning to death.

A Muslim’s faith in Allah is deeply rooted in his or her moral behaviour. Faith in Allah does not mean to believe Him As the One God only. It also means a complete loving and conscious submission to Him and to His revelations and leading a life that pleases Him. A Muslim is not required to follow tradition or laws developed by any human authority if it is against the laws of Allah. When one discusses about sexual morality in Islamic context, one is talking about Divine authority and commands that supersede traditions and any invention of man in moral code. Muslims know that Allah is their Creator, Sustainer, the only God, and the Supreme Authority. He Knows and Considers their nature. His commands are the best and most straightforward to follow. According to the Quran, Allah made things 
easy for human beings, He removes burden from their shoulder. (Quran 2:185, 5:6, 4:28, and many other verses) There is no need in a Muslim's life to 
struggle with any illogical and self-imposed vows like Celibacy.

Home - Quran & HadithCharity - Family & HealthIslamMiscellaneousMatrimonials

Human Rights - WomenNewscenterBoycottChechnyaPalestine - Links