Masturbation? We all have done it, as adolescents and as adults, men and women, and some still do it despite the elder age. The point is that everyone (with a few exceptions) have done it, at least once in their life, since puberty begun.
لاستمناء (al-istimna’) is the most common term to indicate the self-stimulation of the sexual organ, but there are others like العادة السرية (al-‘ada al-sirriya; “the secret habit”) or نكاح اليد (nikah al-yad; “the wedding of the hand”). I perfectly remember my first time: it was between the furry little hands of a brown plush; an adventure companion, in the previous months, that I had to burn that very evening.
After a couple of weeks, the number of plushes in the house was halved.
Jokes aside, at the time I firmly believed that masturbation was forbidden and considered a sinful act, which was the reason for using the plush instead of my hands. Consequently, I had to get rid of it of the حرام (haram, sin) which I thought I had committed, with fire. I was afraid to be subjected to punishment if discovered.
Here’s my question: what is the religious punishment for masturbation, in Islam?
Islam teachings about masturbation are clear: you just do not do it. Marriageable age used to be 9 years old for girls and 15 years old for boys, and unions were finalized to procreation. Nowadays, the marriageable age is 18 years old for women and 20 years old for men so why masturbation is still forbidden before being wed and to whom is not wed?
The main interpretation comes from a Quran verse: “[The believers are] those who safeguard their chastity; except from their spouse or their dependents […]; But whoever seeks anything beyond that—these are the transgressors” (Surah 23, The Believers 5-7). The last ayah (verse) is the one including -in both Sunni and Shia Islam- the self-stimulation of the haram realm, because all form of sexual gratification, practiced outside of marriage, is relentlessly prohibited since infringes on the law of Allah.
The tafsir of the ayah, the original interpretation given by the Muslim scholars, corresponds to all most famous academic’s translations (such as Ibn Kathir, Al-Ghazali, Al-Qurtubi, and Sayyid Qutb), and explains the pronoun “their” refers to the male population. Does this mean female can masturbate? Although the answer is negative, we cannot find tangible proof of the opposite.
Now, pretending to agree that masturbation is a muddy, hard to overcome sin, I turn my attention on the punishment that should be given. I’ve found many answers on the web but none of them are exhaustive: some consider it equal to زناء (adultery), and some consider it equal to engage in zoophilia.
Even on this subject, major Islamic denominations can’t agree: the Hanafi think it is utterly haram, the Maliki and the Shafi’I say that voluntary masturbation, even just the thought of it, is a punishable sin. The Hanbali and Zahiri prefer to claim that masturbation is hideous but not sinful, especially if practiced to avoid real carnal temptation, since nor the Quran neither the Sunnah -code of teachings, deeds and saying of prophet Muhammad- address the subject.
After all these researches, I am convinced there is a lot of confusion in this regard. Yet, masturbation is seen as an obscene, sinful, and deviant act, but without valid religious ground. I try to consciously believe in Islam and to look at it critically; therefore, I invite anyone more knowledgeable on the matter, to shed some light.
translation by Barbara Burgio
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