What does the Shari`a say about masturbation (istimna’)?

Q. What does the Shari`a say about masturbation (istimna’)?

A. This article is in three parts: 1. The reports of Ibn `Umar, Ibn `Abbas, and the early Mufassirun [Commentators on Qur’an] concerning istimna’ [masturbation] followed by a commentary by Imam Ghazali; 2. The position of the Four Schools and other scholars. 3. Ibn Jarir al-Tabari’s discussion from his “Ikhtilaf al-fuqaha” (The Differences of Opinion among the Jurists)

Ibn `Umar

The reports of Ibn `Umar. (“Mawsu`at fiqh `Abdillah ibn `Umar” [“Encyclopedia of Ibn `Umar’s Jurisprudence”], Beirut ed. 1986, p. 115.)

a) He was asked about it and is reported to have answered: “It is nothing except the rubbing of the male member until its water comes out” and in another report: “It is only a nerve that one kneads.”

b) He answered in another report: “It has been forbidden: that one (who masturbates) is having intercourse with himself.”


Reports of Ibn `Abbas and the early Mufassirun commented by Ghazali. Hujjat al-Islam [The Proof of Islam] Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali said: “Ibn `Abbas said: “A man’s worship does not become perfect except through marriage, and this is a universal predicament of which few can do without.” “Qutada said concerning the meaning of the verse “Impose not on us that which we have not the strength to bear” (al-Baqara 2:286), that it means lust. ”

`Ikrima and Mujahid are reported to have said, concerning the meaning of the verse, “Allah would make the burden light for you, for man was created weak” (an-Nisa’ 4:28), that it means men cannot do without women. “Fayyad ibn Najih said: “When the male organ of a man stands erect, two thirds of his intellect go away.” Some add: “and one third of his religion.” “Ibn `Abbas explains the meaning of the verse: “From the evil of the darkness when it is intense” (al-Falaq 113:3) as referring to the erection of the male organ. “The reason for this is that sexual desire is an overwhelming bane which, when it arises, cannot be countered with mind nor religion, although it is good insofar as it serves both for the life of this world and the next.

The Prophet (s)

The Prophet (S) said: “O Allah, I seek refuge in You from the evil of my hearing, of my sight, of my tongue, of my heart, and of my private parts” [Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Nisa’i, Hakim; al-`Iraqi confirms its authenticity]. And if the Prophet (S) himself sought refuge from lust, then who after him can take the matter lightly?

Ibn `Abbas

“One day after one of Ibn `Abbas’s classes, everybody left except a young man who stayed behind. Ibn `Abbas asked him what he needed and he replied that he wanted to ask a question but was too shy to ask in front of other people. Ibn `Abbas said: “The scholar [`alim] is like a father, so speak to me frankly, as you would to your own father.” The young man said: “I am an unmarried young man, and sometimes I fear hardship upon myself, so I masturbate [astamni] with my hand.” Ibn `Abbas turned his face from him and said: “Fie, alas! It would be better to marry even a slave-girl, and yet it is better than adultery [zina].” “This is a warning that the unmarried man who is controlled by his lust faces three evils: the least of them is to marry a slave-girl who might bring a child into slavery, worse is masturbation, but most indecent yet is adultery. Ibn `Abbas did not call the first two “(indifferently) permitted” [mubah] (the last one being forbidden [haram]), because they are cautioned against and are to be resorted to only for fear of something worse, as one resorts to eating from the meat of a dead animal [i.e. not slaughtered] in order to survive. Therefore preferring the least of two evils is not tantamount to declaring it unreservedly permissible, even less is it being declared a good.”

Translated from “Ihya’ `Ulum ad-Din” [Reviving of the Religious Sciences], Book of Marriage. NB: Two translations of this particular section of the “Ihya” are available: Madelain Farah’s “Marriage and Sexuality in Islam” (1984), annotated and far more complete than the Book of Marriage comprised in Fazul-ul-Karim’s “Imam Ghazali’s Ihya Ulum-id-Din” (Lahore).

Positions of the Four Schools

Position of the Four Schools and other scholars as explained by Sayyid Sabiq in his book “Fiqh as-Sunna” (Cairo ed. 1987) Vol. 2 p. 581-583.

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