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Anal Intercourse : Why Is It Prohibited In Islam?


Anal intercourse

Muslims recognize that the ultimate Legislator and source of morality is none other than Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). At times, we know the wisdom behind His rulings; at other times, we know them partially, and sometimes not. Divinely mandated rulings could be interlinked with God’s rights (e.g., to worship Him alone) and the rights of other beings (e.g., human and animal rights). Abiding by these injunctions often demands that we respect the telos or purpose/function Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has affixed to things essential for adhering to these precepts.

For example, humans must recognize that their ultimate purpose is to worship God alone. A life that fails to fulfill this most fundamental purpose is ultimately a failed one, even if other secondary purposes are achieved, such as having good health, a great family life, etc.1An analogy to consider here would be that of a kitchen knife. Such a knife can only be considered good if it properly serves its primary function, cutting well. If it fails at its most basic purpose, it cannot qualify as a good knife even if it has positive secondary features such as being decorated nicely, etc. The goodness of a thing corresponds to how well it performs its principal function. This is not to suggest that a thing cannot be defective, despite serving its primary function (e.g., a disfigured ear that still hears well), but we mostly judge things by how well they perform functions they mainly ought to be. Similarly, when it comes to moral goods and evils. Muslims believe that moral oughts or duties can be prescribed by God alone. It is beyond the scope of this paper to rationally defend the meta-ethical principle that objective morality can only be rooted in God. The point is that Muslims believe that Allah, and Allah alone, is the only moral arbiter who can instill morally relevant purposes into things and hence, accordingly, assign morally relevant functions with the express aim of working toward fulfilling those purposes.

A Violation of Purpose

Similarly, our sexual organs have purposes assigned to them. Consider anal intercourse, for example. Muslim scholars have mentioned different reasons why anal intercourse is forbidden;2 For instance, Imam al-Qurtubi (d. 671 A.H.) said in his Qu’ranic commentary that since sexual intercourse with a woman on her menses is prohibited due to the impurities involved (Surah 2:222), then anal sex is expected to be forbidden even more so: وقد حرّم الله تعالى الفرج حال الحيض؛ لأجل النجاسة العارضة، فأولى أن يحرّم الدبر؛ لأجل النجاسة اللازمة Al-Jahiz (d. 255 A.H.) states that sodomy with men is inherently evil and will be forbidden even in paradise. This is because Allah created men and women in a manner whereby it is only fitting that they sexually bond with the opposing sex and not with their own. He states in ar-Rasaa’il al-Adabiyyah, vol. 1, p. 158: والذي يدل على ان هذه الشهوة معيبة في نفسها، قبيحة في عينها، ان الله تعالى وعز لم يعوض في الآخرة بشهوة الولدان من ترك لوجهه في الدنيا شهوة الغلمان. كما سقى في الآخرة الخمر من تركها له في الدنيا، ثم مدح خمر الجنة باقصر الكلام، فنظم به جميع المعاني المكروهة في خمر الدنيا فقال: لا يُصَدَّعُونَ عَنْها ولا يُنْزِفُونَ. كأنه تبارك وتعالى قال: لا سكر فيها ولا خمار. however, a core reason behind why anal intercourse, heterosexual3Some refer to heterosexual anal intercourse as minor sodomy (al-liwaata as-sughra). We read in Imam at-Tahawi’s (d. 321 A.H.) Sharh Mushkil al-Athar, vol. 15, p. 433: ووَجَدْنا يَزِيدَ بْنِ سِنانٍ، قَدْ حَدَّثَنا قالَ: حَدَّثَنا يَحْيى بْنُ سَعِيدٍ القَطّانُ، حَدَّثَنا ابْنُ أبِي عَرُوبَةَ، عَنْ قَتادَةَ، عَنْ أبِي أيُّوبَ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللهِ بْنِ عَمْرٍو ولَمْ يَرْفَعْهُ، قالَ فِي الَّذِي يَأْتِي امْرَأةً فِي دُبُرِها، قالَ: «اللُّواطَةُ الصُّغْرى». or otherwise, is forbidden in Islam is that using the anus as a vessel for penile penetration is a violation of the purpose and wisdom it was created for.4 In his al-Muntadham, vol. 16, pp. 248-249, Ibnul Jawzi (d. 597 A.H.) relays a debate recorded by Ibn Aqeel al-Hanbali (d. 513 A.H.) that occurred between Abu Yusuf al-Qazwini (d. 488 A.H.) and another Mu’tazilite regarding whether sodomy will be permitted in paradise. Abu Yusuf argues in the negative because sodomy is inherently immoral as the anus was not created to be a fitting vessel for penile penetration: قرأت بخط أبي الوفاء بن عقيل قالَ: جرت مسألة بين ١٢٠/ ب أبي علي بن الوليد وأبي يوسف القزويني في إباحة الولدان في الجنة، أي في إمراجهم في جماعهم وإنشاء شهوتهم لذلك، قالَ أبو علي بن الوليد: لا يمتنع أن يجعل من جملة لذاتهم ذلك لزوال المفسدة فيه في الجنة، لأنه إنما منع منه في الدنيا لما فيه من قطع النسل، وكونه محلا للأذى وليس في الجنة ذلك، ولذلك أمرجوا في شرب الخمر لما أمن من السكر وغائلته من العربدة والعداوة، وزوال العقل، فلما أمن ذلك من شربها لم يمنع من الالتذاذ بها. فقال أبو يوسف: إن الميل إلى الذكور عاهة، وهو قبيح في نفسه، إذ لم يخلق هذا المحل للوطء، ولهذا لم يبح في شريعة، بخلاف الخمر، وإنما خلق مخرجا للحدث، وإذا كان عاهة فالجنة منزهة عن العاهات. Ibnul Qayyim (d. 751 A.H.) said in Zaad al-Ma’ad, vol. 4, p. 240: فَإنَّ الدُّبُرَ لَمْ يَتَهَيَّأْ لِهَذا العَمَلِ، ولَمْ يُخْلَقْ لَهُ، وإنَّما الَّذِي هُيِّئَ لَهُ الفَرْجُ، فالعادِلُونَ عَنْهُ إلى الدُّبُرِ خارِجُونَ عَنْ حِكْمَةِ اللَّهِ وشَرْعِهِ جَمِيعًا. It is not merely using it for a purpose other than its primary one but rather misusing and perverting its use for a disordered end.5Sticking to the kitchen knife analogy, imagine someone using it to carve his name on the wall without damaging it. We cannot say that such a person is misusing the knife, despite him using it for a function other than its primary purpose (i.e., cutting food). However, if someone playfully, out of boredom, constantly uses the knife on hard surfaces to the point it becomes dull and blunt, then we can say that he is misusing the knife unjustifiably, causing it to cease performing its most central function of cutting food well. However, let us say that the knife is not affected by this practice; can we still construe it as being misused then? It can be if it is distorting the primary function of something else. For example, if one uses a kitchen knife to cut off someone’s fingers sadistically, the knife itself may not get affected, but the person’s hand has undoubtedly been impacted as a result, and thus the knife can be said to have been misused. Muslim scholars have explained this perversion by highlighting that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) commands that the woman’s vagina be the only vessel for penal penetration and reception for semen in the Qur’an, as this is the mechanism via which procreation may actualize (Surat al-Baqarah, 2:187 & 222-223). Anal intercourse is a means to frustrating this process by wasting the “seed” that ought to have been emitted into the vagina.6Imam as-Sarakhsi (d. 483 A.H.) said in Usul as-Sarakhsi, vol. 1, p. 80: ومن هَذا النَّوْع فعل اللواطة فالمقصود من اقْتِضاء الشَّهْوَة شرعا هُوَ النَّسْل وهَذا المحل لَيْسَ بِمحل لَهُ أصلا فَكانَ قبيحا شرعا Ar-Raghi al-Asfahani (d. 502 A.H.) said in adh-Dharee’ah ila Makarim ash-Sharee’ah, vol. 1, pp. 222-223: ولقصد النسل حظر إتيان النساء في محاشها، وعلى هذا نبه قوله تعالى: (نِساؤُكُمْ حَرْثٌ لَكُمْ فَأْتُوا حَرْثَكُمْ أنّى شِئْتُمْ) فنبه على أنه لا يجوز إتيانها إلا حيث المحرث، وكره العزل تأكيدًا للمقصود من النكاح، وعلى ذلك دلَّ قوله تعالى: (وابْتَغُوا ما كَتَبَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ). … وسمي ذلك سفاحًا من حيث إن المجتمعين عليه لا غرض لهما سوى سفح الماء للشهوة كمن ضيع ماء في غير حرثه. والثاني: تعاطيه في غير المحرث كاللواطة، وهي أعظم من الزنى، لأن الزنى وضع البذر في المحرث على غير الوجه المأمور به، فهو كمن يزرع في أرض غيره أو على غير الوجه الذىِ يجوز أن يزرع فيها، وفي اللواطة مع ذلك تضييع البذر فمتعاطيها ممن قال اللَّه تعالى فيه: (ويُهْلِكَ الحَرْثَ والنَّسْلَ) ولهذا وصف اللَّه تعالى قوم لوط بالإسراف فقال: (إنَّكُمْ لَتَأْتُونَ الرِّجالَ شَهْوَةً مِن دُونِ النِّساءِ بَلْ أنْتُمْ قَوْمٌ مُسْرِفُونَ Imam al-Ghazali (d. 505 A.H.) said in Mizan al-‘Amal, p. 317: وأما المحظور، فعلى وجهين: أحدهما أن يقضي الشهوة في محل الحرث، ولكن بغير عقد شرعي، ولا على الوجه المأمور، وهو الزنا. وقد قرن ذلك بالشرك حيث قال: (الزاني لا يَنْكَحُ إلا زانِيَة أو مُشْرِكة). والثاني تعاطيه في غير محل الحرث، وهو أفحش من الزنا لأن الزاني لم يضيع الماء، بل وضعه في محل الحرث على غير الوجه المأمور. وهذا قد ضيّع، وكان ممن قال الله تعالى: (ويُهْلِكُ الحَرْثَ والنَّسَلَ). ولذلك سميت اللواطة الإسراف، فقال تعالى: (إنّكُمْ لَتَأْتُونَ الرِّجالَ شَهْوَةً مِن دُونِ النِّساءِ بَلْ أنْتُم قَوْمٌ مُسْرِفُون). فهذه مراتب الناس في شهوة الفرج. Also, see his comments in Ihyaa’ ‘Ulum ad-Deen, vol. 4, p. 20. Ibn Aqeel al-Hanbali (d. 513 A.H.) said in al-Waadih fi Usul al-Fiqh, vol. 2, p. 187: الفسادُ في اللواطِ أشد؛ لأنه يقطعُ النسْلَ بوَضْعِ النطَفِ في غيرِ محل الحَرْثِ، وقد أشار الله سبحانه إلى ذلك فقال: ﴿أئِنَّكُمْ لَتَأْتُونَ الرِّجالَ وتَقْطَعُونَ السَّبِيلَ﴾ [العنكبوت ٢٩]، والمراد به سبيلُ النَسْلِ، والله اعلم Imam ash-Shinqiti (d. 1393 A.H.) stated as mentioned in al-‘Adhb al-Muneer min Majalis ash-Shinqiti, vol. 3, p. 557: وقولُه: ﴿مِن حَيْثُ أمَرَكُمُ اللَّهُ﴾ هو القبُلُ؛ لأن اللَّهَ قال: ﴿نِساؤُكُمْ حَرْثٌ لَّكُمْ فَأْتُوا حَرْثَكُمْ﴾ [البقرة: آية ٢٢٣] والمأمورُ بإتيانِه: محلُّ الحرثِ، ومعلومٌ أن محلَّ حرثِ الأولادِ ليس الدبرَ، وتدلُّ عليه آيةٌ أخرى، وهي قولُه تعالى: ﴿فالآنَ باشِرُوهُنَّ وابْتَغُوا ما كَتَبَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ﴾ [البقرة آية ١٨٧] لأن معنى: ﴿ما كَتَبَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ﴾ أي: من الأولادِ على أصحِّ التفسيرين، وعليه جمهورُ العلماءِ، يعنِي: باشِرُوهُنَّ ولْتَكُنْ تلك المباشرةُ في محلِّ ابتغاءِ الأولادِ، ومعلومٌ أن الدبرَ ليس محلَّ ابتغاءِ الأولادِ

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This may spur one to consider whether ejaculating through oral sex or being masturbated should equally be prohibited in Islam as they entail the man “wasting his seed” by failing to emit semen into the vagina. However, these are not sufficiently analogous, as the hands7 Imam ash-Shawkani (d. 1250) said that ejaculating with the hand cannot be compared to sodomy, as sodomy involves the penis penetrating another organ. He said in Bulugh al-Muna, pp. 68-69: هذا قياس مع الفارق، فإن التلوط هو في فرج محرم شرعا، وليس الاستمنى في فرج. and mouths8Even though scholars have disagreed over whether semen is an impure substance, they have generally agreed that it is still forbidden for a woman to swallow it while engaging in felatio. are not being utilized as receptacles for semen, nor are they being misused as organs by being penilely penetrated like the anus in anal intercourse.9 Some people consider oral sex as ‘penetrative’ purely on linguistic grounds in that the penis “penetrates” or enters the domain of the mouth when bypassing the lips. Others, however, still do not consider this to be penetrative sex in the sense of intercourse like vaginal and anal sex, but outercourse, which is why many distinguish oral sex from sexual intercourse. We are not so concerned about the appropriate semantical labeling and classification of oral sex as much as its relevant distinction from vaginal/anal sex, which is that the latter involves a more recognizably invasive form of sexual activity. The same can be said about digital penetration.

The Many Functions Of Sexual Intercourse

How about the use of contraceptives when engaging in penile-vaginal intercourse?10To see the varying opinions ranging from permissibility, discouragement, and even forbiddance of contraceptives among Muslim scholars, consult the following works: Dr. Sabah Filimban, Tahdeed an-Nasl; Dr. Abdullah al-Sama’eel, Hukm Man’ al-Haml bil-Wasaa’il at-Tibbiyyah al-Mu’asira, and Dr. Wajdan Muhammad, Ahkam al-‘Azl wal-Ta’qeem. Should this not be objected to because the man’s seed is being wasted? This need not be the case as long as the contraceptive measures do not result in a permanent inability to conceive children. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) permitted coitus interruptus, understanding that such contraceptive measures do not impact Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) decree on whether one will be conceived.11See Sahih Muslim, 1438 & 1439, and Sunan Abi Dawud, 2171. This is evident when one looks at stats12See Matthew O’Brien, Why Liberal Neutrality Prohibits Same-Sex Marriage: Rawls, Political Liberalism, and the Family, pp. 440-441 or hears anecdotally about the significant rise of unplanned births and how many couples ‘mistakenly’ get pregnant.

Married couples need not intentionally aim to procreate each time they engage in penile-vaginal intercourse, as sex also serves the purpose of strengthening bonds between husband and wife and protects one from satiating his sexual desires through illicit outlets. Moreover, having too many children within such a short period could prove a burden for parents who cannot physically cope with the pressures of child-rearing past a certain threshold. This could compromise other purposes for which they were created, such as sufficiently attending to their worship, physical and mental health, and other religiously ordained roles and duties.13Imam al-Ghazali in Ihyaa’ ‘Ulum ad-Deen, vol. 2, p. 52, mentions other reasons, such as the woman wanting to maintain her beauty by avoiding too many pregnancies, etc.

The same goes for sex between infertile/sterile couples. Even if they have no reason to think that their sexual activities would likely result in procreation, penile-vaginal intercourse remains morally licit.

Nevertheless, one might object by saying that if it is not essential to aim to procreate during sexual intercourse as in the case during the use of contraceptives and with sterile/infertile couples, then why cannot a couple, heterosexual or otherwise, engage in anal sexual intercourse with the intent that it functions to safeguard one’s sexual exclusivity to his spouse, in addition to cementing the loving bonds between couples?

Biological Orientation

The critical difference lies in the fact that the vagina is the only sexual organ that has been created teleologically fit for penile penetration and reception of a man’s seed. Penile-vaginal intercourse is biologically and essentially oriented toward procreation, even if not every instance of the act intentionally aims toward procreation by those engaged in it. The act of penile-vaginal intercourse itself is the same, regardless of whether it is done by infertile/sterile couples or with contraceptives. Whether a child is conceived is only an extrinsic affair that impacts the consequences of that act, not the act itself.14Patrick Lee and Robert George put it nicely when they said: “An action that is part of a larger process that is biologically oriented toward an end can receive its meaning (and so be a certain kind of action) because of its place within this larger biological process, and even if extrinsic circumstances make the end unattainable at this point. This is clear in virtually all complex biological processes, such as respiration, metabolism, growth, and neural activities. Coitus is an action that has a biological identity as part of the reproductive process. As a biological matter, coitus is plainly oriented to reproduction. Moreover, coitus remains coitus, that is, it remains a naturally unified biological action that fulfills the behavioral conditions of reproduction and is thus biologically oriented to reproduction, even if the nonbehavioral conditions of reproduction do not obtain.” (Conjugal Union: What Marriage Is and Why It Matters, p. 87) Also, these authors provide interesting analogies to make the same point: “This is not to say that infertile couples cannot marry. Consider again the sports analogy: The kind of cooperation that makes a group into a baseball team is largely aimed at winning games. Teammates develop and share their athletic skills in the way best suited for honorable wins—for example, with assiduous practice and good sportsmanship. But such development and sharing are possible and inherently valuable for teammates even when they do not win a game Just so, marital cooperation in both sexual and domestic life is characteristically ordered to procreation and childrearing. Spouses develop and share their whole selves in the way best suited for honorably parenting—for example, with broad domestic sharing and permanent, exclusive commitment. But such development and sharing, including the bodily union of the generative act, are possible and inherently valuable for spouses even when they do not conceive. … The nature of the spouses’ behavior now—as biological coordination toward a certain end (which might or might not also be a subjective goal)—cannot depend on what happens hours later outside their control: whether a sperm penetrates an egg. Each stage of a multistage process like reproduction keeps its identity, whatever happens at later stages. This is clear in individual functions like digestion. Different parts of that process—chewing, swallowing, stomach action, nutrient absorption—are ordered to the broader goal of nourishing the organism. But your chewing and stomach action remain so ordered (remain digestive acts) even when your intestines fail to absorb nutrients, and even if you know so before you eat.2 This is just part of what sets biological processes apart: they don’t depend on our goals or beliefs.Likewise, the behavioral part of the reproductive process (coitus) remains ordered to reproduction even when nonbehavioral factors—like low sperm count—prevent conception, and spouses expect this beforehand. So coitus remains a form of bodily coordination, or joint functioning toward a single bodily end (whether or not it is an end they seek), and thus a form of bodily union. And that—being a bodily union, not actually causing conception—is what makes coitus, if chosen with the intention to embody or renew their marriage, a valuable part of a valuable whole: a marital act that extends a marital, or comprehensive, union. (S. Girgis, R. Anderson, & R. George, What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, pp. 36 & 78-79)

Thus, as an act that retains its essential feature of being biologically ordered toward procreation, vaginal sex within a morally licit framework maintains its ethical legitimacy. Sodomy and other homosexual behaviors, on the other hand, expressly dishonor this procreative paradigm, violating the sexual telos for which God has endowed man with sexual organs, abandoning the gendered complementarity between men and women (both physiologically and otherwise), and “placing something in its improper place” (wada’a shay fi ghayri maw’di’ihi) – the very definition of injustice (zulm) in the Islamic Sharia.

In summary, this short piece did not intend to provide an independent rational argument for the immorality of anal intercourse. Even though we believe as Muslims that Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) legislations are grounded in wise purposes and are for the betterment of mankind, this need not translate into thinking that every single legislation of God could be definitively and demonstratively validated rationally independent of divine revelation.

This piece only explores why Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) prohibited anal intercourse, and we have learned that such an act involves perverting and misusing our sexual organs and disordering the purposes affixed to them by God. Anal intercourse cannot, by its very essence, equate to vaginal intercourse, as its biological disordering away from procreation is not suited to truly, in reality, buttress the union and bonds between a couple. It violates the teleological fittingness Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has placed in terms of the sexual paradigm He has set for human beings to follow. It is a paradigm meant to maximize human flourishing by strengthening family bonds and promoting an ethically licit mechanism for reproductive striving.


Related reading:

Can Islam Accommodate Homosexual Acts? Quranic Revisionism and the Case of Scott Kugle

Can Islam Accommodate Homosexual Acts? Quranic Revisionism and the Case of Scott Kugle

Loving Muslim Marriage Episode #1: Is it Haraam to Talk About Sex?

Loving Muslim Marriage Episode #1: Is it Haraam to Talk About Sex?



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Bassam Zawadi (MA Philosophy of Religion and Ethics, University of Leeds) is a Muslim author who writes extensively about issues related to Islamic apologetics and Islamic modernist discourse. Along with MuslimMatters, Bassam’s work could be found at Call to Monotheism, his academia page, and his blog. Bassam also manages the following academia pages: Refuting Modernist “Hanafis” and Islamic Modernist Discourse.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Yusuf Smith

    January 17, 2023 at 6:48 PM

    As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    I can’t imagine that the reason for making anal intercourse haraam is unrelated to the harm it causes. Anyone who has had to have an examination through one’s back passage, such as a sigmoidoscopy, will know how unpleasant it is to be penetrated by anything through that orifice. It’s a selfish act that when done to a woman only brings pleasure to the man; among gays, chemicals are used to relax the body to make it easier and less painful and harmful for the one penetrated. (Also, in men, it allegedly stimulates the prostate gland, which women don’t have.) Penetration causes injury, which was a major reason for the spread of AIDS among gay men in the 1980s. It just isn’t designed for sex.

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