People sometimes jokingly ask, why is it that driving requires a license, but you can have children without a license or any kind of certification? It’s often a lighthearted remark, but, when you think about it, it’s a legitimate question. If driving or teaching at a school, practicing medicine or law, or even being a plumber requires certification, then what about something that is far more sensitive, far more significant like having children and raising them? After all, children are our future and the state of our society as a whole depends on how children are brought up — their morals, their sense of responsibility, their character, and so on. It’s no secret that children who grow up without proper parental influence are far more likely to become involved in drugs and crime, to face unemployment, to fail to become productive members of society and upright human beings. This, then, has a toll on all of us, on all members of society.
Given these high stakes, one has to wonder how any civilized nation could allow its people to have children without having some kind of regulations to ensure that all children have competent parents. Isn’t it a child’s right to have a stable household and parents capable of properly raising him? Isn’t it our right as members of society to make sure incompetent, irresponsible people in our midst aren’t having children that they will neglect, children who will be more likely to become burdens on society?
Islam, of course, does require just such a license — a “nikah.” Properly done, according to Prophetic guidance, a nikah ensures that a couple is in the best position to raise a family, with the full support of the extended family and the community at large.
Yet, Islamic sexual ethics have been the target of unrelenting criticism from modernists and liberals for decades, who argue that Islamic law stifles the sexual freedom and autonomy of individuals by prohibiting premarital sex. To the contrary, this prohibition protects people’s freedom and autonomy because it effectively curbs the amount of children being born to single mothers and couples who are not in a position to take adequate care of them. This in turn benefits the interests of children and hence, the interests of society at large. So, even if one is not religious per se, the rational merits of prohibiting premarital sex are more than clear. And all the sociological evidence supports this.
Put differently, premarital sex is not a victim-less crime, as some believe.* It is a major crime that most modern nations have allowed to run rampant. This in turn affects the crime rate, it affects the percentage of the population that requires government assistance through welfare, unemployment benefits, etc. — in effect, it make people far more dependent on the state, thus increasing state power exponentially. It is no wonder that modern nation states have shown no interest in upholding the sexual ethics that human societies of all religions have depended on for thousands of years.
In sum, we can make an unimpeachable case for why Islamic sexual ethics are rationally and ethically superior to the secular liberal alternative. So, if a religious argument against things like dating, hooking up, etc., is not convincing, then the rationalistic argument should suffice to make the moral case. At the very least, even if someone does not ultimately agree with this reasoning, he can admit that it is *reasonable*. And that is enough to characterize Islam’s sexual ethics concerning zina as rational and not simply “prudery,” “close-mindedness,” “backwards,” “cruel,” and all the other cheap adjectives used to denigrate Islamic law.
* – The inevitable remark to this point is, what about contraception? If impregnation is impossible, then where is the victim? Two easy replies: First, on analogy with other kinds of certifications and licenses, airplanes have had autopilot for decades — that doesn’t mean pilots don’t need to be certified before flying commercial jets. Second, if the existence of contraception coupled with widespread sex education were enough to prevent unwanted pregnancies, why has single-motherhood continued to rise decade after decade for the past 50 years, such that today, nearly half of all children are in single parent homes?