Monday, December 18, 2006

Sex Without Love

I second questioned myself about posting my response to this poem I read. I have been reading alot of poetry for the last two days. I felt the need to since I don't know I've appreciated fine writing and treated by eyes to beautiful prose in a long time. Anyways, I found this poem by Sharon Olds 'Sex Without Love' and it got me thinking to the point where I started breaking it down to its core. Here is the text of the original poem:

Sex Without Love
By Sharon Olds

How do they do it, the ones who make love
without love? Beautiful as dancers,
Gliding over each other like ice-skaters
over the ice, fingers hooked
inside each other's bodies, faces
red as steak, wine, wet as the
children at birth, whose mothers are going to
give them away. How do they come to the
come to the come to the God come to the
still waters, and not love
the one who came there with them, light
rising slowly as steam off their joined
skin? These are the true religious,
the purists, the pros, the ones who will not
accept a false Messiah, love the
priest instead of the God. They do not
mistake the lover for their own pleasure,
they are like great runners: they know they are alone
with the road surface, the cold, the wind,
the fit of their shoes, their over-all cardio
vascular health--just factors, like the partner
in the bed, and not the truth, which is the
single body alone in the universe
against its own best time.

Analysis of ‘Sex Without Love’

In “Sex Without Love,” Sharon Olds takes a direct approach of asking a question many people may have considered: How do they do it, the ones who make love without love? One of the most interesting things about the poem, aside from the question she asks, is her decision to simple state the heart of her poem. Unlike other poets who construct complex imagery, symbolism, and other forms of fugitive speech to allude to the heart of the poem, Olds takes the opposite approach and simply presents it to the reader. However, this does not take away from the poem or even lose the interest of the reader but it is arguable that such a question captures their attention.

The topic has always attracted attention because of people’s conflicting views on sexuality. The reader does not get any simple answer to the question but follows Olds as she draws a beautiful rich image of two people having ‘gliding over each others bodies like ice-skaters as they grasp on their bodies, tender and vulnerable as new born children. The final clause of that sensual sentence describing sex, ‘whose mothers are going to give them away,’ is unexpected because the reader is naturally inclined to believe a mother will hold and caress a new born child, not give the child away – perhaps suggesting that sex without love is analogous to a new born that seeks the warmth of a mother but is denied that by the mother’s choice.

Instead, she describes those loveless sex partners as ‘purists’ who don’t mistake the pleasure they are achieving as coming from their partner but themselves. Yet the same purists who refuse to worship the false Messiah engage in contradictory behavior loving the Priest more God, like the one who engages in sex not mistaking another for their pleasure, only to make the bigger mistake of finding themselves as the lovers. In the end, they have engage in nothing more than mechanical behavior of running like great runners who lose scope of the larger picture achievement of running a marathon. In this loss and appreciation of love, Olds seems to suggest that sex without love is the single body alone in the universe measuring and demanding pleasure not from their lover but themselves.

The message is quite blunt and cold; after the beautiful prose they uses to describe two people in a seemingly affectionate act of passion, she reminds us that if there is no love between them it is nothing more than a discarded new born alone in time and space. Re-examining the writer’s choice of a restrictive-free style, the reader senses that Olds strengthened her ability to address a topic that must be of importance to the writer because of her forwardly intimate approach that ends with a pity-evoking image of loveless lovers.

Applying the Analysis to Muslims

For many Muslims, the topic is of sex and love is taboo. I’m not sure if many Muslims have made the distinction between love and sex, and hence treat is as one and the same. Meaning, you’ll find Muslims truly in love being denied marriage by their parents because the parents believe their children are just behaving lewd and lusting; something they’ll be over in a little while. On the flip side, some Muslims believe that the one courting them in marriage is only in for love (everlasting love) but we later find out it was more of a sexual desire and the two quickly jumped into marriage.

When attempting to apply the question of is there sex without love amongst Muslims, the answer seems like yes. But Muslim could have told you that - just as there is love without sex in Islam. For instance, the 2nd wife of the Prophet (saw), Sawda (ra), would give her night to be with the Prophet (saw) to Aisha (ra) because of her old age but just because the Prophet was going to Sawda (ra) at night did not mean he stopped loving her.

Considering the Analysis in Context of Islam

Since loveless sex is such a sad moment, the question to ask, does Islam promote loveless sex? (Short answer: no; longer answer to be explained below)

Considering that the only way any man and a woman will be able to engage sex in Islam is through relations after marriage. Hence, marriage is the pre-requisite to relations. This begs another question, who is marriage for?

Marriage is for Lovers

The answer to the above question, who is marriage for, is quite simple and beautifully expressed in a hadith of the Prophet (saw):

“There is nothing for two who love one another like marriage.” Recorded by Ibn Majah.

Hence, the conclusion: Marriage is for lovers!

Obviously the answer cannot be that simple. Lets examine some commentary by the Scholars on that hadith:

Faidh al-Qadeer (the commentary on Jami` as-Sagheer) al-Munaawi said:

“‘It is when a man looks at an ajnabiyah [unrelated woman] and his heart has desire of intercourse, then marrying her will result in increased love.’ This was mentioned by at-Teebi. And more correct than him is the saying of some of the elders that the meaning is that it is the greatest remedy to treat the passion of desire for marital relations. For it is a remedy which there is no equal for by any means. And this is the meaning which is indicated by Allah, Glorious is He, after making women lawful; the free of them, and the slaves of them due to need, by His saying:

“Allah wants to lighten [the burden] for you, and man was created weak.” (An-Nisa’ 4:28)

So by Allah, Glorious is He, mentioning lightening in this subject and informing about man’s weakness, it proves that he is too weak to carry this desire, and that He, Glorious is He, lightened its matter for him by what He permitted for him of pure women. And with this explanation it clarifies that the information relates to when he intends to propose to a woman, and he sees her and feels love for her, then it is legislated that he may plan to marry her merely based on what he saw.”

In Kifayat al-Hajjah, (the commentary on Sunan Ibn Majah) as-Sindi said:

“It is, when there is love between two, then that love will not be increased by anything among the various types of means of drawing nearer, nor will anything make it last, like the marriage tie. So if they are married with that love, then the love will increase and become stronger with every day.”

MashAllah! Just read above at the wisdom and deep understanding the Scholars have about love.

After reading this hadith, you may pause and ask yourself something like this: ‘hey, this hadith is saying that I need to be in love before I get married, and what other way to fall in love than by “getting to know” the other?

Getting to “Know” One Another?

Ah you see, Islam is a system that contains wisdom that would realize this type of reaction and makes it clear from the commentary that the meaning of “love” in the hadith, is desire, not the complicated concept of love that modern people intend.

Abu Khaliyl, a student of knowledge who has ijazah in certain books of hadith from the deceased Safi ur Rahman Mubarakpuri, further adds:

So, a man loves bread, and his love of his bread is similar, and at the same time not similar, to his love of his wife. When he is hungry and he sees bread, his desire to consume it increases until he does so. And yet, we call that, “love” of bread.

This is the type of love that is common through out this topic, it is present in the two mentioned in the hadith, and it is present in the man when he sees bread.

But man’s love for bread does not increase after he consumed it, while marriage causes love to grow. So the love that comes from marriage, is not the same as the love (i.e. desire) before it. And this is obvious and common in normal speech.

Conversely, the modern evil concepts of marriage dictate, ‘we must get to know each other well prior to marriage.’ While this has nothing to do with love, but “getting to know.” And knowing something is not the same as loving something. Then, it is no secret what this concept leads to, and even among Muslims.

So the Prophet (sall Allahu `alaihi wa sallam) did not say: “I have not seen anything for two who love each other like fornication.”

Rather, he said: “marriage.” That is, marriage increases love, while fornication will only lead to anguish, in this life and in the Hereafter.

But man’s love for bread does not increase after he consumed it, while marriage causes love to grow. So the love that comes from marriage, is not the same as the love (i.e. desire) before it. And this is obvious and common in normal speech.

And Allah knows best

Great Stuff huh? Responses/comments welcome.


At 9:45 AM, Blogger zanjabil said...

Hmm. I guess, just as love within marriage is a sacred act, fornication is an act of blasphemy.

At 10:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When lovers meet thousand pains disappear but how often do lovers truly meet. The world is true cruel a place and sometimes they are like birds who are separated even before meeting. Sex is important no doubt but sometimes lovers are so intoxicated that sex is only a small part of their existence. They are too caught up in meeting each other and trying to escape the pains of their surroundings in each others eyes.

At 1:26 PM, Blogger Jannah said...

The Scholar's opinion interested me alot!
Thank you!

Oh and Eid Mubarak :)

At 7:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nice ya Aba Abdur-rahman

At 9:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think many people are just trying to fill the empty space inside them with a lover. They don't realize that there is no satisfaction from sex without love. It's just going to hurt them more in the long run.

At 7:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was looking for an analysis on Sex Without Love by Sharon Olds because I have a test coming up for my literature class and as I read on I see that the article was mostly about Islam! I was so happy! I'm Muslim so it was nice to see people blogging about literature and Islam at the same time. Jazak Allah Khair :)


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