Over recent years, acts of Zina (unlawful sexual behavior and intercourse) have become more common amongst young Muslims and are most exasperated during festivals such as Valentine’s Day. Research for this article was conducted with focus groups of young people. I found that a large segment of young Muslim males and females who celebrate Valentine’s Day look forward to it and celebrate it more than Ramadhan and Eid with regard to preparation, anticipation, activity, enthusiasm, and money.
As Ramadhan and Eid are faith-based festivals, they feel ‘guilty’ for doing anything haram, unlike non-Islamic festivals, which allow them to feel guilt-free. They prepare weeks in advance, for it takes a lot of time, effort, and money to make sure it goes as planned. Valentine’s Day and celebrating it is considered ‘exciting, fun, good, beautiful, important, liberating, an expression of freedom and love, romantic, sweet, a good compliment, a show of dedication and commitment, a nice day’ and they thought it was ‘morally right,’ as ‘people have a choice on how to live their lives’ and ‘it’s good to fall in love.’
These youths first learned about Valentine’s Day in primary and secondary school from friends, teachers, and watching TV. Some admit that their parents have no problem with celebrating Valentine’s Day.
Female members of the focus group revealed Valentine’s Day has to be ‘The perfect romantic day’ and involves the boy-friend surprising the girl-friend on the day, despite the girl-friend and her friends knowing about it from the beginning and trying to help the boy-friend plan it, ‘without him knowing.’
The boyfriend is expected to do any or most of the following: buy new clothes, hire a car, and buy each other expensive gifts, which vary from chocolates and flowers to diamond rings, lingerie, and/or sex toys (which my focus group says is generally ‘just for a laugh’). The boyfriend is expected to plan a romantic and creative day for the girlfriend. It is common for couples to go bowling, ice skating, shopping, restaurants, cinema, and sightseeing in London and around the UK.
Some couples also spend the night clubbing and drinking alcohol. Although they know Islam’s prohibition of these actions, it is the social consequences they fear the most, such as ‘parents finding out, damaging reputation’ and ‘not being able to get married.’ Females felt most vulnerable to such consequences, whereas the males felt less threatened by them. They admitted being heavily influenced by the music industry, TV shows such as ‘Sex and the City,’ Hollywood, Bollywood, and the fashion industry. They also felt attending school and college allowed them to be more exposed to these influences as all the other students were also doing it and encouraging it.
There are more adventurous couples (usually above the age of 16 years) who will book a hotel room in the UK or abroad either to sleep together and/or to have sex or take part in some form of sexual activity. Some couples who are unable to go to hotels or abroad tend to get involved in similar sexual activities in cars, cinemas, family or friends' apartments, and public parks.
It’s also reported that some females fulfill their sexual needs with individuals of other races, such as young males from a non-Muslim white or black ethnic background, as it allows more secrecy. Although these activities often take place during Valentine’s Day, they also take place during other occasions throughout the year, including New Year’s Day and Eid. Both males and females explained they feel more pressure to take part in sexual activity due to peer pressure from males, from school and college, and felt that the music industry encouraged it most.
The majority of the female participants confess aspiring to have boyfriends and that a lot of their lifestyle decisions are based on pleasing potential boyfriends, from dress code to social life and even sex. They also believe finding ‘the perfect man’ is their priority, more than education, religion, and career. All female members of the focus groups admitted to feeling insecure about their looks and personality and felt males try to take advantage of it.
Yet, the focus group also believes it is good to celebrate it and believe it is an expression of love. They believe that celebrating Valentine’s Day is good and morally right. They also strongly believe friendship between boys and girls is good and morally right. Furthermore, they find it shocking that some males and females do not have friends of the opposite sex. Some even find it ‘unbelievable’ and feel as though individuals who have no friends of the opposite sex are ‘missing out’ on a beautiful relationship.’ They explained they grew up with this concept and are taught in school, on TV, and even by their family members, including parents. They also felt it was a part of being British.
When asked about what they think Islam says about Valentine’s Day and all the actions that take place for it, most confess that they know Islam considers it impermissible and haram. However, they justify that Islam promotes ‘love’ and it is okay to have a ‘love marriage,’ but most justify it by saying that they are not religious. It is common for many Muslim youths to have girlfriends and boyfriends, with the view that it is permissible, providing you intend to marry. These concepts are mostly learned from examples amongst family and friends of love marriages, TV, Hollywood, and Bollywood.
What is apparent is that a lot of Muslims have a series of un-Islamic beliefs (some of which may even constitute kufr), values, and concepts embedded in them, which justifies their attitude towards Valentine’s Day and Zina in general. These characteristics have been cultured into them by a series of teachings, observations, experiences, influences, and role models. It is also clear that females are very naïve of the consequences of their actions and offer total trust in the males without the fear of being taken advantage of.
They are also ignorant, rather than fearless, of the impact of their actions with regard to their faith in Islam, their health, their family, their career, and their future marriage prospects. Females in this category are often victims of their own insecurity and low self-esteem. This forces them to seek male attention constantly and consequently allows the males to take advantage of them. Therefore, it’s not a surprise that the rate of teenage pregnancy in, for example, Tower Hamlet, London, is so high, with 66% resulting in abortions. According to the Tower Hamlets Joint Strategic Needs Assessment 2010/2011, in 2009, there were over 1,500 abortions in Tower Hamlets, a large segment of them from Muslim Bangladeshi females aged between 18 and 24 years.
Free-mixing and having boy-friends and girl-friends is also highly encouraged in schools. Pupils are often forced to free mix, and the concept that it is morally correct for young males and females to be close friends is cultured into the youth.
The music industry and its messages heavily influence Muslim youth to such an extent that recent years have seen numerous Muslims investing in a music career and in music studios. These Muslim musicians reinforce the typical messages of the mainstream music industry. Such musicians often promote zina, females as sex objects, making money as the ultimate goal of life and the path to happiness and power, life solely about having fun and fast, expensive cars, crime, and gang culture.
Muslim youths aged between 11 and 25 years who fall into this category rarely get access to Islamic teachings, teachers, or influences. This is attributed to the ‘fear and shame’ of approaching ‘religious people, their environment and what they have to say, not knowing who or where to go, feeling uncomfortable in an Islamic environment’ and ‘fear of being asked to leave their current lifestyle and group of friends’. They also felt the need to avoid religious people, as religious people ‘may stop them from having fun, making money and having a girl/boyfriend.’
The purpose of this study is to understand the behavior, attitude, and values of young Muslim males and females in relation to Zina. Although not all Muslim youngsters in Tower Hamlets share the same behavior, attitudes, and values as some in these focus groups, a growing number are a part of it to some extent. It’s surprising how easily a group of young Muslims open up about their private lives and the lives of their community and reveal the dark and shocking reality of being a Muslim youth. In doing so, it also manages to expose the relationship they have with Islam and Allah and how little their parents and elders know about them.
The concepts they hold of life and each other are very far from the teachings of Islam. These concepts have been cultured into them from a very young age.
Most importantly, it poses an important question for parents, scholars, Islamic institutions, and Muslims in general.
How can we convince our youth to abandon and reject these concepts for Islamic concepts?