Dealing with Lust, Our Dumbest Desire

If we’re being honest with ourselves, sexual desire has reduced most if not all of us men to howling baboons at one point or another. Not to say that we’ve always acted upon it, but there’s a reason why even Sophocles, the ancient Greek playwright and contemporary of Socrates, referred to lust as the mad master. Sexual desire is a most powerful impulse. It’s compelled men throughout the ages to do great and terrible things. Certainly, it can reduce the best of us to ignoble bottom feeders:

“We have certainly created man in the best of stature; then We return him to the lowest of the low.” – Quran 95: 4-5

Now when I say lust is our dumbest desire, I mean dumb in a colloquial sense as in oxen, donkeys, Donald Trump, your typical seemingly mindless beasts. Rational thinking goes out the proverbial window.  So does our spiritual acumen.  Such desires consume us in a manner tragically similar to the vain attempts of your neighbor’s dog on your poor, innocent leg.

As Muslims our initial response to sexual desire is often complete denial as in, “Nope! Not me! I’m not horny at all! Never! Why am I sweating? Steam?” While this is noble it’s also a tad naïve. Denial then leads to sort of white knuckling of desire wherein we start to maniacally pray through grinding teeth to the point of lockjaw and tooth loss.

Of course, praying is necessary, but just throwing up haphazard duas while caroming about your family’s living room like some rabid bull half on fire is not exactly the best approach (And no one wants to end up like George Costanza in that fatal Glamour magazine incident).

Worse, self-flagellation rears its ugly, barbarous head. That devilish voice we sometimes confuse for our conscience begins to tell us how weak and useless we are, how ineffective our faith is and how damnation and ruin are surely upon us. Suddenly, we are drowning in two kinds of despair: Hapless lust and a foolish lack of faith.

Do not minimize God Almighty’s mercy and forgiveness because you are overwrought with shame, guilt and embarrassment. That is a serious transgression in and of itself. Often such despair leads you down even darker paths if you allow yourself to wallow in self-pity. Trust me :(:

“Say, “O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah . Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” Quran 39:53

Even if you acted upon your desire in some wild, illicit manner – pornography, a hookup, a trip to ye ol’ strip club or brothel – there’s no need to turn into some repentant 80’s televangelist. Don’t get me wrong. We’re reaching the peak of stupidity here, but you’re not allowed to curse yourself and the world around you either. Just because you’re on fire doesn’t mean you get to burn the entire house down too. Pray for forgiveness, counter your transgression with some bold act of goodness and learn to avoid temptations in the first place.

I know I know, avoiding temptation is easier said than done when you’re exhausted from studying at your local café and some pretty gal suddenly strides across your weary eyes adorned in Lululemon’s latest offering in yoga ‘pants’ a shade tighter than halal sausage casings:

“Then suddenly, as though a dry path appeared through the Red Sea, Satan saw the beauty of women, and he began to dance. ‘More! More!’ The hazy eyes, the fascination of a soft cheek, a cheekbone, a reddening lip, the glance that burns a man like a cumin seed on a hot fire-brick!” – Rumi

Perhaps, that first glance couldn’t be avoided, but the second, third and fourth certainly could have been. Never mind the fact that you’ve set yourself ablaze, you might even need a neck brace after all that gawking.

For men, especially young men, living in the modern world it can seem like just about everything is offering some kind of sexual fantasy – billboards, advertisements, commercials, cheeseburgers (I’m looking at you, Carl’s effin’ Jr.).  Even a trip to the gym is full of sexual provocation (Mind you all of this is as much the fault of men as it is women if not more in so many instances). Heck, some days when I go lift at 24 Hour Fitness I can’t tell if I’m at the gym or a strip club. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if they start offering lap dances in the squat racks either.

Still, we do have a choice, a better, higher and wiser choice:

“The kernel of true manhood is the ability to abandon sensual indulgences…These matters are as real as the infinite is real, but seem religious fantasies to some, to those who believe only in the reality of the sexual organs and the digestive tract.” – Rumi

Instead of caving to desire or self-flagellating about like some guilt-ridden idiot, learn to laugh a little. I mean it. Laugh at the impulse and how silly it actually is. You may die of hunger and thirst, but no one’s ever died from horniness. It certainly isn’t the end of the world either no matter the outcome.

We don’t overcome our impulses by denial, despair or indulgence, but through a healthy and wholesome discipline.  Discipline teaches us not to feed our desires in the first place. A spark is much easier to handle than a forest fire:

“Fiery lust is not diminished by indulging it, but inevitably by leaving it ungratified. As long as you are laying logs on the fire, the fire will burn. When you withhold the wood, the fire dies, and God carries the water.” – Rumi

Amen.

 

 

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11 thoughts on “Dealing with Lust, Our Dumbest Desire

  1. Lust may be primal — on the order of instinctive hunger or thirst — but it is also human. Sexuality is an integral part of our identities. It motivates us, holds us back, pleases, frustrates, tempts, evades, causes us to question, to answer, to sit down with a blog post and reflect. At its most basic level, however, it is natural. And that is the key word. Why pray for forgiveness for having a natural instinct? Does the salmon when it jumps upstream to spawn ask forgiveness for transgressing the current of the water?

    You are wise when you say that neither denial nor self-pity is the response. Nor is guilt or self-flagellation. There are too many of the religious who burrow in caves of their own construction, berating themselves for a lack of faith while sneaking indulgences that later cause them anxiety and shame. It is a negative feedback loop, easily reinforced and difficult to escape. But your wisdom fails to extend to your solution.

    Instead of dismissing lust as a silly and dumb desire that should be restrained and refocused towards the ‘higher’ pursuit of the truth offered by ancient theologies, it would be more mature to recognize its depth and capacity to shed insight on our fundamental humanity. There is more truth to be found in what makes our heart palpitate, our sweat glands activate, and our imaginations soar than there can ever be found in begging forgiveness while facing a wall from a God who supposedly fashioned us as we are.

    1. At its most basic level, however, it is natural. And that is the key word. Why pray for forgiveness for having a natural instinct? Does the salmon when it jumps upstream to spawn ask forgiveness for transgressing the current of the water?

      A lot of things are ‘natural’ and still wholly unacceptable. Infanticide is common in the animal kingdom as is rape. I certainly don’t condone something just because it happens to be ‘natural.’ I’m sorry, but that’s a misguided and somewhat naive argument to make though one that folks like to make.

      There is more truth to be found in what makes our heart palpitate, our sweat glands activate, and imaginations soar

      Again, my Rumi quote holds true: “These matters are as real as the infinite is real, but seem religious fantasies to some, to those who believe only in the reality of the sexual organs and the digestive tract.” Also, by that argument I should stuff my face with cheeseburgers and donuts because, well, I desire them and it’s going to make the ol’ imagination reach apparent heights of unknown splendor. Yeah, I’m not buying it at all. There is a need for a wholesome discipline. Forget about it from a theological perspective because you obviously have issues with God, but even Aristotle insisted on temperance in such matters. Shoot, I even quoted Sophocles referring to lust as the mad master.

  2. So…fast and lower the gaze until I graduate undergrad and land a decent job…? Looks like our best bet here. I fast on Mondays and Thursdays but maybe I should up the ante. Every other day might work.

    Good article by the way.

    1. Fasting is always a help and one that our Prophet (pbuh) suggested as well. I mentioned laughing as well because taking our desires so seriously often has the opposite effect. We make mountains out of mole hills. Paper cuts turn into mortal wounds. Illicit desires suddenly seem insurmountable. The truth of the matter is that it’s not nearly as burdensome as we make it out to be. It’s more like a phantom that is strong enough to throw us down a well, but remains just a phantom, a product of our own imaginings.

      Also, workout more. Exercise is a boon to our discipline and a fantastic way to channel that sexual energy into something productive. It is, after all, an energy and one that we can use to our advantage as well.

    1. Haha that’s cute and no different than someone telling me they’re planning on ravaging an entire frozen pizza, a dozen donuts and a pint of ice cream for a nightcap. We ascribe a sort of provocative delight to indulging errant sexual desires because it’s often associated with attraction and beauty – those two can be powerful illusions when left unchecked. In truth though, it’s no different an appetite than eating and drinking. It just so happens that one makes us physically slow and fat while the other bloats our soul. Good luck.

      1. “Because a child doesn’t understand a chain of reasoning, should adults give up being rational? These matters are as real as the Infinite is real, but they seem religious fantasies to some, to those who believe only in the reality of the sexual organs and the digestive tract.” – Rumi

  3. Very good insight!

    I just wanted to comment as mostly it’s the naysayers always talking / leaving reviews of products / etc. But JazakAllahu khayr 🙂

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