Everything is halal (permitted) unless it is expressly prescribed as haram (forbidden), perhaps sums up Imam Alyas Karmani's advice to the faithful. Masturbation is not forbidden, he assures an anxious caller while telling a woman that Islam gives women the right to orgasm.
From leading Friday prayers at Bradford's Muhammadia Mosque to dishing out advice based on Islam to the Muslim community, particularly on sexual concerns, this Imam is at ease. Thanks to his expertise in applying the Koran and Hadith (accounts of the Prophet Mohammed's life) to the sex lives of Muslims, he is much sought after in meetings and online chats.
Cultural attitudes have distorted faith and led Muslims across the world into a state of sexual denial, believes the Imam. "The faith actually has a very mature and progressive take on these issues. Islam gave women the right to an orgasm 1400 years ago. A woman has reasonable grounds for divorce if her husband cannot sexually satisfy her," he told The Independent. A BBC radio programme called him "the Muslim sex doctor".
Referring to one person worried about masturbation owing to his interpretation of the Hadith that referenced men on the Day of Judgment with "pregnant hands" Alyas says: "Often, people bring textual proofs that don't have any validity. I know that narration to be something which is unreliable."
Interestingly, a Pew survey conducted some time back on whether Muslims believe Islamic teaching is subject to various "interpretations" revealed orthodoxy in beliefs. A majority in 32 of 39 countries believe that there is only one true way to interpret Islam.
Some scholars believe the sayings in the Hadith are too numerous and were pronounced in vastly different situations. Compiled many years after the Prophet's death, their precise meaning is often lost in translation.
Imam Alyas represents the section caught between Islam and modern society, working to come to a balance and set right what he sees as the misunderstanding of Islam and Muslims. He takes his debates sometimes into the public like when he discussed pornification of society in one of his Friday sermons, says the report.
The Muslim leader in his forties studied psychology at Glasgow University and is working on a PhD on "The Crises of Masculinity and Urban Male Violence". He has been criticised by the Muslim community who think he is undermining Islamic values and also by others who see Islam as the problem and do not quite understand why he persists with the religion.