“Islamically dressed” sex workers in a Christian nation

I was personally not aware that Malawi had a somewhat significant Muslim population when I read this report by Nyasa Times discussing the trend of sex workers wearing the hijab in certain cities in Malawi. This is because I was aware that Malawi identifies itself as a Christian nation “with no religious conflict”, with the religion being followed by 83% of the Malawian population. Yet as I discovered, a minority of Malawians, 13%, are Muslim.

According to the report, sex workers are wearing hijab in order to attract clients from the expatriate Asian Muslim community. Hijabed sex workers are also popular among Malawian Muslims who as the article puts it “feel ashamed at dating bareheaded ladies” and those non-Muslims who want to know what it feels like to have sex with a Muslim woman.

There is no mention in the article as to whether the sex workers identify as Muslim, or if they are wearing the hijab for religious reasons. It is not unheard of for Muslim women who work as sex workers in majority Muslim communities or countries to wear hijab, and not just because of clients but because the hijab is part of their wardrobe. This happens in Northern Nigeria and Somalia for example.

The sex workers in Malawi who wear hijab apparently “rarely don’t take alcohol” and get most of their clienteles from bars and drinking joints, though according to the report, they pretend that they are just hanging out with friends on a night out when clients approach them.

The way this has been reported and discussed online troubles me, as  Islam and the hijab are seen as adding an incongruous or titillating edge to the way women are objectified. It is telling that the accompanying image to the piece was one by “Islamic Erotica” artist, Makan Emadi whose work has been discussed on MMW, here and here.

And, on this article on Somali pirates, the caption under a woman dressed in niqab reads: “Prostitute Faduma Ali, who longs for the days when her pirate customers had money, chews the stimulant khat and smokes a cigarette.” The combination of the word “prostitute” with khat, cigarette, hookah, and niqab provokes a commentator to ask “how can you have a muslim prostitute?”

What makes the Malawian case unique is that it is not necessarily as simple as objectifying Muslim women, since these sex workers may or may not identify as Muslim, and it’s the same with their clients. This brings in several new elements which are not addressed here, such as how Asian Muslim men are affecting the lives of local Malawian Muslims.

The article ends somewhat ominously by citing “a prominent Muslim clerk” who has threatened to deal with those who are bringing “shame” to Islam’s reputation in Malawi.

Meanwhile the non-Muslim voices, as seen from the comments at Nyasa Times’ website, stress Malawi’s claim to no religious conflict, arguing that freedom of clothing is essential in Malawi and expressing concerns about Muslims reacting violently because that is how Muslims are.

The voices of women remains unsurprisingly silent in this report and in reactions. Whether their decision to wear hijab is simply a business strategy or whether these sex workers are Muslim and wear hijab, we simply don’t get to hear from them. It is presumably men that would lead to non-Muslim sex workers adopting hijab in a business move and it is men that are labelling this practice shameful and damaging to Islam’s reputation, while the voices of Muslim women remain mute.


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  • LouAnna alahem

    And prostitutes in Europe and the US are Christian but their business does not seem to sully the reputation of their religion. I’m much more concerned with the economic necessity of selling your body, than I am with what they adorn it.

  • Stevo

    Because someone lives in Europe does not make them a Christian, or anything else. A Christian, in the real meaning of that descriptive word, cannot be a prostitute no matter what they may personally claim to be or do.

  • yahuza

    People should understand that,Hijab is a proper way of muslims dress but its not mainly for them becoause christianity it self enshrined woman to cover their body which means HIJAB. Literal meaning of Hijab is COVERING so not necessary woman that are wearing Hijab to be Muslims it canbe non muslims as such

  • http://hudasnomadicadventure.blogspot.ca/ Huda

    I find it interest that ‘Asian Muslim men’ are seeking prostitutes in Malawi and with it somehow require such a woman to wear the hijab. There are so many absurd dichotomy that we probably need better research to examine this trend in this particular country in southeast Africa, a region where the AIDS epidemic had a destructive impact on the population from Botswana to South Africa. Not to mention what risk these men bring back to their wives and girlfriends back home.

    Now in term of eroticizing Islamic dress code or Muslim women in this case, its as old as orientalism and colonial history when it comes to the concept of Harem and Muslim population. Some have even blamed it on the Ottoman empire who used to demand their harem (another word for forced prostitution) who were mostly non-Muslim girls to cover up. So it might be new to us, but it has a long history where women are the one being exploited and continues on today in poor countries like Malawi.

    Lastly, in reference to the previous comments, just because a Christian or a Muslim woman is a prostitute, it does not negate her faith or claim to it, whether she’s abiding by the sexual and moral guideline of each given faith.