MUSLIM WOMEN ENJOY SEX (and Other Non-Breaking News Stories)

Mainstream media often incites rebuttals from Muslim women defending themselves against vapid stereotypes and negative portrayals. Ostensibly, these include “We are not oppressed,” ”We play sports,” “We are educated and have choices,” “We have agency and support those who do not,” and so on and so forth.  Muslim women writing about inspiring feats of Muslim women are exposed to veil puns to highlight our achievements. Anything accomplished is “beyond the veil,” “from behind the burqa” and numerous other overused cliches.

Now it seems we are entering a new realm of writings by and about Muslim women: Muslim Women and Sexuality. Wait – what? Yes. I dread in that we now have “behind the covered boudoir” or “from beyond La Senza” to look forward to.

Recently there has been a barrage of articles published highlighting sexuality and, dare I say it, normalcy, of the intimate lives of the otherwise exotic and mysterious Muslim woman. A subject that is considered taboo in many cultures is being written of and addressed in different voices of Muslim women. Not since “progressive Muslim” Asra Nomani’s groundbreaking – er, bedbreaking rather – “Islamic Bill of Rights in the Bedroom” have we seen such a flurry of activity and discussion regarding Muslimah and their “intimate interests.”

Normally, I am reluctant to read pieces in mainstream media about Muslim women’s sexuality. They tend to be judgemental, vague or deconstructive and often based on reductive stereotypes about the sexual repression of Muslims, or on trying very hard to shatter assumptions by proving Muslims are as (ab)normal as the rest of the world.

We are also told ridiculous stories of how male clerics are constantly “protecting” women and men from harm’s way (aka exposure to anything titillating) – like buying produce. Because making fruit salad in Ramadan is absolutely arousing. *hijabdesk*. The story was later proven to be a hoax, but the message had already been industriously circulated.

There is also the constant finger-pointing at various Muslim cultures, by Western media, for being incapable of addressing issues of women’s sexuality. [Read more...]

Finding my Essence: An Unconventional Ramadan

Bismillah.

Originally intended to be posted in the start of Ramadan, this post has taken an unusually long time. The first draft was cathartic, yet it took longer to go into depth and dig deeper.  I am left in a position where I unapologetically want to share my truth – a truth that may, with Allah’s will, resonate with another person in Islam or in humanity, and help them feel okay good about the spiritual state where they finds themselves.

My choice to write a personal piece comes from the fact that at this moment in time, I don’t have the capacity to write a conventional post about Ramadan detailing iftars, and visits to the mosque. Ultimately my energy is devoted to trying to assess what is my Islam.

The night before the first day of Ramadan, I was overcome with a wave of spiritual emotion. In the midst of being a nomad between places, and trying to find an apartment after months of what seems like floating in an abyss, stress had become a constant reality. In comparison to my Ramadan last year, which resulted in a spiritual high that I’ve been chasing after ever since, I had been feeling spiritually disconnected for months, yet I recently began to feel a renewed need to connect with my faith, as Allah is what grounds me, connects me to my inner potential. As I grapple with spiritual possibilities, and come to acceptance of areas of my being that I previously disliked, my fear of Ramadan doesn’t come from fear of displeasing  the Most High, our Creator, Allah; it comes from the unsettling conclusion that my observance of Ramadan this year wasn’t going to be conventional.

My focus this month wasn’t attaining spiritual growth from fasting, or restraining my desires and wants. Instead, it was through indulging with wise intent; an intent to learn more about my spirit that I wasn’t aware of before. My intentions were not a means of spitting in the face of my Creator, in fact, it was a means of gaining more insight and wisdom about the Light that They* instilled inside me. [Read more...]

Der Spiegel Highlights the Poor, Slutty Muslim Girls of Europe

Apparently, and without my own knowledge, I, as the generic Muslim female, have been gettin’ the haraam on in public washrooms. Der Spiegel recently published a two-part piece looking at the secret sex lives of young European Muslim women.  The article surveys the “shame” that leading sexual lives can bring upon young Muslim women, from varying backgrounds, as well as the danger and general deceit:

Young Muslim women are often forced to lead double lives in Europe. They have sex in public restrooms and stuff mobile phones in their bras to hide their secret existences from strict families. They are often forbidden from visiting gynecologists or receiving sex ed. In the worst cases, they undergo hymen reconstruction surgery, have late-term abortions or even commit suicide.

The first piece, in particular, is filled with candid explorations of the secret sex lives of young Muslim women, members of a community hypocritical in their outlook regarding extramarital affairs. While women are condemned as “whores” for having sex outside out of wedlock, men are left alone as it is expected that “boys will be boys” (and in the process, become men). For men, nothing is ultimately at stake, whereas for women the honor and dignity relies on her hymen remaining intact.

An ad for the hot-line mentioned in Der Spiegel's article.

For the girls, the worst thing is to be stigmatized as prostitutes, says Leila, an employee at a Berlin girls’ shelter for girls of Turkish origin. “The entire family’s honor is dependent on the virginity of the daughters.” Sometimes girls call their fathers from her office at Papatya, only to hear shouted responses like: “Now you’re a whore.” [Read more...]

Control and Sexuality: The Revival of Zina Laws in Muslim Contexts

The Violence is Not Our Culture (VNC) Campaign and the Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) network recently launched a new publication on zina (illicit sex) laws and their tentative (re)introduction in some predominantly Muslim nations.  “Control and Sexuality – The Revival of Zina Laws in Muslim Contexts,” is an attempt by civil society organizations across various countries to address the historical and present-day cultural, legal and political motives that have led to the reemergence of these controversial laws.

The authors, Ziba Mir Hosseini and Vanja Hamzic, offer a “critique from within,” dissecting zina regulations using classical fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and analyzing the sociopolitical circumstances leading to its reemergence.  The book is structured to be a reference tool for those particularly interested in country-specific case studies on the use of zina laws. Each of the countries selected (Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey) is meant to illustrate and substantiate the astonishing diversity of national contexts in which zina has reemerged. The country-specific case studies are further divided into the following subsections: (1) introductory remarks; (2) historical background; (3) domestic legal system; (4) state responsibility; (5) existing civil society activism for change; and (6) conclusion, thereby providing a requisite balance and evidence to the authors’ thesis on the criminalization of women’s sexuality.

While there are differences between Islamic legal schools* on the conditions necessary to ascertain hadd (crime) of zina, “there is consensus in fiqh on the definition and rulings.” Zina is the Islamic jurisprudential term denoting illicit sexual relations, particularly adultery and fornication outside marriage.  Four “righteous” male witnesses must have seen the act of penetration and must concur in their accounts to establish zina.  Punishment for zina is the same for men and woman: stoning to death for a case of adultery and 100 lashes for premarital sex.  According to the authors, the latter has a Qur’anic basis, while the former is based on Sunnah (saying and practices of the Prophet Muhammad).

The book cites age-old patriarchal motive (including patriarchal readings and interpretations of the Qur’an and Sunnah) as prevalent reasons behind the reintroduction of zina legislation.  The almost evangelical refocus on Islam as a political and spiritual force in the late 20th century (and more recently, post-9/11) has also unfortunately led to the revival of zina laws in the newly Islamized criminal justice systems in countries like Nigeria, Pakistan and Iran.  The book cites a number of other reasons for the reemergence of zina laws, including “protracted socio-economic crises; covert ambitions of political, military and religious elites; post colonial and post nationalist anxieties and theopolitics, i.e., politics based on misuse of religion.”

[Read more...]

The “Tyranny of Sex” in the Saudi Novel

This story was written by M. Lynx Qualey and originally appeared at Arabic Literature (in English).

"Naughty" novelist Samar al-Muqrin

Al Jazeera reports that the cultural pages of Gulf newspapers are brimming with talk about sex. Or, rather, they’re brimming with talk about talk about sex.

This is because sex has been a growing phenomenon in Saudi literature. Earlier this year, noted Kuwaiti novelist Laila al-Othman decried the increase in sexual content in Saudi women’s lit. Al-Othman, whose Wasmiya Comes Out of the Sea was one of the Arab Writers Union’s “top 105,”  is apparently not wrong to point to an increase. According to Al Jazeera, a Gulf organization’s study noted that in 2007 there were 55 Saudi novels dealing with sex, in 2008 64 novels, and last year about 70.

Not exactly an erotic book in every pot. But, sure, it’s something.

The writers being blamed for this phenomenon are mostly women. The Al Jazeera piece mentions Others, by Siba al-Harz (a pen name), Love in the Captial, by Wafaa’ Abdel Rahman, Zaynab Hanafi’s Features and Immoral Women, by Samar al-Muqrin.  Youssef al-Mohaimmeed, who sometimes writes from the point of view of a woman, also made the list of sexy writers with his Pigeons Don’t Fly in Buraydah.

Cultural critic Mohamed Al-Menkeri told Al Jazeera that it’s “regrettable that some people think sex is the most important component” of this conservative society, and don’t look to issues like the search for religious freedom, class divisions, educational failures, or gender.

[Read more...]

A Look at Women in Ali Eteraz’s Children of Dust: Part II

Part I of this review ran last week. You can read it here.

Why do Muslim women merely serve a sexual purpose and a way to “feel power over another human being” in Eteraz’s relationships in Children of Dust?  The answer to this question ultimately lies within the convoluted cultural-religious matrix Eteraz finds himself in as he attempts to form relationships with women.  At a young age, he learns a cultural understanding of relationships with women when his mother admonishes him for “playing” with Sina: “Good boys don’t play games with girls” (19). The lesson is that he is not to engage with girls or women on any sort of level that may result in an eventual emotional attachment or healthy relationship.

Amongst his numerous relationships with women in the book, Eteraz’s relationship with his mother is the longest (and thus most well-developed).  While a child in Pakistan, he describes her as an “inveterate storyteller,” (37) whose influence seems to have affected his own decision to write his story.  As he grows older, his relationship with her transforms—he rebels against his mother’s “mantras that impressed on me the immorality of interacting with females” (130).  But this relationship is not something I found most intriguing–I am instead interesting in further examining the “girls he met along” his journey.

[Read more...]