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Islam had open approach to sexuality in the past, says activist

  • Hans Nicholas Jong
    Hans Nicholas Jong

    The Jakarta Post

Copenhagen | Fri, May 20, 2016 | 02:41 pm
Islam had open approach to sexuality in the past, says activist A girl casts a shadow on a rainbow colored umbrella next to a banner that reads: "We Fight, We Resist, We Love", as people celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia in Bucharest, Romania, Tuesday, May 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Sex is often considered a taboo topic in Islam, with discussions limited to how having sex before marriage and homosexuality are haram.

“We are now famous in the Arab world for being bottled up when it comes to sex, and it’s not just LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] issues, it’s to do with sex workers, sexuality education and so on. It’s haram, aib [shameful],” writer and activist for sexuality in the Arab region, Shereen El Feki, said during a session at the fourth Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Thursday.

However, things were very different 1,000 years ago, during the era of Prophet Muhammad.

“We have this endless lexicon for all sexual matters outside the accepted context, which is marriage. The irony of this situation is that 1,000 years ago we were known for being too sexed up,” Shereen said.

Prophet Muhammad, for instance, spoke extensively about all aspects of sexuality, such as the importance of foreplay, according to the activist.

“'Do not come upon your women like an animal', he once told a bewildered follower,” said Shereen.

“There’s nothing in the joy of sex, or in YouPorn, or in Fifty Shades of Grey that they weren't talking about 1,000 years ago in the Arab world.”

In the past, discussions on sexuality in Islam also extended to homosexuality, which has now been strictly defined as haram, without many attempts to study whether that is true by dissecting religious texts, she said.

“So the conventional Islamic interpretation will tell you that homosexuality, sodomy, is haram. And yet, we have a history where we had a lively debate on what is the actual meaning of these verses in the Koran,” Shereen said.

In the past, followers of Islam also spoke about anal sex, now often considered taboo as it is associated with homosexuality.

“You cannot imagine the number of hadith that we had talking about anal sex,” said Shereen. “Some of these fantastic books, many of them written by religious scholars, one of them has a chapter on a debate between an anus and vagina – which is the better form of sexual intercourse.”

It was not until more recently that sex was considered a taboo topic in Islam.

“Today, I hear this very strict Muslim saying we can’t do this or do that because this is a Western import and this is against our traditional Arab and Muslim values. Let me tell you that historically we had a much more open, pragmatic and tolerant approach to sexuality,” Shereen said.

The reason why people in the Islamic community are so distanced from discussions on sex nowadays has nothing to do with sex itself, according to the activist.

“The narrowing comes a lot from the political system which is patriarchal, authoritarian. They like to put people in boxes and cages because they’re much easier to manage,” said Shereen, citing as an example the need for women to be accompanied by guardians at certain times. (dan)

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