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Women’s Sexuality in Islam

IslamBy Dania Jafar

Islam represses women’s sexuality, right? Think again.

We all see Muslim women draped in head-to-toe burqas. Or read about 10-year-olds being married off to 50-year-old men. Or cringe at women being stoned for adultery. Or knifed to death by family members in “honor killings” for such crimes as fornication or being with a man without a chaperone – or for being raped. (The stain of sexual impurity must be removed from the family, it is thought.) In some parts of North Africa and the Middle East women’s genitals are ritually cut or removed in the name of Islam.

In such a world, whose sexuality wouldn’t be repressed?

But nothing you just read has anything to do with Islam. All of the above are cultural practices that are not approved in the Quran. Read the rest of this entry

Sex as Religious Experience

AngelAll bliss, and calm, like floating out on soft warm waters afterward.

With heavenly music coursing thru her ears “Marcella’s” introduction to sexuality made her sure of God’s approval. Read the rest of this entry

Religion Shutting Down Sexuality

Religious sexual repression

Religious sexual repression

Harmful messages about sexuality are too often transmitted by conservative religions of all stripes.

The Christian woman quoted below is talking about how much she shares with another Christian woman’s experience:

“I suppressed most of my sexual urges.” YES. Hell yes, I did. “I was more or less asexual.” YES. I didn’t have a sexual thought, didn’t have a sexual fantasy, didn’t have a sex drive. I’d suppressed these things out of existence. Read the rest of this entry

ISIL Rape Theology: When “God” Erases Conscience

conscience 3ISIL leadership has deemed rape to be spiritually beneficial.

Including child rape:

It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn’t reached puberty, if she is fit for intercourse.

Obedience to God can cause people to lose their conscience. Read the rest of this entry

Christians for Gay Rights

Marriage Equality

Marriage Equality

Having heard the battle cry, “Gays are against God!” my Women’s Perspective club decided to visit the Christian club on campus.

We’d visited a lot of clubs, on numerous issues, hoping to take in various points of view. So we took a turn with “The Upside Down Club,” so named because they felt that their ideas were the reverse of society’s.

This group surprised us more than any other. Read the rest of this entry

The Islamic State Isn’t Islamic

Islamic peaceThe Islamic State is not Islamic.

Neither was Afghanistan under the Taliban, even though its leaders said they were striving to build, “the perfect Islamic state.”

Many will be surprised to learn that the Quran has very little sexism and gave women many rights that most women in the world did not enjoy in the 7th century, when the Quran was instituted.

In fact, most of the sexism you find in the Middle East comes from culture, not scripture.

The Quran gives women the right to: Read the rest of this entry

Early Islam Was Kind of Feminist

Ramadan 2014 is nearing its end, and in honor I am reblogging a piece by a Muslim feminist who talks of the strong feminist strain contained in the Quran.

Here is a link to a related piece that I wrote years ago (Early Islam’s Feminist Air). And here is another by one of my students (Women’s Sexuality in Islam).

Enjoy!

the fatal feminist

Reverence
Your God
Who created you from a single person
Created, of similar nature,
its mate and from them twain
scattered like seeds
countless men and women;–
Reverence God,
through Whom ye demand
your mutual rights
And reverence the wombs that bore you,
for God ever watches over you. (Qur’an 4:1)

The work of Muslim feminists is revivalism rather than reform, because the Qur’an itself is not only egalitarian but decidedly anti-patriarchal, as is Islam as it was practiced by our Prophet, who was in many ways a feminist. Since the Qur’an was revealed to a patriarchy and has been interpreted mostly by adherents of patriarchy since its revelation, it is the readings of the Qur’an and the interpretations by patriarchal Muslims that appear to be oppressive–not the Qur’an itself, whose teachings are neither framed by nor concerned with patriarchy, as proven by its strongly egalitarian essence and…

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On Burqas and Being Subordinate

1By Zaineb Alkhaleef

Last Halloween I saw a white teenage boy dressed as an Arab man. His friend wore a burqa — and a rope around (his/her?) neck, which the “Arab man” held as a leash. He kept pulling “her” around and shouting orders. I was shocked and wondered what their motive could be.

It got me thinking about women and rights.

I am a devout Muslim woman who wears hijab, a scarf to cover my hair.

Why do I do this? Because I am inferior and subordinate? Because it is my job to control men’s sexuality?

No.

I grew up hearing that men are sexual predators who are incapable of looking at a woman who isn’t covered from head to toe without wanting to rape them, or “mentally rape” them.

But that’s not why I cover my hair.

In fact, while some say women must dress modestly to keep uncontrollable men from sinning, I don’t buy it.

Read the rest of this entry

In-laws Rip Off Girl’s Fingernails, But Who Cares?

Sahar Gul

Sahar Gul

KABUL, Afghanistan — A court has reversed the convictions of three Afghans jailed for torturing a young relative who had refused to become a prostitute, alarming activists who had celebrated the guilty verdicts as a warning to all those who would seek to reverse the strides made by women here in the past 12 years… the defendants — Sahar Gul’s mother-in-law, sister-in-law and father-in-law — (will) be set free.

From the New York Times

In objection to this reversal, I am rerunning my original post and unfortunately asking this same question: In-laws rip off girl’s fingernails, but who cares?

Fifteen-year-old Sahar Gul’s in-laws locked her away in a basement for six months. They beat her, tortured her with hot irons, broke her fingers, and ripped her fingernails off. Her uncle called authorities and by the time she arrived at a hospital her eyes were swollen nearly shut and scabs crusted her fingertips.

Afghanistan allows multiple wives, including child brides. This young bride had been taken in hopes of pimping her out in prostitution. The abuse was meant to persuade.

What struck me most in the AP report were the following lines:

The outcry over a case like Gul’s probably would not have happened just a few years ago because of deep cultural taboos against airing private family conflicts and acknowledging sexual abuse.

I am heartened that things are changing, with public outrage and an editorial in the Afghanistan Times reading, “Let’s break the dead silence on women’s plight.”

But to think that not long ago horrendous abuses like Sahar’s would have provoked no comment is outrageous. You have to wonder why women’s plight has been invisible for so long. And whether Afghanistan is alone in its blindness.

Women must be poorly valued for such abuses to go on without remark: mere property to be sold off, to make money off of, to beat when “disobedient,” to be stoned as spectator sport. And in some cases, to be tortured like lab rats.

When that is all you’ve known your whole life, when this world seems normal to all around you, who can fully see the horror?

Yet America isn’t always so different. Many still blame rape victims for their rape, and many victims still fear coming forward. Battering victims may be blamed for their abuse. Bullied spouses may feel shamed and cover up — and cover for their partners.

The world may be changing in Afghanistan.

The world needs changing right here in America, too.

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Gay Marriage, Slippery Slope to Polygamy?

Obama and Romney both have grandparents who practiced polygamy, yet both have said (and one’s still saying) that marriage should be between one man and one woman. Some think it odd that they both reject the practice when they’ve each got a family history. But I, too, have grandparents who practiced polygamy yet I don’t like the practice, either. This brings me to the concern that marriage equality is a slippery slope to polygamy.

If you hold marriage to “two consenting adults” the problem goes away.

At the same time, while I have a personal distaste for polygamy, I’m not sure that decriminalization would be a bad thing.

First, the problems with the practice.

Gender inequality can be created by simple supply and demand, with “the one” having more power, whether polygyny (one man, many wives) or polyandry (one wife, many husbands). In the polyandrous Lahaul Valley of the Himalayas women have great say over matters. As one young man in this community explained, “The wife’s voice is the dominant voice in the household.”

Typically, polygamy is practiced under patriarchy (as polygyny) so the power of “the one” man becomes intensified. As one New York Times letter writer observed in response to Jonathan Turley’s insistence that polygamous families should be free to live their religion and values:

(In highly patriarchal families) this is not ‘the right to live your life.’ The men have rights, but not the girls (who are) brainwashed, uneducated and mothers while in their teens.

In polygyny it can seem that women make all the sacrifices so that men may take unlimited pleasure. A Sufi who agreed to be a third wife of her teacher (the article title “My Husband, My Teacher” suggests additional inequality of relationship) described her experience this way:

I went through, as did the other wives, all of the usual feelings of jealousy, fear, and insecurity.

She had to learn to let go of attachment, or seeing her spouse as property. Yet her husband didn’t need to learn any of these lessons, enjoying greater freedom and sexual variety than any of his wives ever will.

The addition of a new wife may even be used as a threat in polygamous cultures. Not surprisingly, 86 percent of Afghani women are against the practice.

Moving to larger societal problems, at marriageable age women and men are in equal number so girls in polygamous communities must be married at younger and younger ages, and are often forced into marriage. Their youth further disempowers them. Meanwhile, teenaged boys may be thrown out of these communities via trivial charges like watching “inappropriate” movies.

Joseph Henrich, a University of British Columbia professor whose expertise lies in psychology, anthropology and economics says higher levels of polygamy are tied to higher crime rates, lower GDP per capita, and worse outcomes for children.

And, fewer available women may mean more frustrated bachelors who support the sex trafficking of girls and women. These young men are also vulnerable to recruitment by extremists in some parts of the world.

There is plenty that is not pretty. So why legalize polygamy?

When the practice is illegal and stigmatized, those who live it end up isolated from the rest of society. That means its practitioners hear few alternate voices, and are less aware of the possibility of living differently. Or, choices become limited as others ostracize them and reject their friendship. In other words, they’re more stuck.

Oddly, adherence to “plural marriage” might actually decrease if it were made legal and destigmatized.

I don’t know if legalization will ever destigmatize polygamy, which is an important step in freeing people to hear different voices and to help them to have more options.

Regardless, I doubt legalization will bring people flocking to the practice. The notion of sharing your husband or wife while being forced to be monogamous, yourself, just isn’t that appealing to most people. In the U.S. polygamy is pretty much only practiced for religious reasons, so it’s not likely to catch on. And where it does, it would be more likely voluntary and not coerced.

If you fear gay marriage because polygamy might come next, I doubt there’s really much to worry about.

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