Muslim Women and Sexuality

Things must be so difficult for you girls in the Middle East, you know, not being able to have sex.” 

A few years ago, during my second year of university, which I had spent in the UK on an exchange, a classmate said that to me.

xceI remember laughing snidely, not just at the absurdity of her remark, but at how easily this girl had thought it was acceptable, in 2010, to say something like “you girls in the Middle East,” in the same ill-disguised racist tone with which people still use to talk about Africa.

Sweetheart, people who go to universities have long stopped talking about third world regions as if they were countries, I thought before turning to her and in my best efforts to maintain a straight face said, “I’ll take it you mean extramarital sex, and in this case…

Yes we can.”

But wouldn’t your family like, kill you and stuff? Doesn’t your religion (Islam) forbid it?

cultureMy answers to these series of probing questions were quite simple. I doubt your family would be anymore impressed than mine if they catch you in the act.

Yes, Islam forbids it, but doesn’t Christianity?

I was annoyed at this girl’s ignorance but I thought nothing more of the conversation. After all, one of the perils of being a third culture kid is the amount of ill-advised knowledge of your culture/religion you have to endure from clueless folks.

Three years later, as I watched the Femen protests unfold and listened to entire debates about sexual freedoms in the Arab World, I realized that there are two problems in the way we seem to merge “sex” and “Arabs/ Muslims/ Middle Easterners.”

First of all, just as there is an endless fixation with the lives of Muslim women including what they wear and what “they think” (hell, there are entire articles that claim to know what ALL Muslims think), there is a similar obsession with their sexual lives.

muslim womenTo this end, it is impossible to generalize the social, politics, and historical conditions that have impacted sexuality in a region or group of people as diverse as the Middle East and Muslims. Indeed each region has got its own historical proceedings and unique construct.

On the other hand, it is really quite ridiculous to assume that limits on sexuality exist only in Muslim communities or in the “third world.”

The second issue, which is a more serious one, is this: as far as political debate and even casual conversations go…

the usual assumption is that women in this part of the world aspire to nothing more than sex.

This became especially evident when Femen came along. When supporters of Femen, which is essentially a racist movement, were busy with “fuck you morals” and “fuck religion” slogans, women in what they call Muslim or Middle Eastern or even third world regions were laughing the at the ludicrousness of the idea that a woman’s aspirations for equality stopped at wandering the streets topless.


Actually, for these women…

the fight has and continues to be about things like economic equality and access to education and employment.

Sure, sexuality and its control continue to be debated topics in the region but then again, where in the world has it not controlled things like politics and religion?





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  1. escortdiary says:

    Thank you for sharing that!

    In the 19th century, Europeans were once writing about how OPEN the Arabs, Persians and Indians (the “Orientals”) were with sexuality. Now, ironically, the Middle East is apparently “strict” and the West is “open.” A new form of Orientalism, yet highly ironic.

  2. I guess you never lived in Middle east, did you?

  3. Very lovely post. I found it uncanny that our thoughts are very much similar. In a nice way off course :) if interesred you can find femen related summaries on my blog too. Thanks a lot!!

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