“I am not Haram!” or the Challenges Muslim Gays Confront

We also sent Lut : He said to his people : “Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you? For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds.” Qur’an 7:80-81

In the post-modern era, when the issue of homosexuality is less of a taboo than say 50-60 years ago, homosexual people are still facing persecution, judgements and condemnation around the world. The degree of the persecution varies for different regions, countries and religions. The one religion that has had the most rigid stance on homosexuality is Islam. Being a Muslim myself it is hard to admit the fact that the level of tolerance seems to be much lower in Muslim-majority countries. Whether or not Islam prohibits homosexuality and the position of the Qur’an is a complex matter which can be discussed in a lengthy research. What is worth mentioning is the fact that earlier Islamic societies were less strict on this matter. Many of the poems have been addressed to boys while in some medieval Sufi texts it is unclear whether the beloved being addressed is a teenage boy or God, providing a quasi-religious sanction for relationships between men and boys (The Economist).

Despite that, the sad reality prevails. Gays in the Muslim world are still being pushed underground with draconian laws that satisfy the government. In those countries where the laws are moderate the society as well as the government finds other ways of harassing and persecuting homosexuals. As the chart below indicates even in those countries where homosexuality is not explicitly outlawed the government is still rigid.Image

Being gay and Muslim is, thus, the biggest taboo of today’s Muslim world. Being gay in the open is a challenge that homosexuals can only confront on the internet. Most of these discussions are initiated and led by those homosexual Muslims that are outside of these countries. While some legal historians claim that as a religious and governmental leader the Prophet did not punish homosexuals and argue that the norms and regulations about gay sex was composed long after his death, the majority still embraces the idea that homosexuality is a shameful sin. As a result those who are pushed underground have no other option left than leading a double life which is challenging, unfair and is a violation of their human rights. Those who do come out of the closet, due to religious and political reasons, are confronted with hostility. Note that in some of these countries (Iran for example) transsexuals are allowed to change their sex so that they can enter the traditional, right heterosexual relationships. The state even offers financial support for the operation. So, for the Iranian government it is a rather simple choice: “either transform physically or pretend to be normal i.e. heterosexual”.

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One of the reasons why many issues exist today is because religion is not just a matter of personal belief and prayer. It goes further than that. It constitutes a public sphere that includes the entire nation itself. The western world trumpets its acceptance of homosexuality. However, what is important to remember is that the West arrived at its current stance through a gradual process. When the secularization of the Western civilization along with the emergence of the liberal attitude towards sex took place, it contributed to a more tolerant position on the subject. Ironically, some medieval Western writers condemned Islam’s tolerant and encouraging attitude towards sexual practices between people of the same sex (Sabine Smidtke). Unfortunately, the Muslim world has not developed the same vision so far.  In the post-Arab Spring period with the religious figures gaining political power homosexuals are persecuted as never before even in the most aspiring democratic countries (kind of!) like Kazakhstan.

The Central Asian blogosphere today was blown by news from the Kazakh Parliament taking an initiative to criminalize homosexuality. Homosexuality is seen as “amorality of the highest degree” and the officials are now calling homosexuals to be considered criminals against humanity. Almaty, the old capital of the country, has 20 gay clubs which the government sees as a disgrace. Meanwhile, these clubs are only places where homosexuals can be open about their sexual orientation. These places are highly protected by their members as they face constant harassment and threats. Two years ago my roommate and I (both heterosexual) went to an only gay club in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan called “The Spike”.  A very close friend of mine who happens to be Muslim is gay, a fact that he shares only with his closest friends. One has to have connections among the homosexuals to get into the club and he was ours. After the club the two of us sat into a taxi cab the driver of which verbally assaulted us thinking that we were lesbians. As we had been told later by our friend, that happens every time one catches a cab near the club. This is only a minor share of what Muslim gays have to deal with on the daily basis. The challenges the Muslim gays are confronted with seem to be increasing over time with little possibility for any kind of positive intervention from the governments. What is to become in another 20-30 years remains to be seen.

Sources:

Human Rights Campaign. “Stances of Faiths on LGBT Issues: Islam.” http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/stances-of-faiths-on-lgbt-issues-islam

Joanna Lillis. “Kazakhstan: Parliament Becomes Scene of Homophobic Rants.” Eurasian.net (May 28, 2013). http://www.eurasianet.org/node/67026

Schmidtke, Sabine. “Homoeroticism and Homosexuality in Islam: A Review Article.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 62 (1999): 260-266.

The Economist. “Straight but Narrow. Islam and Homosexuality.” February 4, 2012 (from print edition). http://www.economist.com/node/21546002

Gender Parity and Islamic Feminism …!!!

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In any academic discipline, terms fulfill two basic functions. The first function is to describe a phenomenon or a theoretical position whereas the second function is to analyze the described theoretical position. The vital discussion is to understand how people understand the term ‘feminism’ within the ambit of ‘Islam. The term “‘Islamic Feminism’ might sound like an oxymoron for some however for an increasing number of Muslim women; Islam provides a salient feature within which they struggle for gender parity” (Anna Mansson, 2007). In general, the term Islamic feminism deals with the role of women in Islam. Furthermore it is interesting to understand whether the term Islamic feminism is a contradiction in itself or not. The problem lies in the definition of this term and also in its usage. The terms “Islamic” and “Feminism” do not exist in a vacuum and therefore to my understanding cannot be divorced from the cultural and political baggage they carry.

Nevertheless it is essential to investigate the most significant issues in academic, social and cultural setting identified with Islam. This is the issue of inaccurate terminology which is regularly used to signify woman’s rights. The result is the repetitive abuse and confusion of the expressions “Islamic” and “Muslim”. This wrong utilization of the term “Islamic” has led to accelerated uses of terms such as Islamic activists, radical Islam and Islamic terrorist. These terms are utilized more than once without comprehension. The result for such abuse of terms is to utilize the expression “Islamic” for what identifies with religion inasmuch as “Muslims” for the disciples of Islam.

Islamic Feminism would absolutely seem, by all accounts, to be a disagreement in wording, as might Jewish Feminism and Christian Feminism for that matter. Moreover it is argued by many scholars that these terms are incompatible because Islam is a religion whereas Feminism may be looked upon as a secular theory or act. It is pertinent to note that “Islam is a way of life”. Hence there is a mixture of religion and secular life. The holy book guides the adherents of Islam by giving them a proper and an ethical path to live there lives.  On the other hand, a refinement ought to be made between the act of numerous Muslims, which is out rightly sexist and frequently educated by patriarchal tendencies and non-Islamic universal society

Notwithstanding, as I specified above, the everyday actuality for numerous Muslim women is exceptionally far to be sure from the perfect harmony set out in the Quran. A number of the explanations behind this are:

 1) The determination of patriarchal modes of social order (and tribal law in a few territories); its qualities being so disguised that a clear perspective comes to be challenging indeed, for women.

 2) The larger part of theologians and translators of the Quran have been men, and they have had a tendency to interpret in their favor, regularly being too literalist and disregarding the inconspicuous layers of importance inside the Quran and the Arabic dialect itself, Jalaluddin Rumi and Ibn ‘arabi being striking exemptions.

It is my conviction that Western women’s liberation could profit from a discourse with Islamic woman’s rights. What is particularly interesting is that the Quran explains the relation between male and female and their particular rights and obligations to one another. The Quran has very effectively explained that “All men and women are equal in the eyes of God”. This clearly indicates the theory of gender parity and that discrimination is a byproduct of man’s law and not Gods law. In the Qur’an there is no difference in the value given to the creation of woman and the creation of man. The Qur’an states “And of everything we have created pairs [zawjayn]” (51.49). Several other verses in the Qur’an also talk about the characteristic of pairs in creation, (53:45, 78:8,50:7, 22:5, 36:36).

 

In the creation of human beings, the male and the female make up the pair. Since everything created must be in pairs, the male and female must both be necessary, must exist by the definition of createdness. Neither one comes before the other. This means that in Allah’s creation of human beings, no priority or superiority is accorded to either man or woman. Sadly, media scope of Islam and Muslims is exceptionally inclined in favor of the negative, and any non-Muslim might get a totally erroneous picture of Islam. The Taliban, in my opinion, for instance has nothing to do with Islamic qualities and the dominant numbers of Muslims are stunned by their activities in appreciation to ladies. Along these lines, both non-Muslims and Muslims themselves have a great deal to study as far as sex relations and the Quranic teachings on such. I do accept that this is a general talk as just accurate balance between the genders can free our innovative and savvy potential to keep tabs on the bunch of issues that we need to be tending to in the contemporary world.

Beyond the veil: Negotiating the role of clothing in the lives of Muslim women

Several scholars including feminists, anthropologists and other social scientists have argued how veil can be seen as a mode of patriarchal dominance and a means towards women oppression. Other scholars have shown, mostly through fieldwork experiences, how women use the veil as a source of empowerment. In essence, the issue of the veil dominates the gender scholarship so much so that simple, practical forms of clothing associated, or rather socially imposed on women, are ignored. I am trying to investigate whether daily forms of clothing in certain Muslim societies oppress, empower or simply play a neutral role in the lives of Muslim women.

One of the contemporary themes I am interested in is how media portrays certain clothes as ‘acceptable’ and modest, while rejects others as ‘immodest’. For example, the Pakistani national media has a strict policy on how women should be dressed appropriately in order to maintain moral standards in the society. However, the question is, ‘How is a ‘moral dress code’ determined? During the 1980s, under the military dictatorship of Zia ul-Haq, the government passed a national bill to ensure all women on national television should be wearing a shalwar-kurta (portrayed as the national dress) and must necessarily have a dupatta (a shawl worn on the head to cover the hair; it is not a scarf). The feminist organizations in the country protested against such patriarchal policies aimed at gender inequality. A leading newspaper in Pakistan recounts historical events of women resistance against discriminatory policies especially during 1980s as,

“a protest against the systematic discrimination that the State committed against the women of Pakistan as General Zia tried to ‘Islamise’ the country through laws like the Hudood Ordinance, the Qanoon-e-Shahadat (Law of Evidence) and propagation of the chador and char-dewari concept”

(Written by Soonha Abro in Dawn Newspaper, Pakistan. 2nd April 2013)

 

Though such rulings have been changed in the recent times; the dressing of women is still regulated to make sure it falls under the socially ‘acceptable’ standards. What is interesting is how such national bills are seen to develop the positive role of women in the society and allow them to participate in national media, yet avoid the spread of immoral ideas in the society. But the question is, how does a regulated dress code imposed by one gender on the other bring gender equality? Doesn’t this further increase the segregation and gender gap in a society?

Another crucial issue that leads to gender inequality is how women’s dressing is used as a tool to prevent them from participating in daily life activities, including sports. Several countries are against the broadcasting of women sports events. These ideas are deeply ingrained in the society; even women in these societies strongly feel against the participation of women in certain sports where the sports’ dress is inappropriate. Fatima Fakier, writer in an international fashion magazine, interviews a women who asserts:

“Running and jumping in front of men jeopardizes a woman’s dignity and that such movements expose too much of a woman’s body”.

(Article written and interview conducted by Fatima Fakier, the founder of friniggi Sportswear, a company specializing in performance sportswear for Muslim women)

This shows how the dressing of women prevent them from participating in several national and international forums; reduced representation of women further leads to gender inequality. For example, the Badminton World Federation (BWF) issued a rule, effective from 1st June 2011, that women should wear skirts in order to ‘ensure attractive presentation of badminton’. One needs to critically analyze how such rules, unfortunately constituted on an international level, present women as objects to ensure effective presentation of a sport. However, the reaction against this rule from some countries was equally radical and unjust. Countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia rejected the rule as immoral and irreligious. Syed Naqi Mohsin, the Senior Vice President of Pakistan Badminton Federation, said:

“World Badminton should not make wearing of skirts by female players mandatory. Our religious beliefs and norms do not allow our female players to wear skirts.”

This approach too is fallacious as the state is using the tools of religious doctrines to regulate the lives of women. The women’s dressing is used to determine whether they will be able to participate in an event or not. Doesn’t this undermine the role of women in a society? Rather than seeking a society with equal opportunities, isn’t regulating the dressing of women a way towards gender inequality?

In conclusion, it is not only through veil, but multiple forms of regulated dress codes that women’s role in the society are undermined. It should not be the role of the state or the religious elite to impose certain dress code on women and deem the others as ‘immoral’. It should them be the choice of the women on what dresses make them comfortable to participate in national or international forums, including sports. This is summarized by Kulsoom Abdullah, an American weightlifter, who campaigned against the hijab ban, arguing that no one should be imposing a dress code on women:

‘I don’t think women should be forced to dress a certain way; I don’t want women to not have the chance to experience competition and the fun of sports.’

References:

http://www.aquila-style.com/aquilas-picks/muslim-women-in-sport/#611/1

http://dawn.com/2011/04/26/pakistan-female-players-will-not-wear-skirts-pbf/

http://dawn.com/2013/04/02/a-new-face-of-an-old-struggle/

Drawing the line between ‘just’ and ‘unjust’ gender norms

 

Gender studies often emphasize how gender roles are culturally constructed. The fluidity of gender roles, in my opinion, has a dual implication for a student of social sciences. It allows for the acknowledgement of a diversity of gender roles across different cultures; however, its cultural dependence means that a particular ideal of gender cannot be categorized as better than the other. As students of social science, this may seem a comfortable idea to accept in theory. Nonetheless, it raises important questions of whether a gender ideal (formed within a particular cultural context) should be acceptable in any and all cases.

I bring up this question as I was perplexed at a recent news report from Saudi Arabia. A Salafist-Wahhibist cleric presented a fatwa (religious ruling) to prohibit women form the usage of air conditioning when they are alone in their homes. He ruled,

 “Turning on the cooler ventilator is prohibited for women in the absence of their husbands [because] the woman’s act is very dangerous, and may bring about immorality in the society. When she turns the cooler on, someone may notice her presence home, and this might bring about immorality.”

 This is just one of the instances of Islamic legal rulings aimed at prohibiting women from certain acts that might bring dishonor to the family. Honor is a key concept in various cultures, and in most cases it is associated with women. The women are expected to uphold the honor of the family such that any anti-social act on her part can bring shame to the entire family. Since the onus of guarding the family’s honor is on the women, the men are expected to make sure the women don’t fail in their job.

My experience from the Pakistani society also showed me how most men feel the need to ‘control’ the women in the house as they are the guardians of the family’s honor. Such ideas are internalized in the society through the educational system. In schools, the Islamic Studies curriculum over-emphasizes the following Quranic verse which outlines the significance of modesty for women:

And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty (24:31).

 Thus, women also internalize the idea that it is their moral responsibility to bring honor to their families. Any blunder on their part will only be their responsibility only (and not the men). It is ironic how the school curriculum doesn’t focus much the preceding Quranic verse which outlines the same rulings of modesty for men:

 Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. (24:31)

 This makes one question, how far should a culture appropriate its gender rules? If we are to believe that gender roles are formed according to the needs of a culture, does it mean that it is fair in such societies for only the women to uphold the honor of their families by adhering to such social norms? Do the men have no part to play in maintaining the family’s honor? If so, where do you draw the line? Saudi Arabia and some areas in Pakistan strictly require women to observe veiling. There have been multiple researches on how veil is a sign of oppression, and equal number of researches on how veils provide a sense of security and empowerment to the women. But how do you justify the prohibiting of the usage of air conditioning and other such daily life chores which may seem perfectly reasonable to one’s ‘commonsense’. Another case in example is the prohibition of driving for women in Saudi Arabia as it may bring dishonor to the family. Should all these gender norms seem normal as they are socially constructed and therefore are best suited for their respective societies?

I think such a conclusion is fallacious as it excludes the notion of power in creating and modifying cultural norms. Most societies, including Saudi Arabia are patriarchal; thus, (using the words of Foucualt) the ‘status quo’ strives to maintain the social hierarchy of power. This is further understood from the fact that all of social rulings are created by men. Women play little or no role in forming social decisions; they are the ‘passive recipients’. The notion of honor associated with women and legal Islamic rulings given by clerics prohibiting women from certain social acts should be seen with the lens of how men strive to maintain the smooth functioning of a patriarchal society.

This brings me back to the question I started with. Should such gender ideals be accepted in social science, or can we objectively say that some gender roles are more ‘just’ than the others? I think, the answer to this question will vary in different cultures. A western feminist will simply reject the ruling of the Salafist-Wahhibist cleric, claiming it as a serious attempt to oppress women. On the other hand, a man from the society where such a legal ruling is imposed might believe that such a decision is crucial to the well-being of his family and the smooth functioning of his society.

The Meme World of Stereotypes and Sexuality

Media has played a huge role in the post-modern era. In particular, social media with websites such as Facebook and Twitter, have become the main sources of communication. My personal experience and interaction with these websites involves networking, communication, and entertainment. As part of entertainment, a new phenomenon has taken over Facebook: Memes.  

Merriam dictionary defines a meme as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.” On Facebook, this takes place in the form of a picture, usually with some sort of caption(s). Up until I took this class, I used to blindly go through the memes and get a chuckle out of them. However, as I became more critical of my surroundings and attempted to notice varied representations of gender around me, memes opened a new window for me. These memes, I realized, serve as windows into the culture I am part of. These images represent what the wide community finds humorous or entertaining, to say the least.

A critical look at the memes makes it evident that they are filled with gender stereotypes. In certain ways, they reflect the view of males and females in the society. These views include: how men and women are supposed to act, how they really act, and at times how they are seen, and how they really are supposed to be seen. Reflecting on the definition, these memes are very influential. In essence, they take certain stereotypes and reinforce them or even create new stereotypes to promote varied representations of gender.

When I began a critical evaluation of these memes, a pattern with a recurrent theme became evident to me. Majority of the memes had to do with females. They idealize them, fantasize them, and degrade them, to cite just a few reactions.

I went through a series of memes and gathered memes that had to with females (which did not take long at all, as almost everyone had to do with them). I will briefly go through a few of them and demonstrate the images and stereotypes they create or reinforce to the wide audience on Facebook.

 Meme # 1

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The above meme represents or rather mocks gender roles and attempts to portray the roles of young men and women.

Meme # 2

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Here, the meme clearly degrades the female, and portrays her as a ‘toy’ – it denounces their intelligence as well as abuses their sexuality – as a simple guitar is enough to get a women naked.

Meme # 3

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A clear sexualization of female body is obvious here.        

Meme # 4 

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Once again, female stereotypes are reinforced .

Meme # 5

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Why is it always the mother doing the dishes? Once again, reinforcement of stereotypes.

Meme # 6 

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Clear sexualization of the female body is visible here – for entertainment purposes

Meme # 7

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Once again, female body is highly sexualized, not to mention degraded.

Meme # 8

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This meme is wrong at so many levels. First, the outfits define which holiday is better. Second, the outfits define that these females are “hookers”. Third, stereotypes are reinforced.

Meme # 9

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Stereotypes: arguments, women as sex objects.

Meme # 9

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The captions on the meme speak for themselves. They raise an interesting point, and I am not sure if its right question that is being raised or if there is rights answer to it. What is important here is that, this meme reveals that women are actually falling for the stereotypes by having pictures displayed on the left as their default pictures. A sense of competition, compulsion, and unsaid pressure may be some of the factors that are leading to such representations of females of themselves in the public eye.

Meme # 10

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This meme speaks volumes. It shows that some cleavage can attract a lot more attention. Not only does it subconsciously influence females to put up such pictures, but it also creates certain expectations amongst men.  Gender disparity is clearly visible here.

Meme # 11

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Either you see a man sitting on a chair reading a book, or you see a man sitting on a chair, with a female on the floor performing oral sex on him. This double play of image as well as the text and caption on the image attests to the idea of sex (man being the dominant one while the woman is on the floor) that is being promoted here.

Meme # 12 

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The stereotype that women are supposed to be “proper” is visible here.

Meme # 13

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Once again the response is highly stereotypical and mocks women.

Meme # 14

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Self-explanatory – highly stereotypical and not true at all. I know a lot of men who are scared or cockroaches and women who are not afraid of elephants.

Meme # 15

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This meme once again reinforces the stereotype of how women are supposed to act and the type of fashion that accompanies their behavior in the society.

These are the images that the youth in the society are growing up looking at. What are the memes doing? They are creating certain expectations and promoting stereotypes on how they are supposed to act in the society as well as on the Facebook world, which is a major part of “culture” today.

In your opinion, how effective are these memes? Do they have enough power to change ones views? What can we do to change the stereotypical and degrading portrayal of females and gender roles? 

Next time you look at such memes and get a chuckle out of it, know that you are promoting  gender stereotypes prevalent in the society around us. 

Muslim Fashion Industry: Femininity and Sexuality

Women throughout the world hold a variety of diverse and sometimes adverse beliefs about how Islam calls them to dress. This notion accompanied with the spread of globalization and westernization has given rise to a phenomenon which is contradiction in itself, yet is fast-growing and pervasive both in the Islamic world as well outside of it. I am talking about the rise of the Muslim fashion industry which has evolved into a lucrative industry. In the given post I endeavour to briefly look at some implications this industry might have. I do not intend to take up the question of why do women veil and nor do I suggest that the implications are negative only. I merely aim to explore the affects the hybrid forms of fashion might have on stereotype formation as well as sexuality and gender.

The keystone of the women clothing according to Islam is modesty. The explicit reason behind women covering themselves is to conform to the religious norms and guidelines. However, as seen from the recent vintage (Turkey and Indonesia) more clandestine aims could be pursued either by the government or the opposition to impose or promote veiling as part of the construction of subject-citizens. In Indonesia, for instance, the last couple decades of the previous century were marked by the spread of Islamic clothing as a form of resistance to the state authority. Therefore, one could argue that wearing an Islamic dress and a headscarf, a hijab or a chador is not exclusively a sign of personal piety but may also reflect individual and communal identity, a fact largely exploited and abused by political actors. As a result the number of women wearing Islamic clothing has been increasing. What is remarkable though, is that in the last decades the interplay between the Muslim/Eastern fashion world and that of the Western has given rise to new tendencies in clothing. And contrary to the common belief that the two have relations of tension with each other, both trends have had great impact on redefining femininity.

Designers alongside with the consumers, traditional Muslim women have been interrogating and redefining conventional understandings of femininity and sexuality by engaging with different types of stereotypes resulting in gender performativity. In other words certain way of dressing in a repetitive performance results in the creation of new understanding of what actually constitutes femininity and sexuality. This is not to say that the Western influence has altered the Islamic clothing entirely. What this implies is that the new/non-Islamic elements in the clothing have to be somehow linked to authenticity. The result is the construction of an ethnic and religious “chic”. The new clothing while influenced by numerous transnational factors yet maintains local flavour. In an article on fashion and fundamentalism in Yemen Anne Meneley describes her encounter with a rather bizarre item at a marketplace – a Chador Barbie. What is interesting about this case is that the doll was of a local manufacturing and encapsulated the image of the oppression of women that is built on stereotypical forms. On the one side Barbie is the icon of the sexuality and femininity – the product of the West. The chador represents the masculine control of women’s sexuality and women’s subordination – products of the East. The Chador Barbie, therefore, personifies the stereotypes of sexuality associated with both places. However, once the author describes the way the doll is dressed (pictures are provided in the article) with her revealing form fitting dress as opposed to a shapeless chador and the face veil that flashes her lips, one gets a clear vision of the Western elements prevailing. This and numerous other cases show that while some stereotypes about the female body are subverted, other concepts of gender and sexuality are normalized.

Fashion becomes a way for women to express themselves and to keep up with the western trends of clothing. However, it also gives rise to discourses among women about what femininity is and creates the sense of Otherness. With the politicization of Islam in Turkey and the rise of the Muslim fashion industry, for instance, a clear-cut distinction has been made between a “pious woman” and a “modern consumer”. While the pious women rush to differentiate themselves from the seculars, the modern consumers tend to outline the similarities between the two groups. The commercial representation of these groups is diverse. The ones for the pious women stress the moral necessity of veiling which sets the boundaries not only for religiosity but also for femininity. It is her femininity that requires her to cover. In most of these representations the “pious woman” lacks an individual identity. For example, in advertisements the faces are not shown which has a number of reasons behind it including concealment of the female sexuality.

While fashion has been used as a separate aspect of culture and a way for Muslim women to express themselves it has also bolstered certain stereotypes about femininity and sexuality. As a result new definition have emerged which not only challenge the canonical and orthodox understandings of these concepts in the Muslim world but also exploits stereotypes in defining their boundaries.

Sources:

Amrullah, Eva F. “Indonesian Muslim Fashion: Styles and Designs.” ISIM Review 22 (2008): 22-23.

Boulanouar, Aisha Wood. “The Notion of Modesty in Muslim’s Women Clothing: An Islamic Point of View.” New Zealand Journal of Asia Studies 8 (2006): 134-156.

Meneley, Anne. “Fashions and Fundamentalisms in Fin-De-Siecle Yemen: Chador Barbie and Islamic Socks.” Cultural Anthropology 22 (2007): 214-243.

Sandikci, Ozlem and Guliz Ger. “Constructing and Representing the Islamic Consumer in Turkey.” Fashion Theory 11 (2007): 189-210

Female Sexuality and Obedience

One of the recurrent themes throughout this course has been to evaluate the disparities in gender roles. Factors such as culture, family upbringing, political circumstances, as well as religious affiliations influence how these roles are shaped in society, some exerting more influence than other. As a result, understanding these factors allows us to evaluate, at the most basic level, some of the roots problems that are prevalent in the society; the obvious and the most challenging one being the unequal roles of men and women in the society.

A few weeks ago, I was at a dinner hosted by a friend (around the age of 50, married, two kids). One conversation led to another, and we stumbled into a conversation that has left me with very little words to describe the event. I will re-transcribe the event below to the best of my memory (the conversation might be a little vulgar; however, I hope it will allow me to raise some critical questions):

Time – 11 PM

Location: Restaurant

Me: So friend, what are your plans after the dinner?

Friend: Wife will be asleep by the time I am home, so I will just go and sleep too I guess.

Me: Will she be upset if you wake her up?

Friend: Probably, no one likes to be woken up from their sleep.

Me: That is true.

Friend: Wait I take that back! I actually have a friend who no matter what time of the night he gets home, his wife loves it when he wakes her up. 2 am, 3 am no worries. She actually tells him to wake him up.

Me: (with an innocent face) why does she want him to wake her up?

Friend: “To do it”, obviously. No matter the time, she is always ready to do it. Whatever he wants.

Me: (Pondering about gender class….shocked face)

Friend: No you see that is the way she has been brought up. Her mother has taught her that the best way to keep your marriage is by being there for your husband whenever. And she enjoys that.

Me: So you’re saying this is real?

Friend: Yes, I was shocked too at first. But you see I think it actually works for him. We usually stay up late on weekends playing poker, and at the end of the night all the guys dread going home knowing their wives would be asleep (his actions implied that they would seek alternate options). But him, he is always happy. He will play as long as the game lasts and go home, while the others are searching all over. He is a changed man after marriage. Always loyal. No detours – will always go straight home.

For the next few days the conversation occupied my mind. I began to evaluate the situation. One thing was clear: upbringing was a crucial factor for the wife’s attitude. What was hazy was: how happy is she? Does she truly love being woken up from her sleep and ‘doing it’?  Is her approach right or wrong? If her culture and upbringing teaches her that this is acceptable, then are we wrong to judge her? In fact, do we have any right to judge if this is acceptable or not? What do you think?

I will reserve my thoughts on this (for now). However, I wish to provide additional food for thought. I investigated the ‘issue’ a little further and came across something that supports the wife’s attitude: Obedient Wives Club.

Religion has served as a means of justification for all areas of life.  Some use it to promote peace while others use it to promote and justify terrorist activities. In June 2011, a group of females in Malaysia launched a club called ‘Obedient Wives Club’ to promote something very unusual: sex. The club was founded by a group of females who agree that women’s role in a marriage is to please her husband by having sex. The group has raised a lot of controversy as it uses Islam to justify its teachings. One of the founders of the Singapore’s club Darlan Zaini said,

“In Islam, if the husband wants sex and the wife is not in the mood, she has to give in to him, if not, the angels will curse her. This is not good for the family.”

The group is currently active and expanding. It has over 3,000 female members who are part of it in several parts of the world including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Jordan, Australia, Kazakhstan, UK, and plans to expand to others as well.

The group’s main idea is that by satisfying the husband in the bedroom, a lot of social problems can be curbed.  Its international vice-president Rohaya Mohammad has equated the role of wives with that of a “whore.” She said,

By becoming a “good whore…to your husband” and serving him “better than a first-class prostitute”, women could help “curb social ills like prostitution, gambling, domestic violence, human trafficking, and abandoned babies” – attributing all these problems to unfulfilled sexual needs.

She went on to say that, “disobedient wives are the cause for upheaval in this world” because it leaves men unhappy and causes them to turn towards social ills.

At another occasion Mohammad said, “Sex is a taboo in Asian society. We have ignored it in our marriages but it’s all down to sex. A good wife is a good sex worker to her husband. What is wrong with being a whore … to your husband?”

The club has even produced a 128 page sex book entitled, “Islamic Sex; fighting against Jews to return Islamic sex to the world”. The author of the book Hatijah Aam says that the book was produced “out of responsibility to provide an answer to those who have ruined their faith by practicing illegitimate sex.”

The club is interesting in its aspect of using Islam as a medium for justifying its cause. It has used phrases from the Quran and practices tracing back to the time of the Prophet Mohammad to strengthen its ideas.

The club has received its share of backlashing. One woman rejected the club’s ideas and raised an important issue:

“As a Muslim woman I have total control over my body, and it would take a lot more than just being good in bed to reduce domestic violence and prostitution and other vices.

“What I want to know is who is making money out of this project?”

What is your reaction to this? Do you agree with this being an acceptable way of curbing men from indulging in social ills?  Is it just for the money?  Do you think ‘the wife’ belongs to this club? Do you think ‘Islam’ is used as a scapegoat? Or does ‘Islam’ really promote such behavior?

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Sources :

Obedient Wives’ Club faces criticism in UK , Catrin Nye, BBC Asian Network

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-15869796

Sex Guide Not Un-Islamic, Says Obedient Wives Club 

http://www.bonology.com/2011/10/underdogs-of-toon-army.html

Malaysia ‘obedient wives’ club: Good sex is a duty, Eileen Ng

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/topstories/2011-06-05-3417604588_x.htm