“Nothing optional – from homosexuality to adultery – is ever made punishable unless those who do the prohibiting (and exact the fierce punishment) have a repressed desire to participate”- Christopher Hitchens
Saying that prohibition is equal to incitement is no news. Many statistics tell us that Arabic is the most popular language for sex searches. So when no one is watching but Allah, virtuous Arab men are abundantly surfing porn sites and masturbating their frustrations away. No surprise there.
It makes you wonder, though: What’s the story with religion and sex, and why are all these religious leaders obsessed with the way we use our private parts? We are surrounded by phony puritans, from the late Osama bin Laden and his alleged stack of porn, to the saga of homosexual and pedophile priests around the world. Well, it can all be summed up in one word: control.
I was reminded of this issue when a dear friend of mine, who is about to get married, told me that he went to a religious marital consultation with his fiancée. He admitted he couldn’t get over his shock when the priest bluntly told them that position 69 is a sin, and that he and his wife should always pray before they make love. I almost burst out laughing, but the friend in question—a good Christian—was devastated. Can you imagine having to do the sign of the cross and perform a prayer before having sex? A prayer for what? A long-lasting erection? Talk about perversion!
Arab societies are afflicted with a deep divide. We are surrounded by people who are virtuous in public and debauched underground; people who are obsessed with sex, but cannot bring themselves to speak about it or practice it openly; people who lecture us on moral values and chastity, but couldn’t be further away from them; people who call for prayer and salvation from sins, but let off the pressure of their repressed urges and complexes in places where no one can see or hear them. We are a world of dirty little secrets, covered with a shiny wrap of Hail Marys and Allahu Akbars.
How many of such split characters are there in the Arab region? The list of cases is never ending, like my “good” Christian neighbor who goes to mass every Sunday and beats up his wife every evening, or that “liberal” intellectual who blamed me for being too uptight in my clothing and then made a horrific scene at the restaurant where we were dining because he saw his sister come in wearing a miniskirt. Or that famous “leftist” novelist who pretends to defend women’s emancipation but doesn’t miss an opportunity to sexually harass any female who crosses his way.
In our culture, the notions of virtue and abstinence are considered synonyms, as are those of freedom and depravity, especially when it comes to women. It is the Casanova-versus-the-whore syndrome. Many women are still expected to be virgins until they get married, the notion of honor is tied up with what’s between a woman’s legs, and women’s bodies are considered manly acquisitions. A “liberated” adult woman is often seen as a slut, not as a person who rightfully decides what to do with her own body, whether that means sleeping with one guy, or five or none. As for women who dare to enjoy sex, they are described as sick “nymphos”: a clinical term that describes a woman’s surrender to her unruly desires, and a denigrating word used with haughty condescension at best. (Men who behave in the same way are, of course, “studs.”)
What makes matters worse is that some women dare to claim that being treated with such condescension is their “choice.” Indeed, what is really painful in all this, at least to me, is how women accept this humiliation and compromise on their right to use their bodies as they choose. Mothers take the side of the family in honor killings, or observe a shameful silence, or drag their daughters to the gynecologist in order to fabricate a new hymen. These women have been brainwashed by centuries of patriarchal manipulation and compulsory denial, and chorus the lines that they have been taught by Arab fathers, Arab societies and most of all Arab religious milieus. Women are trapped by the old patriarchal feminine ideal that states that a female should not “gift” her body to a man unless he puts a ring on her finger first. For it is mostly men who decide what is the proper way for women to behave—the correct, respectable, ladylike way.
Now enlighten me, please: What do ethics have to do with how frequently (or not) I use my vagina? Who decided that the normal needs of my body conflict with my moral values? How does my freedom of choice insult my feminine identity? The real insult here is that many women have been led by religion to consider their body a thing, a present, and to believe that their body’s only use is to satisfy a man, not for giving themselves pleasure.
Christians are indoctrinated to believe sex is evil: You can have it, but only with the man (married, of course) on top of the wife (obedient and modest), and only for the purpose of creating children. Everything else is a wicked sin that will send you directly to hell.
As for Muslims, you be the judge. In 2012, the head of the Moroccan Association for Jurisprudence Research issued a fatwa allowing Muslim men to have sex with their just-deceased wives under the pretext that nothing in Islam prohibits sex with corpses, while Egyptian Salafists demanded the legalization of Islamic "sex-slave" marriages. Egyptian preacher Mustafa al-Adawi issued a religious edict prohibiting Muslim women from wearing high heels in public. Also in Egypt, Saad el Azhari Azhari objected to sex trafficking laws, saying they could conflict with the culture of marrying girls whenever they hit puberty. On fatwa websites, sex and sexuality are often primary concerns. “There’s no opposition to a husband sucking his wife’s breasts,” declares Kuwaiti cleric Ahmed al-Kurdi at islamic-fatwa.com. “But he should avoid drinking her milk.” At fatwa-online.com, the Saudi scholar Ibn Uthaymin green-lighted a woman who had inquired about phone sex with her oft-traveling husband, though he noted that “It is befitting upon them both that they are careful no one listens to their speech or spies upon them.” On another site, we read that “a married couple may engage in oral sex as long as no semen is swallowed.” Everything is discussed in detail, from French kissing and sodomy to riding bicycles, breastfeeding your work colleague and using a laser to remove your pubic hair. It all makes you think: How could Allah—for those who believe in him—have time for such trivial matters, with everything that is going on in the world?
It also makes you think: Why do Islamists need porn at all? They have their fatwas.
There is no doubt about it: Religious fundamentalists think with their dicks. One final vivid proof of that is the hilarious fatwa disallowing women from eating phallic-shaped foods like cucumbers, bananas and carrots, because “touching or consuming those are bound to turn women on and make them engage in sinful fantasies.”
What’s next? Avoiding oranges and apples because they could remind women of balls?
On second thought, no danger there; those men don’t have any.
Follow Joumana Haddad on Twitter @joumana333
Joumana Haddad is author of many books, among which “I killed Scheherazade”. Her latest book, “Superman is an Arab—On God, marriage, macho men and other disastrous inventions” (Westbourne Press, London, 2012) is now available in Lebanese bookshops.