Presentation on theme: "Sexuality in Islamic Societies"— Presentation transcript:
1 Sexuality in Islamic Societies From Advancing Sexuality Studies: a short course on sexuality theory and research methodologiesAttitudes towards how sexuality is understood within Islam and how sexuality is negotiated by Muslims are often quite extreme. Many non-Muslims view Islam as a religion that is innately sexually oppressive because they have superficial knowledge of the religion and may never have spent time with Muslims going about their everyday lives. Sensational media reporting on the many violent crimes committed against Muslim women in the name of religion—such as honour killings—are understood to be evidence that Islam is an innately sexist and sexually oppressive religion.Question: How many participants identify as Muslim? What other religions are represented here?For non-Muslim participants who have little or no knowledge of Islam, this module is designed to disrupt false stereotypes about Muslims and their sexuality. It challenges participants to explore how key issues related to sexuality, such as veiling or sex education, involve active choices and debates among Muslims. Because of the predominance of negative and simplified stereotypes of Islam and sexuality, this course includes readings that represent Islam and sexuality in multiple cultural contexts including both Western and non-Western settings.For Muslim participants, opportunities to openly discuss and debate issues of sexuality are sometimes constrained by cultural and personal barriers. Thus, this module will enable them to enter a level of dialogue that may not always be possible in their everyday lives.The readings present a range of varied positions on key issues related to sexuality for Muslims. Some Muslim participants may find this challenging, others may find this liberating. It is hopeful, however, that by exploring Islam and sexuality in cross-cultural perspectives both Muslim and non-Muslim students will deepen their knowledge and understanding of how Islam and sexuality are negotiated in multiple contexts.It is not uncommon for devout Muslims to restrict their discussions of sexuality in public discourse to sexuality within heterosexual marriage. This module will expand this focus to explore youth sexuality and homosexuality.Another common feature of popular discussion of sexuality and Islam is the tendency to concentrate only on female sexuality, and as a result many people focus on how women’s bodies are displayed or supposedly controlled by Islam. Consequently, they neglect the wide range of other issues, identities and aspects of human sexuality that are shaped by Islam. While this module does look at the topics of veiling and female circumcision these are only two of five special topics and participants have the opportunity to move beyond the common focus on the female body.The module also aims for all participants to gain an appreciation that both Islam and sexuality are dynamic, and intersect differently with gender, culture, age and the state regulation of sexuality. At the end of the course it should be clear to participants from any background that there is no one Islamic sexuality, or not simply one legitimate mode of Muslim sexuality.
2 Schedule Learning Activity Time allowed Course introduction, schedule, aims20 minsSession 1. Challenging stereotypesQuiz and discussion75 minsSession 2. The social regulation of sexuality in Islamic societiesPre-reading reviewLecture and discussions35 mins190 minsSession 3. Engaging in research and debate on sexuality within Islamic societiesOptional activities. Participants will choose to either:Run panel discussions on selected topics orDevelop guidelines for ethical research within Islamic communities65 minsConclusion15 minsTotal time: mins( just over 6.5 hours)
3 Module aimsTo:Encourage students to challenge popular myths and negative attitudes towards sexuality in Islamic societiesProvide an overview of the social regulation of sexuality in Islamic societiesTake into account historical, cultural and textual influences
4 Participants will:Engage with a range of issues that feature in contemporary debates on Islam and sexualityUndertake cross-cultural comparisons in relation to these issues and develop their critical thinking skills in relation to this topicEngage in active learning through participation in module activities
5 Module scope This module: Does not focus on Islamic jurisprudenceDoes not take a legalistic approachDoes not support purely textual approaches to understanding Islam that posit that religion should be interpreted in an ahistorical mannerSuch approaches require a significant amount of expert knowledge of the Qur’an, hadith and ArabicThe approach taken to exploring sexuality in Islamic societies in this module acknowledges multiple influences in shaping Islam, Islamic identities and practices, and Islamic understandings of sexuality. These multiple influences include: history, culture, gender and key textual sources within Islam.The module is not focused on Islamic jurisprudence, nor does it take a legalistic approach, nor does it support purely textual approaches to understanding Islam that posit that religion should be interpreted in an ahistorical manner.In order to adequately undertake such approaches we would all require a significant amount of expert knowledge of the Qur’an, hadith and Arabic. Such an approach is outside the scope of this module.NB: Qu’ran = central religious text of IslamHadith = utterances of the Prophet
6 This module will focus on topics related to sexuality and Islam that engage with five key human rights issues:Female veiling and IslamPolygamy in Islamic societiesSex education for Muslim youthHomosexuality and IslamFemale circumcision and IslamCentral to the approach taken to investigating sexuality in this module is the focus on topics related to sexuality and Islam that engage with five key human rights issues:1. Female veiling and Islam2. Polygamy in Islamic societies3. Sex education for Muslim youth4. Homosexuality and Islam5. Female circumcision and Islam
7 Session 1. Challenging stereotypes This first session is intended to draw out some of the common understandings and stereotypes related to Islam and sexuality. We will begin with a quiz, which will require people to respond honestly and openly.The quiz will also serve as the starting point for discussions on some of the common areas of confusion regarding Islam and sexuality.The quiz is not intended as a formal ‘test’ of participants’ knowledge.This session will also provide participants with the opportunity to review the pre-readings.
8 Quiz Do you agree or disagree with the following statements? Female circumcision is a religious requirement for Muslim womenA person cannot be both Muslim and homosexualThe veiling of Muslim women amounts to sexual oppressionBecause Muslims are required to abstain from sex before marriage, sex education is irrelevant and dangerous for Muslim youthMuslim women have no choice but to accept polygamy if their husband’s wish is to have multiple wives……cont.
9 Quiz (cont.)6. Human sexual relations are viewed as innately sinful in the Qur’an7. The sexual defamation of women and the making of unfounded accusations that illicit sex (zina) has occurred constitute crimes under Islamic law8. Illicit sex (zina) is only a crime for women under Islamic law9. The sexual oppression of Muslim women stems from the poor treatment by the Prophet Mohammed of his wives10. The hadith (utterances of the Prophet) are not open to interpretation in relation to matters of gender and sexuality
10 Responses Female circumcision Cultural practice, not religious requirementFewer Islamic cultures practise this than do not practise itA person cannot be both Muslim and homosexualNo reference in the Qur’an or hadith saying that homosexuality is impossible for MuslimsNumerous rich traditions of homosexuality and transgender identities in multiple Islamic societiesThe veiling of Muslim women amounts to sexual oppressionImportant right for Muslim women to choose (many Muslim women value their head dress for reasons of religious practice and identity)
11 Human sexual relations Sex educationAccess to sex education both delays the age of sexual initiation and reduces the incidence of unwanted premarital sex (WHO, 1997)Sex education for Muslim (all) youth prevents them from having sex prior to marriage without adequate knowledgePolygamyMuslim men are not allowed to take more than one wife if the first or subsequent wives do not consent to the proposed marriageA man may not take an additional wife if he is unable to support all wives equally in terms of both economic emotional and social requirementsHuman sexual relationsInnately positive and sacred; not seen as ‘original sin’
12 Sexual defamation and unfounded accusations Punishment for unfounded, defamatory sexual gossip should be greater than that set out for sexual indiscretionsIllicit sex (zina)Of equal significance for women and menOften only women who are punished in highly conservative regimes that do not follow the Qu’ranic principles of gender equality and non-violenceThe Prophet and his wivesDeep commitment to women’s rights and improving their statusInterpretation of hadith (utterances of the Prophet)Long and rich tradition of interpeting hadith related to gender and sexualityAmong the most highly contested fields of study
13 Session 2. The social regulation of sexuality in Islamic societies
14 Pre-reading review Focus question: Bennett, L. R ‘Islam as a medium for promoting reproductive rights’, in Women, Islam and Modernity: Single Women, Sexuality and Reproductive Health in Contemporary Indonesia. London/New York: Routledge/Curzon, Chapter 6 pagesBoellstorff, T ‘Between Religion and Desire: being Muslim and Gay in Indonesia’, American Anthropologist, 107 (4),Othman, N ‘Sexuality and gender rights: A sociological perspective’, in Z. Anwar and R. Abdullah eds. Islam, Reproductive Health and Women’s Rights. Kuala Lumpur: Sisters in Islam, (read only pages )Focus question:How is the social regulation of sexuality apparent in the pre-readings for this module? (15 mins)Feedback and wrap-up (20 mins)Depending on time and the willingness of students to complete several readings an alternative is to allocate one reading per student and then spend time in groups of three getting the students to summarise the reading they completed to the others in their group. This is an efficient way to cover more ground and encourages active learning because having to summarise a reading requires a deeper understanding.
15 Question and answer session What do we mean by sexuality?Biological sex and behaviour, beliefs, values and normsIncorporates sexual desire, knowledge, techniques and experience, identities and orientationSexuality and gender distinct, not synonymousWhat do we mean by the social regulation of sexuality?Every society (Muslim or non-Muslim) regulates sexualityAge of consent, certain sexual practices illegal (e.g. sex between siblings)Ask participants to brainstorm their responses to each question, then supply the suggested responses to each question (provided in the Facilitator’s Notes).Suggested responsesQ1: This module adopts a wide conception of sexuality that embraces both biological and social aspects. It includes all matters to do with biological sex, as well as sexual behaviour, beliefs, values and norms. It incorporates sexual desire, knowledge, techniques and experience, as well as identities. In addition, this conception of sexuality acknowledges that sexuality is both shaped by and active in shaping the economic, social, political, psychological and spiritual dimensions of human society. While notions of sexuality and gender are often collapsed in mainstream religious discourses, this module understands the two concepts as distinct and as having many possible constellations.Q2. In every society—regardless of religion, culture or state laws—sexuality is regulated to some degree. It is not uncommon for very conservative Muslims who have little knowledge of non-Muslim societies to make the mistake of believing that all non-Muslim societies are sexually amoral or immoral. This is as untrue as the counter view that in Muslim societies sexuality is regulated to a degree that automatically oppresses the sexuality of individuals.For instance, even in those Western liberal democracies that recognise de facto unions, legalise gay marriages and accept that sex before marriage is the norm for many people, there is still a very high degree of social regulation of sexuality. In such societies numerous laws exist to prevent and punish a wide range of practices such as rape, sexual assault and harassment, incest and child marriage. The age of marriage and sexual consent, and the age difference between partners, are also regulated. These are only a few of the most simple and obvious examples. To assume that liberal non-Muslim societies do not regulate sexuality is completely false.
16 How is sexuality conceptualised in Islamic societies? No one set of sexual ideals and beliefs, but common or popular ways of understanding sexualitySex positive approach (enjoyment of sex not inherently sinful)‘Sensual modesty’ (Bennett, 2005)Double theory of female sexuality: explicit / implicit (Mernissi 1985)Explicit = passivity, female sexual subjugation to menImplicit = active and dangerous, has to be restrainedCan lead to control under the guise of ‘protection’Heterosexuality viewed as ‘natural’Q3: There is no one way of understanding sexuality in Islamic societies. As in all societies there are a range of sexual ideals and beliefs. This is particularly the case for Muslims because Islam is a religion practised in so many diverse parts of the world with different cultures and histories. However, there are some very common or popular ways of understanding sexuality throughout the Islamic world and these can be summarised for the purposes of this module.The Islamic notion of human sexuality is often understood to be highly sex-positive. Sexual relations between spouses are not understood to be innately sinful as is the case for Catholicism. Human sexuality is affirmed by Islam because the creation of humans as sexual beings, and as sexually differentiated beings, is understood as integral to Allah’s (God’s) plan for humankind. Additionally, the enjoyment of sexual relations is not seen as sinful, and sexual relations between spouses are not merely viewed as being for the purposes of procreation. Sexual relationships are understood as essential for the expression of sexual desire and the realisation of sexual satisfaction. For some Muslims, conjugal sexual relations are also understood to represent a form of love or union that mimics or reinforces their love for Allah.A common misconception about Islam and Muslims is the assumption that modesty in dress, in self-presentation and in public behaviour means that Muslims are not interested in sex, do not enjoy sex or do not have a strong sense of the erotic. In fact, sexual relations is one of the things that Muslims most look forward to in marriage, and modest dressing is for many an integral part of their erotic world.Many Muslims are aroused and excited by the fact that they are the only person who will see their partner’s body. The public discretion and privacy around the body is understood to heighten the intimacy of the conjugal relationship. This is a feeling that has been expressed by both Muslim men and women. This phenomenon has been referred to as sensual modesty (see Bennett 2005) and also incorporates the excitement of imagining what cannot be seen. Thus the veil or modest Islamic dress holds the promise of something understood to be very special (and sacred for some Muslims).However, due to traditions of sexism in the interpretation of Islamic teachings and the persistence of patriarchal attitudes in Islamic societies (just as is the case in non-Islamic societies) there is great ambivalence around the way that female sexuality is conceptualised. Fatima Mernissi (a leading Moroccan feminist Muslim scholar) has identified the dominant attitude in Muslim societies towards male sexuality (male heterosexuality that is) as highly positive, while she sees two key competing conceptualisations of female sexuality.Mernissi has identified what she calls an ‘implicit theory of female sexuality’ and an ‘explicit theory of female sexuality,’ which co-exist and are in contradiction with one another. The explicit conceptualisation of female sexuality in Islamic thought assumes female sexuality to be innately passive and views women’s submission to men as integral to their sexual pleasure. In this explicit theory, men are conceptualised as the active hunters and women as the passive prey. But at the implicit level there is a counter conceptualisation of women’s sexuality as active and dangerous, and as posing a threat to men’s supposed more rational nature. In this conceptualisation of female sexuality, women are seen as the aggressors and the hunters, and men are seen as the prey—at constant threat of falling into traps set by women who are seductresses and manipulators, using their sexual charm to control men. As a result of these two competing and co-existing notions of female sexuality, it is often argued that women need to be protected from men, and also need to control their own sexuality for the good of society. The result is that in some Islamic societies women are often expected to control their sexuality to a much greater degree than men.The double theory of female sexuality thus underpins sexual double standards with regard to sexual behaviour. For instance virginity before marriage is policed more for women than men, extramarital sex is often punishable for women but not for men, and in some societies men manage to legitimate polygamy while women are denied the right of having multiple spouses.Regardless of the social constructions of female and male sexuality that dominate in any given Islamic society, a common feature is that male and female sexuality are interpreted as complementary and heterosexuality is viewed as ‘natural’ and desirable by most Muslims.
17 Where do the varied understandings of sexuality in Islamic societies stem from? Interpretations of the Qur’an, hadith (utterances of the Prophet) and sunnah (the example and customary practice of the Prophet)Localised teachings of Islamic clericsLocal practices of Islamic cultures, both historical and contemporaryShariah courts or law, both through their legislation and operationState lawsMass media & publicationsIncluding prayer books, television, radio, and popular Islamic music……cont.The Qur’an is the undisputed highest form of knowledge for Muslims and is privileged in all Islamic societies. However it is untrue and unrealistic to assert that common understandings of sexuality among contemporary Muslims are shaped by the Qur’an alone. This is because many Muslims do not read the Qur’an in depth. Moreover the Qur’an is translated and interpreted differently in different parts of the world, and often differently by opposing schools of thought within individual societies. Muslims do not exist in social or cultural vacuums and are subjected to many different forms of information and many different messages about sexuality, both implicit and explicit. With this in mind, we can summarise the competing and co-existing influences that shape understandings of sexuality in Muslim societies as including:Interpretations of the Qur’anInterpretations of hadith and sunnahLocalised teachings of Islamic clericsLocal practices of Islamic cultures, both historical and contemporaryShariah courts or law, both through their legislation and operation; also State laws, particularly in Islamic statesThe mass media, including the internet (online marriage services, and sexuality and health forums are used by a huge number of young Muslims worldwide), Islamic guide and prayer books, television, radio, and popular Islamic music.
18 Islamic scholars (including feminist and human rights scholars) Contemporary Islamic movements and their teachings (including revivalist and reform movements)Islamic scholars (including feminist and human rights scholars)Islamic activists (particularly in the fields of reproductive rights and sexuality – e.g. Sisters in Islam)Islamic peer groups and prayer groups and distinct Islamic subculturesContemporary Islamic movements and their teachings such as revivalist and reform movements (now with huge followings in SE Asia)Islamic scholars (including feminist and human rights scholars)Islamic activists (particularly in the fields of reproductive rights and sexuality, e.g. Sisters in Islam)Islamic peer groups and prayer groups and distinct Islamic subcultures.
19 Homosexuality and Islam Widely believed that homosexuality is forbidden in Islam but term homosexuality does not exist in the Qu’ranMost understandings based on the story of LutSome Islamic scholars challenge heterosexism of mainstream interpretations of the Qu’ranWords often taken to refer to homosexuality include:Al Fahisha (e.g. in 7:80 & 27:54) Atrocity or gruesome deedsAl Khabaidh (e.g. in 21:74) Improper or unseemly thingsAl Munkar (e.g. in 29:29) That which is reprehensibleAs Sayyi'aat (e.g. in 11:78) Bad or evil deedsAlthough it is widely believed in Muslim societies that homosexuality is forbidden in Islam, the term ‘homosexuality’ does not actually exist in the Qur'an. The assumptions made about homosexuality and Islam are typically based on references to the story of Lut in the Qur'an. Islamic scholars concerned with the heterosexism of mainstream interpretations of the Qur’an (including Jamal and Kugle, whose work is referenced in the bibliography for this module) have analysed the verses that are thought to refer to homosexuality and come up with new interpretations based on techniques of interpretation used by reformist scholars and feminist scholars working on gender issues. Interpretations of the Qur'anic verses in the story of Lut supposedly referring to homosexuality seem to concentrate on male homosexuality only.According to the Safra Project, the words that are often translated or taken to be referring to (male) homosexuality include:Al Fahisha (e.g. in 7:80 & 27:54) Atrocity or gruesome deedsAl Khabaidh (e.g. in 21:74) Improper or unseemly thingsAl Munkar (e.g. in 29:29) That which is reprehensibleAs Sayyi'aat (e.g. in 11:78) Bad or evil deeds(FromThe word fahisha is most often quoted as referring to homosexuality. Although some scholars reinterpreting these verses have acknowledged that this term includes homosexual behaviour, they also explain that it does not refer explicitly or only to homosexuality, but to all kinds of ‘illicit sexual behaviour’ carried out on a large scale. They argue that the story of Lut is not specifically about same-sex sexuality and/or same-sex relationships. They believe that the story is about a people who are punished for committing several forms of unlawful (sexual) behaviour, including widespread promiscuity, bestiality, paedophilia, and inhospitality towards guests as well as abuse of power, rape and intimidation. Another argument is that in the story of Lut, similar to other stories about the rejection of a prophet (Noah, Ibrahim, Musa), the people are punished not just for a particular sin or sins but for rejecting their prophet. From these analyses it can be concluded that the verses in the story of Lut are not referring to homosexuality in the sense of same-sex sexuality or relationships as we understand them today.
20 Moves to make Islam more inclusive of same-sex relationships Homosexuals also created by Allah; sinful to lie about who they areRange of sexual and gender identities and practices, existed since the time of the ProphetVast number of same-sex attracted MuslimsMuslims who seek to make their religion more inclusive of same-sex relationships offer a range of arguments. Some understand there to be a biological or genetic basis to homosexuality and therefore argue that it is a natural state and should be tolerated as such. However, people who are willing to acknowledge some biological basis to homosexuality often turn their condemnation towards bisexuals or particular acts that they suppose all homosexual people engage in.Some Muslim homosexuals believe strongly that they have been created as they are by Allah and that it would be sinful to lie about who they are, and moreover that loving another person regardless of their biological sex cannot be a sinful act and is not named as a sinful act in the Qur’an (Irshad Manji is a proponent of this argument).Despite the tendency in Islamic societies to view homosexuality as forbidden, there is significant historical evidence that homosexuality has existed in Islamic societies since the time of the Prophet. There are a vast number of same-sex attracted Muslims living in different Islamic societies in contemporary times. There are also a range of complex sexual and gender identities that are not heterosexual and practices that are not strictly hetero-normative in contemporary Islamic societies. The readings for the special topics of Islam and homosexuality provide examples of these diverse sexual identities among Muslims.
21 Sexual intercourse between a man and a woman who are not married How does Islam regulate human sexuality?All actions (including sexual behaviour) defined as either halal (permissible) or haram (non-permissible)Sexual relations between men and women who are married to each other, based on mutual consent and do not cause harm: halalSexual relations outside of marriage: haram. Referred to as zina (illicit sex)Qu’ran definition:There are countless ways in which Islam is or has been active in regulating sexuality in different societies and across historical epochs. In a legal sense, Islam defines all actions, including sexual behaviour, as either permissible (halal), non-permissible (haram) for Muslims.At the most basic level, the Islamic moral code with regard to sexuality divides sexual behaviour into the categories of halal and haram on the basis of who is involved and what the relationship is between those people. Sexual relations that occur between women and men who married, and that are based on mutual consent and do not cause harm to either party, are permissible and encouraged. Sexual relations that occur outside of marriage are defined as haram and are referred to as illicit sex, or zina in Arabic. In a legalistic sense Islamic texts define haram sexual relations as sexual intercourse between a woman and man who are not legally married. Thus, the textual definition is quite specific and limited to heterosexual intercourse.In practice the notion of zina that is adopted by Muslims in their every day life tends to be much broader and as a consequence a wide range of sexual behaviour, sexual relationships and sexual identities come to be understood as forbidden for Muslims. In different Muslim societies, and among Muslims within different societies, zina can be interpreted in either a narrow legal sense that includes only sexual intercourse between unmarried women and men—as depicted in the following diagram:CLICK (slide animated)ZINASexual intercourse between a man and a woman who are not married
22 IVF WITH DONOR WHO IS NOT THE HUSBAND SAME-SEX SEXUAL CONTACT ANY SEXUAL CONTACT BEFORE MARRIAGEIVF WITH DONOR WHO IS NOT THE HUSBANDORAL SEXMASTURBATIONSAME-SEX SEXUAL CONTACTPREMARITIAL SEXINCESTEXTRAMARITIAL SEXANAL SEXRAPEPROSTITUTIONMost commonly, however, zina is likely to be understood to include virtually all forms of penetrative sex outside of marriage—as indicated here.In more conservative Muslim societies, zina may be very widely interpreted to include all kinds of sexual contact that have become stigmatised regardless of their actual legal definition in the Qur’an. This is indicated thus:CLICK (slide animated)
23 Marriage is the most structured and obvious mechanism for regulating sexuality in Islam Who can marry (and when women can remarry)Minimum ageWho can consentConditions of marriage contractObligations re: child support and alimonyLegality (or otherwise) of polygamy & divorceTemporary marriageUse of contraceptionPunishments & regulation of sexual gossip and slanderWithin Islam there are explicit rules that attempt to confine sexual relations to heterosexual marriage and, further, to regulate the practice of marriage. Different interpretations of Islamic texts, different Islamic regimes, different cultural influences and different state structures have resulted in varying rules governing marriage but these rules usually cover:Who can marry, and the time period a woman must wait before remarryingWhat the minimum age of marriage is (varies between societies and for women and men)Who can consent to marriage: a woman may or may not need the consent of her male guardian (wali)What the conditions of a marriage contract may be (women can have the right to refuse polygamy or to ask for divorce if men break their contract in other ways)What obligations need to be met in terms of child support and alimonyWhether polygamy is or is not legalWhen a divorce is or is not legalWhen temporary marriage is acceptable to legitimate short term sexual unionsOutlines men’s and women’s sexual obligations and rights within marriage (including both partners’ right to sexual satisfaction)Determines whether women / men have the right to use contraception (which is recognised in most contemporary Muslim societies, unlike in Catholic countries)The punishment for sex outside of marriage and the evidentiary rules for proving sex outside of marriage (not physically punishable in most Islamic societies)The regulation of sexual gossip and slander
24 Other practices, influences and structures: Islamic dress codes (which exist for both sexes)Restrictions on male and female use of public spaceConventions around prayer and hygieneVarious forms of female genital cuttingCensorship and control over knowledge around sexuality and reproduction – e.g. sex education for Muslim youthFamily planning & health promotion policies and programsLaws to prevent and punish sexual violencePunishment of sexual transgressions through social exclusion, stigma and violence in extreme circumstancesOther practices, influences and structures involved in the regulation of sexuality in Islamic societies include:Islamic dress codes (which exist for both sexes, but are most commonly enforced for women and can include the wearing of the full-body, black burqa)Restrictions on the use of public space by women and menConventions around prayer and hygieneVarious forms of female genital cuttingCensorship of the mass media to control sexually explicit content, and censorship or control over knowledge around sexuality and reproduction; sex education for Muslim youth is a key case in point. Some Islamic societies view this as their duty, others oppose the provision of adequate knowledge to youth.Family planning or population policies, as well as health promotion policies and programs aimed at protecting sexual health by encouraging particular sexual behaviours such as abstinence or condom useLaws to prevent and punish sexual violencePunishment of sexual transgressions through social exclusion, stigma and violence in extreme circumstances.
25 Why does Islam regulate sexuality? For the protection of the umah (the community of Muslims)Perceived benefits of this regulation include:Clarity of paternityEnsuring male responsibility for women and their childrenPreventing conflict arising from sexual jealousyThe protection of healthPreventing sexual violencePreventing conflict arising from sexual frustrationWhy does Islam regulate sexuality?For Muslims, the simplest answer to this question is that Islam seeks to regulate sexuality for the protection of the umah (the community of Muslims).The benefits of this regulation are usually listed as including:Clarity of paternity. This becomes protected through marriage and by the rules around divorce and remarriage for women. Remarriage is not allowed for 90 days after an initial divorce has been pronounced, to first determine if the women is pregnant to her former husband before remarrying.Ensuring male responsibility for women and their children. By confining sex to marriage and stating men’s responsibility to wives and children, Muslim women and children were significantly more protected than in pre-Islamic society where men had the right to sleep with their slaves and women of their choosing without any obligations to those women or their children.Preventing conflict or social chaos arising from the sexual jealousy that can occur from the sharing of sexual partners.The protection of health of the community, through control of sexually transmissible diseases.Preventing sexual violence towards those without power in society.Preventing conflict arising from sexual frustration, by providing sexual partners through marriage.
26 Session 3. Engaging in research & debate on sexuality within Islamic societies This session offers participants a choice between two possible activities: a debate, on one of five topics related to sexuality and Islam, or the opportunity to develop guidelines for ethical research with and within Islamic communities.The debate will be on one of five possible topics—the topics introduced at the start of the module: female veiling; polygamy; sex education; homosexuality and female circumcision.Development of research guidelines will not examine any one topic in more detail but will, instead, offer an opportunity for participants to think about how they can develop their research work with and within communities.
27 Option 1: Debate Five topics to choose from: Female veiling and IslamPolygamy in Islamic societiesSex educationHomosexuality and IslamFemale circumcision and IslamGroup preparation / reading (30 mins)Debate (20 mins)Feedback and wrap-up (15 mins)The five topics have been chosen because they engage with human rights, and are all contested in contemporary Islamic societies.One of the most common topics debated in secular societies where Muslims live, such as Australia and Europe, is a woman’s right to choose to either wear or not wear the veil. The additional readings for this topic explore the topic through a framework of individual rights.The issues of men’s right to polygamy and women’s rights in polygamous marriages are hotly contested by both women and men in Islamic societies, and in many cases no consensus is reached within communities.The ongoing debate over the benefits of providing sex education and the perceived dangers of sex education to Muslim youth is constantly argued in reference to Islamic sexual morality.The issue of homosexuality and Islam remains unresolved in contemporary Islamic societies. Individuals are forced to constantly negotiate their multiple identities as Muslims and as homosexuals in contexts where there is always a high degree of ambivalence if not hostility to the very idea of homosexuality.Controversy over female circumcision continues across the globe, reflecting the variation in different female circumcision practices and the varied meanings these practices have to different Muslim women, as well as the competing and overlapping influence of local Islamic cultures versus textual teachings.
28 Option 2: Research guidelines Brainstorm experiences or ideas regarding the challenges of undertaking ethical sexuality research within Muslim communities (15 mins)Responses? (20 mins + 5 mins review)Possible guidelines? (10 mins)
29 10 key concepts for halal (permissible) research (Bennett): Human sexuality is not sinful, and can be appropriately discussed and debatedLearning and intellectual inquiry is highly valued in Islam and research into human behaviour is encouragedDiscussions and explorations of sexuality among Muslims need to be gender appropriateDiscussions and explorations of sexuality among Muslims need to respect personal modesty and privacyResearch should have positive intent – it should be for the explicit benefit of the umah (Muslim community)Dr Bennett has spent more than 15 years undertaking research related to sexuality within Muslim communities. Over that period, she has identified the following key concepts for trying to ensure that research is halal, or permissible.First, it is important to remember that human sexuality is not sinful in Islam, and therefore it can be discussed and debated if this is done appropriately. Second, learning and intellectual inquiry is highly valued in Islam and that research into human behaviour is encouraged. Both of these key concepts are useful in negotiating research.In terms of research method and approach, discussions and explorations of sexuality among Muslims need to be gender appropriate. Further, discussions and explorations of sexuality among Muslims need to respect personal modesty and privacy. Remember here the earlier comments regarding sensual modesty.It is also important to spend time showing that any sexuality research has positive intent—that it can bring explicit benefit to the umah (Muslim community).
30 Avoid deception, in line with the Islamic principle of truth Research should involve appropriate dialogue, based on the Islamic principle of consultationAvoid causing harm through (possibly unintended or unconsidered) sexual stigmaAvoid deception, in line with the Islamic principle of truthWomen research participants should be able to consent for themselves, in line with Islamic principles of gender equityThe religious and cultural diversity of different Islamic communities should be understood and respected by researchersHalal research should involve appropriate dialogue, based on the Islamic principle of consultation.While all research should avoid causing harm, it is perhaps particularly important in Muslim communities to remember the harm that could be caused through (possibly unintended or unconsidered) sexual stigma.Again, as with all research, there should be an avoidance of deception. This is in line with the Islamic principle of truth.Women research participants should be able to consent for themselves, in line with Islamic principles of gender equity; and, finally, for research to be halal the researchers must understand and respect the religious and cultural diversity of different Islamic communities.
31 ConclusionRelationships between Islamic sexuality, reproduction and control of the human body are complex and dynamicConflicts of belief, opinions, values, especially around:Sexuality, shame and the value of lifeIslamic fundamentalismCircumcisionSexual violenceAccording to Islam, only Allah knows the true intent behind human actions. Only Allah can pass moral judgementAs we have seen throughout this module, relationships between Islam, sexuality, reproduction and control of the human body are complex and dynamic. There are numerous conflicts playing out across the globe both within Islamic societies, and between Islamic communities and parties with different belief systems.The most extreme examples of the controversy surrounding Islam and sexuality can end in loss of human life, where people are considered less worthy than others. This includes the practice of honour killings of women (and, in some societies, occasionally men too) who are perceived to have brought shame upon their families due to proscribed sexual behaviour. The practice of stoning for infidelity is still occurring under some fundamental regimes.Hate crimes against homosexuals in Muslim communities are another example of how extremist Islamic injunctions on sexual behaviour are used to justify violence against Muslims themselves. Debates over the legality of abortion according to Islam are also found across the globe, as are differing positions on the use of contraception for Muslims. The degree to which the human rights of Muslims are impinged upon by extremist positions on such issues is most often determined by whether any given society is governed by fundamentalist regimes. For instance the violence and discrimination committed against Afghani women by the Taliban in the name of Islam is not found in more progressive or liberal Islamic societies.All of these issues mean that we as sexuality researchers are likely to face challenges in working with and within Muslim communities. This is of course true in all communities. The final observation of this module is that, according to Islam, only Allah knows the true intent behind human actions. Only Allah can pass moral judgement.
32 Short course developed by: Module created by:Dr Linda Rae Bennett, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and SocietyShort course developed by:The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, Melbourne, AustraliaandThe International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Culture and Society (IASSCS)With funding from The Ford FoundationAvailable under an Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share Alike licence from Creative Commons