At Muslim LGBTQ retreat, attendees try to reconcile their faith and sexuality

There was speed dating, a talent show and a baby naming.

But there was also a locked Facebook page. And a strict rule: Attendees should not disclose the retreat’s exact location.

That’s because the 85 people who gathered in the Pennsylvania woods over Memorial Day weekend had come from 19 states and three countries for a somewhat surprising event: a three-day LGBTQ Muslim and Partners Retreat.

Some wore T-shirts that read, “Muslim + Gay = Fabulous.” They prayed. They attended workshops about pioneering progressive Muslims. Ever heard of Isabelle Eberhardt, a.k.a. Mahmoud Saadi, a convert to Islam who challenged gender norms at the turn of the 20th century?

And they held discussions on struggling to reconcile their faith with their sexuality, and their sexuality with their faith. (Many folks said that they face Islamophobia from inside the mainstream LGBTQ community.)

 

What Muslim women really want in the bedroom

Sex is taboo subject for most Muslims. However, a growing number of young Muslim women are talking about what they really want when in the bedroom. Shelina Janmohamed, author of Love in a Headscarf, explains how women are leading the way in her faith when it comes to understanding sexuality.

 

The author mentions examples such as Abdelaziz Aouragh who runs an online sex shop for Muslims, as well as how Muslim women are leading their male counterparts in the discussion about sexuality and intimacy. According to Islamic law, sex is limited to between those who are married. But when it comes to exactly what you can do, and how sex is generally discussed, Islam itself is quite open. Sex is of course for procreation, but it’s also for pleasure. This openness has been lost over time, and discussions about sex have become taboo. However, things are slowly changing.

 

The author recalls a story about a woman came to see Mohammed on her wedding night, to complain her husband was too busy praying and hadn’t come near her. The Prophet went to see the husband, admonished him for being too engrossed in religious prayer and instructed him to pay more attention to his bride.

 

Wedad Lootah is a UAE marriage counsellor who published an Arabic sex guide, Top Secret: Sexual Guidance for Married Couples, on how to achieve sexual intimacy with your partner. Her book was blessed by the mufti of the UAE. But she received intense criticism.

 

There are accounts regarding pre-marital seminars, included sex education. The aim is that the young women receive this education, and criticism is kept at bay because “The girls don’t know what should be happening in their intimate lives and the men tell them to do X or Y and they don’t know any better.”

 

There are descriptions of books that Muslim women themselves are using to try to open a discussion about sexuality, its role in their identity, and their fears and aspirations. For those Muslims who want to live a chaste life, the pressures are immense especially as their surroundings are increasingly sexualised. Virginity is seen as abnormal. And rejection of ‘sexual liberation’ is seen as backward.

The article points out that if contextually appropriate teachings are not available – whether at home, in the mosque or in other social settings – then the taboos about sexuality become entrenched, lead to diminished knowledge, and pleasure or even negativity about sex.

A study of Arab attitudes to sexuality reminds us of a liberal Islamic tradition

sex-and-the-citadel-intimate-life-in-a-changing-arab-world.jpgThe book Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World, by Shereen El Feki was reviewed by Roula Khalaf in the Financial Times.

The article reviews the book which aims to offer insight into this highly sensitive subject whilst also establishing that there are a multitude of views held by Muslims around the globe on the subject of sex and sexuality. The review goes on to explain the structure of the book and it’s usage of historical examples. These historical examples have a variety of uses, for example: they can be to illustrate historical precedents that contrast or compare to the current situation or how the current practice has grown out of the historical background.

A new wave of Muslim feminists

Amongst the many contemporary reformist movements of Islam, one is concerned with the promotion of progressive and inclusive ideals such as gender equality and deals with questions on sexuality, homosexuality and transgender identities. What is called Islamic feminism is a tradition which emerged in Iran as an intellectual movement based on the critical exegesis of the Quran. The movement of Islamic feminists consists of religious women and religious feminists who refuse to be discriminated by their religion. They claim the right to reject bias and unjust interpretations of Islam and are open towards the inclusion and integration of LGBT Muslims.

The recent debate on same sex marriage in France and the institutionalisation of a “French Islam” renders greater importance towards progressive and inclusive interpretations of Islam. As such, reformist movements like that of Islamic feminism might help to eliminate gender bias and sexual discrimination amongst Muslims in France. As the imam of Bordeaux, Tareq Oubrou, recently declared, homosexuality is not condemned by the Quran or the sunna.

Some reformist movements in France have embraced Islamic feminism and the opening of the first inclusive mosque in France which conducts same sex marriages indicates that there are sections amongst the Muslim population that are receptive towards these progressive ideas.

Amsterdam Religious Leaders Train in Sexual Health

November 29 2011

Religious leaders from Amsterdam’s Christian, Hindu and Muslim communities have participated in the development of a sexual education course. The municipal health center (GGD) created the course as a means for ‘trianing the trainer’, to provide sexual health education to religious leaders in order that they would then educate other leaders as well as their congregations about issues such as sexuality and HIV. The course was developed along with six of the city’s clergy.

Counseling services don’t understand young British Muslims, report says

9 October 2010
The Muslim Youth Helpline (MYH) has published a new report, Young British Muslims and Relationships. The report, which is the first in a series of seven by MYH, is the first research of its kind to be produced in Britain. The report, funded by London Councils as part of a project aiming to improve services for young Muslims in London, found that there is still a lack of understanding amongst support services in assisting young British Muslims facing difficult issues. Often faith and cultural sensitivities are overlooked in tackling issues such as forced marriage, sexual abuse, family pressures, sexuality and domestic violence.
Akeela Ahmed, Chief Executive of MYH said, “Since our inception nearly 10 years ago, young British Muslims are still reluctant to get the help they need from mainstream services for fear of being misunderstood. In the worst cases this can result in further isolation and marginalisation. Statutory agencies need to further develop the capacity to provide faith and culturally sensitive support to Muslim youth in the UK. Meaningful community engagement and support can be empowering and transformative, helping young British Muslims to overcome barriers to social inclusion and have better access to the services and ultimately opportunities that promote good psychological and emotional wellbeing.”

[read report]

Amsterdam muslim opens online sex shop

An Amsterdam has established an online sex shop catering to Muslims. Abdelaziz Aouragh (29) is an orthodox Muslim, and consulted an imam regarding the permissibility of trading in sex products before launching his site. El Asira calls itself “the first Islamic online webshop for sex articles and care products”, and its online store should be open for business starting this weekend.

German lingerie ad targets Muslim niqab clad women

The spot begins with a dark-haired woman stepping out of the shower. With vaguely Middle Eastern music playing, she applies mascara, steps into high heels, slips on black lingerie and garters and spins in front of the mirror, clearly admiring her body and the lingerie she’s wearing. Up to this point, it’s typical lingerie commercial fare, but then the ad leaps from the mundane to the surprising: the woman quickly flips a niqab over her head. With only her mascara-ed eyes visible, she gazes out of a window. Then the tag line appears: “sexiness is for everyone.”

Of course, this ad is not meeting with approval from every corner. Islamineurope.com discusses a Norwegian television interview with religion historian Hanne Nabintu Herland, who criticized the commercial because it “links the Arab dress with sexuality, and not to morals and virtue.” Well, Liaisons Dangereuse is in the business of making money by selling naughty undergarments, so it’s unlikely their marketing plan called for promoting “morals and virtue.” Herland says the ad unnecessarily “trample[s] the cultural dress of Muslims”.

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What’s it like being a gay Muslim?

Pav Akhtar is not usually a fan of soaps. But the 30-year-old local councillor and Unison worker has been paying special attention since EastEnders introduced its first gay Muslim character. Akhtar, the chair of Imaan, an organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Muslims, advised the BBC on the storyline in the hope that the character of Syed Masood would help tackle the double discrimination of homophobia and Islamophobia that many gay Muslims face.

The Muslim theologian Amanullah De Sondy said recently that the vast majority of Muslims were “deeply homophobic”, and a survey carried out this summer among British Muslims reported that 0% of those questioned thought homosexuality was “morally acceptable”. Yet, so far, the taboo-busting EastEnders storyline has not sparked the expected deluge of complaints — in fact, the soap’s first gay Muslim kiss attracted a healthy 7.9 million viewers. But what is it like being gay and Muslim in the UK today? The author has interviewed four gay British Muslims between 30 and 40 and reports their experiences.

Film about Gay Muslims Wins GLAAD Award

The film “A Jihad for Love” by American Muslim director Parvez Sharma following gay Muslim men and women in twelve countries, gas won numerous awards, and most recently received the ‘Best Documentary’ award in the GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance against Defamation) awards in March. Sharma traveled through Iran, Egypt, Turkey, India, South Africa, and others – to examine the experiences of being gay and lesbian in an “intensely Muslim community.” He consciously decided against pursuing his project in America or a Western country in which homosexuality has a markedly different experience of acceptability, but cautioned against wanting to save gays and lesbians in predominantly Muslim countries. Sharma found that many are happy where they are, and do not desire asylum, displacement, or change to a different paradigm. “We tend to assume the Western model of this GLBTQ identity. Unless there’s a pride parade you’re not really free. These ideas are way more complicated than that. Sexuality is so complex in Eastern and Islamic cultures,” he says.”