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A sex shop to open in Mecca. Tell me, what's the big deal?

By Sabbiyah Pervez

Published 27/04/2015

Holy city: a pilgrim at Mecca
Holy city: a pilgrim at Mecca

A Halal sex shop? In Mecca? Fancy that. Those pesky Muslims in Saudi Arabia, who don't let their women drive, or show their faces, have allowed a sex store to open in one of the holiest cities in the world. Blimey.

You may have heard the story; it's now being shared across the internet.

The long and the short is that, yes, a "Sharia-compliant" sex shop, El Asira, an erotic brand originating in Amsterdam, is reportedly soon to open, selling "sensual" oils, though not, the owner stresses, "blow-up dolls, or vibrators".

I keep thinking: why is this story so popular? What's the big deal? Is it because the sex shop has been described as halal? Is it because Muslims are involved? Is it because the store is to be situated in Mecca, site of the Kabah, where millions come to submit themselves to God?

Or is it because the public here is dominated by an interpretation of Islam that focuses on the restricted freedom of women to be sexual, or anything else?

I get it: Saudi Arabia has a poor history when it comes to gender rights. The World Economic Forum 2013 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Saudi Arabia 127th out of 136 countries for gender parity.

All women, regardless of age, are required to have a male guardian. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving. Saudi women constitute 13% of the country's native workforce as of 2015. That isn't even half of it - I could go on and on.

So, this is great news, but it shouldn't be treated as something unique, or new.

Islam has never been a prudish religion; the Prophet stated that when a husband and wife have sex it is an act of charity known as Sadaqa.

Furthermore, a saying of the Prophet states that one of the inadequacies of a man is "going to his wife and having intercourse with her before talking to her and gaining her intimacy, satisfying his need from her before she has satisfied her need from him".

I remember being told by an imam that if a man continually fails in fulfilling a woman's sexual desires, she has a right to divorce him.

Alyas Karmani, a local imam and grassroots activist, told me he toured the country in 2012 leading seminars on a course he titled "joys of sex".

His aim was to challenge the cultural stigma and taboo around talking about sex and instruct Muslims so that they have a healthy sex life and greater fulfilment in their marriages.

He says: "It is vital that you provide a forum where people can talk about sex in an uninhibited and open way and receive practical instruction within an Islamic context."

Don't get me wrong, I don't think this sex shop will radically challenge the views of those of all cultures who don't believe women have sexual or any other rights; I don't think it will alter the view of the misogynistic men who believe that a woman's sole job is to pleasure him.

It won't bring on a huge sexual revolution in the kingdom, in fact many probably won't even think twice about it. First off, it is simply a huge business opportunity. This company has hit the jackpot, millions upon millions descend on Mecca, so they will never be short of customers.

More importantly for me, it is a step in the right direction; it does challenge the view that sex is something Muslims shouldn't talk about.

We should question the narrative that sex and worship do not co-exist, when in numerous texts, as well as in the Koran, God encourages acts of love between man and wife.

So go forth and multiply. Safely.

Belfast Telegraph

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