For HUNGER's 18th edition, writer Tahmina Begum breaks down why “the future doesn’t have space for the sexual agency and bodies of Muslim women to be stunted”.
Getting laid as a Muslim woman isn’t something that’s usually spoken about. I don’t just mean through the carefully constructed white lens that many use when considering Muslim women but also among Muslim women themselves. Having any aspect of sexuality has been frowned upon since the dawn of Adam and Hawwa, even if the Quran doesn’t censor who women should have between their legs as much as we do.
By we, I mean those of us who have been raised within the blend of British and South Asian cultures. Sex is not only a topic that is taboo when your parents are in earshot, but it’s taught that it should only be discussed between a married couple. The latter, in fact, is Islamic. Marriage is praised highly, as the family is the centre point in Islam, but also because marriage itself comprises patience, compromise, and sometimes putting someone else’s needs first.
However, Islam decrees divorce is permissible. The fastest-growing religion actually gave women the right to leave their husbands way before the West made it cool. So, say if a woman did marry three or 16 times during their lifetime, they are not shunned because of how many partners they’ve bust it open to. Everyone in Islam is recommended to marry and try again and again if a partnership hasn’t gone to plan.
But as Islamic values are the minority in the UK, children are taught the digestible version of what’s allowed. Marriage is seen as a safety net for women, a lazy exercise in order to curb young girls’ and women’s bodies, meaning having an ounce of sexuality is translated into being a dirty, haram thing. “You’ll find out when you’re married,” is a common plaster applied to our preadolescent-to-adulthood curiosities. Yet, from my experience, the conversation around sex is still conservative within British South Asian Muslimahs. As if being a freak in the sheets with your husband is something alien instead of what’s healthy and normal. It’s an act that’s praised by Allah.
In 2020, it seems as though Muslim women are no longer accepting of this lack of sexual education and for someone else to provide a pathway for them. If we can’t talk about sex when we’re single or coupled up, we’re going to have to take faith and fucking, two key components of our lives, into our own hands. So where should the seed be planted so that the next generation of Muslim women can access information that does not debilitate their sexuality and cause them to confuse it for shame?
When it comes to researching my sexual health and this conversation around Muslim women being open about their sexual habits, what brings me confidence is not just how explicitly sex is spoken about in the Holy book but also the first line of the Quran: “Read! In the name of your Lord who has created all that exists!” It’s a sentence that is clear: we need to dig a little deeper (mind the pun) about what’s recommended for us instead of depending on an Islamic curriculum passed down via word of mouth, and about what’s no more than a biased version of what’s “acceptable”, an archaic account of how South Asian Muslim women should behave.
It comes back to not labelling everything we do in our lives as halal or haram. Our bodies are not made to be categorised under a single label, as we can only try to be conscious of our decisions – something our Islamic guidelines speak of.
The future doesn’t have space for the sexual agency and bodies of Muslim women to be stunted – and it starts with Muslim women being aware of the myriad freedoms we’re rewarded with rather than what’s historically made everyone else feel comfortable. Then we’ll be able to talk about sex openly, proudly, garishly, modestly, assuredly, positively, loudly, but more importantly, however much we want to.
9 June 2020