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Sexuality in Islamic Societies


Sexuality in Islamic Societies From Advancing Sexuality Studies: a short course on sexuality theory and research methodologies Schedule Module aims To: Encourage ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Sexuality in Islamic Societies

Sexuality in Islamic Societies
  • From Advancing Sexuality Studies a short course
    on sexuality theory and research methodologies

Learning Activity Time allowed
Course introduction, schedule, aims 20 mins
Session 1. Challenging stereotypes Quiz and discussion 75 mins
Session 2. The social regulation of sexuality in Islamic societies Pre-reading review Lecture and discussions 35 mins 190 mins
Session 3. Engaging in research and debate on sexuality within Islamic societies Optional activities. Participants will choose to either Run panel discussions on selected topics or Develop guidelines for ethical research within Islamic communities 65 mins
Conclusion 15 mins
Total time 400 mins ( just over 6.5 hours) Total time 400 mins ( just over 6.5 hours)
Module aims
  • To
  • Encourage students to challenge popular myths and
    negative attitudes towards sexuality in Islamic
  • Provide an overview of the social regulation of
    sexuality in Islamic societies
  • Take into account historical, cultural and
    textual influences

Participants will
  • Engage with a range of issues that feature in
    contemporary debates on Islam and sexuality
  • Undertake cross-cultural comparisons in relation
    to these issues and develop their critical
    thinking skills in relation to this topic
  • Engage in active learning through participation
    in module activities

Module scope
  • This module
  • Does not focus on Islamic jurisprudence
  • Does not take a legalistic approach
  • Does not support purely textual approaches to
    understanding Islam that posit that religion
    should be interpreted in an ahistorical manner
  • Such approaches require a significant amount of
    expert knowledge of the Quran, hadith and Arabic

  • This module will focus on topics related to
    sexuality and Islam that engage with five key
    human rights issues
  • Female veiling and Islam
  • Polygamy in Islamic societies
  • Sex education for Muslim youth
  • Homosexuality and Islam
  • Female circumcision and Islam

Session 1.Challenging stereotypes
  • Do you agree or disagree with the following
  • Female circumcision is a religious requirement
    for Muslim women
  • A person cannot be both Muslim and homosexual
  • The veiling of Muslim women amounts to sexual
  • Because Muslims are required to abstain from sex
    before marriage, sex education is irrelevant and
    dangerous for Muslim youth
  • Muslim women have no choice but to accept
    polygamy if their husbands wish is to have
    multiple wives
  • cont.

Quiz (cont.)
  • 6. Human sexual relations are viewed as innately
    sinful in the Quran
  • 7. The sexual defamation of women and the making
    of unfounded accusations that illicit sex (zina)
    has occurred constitute crimes under Islamic law
  • 8. Illicit sex (zina) is only a crime for women
    under Islamic law
  • 9. The sexual oppression of Muslim women stems
    from the poor treatment by the Prophet Mohammed
    of his wives
  • 10. The hadith (utterances of the Prophet) are
    not open to interpretation in relation to matters
    of gender and sexuality

  • Female circumcision
  • Cultural practice, not religious requirement
  • Fewer Islamic cultures practise this than do not
    practise it
  • A person cannot be both Muslim and homosexual
  • No reference in the Quran or hadith saying that
    homosexuality is impossible for Muslims
  • Numerous rich traditions of homosexuality and
    transgender identities in multiple Islamic
  • The veiling of Muslim women amounts to sexual
  • Important right for Muslim women to choose (many
    Muslim women value their head dress for reasons
    of religious practice and identity)

  • Sex education
  • Access 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 knowledge
  • Polygamy
  • Muslim men are not allowed to take more than one
    wife if the first or subsequent wives do not
    consent to the proposed marriage
  • A man may not take an additional wife if he is
    unable to support all wives equally in terms of
    both economic emotional and social requirements
  • Human sexual relations
  • Innately positive and sacred not seen as
    original sin

  • Sexual defamation and unfounded accusations
  • Punishment for unfounded, defamatory sexual
    gossip should be greater than that set out for
    sexual indiscretions
  • Illicit sex (zina)
  • Of equal significance for women and men
  • Often only women who are punished in highly
    conservative regimes that do not follow the
    Quranic principles of gender equality and
  • The Prophet and his wives
  • Deep commitment to womens rights and improving
    their status
  • Interpretation of hadith (utterances of the
  • Long and rich tradition of interpeting hadith
    related to gender and sexuality
  • Among the most highly contested fields of study

Session 2.The social regulation of sexuality in
Islamic societies
Pre-reading review
  • Bennett, L. R. 2005. 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
    pages 145-150
  • Boellstorff, T. 2005 Between Religion and
    Desire being Muslim and Gay in Indonesia,
    American Anthropologist, 107 (4), 575-585
  • Othman, N. 2000 Sexuality and gender rights A
    sociological perspective, in Z. Anwar and R.
    Abdullah eds. Islam, Reproductive Health and
    Womens Rights. Kuala Lumpur Sisters in Islam,
    77-105 (read only pages 86-105)
  • 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)

Question and answer session
  • What do we mean by sexuality?
  • Biological sex and behaviour, beliefs, values and
  • Incorporates sexual desire, knowledge, techniques
    and experience, identities and orientation
  • Sexuality and gender distinct, not synonymous
  • What do we mean by the social regulation of
  • Every society (Muslim or non-Muslim) regulates
  • Age of consent, certain sexual practices illegal
    (e.g. sex between siblings)

  • How is sexuality conceptualised in Islamic
  • No one set of sexual ideals and beliefs, but
    common or popular ways of understanding sexuality
  • Sex 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 men
  • Implicit active and dangerous, has to be
  • Can lead to control under the guise of
  • Heterosexuality viewed as natural

  • Where do the varied understandings of sexuality
    in Islamic societies stem from?
  • Interpretations of the Quran, hadith (utterances
    of the Prophet) and sunnah (the example and
    customary practice of the Prophet)
  • Localised teachings of Islamic clerics
  • Local practices of Islamic cultures, both
    historical and contemporary
  • Shariah courts or law, both through their
    legislation and operation
  • State laws
  • Mass media publications
  • Including prayer books, television, radio, and
    popular Islamic music
  • cont.

  • Contemporary Islamic movements and their
    teachings (including revivalist and reform
  • 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

  • Homosexuality and Islam
  • Widely believed that homosexuality is forbidden
    in Islam but term homosexuality does not exist in
    the Quran
  • Most understandings based on the story of Lut
  • Some Islamic scholars challenge heterosexism of
    mainstream interpretations of the Quran
  • Words often taken to refer to homosexuality
  • Al Fahisha (e.g. in 780 2754) Atrocity or
    gruesome deeds
  • Al Khabaidh (e.g. in 2174) Improper or unseemly
  • Al Munkar (e.g. in 2929) That which is
  • As Sayyi'aat (e.g. in 1178) Bad or evil deeds
  • http//

  • Moves to make Islam more inclusive of same-sex
  • Homosexuals also created by Allah sinful to lie
    about who they are
  • Range of sexual and gender identities and
    practices, existed since the time of the Prophet
  • Vast number of same-sex attracted Muslims

  • How does Islam regulate human sexuality?
  • All actions (including sexual behaviour) defined
    as either halal (permissible) or haram
  • Sexual relations between men and women who are
    married to each other, based on mutual consent
    and do not cause harm halal
  • Sexual relations outside of marriage haram.
    Referred to as zina (illicit sex)
  • Quran definition

(No Transcript)
  • Marriage is the most structured and obvious
    mechanism for regulating sexuality in Islam
  • Who can marry (and when women can remarry)
  • Minimum age
  • Who can consent
  • Conditions of marriage contract
  • Obligations re child support and alimony
  • Legality (or otherwise) of polygamy divorce
  • Temporary marriage
  • Use of contraception
  • Punishments regulation of sexual gossip and

  • Other practices, influences and structures
  • Islamic dress codes (which exist for both sexes)
  • Restrictions on male and female use of public
  • Conventions around prayer and hygiene
  • Various forms of female genital cutting
  • Censorship and control over knowledge around
    sexuality and reproduction e.g. sex education
    for Muslim youth
  • Family planning health promotion policies and
  • Laws to prevent and punish sexual violence
  • Punishment of sexual transgressions through
    social exclusion, stigma and violence in extreme

  • Why does Islam regulate sexuality?
  • For the protection of the umah (the community of
  • Perceived benefits of this regulation include
  • Clarity of paternity
  • Ensuring male responsibility for women and their
  • Preventing conflict arising from sexual jealousy
  • The protection of health
  • Preventing sexual violence
  • Preventing conflict arising from sexual

Session 3.Engaging in research debate on
sexuality within Islamic societies
Option 1 Debate
  • Five topics to choose from
  • Female veiling and Islam
  • Polygamy in Islamic societies
  • Sex education
  • Homosexuality and Islam
  • Female circumcision and Islam
  • Group preparation / reading
    (30 mins)
  • Debate

    (20 mins)
  • Feedback and wrap-up
    (15 mins)

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)

  • 10 key concepts for halal (permissible) research
  • Human sexuality is not sinful, and can be
    appropriately discussed and debated
  • Learning and intellectual inquiry is highly
    valued in Islam and research into human behaviour
    is encouraged
  • Discussions and explorations of sexuality among
    Muslims need to be gender appropriate
  • Discussions and explorations of sexuality among
    Muslims need to respect personal modesty and
  • Research should have positive intent it should
    be for the explicit benefit of the umah (Muslim

  1. Research should involve appropriate dialogue,
    based on the Islamic principle of consultation
  2. Avoid causing harm through (possibly unintended
    or unconsidered) sexual stigma
  3. Avoid deception, in line with the Islamic
    principle of truth
  4. Women research participants should be able to
    consent for themselves, in line with Islamic
    principles of gender equity
  5. The religious and cultural diversity of different
    Islamic communities should be understood and
    respected by researchers

  • Relationships between Islamic sexuality,
    reproduction and control of the human body are
    complex and dynamic
  • Conflicts of belief, opinions, values, especially
  • Sexuality, shame and the value of life
  • Islamic fundamentalism
  • Circumcision
  • Sexual violence
  • According to Islam, only Allah knows the true
    intent behind human actions. Only Allah can pass
    moral judgement

  • Module created by
  • Dr Linda Rae Bennett, Australian Research Centre
    in Sex, Health and Society
  • Short course developed by
  • The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and
    Society, La Trobe University, Melbourne,
  • and
  • The International Association for the Study of
    Sexuality, Culture and Society (IASSCS)
  • With funding from The Ford Foundation
  • Available under an Attribution, Non-Commercial,
    Share Alike licence from Creative Commons
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