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Sexuality and women's honor: there isn't a link

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The NY Times published an article today titled "In Europe, Debate Over Islam and Virginity". The article discusses how some Muslim women are surgically reconstructing their hymens before marriage to give the illusion that they're virgins. The reason why their virginity is connected to their honor has nothing to do with Islam however but rather with culture (even in various Muslim cultures, the degree to which this is the case varies among different classes, political affliations, etc.). Also, Muslims are not the only people to connect sexuality to honor or to do this procedure (anyone heard of born again virgins doing the same thing?). That is why the title of the article is so misleading. Of course the Qur'an commands chasity from women but what is often missing from these conversations is that the Qur'an also commands chasity from men. This is an incredibly important point that the Times never asserts. I think this shows that chasity from the Qur'anic POV is not connected to honor and control of women's sexuality.

An even more important point is that the Qur'an unequivocaly speaks out against connecting women's honor with their sexuality. As was previously discussed on the blog, the Qur'an makes it difficult, if not impossible, to even prosecute for zina since most people do not have intercourse in front of four witnesses. In addition, the Qur'an also forbids speculating on a woman's sexuality. So you can even start spreading rumors about it. Thus, a woman's virginity should be a non-issue for Muslims just as a man's virginity is never an issue. Which is why it is so disturbing that these women have to prove to their spouses and their families that they are still virgins.

One Muslim born in Macedonia said she opted for the operation to avoid being punished by her father after an eight-year relationship with her boyfriend.
"I was afraid that my father would take me to a doctor and see whether I was still a virgin," said the woman, 32, who owns a small business and lives on her own in Frankfurt. "He told me, 'I will forgive everything but not if you have thrown dirt on my honor.' I wasn't afraid he would kill me, but I was sure he would have beaten me."

Her father doesn't even have the right to do this. Unforunately, Muslim clerics and leaders haven't done much to inform Muslims of this. This was seen in the last quote of the article about the French Muslim couple who had their marriage annulled because the wife was not a virgin:

The lives of the French couple whose marriage was annulled are on hold. The Justice Ministry has sought an appeal, arguing that the decision has "provoked a heated social debate" that "touched all citizens of our country and especially women." At the Islamic Center of Roubaix, the Lille suburb where the wedding took place, there is sympathy for the woman. "The man is the biggest of all the donkeys," said Abdelkibir Errami, the center's vice president. "Even if the woman was no longer a virgin, he had no right to expose her honor. This is not what Islam teaches. It teaches forgiveness." (emphasis mine)

The vice president got it right but got it wrong at the same time. Yeah, her husband shouldn't have put her on blast but her honor isn't not connected to her virginity or lack thereof nor is it the husband place to forgive her. We need more scholars and more Muslim leaders to emphasize this point! One, a woman's sexuality is no one's business! Two, it has no bearing on her honor or her worthiness as a spouse or a person.

Of course, it was disappointing that the Times did not delve into the theological issues surrounding this issue. Frankly, they had an obligation to since they linked Islam to this issue in the article. The paper, especially with its prestige, had the obligation to consult Muslim scholars, especially jurists, on this issue yet they took the easy road and just connected Islam to women's sexuality simply because the women in the article are Muslim. There was no examination of culture in this practice. Islam is just assumed to be the variable causing this practice. This article also exoticizes Muslim women once more by constantly comparing their "liberation" in Western circle vs. their "sexual repression" in Muslim circles. As mentioned earlier, this phenomena isn't limited to Muslim women nor is it limited to women from non- Western backgrounds. Women in all patriarchal societies have to deal with their sexuality being linked to their honor. It's a horrible double standard and one that the Qur'an certainly does not support.



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