Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Sexuality in Islam - FATHER FRANK’S RANTS

Rant Number 310 7 July 2008

Sexuality in Islam

A learned academic conference in Oxford on the subject of orgasm. Psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists and whatsit argue heatedly all day long. Hard-line feminists accuse men of phallic fascism. ‘Castrating viragos!’ emotional males hurl back. It nearly comes to blows. Throughout, a bespectacled, donnish-looking fellow sits it out, quietly, with a puzzled expression on his face. Just before the conference is over, the man manages to seize the mike and declares: ‘Honestly, I cannot understand why you people get so hot under the collar about something which happens only once a year and lasts only two minutes.’

I wonder whether Abdelwahab Bouhdiba, author of the diverting Sexuality in Islam, would find that funny. Many eminent sexologists were perhaps a tad less than priapic in their private lives. From Krafft-Ebing to the translator of the Thousand and One Nights, Sir Richard F. Burton. But I do not wish to be flippant. Sexuality is an awesome subject. The Greeks knew all about it. ‘Eros is a great demon’ avers Socrates in Plato’s Symposium. And Professor Bouhdiba is undeniably a serious scholar. Despite chapters entitled ‘the infinite orgasm’, ‘erotology’, ‘variations on eroticism’ and ‘commerce with the invisible’ – this latter also dealing with coitus with djinns. One could of course carp that a book which purports to be about ‘the Islamic view of sexuality’ begs the question. An Edward Said might object that it also smacks of a timeless, abstract essentialism. (Taking a leaf out an unnamed Rant reader here…) Why write of the view? As if a plurality of Islamic viewpoints on this subject were non-existent or impossible. The author himself mentions some tricky, heterodox ones, prevalent amongst certain Sufis. Bet no self-respecting Wahabi or Taleban would underwrite them. See, a cautionary note is in order.

The writer teaches Islamic sociology at Tunis University. So he rightly roots his work in the Qur’anic text. E.g. sura 4, 1, The Women, suggests that sexes are complementary: ‘O Mankind! Fear your guardian Lord who created you from a single soul, and from it created its mate, and from the pair of them scattered countless men and women.’ And a famous prophetic saying has it that ‘marriage is half of a man’s religion’. Accordingly, it is ‘the mutual relationship of the sexual and the sacral within Arab-Muslim societies’ that the book sets out to investigate. With a declared polemical intent. Because, unlike Christianity, he claims, Islam assigns an absolute, total and totalising position to sexuality. Is that so? ‘Total’ sounds a bit too totalitarian. Anyway, it is for the ulama to comment authoritatively there. For Christianity, the priest will cite only the service for Holy Matrimony in Cranmer’s Prayer Book. It speaks of marriage as ‘signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church’. A mighty high view of sexuality, by any theological reckoning! Further, the Anglican Prayer Book enjoins the duties of mutual friendship between man and wife and of the begetting of children. It also warns against fornication, i.e. unlawful sex. Would any pious Muslim disagree with that?

Under the stirring heading of ‘infinite orgasm’, our sexologist invokes both the Qur’an and writers like Sheikh Suyuti. To the effect that sex galore obtains in heaven. Indeed, paradise is ‘the place of perpetual erection and orgasm that lasts for 24 years’. Wallahi! Too much of a good thing, perhaps? By sharp contrast, St Matthew’s Gospel has Jesus assert that at the resurrection people ‘neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.’ (22:29-30).

Four points. First, it is not for the priest to interpret Qur’anic passages describing the carnal pleasures of the Hereafter. But he knows that some Muslim exegetes understand them not literally but symbolically. They’d better, because the resurrected bodies in question are a bit peculiar. ‘The inhabitants of paradise have no behinds…behinds were created for defecation and in Paradise there is no defecation’. I am happy to note that implies that sexual activity in the next world must be strictly halal.

Second, granted that both monotheistic faiths believe in the resurrection of the whole person, so that the blessed must enjoy both bodily and mental delights, the philosophical question stands as to which pleasures are more distinctive of transfigured human beings. John Stuart Mill, hardly a Platonist, admitted that it is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied. In other words, human happiness is of a different kind from that enjoyed by an animal. Aristotle thought the highest form of human happiness was that of the intellect, bios theoretikos. All right, not all people enjoy doing high maths or reading poetry or discussing Heidegger. Maybe there is a hierarchy of pleasures, or even souls, in Paradise, as indeed the Muslim philosopher Ibn Sina believed. We are all different and diversity, we are constantly reminded, is a good thing.

Third, there are actually differences between Christian and Islamic views of sexuality. The whole monastic and celibate tradition, so important to Catholics and Orthodox, is alien to Islam. (Thus speaks a Protestant.) Jesus, unlike Muhammad, did not have a wife and that’s that. And our Scriptures, though sharing much, are different. Hence we must live with, accept our differences. Vive la difference!

Fourth, Professor Bouhdiba won’t like this but sexuality, like power, must be controlled. Sex, as chubby St Thomas Aquinas well saw, must be with the right person, in the right way, for the right purpose. The ‘perverse and polymorphous’ sexuality of Dr Freud no society will ever countenance. Islam surely does not. Freud’s maddest epigones, like Wilhelm Reich, came to grief because of that. After constructing a crackpot ‘orgone machine’, to capture cosmic orgasmic force, Reich tried to experiment in on kids. Naturally, he ended up his days in the clinker. Philosopher Herbert Marcuse had another go at unleashing the pleasure principle in 1968, amongst university students. It no doubt increased copulation but, to his chagrin, it brought about no revolution.

Lastly, a minor point. The professor lists many worthy Muslim females. The Prophet’s mother, Amina, his nurse, Halima. His many wives, Khadija, Aysha, Zyanab, Um Salama…No mention, however, of his daughter, Fatima. Ali’s wife. Revered by all Muslims but especially by the Shia. Chance or design?

Revd Frank Julian Gelli



Seta said...

Aion...please note I will not tolerate name calling! If you have a valid comment to make, then make it in a thought provoking and sensible manner. (Fools are born, I do not feel Father Frank is one! If there is a language barrier, then please let me explain, some comments are made, tongue-in-cheek and must be taken in that vain) NO DEROGATORY REMARKS ARE MEANT. Just an educated slant on how someone maybe view something. A fascist of life! Britain is still a free country! We have free speech! I expect an apology!

ExpressJodi said...

Great expectations

Life is full of surprises, particularly if you are a newly - wed . Expressjodi you a glimpse into the future and tells how to be prepared to face married life

Love is all about romance whereas marriage is a lot about responsibility. When two different individuals from different backgrounds live together, differences of opinion on things like spending habits, career, having and raising a baby, sharing household responsibilities etc, are bound to crop up, the key is to broaden your outlook and accept all the changes that marriage brings, and to remember that marriage is a momentous change for you and your spouse. And, fear not, over a period of time, you will find a way to make it work.


With marriage comes a whole lot of responsibility. "From the time you ger married, the decisions you make will not be yours alone, but your partner's as well. This is because your choices will impact both of you. But this doesn't mean that you're tied to a ball and chain. "It only means you have a companion with you for life. In fact, in your capacity as a spouse, you become your partner's caretaker, friend, confidante and even punching bag etc.


Arguments over money are bound to happen, so be prepared for it. And unless you establish some ground rules for dealing with financial issues, you will continue to have these arguments. Bear in mind that you are now a part of a unit, and no longer flying solo.

In - laws or outlaws?

if you thought that marriage is all about sharing your life with your significant other, think again, and this time, factor in your in - laws into the equation. When you're used to a particular lifestyle, moving in with your in - laws can be a rude shock. You will be required to make changes in your daily routine. Like waking up a little earlier to help around the house or rescheduling your plans on weekends or even modifying some of your eating habits. these might seem like an additional burden, particularly if you are a working woman. Remember to keep an open mind when it comes to handling your in - laws. They may be rigid in their ways, but there is always a way to work out a compromise.

Sharing space

Marriage involves sharing everything - whether it is sadness or glad tidings, chores or finance, which can be a difficult task. This is why marriage necessitates an equal contribution from both side. " Sharing is absolutely essential for a happy marriage,. Besides making it easier to run the show, it also brings you closer to your partner, and cement a bond in a way that only experience can.
Differnces of opinion

Shaadi brings two different individuals together, as well as two sets of arguments for everything. Remember that your husband is as new to the marriage and the relationship as you, and he is facing the same issue for the first time as well.Irrespective of the nature of the relationship, any two people are bound to have differences of opinion at some point of time, It is how you handle these differences that mtters. The best antidote for deviant interest lies in adapting to the situation. "Be carteful not to retaliate for the sake of it,"

Planning for the future

As a single independent working woman, you may be used to your lifestyle, going on holidays or splurging on the latest pair of Jimmy Choos. But married life is a journey and you need to plan carefully to get to your destination. "Planning is the key. Make sure you and your husband are on the same page as far as long - term goal are concerned," "Whether or not you plan to have a baby or deciding on investments for the future and are thing that you should discuss in advbance, if you want to avoid unpleasant surprises in you married life,"

ExpressJodi said...

Brahmin Shaadi
Historically, the Brahmins in india were divided into two major groups based on geographical origin of the people. The Brahmin groups that lived to the north of the vindhyas were referred to as Dravida Brahmins. Each group was further divided into five sections according to the regions of their settlement.

The Sagaai or the engagement ceremony symbolises commitment However, the South Indian Brahmin do not lay stress on the presence of bride and the groom in their Sagaai, rather it focuses on commitment between the parents of the groom and the bride. 'Latto' i.e., 'engagement plate' Which consist of coconut, flowers, turmeric, betel leaves and betel nuts hold more importance, in their engagement ceremony. The Maithil Brahmin bride of bihar makes her wedding affair stand apart by receiving the blessing from the Dhobi's (washerman's) wife - a compulsory tradition in the Bihari Brahmin wedding.

In Haldi ceremony turmeric powder is mixed with milk, almond oil and sandalwood and applied to the bride and the groom. In Kashmiri Pandit this ceremony has a twist becuase cold, white yoghurt is poured on the bride as an alternative to haldi. ritual is followed by a special custom called Shankha (shell) Paula (coral) in bengali Brahmins, where seven married women embellish the bride's hand with red and white bangles, the shell is supposed to calm the bride and the coral is believed to
be beneficial for health. Mehndi is also applied on every bride's hands during the Mehndi ceremony. However, a Bengali Brahmin bride applies alta (red dye).

After the ceremonious arrival of the groom, the garlands are exchanged between the groom and the bride, while the priests chant mantras. Jaimala is the symbol of unifying two souls into one. But in tamil nadu, "Oonjal", a unique jaimala ceremony is performed and could be best decribed as a tug of war. In this ceremony, the women sing songs to encourage the bride and groom to exchange the garlands while the uncles persuade the soon to be couple not to Exchange the garlands.Before the ceremony of jaimala, the bride makes a majestic entry in Bengali weddings.

Mangal Phere
Fire is considered the most pious element in the Brahmin weddings and seven circles around that fire holds the seven promises that the nuptial couple make to each other amidst the Vedic mantras. The Brahmin wedding is deemed incomplete without the seven rounds around the sacred fire. Unlike other Brahmin weddings, in Gujarati weddings only four pheras are taken which are called the mangalpheras where the pheras represent four basic human goals of Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Miksha (religious, moral, prosperity and salvation). Likewise in Malayalee Brahmin weddings, pheras are taken only thrice.

Post wedding ceremony vidaai
After pheras, the bride's family and friend bid her teary vidaai (farewell). The Kashmiri pundits make their vidaai even more special. their charming ritual, "roth khabar" is performed on a saturday or tuesday after the wedding. In Roth
khabar, the bride's parents send a roth (bread decorated with nuts) to their son - in - law's family. But the bride accompanies She stay with her parents and returns only when someone from in laws comes to fetch her back.

Griha pravesh
The new bride is greeted by her mother - in - law with Arti and tilak. The bride, who is regarded as the Goddess laxmi, enters the groom's house after the groom's house after kicking rice - filled pot. In Kannada Brahmin marriages, the groom changes the name of his wife in the name change ceremony where he decides a name for his wife and inscribes it on a plate containing rice with a ring. In Bihar, a very strange ritual is performs at the groom's place.