22.01.2018 in Exploratory
Sexuality in the Arab World


According Abdessamad Dialmy, in his book Sexuality in contemporary Arab society he sates that in order to maintain mores as well as transmit a values system especially as it pertains to cultural inertia a lot has been done to foster the change but one has to overlook some of the concrete interests and privileges often served by indoctrination and education as well as the more complicated processes of transmitting culture from one generation to the next. For instance the subject of sexuality in Arab world has been given little significance as it pertains to official religious circles not because of lack of references but often because most government designated clerics tend to follow line of ‘puritanical Islam’ which was established during the early history western traffic with Islam. Thus what is passed down as Islamic conducts and mores most reflects impacts associated with westernization in these Arab countries (Khalaf, 87).

According to literature the current treatment of sexuality in Arab countries came about centuries following the Christian criticism of the Islamic permissiveness thus issues like the regularity and legitimacy of homosexual realties were perceived by medieval Christians as an indication of the moral decadence of the Muslims. Al-Jahiz therefore recognizes the changes in the Islamic socio-sexual mores especially the asceticism attitudes towards issues relating sexual acts and parts as being artificial in nature rather than being related to noble behavior and chastity.


Gender Boundaries

A rigid segregation between sexes is still conjured in Islamic religion and thus male supremacy is assumed as an integral part of the Islam faith as a way of moral obligation regarding worship. Islam fails to favor full gender equality but also one can not maintain that Islam has contradicted its tribal customs and culture relating to issues of women. This is attributed to the fact that ostensible inferiority of women is fully accepted by both Islam and the cultures of these Arab countries. This is evident in the states that declare themselves Islamic sponsors through the religio-political indoctrination which is supported by the family therefore the ethical identity of such states is guide by what is written in Islam. In failing to dissent to these yields the wrath of the penal measures of such states as well as causing a social comfort to the perpetrator (Khalaf, 163).

Concerning the treatment of women in Islam Fatima in her book beyond the veil she argues that those who argue that women are treated badly by Islam and have inferior status as well as those who argue that Islam gives women a good status and hence offer improvement for women both are both right to a certain degree. She says that Islam does affirm the potential equality between the sexes thus delineating the difference between theory and practice thus implying that women are potentially equal with them but the equality is not achieved. Islam recognizes women as powerful and sexual beings thus the actual inequality which women experiences arises from fear than from inferiority as many argue. Therefore sexuality controlled, and the easiest way to do that as people claim is to control female sexuality, because it represents a threat to the order and stability of the ummah, or community of believers (Mernissi, 56).

Mernissi also argues that Islam incorporates three things which serve to limit the intimacy of a man and a wife and the first is polygamy which works well by ensuring the man can obtain sexual fulfillment from more than one person, psychological and emotional intimacy with one person is prohibited from growing strong. This matter is further ensured by rules which mandate that the man does not favor any one wife and go from one to the next regularly and this has the added advantage of ensuring that the woman does not try to find sexual satisfaction elsewhere.  In addition to that the second method is through repudiation. Through this method, a man may divorce his wife at anytime he wishes to and she can do nothing about it. The woman, however, is not granted the same right and also this also ensures that he can find sexual satisfaction without having to invest time and effort in emotional intimacy. The third method is the contribution of the mother-in-law. When a woman marries, she belongs to her husband’s family and quite regularly the mother-in-law lives with the couple thus there is little opportunity for intimacy (Mernissi, 143).

Sexual Acts and Practices

Historically, Muslims in the early ages had developed a healthy attitude towards matters of sexual desires thus had accepted its consequences in to a human psychology modern ages has witnessed Arabs undergo drastic changes reversing the framework regarding sexuality as initially established by Hadith. Some of the changes considered sexual desires as shameful both in themselves as well as in the puritanical standards to prevail delight of religious leaders. Contrary to the western perception that sexual issues don’t feature in Arab writings, examination of fawatas both in Persian and Arabic reveals the centrality given to sexuality among those considered religious, in fact it appears like an obsession. In contemporary Islamic attitudes men’s sexual desires are recognized in Islamic literature unlike the women’s sexuality especially those who practiced free sex and free love which was accorded no attention in any Arabic literature except for the Arabic erotic literature like poems that were compiled buy lesbian women (Said, 465).

Discrepancies that exist between the societal and religious values and norms as it pertains to sexual practices and sexual desires has been pin pointed to be what is governing the sexual behavior amongst youths in Arabs world and this was noted by the participants at an international conference on youth, sexuality and self expression in Arab world. Much of the way people behave is inconsistent with the attitudes that Arabs has towards sex, thus salient social hypocrisy exist at all levels in the society. For instance despite the fact that women are highly celebrated when they are sexually attractive, when they are sexually active they are condemned as Arab culture fail to consider a man as ‘fallen’ but rather ‘fallen’ women (Halaf, and  Gagnon, 234).

New trends in the social sphere like delayed marriage serve to create a force that is ’superfluous’ youthful energy that tend to find ways to foster its expression despite the social norms that still condemn extra-marital sex especially for women. For example in Saudi society research as shown that up to seventy five percent of women get divorced by their late twenties with most of then increasing never getting married especially the well educated ones. This has consequently led to deformations of the conventional marriage which it has spread widely in the Arab world. examples of these ‘deformed’ marriages include the mut’ah marriages which is basically a temporary marital contract practiced mostly by the Shia Muslims allowing for short-term conjugal relations, the urfi marriage which is similar to the mut’ah only that is unregistered and secretive and practiced mainly by the Sunnis. Third example of this era marriages is the misyar marriage which is rare controversial type of Muslim marriage allowing a couple to live separately only to meet for sexual relations (Khalaf, 243).

Such kind of new age marriages leave women with the burdens of dealing with health care and potential pregnancies on their own and considering the absence of socials support these temporary marriages give men an avenue to exercise their sexual needs without necessarily contradicting the religion thus giving them a total control. More over, young people are increasingly becoming more open as well as defiant when it comes to expressing their sexuality despite the cat that feelings of guilt and shame still prevail among women. Most new generation rejects the double standards and the hypocrisy that most of their parents uphold and could call them out especially when they cheat on each other while at same time preaching morals and religion. For example the older Egyptian women portray as different sexual attitudes as a compared to the younger women and this is attributed to the fact that older women tend to create ‘asexualized or desexualized’ female protagonists who describe issues pertaining to sexuality as malice to the society and men’s honor (Dialmy, 124).


Bowell John in his classic Christianity, social tolerance and homosexuality, he maintains that Muslim cultures have in the past treated homosexuals with in-difference and a positive Islamic attitude has been expressed towards homosexual. On the other hand modern day strict Arab world Muslims sees homosexuality strictly prohibitive in its judicial context which it attributes it to historic invasion of Khurasanian morals, western values and practices. Co-existence of homosexuality and Islam relates to Islamic theory reading sexuality as well as to the acceptance of normalcy of sexual desires amongst men and women and rigid lines existing between distinction and separation of females and males, heterosexual and homosexuals were only used for qualitative moral designation while males and females serving to representing ideal social and natural roles on clerical point of view (Halliday, 199).

Islamic jurisprudence failed to dwell on the necessity of punishing homosexuals it did not constitute a personification of sexual violators. Despite many Arab countries having legislated strict penal measures against this group of individuals especially against sodomy; most of these states rarely enforces such laws with exemption of the poor and powerless individuals in the society. This laxity in law enforcement against homosexual in many Arab states is attributed to the concept of masculinity in the Arab context which does not negate any sexual experience with another man. Therefore marriage has become a camouflage for most of the Arab gay men of who can not willingly bear the social consequences of being single or even ostrasization (Abukhalil, 67).

The Niqab and Women’s sexuality

In most western world the religious requirement of women of Islamic faith to wear a niqab or the face fail as been one of the contentious issues especially on the grounds that it equates to a woman’s identity, sexuality and value in the society thus there has been some bans on complete face covering in some Arab and Turkish universities on the reason that it oppresses Muslim women as well as a lack of integration with the society. Some women voluntarily wear niqab despite the fact that some Muslim countries enforce it as a law and often consider as a religious obligation. As a matter of fact many Islamic women who wear niqab wish to be regarded as capable people who can be seen beyond their physical features and as people who can constitute to the betterment of their families and societies.

To westerners the symbol f veil is perceived as a symbol of oppression where as to Muslims it’s seen as a symbol and act of empowerment both for the explicit reflection of the western values as well as its implicit meaning as status symbol. For instance many Muslims see the veil as a sign of distinction as it invokes the connection to Prophet Muhammad and his wives. Quran has no requirement for women to cover their faces with a cavil but it does address the matter on veiling which it has been interpreted by Muslim clerics as applying to women. Historically, veil is seen a sign of distinction as well as protection for the  upper class women but during 19th century it has come to be seen to represent a more assertive, as well as consciously Islamic expression in reaction to western current of colonialism, modernism and feminism.

The veil was a not mandatory but a privilege to the wealth married women in contrary to the prescribed requirement that prostitutes and the slave women should not be veiled and such polarity in which unveiled women are regarded as licentious loose women has then considered in the Muslim traditions thus leading to the harassment and the violence against the unveiled women both in the tradition and in the western cultures. Thus the assumption that those women who don’t use the fail   can be easily be raped or even consent to illicit sex as a result of flaunting their sexuality thus society that does not allows the veiling must be exploiting their women sexually (Said, 163).

As a matter of fact modern Arab discourse has fails to come up with an appropriate terminology to help deal with the topic of sexuality. Salama,  pin points that  the Qur’anic word farj which is a concept of sex merely denotes a vagina when used in modern context and this concept  has made a woman to  be a totality of farj and this is attributed to the  fact that farj is just an opening that serves to signify fragility that is a lack. This negative interpretation has in modern terms become linked to women consequently because of subjection by an Arab mind to a patriarchal logic that consider women as a lacking being therefore belittling these women. In addition to that reducing a woman into farj which is her sexual organ serve to expressing the negative diminution that in the Arab world concept of sex has been transformed in Arab and Islamic history particularly the shift from the scientific concept, a valuable status into a meaning attached with no value at all.

Finally the Arabic language points in the direction of maleness applying to biologically given manliness indicating the construction of men as a social domination. Pertaining to woman feminity is used to refer to woman as well as a female indicating the subordinate social gender as well as the biological. Therefore the language used in Arabic world linguistically reifies domination of maleness as opposed to feminity. Also the maleness of a homosexual or even a boy fails to construct a man and it’s because a man is not only male but he penetrates and ca not be penetrated (Dialmy, 3).


Rise of the Islamic fundamentalist has played a significant role in exacerbating the social and sexual tensions in the Arab world and this is an issues that one cannot fully analyzed without considering the economic and the political developments of these regions thus religion can not be the sole cause of the issues pertaining to sexuality. It’s therefore clear that sexuality issues still remains a very contentious issues on the societies from the Arab world and most of which is supported by the state, family and the existing cultural values which has been transformed over time.

Related essays