Being a Muslim-American, just like being a part of any minority community, comes with its own set of unique experiences and expectations. The aspects of the Muslim-American experience that I don’t think are discussed nearly enough, considering just how much they affect our daily lives, are the warring sexual extremes that actively define Muslim and American societies. It’s ironic how the extremity of each society is the commonality, but everything else is a stark contrast.
It’s almost as if we are witnessing a pendulum swing, and the pendulum is still traveling from one edge to the other, unable to find the balance for a society to become at peace with its natural sexuality.
On one hand, we are witnessing a society hell-bent on sexual saturation. From the advertisements, to the entertainment, to the ever-forceful peer pressure to have engaged in certain sexual acts by a certain age. There is, what can only be described as, an obsession with anything remotely sexual. For all the hype the Internet gets for changing the world, there rarely seems to be a conversation about how just underneath all of this innovation and pseudo-human connection, there is the reality that 70% of internet use is specifically to access pornographic material; the amplification of that access being a core element indicative of the issues found in relationships today.
Now, you can give me a lecture about how nudity is a way to women’s liberation, or how sexual expression is healthy, and maybe you might have a point here and there, but at the end of the day, sex is a billion-dollar industry.
But this is what it is to be American. We live in a proudly capitalist society, and capitalists thrive off of the ever-proven reality that ‘sex sells.’ Now, you can give me a lecture about how nudity is a way to women’s liberation, or how sexual expression is healthy, and maybe you might have a point here and there, but at the end of the day, sex is a billion-dollar industry. Money is the prize, and no matter how positively you decide to look at the situation, it’s not going to change the stark reality that, in America, one out of every four women have been, or should expect to be sexually assaulted in some way, shape, or form. In other words, sexual expression is still violently targeted, and the liberation sought is not truly achieved.
But as Muslim-Americans, if we were to completely reject the sexual saturation of our American identity, we would swing into the insidious darkness that quells even the slightest sexual expression in a Muslim society. The sexual oppression in Muslim communities, and in Muslim-majority countries is so forceful that it has managed to spread beyond its boundaries, and has started to apply even to non-sexual expressions of self. A woman whose sleeves happen to end slightly above her wrists becomes a focused target that conservatives aggressively shame in order to obliterate even the tiniest possibility of attraction. Ironically, the layers of shaming, suppressing and socially-demanded modesty has pushed people further away from their religion, and has pushed them towards the very things that they were trying to avoid in the first place.
There is such a disturbing importance placed on the virginity of the Muslim woman today, that there actually happens to be an industry that profits off of selling “virginity” kits to women who need to convince their new husbands that their hymen remained intact, just for them. Not to mention the sexual desperation that this kind of society builds in both the men and women, leading them to engage in sexual acts that are legitimately forbidden by Islam (namely the act of sodomy) because there is this perpetuated belief that you are still a virgin if there has been no vaginal penetration (the virginity of the man never being a topic of discussion, of course).
The result of this kind of society is that there is no discussion, or worse still, there is no appreciation for the natural sexuality that has been built into our bodies. Women are not given the education to understand the complexities and intricacies of their biology. The ability to achieve true intimacy is sacrificed, and in its place is a sort of confused consciousness that does not fully understand the self, and is not fully capable of experiencing the pleasure of another.
It is important to discuss the realities of both these societies because both have concealed in their layers the tools for self destruction, and at the end of it all, life is a matter of meaningful self-preservation. To completely deny the natural existence of our sexuality is the equivalent of denying the roots that hold up the tree. It is crucial that we are educated about those roots, and through that education we are able to learn how much water the roots need for the tree to flourish and survive; not enough water and the tree will die, too much water and the tree will drown. A balance is needed, an education required.
The lack of balance and education combined with the subsequently inserted judgement and shaming is the cause that lies at the root of a Muslim-American’s relationship with their sexuality. To be uncomfortable with one’s nature is not a requirement placed upon the believer in Islam, but rather a result of oppressive cultures trying to dictate the way things should be. And as we have witnessed with the ever-raging forces of capitalism and patriarchy, the objective behind the development of such degrading social standards begins and ends with the exploitation of anyone within reach.
Islam, in its truest form, has no such aims.
Islam does not exploit. It does not shame us into a way of being, and it explicitly places the right of judgement into the hands of Allah (swt). In other words, it places the right to judge in the hands of the most forgiving, most understanding, and the most merciful, qualities that comparatively only exist as mere shadows in our fellow human beings.
I understand that words are words, and reality is harder, but time is here for but a moment. How much of it are we going to waste keeling to the impossible standards of culture and society when we have, placed in front of us, an alternative option? An option that allows us to take pride in the miracle of our existence while providing us with a guide meant to protect us from the harmful extremes of this world.
This world deserves a generation of men who do not sneer in disgust at a woman’s menstruation, as well as a generation of women who do not spend the entirety of their life in ignorance of the wonders of her own anatomy.
I offer no judgement for the life one has lived, or the choices one has made. That is not my purpose here. I merely believe that starting the necessary conversations is the first step towards gaining meaningful perspective in the actions one should take, in the education one should seek, and in the kindness one should provide for themselves. With all of the underlying realities in our world surrounding the topics of female and male anatomy, pornography, sex, masturbation, varying sexual orientations, it is no longer feasible to enforce the separation of one’s religion from the inevitabilities of one’s sexual nature. I think it’s high time we stop shutting down those conversations. This world deserves a generation of men who do not sneer in disgust at a woman’s menstruation, as well as a generation of women who do not spend the entirety of their life in ignorance of the wonders of her own anatomy.
Conversation and education; the first steps towards shedding the suffocating layers of judgement and replacing them with a refreshing air of understanding.