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Sexuality in Muslim Contexts

Sexuality in Muslim Contexts

Anissa Helie | Homa Hoodfar


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This groundbreaking book explores resistance against the harsh policing of sexuality in some Muslim societies. Many Muslim majority countries still use religious discourse to enforce stigmatization and repression of those, especially women, who do not conform to sexual norms promoted either by the state or by non-state actors. In this context, Islam is often stigmatized in Western discourse for being intrinsically restrictive with respect to women's rights and sexuality. The authors show that conservative Muslim discourse does not necessarily match practices of believers or of citizens and that women's empowerment is facilitated where indigenous and culturally appropriate strategies are developed. Using case studies from Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia, China, Bangladesh, Israel and India, they argue persuasively that Muslim religious traditions do not necessarily lead to conservative agendas but can promote emancipatory standpoints. An intervention to the construction of 'Muslim women' as uniformly subordinate, this collection spearheads an unprecedented wake of organizing around sexualities in Muslim communities.
'The authors are to be congratulated for this excellent volume on sexualities and "Muslimness" in all its diversities. The book captures the challenges of bodily rights, religion and culture for Muslim women's lives in a wide range of nuanced studies that illustrate exactly why sexuality is key to gender equality and human rights.' Wendy Harcourt, Erasmus University, winner of the FWSA 2010 Book Prize 'This riveting book sheds new light on women's strategies for resisting sexual repression in a variety of majority Muslim societies in Asia and the Middle East. Complicating contemporary understandings of "Muslimness" , it demonstrates that women in these societies are highly diverse in their attitudes towards and experiences of sexuality. Clear, cogent and compelling, the book will be of interest to activists and academics alike and is certain to become a key text for years to come.' Marc Lafrance, professor of sociology, Concordia University 'This is one of the most exciting collection of essays to emerge in a long time. Too many popular writings on Islam reinforce stereotypes about Muslim women, and few discuss sexuality at all, let alone with such diversity. This collection challenges the tired stream of books that equate Islam with terrorism and women with claustrophobic veils. A must read for any serious scholar of sexuality, Islam, and women's rights.' Chitra Raghavan, professor of psychology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice 'This exciting collection provides an important contribution to understandings of sexualities and gender, focusing our attention on processes of negotiation, subversion and resistance and challenging assumptions about "Muslimness". With its diversely located studies and rich ethnographic insights, this fascinating book deserves to be widely read.' Andrea Cornwall, professor of anthropology and international development, University of Sussex 'The authors of this pathbreaking book provide a new and much-needed angle to the study of sexual identities, rights, and claims in Muslim-majority societies. Going beyond the vexed "western vs authentic" dichotomy, this excellent volume should be praised for its ability to widen our understanding of how hegemonic norms of sexuality and sexual behaviour are challenged and contested by diverse actors across religious, secular and sexual orientations. A crucial book for scholars of gender, Islam, rights and sexuality.' Ruba Salih, chair of the Centre for Gender Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
Anissa Hélie is assistant professor in history at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York. She is involved with various women’s organizations and transnational networks, serving as director of the Women Living Under Muslim Laws International Coordination Office from 2000 to 2005. She is co-author (with Jan Bauer) of Documenting Women’s Rights Violations by Non-State Actors: Experiences of Activists from Muslim Communities (2006). Homa Hoodfar is a professor of anthropology at Concordia University, Montreal. Her publications include: Health as a Context for Social and Gender Activism: Female Volunteer Health Workers in Iran (2010); Women, Religion and the 'Afghan Education Movement' in Iran (2008); Between Marriage and the Market: Intimate Politics and Survival in Cairo (2005); and The Muslim Veil in North America: Issues and Debates (2003).

Table of Contents

Section Title Page Action Price
About the editors i
Title page\r iii
Copyright iv
Acknowledgements vii
Glossary ix
Introduction | Policing gender, sexuality and ‘Muslimness’ 1
Notes 11
References 13
PART I | Tools of policing: the politics of history, community, law 15
1 The politicization of women’s bodies in Indonesia: sexual scripts as charters for action 17
Sexual scripts, indigenous contexts and Islamism 17
Sexual dimensions of Dutch colonialism 21
The politics of polarization 26
Resisting the disciplining of unruly women 31
Rewriting sexual scripts as alternative charters for action 41
Notes 42
References 45
2 Iranian women and shifting sexual ideologies, 1850–2010 52
Sexuality in pre-modernity urban Iran, 1850–1925 55
Sexuality and the introduction of modernity, 1925–79 62
Reformulation of sexuality under the Islamic Republic 70
Conclusion 74
Notes 76
References 76
3 Moral panic: the criminalization of sexuality in Pakistan 79
Cultural notions of control 83
Legal notions of control 84
On the question of consent 86
Of crimes and honour 88
Conclusion 93
Notes 95
References 97
4 The promise and pitfalls of women challenging Muslim family laws in India and Israel 98
How do Muslim family laws affect women’s rights and sexuality? 101
Muslim women’s responses to rights violations and sexual subjugation 105
Conclusion 116
Notes 118
References 120
5 Sexuality and inequality: the marriage contract and Muslim legal tradition 124
Sexuality and inequality in classical fiqh texts 127
Sexuality and inequality in contemporary Islamic discourses 132
The forming of a new discourse 140
Conclusion 142
Notes 143
References 145
PART II | Sites of contestation: reclaiming public spaces 149
6 Purity, sexuality and faith: Chinese women ahong and women’s mosques as shelter and strength 151
Gendered constructs of women’s purity, jie, and shame, xiuti 154
Nüsi women’s mosque as a contested space 157
Sexual morality: Muslims, chaste wives and virtuous mothers 158
Women ahong as influential role models and exemplary leaders 161
Two venerable ahong 163
Enacting purity and challenging the patriline of faith 173
Sermon of a women ahong: reading against the text 177
Notes 178
References 180
7 Veiled transcripts: the private debate on public veiling in Iran 182
The research 186
Arguments for and against veiling 188
Conclusion 205
Notes 206
References 207
8 Kicking back: the sports arena and sexual politics in Iran 208
Women’s sport, modernity and social change in Iran 210
Daily discipline and early resistance 212
From the Olympics to Muslim women’s solidarity games 213
Football and Freedom Stadium: struggling for space and a public presence 217
Collective action: the Open Stadiums Campaign 221
President Ahmadinejad’s controversial move 223
Conclusion 227
Notes 229
References 231
9 Morality policing and the public sphere: women reclaiming their bodies and their rights 234
The political evolution of morality police 237
Reaching out: women and public space in Saudi Arabia 243
Everyday action as street politics: Iranian women facing morality police 248
Malaysian women’s struggle against religious fatwas 252
Algerian women’s struggle against fundamentalists within and without the state 256
Conclusion 260
Notes 262
References 265
10 ‘Living sexualities’: non-hetero female sexuality in urban middle-class Bangladesh 269
Construction of Bengali women’s sexuality 271
Living non-heterosexualities in the household 276
‘Private social lives’: creating space for the socio-sexual self 281
Keeping it ‘under the radar’: making use of homo-sociability 285
Conclusion 288
Notes 289
References 292
11 Risky rights? Gender equality and sexual diversity in Muslim contexts 294
Representations: The politicization of ‘gay Muslims’ and ‘Muslim women’ 296
The West and the Rest: a broad spectrum of discrimination 301
Rights, restrictions and resistance in Muslim contexts 309
Conclusion 322
Notes 324
References 329
About the authors 335
Index 339