In two recent reviews of an interview with Seryan Ates about her book, “Islam Needs a Sexual Revolution,”one reviewer found Ates’ suggestion that the Muslim world could mimic the West’s sexual revolution both inaccurate and implausible. The other felt that Ates should fall back on more than just her personal experiences when trying to persuade the reader of the imminence and importance of a sexual revolution.
Hearing the phrase “sexual revolution” follow the word “Islam” gives one pause; after all, a sexual revolution conjures up images of free love, drug use and public nudity. However this is precisely what German-Turkish writer, Seryan Ates calls for in her new book, Islam Needs a Sexual Revolution.
Muslimah Media Watch writers, Alicia Izharuddin and Yusra Tekbali, reviewed Ates’ recent interview with a German magazine, Spiegel, and while both writers welcome a more open and permissive towards discussing sexuality in Muslim communities, pointing out that Muslims, like their peers from other faiths, are exposed to sex at an earlier age despite marrying later than past generations, Alicia and Yusra both also come to the conclusion that Ates’ fails to delineate in a lucid manner why sexual reform is both imminent and necessary in the Muslim world.
Alicia points out that the need alone for more open discourse on sex can not give rise to a sexual revolution. Ates looks to the West as a model, but the impetus for the sexual revolution in the Western hemisphere came from a response to drastic change in multiple areas: scientific (the birth control pill), political (the social paranoia of the Cold War), social (the advent of the women’s liberation movement), and economic (a degree of financial stability which allowed people to afford contraceptives, child care and divorce). These changes collided to produce a climate which proved conducive for a sexual revolution. To simply cut and paste the Western sexual revolution onto the Muslim world, ignoring the climate of the latter, is naïve at best. Using the Western sexual revolution as a model and then hastily sticking an “Islamic” label on it, also disregards the fact that the Western sexual revolution was hardly faith-based and a sexual revolution in the Muslim world must stem from an evaluation of our religion’s attitude and approach to sex.
Along with doubting that a revolution can occur out of thin air, Alicia also expresses skepticism that the Muslim world is as monolithic as Ates describes. Ates suggests that Muslims across the globe can relate to one another in all matters sexual; Alicia concedes that liberalism is not our best know trait when it comes to sexual mores, but challenges the notion that Muslims from the slums of Pakistan to the suburbs of Turkey share the same attitude to sex, pointing out that while some Muslims live under extremely repressive and tightly controlled regimes, others are accustomed to less conservative laws and attitudes.
While Alicia challenges Ates’ reasoning of how and why a sexual revolution can occur in the Muslim world, Yusra criticizes what she feels is Ates’ lack reasoning. Yusra characterizes the interview as merely a series of Ates’ personal impressions and experiences as a Muslim—a classic case of the individual used as collective fact. Relying solely on her experiences, Ates never once introduces Islamic law and its influence in guiding sexual mores in the Muslim world into the conversation.
According to Yusra, Ates’ blanket statements are not only difficult to qualify, but these generalizations do nothing to advance the cause of sexual reform in the Muslim world because they elicit a reflexive response from both non-Muslim and Muslims alike. When Ates complains that “Many Muslims don’t even allow themselves to think about what exactly sexuality means in their marriages. It’s simply accepted that the men have their fun in brothels,” she likely educes the following from non-Muslim readers, “Bravo to the little Muslim female standing up against oppressive Islamic patriarchy!”
It seems that both Alicia and Yusra came away from Ates’ interview dissatisfied — one finding her suggestion that the Muslim world is a monolithic entity that can successfully mimic the West’s sexual revolution, both inaccurate and implausible and the other feeling that Ates should fall back on more than just her personal experiences as a Muslim female when trying to persuade the reader of the imminence and importance of a sexual revolution.
(Photo: Ian Wilson)
Zehra Rizavi is Associate Editor of Altmuslimah.