Narratives of Conversion to Islam: Female Perspectives (Part 2)

Despite all the integration issues, it is undeniable that Islam offers to converts an escape from the undignified stereotypes and oppressing demands of the media industry when it comes to the expression of sexuality of woman. To converts, Islam means dignity, modesty and the safe expression of sexuality within the security of marriage, writes PROF. YASIR SULEIMAN in this second installment of his work, Narratives of Conversion to Islam: Female Perspectives, as abridged by ZAYNAB ALIYAH.

  

Chapter III: Sexuality

A well-known misconception amongst Asian Muslim societies is between practices that are Islamic and those that are a part of the local culture, where more often than not, the thin line separating the two is breached. This issue can be prominently observed for instance, in the way the very term; ‘sexuality’ is considered taboo amongst these societies.

For converts hailing from ossified societies, it is understandably hard to understand why there would be such an inhibition of sexuality in Islam. Especially those, who try to study the religion through its extensive literature find the taboo vastly contradicting to the available discourse of sexual issues and the legacy of expressions of sexual intimacy that exist throughout the Ahadith.

Sexuality, expressed within the sanctity of a marriage is not against the teachings of Islam. But rather, it is seen as a matter of private intimacy with a spiritual dimension that is extremely important in the mutual development of a married couple. This incongruity of norms has led to many Muslim women, from these societies to constrain their natural sexuality sometimes even to the point of frigidity. Consequently, when these women, who form the bulk of the female Muslim population in Britain, are approached by reverts for assistance in learning the culture of Islam, the altered perceptions of acceptable forms of sexuality are thrust upon them. The converts then internalize these teachings so much so that the men they later marry find their wives to be ‘prudish statues.’

The paranoia surrounding sexuality stems from the popular cultural dichotomy of ‘the virgin versus the whore.’ While a woman’s virginity is no criteria for a marriage in Islam, the families of the spouses and sometimes even the spouses find themselves in a tight spot when it comes to accepting a female convert’s loss of virginity before Islam.

It can be rationally argued that a female’s conduct before accepting Islam is no indication whatsoever of her chastity after her conversion and hence it shouldn’t be a matter of concern for the spouse or for his family. Converts cannot be tagged as ‘dirty’ or ‘impure’ by taking their previous relationships as a measure of their character. A convert reported an incident where her Muslim husband taunted her saying she couldn’t resist talking to men, after she received a phone call from an ex-boyfriend.

Heritage Muslims fail to keep in mind that of all of the Prophet’s (saws) wives, only one was a virgin, and are reminded of it only when oppressed, female converts cite this as an example in their own defense. Nevertheless there have also been instances where heritage men honoured their convert wives and respected their conversion to a point where their previous practices were not questioned, let alone judged, accurately displaying that an Islamic marriage is based on a private and intimate relationship, the details of which are kept discreetly between the couple concerned.

While the scene is grim for female converts all over the world, it is grimmer still for those in the West, thanks to the popular presumption that western women are ‘drunk and promiscuous.’ Heritage Muslim men are warned off against marrying a white convert because she might be nymphomaniac.

However, some men find the western women to be more easily available and scheme up on marriages with no wish to commit to them. Since these women mostly have no family support and a community to fall back on, they are seen as ‘up for grabs’ for a nikah that is conducted to serve the purpose of permissible sexual behavior only and then rudely abandoned. Otherwise, there are also cases of Arabs who marry white converts and have children with them but do not consider them a part of the legitimate family.

Another issue to tackle for young, unmarried converts is regarding the permitted outlets of sexual desire. Some converts who do not wish to marry as soon as they convert find it hard to adhere to Islamic ideals with regard to romantic relationships.

Counseling and advise could be truly beneficial in order to strengthen young converts and to provide the necessary knowledge as to how to deal with relationships with Muslim men before marriage, what, if any, forms of physical contact were permitted and whether dating was advisable.

Undeniable, though, is the fact that Islam offers to converts an escape from the undignified stereotypes and oppressing demands of the media industry when it comes to the expression of sexuality of woman. To converts, Islam means dignity, modesty and the safe expression of sexuality within the security of marriage.

(To be continued)