Repression and Desire: The Sexual Politics of Islam

Monday, 2 September 2002

Release date: 2 September, 2002

REPRESSION AND DESIRE: THE SEXUAL POLITICS OF ISLAM

The Women's Studies Centre at NUI, Galway will hold its Annual Lecture at 8.00.p.m., on Thursday, 12 September 2002, in the Ó Tnúthail Theatre, Arts Millennium Building, NUI, Galway. Guest speaker will be Lara Marlowe, Irish Times correspondent, who will recount her experiences working in an often sexist Islamic world, and assess the causes of the subjugation of Muslim women. The lecture is open to the public and all are welcome to attend.

In Nigeria last March, Islamic Law was used to justify a death sentence for adultery against an illiterate woman who bore her ex-husband s daughter. Safiya Husseini was pardoned after an international outcry. There was never any question of punishing the ex-husband..

For Saudi women, a recent report by Amnesty International notes that torture is "a nightmare haunting them everywhere, including in the sanctity of the home where it takes place at the hands of their husbands or in the case of foreign domestic workers, their employers".

For much of the past two decades, Irish Times correspondent Lara Marlowe has worked as a journalist in Muslim countries. In Afghanistan last year, she saw a woman squat on the ground and cringe when spoken to. Afghan men refused to divulge the first names of women, which can be known only by close male relatives.

In Saudi Arabia too, Marlowe met women reduced to the status of chattel by their male owners . In Algeria, where the ten year-old civil war continues, women have been raped by security forces and kidnapped by Islamist rebels who claim Allah gives them the right to enslave women.

Is Islam inherently sexist? Or are abuses like those mentioned above the result of tribalism, ignorance and despotism? Some theologians claim the advent of Shari a actually improved the fate of women, and that Islam advocates equality of the sexes. To what extent is this true, and why is it so often distorted in practice?

"Almighty God created sexual desire in ten parts," Mohamed s son-in-law Ali ibn Taleb, the first Shi ite leader, wrote. "Then he gave nine parts to women and one to men." Muslim theologians advocate the segregation of men and women because they believe desire is a force so powerful that the faithful must be protected from it. The veiling of women is the most obvious manifestation of this distrust of female sexuality.

Muslim women often accuse westerners of being obsessed with the hijab, or Islamic dress code. But has the West imposed another kind of dictatorship on women, one of perfect figures and eternal youth - as the Moroccan Muslim feminist Fatima Mernissi insists? "What good are Western women s diplomas and intelligence, if physical beauty is considered the supreme value for her sex?" Mernissi asks.

Ends

Information from: Máire Mhic Uidhir, Press Officer, NUI, Galway. Tel. 091 750418

« Back