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This curated blog was created to explore issues related to sex, sexuality, pleasure, sexual health, and sexual agency of Muslim young adults. It is primarily for people who live in North America and are between the ages of 16-35. Its aim is to provide an inclusive, sex-positive, feminist online space to discusses issues affecting young Muslim communities and provide accurate information and resources to make more informed sexual health choices.
As a Muslim, who grew up in the United States, there was very little information provided to me regarding sex, sexuality, consent, pleasure and general sexual health promotion when transitioning to adulthood. As a result, I made uninformed choices that I still struggle to let go of today. If I was given appropriate information and knowledge about my own body, consent, and STIs, I feel that I could have made better choices regarding my sexual health. An inclusive, sex positive approach in school, with family and my religious community would have supported better mental and physical health outcomes when I needed it the most. It is only now, 20 years later, that I feel I have some sexual agency and confidence in my sexual knowledge.
Since there is a plethora of diverse information and content on the web regarding sex, sexuality, and identity related to Muslims, I wanted to create a space where anyone, particularly those that identify as Muslim can go and explore what is currently being discussed and find information they may not get elsewhere or just share experiences and get support. I will try to highlight as many diverse voices as I can from an inclusive, sex positive framework around Muslims and sexuality.
My Curatorial Philosophy
My interest in this topic emerged from course readings doing my graduate studies, my work in the community health sector and from my personal experience as a Muslim woman growing up in North America. As a community health promoter, primarily in the area of sexual health, my clients have mostly been young adults of colour, specifically from Black and new immigrant populations. Working with these groups, I discovered a high proportion were of Muslim background. In the workshops I developed over the course of our interactions, I also learnt that most of my clients – women in particular – had limited sexual knowledge. I related to that sense of ignorance since, as a teenager and a young woman growing up in the U.S., I also had limited access to sexual health information; certainly, there was nothing that contradicted the established communal view of sexually active behaviour as synonymous with sin, pain, high risk and disease. In other words, there was little emphasis placed on “developing critical thinking and decision-making skills or a healthy self-concept in relation to the body, sexuality, and spirituality” (Mohajir, Azmat & Parvez, n.d.,p. 2). Thus, through the class readings and my own experience, I know that knowledge of sex, sexuality and relationships is a big part of transitioning into adulthood. Lack of access to such knowledge can be crippling, both for one’s social and psychological development and the potential impact on one’s physical health.
Questions Driving My Inquiry
Young Muslim adults need sex education just as much as their non-Muslim counterparts do. As I was researching the impact on young Muslim men and women, I discovered there is limited research on Muslims in Canada or the U.S. of their experiences related to sex and sexuality. The questions driving my praxis project are the following:
- Where do young Muslim adults in North America access sexual health information, if at all?
- Is there information about sex and sexuality that is specific to the Muslim community that offers alternatives to the established communal view of sexual behaviour as synonymous with sin, pain, high risk and disease?
The four central themes that emerged from the limited existing research informs the basis of my curatorial philosophy:
- Young Muslims in North America are engaging in sex. In a recent study by Sobia Ali Faisal (2014), from the University of Windsor, half of the 403 North American Muslim youth who participated in the survey stated they were already having sex. This is similar to overall figures for North American young adults where 70% of them report having sex before 19 years of age (Mohajir, Azmat & Parvez, n.d.). Two-thirds of the young adults who reported having sex in Ali-Faisal’s study said they had sex before marriage.
- Muslim young adults in North America are not accessing reliable sources of information about sex. This has the potential for great negative impact on their lives. The participants also stated that most of their information on sex came from the media, and not from their parents, school, or friends (Ali-Faisal, 2014; (Mohajir, Azmat & Parvez, n.d.). A belief in sexual myths increased fear of negative sexual judgement, which increased potential for unhealthy relationships, and this could in turn increase their risk for STIs (Ali-Faisal, 2014).
- Muslim young adults in North America are given a communal view of sexual behaviour as synonymous with sin, pain, high risk and disease. According to Allen, Rasmussen and Quinlivan (2013), “…to honour an Islamic way of sexuality, educators need to envision and welcome a more inclusive sexuality education that celebrates different ways of being sexual and takes into account desire and pleasure” (p.108).
- Muslim young adults are facing challenges inside and outside the home related to sex, which can impact their ability to make healthy choices. For instance, premarital sex is contrary to Islamic teachings:
“Nor come nigh to fornication/adultery: for it is a shameful (deed) and an evil, opening the road (to other evils).” — Qur’an, Sura 17 (Al-Isra), ayat 32
“The woman and the man guilty of fornication,- flog each of them with a hundred stripes: Let not compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by Allah, if ye believe in Allah and the Last Day: and let a party of the Believers witness their punishment.” — Qur’an, Sura 24 (An-Nur), ayat 2.
Traversing peer pressure and sexual license in North America and the pressure at home to conform to Islamic teachings creates extensive sexual guilt and sexual anxiety (Ali-Faisal, 2014). Additionally, Muslim youth can experience alienation when living in a non-Muslim majority society, which can impact their decision-making abilities. Therefore, Muslim youth face a particularly difficult challenge: At home they must confront the patriarchal reality of their family and community culture, while also dealing with Islamophobia in the larger North American cultural environment.
My praxis project is a curated resource blog (sexinshallah.wordpress.com) on sex, sexuality and sexual health primarily for young Muslim adults aged 16-35 years. While it goes without saying that there is no homogenous culture among Muslim young adults in North America, there is a generally shared culture of silence around sexual health, which makes curating this blog a worthwhile and useful project. My objectives are:
- to showcase diverse content (studies, empirical, conversational) that will provide alternatives to the established communal view of sexual behaviour as synonymous with sin, pain, high risk and disease. There will be content that is factual to counter common myths as well as opinion features from diverse Muslim voices. In addition there will be resources that help destigmatise pleasure in sex. In researching this subject, I found a further gap: much of the content currently available is either about or by Muslim women. Men and LGBTQ Muslims are largely under represented. I would like to respond to those needs through this project as well.
- To provide a space for young Muslim adults to be heard while also getting the information they need to make informed choices about their sexual health in an anonymous way. The blog will allow opportunities for young adults to ask questions, share opinions and discuss “issues surrounding pleasure, think seriously about their own beliefs, experiences and reactions to these issues” (Allen, Rasmussen and Quinlivan, 2013, p.108).
My research shows that such a blog or website does not exist currently. We live in a digital age, where young adults are digital natives. Access to information is at their fingertips; yet they don’t seem to be able to tap into mainstream resources on sexual health. Perhaps if a blog specifically addressed young Muslim adults, it would be more successful in drawing young Muslims to feel that these questions are part of a normal transitioning/maturing process.
Ahmed, S., & Ezzeddine, M. (2009). Challenges and opportunities facing American Muslim youth. Journal of Muslim Mental Health, 4(2), 159-174.
Ali-Faisal, Sobia F., “Crossing sexual barriers: The influence of background factors and personal attitudes on sexual guilt and sexual anxiety among Canadian and American Muslim women and men” (2014). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 5051.
Allen, L., Rasmussen, M. L., & Quinlivan, K. (2013). The politics of pleasure in sexuality education: Pleasure bound (Vol. 108). Routledge.
Minwalla, O., Rosser, B., Feldman, J., & Varga, C. (2005). Identity experience amongst progressive gay Muslims in North America: a qualitative study within Al-Fatiha. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 7(2), 113–128.
Mir, S. (2009). Not Too” College-Like,” Not Too Normal: American Muslim Undergraduate Women’s Gendered Discourses. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 40(3), 237.
Orgocka, A. (2004). Perceptions of Communication and Education about Sexuality among Muslim Immigrant Girls in the US. Sex Education: Sexuality, Society and Learning, 4(3), 255-271.
Smerecnik, C., Schaalma, H., Gerjo, K., Meijer, S., & Poelman, J. (2010). An exploratory study of Muslim adolescents’ views on sexuality: Implications for sex education and prevention. BMC Public Health, 10, 533. http://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-10-533