Sunday, April 25, 2010

Some comments on "The Virginity Industry"

A friend of mine posted a link recently on this story that was run by the BBC. It is about the ridiculous sums of money that Arab women are prepared to pay in order to have their hymen reconstructed so that nobody realises that they are not a virgin on their wedding night. The fact is, this is all true. There is nothing I can deny or be outraged about in the story apart from that this is utterly and totally the result of stupid and stifling traditions in the Arab world which make marriage an almost unattainable goal. I have immense problems with the increasing sexualisation of popular culture - many Arabic satellite channels are virtually unwatchable - but this is not what the issue is here. As a veteran of two engagements so far - long story - I can state from experience that this project can be a far from pleasant project to undertake if you are crazy enough.

But returning back to the subject, the reason many women are doing this is obviously because of the stigma of having sex outside of marriage. The westernised Arab liberals can be heard howling with indignation at this stage. They would be going blue in the face as they argue that we have far more urgent things to worry about, that what people choose to do is their business. Well, this argument is wrong, although it is also true on one level. The fact is marriage should not be the mammoth monstrosity it is today, it should be simplified and re-evaluated. I say this about a society which is predominantly Muslim - and I believe that prior to the "modern" era, our forefathers married with remarkable ease. There was no stigma, no protocol, no fancy presentations or pretentious relatives and family. It was just a man and a woman, a sheikh, two witnesses and something of nominal value, a ring, a Qur'an, or a gold or silver coin perhaps. As soon as you were old enough, off you go.

This is not the case today. Today there are still hiccups about priority to cousins, though less than before from what I hear, there are issues of status, wealth, reputation, etc. All this means that marrying the person you want to can often times become incredibly difficult and in some cases impossible. Let us forget about the dire economic situation which means men are unable to have the typical flat, car and well paying job before anybody would let them even look at their daughter. Then there is the media pressure, which truth be said, originated with Western pop-culture satellite stations, that it is ok and in fact admirable to have sex to somebody you are not married to. For males, it is the "stud" image, for girls not yet out of high school, they muse over who is "the one", as if losing their virginity is the new rite of passage.

I remember when I was younger a friend of mine was at a party with a girl he really liked. This was in Syria. Apparently he walked her home, and then in the dark entrance to their building they began to kiss. He then, according to his bragging later, pulled down her jeans and did the deed. Naturally the girl started to get paranoid she was pregnant, neither of them was over 18 yet. She confided in an understanding aunt who took her to the doctor who surprisingly told her that she was still a virgin. So everybody was relieved except Mr Stud-muffin, who became a laughing stock amongst the friends he had bragged with.

Humour aside, this is sad, truly sad - and wrong. In fact we have a label for it, Eyb as we say in the Arab world. We are not Europeans or Americans and this is not our way. Apart from the fact that they both needed to be educated on biology, sex and relationships, they also needed to be educated properly in how to deal with each other according to what Allah told us to do. Get two witnesses, a sheikh, pay her a dowry. You two are together. Of course it is nicer if the parents are supportive and it is highly likely her and his parents would have screamed bloody murder if this idea was proposed to them, but is the above scenario really preferrable? Does anybody really wish for their daughter or son to lose their virginity in a dark corridor in a building, or in a park, or in a backroom in somebody's house party?

I suspect most right-minded people would not. I know how I will be educating my sons. The daughters of other families are not playthings, if you like a girl tell me. Let's talk about it, let's see if we can work something out with her family and get you two hitched. I don't care if they are even only eighteen, sex is a natural instinct they will explore and if the halal option is not available then they will find other ways. I will not raise my sons, if I have any, to be "studs". They have to know how to deal properly with women and I would rather be involved myself than let some music video producer or film director and screenwriter do that for me.

The BBC story is tragic and I know people will be up in arms about it for all the wrong reasons. Ultimately, the real reason behind it is that vaste swathes of our Arab societies are lost, confused and ignorant. We have forgotten our true ways and clung to blind tradition, the antithesis of what Islam is, and have made the halal difficult and the haram easy. This is now the absurd result.


sheeshany said...

Sad times indeed we are in!

"... و بينهما أمور مشتبهات "

أظن علينا اتقاء الشبهات و نستبرئ لديننا في هذا الزمن العجيب
و نقبض على "الجمرة" بكل قوّة

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting and important topic. I am not entirely sure I agree with the simplified version of marriage you present, I think there is a hadith that says that when a man is able (implication being financially able) he should marry. i.e. marriage should not preclude the financial ability to support a wife. How high this level of financial ability should be is certainly a matter of discussion, in this capitalist world we live in where wants are confused with needs, men are often in their 30s before they are able to marry... this is definatley a subject worth working on.

Even with the wants being confused with needs marriage is not the mamouth task people think it is since most people marry within their socio economic status. My brother recently wed, a mere 3 years after starting to work. We are not wealthy and his 'delay' in marriage was the time it took to meet his current wife, who he clicks with on many levels, not due to financial obstacles.

Marrying when you are not financially ready can increase a persons stress levels, hence increasing aggression and anger... not exactly a winning formula for a successful marriage or a happy wife.

On the issue of virginity. The hymen is no indicator of virginity, I would not be surprised if many of the women opting for hymneoplasty lost their hymen due to an accident, sports, using a tampon or whatever but not to sexual activity. We really need to address this issue, as it has far wider repurcussions... including girls banned from playing sports

Maysaloon said...

Haitham, thanks for your comment, yes indeed. It is getting very difficult to hold on to this jumra!

I agree, I think I've oversimplified it but thank you very much for your thoughts on this. It is an issue that needs to be dealt with sensitively and with a certain air of forgiveness and concession to human frailty.

Amira said...

I'm glad you posted on this Wassim and I like your interpretation of this.
But I want to focus on anoher point (which you did indeed touch upon) and that is the dual nature of our society...whilst premarital sex is not condoned by the Quran for either gender, it seems that our society seems to ignore this fact when it comes to young men- in fact seeing their promiscuity as a symbol of the masculinity and actually making them more desirable marriage material because somehow this fact has made him 'a man of the world'...a girl on the other hand is often made to pay a very high price for her misconduct- honour killings and so on. In anycase is it really our position to judge whether a simple misadventure makes this person a good or bad human being...are there not graver sins that go unpunished and are actually actively encouraged in much of the Islamic world (and elsewhere of course)??

On another note...if any of these idiots actually knew anything then they would know that the hymen is not a good indication of a girl's purity (as you point out with the story of your friend) it is only something like 30% of women that do bleed on the occassion of their first intercourse but it is the barbaric and medieval pandering to an urban myth that continues this misperception...women shelling out 2000 euros and other tricks which inadvertedly harm themselves and generations to come...shouldn't awoman be valued for greater reasons than a piece of skin?!?!