Photo: Flickr / Rita M.

Muslim girls have great sex. Get over it.

‘I’m Muslim and I love to fuck’

I heard writer Mona Eltahawy make this statement in Oslo, at the World Woman festival organised by Deeyah Khan. Many Muslim women, including myself, cheered Mona’s statement.

Muslim women are painted as sexually oppressed beings who sit at home twiddling their thumbs all day, fearful of the world. That’s far from the truth. Many of these women are having sex, drinking alcohol and smoking. If you go to any Mayfair club on a Friday night, you’ll find it’s full of young Saudi women twerking, and drinking Hennessey at their very expensive VIP tables. Many coffee shops now serve wine in teapots so that young women are not shamed in public.

It’s time we accepted that these young women exist. Many of our sisters, daughters and girlfriends are living double lives, torn between cultures and faiths. For years I’ve watched female friends and family members leaving their homes in their conservative garments, cloaked in the aura of ‘The Good Muslim Girl.’ If you were to visit their schools and college toilets first thing in morning, or if you were to sit beside them on the top deck of the bus, you’d see that these girls are changing into their western clothes and applying their make-up. This is exactly what ‘Good Catholic Girls’ have been doing for years.

These are intelligent, outgoing, fun-loving young women who want to explore the other cultures they have been exposed to. Indeed, young people should be encouraged to explore and forge their own identities.

As a Somali Muslim myself, I was brought up in a fairly liberal home, but only to certain level: we were not allowed boyfriends, sleep-overs at friends’ houses or overnight school trips. My mother was considered a very liberal person in the Somali community.  She dressed however she wished from her teens till late 30s, and had her own career and money. Although she later became very religious, she never imposed her religious practices on my sister and myself.

My father was also very liberal: not your typical Somali father. He had a very strong bond with both of his daughters. We were daddy’s girls, who could do no wrong in his eyes. He constantly reminded us that we were individuals, and that we should never conform to anyone’s expectation of us. It was my dad who taught us about the oppression of women. I remember him encouraging my sister and me to watch movies about violence against women and girls. He bought us our western clothes, took us to our appointments at the hairdresser, took us shopping in record shops and even drove us to concerts. For my parents, it was important all their children finished university and to become financially independent.

Even with such freedom, somehow patriarchy still filled the air. My uncles and aunts told me ‘Your father gave you so much freedom. Don’t bring him any shame.’ As a teen, I didn’t understand how I could possibly ‘shame’ a man I loved so much. I carried this sense of guilt for years, regardless of my actions, and sometimes I still do. I still don’t want to shame him. I had friends who didn’t have this closeness with their parents, and who didn’t have my freedoms. I couldn’t even imagine how they felt. Going to the cinema or bowling with your friends may seem normal to some, but for these girls this isn’t the case. It can be a ‘Mission Impossible’ to survive while wearing what I call the ‘Cape of Shame.’ It’s exhausting and frightening, and for the girls who want to be loud and break the rules, it is the biggest burden of all.

As a therapist I have found that due to these pressures, many young Muslim women have turned to alcohol and drugs to cope with the pain of not being able to express themselves. Many are suffering with extreme anxiety attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of these women were hospitalised for mental breakdowns; some tried to commit suicide. Many girls in my community are suffering deeply. It’s time we lifted this silence around the shaming of girls just because they choose a different lifestyle to their families. I also see a very high rate of abortions because many parents remove their children, especially their daughters, from these sex education classes.

I was brought up in home where sex was an open topic. I clearly remember my mother telling us that sex is a great, pleasurable act, just to be careful to choose to share it with someone you love and care about – and of course, make sure you are married first. I love sex and I always have. It’s my right as a woman to enjoy pleasure. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I refuse to be shamed or stigmatised for holding that view.

Young Muslim women are having sex. We should make sure they are safe and educated on healthy sexual relationships. And let’s stop shaming women for choosing to be who they truly are.