When Mariette met Mary

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By Christian Nielsen

The Virgin Mary appeared eight times to a child in Belgium and the rest is ‘alternative history’

Image: ©Christian Nielsen

Thursday 10 May 2018

On the eve of a quiet Sunday in January 1933, the young Mariette Beco saw the faint glow of a woman outside her kitchen window. Smiling, the woman beckoned the child to come out, but Beco’s mother held her back. Beco noted what the woman was wearing a white veil, long white robes with a blue sash, a golden rose on her right foot, and a rosary with a golden chain and cross hanging on her right arm. Three days later, the woman in white reappeared and told Beco that she was ‘Our Lady of the Poor’. Altogether, the woman appeared eight times to the girl. Word quickly spread of the visions and an episcopal commission from Rome was called in to investigate the claims. It was not until May 1942 that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Liege acknowledged the veneration of Mary under the title of Our Lady of the Poor. Approval by the Holy See had to wait until after the war, coming in 1947 with a final declaration in 1949.

“I was no more than a postman who delivers the mail,” remarked Mariette Beco dryly after decades of silence about the apparition of the Virgin Mary which she saw more than 70 years earlier. “Once this has been done, the postman is of no importance any more.”

The child’s sightings put the small village of Banneux (Sprimont, Belgium) on the religious map. But it came at a price for the newly dubbed Our Lady of Banneux, who suffered taunts and derision, even reportedly from members of her own family.

Today, Banneux is a recognised pilgrimage site for Catholics in Belgium, joining the village of Beauraing, where apparitions of the Blessed Virgin were recorded the year before Beco’s own. These sites are sometimes overshadowed by better-known Marian holy sites elsewhere in Europe including Our Lady of Lourdes and La Salette in France, Our Lady of Fátima and Sameiro in Portugal, and many sites in Spain like Our Lady of Sorrows in La Codosero and Umbe, Our Lady of Graces in La Puebla del Río, and many more dotted around the continent.

With international tourist arrivals on the rise, the World Tourism Organisation — a UN body — estimates that 35% of European travellers are interested in religious tourism. Out of every four short breaks, religion and spirituality are the main reasons for at least one trip.

Pilgrims to Banneux day trip in from Belgium and nearby France, Germany and the Netherlands, or stay for longer in one of the hotels which sit alongside facilities that sprang up to cater for visitors to the holy site, which has grown to include a seminary, hospital, mission, information centre, and several indoor and outdoor chapels.

In one of the eight reported apparitions, Mary guided Beco to a nearby spring now on the site and urged her to plunge her hands into the healing waters which were “reserved for all nations … to relieve the sick”.

Fresh memories of the war

For those inclined to analyse past events for meaning or ‘alternative’ historical explanations, the timing and location of the sightings is not without interest. First is the location of Banneux just across the border from what was becoming an increasingly impoverished and restless Germany, while memories of World War I were probably still fresh. Then the timing; the girl’s sightings in 1933 were the same year the Nazi government came to power.

“While it cannot be claimed that eleven-year-old Mariette was aware of the ramifications of the political situation, she grew up in a culture where there would have been intense concern about the international situation,” notes Chris Maunder in his book Our Lady of the Nations: Apparitions of Mary in 20th-Century Catholic Europe.

“The Virgin Mary was believed by devotees to have created a shrine ‘for all nations’ that would outlast the war and mark her healing properties for decades to come,” he explains.

Today, the site is dotted with mini-shrines or chapels erected by Christian communities from all over the world. One shrine immortalises ‘Our Lady of the Poor’ or ‘Queen of Nations’, as Mary came to be known in Banneux, complete with a life-like statue of her bent over in prayer or contemplation before a cross and the simple words, “I thirst”.

The connection to the healing waters of Banneux is not lost. The small spring yields about 7-8,000 litres of water a day with many reports of miraculous healings throughout its existence. Religious souvenir shops lining the out-sized car and coach park sell the water by the gallon. Day-trippers head straight to the line of taps, some content with a sip and a dip, others to fill drums of it for later use.

“Believe in me and I will believe in you”
But for the young Beco, the strain of her apparitions took something of a toll. Reportedly not a regular church-goer, the events of 1933 changed her life and that of her family. As Maunder explains, “There is a long-held Catholic belief that Mary appears to people who have no particular predisposition to visions nor merit them.”

Beco maintained that Mary called her to believe but this faith must have been put to the test throughout the woman’s adult life. She suffered the loss of two children and divorce, according to Maunder: “Beco’s traumatic adult life is popularly regarded as another good example of the way in which quite ordinary people appear to be chosen by the Virgin Mary.”

To the plain-speaking Beco — who died at the age of 90 after having spent most of her life in the Banneux area, and even ran a pilgrim hotel for many years — all these theories would probably struggle to conjure up much interest in a time of rising religious scepticism.



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Making halal sexy

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By Khaled Diab

Though halal sex may sound as logical as kosher bacon, it does make its own sense. Some Muslims are utilising the concept to break the taboo around sex.

Painting by Khoda-Dad Khan Zand, QAJAR IRAN, 1856-7. http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/lot/a-young-couple-in-a-garden-by-4580055-details.aspx?pos=5&intObjectID=4580055&sid=&page=7&lid=1

Romantic painting by Khoda-Dad Khan Zand, Qajar Iran, 1856-7. http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/lot/a-young-couple-in-a-garden-by-4580055-details.aspx?pos=5&intObjectID=4580055&sid=&page=7&lid=1

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Though Muslims attitudes to sex are as diverse as those found in any other global religious community, the image of contemporary Islam is certainly not sexy. This may explain why a news story about plans to open a halal sex shop in Mecca, Islam’s holiest city in one of its most conservative countries, went viral, among Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

While many assumed the misleading story actually meant that this was a concrete plan, or even that this shop had actually opened its doors, it remains only a wish – some critics claim wishful thinking – expressed by Abdelaziz Aouragh, the Moroccan-Dutch entrepreneur behind  El Asira, an erotic e-shop which describes itself as “halal”.

And El Asira is not the only erotic enterprise which carries such an Islamic label, quite a number have popped up in recent years. Over a year ago, Palestinian entrepreneur Ashraf Alkiswani launched Karaz, an e-store and online forum. “It’s not about just sex. It’s about love and the joy of expressing that love,” Alkiswani was quoted as saying at the time. “It’s about trying to build bridges across gaps that separate the husband from the wife by improving sexual harmony.”

Aouragh also described his motivations in similar terms, noting that “if couples don’t take the time to show the love for their partner nor themselves, they won’t be able to reach a deeper sensual, sexual or spiritual connection.”

Unlike Western erotic shops, neither El Asira nor Karaz sell sex toys but market various oils and creams which supposedly enhance foreplay and intensify pleasure during intercourse.

The notion that a sex shop can be “halal” – an Islamic concept similar to “kosher” – had many Muslims and non-Muslims bewildered.

At a certain level, describing erotica as “halal” is simply a branding exercise designed to tap the potentially lucrative and under-exploited erotic market in Muslim countries. “Considering we’re targeting a market of around 1.8 billion people, the potential is huge,” enthused Aouragh in a recent interview about El Asira’s new partnership with German erotica giant Beate Uhse.

But the “halal” label is not just about marketing, it is also about breaking the social taboo surrounding sexual pleasure prevalent in many conservative Muslim communities by demonstrating that sexuality is encouraged, not frowned up, in Islam. “I think Islam is more open [than Muslims are] to sex and issues surrounding sexuality,” Mohammed Abbasi, the co-director of the Association of British Muslims, the UK’s oldest Islamic organization, told me. “Islam is more about what people do in private is their business… whereas Muslims want to get involved in a person’s private life.”

To ensure that their products and sites are “halal”, both Aouragh and Alkiswani sought and gained the approval of numerous Islamic clerics and scholars. To the uninitiated and given the puritanism which pervades some current trends within Islam, this may sound weird and counterintuitive. “Religion or lack of it have nothing to do with sexuality,” Marwa Rakha, a prominent Egyptian relationship and dating expert, told me, noting that the main difference between many self-proclaimed “secular” and “religious” people is their attitude to pre-marital sex.

Historically, Islam possessed a relatively open attitude to sex. In medieval times, many Islamic scholars doubled as sex gurus. They penned countless manuals and guides, including one poetically titled The Perfumed Garden. Perhaps surprisingly, many highlighted the “importance of female fulfillment,” according to Kecia Ali, a professor of religion at Boston University, in her book Sexual Ethics and Islam.

Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, the 11th-century philosopher and mystic whose opus is regarded by many as the “proof of Islam”, wrote widely about the importance of the female orgasm. “The husband should not be preoccupied with his own satisfaction,” the sage advised. “Simultaneity in the moment of orgasm is more delightful to her.” Likewise, the prophet Muhammad himself was reportedly a huge advocate of foreplay, urging his male followers to send “messengers” to their wives in the form of “kisses and caresses”.

Painting from Qajar Iran, 1850-1885. http://www.islamicpersia.org/2012/09/qajar-erotic-watercolor-art.html

Erotic painting from Qajar Iran, 1850-1885. http://www.islamicpersia.org/2012/09/qajar-erotic-watercolor-art.html

This traditional Islamic focus on the carnal partly explains, in the words of Kecia Ali, why “medieval Christian polemics against Islam viewed its sensualism as barbaric in comparison with the purity of Christianity”.

This view of Muslim society continued into the European colonial era. Many Orientalists from the straitlaced, uptight and prudish 19th century were of the view that “everything about the Orient… exuded dangerous sex, threatened hygiene and domestic seemliness with an ‘excessive freedom of intercourse’,” in the words of the late Edward Said, the Palestinian-American scholar who authored the groundbreaking Orientalism.

Paradoxically, this is how some Muslims, especially in the more conservative sections of society, see today’s West, while today’s Westerners, especially those who are unaware of the existence of liberal Muslims, often see Muslim societies as sexually repressed. While this is partly due to actual changes, such as the rise of political Islam and the setbacks endured by secularism, it is also a factor of the centuries-old tendency of Islam and Christendom (the West) to see each other as diametrically opposed, despite their enormous similarities.

Around the world, many Muslims are pushing back against the conservative and sexually repressive interpretation of their faith. “I think more Muslims are becoming more mature and open in their attitudes to sexuality, but at the same time there is a backlash from the more conservative sections of Muslims,” says Abbasi.

For instance, in Egypt, while many young people became more open and assertive about issues relating to sex, Salafists set up vigilante “morality” patrols in some parts of the country, which locals often defied robustly.

Islamic history, scripture and legal texts have become a major battleground between liberals and conservatives for the body, heart and soul of Islam. However, while helpful at certain levels, attempts to find an “authentic” version of Islam which is progressive enough to fit with modern norms is, like with other religious traditions, also problematic.

“The discourse of Islamic authenticity has had a stifling effect on intra-Muslim debates about sex and sexuality,” writes Kecia Ali, especially when it comes to sex outside of marriage, gender equality and homosexuality.

One side-effect of the reluctance to bring sex out of the closet is that many Muslims are left to their own devices, and must engage in a process of oft-discreet self-education. In addition to familial disinclination, there is also the poor quality of sex education in numerous Arab and Muslim countries.

“Education and awareness are weak in general in Egypt and many other Arab/Muslim societies,” explains Rakha. “Those in charge of the education process do not want generations of knowledgeable and curious children, teens, and adults… How can you control a population that understands its rights and freedoms?”

Rakha believes that, like charity, sexual awareness and maturity must begin at home. “The revolution has to come from the core of every family – otherwise it is not happening,” she maintains.

However, despite the existence of a rising number of open-minded families, many parents are unlikely to want to cede control of their offsprings’ love lives, either because this is what tradition demands or because governing access to sex is a powerful weapon of control. “Most families want their children virgins until they get married,” observes Rakha. “To fulfill this beautiful dream, they will minimize sexual education and awareness, lest the sex dragons awaken and ruin the plan.”

Some young Egyptians are rejecting these restrictions, but many do so behind their families’ backs. “They revolt in secrecy, adding a new number each second to the hypocritical population,” says Rakha.

But not everyone is revolting in secret, with some young people, intellectuals and activists openly calling for a sexual revolution. In Egypt, for instance, a vanguard of women intent on seizing their rights is playing a prominent role in this awakening, whether they are combating sexual harassment, insisting on dressing as they please in public, rejecting the hijab, fighting the stigma of being single, and even choosing to live on their own.


Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in Haaretz on 4 May 2015.

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From Arab spring to summer of love in Egypt?

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By Khaled Diab

The Egyptian revolution awoke hopes of a new era of gender equality and of greater sexual liberty. But how likely is Egypt to have its own summer of love?

Wednesday 13 July 2011

In the early weeks of the Egyptian revolution, Tahrir (or Liberation) square provided tantalising glimpses of a new Egypt of liberty and equality in which class, religion, gender and age melted into apparent insignificance. Muslims and Christians mingled cross and crescent; the old followed the young’s lead; men and women became comrades rather than ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’.

“The social problems that have plagued Egypt for years seem to have dissolved in the solidarity and egalitarianism that have become the defining characteristic of the community of peaceful protesters in Tahrir,” reported Karim Medhat Ennarah, an Egyptian activist who camped out for weeks on the now-iconic square, back in February.

The positive vibe among the protesters was such that “we were joking about how the square is now ready to declare independence and become the Free Republic of Tahrir”, recalled Ennarah.

So, was this initial euphoria justified? Will the Tahrir model spread to society as a whole to transform Egypt into an egalitarian meritocracy where youth and gender are no barriers to advancement? And will the Arab Spring one day blossom into a summer of social and sexual liberty for young Egyptians, regardless of their gender?

On the one hand, Egyptians have managed to redefine the country’s political landscape dramatically, most spectacularly by toppling Egypt’s former dinosaur-in-chief, Hosni Mubarak.

On the other hand, as I have warned from the start, the revolution to date has focused mainly on politics and little on the deeper socio-economic changes the country needs if it is escape the oppressive grip of the past. Although the country is free of its supreme symbol of authoritarianism, it is still struggling with the millions of what I call “mini-Mubaraks” running families, businesses and universities through the kind of deferential patronage made unpopular by the big man himself.

The main victims of this are the young and women, two relatively disenfranchised groups who played a pivotal role in the revolution’s success but are now slowly being sidelined by the older generation and men respectively in the post-revolutionary scene.

Women in particular, despite their active involvement in the revolution and all the sacrifices they made, have seen everything change in Egypt and nothing change in their situation, as poignantly symbolised by the appearance of sexual harassment on Tahrir Square itself in recent weeks.

“Men and women stood together hand in hand – as Egyptians regardless of their gender – and won the battle against corruption,” reflects Marwa Rakha, an Egyptian writer, broadcaster and blogger. “Now the revolution is over and everything is back to normal. The attitude towards women has not been impacted by the historic victory.”

To illustrate her point, Rakha – who wrote The Poison Tree, a novel about the “poisoned culture” of Egyptian traditions, beliefs and taboos – cites as an example an International Women’s Day rally on Tahrir Square in March, where the participants were harassed. “They were attacked. Men chanted slogans against them like: ‘Men want to topple feminists’ and ‘Since when did women have a voice?’ They were asked to go home and obey God. They were let down by the average Egyptian man and woman alike,” she bemoans.

Rakha does not hold out much hope of full gender equality or sexual liberation, particularly for women, coming about in the foreseeable future. “Patriarchal values, religion, and traditions are not as easy to topple [as Mubarak],” she tells me. “Virtue, honour and integrity lie between a woman’s legs – this is the subliminal message that propagates through sermons, movies, songs, novels, or shows.”

Egypt’s ongoing obsession with female virginity has long puzzled me. Although most human societies, either now or historically, have placed a premium on premarital sexual chastity, or ‘purity’, particularly when it comes to women, many countries have broken free or are breaking free of this ancient prejudice.

This has largely not occurred in Egypt, despite promising signs a few decades ago. While Egypt and other secularised Arab states were not far behind the West in terms of gradual sexual liberation until the early 1960s, the West has since had its sexual revolution, while in the Egyptian context it never really made it beyond a counter-cultural movement. In fact, a sexual counter-revolution began its gradual march in the late 1970s, as more and more people turned to the security of Islam and tradition.

But why is this? Part of the problem is that Egypt’s sexual liberation was not a truly indigenous process and was led by a secular elite who emulated the West, rather than innovated or adapted the movement to suit local circumstances.

This meant that once the West was no longer held in high esteem due to its post-colonial meddling in Egypt’s affairs and the secular elite was discredited by its failure to turn Egypt into a modern and prosperous society, millions turned to the security blanket of religion and tradition. “Too many people hold that the solution to all Egypt’s problems is morality, and the main moral issue for them is how women relate to men,” Aida Seif el-Dawla, one of Egypt’s leading feminists told me a few years ago in Cairo.

This fixation on women as ‘corrupters’ is a symptom of the male-dominated nature of society. “Economic factors cannot be ignored when talking about Egyptian women – many of them are dependent on ‘a man’,” says Rakha. “Social factors also play a role; no one wants to be the single spinster or the divorcee.”

This desire to control women is partly a manifestation of the general sense of powerlessness among the population. “Whenever people become less in control of their lives, they seek to control those aspects that are left to them. If you can’t control your income, the fate of your family or the politics of your country, then you will try to control what you can, i.e. the private sphere,” Seif el-Dawla explained.

This observation holds some promise for the future. If the revolution succeeds in making Egyptians in general feel more empowered, and Egyptian men in particular less emasculated, then the circle of freedom is likely to spread wider to embrace women. In my view, activists need to focus greater attention and resources on challenging and redefining traditional notions of manhood in order to empower what I call the ‘average Mo’ to see gender equality as a sign of strength and not an admission of defeat in the sex wars.

Despite the outward appearance of the growing Islamification of society over the past three decades, Egypt has been undergoing a process which I have described as “secularism in a veil”. And this process dropped its veil during the revolution, when the youth behind the protests set out their demands, all of which were democratic and secular in nature.

Even the hijab, viewed almost exclusively as a tool of oppression in the West, has played its part in empowering Egyptian women, though not in the sexual sphere. According to Rabab el-Mahdi, who teaches political science at the American university in Cairo, the headscarf “has given women more access to the public sphere, professionally, politically and socially … Ultimately, women should be able to go out into the public sphere without the veil. But it is a coping mechanism.”

Men, however, generally do not require a veil of deceit. While women are usually criticised and reprimanded for openly expressing their sexuality, men are celebrated and applauded.

This has resulted in a lop-sided and warped ‘sexual revolution’ in which too many men feel it is almost their divine right to have fun with women while young, even to the extent of sexually harassing them on the streets, only then to settle down with a ‘virtuous’ woman. This is not only unfair to women but counterproductive for men – after all, how many women want to be branded a ‘slut’ by the very man they slept with?

The best hope for the future for Egyptian women is that their greater economic independence, coupled with a more open, post-revolutionary political arena could finally inspire them to abandon their fear and reservation and to stand up en masse for full equality.

“Change will only happen when women have more faith in themselves, get a better education, have goals and interests other than men, and become more involved in the community,” concludes Rakha.

This article was first published by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting on 12 July 2011.

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No revolution for Egyptian women

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By Marwa Rakha

Despite the political earthquake that has rid Egypt of its patriarch-in-chief, attitudes to gender remain largely the same. Now women must stand up for their rights.

Wednesday 13 July 2011

As a woman, I would like to be realistic about my expectations after the revolution. Nothing changes overnight or over a few months. People’s perceptions, attitudes, and behaviour are very difficult to change.

Yes, we had an iconic revolution where a corrupt regime was toppled, but did that affect how men view women? No, it did not. Despite the fact that women stood next to men on Tahrir square chanting against corruption, men still do not see women as their partners – I do not like to use the word ‘equal’ to describe the ideal relationship between men and women.

Before the revolution, women were objectified and treated as things that should be covered up or eye-candy that should be exposed to please men.

Before the revolution, women were the victims of sexual harassment on the streets and on public transport. It is ironic how they were also blamed for it.

Before the revolution, your average Egyptian would not trust a political opinion voiced by a woman. “Women know nothing about politics and should stay out of the political arena,” they advocated.

Before the revolution, female political and public involvement was kept down to the bare minimum – in the parliament and in the judiciary system, for example.

Before the revolution, young girls were still subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) – even though there is a clear law against the practice.

Before the revolution, a mother’s most important concern was marrying off her daughter “before it is too late”.

Before the revolution, married women were subjected to emotional and physical abuse in the name of “obeying God”.

Economic factors cannot be ignored when talking about Egyptian women – many of them are dependent on ‘a man’. Social factors also play a role – no one wants to be the single spinster or the divorcee.

The secularists and the conservatives are two faces of the same coin when it comes to women. Most of the politicians in both currents objectify women – one side want to cover us and lock us up, while the other wants to strip us naked and show us off. Show me a party that does not focus on gender and I will listen to them with more interest.

During the revolution itself – those three weeks that made history – such points were eliminated. They just disappeared. Men and women stood together, hand in hand – as Egyptians regardless of their gender – and won the battle against corruption.

Now the revolution is over and everything is back to normal. Attitudes towards women have not been affected by the historic victory. After the revolution, how many girls decided to move out of their family homes and become fully independent? How many abused women ‘revolted’ against their abusive/negligent husbands? How many more women decided to pursue further education? How many additional women decided to join the workforce? How many men were able to link their personal revolution against a dictator in power and a potential revolution at home from their wives?

On 8 March 2011, many women’s rights activists marched through Tahrir Square – the same place where men and women stood together for three weeks – and demanded equality. They were attacked. Men chanted slogans against them like: “Men want to topple feminists” and “Since when did women have a voice?” They were asked to go home and obey God.

They were let down by the average Egyptian man and woman alike. Their demands simply did not ring any bells with the ‘submissive’ women who got used to being used and abused. Personally, I was against this march. I am against fighting for women who would not lift a finger to fight harassment or abuse.

As for sexual liberation, political and economic uprisings are in one box and social and cultural revolutions are in another box. The two boxes are so far apart that you can barely see one when you are standing on the other.

Patriarchal values, religion, and traditions are not as easy to topple. It was easier to break free from Mubarak’s regime than to break away from decades of preaching. Virtue, honour, and integrity lie between a woman’s legs – this is the subliminal message that propagates through sermons, movies, songs, novels, or shows. The woman who has premarital sex is doomed and we get to see her suffering in whatever medium that message is disseminated.

Men, on the other hand, are reprimanded gently for their promiscuity and when they repent, they are rewarded by getting married to the pure, untouched, innocent virgin. Such hypocrisy and duality is a fact of our society and it will take more than a revolution to bring about sexual liberation, autonomy, and freedom of choice.

For real change to come about, it must come from within … from a woman’s own self-respect and self-esteem. Change will only happen when women have more faith in themselves, get a better education, have goals and interests other than men, and become more involved in the community.

This article is based on an interview with Marwa Rakha. Published here with her consent. ©Marwa Rakha.

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Honour: Made in China

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By Osama Diab

The ‘Chinese hymen’ may make pre-marital sex safer in a patriarchal society but a woman’s honour should not lie between her legs.

25 September 2009

“Now you don’t have to worry about jumping into bed with the hot boy next door. You can have sex as many times as you want and restore you virginity in just a few simple steps. You’ll never lose your honour with us.” This is the only way I can think of to advertise the new virginity restoration product: the Chinese Hymen.

The Chinese never cease to impress me. A few years ago, there was a big fuss in Egypt about how Islamic products, such as fawanees (decorative lamps used during Ramadan), prayers rugs, and prayer beads are being made in China. Egyptians found it humiliating that they couldn’t compete with China in producing simple products that are at the core of our culture. The Chinese go to a place, study the culture, examine the needs and come up with products that are cheaper (and sometimes better quality) than the locally made ones.

Similarly, the Chinese have done their research and knew that if a girl loses her hymen (even if not through sexual intercourse), she will probably have little chance of getting married in a society where virginity is highly valued and is an indication of a girl’s ‘purity’. Therefore, they came up with the dazzling idea of making fake hymens that can be bought on the market. But would ‘virginity’ still be indicative of ‘purity’ now that it takes only a few pounds and a little effort to restore it?

If the hymen is an indicator of anything, it shows how men in patriarchal societies prefer ‘deception’ to ‘honesty’. It’s much easier for a girl who lost her virginity, for a reason that could be out of her hands, to buy one of those virgin restoration products than confront her man with the horrible fact that she has lost her purity.

It’s not just that, even women who haven’t lose their virginity and have no reason to use the Chinese product will still be harmed by its mere existence due to the doubts it is going to raise about women in society. One concerned father told the al-Youm al-Sabe’e daily newspaper, “I swear to God I’d kill my daughters. I trust them and I’ve raised them properly, but I’d be afraid of people’s talk and their perception of them.”

Even before the artificial hymen was launched, virginity still could be restored through a simple plastic surgery procedure. The operation has been outlawed except in cases of rape, which was allowed by the Grand Mufti. However, the operation can still be done underground by a doctor for quite a reasonable price. Men also ignore the fact that vaginal sex is not the only form of sex. A woman can have significant sexual experience while keeping away from this problematic area. This product, along with accidental loss of virginity,  just adds one more reason why virginity is not indicative of past sexual experience.

Therefore, it shouldn’t be a measure of a girl’s, or her family’s, worth. Women should mean more than their hymens. As much as I think this product is preposterous, I hope it doesn’t give men another reason to discriminate against women and think of them as a weak link in our ‘pious’ patriarchal society and the reason behind its ‘sleaze’.

I hope this product makes men reconsider linking honour to this thin fold since it can be bought on the market now, and think of other criteria for respecting women – like education, achievements or intelligence – things that can’t be imported from China.

Published with the author’s permission. ©Osama Diab. All rights reserved.

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