by GORGY BUZSTIN,
Research professor, Middle-East Institute, National University of Singapore
I have just finished reading Sex, Soul and Islam by the author couple Osman Sidek and Enon Mansour.
Present at its first introduction at Wardah Books, this little oasis of Islamic culture in Singapore, I waited some weeks to get hold of the book, out of stock as soon as it was released.
I was not disappointed when I finally obtained my copy.
The first adjective that comes to my mind when describing the book is “lovely”.
Not because it delves on the topic of love that modern culture tends to squarely and reductively equate with sex in our unromantic age.
Rather, because it is a beautiful and honest attempt at dispelling feelings of shame and guilt about sexuality for Muslim readers – a topic still largely taboo in Islamic society.
It is astonishing how a culture that in its heyday gave the world the enchanting Thousand and One Nights and some of the most captivating love poetry ever written – by the likes of Al Mutanabbi, Hariri, Saadi and Hafiz, just to name a few, inspiring Western literature from the age of the troubadours up to Goethe – has under the spell of latter day rigid conservativism equated sexuality with shame, if not outright branding it taboo. This misperception led to frustration and suppression in many modern-day Muslim societies with dire consequences, contributing, among other factors, to the surge of extremism that begot such abominations as ISIL or the misogynistic Afghan Taliban regime.
But let us not go to extremes – suffice to acknowledge that in their struggles to harmonize tradition with modernity all Muslim societies had to cope with the challenge of granting women equal rights and aiming at establishing gender equality. The transformation of these traditional societies in the wake of globalization and the information technology revolution, most prominently mass connectivity thanks to social media, has shaken value systems to their foundations. The institution of the family was no exception, the changes rescinding archaic norms and practices like endogamous, arranged and child marriage, as well as the practice of polygamy.
That the character of the marital relationship itself underwent significant changes in the wake of such cataclysmic shifts is not surprising, neither are the battles fought in traditional communities to upkeep and preserve strict adherence to religious injunctions guiding family life.
Sex, Soul and Islam is a beautiful account of how two deeply committed Muslims, marriage counsellors and themselves a married couple, strive to create harmony between the commandments of the Islamic faith and the thorny problems of married life in a modern, multicultural, fast developing 21st century society – where the Muslim community strives to preserve its values and keep pace with the breakneck speed of progress.
The book is delving into the intricacies of how the triple sources of the Islamic Faith, the Holy Book, the hadith or sayings attributed to the Holy Prophet, and the sunna, the corpus of wider prophetic tradition have ordained, regulated or explained the many facets of married life and finally, sexuality.
Honest, outspoken, and refreshingly candid over topics long treated as beyond the realm of permissible for public discourse, Sex, Soul and Islam is a groundbreaking work that may help dispel many misunderstandings and false concepts about married life and sexuality in Islam, merging the merits of a religious guidebook and a psychology manual on sexuality. It will provide invaluable advice to many, who wish to adhere to the teachings and norms of Islam while seeking to live a fulfilling and liberated married and sex life in a dynamic, open, high-speed society such as Singapore is. Moreover, it will be an important contribution to the Muslim community of Singapore achieving its full potential, also helping to guide the global Islamic Umma, leading by example, into a better and more humane future.
The book, even as it was written primarily for a Muslim audience, is an elucidating and insightful read for all, with many conclusions to be taken to heart for those who seek a balance between body, soul, and sublime spirituality.