A little suitcase filled with animated pictures and materials, steadfastness and confronting questions are the only things Fadoua Amjoud needs to get diverse classes talking about sexuality. Among the pupils are Muslims, but her aim is to teach everybody sex ed.
“The most important thing is to break the taboo of speaking about sexuality, really. It’s not my goal to be controversial, but rather to get the discussion started.”
In a previous Mvslim article on ‘why the Muslim world is in need of more sexual education’, a work is cited that states that over 50% of Jordanian women experienced shock when menstruating for the first time. The taboo on sexuality isn’t only concentrated around sex as an act, but on everything around it.
In a little coffeehouse in Antwerp, Belgium, I met the young student midwifery who has recently filled the Belgian media: A veiled Muslim woman who gives sex ed. in schools. A combination that seems rather odd. Why contraceptives are important to know about, how the menstrual cycle works and chatting about sexual preferences, it’s not obvious for everyone. But why? And why is it problematic?
Is it possible to be religious and still openly speak about sexuality – without any taboos?
Fadoua nods confidentially, as it’s a question she gets often. “I want to prove that being Muslim shouldn’t prevent you from having knowledge about your sexuality and being able to discuss it with others. There’s nothing wrong with understanding how your body functions, what you like and what you don’t like. Being Muslim doesn’t mean you should block your feelings and natural instincts. The more one knows about his or her body, the more freedom they have.”
“There is too little sex ed. in schools and inner circles in general, ”, Fadoua continues, “it’s sad that we can speak about almost anything but sexuality, although it’s a part of us all. If youngsters can’t ask the people who are the closest to them questions about sexuality, to whom should they turn?”
Do you think that Muslims still turn too much to Islamic theologians with non-religious questions, such as questions about sexuality?
While the young student thinks about the question, I continue asking her about the role of theologians in the life of Muslims.
“When we have questions about astronomy or biology, we turn to scientists. However, questions about sexuality are still answered a lot of times by Islamic scholars. I presume the reason is that, like in many religions, sexuality is a very central theme in Islam. Think about dress codes, the permissible contact between the two sexes, the importance of marriage and being chaste. Do you think that, even though Muslims still go with certain questions to scholars or imams, we should have a change from within?”
Photography: Mohammed Chellouk
After flattering me by complimenting my choice of questions, Fadoua continues to answers them.
“I definitely think, for a first, we should have more local imams and theologians. European imams will understand the needs and problems of young Muslims in the West better than imams from the Middle East or North Africa, for example. Young Muslims should have the feeling that they aren’t doing anything haram (‘religiously prohibited’) if they have certain questions or desires. It’s normal to have them, as humans. The well-known and admired Belgian imam Khalid Benhaddou complimented me for my work. It shows that imams can be understanding of societal issues and reassure Muslims that there is room for topics like sexuality. There shouldn’t be anything controversial about it.
I also believe it’s indeed important to give more credit to people who specialize in specific fields. There are lots of specialized sexologists and midwives who can provide professional and scientific answers.”
While listening to Fadoua’s answers, I remember how, as a child, I heard other Muslim girls saying they wouldn’t jump over a bar, because they were afraid that their hymen would break. We did not know what the hymen was or meant, and why it’s almost perceived as something sacred, but we did know it was something scary and had to be protected.
“Yes, the uncountable amount of myths around the hymen is crazy. While in fact, the hymen is something very fragile and unimportant. It’s sad that there are a lot of sometimes silly sounding misconceptions about sexuality, however have a very real impact on the life of various women.” Fadoua states. “A Muslim girl once told me she suffered a lot from menstrual pain and that her doctor had recommended her to take the pill. ‘But isn’t that haram?’, she asked me.”
Do you think that there is a bigger taboo on women and their sexuality than men?
“I’ve had a lot of negative messages because of being a veiled Muslim woman who openly speaks about sexuality. It’s merely educational, but that doesn’t make it less of a taboo. Women are perceived as having less sexual needs than men and should have less knowledge on sexuality. I think that’s also the main reason why women don’t dare to ask a lot of questions regarding that topic and often ignore their desires. They don’t want to be perceived as impure. Women are still too often symbolized as the honor of the family.”
Women being the honor of the family by being as pure as possible, is in a lot of cultures the case. At the same time, a lot of women have to be ‘desirable’ and should look like a certain way to be sexually attractive for their (future) husband.
“The female body is still sexualized. I receive a lot of questions of young women telling me they feel insecure and unattractive. I try to help them feeling better about their body, but there is definitely a lot of societal pressure on how women should look like to be beautiful and (sexually) attractive, but, at the same time, be as chaste as a human can be.
Getting pupils talking about sexuality isn’t always easy. How do you manage to do it?
“It’s important that the pupils feel at ease, that’s why I make sure to sit among them in a circle. The dialogue I have with the pupils is very interactive, by asking them questions like ‘how well do you know your body?’, ‘who is sexually active?’. Fadoua is accompanied by a small suitcase that she uses during her workshops. “I also believe it’s important to keep it low-threshold, so that it’s accessible for everyone. The images I use, for example, are animated. I also distribute contraceptives. They can look at them, feel them and ask questions about them. As long as they get informed about the options there are, I’ve done my job.”
Fadoua gets a lot of surprised reactions when introducing herself. For many, being a veiled Muslim woman means being a ‘certain kind of person’, it’s a very stereotyped image. “I want to inspire people to refuse to let their fears or the prejudices of others stop them from following their dreams. If you have certain passions, don’t let them fade away just because society thinks they don’t match your identity. There are a lot of imaginary limits and borders for Muslims and we have to open them up. Being religious shouldn’t deprive you from being who you want to be.”
Well, Fadoua definitely inspired me!