via Transportine

Saya ingin membuat pengakuan: saya suka bermandi dalam keadaan bogel. Telanjang. Au naturel. Mungkin ini sebuah pengakuan yang remeh-temeh dan bukan panas membakar, tetapi bagi saya ia agak penting sebagai pembuka topik. Semasa menghadiri acara Fiesta Feminista di Kota Kinabalu bulan November lepas di mana kesemua hadirin bermalam di asrama dan berkongsi bilik tidur dan bilik mandi, saya berbincang dengan mereka yang lebih ‘open-minded’ tentang topik yang telah lama saya pendam, iaitu berbogel semasa mandi dan bertukar pakaian ketika room mate ada bersama di bilik dorm.

Ketika saya di peringkat matrikulasi dan universiti (tempatan) beribu tahun dahulu, saya banyak perhatikan kawan-kawan saya yang pergi ke bilik mandi dalam keadaan berkemban. Sesetengah pula berkemban sambil berseluar dalam dan memakai bra. Jarang sekali saya lihat mereka yang memakai tuala sahaja ke bilik mandi i.e. berbogel semasa bermandi.

Mengikut kawan-kawan lelaki saya pula, ramai orang lelaki juga berbaju di bawah shower, sekurang-kurangnya berseluar pendek. Berbogel walaupun di tempat-tempat yang terjamin privasinya seseorang seperti di kubikel shower yang berkunci tidak akan sesekali menjadi sesuatu yang akan dilakukan. Saya pun berfikir, mengapa ya?

Saya diberitahu kubikel di bilik mandi untuk laki-laki biasanya tidak boleh dikunci. Sebabnya adalah satu misteri. Gelegat homoerotik seperti meraba dan memegang punggung para pengguna bilik mandi bukanlah sesuatu yang luar biasa di asrama. Mungkin kubikel shower yang tidak berkunci memberi peluang untuk pengguna bilik mandi yang lain untuk “bermesra” dengan si pemandi. Hipotesis-hipotesis nya begitu banyak.

Mungkin bilik mandi asrama dianggap “tempat awam”, oleh itu perilaku dan kesopanan harus dijaga. Keadaan bogel sudah pasti menimbulkan rasa malu untuk ramai daripada kita. Tetapi rasa malu itu seolah-olah wujud walaupun berbogel seseorang diri di sebalik pintu yang berkunci, seolah-oleh malaikat yang mengekori gerak geri kita turut berasa malu dengan tubuh kita dalam keaadan “birthday suit”.

Mengapa harus kita malu dengan kebogelan kita? Bukankah di sebalik pakaian ini kita serupa?

On sexual slavery and the question of what makes something ‘Islamic’

First published on Muslimah Media Watch, on June 28th 2011.

Salwa al-Mutairi, a Kuwaiti politican, gave a cold-blooded proposal for Muslim men to take female slaves, especially non-Muslim female prisoners of war, for sexual use (or rather rape). It has rather unpredictably come under fire.

Slavery is one of the most abhorrent forms of abuse of power in this modern age. But the basic principles of al-Mutairi’s views have validation in Islamic texts. Like it or not, the Qur’an does not make any mention about ending slavery per se. It does recommend the freeing of slaves, particularly those who convert to Islam. But it also spells out the status of the slave as a person a man can have legitimate sexual relations with and by implication is someone who is sexually available.

Notwithstanding the incongruence between modern sensibilities and what is spelled out in the Qur’an as a book of wisdom and guidance, the abolition of slavery is now the expected universal norm. Every country has declared an end to slavery within its borders by the twentieth century. In predominantly Muslim nation-states, motivations behind the end of slavery was not so much a religious calling, but rather a mix of socio-economic circumstances, diplomatic strategy, and European colonial influence. It is at this circumstantial juncture that the right decision to universally turn back against slavery was established.

This is not to say that slavery has been completely wiped out from the face of the earth; today, slavery continues to exist in sex trafficking and in domestic labor, which enslaves thousands of migrant female workers.

Any intellectual discussion about sexual slavery and gender in the modern age should not be about sex and desire, but about power and the human weakness to abuse it. To say that men have an insatiable sexual desire and therefore need to channel it in “legitimate” terms (i.e., through concubinage, slavery, and even marriage) is missing the point.

How so? First, it is an insult to even suggest that men are inherently powerless to the will of their penises. Second, the Qur’an mentions allowances to multiple female sex partners (where wives, concubines, and slaves are thrown into the mix) only in the context of economic power; only rich men can afford to have multiple sex partners, especially concubines and slaves.

What is perhaps more intriguing and sets more tongues wagging is the fact that a Muslim woman is championing the slavery of other women. This is an example of what academic Deniz Kandiyoti describes as the “patriarchal bargain.” The patriarchal bargain posits that women are just as capable of oppressing other women to maintain or to gain access to social advantage. It is without doubt that any person, woman or man, with political influence would always seek to maintain power and privilege by pandering to those with more power and privilege.

The more powerful and privileged in question are those in the Kuwaiti government, who already claim a litany of human rights abuses, such maintaining a legislation that strips domestic workers of basic rights and ignoring the extensive abuse of migrant workers. This adds an additional dimension – xenophobia – into the mix. Much of the abuses against migrant workers – many of whom are Muslims – in Kuwait rests on the xenophobic attitudes of employers who view the workers as less than human. The fact that al-Mutiari’s suggestion women from war-torn Chechnya be bought to suffer yet more human rights abuses in Kuwait underscores this fact even more.

So in the context of sexual slavery as supported by the clerics al-Mutairi mentions, the more troubling question arises: is sexual slavery “Islamic”? Just because it is not prohibited in the Book does not make it right in practice. Easy as that. Another relevant question will arise by implication: so what makes something Islamic? It has been proven time and time again that what makes something Islamic is not necessarily spelled out in holy texts, but embellished mainly through privileged interpretation and historical contexts. Furthermore, the fact that slavery was a common and acceptable pre-Islamic practice during the prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) time, and the fact that some slaves gained status and power over those lower in the pecking order does not mitigate the loathsomeness of slavery.

Slavery or the abuse of female prisoners of war, the brutal removal of their freedoms and agency, and through silencing them and dehumanizing them goes against the very essence embedded in the respect for human lives, be it un-free or non-Muslim.

It is becoming clear that the Islamic discourse on slavery sheds very little light on the experiences of those at the nastier end of practice and this needs to change. The masculinist approach to holy texts that privileges the views of men needs to change. Also, what needs to change is the recognition that our modern sensibilities are shaped by history and socio-economic circumstances; what feels right, moral, and ethical rests on multiple factors.

We learn from history and experiences just as much from the holy texts. Much has changed since the days when slavery was taken for granted: if there’s anything more unacceptable it is the reduction of a whole person into something that can be bought and sold against their will.