Sexuality in Muslim Contexts

Restrictions and Resistance

Edited by Anissa Helie and Homa Hoodfar


A timely intervention to the construction of 'Muslim women' as uniformly subordinate, this book spearheads an unprecedented wake of organizing around Muslim sexuality issues and explores resistance against the harsh policing of sexuality in some Muslim societies.
This groundbreaking book explores resistance against the harsh policing of sexuality in some Muslim societies. Many Muslim majority countries still use religious discourse to enforce stigmatization and repression of those, especially women, who do not conform to sexual norms promoted either by the state or by non-state actors. In this context, Islam is often stigmatized in Western discourse for being intrinsically restrictive with respect to women's rights and sexuality.

The authors show that conservative Muslim discourse does not necessarily match practices of believers or of citizens and that women's empowerment is facilitated where indigenous and culturally appropriate strategies are developed. Using case studies from Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia, China, Bangladesh, Israel and India, they argue persuasively that Muslim religious traditions do not necessarily lead to conservative agendas but can promote emancipatory standpoints.

An intervention to the construction of 'Muslim women' as uniformly subordinate, this collection spearheads an unprecedented wake of organizing around sexualities in Muslim communities.

Author Bio

Anissa Hélie is assistant professor in history at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York. She is involved with various women’s organizations and transnational networks, serving as director of the Women Living Under Muslim Laws International Coordination Office from 2000 to 2005. She is co-author (with Jan Bauer) of Documenting Women’s Rights Violations by Non-State Actors: Experiences of Activists from Muslim Communities (2006).

Homa Hoodfar is a professor of anthropology at Concordia University, Montreal. Her publications include: Health as a Context for Social and Gender Activism: Female Volunteer Health Workers in Iran (2010); Women, Religion and the 'Afghan Education Movement' in Iran (2008); Between Marriage and the Market: Intimate Politics and Survival in Cairo (2005); and The Muslim Veil in North America: Issues and Debates (2003).

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: Policing gender, sexuality and 'Muslimness' - Anissa Hélie
  • PART I: Tools of policing: the politics of history, community, law
    • 1. The politicization of women's bodies in Indonesia: sexual scripts as charters for action - Vivienne Wee
    • 2. Iranian women and shifting sexual ideologies, 1850-2010 - Claudia Yaghoob
    • 3. Moral panic: the criminalization of sexuality in Pakistan - Hooria Hayat Khan
    • 4. The promise and pitfalls of women challenging Muslim family laws in India and Israel - Yüksel Sezgin
    • 5. Sexuality and inequality: the marriage contract and Muslim legal tradition - Ziba Mir-Hosseini
  • PART II: Sites of contestation: reclaiming public spaces
    • 6. Purity, sexuality and faith: Chinese women ahong and women's mosques as shelter and strength - Maria Jaschok with Shui Jingjun
    • 7. Veiled transcripts: the private debate on public veiling in Iran - Shadi Sadr
    • 8. Kicking back: the sports arena and sexual politics in Iran - Homa Hoodfar
    • 9. Morality policing and the public sphere: women reclaiming their bodies and their rights - Homa Hoodfar and Ana Ghoreishian
    • 10. 'Living sexualities': non-hetero female sexuality in urban middle-class Bangladesh - Shuchi Karim
    • 11. Risky rights? Gender equality and sexual diversity in Muslim contexts - Anissa Hélie


'The authors are to be congratulated for this excellent volume on sexualities and "Muslimness" in all its diversities. The book captures the challenges of bodily rights, religion and culture for Muslim women's lives in a wide range of nuanced studies that illustrate exactly why sexuality is key to gender equality and human rights.'
Wendy Harcourt, Erasmus University, winner of the FWSA 2010 Book Prize

'This riveting book sheds new light on women's strategies for resisting sexual repression in a variety of majority Muslim societies in Asia and the Middle East. Complicating contemporary understandings of "Muslimness" , it demonstrates that women in these societies are highly diverse in their attitudes towards and experiences of sexuality. Clear, cogent and compelling, the book will be of interest to activists and academics alike and is certain to become a key text for years to come.'
Marc Lafrance, professor of sociology, Concordia University

'This is one of the most exciting collection of essays to emerge in a long time. Too many popular writings on Islam reinforce stereotypes about Muslim women, and few discuss sexuality at all, let alone with such diversity. This collection challenges the tired stream of books that equate Islam with terrorism and women with claustrophobic veils. A must read for any serious scholar of sexuality, Islam, and women's rights.'
Chitra Raghavan, professor of psychology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

'This exciting collection provides an important contribution to understandings of sexualities and gender, focusing our attention on processes of negotiation, subversion and resistance and challenging assumptions about "Muslimness". With its diversely located studies and rich ethnographic insights, this fascinating book deserves to be widely read.'
Andrea Cornwall, professor of anthropology and international development, University of Sussex

'The authors of this pathbreaking book provide a new and much-needed angle to the study of sexual identities, rights, and claims in Muslim-majority societies. Going beyond the vexed "western vs authentic" dichotomy, this excellent volume should be praised for its ability to widen our understanding of how hegemonic norms of sexuality and sexual behaviour are challenged and contested by diverse actors across religious, secular and sexual orientations. A crucial book for scholars of gender, Islam, rights and sexuality.'
Ruba Salih, chair of the Centre for Gender Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London


Publication Date: 11 October 2012
360 pages

Product ISBNs: Paperback: 9781780322858
Hardback: 9781780322865
eBook ePub: 9781780322889
eBook PDF: 9781780322872
eBook Kindle: 9781780322896

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