chapter  12
53 Pages

Certain practices

In posing the radical legitimacy of the practice of sexuality, Islam helped in the formation of a specific form of culture. The continuous outpouring of oneirism, combined with the exuberance of the most delicate and most elaborate eroticism, gave birth to a particularly original and attractive mode of life. In various ways, conscious and unconscious, social and individual, enigmatic and clear, this mode of life reveals the many, sometimes contradictory implications of the fundamentally lyrical way in which Islam confronts life. To be attentive to one's own body, to assume it in its totality, to take one's own fantasies seriously, to make the quest for orgasm an essential aim of earthly life and even of the life to come, are some of the aims of Islam. This was expressed on the concrete plane by a number of 'features', which I have already described. A highly elaborate doctrine of nikāḥ and ḥisān; a vision of ritual purity; an obsession, mixed with a very serious hope, of having relations with the world of the spirits; a structure of domestic life based on the rotation of women and the complemen­ tary co-existence of wives and anti-wives; the promotion of eroti­ cism to the rank of a science, on a level with grammar, the fiqh or quranic exegesis. . . . It also became apparent that social struc­ tures left their mark on a history of which I have been able to provide no more than a few glimpses. We have seen how concubi­ nage finally affected Arab femininity and expressed in Manichean terms what in principle ought to be complementarity and harmony. If Arab woman qua wife came to embody seriousness, motherhood and the survival of the group, it was left to the jawāri to make their own the ludic, the poetic and aesthetic. Similarly it became apparent that economic, even ecological, considerations finally separated the rotation of women and the circulation of

goods so that, excluded from inheritance and from any claim to a share of the patrimony, Arab woman saw her de jacto condition fall well below that of the most solemn quranic statements. Hence the need to construct, on the basis of other sacred texts, which, though just as authentic as the first, were divorced from their context and interpreted from a misogynist point of view, a justific­ ation for the intrinsic inferiority of woman. Of course the develop­ ment of eroticism and mujūn also involved, in view of this context, the terrible risk of reducing women to the rank of playthings whose sole purpose was the satisfaction of the sexual selfishness of more or less blasé males. Hence, too, that obsession with 'sexual renewal', sometimes impossible to achieve, except at the expense of enormous sacrifices imposed on women who, married too young and to old, impotent men, had no sooner reached woman­ hood than they were widowed.