This story makes extensive use of the “culture” canard — that is, don’t blame Islam, blame “cultural” influences. Here’s the problem: Cultural influences do count, and in a big way. Why?
Islam, despite its claims of being eternal, unchanged, and handed down in perfect form from on high, did not come up in a vacuum. It is utterly suffused with the baggage of Muhammad’s culture, place, and time — seventh-century Arabia — not to mention his personal biases and hangups. All of this baggage is made sacrosanct via Qur’an 33:21, which calls Muhammad a “beautiful pattern of conduct” for believers.
Thus, the obsession with virginity described in “Arab cultures” here is tremendously reinforced and encouraged by several major aspects of Islam: the severity of punishments for sexual crimes, the uneven responsibility conferred on women to protect their and their families’ “honor” through veiling and seclusion, and the sanction found in Qur’an 4:34 for attempting to “control” women with violence.
Of course, that doesn’t stop the author of this report from avoiding the Islamic issue, and tacking on the usual tu quoque boilerplate, noted below.
“The virginity industry,” by Najlaa Abou Mehri and Linda Sills, for BBC Radio 4, April 25:
Young Arab women wait in an upmarket medical clinic for an operation that will not only change their lives, but quite possibly save it. Yet the operation is a matter of choice and not necessity. It costs about 2,000 euros (Â£1,700) and carries very little risk.
The clinic is not in Dubai or Cairo, but in Paris. And the surgery they are waiting for is to restore their virginity.
Whether in Asia or the Arab world, an unknown number of women face an agonising problem having broken a deep taboo. They’ve had sex outside marriage and if found out, risk being ostracised by their communities, or even murdered.
Now more and more of them are undergoing surgery to re-connect their hymens and hide any sign of past sexual activity. They want to ensure that blood is spilled on their wedding night sheets.
The social pressure is so great that some women have even taken their own lives. […]
Noor is a trendy professional who works in Damascus. He’s fairly representative of young Syrian men in a secular society. But although Noor says he believes in equality for women, underneath the liberal facade lies a deep-rooted conservatism.
“I know girls who went through this restoration and they were caught out on their wedding night by their husbands,” he says. “They realised they weren’t virgins. Even if society accepts such a thing, I would still refuse to marry her.”
Muslim clerics are quick to point out that the virginity issue is not about religion. “We should remember that when people wait for the virgin’s blood to be spilled on the sheet, these are all cultural traditions,” says Syrian cleric, Sheikh Mohamad Habash. “This is not related to Shariah law.”
But killing for adultery (Sahih Bukhari 8.82.816), and demanding four witnesses to “prove” sexual crimes such as rape (Qur’an 24:4) most certainly are related to Sharia.
And now, some hastily tacked-on moral equivalence:
Christian communities in the Middle East are often just as firm in their belief that women should be virgins when they marry.
Arab writer and social commentator, Sana Al Khayat believes the whole issue has much to with the notion of “control”….
But where did that come from?