Turkish delight: What makes a sex shop halal?

'We don't sell vibrators, because they are not approved by Islam... Some scholars say it's forbidden, other says it's discouraged'

Share

Responding to apparent pent-up demand for tacky bachelorette parties, the 38-year old Turkish entrepreneur Haluk Murat Demirel has opened the country's first halal (permissible in Islam) sex shop online. It's not the first such enterprise in the world — successful predecessors can be found in such varied locales as Bahrain, the Netherlands and Atlanta, Georgia — but the existence of such a market still raises some interesting questions. For instance, what makes a sex shop halal? And what's behind their spread?

According to Hamza Yusuf, an American Islamic scholar and co-founder of Zaytuna College in Berkeley, Calif., the trend is, if anything, reflective of the adaptive qualities of capitalism — not any trend in the Muslim world, where items like herbal aphrodisiacs have been commonplace but under the radar for centuries.

“Muslim countries have all of these but they don't advertise them,” he told Foreign Policy by phone. “It all goes back to the monetization of religion.”

But if halal sex shop owners are motivated by profit, Islam itself has laid the groundwork for the business opportunity. While rigid rules govern pre-marital sexual relations in Muslim culture, the Quran and hadith (a record of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions) make clear that sex within the confines of marriage is not purely for procreation, as it is in some Christian denominations. Muhammad told men not to leave their wives for more than six months so as to avoid sexual neglect, and there are even some well-known references to foreplay in the hadith. As Yusuf explains, “It's not a prudish culture . . . but decorum is still very important.” For married Muslim couples, specific etiquette governs proper sexual relations, separating haram (forbidden) from halal.

“Online sex shops usually have pornographic pictures, which makes Muslims uncomfortable,” Demirel, the Turkish shop owner, told Reuters. “We don't sell vibrators for example, because they are not approved by Islam.”

According to Yusuf, there is some disagreement over the degree to which masturbation — and related sex toys — is prohibited. “Some scholars say it's forbidden, other says it's discouraged,” he said. “Those who say it's discouraged say it's only to prevent fornication, or for relief.” A section in the Quran, widely understood to ban masturbation, says that the “believers” are those “who protect their sexual organs except from their spouse. . . . Whoever seeks more beyond that [in sexual gratification], then they are the transgressors.” Vibrators and similar toys also don't make it past an Islamic prohibition on the insertion of foreign objects into the body, according to Yusuf. He told Foreign Policy that even enemas are discouraged.

Abdelaziz Aouragh, the owner of a Dutch halal sex shop called El Asira, told the Los Angeles Times in 2010, “There have been a lot of fatwas [Islamic rulings] concerning . . . [sex toys] . . . so it's very clear that they are not permissible. I would sell them if it was permissible but it's not.” At Aouragh's online boutique, there are even separate places for men and women to log in, in keeping with the Islamic tradition of purdah, or sex segregation.

Halal sex shops also can't display pornographic imagery, since such images expose a person's awrah, the Arabic word for areas forbidden from the public eye. According to Hamza Yusuf, women are not allowed to see the region stretching from the navel to the knees on another woman, and men are permitted to see only a woman's face and hands. Although Turkey is the only Muslim country where porn is technically legal, huge black markets dedicated to it run through Muslim countries with stringent anti-porn policies, with Pakistan leading the entire world in porn-related search in a recent Google analysis.

Perhaps the most straightforward aspect of a halal sex shop is that they supply only halal-certified massage oils, lubricants and other such items. Halal items using animal byproducts, for instance, cannot include pork and must come from animals killed according to Islamic rules. According to Hamza Yusuf, condoms made with pig fat, for instance, would be haram.

As Yusuf pointed out, there's hardly anything revolutionary about products like aphrodisiacs in the Muslim world, and there has even been some coverage of the hush-hush parties in Muslim countries where sex toys can be bought and sold as casually as plastic containers at a Tupperware party. And for now, Demirel seems content with the “unexpected popularity” of his website (and the particularly unexpected demand for women's products), which attracted 33,000 visitors on Sunday alone. We already knew that sex sells, but add centuries-old religious traditions to the mix, and you have yourself a great business model.

Copyright Washington Post/Foreign Policy2013.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Technical Support Analyst (C++, Windows, Linux, Perl, Graduate)

£30000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global leader in trading platforms and e...

Junior IT Consultant (SQL, Java, C++, Oracle, Graduate)

£28000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A fast growing consultancy to the financia...

Technical Support Analyst (Windows, Linux, Unix, Graduate)

£30000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Technical Support Analyst - Liverpool Stre...

Juniper Network Engineer - CCNP / JNCIP / JNCIS / Juniper

£65000 per annum: Harrington Starr: One of the world's largest privately owned...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Sami Khedira of Germany runs past Oscar of Brazil with the ball during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Semi Final match between Brazil and Germany  

If there wasn’t the obsession with instant profits, England could have a football team as good as Germany’s

Mark Steel
Will Lord Patten be able to bring the Vatican into the 20th century?  

Say a little prayer for Lord Patten — the Vatican works in mysterious ways

Peter Popham
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil