Pi Attitude Zone: Ethics & Altruism

Islam? So Sensual...

Feel admired.  Feel loved.  Feel sensual”, says the sign above the entrance to El Asira, the Arab “sensuality shop” run by Abdelaziz Aouragh at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.   More importantly, he sells online (through ElAsira.com) to his Muslim co-religionists around the world.  El Asira is Arabic for ‘society’ or ‘tribe’.

Who just said “sex shop”?  No, nooo, nooooo...  El Asira offers “a unique Arabic collection for a sensual love life”, which is really not the same thing at all.  The website, decorated with diaphanous pink silk swirls, gives a general feel of sensual pampering, without getting at all graphic about it.  Indeed, only products are shown, not people enjoying them.

Under a tab titled “An Ode to Women”, the company avers that “All of our products provide a deeper meaning to sexuality, sensuality and even spirituality. We strive to offer a product range which will eventually lead to more admiration and love for women”. The site also asserts that “El Asira is completely Sharia-compliant.  We develop products which are ‘halal’  ...our products are permissible by Islamic law and the Islamic religion. Therefore, all our products are maintaining the integrity, pure humanity and ethics inherent with(in) the Sharia”.

So... is Islam compatible with having fun?  There are 1.8 billion Muslim consumers in the world today, and their numbers are set to grow to two and a half billion within about twenty years.  This global consumer grouping shares a religion (though Shia and Sunni might demur), but overall they can have widely varying cultural characteristics and ‘moral compasses’.  The ways that Islamic peoples apply their religious beliefs from day to day range from the strictly puritanical to the relatively laissez-faire.

The boundaries between what is allowed (‘halal’) and what is forbidden (‘haram’) can be surprisingly elastic, depending on the Muslim country or sect concerned.  There is widespread uncertainty about what is actually permitted by Islamic law.  According to Abdalhamid Evans of London-based Imarat Consultants, a market research firm, “Very little is actually banned. ...Muslim concerns vary greatly by community”. 

There has been a boom recently in halal packaged holidays.  Crescent Tours in London arrange vacations in Turkish hotels where men and women use separate swimming pools, and restaurants serve halal food  -- but no alcoholic beverages.  For holidaymakers with even stricter beliefs, there are “leisure holidays with morals”, including trips to religious sites but no music.

Perhaps the last word should go to one of El Asira’s lady clients: “Halal food is the only thing I feel obliged to buy.  I’m curious about new halal products, but I won’t buy unless it’s better than the normal thing”.

Pi notes that having fun and adhering to your religion are not necessarily mutually exclusive concepts.

Zone: Ethics & Altruism Country: Middle East / Africa Product – Consumer Products