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Russia: Book On 'Love And Sex In Islam' Causing Controversy, But Scholars Say Topic Is Nothing Unusual

Russia's Ansar publishing house recently released a book titled "Love And Sex In Islam." The collection of articles and fatwas -- decrees issued by Islamic scholars -- was first presented at a book fair in Moscow last summer and immediately became a best-seller. Russia's muftiyat -- or board on Islamic affairs -- has criticized the book, which is being sold at most mosques with the word "sex" on its cover hidden.

Prague, 3 December 2004 -- Abdullah Muhametov is an editor at the Ansar publishing house who compiled the 300-page "Love and Sex in Islam." He describes it as a collection of works by medieval writers like Imam Al-Ghazali and Al-Jihaz, as well as modern authors such as Yusuf Al-Qaradawi and contemporary Russian experts on sex.

He told RFE/RL that the book offers information on sex and love in accordance with the principles of Islam.

For Muslims, the primary sources of information about any issue, including sex, are the Koran and the Hadith, a body of laws and stories about Prophet Muhammad's way of life. Muhametov said there is an Arabic equivalent of the word "sex" in the Koran and that it is every Muslim's obligation to be knowledgeable about the topic.

"Neither Allah nor the Prophet -- may peace be upon him -- nor prominent Islamic scholars are embarrassed to speak on this issue," Muhametov said. "They give very precise explanations on what is allowed and what is prohibited. Islam doesn't say this topic must not be covered. On the contrary, Islam says it is a shame to have no knowledge about this, because sometimes one is embarrassed to ask a question and commits a sin."

Muhametov believes stereotypes about Islam, as well as about sex in general, are the main reasons behind the negative reactions to the book.

"For Muslims in the Russian Federation, the very word 'sex' is connected with debauchery and sexual licentiousness," Muhametov said. "Although we all know very well that 'sex' is a usual word, a definition used to describe [a natural] phenomenon."

In contrast, Muhametov said, reaction to the book from Islamic scholars and many readers in the Caucasus has been largely positive.

The Spiritual Board of Muslims in the European part of Russia (DUMER) held a meeting to discuss the book and decided that it cannot be sold or spoken about in mosques.

The deputy mufti of DUMER, Damir Hazrat Gizatullin, is critical of the book. He said that parts of it go against the principles of Adab, the code of conduct for Muslims, but refused to elaborate.

"Some rude expressions [used in the book are against Adab]," Gizatullin said. "I don't want to speak about it. I don't want to speak."

Gizatullin believes that "Love and Sex in Islam" is nothing but a project designed to make money.

"I think...well, not only I, many other people think this book is a commercial project -- that's it," Gizatullin said. "[People from Ansar publishing house] approached us when they needed to sell it. I think it would be better to come to us and discuss a book before publishing it."
Sex guides, similar to the famous Hindu sex treatise the Kama Sutra, have long existed in Central Asia.

But Ansar's Muhametov said that the book does not contradict Adab. He believes it follows the principles of Islam and offers readers information about what is considered misbehavior in Islam, like sex outside of marriage, as well as on some controversial issues, such as gay marriage.

"Islam condemns any form of homosexuality," Muhametov said. "Therefore, our book gives an explanation on the issue of gay marriage. The topics of sex outside of marriage, relations with jins [spirits], and hermaphrodites are also covered. Anyone can get any information on what is meant by 'sex.'"

Sex is not an unusual subject of discourse in the Islamic world. Many Muslim writers, poets, and even medieval doctors have explored the topic in their work.

Sanjar Nazar is an expert on Uzbek literature. He said that many classic works on sex and love have been written by Muslim writers, but that unlike contemporary Western literature, they describe sex in a more subtle way.

"Of course, there are parts of those works devoted to relations between men and women," Nazar said. "For example, [medieval Uzbek poet] Alisher Navoii describes the relationship between [the characters of ill-fated lovers] Laily and Majnun beautifully. But when I read it, I didn't think it was about sex. I perceived it as another stage of a great love."

Another Uzbek expert on Muslim literature and art, Sayfiddin Sayfullah, said that sex guides, similar to the famous Hindu sex treatise the Kama Sutra, have long existed in Central Asia. He said they were written mainly for kings and consisted of recommendations on how to enhance sexual performance and pleasure and related issues.

"Once I came across a manuscript that described a type of woman with high sexual potential," Sayfullah said. "There was a description of body type and the shapes of eyes and lips. They used to estimate a woman according to the description. There also were recommendations on what sex positions were better and information on what food and herbs to eat in order to enhance sexual performance. It was all given in the form of poetry."

Doctor Ilshat Nasyrov of Russia, who has translated scores of works by Muslim authors into Russian, writes on the website that unlike other religions and cultures, in Islam, there is no idea of platonic love. Love and sex are strongly intertwined in Islam. Within a marriage, sex exists for pleasure, as well as procreation. The concept of celibacy does not exist.

The Prophet Muhammad condemned celibacy and sexual abstention, even in the name of Allah. Nasyrov writes that the notion of love is always tightly connected with sex because sex is a natural manifestation of love and has sacred meaning in Islam.

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