Written by Dea Safira.
Art by Aubrey Casazza.
Growing up as a Muslim woman, I had a hard time figuring out what sex was. My parents never gave me sex education, only warned me about pregnancy. I had no idea how women could get pregnant. Even biology class only showed me diagrams of reproductive systems; teachers didn’t explicitly explain copulation. All I knew was that sex outside of marriage was Haram, or forbidden, and unblessed by the God and the angels.
I had a hard time understanding. I encountered my very first sexual experience when I was in my teens…and it was with myself. At first, I didn’t understand why my body reacted toward certain stimulus. I figured out that I could enjoy myself, but at the same time that power of creating pleasure felt so scary. I did not know where it would end.
The thought of women owning their own sexuality seems outrageous and scandalous.
Growing up was hard. People didn’t talk about women’s pleasure, and sexuality revolved solely around men’s penises. I grew up with the Muslim community justifying polygyny as a channel to fulfill men’s sexual desires and fantasies. Not only that, Quranic verses were taken out of context to fit their narrative, which was then used to abuse women and take away our rights.
To so many, the thought of women owning their own sexuality seems outrageous and scandalous. To this day, some even think of women as asexual beings who do not have any sexual desire toward men. These ideas are popularized by misogynist Muslim clerics, who say that women won’t have the equivalent of 72 virgins upon entering the pearly gates of heaven. Women in heaven will not have any sexual desire or will be with just one man.
The Indonesian translation of the Quran used by Indonesians today was translated by the Department of Religion of the Indonesian government. I am not vilifying the translation, but it does not come with a contextual and feminist perspective to fit today’s situation. Today, progressive Muslim scholars are trying to reinterpret women’s sexuality in Islamic Jurisprudence with much friendlier gender perspective.
The Indonesian translation of the Quran used by Indonesians today was translated by the Department of Religion of the Indonesian government. I am not vilifying the translation, but it does not come with a contextual and feminist perspective to fit today’s situation.
It is hard to reconcile the fact that God (if there is any) would give me a body and wouldn’t let me enjoy myself. Or the fact that my sexuality is owed to and owned by men. It’s also hard to grapple with the fact that while other girls and women across the globe are being sold as young brides, my sexual freedom has become a privilege. I am not truly free when other women are not free to choose whomever they want to be with full consent.
Sexual freedom comes with class privilege, because in order to have sexual relationships outside of marriage, you need safety and convenience, and that can only be afforded when you’re financially comfortable. This includes living in an openly accepting neighborhood. And if you are comfortable enough, you can afford contraception that lasts, like an IUD, implant, or pills that come with a doctor’s prescription (which means extra money). Then if you can afford the next level of pleasure, you can buy a vibrator or a sex toy to enjoy yourself.
It is hard to reconcile the fact that God (if there is any) would give me a body and wouldn’t let me enjoy myself.
Not a lot of women and queer folks in Indonesia have access to these, or know that they have the right to sexual pleasure and sexual health. All of this knowledge is a privilege, and to be blessed with resources and sexual freedom made me realize that my ancestors, God, and the universe want me to be able to love myself above all.
Redefining where God stands on my sexuality is very critical. My intimacy with myself and other people has made me realize that it is a way to understand Her creations. My previous ancestors, pre-Islamic era, have talked about this over and over again through their scriptures and their sculptures found in Hindu temples across Indonesia. Lingga and Yoni statues explicitly embodied the value of the Vagina and the Penis.
My intimacy with myself and other people has made me realize that it is a way to understand Her creations.
To allow narrow and misogynistic interpretation of the Quran vilifies women’s sexuality. We can reconcile women’s sexual freedom, and redefining their interpretation towards the faith can help women to be assertive and find peace within themselves. If we only allow one interpretation, then women and the LGBTIQ+ community may face internal remorse, self-hatred, or anger, and we don’t need that, especially in this moment where conservatism is on the rise. We need to be able to accept ourselves and the reflection of God in all of us.
God itself has 99 names, most of which encompass feminine traits. She is the most gracious, most merciful, the creator, the ever-forgiving, the sustaining, the all-hearing, the all-seeing, the nourisher, the wise, the loving, the real, the dependable, the giver of life, the ever-living and all of this is embedded in intimacy and sex itself. Why are we so resistant to acknowledge this?
The power to be vulnerable to ourselves and to other human beings is one of the many reflections of God around us and in us.
Though I now follow Kejawèn (a faith that syncretized animism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam), part of me is a cultural Muslim. And human beings are a collection of mixed beliefs. Some people may not see God as the only one true deity but the Universe itself. Spirituality comes in all forms, even through sex. Sex is not a bad word. God would want you to communicate to Her through amazing sex and to find her Godful names in so many ways. Humans are the reflection of our Gods within us.
The power to be vulnerable to ourselves and to other human beings is one of the many reflections of God around us and in us. And to be able to be one with yourself or with others shows how powerful human creations are, and that is where God lies.
Dea Safira is a Javanese-born, Jakarta-based writer and dentist working around the intersections of oral health, international relations, gender, and pop-culture by dismantling orientalist views from both sides of the aisle. She has published a book of her essays in Indonesian called Membunuh Hantu-Hantu Patriarki (Killing The Ghosts of Patriarchy). Through her essays, she aims to bridge interdisciplinary views in order to kill the binary and western-centric views about the well-being and spirituality of women of color, especially Southeast Asian women.