Heba Kotb goes global December 6, 2006Posted by Rasheed Eldin in Concepts, Islam, Responses.
A while ago, I mentioned a thesis we came across by Dr. Heba Kotb, who now has her own website and satellite television show. The AP report about this show was picked up by numerous newspapers around the world, indicating a great interest in this woman giving sex advice on Arab TV.
On her show, “Big Talk,” Kotb answers questions from Muslims all over the Middle East about the most intimate bedroom issues with an openness that is shocking and revolutionary in a society where discussing the subject is taboo.
“How do I talk about these issues? Very seriously,” the Egyptian sexologist says. “I put on a mask-like face and make sure I speak in the right tone of voice.” She also does it by talking about sex in an Islamic light, arguing that the faith is in favor of pleasure for both men and women, with one important caveat – that it be only in the context of marriage.
Kotb, 39 and married with three daughters, studied sexology with Maimonides University, a private school in Florida, and combined it with her own knowledge of her religion to produce a dissertation titled “Sexuality in Islam.” She opened a sexology clinic in Cairo in 2002, wrote sex advice columns in newspapers, appeared on talk shows and answered questions on an Arabic Web site. She started “Big Talk” on the independent Egyptian satellite channel El-Mehwar more than two months ago.
Much of her advice is straight biology – laying out facts rarely aired elsewhere. Nothing is too sensitive. She discusses sexual positions, female orgasm, oral sex (allowed, “since there is no religious text banning it”), even masturbation (frowned upon but at least preferable to unmarried or adulterous sex, which is “haram,” meaning forbidden by religion). She takes a strict Islamic line on homosexuality – she calls it a disease.
I have a few comments on that.
This initiative by Dr. Kotb seems worthy of support. But I’m seriously concerned by her lack of original research on the matter of homosexuality, as you can ascertain by yourself by looking at the aforementioned dissertation on “Sexuality in Islam” [PDF].
I don’t see how it can even pass for academic research, given that the relevant section is plagiarised almost entirely from articles by Shabir Ally, Alia Amer and Bilal Philips [follow my links for the originals]. I don’t know whether the whole thesis is like that, but an hour or so with Google would do the trick. Certainly the Introduction is full of inexplicably long pastes (not properly cited) from the Safra Project, a British group promoting Muslim lesbianism.
[While reading the section, note also that in several places it says “Allah” where it ought to read “Islam”, “Qur’an” or “Muslims”.]
As to the question of whether homosexuality is a “disease”, I think that’s something open to debate from an Islamic perspective. Let’s consider the two possible meanings of “homosexuality”: (i) the experience of same-sex attraction by certain individuals; (ii) the societal phenomenon of same-sex sexual activity.
We look at (i) first, i.e. the individual level. Medically, the same-sex attractions would have a cause that might be described as a “disease” (an inherently negative description, but one that was widely used in such cases not long ago). The SSA are not the disease, but rather a symptom. What causes the SSA could be a mental illness. That is clearer in some individual cases than in others. Spiritually, SSA could also be described as symptomatic of a “disease of the heart”, something which Islam has described various forms of.
Then we consider (ii), the societal level. The spread of homosexual activity, and the accompanying acceptance within modern discourse and social norms, is a matter of concern from an Islamic moral perspective, and thus could be described metaphorically as a “disease” affecting the health of society. However, people should be careful using this terminology as it could be confused with matters discussed in (i).
The points we have just discussed are distinct from the common claim, made for example by Iqbal Sacranie of the MCB on 3rd January, that “if you look into the scientific evidence that has been available in terms of the forms of various other illnesses and diseases […] where homosexuality is practised there is a greater concern in that area.”
I suggested back then that he could have taken a much better approach and avoided the subsequent controversy. That being said, some people will never be satisfied, and so we find the despicable Tatchell summarising him as having “denounced gay people as harmful, immoral, unacceptable and diseased.” Even worse, Jamie Doward of the Observer then took that summary as if it were an actual quote from Sacranie! I wrote this letter to the paper (not published):
Jamie Doward wrote that the Muslim Council of Britain was “accused…of making a stunning U-turn” (News, last week), but he did not name the accusers. A look at a press release from Peter Tatchell and his OutRage organisation makes it clear that it was the sole source, which also set the bias of the article. Doward stated that Iqbal Sacranie “described homosexuals as ‘harmful, immoral, unacceptable and diseased’.” Yet this is not a direct quote of Sacranie; rather, it is a summary by Tatchell in his press release. The difference is far from trivial. It is one thing to use these individual words within an extended discussion of homosexuality as a social phenomenon, and quite another to string them together as a description of a certain sector within society. Tatchell – and indeed Doward – may disagree with Sacranie, but it is plainly unfair to misquote him, by any standard.