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Heba Kotb goes global December 6, 2006

Posted by Rasheed Eldin in Concepts, Islam, Responses.
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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.

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Comments»

1. anon - April 26, 2007

Very nice article. Good work!

2. Johnson - August 24, 2007

I heard much about that lady, which pushed me to find her and go listening directly from her about what she sees about that issue, as everybody knows sometimes articles are usually reflecting the editor’s point of you, and being a gay then I needed to know more about that debate despite not having had the intentgion of changing my orientation.
Oh my God, it was a turning point in my life, the lady proved tyo be right, I was very attracted by the way she was thinking and by her great self confidence which was automatically transferred to me.
We have different relkigions and backgrounds, but, believe it or nor, she did it. I am happening to be a STRAIGHT guy now at all levels.
I am married, and desiring my wife and…other “women”…
try this, it would really change your lives and yould make you really proud of yourselves.

mueen zawi - July 20, 2011

Hi there Johnson,
did you really go to her and got the benefit

I really wanna know if that works or not

Mueen Zawi - August 22, 2011

please tell me, how many sessions did you need monthly and how many months did it last
I`m so desperate.

3. mahmoud hassan - January 4, 2008

i was proud with her program for all muslems because that subject is very importatant and is the actual reason of most married people in arab world
actually i need that program to rearranged again
thank u a lot and many contragulations for Dr.heba kotb .

4. samy - June 22, 2008

she is a real open-minded woman.I believe her and her message I hope Allah help and protect her

5. wiki - June 29, 2008

GREAT! she calls it a disease meaning no punishment … how can you punish for something that is an illness?

🙂 YAY!

6. Taleb Haqq - June 30, 2008

wiki she calls the feelings is a disease certainly not the actions…why don’t you want to understand that?

7. wiki - June 30, 2008

is there a difference between feeling like i have flu and i have flu?

is there a difference between feeling like i am gay and i am gay?

is there a difference between feeling like i am sick and i am sick?

What you are trying to say to me is: It is okay if u feel like u have the flu AS LONG AS your nose isnt running. It is okay if ur sick AS LONG AS ur body temperatures doesnt go up. It is okay if ur gay AS LONG AS you dont sleep with other men. your asking for the impossible.

8. Taleb Haqq - July 1, 2008

There is an absolute difference between having a runny nose and going out and having sex with a guy…if you can’t see the difference between the two then I’m afraid our dialogue is useless.

9. s sheikh - February 1, 2009

she is right saying homosexuality is a diease. Qur’an reject such activities and it is punishable.

10. Rasheed Eldin - March 30, 2009

The fact that the Qur’an forbids homosexual acts does not entail that homosexuality should be described as a “disease” – it’s a more subtle matter, as I discussed in the article above.

11. Nick Grashof - May 8, 2009

Dear Ms. Kobt, it is great guilt not to accept homosexuality and to judge ethical and political questions under a limited religious view and not to be open to resolve problems. Exploitation and repression, pollutzion of the environment and killing and slaughting animals, keeping animals captured is great guilt, too.

Kind regards
Nick Grashof

12. Imam - September 5, 2010

Mr.Rasheed Eldin wrote the following sentence:

“Spiritually, SSA could also be described as symptomatic of a “disease of the heart”

Mr.Rashed Eldin,I am a muslim guy with SSA.I am 28 years old and I have these SSA since I was 4 years old.I consider myself a pious muslim Alhamdullah and I pray all the 5 prayers mostly in Jamaa in masjid and I read Quran daily.I am close to Islam and close Allah teachings all my entire life and moreover I do NOT have a disease in my heart.
Being ssa does NOT mean having a disease in my heart.It’s a psychological matter not spiritual.
I am extremely hurt by your words and this is the second time someone from your community/followers to describe me having a disease in my heart although I am sure I don’t.

Rasheed Eldin - September 7, 2010

Salam brother,

Thanks for your feedback, and I’m sorry to know my words caused you hurt. At the same time, I would suggest not to take things personally, when what was intended was an analysis of someone else’s reported claim (that “homosexuality is a disease”), and on the whole I was disputing that way of talking about it.

I would also respectfully draw your attention to two matters concerning my point about it possibly being a “symptomatic of a disease of the heart”:

1. The distinction between psychological and spiritual is not absolute, as your reply suggested. The two are intimately linked. Indeed, in Arabic they refer to psychologists as “scientists/doctors of the Nafs”, which is exactly how we refer to the soul in Islamic contexts. The Sufi heritage contains a great deal of what would now be termed psychology.

2. I mean no disrespect when I state clearly that being a pious, practising Muslim does not guarantee being free of diseases of the heart. I too am a practising Muslim, yet I know very well that my heart is very full of diseases, which I must struggle to purify it from. This is nothing specific to the affliction of same-sex attraction. May Allah grant us purity of heart in this most blessed of months, ameen.

13. fatima - August 19, 2011

how can oral sex ever be halal? it is unnatural to do such filthy acts with the same mouth that you read the glorious quran with,that you pray to almighty allah with. i mean individually it is wrong and shouldn’t be allowed,concerning this i think Dr. Heba Kotb is dearly wrong but otherwise on her homosexuality topic i think she is more or less right that it is indeed a disease of the mind not the heart.

Rasheed Eldin - August 20, 2011

Salam, Fatima and thanks for sharing your opinion. This is a matter on which Islamic scholars have various statements. We should separate between what is established with evidence, and what could be subjective according to individuals and societies over time.

In our context here, since we are calling people away from sex outside marriage, it would be inappropriate to start prohibiting acts between husband and wife, other than what is proven through the hadith (i.e. anal).

What you find disgusting, you will obviously not do, but other people who don’t see it that way are free to act according to what makes their marital life more fulfilling. The argument you make could just as easily be extended inappropriately to make all or most sexual intimacy “disgusting”.


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