Palestine gives nod to ‘sex’ shop

In a Ramallah mosque, Ashraf Alkiswani sat before three sheikhs, elders with authority on matters of Islam, to ask for approval for his latest business project.

It is unusual for Palestinian entrepreneurs to seek religious authorisation for new ventures. But Alkiswani was not planning a plush restaurant in downtown Ramallah, or a coffee shop elsewhere in the West Bank; he was launching Palestine's first online sex shop.

"It's not about just sex. It's about love and the joy of expressing that love," he said. "It's about trying to build bridges across gaps that separate the husband from the wife by improving sexual harmony, which will in turn lead to happier marriages, less divorce and less infidelity. In that sense, it is a social project."

The newly refurbished online store, Karaz, which means cherries in Arabic, went live this week, selling items such as candy nipple tassels, "sexual enhancement products", lubricants and bedroom games, and offering sex advice for married couples. 

Alkiswani hopes to attract customers across the Arab world.

The website says: "Our aim is to provide a range of tasteful products to help rekindle the purity and passion between married couples. Karaz is proud to help foster healthy relationships and open communication by offering a wide spectrum of marital aids that help husbands and wives achieve and maintain an intimate lifestyle."

It adds: "Pornography and raunchy schematics are not used to sell our products."

As an unmarried 30-year-old Palestinian-American businessman operating within a culture where sex is reserved for the sanctity of marriage, Alkiswani was a little nervous about asking the sheikhs for their approval.

"I told them of the couple on their wedding night, the woman nervous and the man so eager to begin his sexual journey he didn't even think, or even know, to use foreplay. With her nervousness teamed with his eagerness, she ended up in hospital with bleeding for three days.

"There was also the woman who, at 25 with five children, had no idea about condoms. After she was shown how to use one, using her fingers as an example, she had sex with the condom on her fingers."

The sheikhs were in unanimous agreement. Alkiswani left the mosque with a fatwa – a legal judgment based upon Islamic law —approving the venture.

As with most religions, marriage is one of the most important pillars of Islamic society. 

"Islam promotes sexual intimacy between husband and wife, yet in society it is taboo to talk of it. So people shy away from asking questions," Alkiswani said.

Contrary to the common perception of many non-Muslims, the teachings of Islam encourage sexual intimacy and connectedness within a marriage, not just for procreation.

According to Islamic law, women are permitted to divorce their husband on the grounds of lack of sexual fulfilment. The husband's "wajib", or obligation, to have sexual relations with his wife as least once every four months is a conjugal right of the wife. The husband's failure to fulfil this obligation means the woman is permitted to seek a divorce.

Mufti Saleh M'yttan, an Islamic scholar who runs a daily radio programme in Palestine giving advice based upon the teachings of Islam, said: "The West looks at Islam with misconceptions, from sexual relations to the place of women. Islam as a religion respects women. Islam also supports anything that helps the married couple to connect."

"There's a hadith [a pronouncement from Muhammad] that says: ‘Not one of you should fall upon his wife like an animal; but let there first be a messenger between you.' And what is that messenger? Kisses and words," explained Alkiswani.

"Here there is a clear promotion of sensuality, of taking time to make love to your wife."

Palestinian society is not yet ready for Alkiswani's sex shop to take a physical form. For now, his website will be delivering plain brown paper packages to married couples across the Middle East. – © Guardian News & Media 2013

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