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Q: Can you share any experiences in which you were surprised?
A: A couple of years ago there was a Lebanese TV talk show that had an episode on sexual life in the Arab region. A man from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, gave up a glimpse of his sexual life. It was tame by Western standards, for sure. It was almost girlishly discreet. The day after, there were thousands of complaints to the governor of Jeddah. He was sacked from his job at Saudi Arabian Airlines because he said that his fantasy was the Mile High Club. The fact he worked on the ground staff was neither here nor there. They sacked him, and he was sentenced to I think five years in prison and a thousand lashes.
The sentence was commuted, but what was most interesting is that he was not being punished for what he did. He was being punished for what he said he had done. We don’t have a culture of confession in Islam. We are enjoined to conceal our sins.
When we have this gap between appearance and reality, so many problems come in, whether it’s sexual violence, sexual dissatisfaction within marriage, or HIV/AIDS. We need to find a way to talk about these things. My argument in the book is that a thousand years ago—not that we go back to that period, it was a different time, I’m not a sexual Salafi here—but our ancestors seemed to have an ability to reconcile Islam with the needs of the flesh. They were able to talk about it and generate information. We need to recapture that spirit.