Karaz, sex 101 for the Middle East

By Ashraf Alkiswani

I remember sitting down with friends from different NGOs who were working on education programs in villages across Palestine while they told hilarious, yet truly horrifying stories about the ignorance they encountered during their work. Some women they were encountering were having child after child with no notion of howUmmah Wide White Logo children were conceived except that it involved intercourse, but the details were a mystery. The existence of different contraceptives came as a shock to many and even after extensive counseling on how to use said contraceptives, these women were becoming pregnant because of this same ignorance.

At first I was amused, but then I got to really thinking how sad it was. These women were miserable because they kept having children they couldn’t afford, yet they didn’t know any other way. They had no access to education, and they had nobody to talk to because the subject involved sex, and everybody knows that in the Middle East and North Africa, sex is a taboo subject.

That’s when the idea for Karaz took root. I wanted to create a site for engaged or married men and women to turn to whenever they had any questions regarding relationships, including sexual relationships, from the safety and anonymity of their own homes. I wanted a person to be able to go to this one site and find everything they needed to know about sex from a medical and psychological standpoint, without any profanity, nudity, or sexualization, just facts.

I knew from the start that I would encounter resistance and criticism, but I also knew that there was a legitimate need for something like this and was prepared to brave the storm.

Sex is a three-letter word that some view as a natural part of life. Others see it as a manifestation of the love a husband and wife have for one another. While others view it as something to be ashamed of. But the reality is that sex is an important component of marriage. Islamic law gives either partner the right to divorce in the absence of sexual satisfaction. There are countless Hadiths (Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) that discuss the importance of sexual relations to a marriage. In terms of religion, there was nothing preventing me from addressing these issues in a respectful manner. When I began looking into relationships in general and how they were faring, I was pretty shocked. We have this view that divorce exists only in the US and Europe, but the more I dug, the more I uncovered.

Divorce rates in the MENA region are sky high and continue to grow. A lot of women who ask for divorce during their first year cite sexual incompatibility as a reason.

Now, more than ever I believe in the importance of Karaz. Every day we receive messages from people with questions that they want answers to. People that NEED answers to questions that they are too ashamed to ask. Our company is continuing to grow and is regularly visited by people in 48 countries around the world. Even our critics have become reluctant fans because they found nothing to criticize and sometimes found themselves in need of our support and advice.

We needed to have a forum where the sexual relationship between couples is treated as a necessary part of a healthy marriage and that addresses all aspects of this relationship without shame. And now there is one: Karaz. In order for anything in life to work, you have to put in time and effort. This includes all aspects of marriage: communication, partnership and physical intimacy. At Karaz, you can find articles that address all sorts of issues regarding the marriage bed and relationships in general. There’s a message board where you can post questions and get answers by other members, as well as Karaz’s doctors or psychologists, depending on which is appropriate.

Although this is just the beginning of our journey, we will continue to grow, to add more articles and information and help more people overcome whatever issues they’re struggling with in their personal lives. We also hope to shift the view of what sex is and what it isn’t. It isn’t something dirty, but it is as Allah meant it to be: a beautiful way to forge a bond between husband and wife.


Sexual Health Education Still Inadequate

TMO Editor’s Note:  The following is a very frank account of a woman’s experiences before her conversion to Islam.

By Karin Friedemann

sex_ed1There is a time in every girl’s life that she looks to her mother for guidance. That time may pass, so it’s important to capitalize upon this moment. When I was eleven, I asked my mother if I should save my virginity for marriage. She answered me with the standard answer of modern America, “I don’t care what you do, just don’t get pregnant.” This was very unfortunate because I had been reading religious literature aimed at teens advising them not to have sex. I was willing to consider it. I was eleven, and my mother threw me to the wolves.

By the time I was 15 I got my first STD, chlamydia. When I was 19, I contracted HPV and herpes that took me years to overcome. Although youths in school are warned about deadly diseases like AIDS, nobody actually mentions how many bacteria, yeasts and fungi, or viruses are spread around through sexual intercourse every time. That point needs to be stressed: every time you have sex, you expose yourself to someone else’s bacteria, fungi and viruses, which are always there even if not to the point of causing immediate disease symptoms.

I think the reason I didn’t use condoms as often as I should have was because of my deep down conservative values. Even at 15, I truly wanted a child. I wanted someone to love me and take care of me so that I could have a child. In some countries I could have been married but that was not my fate.

All I can say now in my comfortable middle age is that it doesn’t matter if you are 20 or 40. Even a brief stray into the realm of casual dating could cause you to become infected with a disease. That disease could take you months or years to overcome through lifestyle changes and diet and prayer.

Do not underestimate the value of your chastity. Marriage is a hard road, but there is no comfort and security in casual dating. Marriage might cost you thousands in a divorce, but that is better than ten years of searing pain in your genitals. What people don’t understand is that disease is almost guaranteed when you have sex with a non-chaste person. 35% of Americans have some form of herpes. 80% have been exposed to HPV, which can lead to cancer. Even condoms can cause yeast infections. Vaginal strep infections are as common as step throat, but the bacteria can spread into the uterus and beyond.

So what do we do if we have already messed up and now we are facing the consequences? We invited poisoned people into our lives and we invited these diseases to take root inside our bodies. We have to take responsibility for that, and then we need to ask the Lord for forgiveness so that we can forgive ourselves, because disease flourishes in an environment of unresolved conflict.

We were given these challenges to DARE us to jump-start our lives and immune systems. I think when we become depressed or we hold anger inside we can get sick because people who should have been there for us were not. Even way before we noticed it like when a crisis came up. But nobody stopped us from loving ourselves but our own damaged belief systems especially the outdated belief that we need someone else to take care of us other than Allah.

For a newborn child, being loved is the same as life. If a newborn child were abandoned, he or she would die. It is totally natural for our bodies to associate lack of loving affection with impending death. As adults we have to stop waiting for affection if it is not forthcoming. That state of waiting will kill us. We are not helpless. It is just our baby self that is helpless. Even though we may have been abandoned, we would never abandon our child. And yet, we may still need help to care for our inner child. Imagine if you found a starved, abandoned baby. You would call someone.

As parents, in addition to giving compassionate advice, the best thing we can do to protect our children from viruses, bacteria and fungi however contracted is to make sure our family eats well. It can be hard to convince a teenager to eat anything at all, given society’s emphasis on calorie counting. However, the best we can do is to help our children associate food with good feelings and warm memories of togetherness. Eating disorders resulting in life long nutritional deficits that lower the immune system can be traced back to unhealthy emotions at the family dinner table, or the lack of any family dinner. Ultimately, a person’s ability to fight disease rests on his past history of healthy eating habits and a deep reservoir of love to draw upon in times of need.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based freelance writer.


Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent


Mall of the Emirates, Dubai

Stolen glances, quiet giggles and flushed faces are just a few of the hallmarks of mingling with the opposite sex in the Middle East. Dating is wholly unacceptable and considered politically incorrect in the conservative Gulf region, which applies the letter of the Islamic law when it comes to relations between members of the opposite sex. However, as with most social aspects of life that governments attempt to control, where there is a will there is a way.

Tweens, teens and twenty-some things in the Middle East have come up with their own brand of dating that is not only secretive but also kept largely away from the public eye. Since a suitor driving up to a girl’s home is not an option, many Arab youths have capitalized on the abundance of luxury malls in the region. Many boys and girls cruise the malls looking for someone that catches their eye. Most malls are so enormous that is it easy to slip away from one’s family should the occasion arise. And while the ‘hunt’ may be extremely public, communications are kept excruciatingly secret. In many cases the boy will walk past a girl that catches his eye and slip his phone number to her on a piece of paper. It’s really up to her what she does with it, as some girls might call the boy and others may simply crunch the paper into a nearby garbage can. And in other cases both boys and girls interested in this new form of dating use technology to hook up.

Bluetooth cellular phone technology is the biggest ally for Arab youths wanting to find that special someone. Amorous boys and girls often send out random Bluetooth messages in both Arabic and English. Then they wait to see who will respond and reply back. It’s a little known fact that Bluetooth messaging has ignited countless numbers of romances in the Gulf. Unfortunately, many married men and women that happen to have their Blue Tooth switched on in the vicinity often get caught up in the wide-scoped message, which can create suspicion within their own union.

Once the match is made, actually going out on a date is almost a mission impossible. In the conservative Middle East, males enjoy more freedom than their female counterparts. For a girl to successfully get away from her parent’s watchful eyes she would have to lie and, most likely, enlist the help of some of her girlfriends to turn the date into a reality. And the date itself typically takes place on a local beach or garden, as it would be impractical to go to a restaurant or even the movies.

Two of the most relaxed Middle Eastern countries, when it comes to cruising for dates, are Kuwait and Bahrain. The opportunities for meeting are immense and there is very little enforcement when it comes to youths of the opposite sex scoping each other out. Contrastingly, Saudi Arabia takes a hard line against co-mingling and has its own religious police force to maintain segregation between the sexes. Even the UAE is becoming more stringent when it comes to public displays of affection.

The reality of this secretive form of dating is that Arab youths are dealing with adult issues that they may not be ready to cope with due to lack of sexual education in the region. They also lack parental support and intuition since the dating falls far below most parent’s radar. It’s very common to read in local newspapers about a young girl running off with a boyfriend. Instances of sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy and ‘date rape’ are on the rise. Unfortunately, due to the secretive nature of relationships between youths in the Gulf and most Arab governments unwillingness to admit that there is a problem, statistics revealing the magnitude of the issue are not readily available.