A Dutch-Moroccan entrepreneur has denied planning to open a “halal” sex shop in Mecca after the story made headlines around the world this week. It's not that he thinks it would be taboo -- on the contrary, he insists that his company’s line of intimate products would not be out of place in Islam’s most holy city -- but rather he's criticizing the media for jumping on the story without substantiating it.
“The media attention that it’s getting is unbelievable,” Abdelaziz Aouragh, the founder of El Asira, said in an interview with Think Progress. “I’m getting requests from all corners of the world who want to know about the story in Mecca and I’m like, you don’t have your facts straight, unfortunately.”
Aouragh attributed the mistaken reports that he was planning to open the “Shariah-compliant” sex shop in Mecca to previous remarks he made about opening a concept store for his company’s line of lubricants and lingerie. Many media reports cited an April 12 story by the Moroccan news site Alyaoum24 that incorporated an older interview with Aouragh into a story headlined “Moroccan intends to open a Halal sex shop in Makkah.”
“I think the term, using ‘halal sex shop’ or a ‘sex shop’ in combination with Mecca is very sensational, so media will be very eager to pick that up,” Aouragh said. While the reports may have been incorrect, Aouragh says the presence of such a store in the holy city would not be as shocking as some reports would suggest.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s most conservative Muslim country, may implement a strict code of public modesty and gender segregation, but that does not necessarily translate into a ban on private expressions of sexuality. The kingdom is home to a wide variety of lingerie stores, including in Mecca itself, with Western brands like Victoria’s Secret expanding alongside popular local companies like Nayomi. Aouragh said that even with Saudi Arabia’s strict laws on gender mixing, Islamic tradition not only encourages intimacy for married couples but also places an emphasis on sexual pleasure.
Indeed, the idea of Islamic prudery — a widespread perception in the West— is preposterous to many Muslims, according to Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, the founder of Muslimgirl.net, a site dedicated to millennial Muslim women. “Contrary to what the public may think, Muslims have been having sex since Islam started,” she said. “In Islam, sex is an essential part of spirituality. Having those loving relations within the bounds of marriage, it’s very highly honored… in fact, a man not being able to sexually satisfy his wife is grounds for divorce in Islam.”
However, misconceptions about the role of sex and sexuality in Islam persist because of the tendency of Western media to fixate on issues that seem to exotify Muslims, of which breathless coverage of the Mecca sex store is an example, Al-Khatahtbeh said. “It just seems like there’s this constant fixation on all of these little details of Muslim life and, by amplifying them as if they’re something unprecedented, all we’re doing is saying again that Muslims are just this complete other and don’t fit in with our society.”