Aurat March's Slogan 'Mera Jism Meri Marzi' Is Also About Liberating Men

Recently, a young professor, Junaid Ahmad came out with a deeply personal story of the sexual abuse he had experienced for nine years at the hands of an educator. This is not the first time that such a high-profile case has emerged for there have been cases where well known Muslim academics and preachers, most notably Tariq Ramadan and Nouman Ali Khan, have been accused of sexual abuse. It takes a great deal of courage to come out with such instances of traumatic life experiences that are often associated with intense shame. My purpose here is not to delve into this case but to underscore a few observations that are instructive for the general Pakistani and Muslim community that often pushes such issues under the carpet.

First, it is important to note that straight men, who are at the apex of the social hierarchical order, in contrast to women, LGBTQ folks or young boys, can also be sexually abused. This confirms that sexual abuse is about power and control, as opposed to dress choice or sexual attraction, for often there is huge power asymmetry between the victim and the perpetrator. It is not uncommon to hear stories of young South Asian or Filipino men who have been sexually abused in foreign countries where their visa or passport is under the control of their employers, who take advantage of their economic vulnerability.

Often in such cases the young man is not in a position to protest for his livelihood or economic circumstances do not allow for much of an escape. However, apart from sexual exploitation on the basis of economic conditions of the victim, there is also sexual exploitation on the basis of spirituality. This happens when the victim places an undue trust, other than Allah, on a pir, murshid (spiritual guide), guru or celebrity scholar. This is important to understand because human beings are most vulnerable in their spirituality and sexuality, both of which are intimate parts of one’s life. Therefore, it is not surprising that many cases of sexual abuse apart from economic superiors emerge from spiritual seniors.

Second, it is important to highlight the abuse of straight men because often gay Muslims are analysed, dissected and portrayed as victims of sexual abuse, who then are alleged to be “addicted” to that abuse. In other words, the victims of sexual abuse are then projected as perpetrators of that abuse. There is some research that shows that Saudi men, abused in the past, redirect their aggression towards other men or their wives. There is also a movie ‘Mysterious Skin’ from 2004 that explored how the sexual abuse of two boys affected their sexual behaviour in different ways so that one gets hypersexualized whereas the other becomes recluse. Regardless, sexual orientation should never be conflated with sexual behaviour because tenderness, love and compassion for another person does not arise from something ugly and painful as sexual abuse.

This is affirmed by Muslim jurists like Ibn Hazm who wrote that, “love is neither disapproved by Religion, nor prohibited by the Law; for every heart is in God's hands.” Jurists like him unabashedly wrote about the love for other men, and in his case, he wrote about Ibn al Tubni that, “it might have been said that beauty itself was created in his likeness, or fashioned out of the sighs of those who looked upon him.” Such jurists also resisted the efforts of other more stringent jurists who wanted to ban such effusive expressions. The point here is that where culturally Pakistanis and Muslims in general like to analyse gay folks as products of sexual abuse, Muslim literature paints an entirely different picture by celebrating same-sex love.

To recapitulate, we have to separate sexual orientation from sexual abuse for many straight men are also vulnerable to being sexually abused on the basis of both economic and spiritual exploitation. This means that slogans like “mera jism meri marzi” (my body my choice) that are about the bodily autonomy of women create an institution that eventually ends up liberating straight men.

In essence, every human being including women, LGBTQ folks or straight men, deserves to be treated with respect especially in the age of cell phone technology and commodification where we reduce them to body parts and objects to be had for personal gratification. This means our sexual ethics have to go beyond mere washing after ejaculation or wet dreams to incorporate teachings on consent and empowerment. As such, “mera jism meri marzi” isn’t a license to immorality, as the ignorant claim, but about strengthening our spirituality and ethics. We need to reiterate the spiritual lesson that all human beings are bestowed with ird (dignity) which cannot be violated, that our spirituality and sexuality cannot be controlled by another human being, and that we place trust not in any intermediary guru or scholar but in Allah alone – la ilaha ilallah (there is no god but God).

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the editorial position of Naya Daur Media.