Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Discussion Questions for a Gender/Sexuality & Islam course - week 2

       So I'm TAing (and sometimes teaching) this class on Islam & Sexuality, which means a ton of fascinating and enlightening material. Sometimes controversial, too--but that's okay since, remember: I love controversy.

The course is assigned under an umbrella of several "controversial" courses offered by our university, with the objective of teaching students how to hold debates, how to listen to and acknowledge a different perspective without necessarily adopting it. It's a beautiful and engaging class, with intelligent and enthusiastic students who seem to be enjoying it as much as I am. It's one of those classes where you can bet your exotic eyes that you'll never hear silence!

Each week, I send the students a list of questions on their readings. (I intend to do this for the first few weeks and will gradually begin to ask them to come up with questions of their own--so as to ensure that they can detect significant points themselves from the things they read.) A couple of people have asked me to share these questions on my blog. I'm happy to do so, but I will not share the answers. We can discuss the possible answers in the comments or something. I'll also cite the readings the questions are for in case you're interested in reading them and all. Needless to say, I would appreciate any sort of feedback on the questions, especially from experienced TAs or instructors. What have you discovered is helpful for you and/or your students? What hasn't worked well, contrary to your expectations?

All right. So, the following questions are from last week's readings. The students were required to answer 7 from the first set, and the second set is only for them to just think about without submitting the answers. We are not to share--and are certainly prohibited to impose--our own opinions on any subject on the students, and we are instead to introduce the students to as many different perspectives as we are aware of. Believe it or not (being the qrratu that I am, haaa haaa), my students have no idea what my personal positions are on any of the issues we have discussed so far. I consider that a success, okay? :)


- "Islam and Sexuality: orthodoxy and contestations" (editorial introduction) by Andrew Kam-Tuck Yip (Feb. 2009)
- "Sexual ethics, marriage, and sexual autonomy: the landscapes for Muslimat and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered Muslims" by Dervla Sara Shannahan (Jan. 2009)
- "Homosexual in ISlam: A difficult paradox" by Nicole Kligerman  (Spring 2007)
- "Sexuality in Morocco: changing context and contested domain" by Carla Makhlouf Obermeyer (2000)

In at least three of this week’s articles, we read that there is no such thing as “homosexuality,” or there is no word for “homosexuality,” or that the concept of “homosexuality” does not exist in many parts of the world, but particularly in the Arab and Islamic world. What is your understanding of this? How do the authors explain this?  Be sure to discuss the differences between “homosexual acts” and “homosexual identities”—and between “desire” and “action.”

On page 69, Andrew Yip writes: “… as scholars … have rightly pointed out, although issues about sexuality are seemingly personal, private, and intimate, they have a significant public policy dimension because they are related to our status and rights as citizens, thus inextricably linked to other aspects of social life.”
What exactly does this mean? In which ways is the personal also the political?

Also on page 69, we read that “religion … is ‘obsessed with the bodies—their gendered nature, their ambivalent desires, their couplings,’” etc. In other words, religion is obsessed with sexuality. Please explain why you agree or disagree with this, offering as much detail as necessary.

Why do you think it is important to discuss sexuality, particularly how it is lived? What does Yip say about this? 

Dervla Shannahan writes, on page 77, that it is difficult to discuss same-sex relationships within the existing Islamic legal framework. What does she mean, and what is the existing legal framework in Islam? Be sure to incorporate ideas of power and control in your responses.

6.       What is Shannahan’s critique of existing literature on homosexuality in Islam? Why do you think it matters whether more attention is given to male homosexuality or female homosexuality, and why does it (or does it at all?) matter who is writing about this issue?

In Shannahan’s article, how do her respondents (at least one of them) interpret the Lot story, which has historically been used as a justification to condemn homosexuals and homosexuality in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity? Why, according to this interpretation, did God destroy Lot’s people?

8.       What role has the West (western imperialism and colonialism) played in the increasing stigma against homosexuality in the Muslim world? Were homosexuals always perceived the way they are today in that part of the world?

9.       In her article, Nicole Kligerman fails to address female homosexuality. Why do you think this is—and why is it, if at all, a problem? Be sure to refer to Shannahan’s critique on this issue in your discussion.

10.   Carla Obermeyer, in the article “Sexuality in Morocco,” discusses some of the ways in which traditional ideas of marriage and sex are being challenged. What are these?

11.   In Obermeyer’s article, how do power relations work during and in sexual activity, particularly between husband and wife, in Morocco? How do women reason not being the initiators of sex?

12.   Obermeyer also addresses the issue of “dating” in Morocco and illustrates its complex nature, which is far too similar to the way “dating” works in many other Muslim cultures today. How does she explain this complexity? What makes it so complicated? How is it different for males and females?


Other questions for you to consider (not included among those you may choose to answer for submission):

1. What does it mean to be granted sexual autonomy? Why is this important?

On page 79, we are presented with a very problematic hadith (Prophetic statement) about a man’s right to expect and demand sexual pleasure from his wife. What exactly is problematic about it?

What is “emergency homosexuality”? (from Nicole Kligerman’s article)

Going back to the question of how the concept of “homosexuality” does not exist in many parts of the world, Nicole Kligerman writes, on page 101, that “In the Muslim world, it is common to engage in homosexual activity without being considered gay if one is the active partner in the act.” What does she mean by this, and what are some of the examples she gives in her discussion? Importantly, what does she mean when she writes that homosexuality is largely permitted in the Shari’a if it is not openly displayed? (HINT: the desire vs action logic.)

For week 3 discussion questions, please click here.

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