The List

Sex and the Single Mullah

Islamic scholars are prepared to answer questions and issue fatwas on almost any realm of modern life. Sometimes, it can get a little kinky.

Geologically induced accidental incestuous penetration

Ayatollah Gilani, Iran

As Karim Sadjadpour recounts in his new article for Foreign Policy, an obscure cleric known as Ayatollah Gilani had a popular television show in the early days of the Iranian revolution during which he would opine upon the halal or haram status of various outlandish scenarios. His best-remembered went like this:

Imagine you are a young man sleeping in your bedroom. In the bedroom directly below, your aunt lies asleep. Now imagine that an earthquake happens that collapses your floor, causing you to fall directly on top of her. For the sake of argument, let's assume that you're both nude, and you're erect, and you land with such perfect precision on top of her that you unintentionally achieve intercourse. Is the child of such an encounter halalzadeh (legitimate) or haramzadeh (a bastard)?

(It's halalzadeh in case you were wondering.)

In another famous broadcast, Gilani allegedly recalled being sexually aroused in the back seat of his chauffeured car after catching site of a few inches of a woman's exposed ankle on the street. Naughty.

Eating your animal sex partner

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

In his 1961 book, A Clarification of Questions, the supreme leader aimed to set out his position on 3,000 questions of everyday life, though "everyday" might be pushing it for some of them. Most famously, the ayatollah ruled that "If a person has intercourse with a cow, a sheep, or a camel, their urine and dung become impure and drinking their milk will be unlawful."

The ayatollah also ruled that "Industrial alcohol used for painting doors, tables, chairs, etc., is clean if one does not know it was made of something inebriating" and, as apparently a fan of rudimentary in vitro fertilization, that "It is not unlawful to introduce a man's semen into the uterus of his wife with devices such as suction cups."

Workplace Breastfeeding

Dr. Izzat Atiya, lecturer at Cairo's al-Azhar University

In 2007, Atiya was responding to a question of whether it's permissible for a woman to work alone with a man in an office setting, or reveal her hair in front of him. His not-so-elegant solution was that such an arrangement would be acceptable if the woman fed the man "directly from her breast" at least five times, thus making them essentially family members.

"Breast feeding an adult puts an end to the problem of the private meeting, and does not ban marriage," he ruled. "A woman at work can take off the veil or reveal her hair in front of someone whom she breastfed."

Atiya was widely mocked for the ruling and withdrew the fatwa after he was disciplined by his university, blaming it on "bad interpretation." The controversy prompted Egypt's minister of religious affairs to call for future fatwas to "be compatible with logic and human nature."

Getting Naked

Rashad Hassan Khalil, former dean of Islamic law at Cairo's al-Azhar University

"We don't have to take our clothes off to have a good time," promised a U.S. pop hit of the 1980s. Khalil would apparently agree. In 2006, the scholar ruled that being completely naked during sex would invalidate a couple's marriage.

Other scholars quickly disputed the ruling, saying that "anything that can bring spouses closer to each other" should be encouraged. Yet another scholar suggested it was OK for the couple to be naked -- as long as they avoided looking at each other's genitals.

Oral sex


There seems to be a vigorous debate among scholars about oral sex, both for men and women. The popular Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi has declared that "it is lawful for the husband to perform cunnilingus on his wife, or a wife to perform the similar act for her husband [fellatio], and there is no wrong in doing so. But if sucking leads to releasing semen, then it is makruh [blameworthy], but there is no decisive evidence [to forbid it] … especially if the wife agrees with it or achieves orgasm by practicing it."

Other clerics disagree, such as Muhammed Saeed of the popular South African Islamic advice website Madressah Arabia Islamia, arguing that "It does not behoove a Muslim to use for such a filthy purpose the same mouth that he/she uses for the tilaawat of the Qur'aan."

In response to a question from a reader about the permissibility of oral sex with a condom, the website IslamWeb noncommittally advises that, "We cannot authoritatively say that this act is forbidden or that the person who does so is sinful, especially with the use of a condom which prevents the impurity from touching the mouth."

Men can't masturbate … unless they really, really want to

TV theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi

According to Qaradawi, a man is permitted to masturbate under two conditions: If he doesn't have the means to marry, or if he fears that he might otherwise commit fornication or adultery.

One could be cynical about this advice and assume it amounts to "don't masturbate unless you want to." But Qaradawi advises that before masturbating, young men with wondering minds should first try fasting or admiring "natural things such as flowers and beautiful scenery, which do not stimulate one sexually."

Getting frisky in the vegetable aisle

Imam Abdelbari Zemzami

This Moroccan cleric has become well known in recent years for weighing in on matters of the flesh. But he recently raised some eyebrows among both secularists and religious conservatives with a fatwa on female masturbation, which he said was permissible for women who are widowed, divorced, or had lost hope that they would ever have sexual relations with a man.

"A woman can get much benefit from these vegetables and other elongated objects," the imam said, listing pestles, bottles, and root vegetables among other suggested implements.

Girls on bikes

Mufti Arshad Faruqui, Darul Uloom fatwa department, Lucknow, India

A scholar at Saudi Arabia's top religious council got a lot of attention last year for warning that allowing women to drive cars would lead to the "end of virginity."

But the chairman of a renowned Islamic seminary in India took aim last year at an even more insidious threat: Girls on bicycles. "When a grown-up girl goes cycling outside her house, it is bound to result in bepardagi [undue exposure]," he said. "Even medical science has given us evidence to believe that cycling is not good for adolescent girls, physically. Apart from affecting their femininity, it is harmful for their body structure."

In response, Lucknow's main imam urged Faruqui to "desist from issuing such impractical advice."

Too sexy for this tennis court

Haseeb-ul-hasan Siddiqui of India's Sunni Ulema Board

India's best ever female tennis star and the first Indian to ever win a World Tennis Association event, Sania Mirza, became a huge celebrity in her home country. But, as Mirza came from a devout Muslim family, the standard women's tennis attire of short skirts and tight T-shirts vexed religious authorities, and in 2005, a group of Muslim clerics issued a fatwa urging her to cover up.

"The dress she wears on the tennis courts not only doesn't cover large parts of her body but leaves nothing to the imagination," said Siddiqui. The board suggested that she wear long tunics and headscarves like those sported by Iranian badminton players.

Mirza got in trouble with secular authorities as well in 2011 when a court complaint was filed against her for disrespecting the Indian flag by putting her bare feet near it


Cholil Ridwan, the Indonesia Council of Ulema

Lady Gaga might not be the first pop star to upset religious conservatives, but her condemnation from Indonesia's top religious authority prior to a planned concert in the country was notable for its specificity. "She is from the West, and she often shows her aurat [genitalia] when performing," Ridwan said, taking offense to the "Bad Romance" singer's "revealing outfits and sexualized dance moves."

Just in case you were wondering how such a pious religious authority came to know so much about Gaga's routine, he claimed he had never seen one of her performances … but was aware of her "reputation."

Majid/Getty Images

Chris Hondros/Getty Images


Majid Saeedi/Getty Images



Joe Raedle/Getty Images


Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Clear Channel

The List

The Heroines of the Arab World

Twelve women challenging their societies to change the status quo.

Sixteen-year-old Amina Filali became a cause célèbre for Moroccan women's rights activists when she committed suicide by swallowing rat poison after she was forced to marry her rapist in accordance with a court order. Her act triggered a human rights campaign -- including a sit-in outside Parliament, a petition, and a Facebook group -- to repeal Article 475 in Morocco's penal code, which allows men to escape punishment for crimes if they wed their victims. One week after Filali died in the northwestern city of Larache, hundreds of women's rights advocates filled the streets in the capital, Rabat, to protest the retrograde law.


Computer security consultant Manal al-Sharif made headlines in May 2011 when a colleague filmed her driving a car in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, as part of her advocacy campaign for Saudi women's right to drive. The video was posted on YouTube and Facebook, and it soon spread like wildfire. Four days later, about 600,000 people had already watched the footage. Although officials jailed her for nine days as punishment for breaking the prohibition on female drivers in Saudi Arabia -- the only country in the world with such a ban -- her actions successfully galvanized a rare bout of popular protest in the kingdom. On June 17, several dozen Saudi women got behind the wheel to repeat Sharif's act of defiance.


On March 9, 2011, Salwa el-Husseini, Samira Ibrahim, and Rasha Abdel Rahman were just peaceful protesters at a sit-in at Tahrir Square -- a small group of thousands who had gathered to protest against the ruling military regime. But that changed when they were arrested by the Egyptian military along with 15 other female activists, strip-searched, and subjected to "virginity tests" in which the hymen is forcefully penetrated to check for blood. The three broke long-standing social taboos by speaking out about their treatment: Husseini agreed to be filmed as she recounted what happened at a news conference, while Abdel Rahman gave graphic details of her abuse in court. Although a military tribunal cleared the doctor who performed the tests of all charges, Ibrahim won a major victory when a Cairo administrative court heard her case and banned virginity tests on female detainees in military prisons.


Pediatric consultant Najwa Fituri is in charge of treating premature babies at the al-Jalaa maternity hospital in Benghazi, Libya, but when the revolution against Muammar al-Qaddafi descended into a bloody civil war, she heeded a new calling: smuggling drugs to treat anti-Qaddafi fighters. A member of the female empowerment group Women for Libya, Fituri hopes to be part of a new generation of Libyan women. "If [women] are qualified, they should be leaders of Libya," she told the BBC in December. "Everyone has the right to dream."


Without the perseverance of human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh, the world would be even more in the dark about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's killings and torture of civilian protesters. Her daily reporting on the Assad regime's atrocities -- which she posted to her website, the Syrian Human Rights Information Link -- served as a critical source for foreign media. Although forced to go into hiding in March 2011 after the government accused her of being a foreign agent, Zaitouneh was awarded the Anna Politkovskaya Award for her human rights activism in a conflict zone, and she was a co-recipient of last year's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Foreign Policy also honored her in 2011 as one of its top 100 Global Thinkers. "I'm very proud to be Syrian and to be part of these historical days, and to feel all that greatness inside my people," she said in a video accepting the award. "We highly appreciate all the help … of those who supported us in any way around the world."

As one of the few Tunisian activists to blog using her real name under the regime of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, linguistics teacher Lina Ben Mhenni was risking her safety even before the uprising against the Tunisian regime began. Although her blog -- as well as her Facebook and Twitter accounts -- were censored under Ben Ali, Ben Mhenni forged ahead with her reporting during the early weeks of the uprising as the only blogger present in the cities of Kasserine and Regueb when government forces violently cracked down on protesters in the Sidi Bouzid region, regularly posting photos and videos of the violence. Today, Ben Mhenni continues to publicly condemn the widespread corruption in the current government. "The majority of young people do not feel any change at all and I think that they are right," she wrote in an October 2011 op-ed for the Guardian. "To talk of a revolution we have to cut totally with the past and with the old regime."


The sharp rhetoric of Asmaa Mahfouz played a crucial role in galvanizing the Egyptian revolution's massive protests in Tahrir Square. The activist and co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement famously posted a video to YouTube challenging Egyptians to join her in Tahrir Square on Jan. 25, 2011, to protest the human rights abuses of President Hosni Mubarak's regime: "If you think yourself a man, come with me on Jan. 25. Whoever says women shouldn't go to protests because they will get beaten, let him have some honor and manhood and come with me."

Mahfouz may have helped topple Mubarak, but she still attracted the ire of the military junta, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), that came after him. In August 2011, she was court-martialed by the SCAF and charged with inciting violence, disturbing public order, and spreading false information through social media. Later that year Mahfouz was honored for her persistence when the European Parliament named her a co-recipient of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.


Tal al-Molouhi symbolized the Syrian regime's repressive policies long before the revolutions of the Arab Spring. A high school student who blogged poems and wrote articles advocating for Palestinian causes and a more just Syria, Molouhi was arrested in 2009 for her writing. The Arab blogosphere denounced her arrest as an example of the capricious and fanatical crackdown on free speech in Syria. In February 2011, Molouhi -- who was brought into court chained and blindfolded -- was sentenced to five years in prison. "This is my Homeland, in which I have a palm tree, a drop in a cloud, and a grave to protect me," says one of her poems. "My master: I would like to have power even for one day to build the 'republic of feelings.'"


Known as the "Mother of the Revolution" in Yemen, journalist and activist Tawakkol Karman emerged as a leader of the Yemeni protest movement after Tunisian activists ousted their president, Ben Ali, in January 2011. In addition to organizing student rallies in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, Karman led mass protests calling for the end of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime, including an Egypt-inspired "Day of Rage." A grassroots organizer and the chairwoman of Women Journalists Without Chains, Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, becoming the first Yemeni to win the prize and the youngest Peace Prize laureate.


Asma al-Ghoul is not your typical Palestinian activist. A secular feminist who writes for the Ramallah-based newspaper Al-Ayyam and blogs at AsmaGaza, Ghoul is known for her vocal denunciations of violations of civil rights in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, catching the media's attention when she walked on a public Gaza beach with a mixed-gender group in 2009. When she publicly denounced her uncle -- a senior Hamas military leader -- in an article, he threatened to kill her. After she was beaten by Hamas security forces in March 2011 while trying to cover rallies calling for Hamas to reconcile with Fatah, an international outcry prompted the Hamas government to apologize and promise an investigation.




LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images

Illustration by Peter James Field/ for FP



Free Tal Al-Molouhi via Facebook


SHAREconference via Flickr