The Independent, the Huffington Post, the International Business Times,Mic, The Week, and other media organizations reported that the “sharia compliant” intimate products company El Asira would soon open a “sex shop” in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Their reports sparked a lot of controversy, but the company’s founder told ThinkProgress that he doesn’t plan to open a store there — and refuted the notion that his company’s line of lingerie and lubricants would be out-of-place in the Islamic holy city.
“The media attention that it’s getting is unbelievable,” Abdelaziz Aouragh, the founder and CEO of El Asira said over Skype. “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.”
The Netherlands-born Muslim said that the reports might stem from an announcement he made nearly a year ago to open a concept store for El Asira products like lubricants and lingerie. While he has not yet taken steps to open such a shop, Aouragh added that it wouldn’t be as shocking as many may believe.
After a 2012 boycott of stores by Saudi women who felt uncomfortable discussing things like lingerie with male sales attendants, the Kingdom barred men from selling of undergarments, in addition to cosmetics and wedding dresses. In a country where women are required to be accompanied by a spouse or close male relatives when in public, the “feminization” of retail has offered new economic opportunities to women, though some hardliners feel that the women sales attendants has broken Islamic codes of gender segregation.
“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, but he noted that he doesn’t see El Asira as a sex shop, but rather, a source for products that enhance sensuality.
Even with such strict laws around gender, the Amsterdam-based entrepreneur added that Islamic tradition doesn’t just encourage sexual intimacy for married couples, but puts a real emphasis on sexual pleasure — even for women.
While cultural practices like female genital mutilation have been wrongfully attributed to Islam, sexual practices and sexual pleasure both have a very real and oft-discussed place in Islam.
“The taboo has been created by [Muslims] ourselves,” Aouragh says. “It’s very easy to point the finger at one another, but the issues is with ourselves.”
Aouragh says that while many Muslims — especially men — were initially hostile towards his products, many came around to them after learning that he didn’t sell sex toys or use sex to sell his products. In order to comply with “sharia,” or, Islamic law, the products don’t contain alcohol and are sourced ethically.
“All of our products provide a deeper meaning to sexuality, sensuality and even spirituality,” the El Asira website reads. “We strive to offer a product range which will eventually lead to more admiration and love for women.”
And that admiration for women is something that Aouragh sees as an integral part of his faith — and, like sexuality, is something that he hopes El Asira products can create a renewed appreciation for.