Thursday, 24 October 2013

Muslims keep abreast with social trends the halal way

Mention the word ‘halal’ and what promptly comes to mind is the meat shop in an old part of the city, or the ‘We Use Halal Meat’ signage hung at an eatery. Well, not anymore if you are in Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey. Thirty-eight-year-old Turkish businessman Haluk Murat Demirel recently opened a first of its kind online sex shop ( What makes this shop stand out is the claim that all the good sold and services provided are certified ‘halal’ —in other words, in keeping with Islamic law. The website in addition to selling condoms and herbal aphrodisiacs also counsels about ‘halal’ sex.
While it might be preposterous to think of Haluk Murat Demirel as a pioneer or visionary, his venture should get us thinking. The ‘helalsexshop’ shows Demirel’s entrepreneurial skills but more pertinently it points towards an increasing trend where so-called social ‘needs’ and services are being tailor-made to address the requirements of any particular community.
In 2010, following the controversy after images of Prophet Mohammed did the rounds on Facebook with the page 'Everybody Draw Mohammed Day', IT professionals in Pakistan launched ‘MillatFacebook. Similarly, in 2012, Salamworld was launched in eight different languages as an alternative to facebook. The Washington Post quoted Abdulvahed Niyazov, one of Salamworld’s owners, saying that “the content that is being used on other social networks is not very secure and full of haram”.
On the larger picture both what the ‘helalsexshop’ and Salamworld is trying to achieve is to cater to the ‘worldly’ needs of a growing young population within the community and, at the same time, trying to stay within the precincts prescribed by the religion.
Such developments, though it might sound ‘haram’ or queer to many, reflect a changing society and are important because it goes a long way in deconstructing the Westerner’s image of Islam, which is heavily loaded against it after 9/11. As William Stoddart in What Does Islam Mean in Today’s World? writes: ‘That the Western public conflates terrorism and Islam is the lamentable achievement of the ‘Islamic terrorists’.’
A positive to take from this is that rather than getting cowed down by the threats by radical groups, like the Taliban, the youth are innovating ways to keep themselves abreast with a fast-changing world.
Religious exclusivity is not a new phenomenon. For a very long time we have had educational institutions and areas demarcated in cities and villages that are ‘exclusive’ for members of a particular religion/caste. This exclusivity is no confined to one particular faith and can be seen across religions in various hues and shapes.
Humans adapt to the changes around them and so does a religion. As anthropologist Professor Richley H Crapo in Anthropology of Religion notes ‘religion is part of the system of culture’ and plays a role in the ‘human adaptation to the circumstances of survival’.
While orthodox views are still prevalent in all religions and more often than not supersede the moderate and liberal voices, not all hope is lost. Haluk Murat Demirel’s venture is an example.
(An edited version of this appeared in The Hindustan Times on October 24)