When the “Experiment” Never Ends

Tonight (or last night, depending on whom you ask, as the whole Hijri calendar thing is very complicated) marks the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. Too many people think that Ramadan is Muslim Christmas. It isn’t: Eid ul-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, is. Ramadan is more like Lent or Yom Kippur, except longer and involving less in the way of the permission to drink water during the day.


There are those who misconstrue Ramadan, and then there are those who see only part of it and decide that it would be fun to try it out. Similarly, there are non-Muslim women who try out their own versions of Islamic “modesty” for set time periods (it’s a little played at this point). Lacking a Muslim background means that such people get to waltz into and then out of their own personalized versions of Islamic practices. Invariably, they are praised for their open-mindedness by fellow non-Muslims and by Muslims alike . They adopt the most showy (read: Other) aspects of Islam, like “modesty” or fasting, abandon them, and then write about it to the applause of the audience.

How brave. How novel.

Except that there’s nothing novel about it. Plenty of people engage in Islamic practices that they later stop doing, and then start again, and then stop again. They’re called “Muslims” and they’re far from an insignificant portion of the world population. As for the alleged bravery, some people leave Islamic practices behind not to the praise of all, but to severe consequences. My personal “modesty experiment” lasted for about a decade and a half. It was my life. I couldn’t walk blithely away from it when I was done, Salon feature in hand. Due to filial pressure and its accompanying personal guilt, I wore a headscarf and dressed according to Islamic law for quite a while after becoming an atheist.

The difference between the experimenters and me is that I actually belong to the community from which such practices originate. When I was a Muslim, taking up a religious habit and then abandoning it meant experiencing a great deal of shaming and even threatening behavior from the community. As an apostate of Islam, while I do not personally subject myself to Islamic rules, I still have to adhere to them to some extent in order to interact with the Muslims in my family and my community. When I don’t, it’s painfully obvious that I am a pariah.

No time is this more true than during Ramadan. I can’t say that I miss the fasting, but I do miss the sense of solidarity, of collective ritual. I could pretend to fast but that might give the Muslims who love me some unfair and totally unrealistic hopes regarding my converting back to my former faith.

My “experiment” with Islam wasn’t chosen by me, lacked in cherry-picking, lasted for 18 years, and hasn’t ended even though, more than seven years ago, I publicly declared myself to be an atheist.

There isn’t necessarily something inherently unethical with trying out different things, even if those things are originally sourced from another culture and/or religion. Visiting another place doesn’t instantly make you a bad person. That said, there is a reason tourists haven’t exactly the best of reputations among natives — and that they are especially maligned for cluelessness.

When the “Experiment” Never Ends

Scam Alert: Bacon Bullets

Revised to add in the information about the Sepoys.

It has come to my attention that there exists a company called Jihawg Ammo (and no, I’m not linking them. you know what to do).

If you happen upon their site, you will notice some pretty, ahem, questionable rhetoric. Some of it’s paranoid, at the very least. Is there really an “ever growing threat of radical Islam and Sharia Law” in the United States? I mean, the last I heard, it wasn’t Muslims who were making a concerted effort to impose their religious views on the American people.

"Marriage was created by the hand of God. No man, not even a Supreme Court, can undo what a holy God has instituted."
“Marriage was created by the hand of God. No man, not even a Supreme Court, can undo what a holy God has instituted.” — Michele Bachmann


But hey, what do I know about how dangerous American Muslims could be? I’m just someone who was born into and raised within a Muslim community in the United States.

What I’m here to talk about is the product claim central to Jihawg’s marketing strategy: that it is a deterrent against violence for terrorists of the Muslim persuasion.

Jihawg Ammo is certified “Haraam” or unclean. According to the belief system of the radical Islamist becoming “unclean” during Jihad will prevent their attaining entrance into heaven. Jihawg Ammo is a natural deterrent to radical and suicidal acts of violence.

To break down their claim in (sloppy) syllogistic fashion.

  1. Pork is haraam.
  2. “Radical Islamists” think that they won’t go to Jannah (Islamic heaven) during their “Jihad” if something haraam is in their bodies.
  3. Therefore, pork-laced bullets will give “radical Islamists” who intend to commit “Jihad” pause.

Right off the bat, we have a problem: haraam does not mean “unclean.” Think of the word “harem” as in women’s quarters or the term “Masjid al-Haram” as in the mosque that houses the Kaaba in Makkah — would Muslims really call Muslim women or their holiest site “unclean?” Haraam means forbidden and/or off-limits (as opposed to halaal, which means permitted without reservation). Just as pork (and, according to many Muslim scholars, pork products of any kind) is off-limits for the consumption of Muslims, a harem is a space that is off-limits to men and Masjid al-Haram is off-limits to non-Muslims.


Because I recall just how much my non-Muslim/non-Desi friends loved to learn bad words from other languages, here are some fun ones related to the word “haraam.” Urdu and Hindi have two choice insults based on the concept of the forbidden: “haramzada,” as in “bastard,” as in “someone born as a result of off-limits (i.e. out of marriage) sex”; and “haramkhor,” which has no direct English equivalent and means someone who obtains their sustenance/income from forbidden sources.

As for the premises, the first is correct. Pork is forbidden in Islam. And, to throw them a (ham?)bone, pig skin is indeed considered naajis, which does mean impure or unclean, in Islam. The second is where the assertions fall apart. Only pig skin is naajis; pork fat, on the other hand, is off-limits for Muslim consumption. Embedding a bullet that has traces of pork product on it isn’t exactly getting them to willingly consume it. Furthermore, pork products are not considered so unclean to Muslims that they aren’t allowed for Muslims in emergency situations; they indeed are. Sins in Islam have to be deliberately committed and prohibitions are often considered flexible in emergency situations.


There is absolutely nothing in Islamic theology that would lead to the belief or even the implication that being shot by bullets greased in pork fat would ensure that a Muslim wouldn’t be able to enter Jannah. Even if you are paranoid enough to worry about the brown hordes, Jihawg Ammo won’t help deter anything. By the company’s own arguments for its existence, the product is a rip-off, pure and simple.

Aside from being a rip-off, if history is any indication, such measures would backfire, not prevent violence. The British imperialists in India had native units whom they called the Sepoys. When a rumor circulated among the Sepoys that pork and beef fat was being used in their ammunition, the response was not for the beef-averse Hindus and pork-shunning Muslims to cease committing violence. Au contrairethere was a rebellion.

Oh, and for the record? Halaal certification exists, but not Haraam certification. Perhaps I, as the most haraam kind of person of all, could start up the service. Why not profit from the ignorance of racists?

Scam Alert: Bacon Bullets

Why Atheists Say “God” When They Have Sex

This NSFW post is part of the blog book tour for Greta Christina’s book of erotic short stories, Bending. Also, this was more than partially inspired by Chelsea Cain’s reading of her story on Bitch Magazine’s Popaganda podcast

Once upon a time, a veiled girl grew into a decidedly bare-headed young woman. As criticisms based on sexual pleasure were usually levied against, rather than by, the religious, she paid attention when religious folk criticized atheism in that way. Namely, certain theists claimed that without taboo, sex couldn’t possibly be as much fun. If they had been serious, she would have pointed out that the argument was the more benign cousin of the notion that sex is only good and healthy within the confines of monogamous, heterosexual marriage (her old religious, pedantic habits had yet to truly die).


As they were generally being playful, her mind went in a more pleasant direction. This isn’t to say that all of her religion-tinged sexual memories were good ones. She felt no goosebumps on her skin, just a wry smile playing upon her lips, when she recalled how her first partner once insisted she wear a headscarf during sex. She ended up feeling overheated and annoyed, not aroused. Darker were her memories of a tortured adolescence, one where an injunction against masturbation was delivered to her all too late to break the habit but soon enough to instill guilt. Flick, fret, flick, fret.


But she didn’t want to dwell on that. She recalled how lovely it was to feel the gentle warmth of the spring sunshine on the back of her neck and shoulders as she awaited a date for the first time. The accompanying breeze added to the tingling already coursing its way up and down her spine as she waited for her date to show up. Later, the fear of being caught fed the hunger with which her mouth tore into the one against it as the movie credits rolled.

Suddenly, she realized that she hadn’t violated a sexual boundary in years. Well, fuck, she thought. How could she get her spine to tingle like that again? She had no boundaries left that weren’t truly based on ethical considerations. Her feminism couldn’t provide any for her, either, since it was intersectional and sex-positive. It was clear that she needed to go on a quest for answers.

She first asked a hedonist, who said that she should just relax and enjoy it. She did so, and it was good, but not good enough. She next asked a philosopher, who said that she could always attempt to set up universal rather than contextual ethics. Such rules, the philosopher declared, were bound to lead to actions that could be considered wrong at some point (drowning babies, amirite?). Try as she might, though, she could not feel that she had willfully broken any meaningful rules. The same thing happened when she attempted to follow the advice of the kinkster who told her to set up power exchange rules with her partner. While the games were great fun, she could ultimately control the situation and opt out at any point. The next person she asked, a sex worker, told her to feed off of the invariably married clients’ deep wellspring of cheaters’ remorse, but the impersonal nature of the transactions enforced too much of a distance for that to work.  At her wits’ end, she finally asked a therapist, who said that just as she had eliminated rather than accommodated her god-shaped hole, she needed to destroy her guilt-and-shame-shaped hole.


“But,” she pleaded. “I worked so hard to fill that god-shaped hole! And really, part of what plugged it was the shameless, sin-free sex!”

“Indeed,” nodded the therapist sagely. “Welp, time’s up, and I’m on vacation for the next two weeks, but feel free to book with me for after that.”

Drat, thought the young woman. What now?

Never one to Hamlet her way out of sex, she found her sweat mingling with another’s not too long after the therapy session. Hoping to fuck her way to the elusive thrill with the most intense sex she could muster in herself (and coax out of her partner), she let herself go. She swallowed and was swallowed, touched and was touched, pounced and was pounced upon, bit and was bitten. At the very height of her pleasure, she cried, “Oh, God, yes!”

Suddenly, the sheets at which she clutched were a deeper red, all that she was pressing into her lover and what her lover was pressing into her felt heartbreakingly beautiful, and the eerie light from the monitor that provided the only illumination in the room threw everything into sharp focus.

Maybe it was the fact that she was taking a deity’s name in vain in the throes of decidedly heathenish sexual congress. Maybe it was the naughty recollection that saying “God” was safer than saying a name, since it would be all too easy for her to moan the wrong one. Perhaps it was the implicit deification of her partner (“god” rather than “God”) or of the sex itself.  It could have even been the very meaninglessness of what she was crying out.

somehow not quite as satisfying
somehow not quite as satisfying

Whichever way it might turn out to be, it felt great.

Well pleased, she spread the word as far and as wide as she could. After all, she argued, the non-religious should be able to do whatever ethical things that they needed to do to get there. What was the harm in invoking a non-existent being?  Others heard her words, and some tried it out, and for many, it wasn’t good — it was great.

And that’s why, to this day, more than a few atheists say “God” when they have sex.

A friend bought Bending for me for my birthday and it was, ahem, truly a gift that kept on giving. You can buy it for Kindle or Nook or via Smashwords.

Why Atheists Say “God” When They Have Sex

Godless Perverts Reading: The Heavenly Sex-Bots

This weekend, I did a reading at the Godless Perverts Story Hour. It was on my favorite topic, the heavenly sex-bots.

I didn’t follow my script exactly, of course, but here’s what I wrote, along with some helpful links.

When we talk about Islam, what inevitably comes up? Terror against us. Violence. If we bother to wonder about violence against them, we lament the mutilation, the rape, the child marriage. The crimes those turbaned, bearded men commit against “their” women. If we bother to go any further, we wonder how we can empower those poor women, save them from those terrible men.

The Quran is addressed almost exclusively to men. Even the verses that make demands of women often command men to tell their women about them.

We leave the wondering about what those women think at “how could she believe in something so oppressive” then go on to analyze the motives of men who tell us that they act in Allah’s name, attribute their actions to the economic, the societal, the privilege.

Muslim women do believe it, some believe in it all, fervently, wholly.
That there are heavenly maidens that Allah has already predestined to marry their husbands after they die.
That these women are perfect as per the beauty myth circa 600 BC: eyes with dark pupils and clear whites, glowing with fairness of both kinds, and forever virgins.
That, like Aphrodite-Venus, they were created with the utmost in carnal knowledge paired with that ever alluring, ever-renewing virginity.
That, when an earthly wife refuses or displeases her husband, those virgins scold them from up on high, reminding them that the man is only to stay with them temporarily.
That, if an earthly wife refuses sex with her husband, the angels curse her all night.
That the hour al-ayn, luminous and numerous like scattered pearls, are promised to their husbands.
That the earthly wife has to be called by him to join her husband in heaven.
That if the earthly wife isn’t called, there’s no promise of sex for her.

What do Muslim women make of it?

What do they make of how, when they get to heaven, they’re supposed to be more beautiful there even than the harem of heavenly virgins their husbands will have could ever be – but they aren’t guaranteed sex in heaven.

What happens to a girl who dies pure but still wanting it pretty badly?

She is only revered as a mother
Her seductiveness is so feared
that she’s hidden away
like a pearl
to protect her from tempting the poor men
As decreed by words sent from up on high
She is crooked and so much less intelligent than them
None of the commands or edicts
are actually addressed to her
But they’re still applied to her
she constantly needs guidance
she’s deficient in faith so she needs more rules to help her
the overly-emotional fool
She gives men no choice because
her voice alone seduces them
She should stay mute as much as possible around them
We wouldn’t want them to get crude
to make lewd comments at her
would we?
These degenerate modern times
so fraught with crimes against the weaker sex
Her eyes are shielded from shameless things
She’ll never be surprised by anything
For she’s kept from the world
she’s inept in the world
All that she’s called to do in her life:
to be a daughter, a sister, then a mother and wife.

When I was that girl, pure but wanting it oh so badly, I asked them what would happen if I died and still wanted, as I put it bashfully, “a husband.” The room was filled with long-wed older women. The presiding matron looked at me, laughed, and said condescendingly yet somehow still in a motherly way, that by the time I died, I would be tired of “it.” That I would love to have a break.

The studious room broke into laughter. I went home wondering if she had ever cum.

Eternal celibacy just might be appealing if your husband can’t make you cum – but what if you want to? What about the woman whose husband forgets to call her to join in his heavenly harem?

will he forget
after we both
are dead?

Those heavenly pupils
like yolks
like clearly delineated dark suns
shining from white, white albumen
that so strike the hearts of men
including mine
my man

he sees their perfect symmetry
their eternal virginity
and of course, he forgets me
How can I compare?

And now I live in this land
a place without agony or sorrow
Today is as happy as yesterday
so what’s the point of tomorrow?

If I were allowed to have one unhappy thought here
It would be envy.
As it is, all I can do is wonder
How can they be better off than me
if this is the best that could ever be?

To be made
A maiden in waiting
for my man to die so he can come to you?
What’s it like?

What’s it like?!
I was made
To wait for my man to die
and leave you behind
to come to me because he actually belongs to me
for all eternity

Instead of being happy that he will have his reward in me
you call me a male fantasy
a clear marker of patriarchy


Allah made the universe a certain way. There are the sexless angels, slaves to Allah’s will; the animals who aren’t smart enough to rebel, the trees that obey even as they sway in the breeze and recite His name.

Then there are the free-willed creatures: female and male jinn, men and women.
You’re one of those.

Everything is Allah’s will, right?
If you didn’t believe that, you wouldn’t be here.
And here you are.

You had a lifetime with him
you could have made him want you to join in with us
but instead you refused him on occasion
so the angels cursed you all night

You could have possessed his body
the body I had to wait your whole life for
but instead
after marrying the man I was made for
you said no
willful creature that you are

still, in spite of all that
you made it here
you made it here, and all you can do
is sigh about me?

Your palace made of jewels and gold
your rivers of milk and honey and wine
your lovely serving-boys
they are all your own

Muhammad got it right about women:
even when you have the best that could ever be
you’re ungrateful
no wonder more of your kind burn in hell
while their husbands
frolic with my kind

We fulfill all that he could ever want
yes, that thing. In there. Whenever he wants it.
Even that other thing that you don’t know the name for
We aren’t just fine with it, we were made for it

Instead of you having to disrupt your day
make your way out of your pretty palace
past all those handsome serving-boys
crossing all those rivers of wine and milk and honey
and into this place to do what’s so odious to you

We have it handled for you

Instead of straying for what he wanted
he stayed with you for what he wanted
so that he could have it here with us
He stayed true to you so that he could have us

You worked so hard to entice him
to spice things up, to make it fresh
even when you could never be what he actually wanted

I don’t even know why you tried.

It was bad enough to have to compete with modern beauty ideals, limited as they are by reality and Photoshop. But to compete with heavenly sex-bots? Creatures whose alluring charms I heard described in the very verses I recited during prayer, that five-times-a-day ritual that was supposed to make me feel connected to Allah, not make me feel insecure? Denizens of paradise whose specific traits I had to know in detail in order to earn that A+ in Islamic Studies?

Looking back, I don’t even know why I tried.
I know exactly why I tried.
I’m just grateful I don’t have to try anymore.

Godless Perverts Reading: The Heavenly Sex-Bots

What Do You See? The Blinding Whiteness of Feminism

I have been a self-identified feminist for longer than I have been a self-identified [insert any other label with which I currently associate myself here]. I also am of the belief that, in those immortal and eminently quotable words from Tiger Beatdown, my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.

Just as can be case with  “anti-racism” and “social justice,” “intersectionality” can be something of an intellectual facade, a word that people use without actually working to actually integrate it into their worldview. Here is a quick and easy test to see if you actually think in intersectional terms.

[redacted image of a nude woman covering her genital area with the Quran]

Is it a picture of a depersonalized, headless female nude? Yet another representation of the exploitation of the female form? An example of a misguided attempt by a woman to use her sexuality to promote feminist ideals? And what of the caption as well as the placement of the Quran? Do they promote a unilaterally negative view of Islam? Indicate a Western woman bashing Islam instead of working on fixing gender issues in Western countries?

From the commonly-held white feminist perspective, i.e. one lacking in intersectionality and that focuses on Western gender issues to the detriment of all others, the answer is yes to all of the above. In that view, the picture represents a wrong-headed if well-meaning attempt at best and a hindering of feminist progress at worst. No doubt that a headless nude would rub someone from a Western gender context the wrong way. After all, out here, nudity is common and often presented in a way that robs agency from the person whose body is on display.

On the other hand, the Western constructs and problems around gender are not the only ones in existence, and this particular instance of nudity is tackling issues of gender that originate elsewhere.


The image is of a person who is, like me, a female ex-Muslim, and was both captioned and posted by her. Unlike me, she was born and raised in Pakistan. As such, she has been in real danger ever since she went public with her deconversion. At the time the photo was taken, she chose to crop out her head for her own protection. To personalize her nude form by including her face for the satisfaction of the white feminist sensibilities regarding bodies would have put her very life at stake. People are frequently killed in Pakistan for far less in the way of what is considered to be an offense to Islam.

In terms of the nudity itself, with regards to the male gaze, her body is not presented in a particularly “sexy” pose: she is sitting fairly casually on the floor with no arched backs, bitten lips, or twisted hips in sight. To assume that her form is sexualized merely by not being covered by clothing speaks more to the viewer’s understanding of what female bodies are for than of the picture itself, or the woman in it, for that matter. Indeed, as she comes from a background where any hint of feminine shape or skin is considered seductive enough to drive men into a violently lustful frenzy, those who consider this picture to be pandering to the male gaze are aligning their views with the patriarchal oppression from which she hails.

Translation: "You won't be able to stop them, but you can protect yourself. He who created you knows what's best for you!"
Translation: “You won’t be able to stop them, but you can protect yourself. He who created you knows what’s best for you!”

Her critique of gender in Islam comes not from ignorance of it, but from immersion in a culture that defines itself by that particular religion. While other countries are “Muslim” or “Islamic” because they just so happen to have a large Muslim population, Pakistan was founded by Muslims as a Muslim country in rather deliberate fashion. Those promoting sexist laws and action there will invariably claim that what they do is in the name of Islam as justified by the Quran. If anyone has the right to say that Islam is misogynistic or the Quran problematic for women, it has to be a woman who has dealt with said sexism first-hand.

What of the nuance that I advocate as an ex-Muslim feminist atheist? It goes both ways. All Muslims aren’t sexists, but quite enough of them are that taking and posting a nude picture is an incredibly radical act for a Pakistani ex-Muslim woman, as it was for Aliaa Mahdy and, more recently, for Amina Tyler.

The problem with the lack of intersectionality in feminism has a long and deep history, from Ain’t I a Woman to The Feminine Mystique to Slutwalk. What are often framed as “women’s concerns” or “feminist issues” are, more accurately, the concerns of white women, especially white middle-to-upper-class women. Most attempts to broaden this focus are met with concerns regarding the of “dilution” of feminism, as if gender were the only issue that affects women.

Women of color don’t have the luxury of focusing on issues of gender without facing the related issues of race, religion, culture, class, and so on. Many of us live at the intersection of multiple oppressive forces. Depressingly, two entire decades after Audre Lorde‘s death, one of those forces originates with well-meaning, hand-wringing, pearl-clutching white feminists who want to claim us as part of their sisterhood without being truly inclusive about it.

True inclusivity would have meant that any feminist looking the image would consider who made it, to what it was responding, and why it appears the way it does before declaring it an example of a woman doing feminism wrong.

What Do You See? The Blinding Whiteness of Feminism

Is There a Point to Veil Bans?

While some have predicted that everyone on this site will have to wear burqas in order to appease the wrath of the religious, in other parts of the world, the face veil is becoming far less popular. In some countries, the move has been to ban women from covering their faces in public, for reasons varying from cultural integration to national security to women’s liberation.

Many who argue against face veil bans are citing morally relativistic reasons for opposing them, whether they realize it or not. This is especially the case when it comes to women’s rights and LGBT rights, along the lines of “Those of us who are over here will keep our freedom and our universal human right and continue to evolve our culture. You, over there, born into oppressive cultures? We won’t try to impose things like freedom and rights on you. Continue persecuting and oppressing as you see fit. ”

Without moral relativism, you could say that bans would prevent women from being compelled to cover their faces, which would be a step forward. In actuality, such laws are questionable — not for morally relativistic reasons, but because they are utterly counterproductive.

Continue reading “Is There a Point to Veil Bans?”

Is There a Point to Veil Bans?

Islam 101: Muslim Prayer

Last week, many of us celebrated the National Day of Reason. I’ve found out through certain sources that, in some sectors of the Internet, reason was not being venerated; instead, it was prayer that was being promoted that fair third of May. The prayer in question was, based on my highly scientific research (i.e. Googling) on the matter, generally understood to mean Christian prayer. Even the atheist Muslim communist president decided to only mention churches in his declaration on the matter.

This strikes me as an egregious oversight, as even on that Christian holiday for prayer, the average American Muslim would have dedicated far more time out of his or her Thursday to praying than the average Christian. Continue reading “Islam 101: Muslim Prayer”

Islam 101: Muslim Prayer

A Murder By Any Other Name?

Whenever I write about the realities of Islam in the United States, someone generally comes along and asks why I do not address the more contentious issues. While it is something of a Darfur vs. blowjobs, so to speak, there are, of course, issues that concern Muslims. One of the most talked-about is violence against women, specifically the crimes that are referred to as honor killings.

Continue reading “A Murder By Any Other Name?”

A Murder By Any Other Name?

The Troubling Case of Alexander Aan

Recently, a petition has been circulating in support of Alexander Aan, an atheist who is currently on trial in Indonesia for having spoken out in favor of atheism and against Islam. A Facebook page has also cropped up. Maryam Namazie has been covering the case from the beginning and has posted an interview with Aan. Additionally, Atheist Alliance International is collecting donations for his legal fund.

Continue reading “The Troubling Case of Alexander Aan”

The Troubling Case of Alexander Aan

Islam 101: Botched Comparisons to Christianity

In my first post in this series, I broke down the basic, bare-bones definitions regarding Islam. In the comments, I compared a Muslim who doesn’t believe that Islam is submitting to Allah’s will to a Christian who doesn’t believe in Jesus: they might exist, but they’re pretty far from the mainstream.

In Western countries, it’s easy to try to draw comparisons between Islam and Christianity in order to attempt to understand the latter faith. After all, much of Western culture’s understanding of religions stems from Christianity or, at the very least, is seen through a Christian lens. However, most of these comparisons could be made more precisely.

Continue reading “Islam 101: Botched Comparisons to Christianity”

Islam 101: Botched Comparisons to Christianity