The Female Body As a Field of Sacred Writing

Every discourse recreates the world and fashions it according to its priorities and ends. Every discourse recreates the body, whether female or male, according to its priorities and ends. What we want to see is how the female body emerges as a field of cultural writing in the orthodox Islamic discourse. There are several interesting reasons for comparing the erotic discourse and the orthodox discourse as separate and distinct writings on the female body as a cultural field.
The first is that the orthodox Islamic discourse is defined as the discourse of spirituality, a dimension totally absent from the erotic discourse. The latter occupies itself solely with pleasure in the »here and now,«  and the bodies that it brings into play are fetishized entities, reduced to their material, physical dimension, and carefully stripped of all intellectual and affective dimensions. On the other hand, orthodox Islam is a vision that proposes to spiritualize matter, to give it a scope that transcends the finite in order to attain the infinite. The ultimate aim of life, in the orthodox Islamic discourse, is the infinite, the Hereafter, Paradise, the very incarnation of the spiritual. Paradise, the Hereafter, does not exist materially for a sojourner of this earthly life. He is obliged to project himself, with the aid of his imagination, beyond the limits of the physical world in order to understand the spiritual ends that must motivate him — the Hereafter and access to Paradise. Orthodox Islam, as a social project, subordinates the material to the spiritual. As a strategy for civilization, the spiritual is the objective of human life and its justification. So we are confronted with a discourse fundamentally opposed to the erotic discourse. In the latter the material has no objective other than itself and only comes into play by falling back upon its like, another body. The objective of the erotic discourse is physical pleasure, and it thus limits itself to the body as a material field. The erotic is the quest for pleasure of one body through another body. There is no pretention of going beyond the physical. The woman of the erotic discourse is exclusively a physical apparatus; better still, her whole body is absorbed into an overpowering vagina that is her preeminent feature. What we want to find out is whether the orthodox discourse, so fundamentally different from the erotic discourse because of its spiritual dimension, will produce a female body different from the one manipulated by the erotic discourse.
The question to be answered is whether in the orthodox discourse the female body will be spiritualized, that is, designed for a destiny that transcends the physical and material in order to reach a spiritual end that would conform to the Islamic strategy for civilization. If the female body, as the cultural product of a sacred vision of the world, emerges as an exception to the spiritualization of the material and physical, one can then ask why this is true. Why does Islam, whose purpose is to give a spiritual dimension to the material, refuse this dimension to women? This fact in itself will be the bearer of a very significant message.
We have seen in the erotic discourse how our shaykhs and savants, having embarked on an inquiry into pleasure, were castrated along the way by setting up the vagina, which had to be the source of pleasure, as a devouring and devastating force. They ended up their exploration of pleasure and its spaces with a pitiable, problematic penis that had to be nourished and annointed with balms, massaged, and energized with magical symbols to be able to accomplish the unique task that justifies man's existence: erection. Having at the outset reduced the female body to an atrophied genital apparatus, they found themselves with a male bodily makeup just as disfigured, atrophied, and diminished, where sex, stripped of intellectual and affective elements, is reduced to only the genital. What then is the approach of the orthodox discourse to the body, both male and female? How does the orthodox Islamic discourse interpret the female body? Is the female body in the orthodox discourse a body with multiple dimensions and potentialities, intellectual, affective, and physical? Or rather does this discourse make excisions of one kind or another on this body? If the answer is yes, what is excised and to serve what purpose? Is the female body, as it is produced in the orthodox Islamic discourse, fetishized or spiritualized?
The second difference between the religious erotic discourse and the orthodox Islamic discourse is that the former is the work of human beings while the latter is the creation and manifestation of a divine force, of a god. As a result, the two messages have a different import: The erotic discourse has an individual import, and the orthodox Islamic discourse has a collective import.
Contrary to the religious erotic discourse, which is a simple investigation of the mystery of pleasure, the orthodox discourse sets itself up as legislator, as source of law, as engineer of social order, as architect of reality.
The erotic discourse belongs to the realm of the marginal, the individual; the orthodox discourse is situated, on the other hand, in the realm of power, legitimacy, dominance, and the collectivity. And it is this point that makes the comparison between the two so interesting. The orthodox discourse, source of truth and laws that guide the actions and thoughts of the believer, is not the work of humans: it is the work of a supernatural force who is God the creator, guardian, and master of the group. The orthodox discourse is the discourse of power. It is not simply a discourse on power; it is power. It is as such that it sets up the universe and organizes its elements and gives them their values in a global system of precise signs and messages — that of the Muslim cultural order.
Asking what is the link between the sacred and the sexual is a misconceived way of questioning the religious construction of reality, since these two fields govern the same thing, human life, and are the two most striking expression? of it. If the sexual is the impulse that gives birth to life, the sacred is also, in its way, an impulse that gives birth to life, as we shall see.
The difference between the two is in their relationship to expression, to discourse. While the sexual gives birth to life in the world of reality, since women give birth every day and thus reproduce the human race, the sacred gives birth to life through and in discourse. While the sexual functions at the level of material acts, the sacred functions at the level of the word, the abstract, at the level of perception and representation. The sacred is, among other things, a discourse about sexuality, but with this characteristic: It denies to sexuality the giving of life, which it claims as its exclusive attribute.
The relationship between the sacred and the sexual is then a power relationship: The sacred devours the sexual in order to reproduce it at the level of discourse. In the Muslim universe there is no purely sexual field; there is only a regulated sexual field, coded and systematized according to the options and priorities of Islam as a culture and a strategy for civilization.
What interests us here is not the difference between the sexual and the sacred as fields of human activity, because, as will soon be seen, Muslim civilization as a cultural order takes over reality in order to transform it in discourse. And this transformation of reality into discourse is not accompanied by the disappearance or alteration of this reality, but simply by an imposition of discourse on reality. The discourse of the sacred on sexuality coexists with the sexual as determined by the physical, material order. You have on one side an idea, paternity, the Islamic discourse on the sexual, and this is the affiliation that decides that the child belongs to the father. On the level of material reality, you have on the other side the woman who gives birth to the child. The material reality and the sacred discourse peacefully coexist, even though they are in flagrant contradiction. The cultural reality is precisely this miracle, which ensures that a given dominant discourse is coherent and intelligible, even though it is belied by the facts. And the sacred discourse perfectly illustrates and incarnates culture as the rewriting of reality.
Since our aim is to decode the messages that the orthodox discourse writes on the female body, what interests us is the game of mirrors and reflections that the sexual and the sacred play with each other. Central to our aim is discovering the precise relationship, the interplay between the material and the ideological, deciphering the messages that the sacred, the ideological, imprints on the material — in this case, the female body. On the level of reality, the only being who gives life is the female being, and the sole element able to create and maintain that life is material nature, the flora and fauna, the ecology. However, the sacred explicitly dispossesses both woman and nature of their capacity to create life and maintain it.
The sacred also constitutes a programmed and harmoniously balanced two- pronged attack (and this is where its force and potentialities lie in the twentieth century): On one hand, by the ideological against the material, that is, of the abstract against concrete nature; and, on the other hand, by the male principle against the female principle. In both cases, it is an attack and seizure of power by the party that neither engenders nor nourishes against the party that does both. It is also an attack of the imaginary against the material, of abstract thought against the concrete.
And in this attack of the ideological against reality, sexuality (with all its component parts and with the female body as a central component) plays a fundamental and indispensable role. The role that falls to sexuality in the realm of the sacred (as the ideological appropriation of reality) is so decisive and determining that if one changed it, the whole Muslim order would collapse.
The existence of God is rooted in the very existence of man. And man cannot reproduce himself; it is a woman who reproduces him. So the existence of God necessarily entails the confiscation of woman's ability to engender and give life.
The universe of orthodox Islam is modeled around a pivotal relationship that gives a structure to heaven and earth, to Paradise and fleeting life, and that animates the movement of the stars, the winds, the seasons; it is the relationship between God and the believer. It is the reason for existing in the world here below and in the Hereafter. Everything revolves around that relationship in one way or another, and nothing has meaning except with regard to it. And so it is with regard to that fundamental relationship that the relationship between the sexes must be understood and analyzed. The latter emerges in the Muslim cosmology as a faithful reflection of that basic relationship in which one of the parties is wholly subject to another.
The connection between the divine being and the human being varies according to sex. The divine being in his programming of the universe set up two distinct relationships, each of which conforms to a very specific code. The relationship of the Muslim God to man is not only different from the one he maintains with woman, but her relationship to man is only understandable through an analysis of the triangular relationship between God, the male believer, and the female believer.
The relationship of love between the divine and the human is inscribed in a precise relationship to time and space. It is a relationship in which one of the parties, the divine being, has complete mastery of time and space, the two components of action and thus of power, and the other party, the human being, is fatally bereft of it. The mastery of time and space, the manifestation of divine power, is at the same time the incarnation of human impotence. The two parties, the divine and the human, are bound together in a relationship of inversion in which the affirmation of the one signifies the weakening of the other, in which the triumph of the one inevitably signifies the defeat of the other. This inversionlinkage, which freezes the two elements in a hierarchized relationship of inequality and conflict, is the key schema that animates all the elements of creation and programs their interaction. This inversion-linkage is the code that programs the interaction of elements from the time they enter into relationship with each other, and this relationship is always predetermined. There is no chance relationship in the sacred construction of reality. The elements of creation can only be conjugated according to a rigidly codified sacred grammar. As will be seen further on, this explains the phobic attitude of Islam toward change, hid'a (innovation), condemned as one of the most serious of heresies.
Since the programming and codification is the work of the divine will, any upsetting of this program, of this sacred code, is a direct attack against God, who orders and orchestrates all movement.
It is around an affective notion, worship (al-'ibada), that Islam is built as a cultural order. The affective is the keystone of the system, and it is structurally linked to the economic realm.
In the orthodox Islamic discourse, the believer is obliged to worship God, and God in reward guarantees him access to material riches. The affective and economic realms are thus interconnected in a binding relationship.
It is through an analysis of the »love" relationship between God and his subjects that one can understand how irrelevant is the dividing line that people try to set up between the sexual and the sacred on one hand and the sacred and the economic on the other. The analysis of this love relationship will show us how negligible are certain distinctions in the sacred realm that are pertinent to analyses of the profane realm. These could be listed as follows: the distinction between the economic and the domestic (the latter being defined as noneconomic), the distinction between the sexual and the political (the sexual being regarded as outside the political field), or even the distinction between the economic and the affective (the affective being perceived as untranslatable into economic terms). We are going to trace the outline of this structural code, this inversion-linkage, through the systems of relationships in two fundamental areas of life:

  1. The ecological field, the universal theater where the actions of living beings take place, especially sacred time and space. Sacred time is not profane time. We will see how time is used as the apparatus of power. We will see how sacred time and sexuality are combined to construct the universe as a structure of inequality. Sacred space is not profane space. We will analyze the economic field, the space where the process of work and the creation of wealth take place. We will see how sacred space and its wealth are combined with sexuality to construct the universe as a structure of inequality.
  2. The domestic field, the space where the process of the reproduction of human beings takes place, which is defined as being the only field where the relationship between the sexes, driven out of the other two, is actualized.

We are going to see that the relational schemas that operate at the heart of each of these fields, as well as the relationship of the two fields with each other, are identical to the key schema between the divine and the believer, that is, the relationship of domination, which we are calling inversion-linkage. Inversion- linkage ties two elements (here God and the believer) in a relationship of dependence structured in such a way that any attempt by the dominated element to reestablish equilibrium is perceived as opposition, subversion, and questioning of the existing hierarchy. The inversion-linkage that structures the rapport between God and believer reflects and is reflected in the relationship between the sexes. The code that governs the relationship between man and woman in the domestic field, far from being an exception, is the same rule that regulates beings and elements in the sacred system. The systematic hierarchization, the inversion-linkage that governs the domestic field and subjects the party who creates in actuality (the woman, who gives birth and reproduces human beings) to him who does not give birth (man), is the same systematic hierarchization that in the economic field governs the rapport between him who creates wealth by and in the process of work (the human being) and him who appropriates it (the divine being). And these two fields, the domestic and the economic, do nothing but echo and reflect the basic code that splits the structure of the universe into two spaces and time sequences — life on earth and Paradise.