Genesis of the Erotic Discourse

The Muslim erotic discourse grew out of the desire of the guardians of religious conduct, the theologians and legal experts, to answer the question that at some time or other the Muslim believer is led to ask: How should one make love when one is a Muslim? What are the rules that regulate what is permitted and what is forbidden in the act of copulation? The erotic discourse is religious because it is an attempt by the sheikhs, imams, and qadis — the religious authorities vested with the responsibility for guiding and channeling the acts of the believer — to clarify for him the conduct to adopt toward one of the most mysterious areas of creation: sexual desire. It is a very rich literature.[1]
I have concentrated my analysis on two works that are particularly popular, because they are available for a pittance in the streets and bookshops of the old sections of the Muslim cities. They are: the book of Shaykh Sidi Muhammad Nefzawi, entitled The Perfumed Garden,[2] which sells for the equivalent of forty cents; and How An Old Man Can Regain His Youth Through Sexual Potency, which costs about sixty cents and is the work of the »savant of the century, unique in his time, the honorable Mawla Ahmad Ibn Sulayman, famous under the name of Ibn Kamal Pasha, who died in the year 940 of the Hegira.«[3] The first book was written in the twelfth century, and the second in the fifteenth.[4]
The aim of this literature was essentially religious. The purpose of the authors was to serve the umma, the Muslim community. The first book (The Perfumed Garden) resulted from an order. What happened was that a vizir, after having become aware of a first version of the work, commissioned the author to rewrite it. The vizir commented to a blushing and disconcerted Nefzawi, whom his emissaries had found in southern Tunisia: »You are not the first who has treated of this matter. ... I swear by God that it is necessary to know this book. It is only the shameless bore and the enemy of all science who will not read it.«[5] And it was as one of the faithful, called upon to carry out a privileged task, that Nefzawi asked for God's help in beginning his work:
I forthwith went to work with the composition of this book, imploring the assistance of God (may he pour his blessings on his prophet, and may happiness and pity be with him).
I have called this work The Perfumed Garden for the Soul's Recreation.
And we pray to God, who directs everything for the best ... to lend us His help, and lead us in good ways.[6]
The second author, Mawla Ahmad Ibn Sulayman, who wrote his book thanks to the encouragement of Sultan Salim Khan, had a natalist objective:
I have written this book, but my aim in doing it is certainly not to play a part in inciting debauchery or encouraging sin; my aim is not to help the voluptuary who violates the commandments and makes licit what Allah has declared to be illicit. My aim is to come to the aid of him whose desire does not result in the achievement of that which is permitted and which is the source of populating the earth and increasing the race — an idea which expresses the counsel of the Prophet (may peace and prayer be with his soul): Copulate and reproduce yourself, so that I may be proud of you before other nations.[7]

While the first writer asked God to help him contribute to the scientific knowledge of the believer on the subject of copulation, the second stated his wish to help the believer to be fulfilled within »what is permitted« and thus contribute to the multiplication of the members of the umma and carry out the natalist wish of the Prophet. Both works include a detailed table of contents to facilitate their use and to increase the benefit that the believer could draw from them. It goes without saying that the two documents are addressed to a male reader, despite the fact that the obsessive subject of the two works is woman, her body, desires, wantonness, and mysteries.
This woman is depicted as an omnisexual woman, a creature whose most prominent attribute, which determines her whole personality and behavior, is her sexual organs, called in Arabic al-farj, whose »proper meaning,« according to Nefzawi, is »slit, opening, passage; people say 'I have found a (farja) in the mountains'»[8] — that is, a crevice, a crack.
From the fact that this woman is described through the characteristics of this crack, which is not only an autonomous force but also a determining force for the whole female personality (Chapter 5), arises the question of how she can be satisfied. What kind of copulation does she require? How does she reach orgasm and under what conditions (Chapter 6)? From the answers to these questions emerges the outline of the man who has the power to satisfy this woman-crack. It is a man fashioned in the image of the one whom he is intended to satisfy, to fulfill, to serve. Like her, he is omnisexual, defined and determined by a phallus-shaft, corresponding to the vagina-crack (Chapter 7).