It is by taking note of books like Final Flight From Sanaa and authors like Qais Ghanem who blaze the trail and fearlessly begin the dialogue.
During the last few decades I have read many books written by fellow Muslims.
But few of them deal with the issue of sexuality among Muslims and how the sexual attitudes of Muslims affect their human rights and their self-determination both in Muslim communities here in the West and in Muslim countries.
Final Flight From Sanaa scans the issue and I commend its author, Qais Ghanem for having the courage to cover the topic. One hopes that Final Flight from Sanaa, will open up a series of discussions on the issue of sexuality among Muslims.
The book’s main protagonist, Tariq, is a secular Muslim, a divorced physician and poet, in his sixties and he is engaged in the world around him – both in his personal life and his activism.
We learn much about Tariq in the book, particularly from his openly expressed views on politics and women.
From his many generalizations and opinions we learn he is not perfect. He does not have perfectly politically correct egalitarian views and makes many uncomfortable generalizations, particularly about women.
But all fictitious characters have a right to their own view point and in reality there are other Tariqs out there. After all even secular Muslims are not a monolith. How Muslim communities here in the West and in Muslim countries as well, consist of a variety of individuals with diverse thoughts and behaviour, is something this book, hopefully, will leave within the reader some understanding.
Through Tariq’s eyes, in Final Flight From Sanaa the reader envisions a brief intimate sketch of people raised and/or living in closed societies, where sexuality is reserved for marriage so rigidly that the consequence of rape exceeds that of any other brutal assault, forever removing the possibility to live a normal married life as well.
The book proposes the notion that coming from a closed society may in some instances mean it is hard to abandon old sexual practices out of fear but on the other hand, it does not always mean an individual shall be unavailable to a variety of sexual experiences.
The book is sexually explicit in parts and challenged my own puritanism.
My senses were shocked at some of the descriptions of sexual acts, not due to an encapsulated environment (as many of us are bombarded by sexualized media images) but possibly because Final Flight From Sanaa was a candid snapshot of sexuality among Muslims in particular.
I am not accustomed to reading about Muslims enjoying consensual sex, including anal sex, oral sex and threesomes. Unfortunately, the rape scene was the one that did not shock me.
A Final Flight From Sanaa, like its protagonist, is not perfect. It leaves many questions unanswered. In the end – who is saved and why? Who is the rescuer and why? And is there sufficient depth to any female character in this book?
But it is my hope that notwithstanding these issues one can read the book and still see clearly what it proposes to address - intolerance, sexism, lack of information, lack of openness – much of which is proposed to be due to a rigid interpretation of our holy scriptures.
Final Flight From Sanaa begs the question - are people in Muslim communities so consumed with the status that orginates from honour and/or shame that they are living secret double lives?
And how much does a radical Islamic ideology that provides that the source of all evil is a woman’s sexuality, make all Muslims vulnerable to what Muslim governments can do to Muslims in Muslim countries?
How much does such an ideology hinder us here at home, in the West, for example in our ability to stop domestic violence and forced marriages – both of which have much to do with honour and shame as it relates to a woman’s obedience and a woman’s purity?
Final Flight From Sanaa is a starting point and in it Qais Ghanem begins a candid discussion about what is happening to Muslims and how our fears about sexuality aid Muslim governments in their oppression of us and aid in the marginalization of people in our own communities here in the West.
In the end it is an examination of the way women’s freedoms and the freedom of their husbands, fathers and brothers and friends are restricted not only in Muslim countries but everywhere honour and shame are an issue.
How do we achieve a more open Muslim community, in which people are respected – particularly women and not defined by their sexual purity?