Sex in Ramallah: Between Islam and Globalization

Sex in Ramallah: Between Islam and Globalization
A Palestinian woman walks by a display of Islamic headscarves for sale at a shop in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Feb. 28, 2007 (AP photo by Muhammed Muheisen).

The strict morality of life in Ramallah, where honor killings might be performed when pregnancies occur outside of marriage, means navigating the issue of sex is extremely fraught. Young people must balance the images they receive from the outside world and their continual anxiety about committing sin if they should follow their natural urges before marriage.

RAMALLAH, West Bank — On first glance, the city of Ramallah in the West Bank appears boring: conservative and chaste. Most women wear headscarves and quickly avert their eyes when men are watching. There is nothing flirtatious about the gesture. In the course of discussions with Palestinian youngsters, however, one discovers that they live in two worlds: they are entirely familiar with 2007 high tech. But at the same time, their lives are marked by a 1,500-year-old culture that is resistant to globalization. Because satellite television has brought modernity into their homes, the youngsters are continually anxious about committing sin if they should follow their natural urges too soon.º

Sheikh Fahmi Jaradat praises the prudishness of the Palestinian youth. He is a judge on the Islamic court and he explains without any ambiguity how young unmarried people are supposed to deal with their sexuality: "All physical contact is prohibited outside of marriage." Marriage was created by Allah to preserve the family and the highest goal of every couple must be "reproduction," as the Sheikh puts it. The satisfaction of sexual desire, he says sternly, is not the goal of marriage.

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