Monday, 23 November 2015

The Muslim Sex Doctor: How Imam Alyas Karmani uses religious texts to counsel a community 'in sexual denial'

Imam Alyas Karmani uses religious text to help him counsel clients

The Iman tells me he “grew up in Tooting and the general rule was: don’t get seen with a girl and don’t talk about sexual feelings. Muslims in Britain and in much of the world are in a state of sexual denial.”
Even putting aside his enviable flat-cap collection, Alyas is not an average Imam. He studied psychology at Glasgow University and is working on a PhD in “The Crises of Masculinity and Urban Male Violence”. He loves bossa nova jazz but gave away his entire record collection when he discovered a more “orthodox” version of his faith in the late Eighties.  Today, at fortysomething, he is as comfortable discussing contemporary culture as he is leading Friday prayers at Bradford’s Muhammadia Mosque. It’s precisely this ability to tread two cultures with such grace that makes Alyas a boon to many Muslims in Britain who would be reluctant to share the intimate details of their sex lives with most other Imams, with family members or even friends.
Alyas tells me there is a method and a logic to forming his conclusions. “I have studied this area extensively and we know that everything is halal [permitted] unless it is expressly prescribed as haram [forbidden].” It’s this method of referencing text that makes the Imam’s advice so palatable to his clients, many of whom would not feel comfortable taking it from an exclusively secular source. But the system of Koranic interpretation and, more so, reliance upon Hadith can be dense and complicated. 
While there, I meet “Gabriel”, a 23-year-old university student who contacted Alyas about masturbation. When I point out that, in my understanding, students masturbating is “pretty normal”, Gabriel snaps, “I thought it was 100 per cent haram.” He first contacted the Imam after seeing a Hadith that referenced men on the day of judgement with “pregnant hands”.  He applied this to his own life and began dreading the day he would face God with his hand in prenatal agony. It was only after long conversation with the Imam that the authenticity of such a  Hadith was questioned. Alyas concludes the session. “Often, people bring textual proofs that don’t have any validity. I know that narration to be something which is unreliable.”

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