Wanted: Gorgeous Lebanese Man for Scientific Research and the Head of a Certain Saudi Scholar

Yesterday I wrote a blog post about segregation of the sexes among some conservative Muslims in mosques, educational lectures and conferences.

I got some rather interesting responses to that, mainly on my Facebook page, which I only allow close friends to join.

One discussion was related in a way to the poll I had posted: “For you, is it terribly distracting to sit next to someone of the opposite sex during an educational lecture?”

I asked that question because I wanted honest answers from people: is it really true that we need to segregate the sexes so that the men and women can focus on the subject matter rather than on each other?

One female Facebook friend jokingly sent me this answer on my Facebook profile, “It depends. How good-looking is this person sitting next to me? Is he Lebanese? And most importantly is he wearing Axe for men cause the TV commercials say it makes men irresistible.”

I asked this friend, “What IF he was a Lebanese man wearing Axe? Would that mean you’d jump on him if he was sitting next to you in a lecture?”

She answered, “I cannot answer that truthfully unless u present me with this opportunity but please make sure he ‘s really good-looking so we can accurately test this theory of urs. I will atnazil [humble myself] and be ur guinea pig purely for research purposes.”

My other Facebook girlfriends and I jumped on this as an opportunity for scientific experimentation that I must admit included a lot of giggling.

One girlfriend wrote out a hypothesis for our experiment:

Hypothesis 1: Axe for men, when applied on square Leb. men, acts as a catalyst to socially unacceptable behavior in Egyptian women.

I suggested we needed a control for our experiment and that control should be an average looking Egyptian man (not as attractive as a Lebanese man to our feminine Egyptian eyes).

So friend number 2 came up with a second hypothesis:

Hypothesis 2: Axe-for-men, when applied to Egyptian men, is neutralized, resulting in a pleasant-yet-platonic effect on Egyptian women.

And I posted a wanted ad on Twitter:

A group of female friends & i will be conducting a scientific experiment based on my blog post from yesterday. We r looking for a male specimen of lebanese nationality. Must be very attractive and put Axe cologne during experiment. We will put said specimen in our midst during an educational lecture to test our ability to sit without pouncing on said specimen. Applications are open to all who fit those criteria till 5pm cairo time @NadiaE.

Of course, it doesn’t take much to be able to tell that my friends and I were just having some semi-innocent fun.

BUT, a Palestinian nanotechnologist who follows me (and who is also a good friend) did not recognize that this was a bunch of women joking around and took us quite seriously.

Quite interestingly, he supported our idea of scientifically testing the logic behind some religious edicts, or fatwas.

I spent the rest of my day spinning this around in my head. Why is it that we do not put the logic used by some Islamic scholars to test?

So if a scholar uses the logic that putting men and women together in one room can lead to men being distracted or to unacceptable behaviors, why not actually test this logic by conducting a scientific study?

Why not find out if science supports the logic behind many religious edicts?

Isn’t that a brilliant idea?

So I started looking at fatwas that prohibit the mixing of genders in the workplace. And of course, one of the first fatwas that comes up in searches now is a recent fatwa issued by Saudi scholar, Sheikh Al-Barrak. I will translate the most important part of his fatwa for you:

The mixing of men and women in the workplace and in educational institutions – and this is what modernists call for – is haram [prohibited in Islam]. This is so because it involves looking at haram [prohibited things], the prohibited unveiling of the face, the prohibited dressing oneself up [of women in front of men], prohibited talk between men and women, and all this leads to what happens afterwards.

And what causes modernists to call for such things is a tendency towards the life of the Western non-believers. Their minds [the modernists] have become westernized and they want to westernize the Islamic nation. Nay, they want to force this westernization [on the Islamic nation].

He who legitimizes mixing – and if this leads to prohibited activities – legitimizes the prohibited activities. And he who legitimates them is a non-believer. And this means he has become an apostate, in which case he should be informed [of the truth] and given the evidence and if he still [continues with the same stance] he should be killed.


I must warn you, this is a very extreme fatwa and even most Saudi scholars who support segregation of sexes will not say that those who support non-segregation should be killed.

But the logic Barrak uses in prohibiting mixing of sexes is similar to the logic used by many conservative Muslims all over the world. If you put men and women together in the same room (and here I’m talking about the workplace and educational institutions, for example, and not the bedroom), then bad things will ensue. Basically, they won’t be able to control themselves, or so the conservative scholars believe.

I had started out my search in wont of discovering a scientific process to test these theories. I still think this is a brilliant idea.

But as I read this fatwa a second thought came to mind.

The above logic states that when men and women are placed together in the same room their instincts of lust take over in many cases and thus in order to prevent the prohibited acts of non-marital lust we must prohibit the precursors of such lust (in this case putting men and women together in the same room).

In Saudi Arabia, where segregation of the sexes prevails, homosexual practices sometimes happen.

So using the above logic, wouldn’t that mean that putting women and women together in the same room, for example, can sometimes result in homosexual acts (prohibited in Islam) and thus we must prohibit the precursors of such acts (putting women and women or men and men together in the same room)?

And using the logic of Barrak’s fatwa, wouldn’t that mean that he who encourages women only or men only gatherings is encouraging the possibility of homosexual acts taking place, and since homosexual acts are forbidden in Islam that person is thus encouraging a forbidden act, thus becoming an apostate deserving to be killed? Would that mean that Sheikh Barrak just issued a fatwa allowing himself to be killed?

I’m just saying!

Muslim Women Man-Eaters

I read this blog post The Penalty Box: Muslim Women’s Prayer Spaces yesterday and it sent my head a-rollin’. If you wish to read on, expect a lot of rambling. 

In almost every single mosque I’ve been to, women are made to pray in an area that is completely separate from the men’s praying area. And in almost all cases, the women cannot see the imam or the other men who are praying. The result is that it is not uncommon for women to “miss a beat” during the prayer and find themselves completely lost as to where the imam is at this stage of prayer, especially if the woman starts praying after the prayer has begun. 

This is in the best of cases. 

But frequently it is much worse. 

Most mosques in Egypt have a crappy, curtained off area for women to pray in. It’s usually a corner in the very back of the mosque. A penalty box, as the writer of that blog post so eloquently puts it.

I will admit that if a woman has gone into the mosque and wants to take a nap, it is quite convenient to have a separate area for women. And I’ve seen women do this. But most women go into the mosque to actually pray. 

What is so wrong with women being able to pray the congregational prayer at the back of the normal praying area of a mosque? This is what happened at the time of the prophet. Lines were made such that men were in the front lines, young boys were in the middle, and women were in the rear. But in this day and age we have taken this to an extreme: women are hidden away from sight. 

How many women are out there that – like me – wished they could just walk into a mosque, Al-Azhar mosque for example, and pray the sunnah prayer right in the middle 

I didn't have to glare at anyone to pray in this blessed mosque 😉

of the mosque like everyone else? I’m going to have to admit that I’ve done this a few times. And I have a glare that can scare off a thousand men so I get away with it too. But many women don’t have The Nadia’s glare. And if they try to pray in the middle of the mosque they are reprimanded by one man or another and sent to “the penalty box”. Why do some men feel obliged to send the women away? What threatens them so much about a woman praying? 

I’ve even prayed in parking lots and parks when I’ve needed to. In the non-Muslim world, this will get me the odd glance or two. But in the Muslim world, I’ve frequently been approached by men and women telling me that it’s haram (prohibited) for a woman to pray in front of men. Prohibited? Who prohibited it? The odd logic they give is that men will look at a woman’s behind as she prostrates. Come on! First, I’m praying. I’m not doing anything other than what God has asked me to do, and that includes prostration. Second, what the heck is a man doing looking at a woman’s behind while she is praying before her Lord, for goodness sake? Who is in the wrong in this case? The woman praying or the man looking at a woman’s praying behind?? And if there’s a huge issue about hiding prostrating behinds, men should hide their prostrating behinds as well. Or do you think women don’t like to look at men’s behinds? 

The blog post I refer to in the beginning of this post also addresses segregation of men and women during religious lectures. 

Let me tell you a story. 

I was covering a conference a few years ago in Dubai (I’m a science journalist). The conference was about the scientific miracles in the Qur’an. Let’s put the subject matter of the conference aside because that needs a whole ‘nother blog post. But in this conference, the organizers had placed the men’s seats up front and the women’s seats way behind. I had to do my work and take pictures and also interview people. So I was roaming around for the three days of the conference going up to the stage, taking pictures, and mingling with men as I spoke with them for potential interviews. At the end of the conference, a woman – whom I did not know – came up to me and told me: “You are like a sister to me and I would like to give you advice. The other women are talking about you because you walk among the men. This is not good behavior.” 

I must admit this sort of situation only happened that once in my professional career as a journalist. But that was the only time I covered a religiously inclined conference too. 

The point: many conservative Muslims have a preference of segregating men and women everywhere; in mosques, in religious lectures, in non-religious lectures. It’s perfectly fine with me if that is what makes them comfortable and I do not want or need to attend. But then what about the rest of us who every once in a while would like to attend a lecture and see no need to be thrown in the back of the room? Which reminds me of the time I stopped by the Islamic Youth conference held in Cairo a few short years back and found that they had the women sitting in a room at the back that was completely cordoned off from the rest of the conference. What is so bad that can happen to a man when Nadia El-Awady decides to sit next to him while he listens to an Islamic scholar speak about Islam? Could I possibly be that distracting? And if I am, whose problem is that exactly? Mine or the person who gets distracted by a veiled woman sitting next to him? 

I’d suggest to organizers of that sort of conference: have a special place for men who don’t want to sit next to women, a second special place for women in the back who feel that’s their proper place in society, and a third place for the rest of us who can keep our minds and our hands to ourselves when sitting next to a member of the opposite sex.