An online sex shop for Muslims has been launched in the Netherlands to tap into a demand for erotica that does not offend Sharia law.
We had about 70,000 hits in the first four days," founder Abdelaziz Aouragh told AFP of his site that went online last week and claims to be the world's first erotic webshop for Muslims.
The 29-year-old Dutch national said it targets married Muslim couples as an alternative to sites "that focus on pornography and the extravagant side of erotica" -- things forbidden in Islam.
The home page of El Asira, which means "Society" in Arabic, is a sober black and grey street with a line down the center, inviting women to enter on the left and men on the right.
Once inside, clients can browse in Dutch, Arabic or English through more than a dozen products, mainly massage oils, lubricants and tablets that claim to act as aphrodisiacs.
All ingredients are halal, or "permissible under Islam", said Aouragh, and conspicuously absent are dildos, vibrators and any type of pornography.
"Most of the other products out there have pictures of naked people or foul language -- it was very difficult to find ones that I could use in my business," he said.
Instead, the website shows only photos of boxes, tablets, tubes and bottles -- mainly in pink or blue with the brand's logo, a black flame.
"We have chosen a respectful approach," it says, proclaiming itself "a novelty in the Islamic world".
In one sense, it is also a very Dutch product -- like Aouragh himself. Of Moroccan parentage, he was born and raised in Amsterdam and remains a practicing Muslim while embracing typically Dutch tolerance and search for consensus.
He says he, like many, used to think Islam looked upon sexuality as taboo until his friend-turned business partner Stefan Delsink prompted him to look further.
"There is a very stereotypical idea both inside and outside the community on Muslim sexuality," he said.
So Aouragh, who is married, set about consulting Islamic religious leaders and scholars to see what his business venture could sell and to whom.
"I have learnt a lot about what Islam says about sexuality, about how important it is to have a healthy sex life," he said.
Muslim clerics like Dutch Imam Abdul Jabbar see no harm in Aouragh's site.
"As long as he doesn't sell sex toys or those sorts of things there is no problem," he told AFP, adding: the Prophet Mohammad gave lots of advice about sex in marriage and "there need not be any shame."
Aouragh, who also works for a firm that provides assistance to disabled people in public places like airports, contends his website has another goal, amidst tension over Muslims and Muslim immigrants in Europe.
In the Netherlands -- where Muslims account for five percent of the 16.5 million population -- strains have continued since filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was murdered in 2004 by an Islamic extremist upset over a documentary he made on Muslim women.
Today, support is growing for the far-right, anti-Islamic Party for Freedom (PVV), which some polls suggest is the country's most popular formation. Its leader Geert Wilders wants to ban the Koran, which he likens to Hitler's "Mein Kampf", and wants a tax on wearing head scarves.
"Everybody is talking about Islam in a negative way," said Aouragh. "I am trying to get something positive out of the dark."
"Muslims also have to deal with stereotypical prejudices by some non-Muslims on the topic of sexuality within the Islam," he said.
"We want to share with other Muslims in a positive way our contribution to a broader view of sexuality and eroticism within the Muslim community," the website says, "for Muslims themselves, as for others."
Not all want to enter the debate. Leyla Cakir, chairwoman of the Dutch Muslim women's organisation Al Nisa, told AFP: "This is not a topic with which we choose to involve ourselves".
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