A sharia-compliant sex shop may be opening its doors in one of Islam's holiest cities.
Abdelaziz Aouragh’s intention to bring a “sensual boutique” to Saudi Arabia has left many surprised, some encouraged, and others confused.
The Dutch-born entrepreneur is the founder of El Asira, a sharia-compliant sex shop. The company was launched in the Netherlands in 2010 and is backed by the German adult products company Beate Uhse. The company ships its products to over 30 countries around the world. Aouragh hopes bringing his products to the Makkah region of Saudi Arabia will help provide its community with “a deeper meaning to sexuality, sensuality and even spirituality.”
As it says on the El Asira website, “In the end, we’d like to see our Sensual Arabica product range to be able to build bridges. Not only between the East and West, but more importantly, between man and woman. El Asira puts women on a pedestal without embarrassing them. In our vision women deserve respect, so at El Asira, we communicate with them in a subtle and elegant way.”
The company’s delicate description reflects the inventory it carries, which is limited to lotions, massage oils and candles. If you were hoping to see a variety of dildos and other imaginative devices, I can sympathize. But butt plugs and blowup dolls don’t exactly scream “halal” (permissible by Islamic law). When it comes to creating a space to openly explore sexuality in the Middle East, it’s probably best to proceed with baby steps.
In fact, Aouragh doesn’t even like using the term “sex shop” to describe his business. In an official statement posted on Facebook, Aouragh writes, “There have been media reports of a 'halalsexshop' to be opened in Mecca. This is a false report. We are not a sexshop in anyway let alone a halal sexshop, whatever that may be.”
He continues, “We have the ambition to open a concept store. That's something totally different. Unfortunately media worldwide have taking that article as their reference, without taking the time and effort to just simply ask El Asira. Please share this message as much as you can to change the perspective of the people.”
According to the UK Independent, Aouragh consulted Muslim clerics and Saudi sheikhs to “ensure the business complies with local laws and customs.” The subtext being El Asira products are to be used in the context of a heterosexual marriage. It doesn’t seem the company has plans to open its doors in Hells Kitchen anytime soon.
Even though El Asira doesn’t market its brand to wider audiences, its message about the importance of (good) sex within marriage is important. Any company that helps drive that point home is worth celebrating. But Aouragh’s motivation may extend beyond becoming a socially significant member of society. Sex sells and the Islamic community makes up a significant portion of the market. Bringing those two together just seems like a smart move for business.
The demand for halal products stretches across the globe. The Economistreports, “Australia, Brazil, New Zealand and other meat exporters have long profited from the halal trade. Malaysia was the first country to realise the broader potential. In 2011 its halal exports—including aspirin, chocolate and mouthwash—amounted to 35.4 billion ringgits ($11.57 billion), or 5% of total exports.”
The El Asira brand is promoted by Pure Safy, an “Islamic branding agency” that was also founded by Aouragh. The company sees Islamic branding as the next global growth opportunity. It claims, “The current total Muslim market is worth $2.2 trillion and is still growing each year with $500 million.”
But realizing his vision will take time. As the Independent notes, women’s freedoms are “severely restricted” in Saudi Arabia. Women in the Islamic state are forced to observe a strict dress code and must be accompanied by a male chaperone when leaving the house.
As Aouragh told the Independent, “It’s not confirmed but it’s possible.” He added, “Most definitely it will be in Mecca because of all the pilgrims.”