In the Firm Grip of Honour: Sexual Self-determination in Traditional Muslim Families

In the Firm Grip of Honour: Sexual Self-determination in Traditional Muslim Families (Photo: dpa)

The setting: A Muslim family somewhere in Berlin. The father meets his son. The two have not seen each other for some time and it is a warm reunion. The son tells of his plans to get married. The father is overjoyed – until he hears what sort of woman his son has chosen. His fiancé is a Miss Anna Schmidt from Sweden. But worst of all, she is not a Muslim.

Upon hearing the details, the father flies into a rage. "I can't believe what you are saying," he screams. He cannot even imagine having a non-Muslim daughter-in-law. "Do not force me to decide between you and her," begs the son in an unsteady voice. Yet, this only infuriates the father even more. "I made you what you are today. I have given you everything," the father continues. "And you dare to tell me about your decision?"

Young Muslims for sexual self-determination

This encounter is fictional, but it could easily reflect a real-life conflict. The dialogue was conceived by young Muslims from the Heroes project in the Berlin district of Neukölln, home to a large number of Muslim immigrants.

The young men in the Heroes project work to promote equal rights and sexual self-determination. They perform in front of school classes and youth groups, utilizing role playing to portray scenes familiar from everyday life to their audiences.

The confrontation between the father and son exemplifies a typical conflict within a Muslim family adhering to traditional, conservative norms and values. Neither sons nor daughters are free in choosing their partners. They often live in patriarchal structures with strict roles for men and women. "There is simply no acceptance if one wants to deviate from these norms and live one's sexuality in a different way," says the psychologist Ahmad Mansour, a native Palestinian and group leader with Heroes.

Daughters, in particular, are required to adhere to strict rules in such Muslim families. Relationships before marriage are absolutely forbidden, to say nothing of sexual contact. In this milieu, the virginity of unmarried women is considered to be one of the highest goods. The men in the family, in particular her father, but also her brothers, have the duty to defend her.


By Jan Kuhlmann; Translated by John Bergeron

[Excerpt—See accompanying URL for full original text]