In Islamic jurisprudence, numerous wrongful acts of behavior are regarded as haram—sinful, illicit, prohibited, and unlawful. Such wrongful behavior can take many forms, with illicit sexuality constituting one of the major categories. Because heterosexual marital sex is the only licit form of sexual behavior according to Islamic jurisprudence, the potential for men to engage in zina, or illicit sexuality, is quite high. Although there are many "sinners," Islam is not a religion that promotes individual confession. Muslim clerics generally do not take on a pastoral role as confessor, hearing individuals' confessions of sin or offering forgiveness. Furthermore, religious forms of testimony, of the kind promoted in some Christian evangelical denominations, are not a part of the Islamic religious tradition. As a result, Muslims who have "sinned" do not have religiously sanctioned or socially condoned ways of unburdening their asrar, or "secrets," including through support groups or psychotherapy. To that end, this article explores Arab Muslim men's asrar jinsiyia, or "sexual secrets," as well as their felt needs to unburden their feelings of guilt and shame. Through reproductive life histories undertaken in IVF clinics across the Middle East and Arab America, the anthropologist author—as a "sexually knowledgeable" female Western duktura—has listened to numerous sinful stories, involving excessive masturbation, premarital and extramarital sex, acquisition of sexually transmitted infections, out-of-wedlock conceptions, and the use of donor sperm. Because IVF ethnography takes place in private clinic settings, and involves discussion of the most intimate realms of male sexuality and reproduction, it becomes a site of confession, a mode of self-examination in which men attempt to reveal themselves. This piece explores the place of IVF ethnography as an ethnographic confessional—a safe space in which Muslim men may admit their past indiscretions for the first time and with cathartic relief.


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pp. 25-51
Launched on MUSE
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