MUSLIM WORLD: Business flourishes at sex shops abiding by Islamic standards
Customers logging on to El Asira, a website selling sexual enhancement products, will soon discover that it's not your average online sex shop.
Suggestive images of naked women and men and advertisements for raunchy sex toys are absent. And just like mosques, the shop is gender segregated -- women log in to the left and men to the right.
Welcome to the world's first online halal sex shop specially designed for Muslim couples looking to spice up their marriage while adhering to Islamic principles.
All products sold by El Asira comply with Islamic sharia law. Shop owner Abdelaziz Aouragh, a 29-year-old Dutch entrepreneur and a practicing Muslim of Moroccan origin, says the store has become a huge success since its launch a couple of months ago.
In fact, when it first opened, the site crashed because overwhelming numbers of visitors flooded the site. Aouragh's mobile phone was flooded with calls from media outlets curious about his pioneering business. A Russian TV crew flew in all the way from Moscow to interview him in Amsterdam.
"It has been a major success and it's still rising. I think because it's the first of its kind," he told Babylon & Beyond. "The concept we have is totally unique."
The young entrepreneur says he and his Swedish suppliers are squeamish about having El Asira portrayed as a sex shop. The massage oils, lubricants and various aphrodisiacs sold have all been carefully vetted by scholars of Islamic jurisprudence in Saudi Arabia, among other countries, he said.
More risque bedroom accessories are on the way. Aouragh says he is in the middle of negotiating a deal with a renowned designer for a line of lingerie specially designed for his brand.
Raunchy sex toys and pornography, banned under Islamic law, aren't for sale.
"We don’t use pornography and there is no foul language," Aouragh said. "There have been a lot of fatwas [Islamic rulings] concerning ... [sex toys] ... so it's very clear that they are not permissible. I would sell them if it was permissible but it's not. We're compliant in every way to sharia."
Among El Asira's customers are Muslims living in Russia, Morocco, Germany and Denmark, Aouragh said.
He says he's received messages from customers who are happy they can shop for sexual enhancement products without being bombarded by pornographic images and texts and without having to feel guilty for violating their religion.
Next up, Aouragh wants to open a real store somewhere in the Arab world.
"An online store is very simple and very discreet, which is the important thing about it," he said. "Now we're going to translate the store into a physical store and we're going to start off in the Middle East."
He won't be the first. In Bahrain, Saudi Arabia's freewheeling island neighbor, 32-year-old businesswomen Khadija Ahmed recently opened up the first Islamic sex shop in the Persian Gulf.
The shop, Dar Khadija, sells edible underwear and kinky lingerie, as well as other products.
Ahmed, veiled and dressed in a black abaya, says her business also offers marriage counseling.
"One of my customers told me that I saved his marriage, just as he was about to get divorced," Ahmed was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse. "It's not a sex shop in the Western sense but a place to help married couples, and only married couples, enjoy sex to the full."
-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut
Photos, from top: A screen shot of El Asira's website, the world's first religiously endorsed online sex shop for Muslim couples; sexual enhancement products on display on the El Asira site. Credit: El Asira. Bahrain-based Dar Khadija is the first sex shop in the Arab Gulf. Credit: Agence France-Presse.