The self-proclaimed online “halal” sex shop has recently opened in Turkey, further highlighting the complex relationship between Islam and capitalism in the country.
The Home web page from the Helal Sex Shop web site is developed not to give any surprises or fright. It shows distinct, basic silhouettes of a man and a lady in a headscarf.
Mr Demirel describes his business as the first online sex shop in the Muslim world to operate in line with Islamic teachings – the world’s first Halal sex shop is, reported to be in the Netherlands – which is a regular home for sexual innovation. He further said: “Our shop also shuns “hardcore” products, such as vibrators, sex dolls and artificial vaginas. It offers products such as massage lotions, performance-enhancing sprays, lubricants, aphrodisiac herbal coffees, vaginal tightening creams and female orgasm creams”.
“Despite what outsiders might think, sexuality is a regular human necessity in Islam,” says the site’s founder, 38-year-old Haluk Demirel.
Visitors are directed to individual pages for males and females. They’re offered a selection of condoms, massage oils, sprays, and scents.
“But individuals, particularly ladies, do not really feel comfortable purchasing products from web sites that look pornographic. Or they don’t like to go into to Western-style sex shops. So my online shop serves as a comfortable area, where they can easily find something to cater for their natural needs.”
He doesn’t have a formal Halal certificate (“Halal”, or “Helal” in Turkish, indicates permissible), so he carries out his personal unofficial checks to ensure that the products he sells are permissible according to Islam.
“Islam forbits masturbation that is why I do not sell vibrators, sex dolls or other comparable toys for self pleasure,” according to Demirel.
Specifically, Mr Demirel hopes to attract to his website females who might be put off by the more direct language of conventional sex websites. So far, about 45% of his clients are women.
“We use words which are delicate, not pornographic,” he explains. “For example, instead of ‘horny’ we use ‘desiring’. These details are very important.”
Not every one agrees with Demirel as one blogger pointed out : “The last product drew my attention in particular because what is featured as a “female orgasm cream” in Turkish bears a much more striking original name in English: “Scream Orgasm Cream.” The “screaming” part, it seems, was too far over the line for us!”
“Yet, one cannot help but wonder if — to preserve both the Islamic tone and the meaning — the cream could have been called “Vecdî İnzal Cream” (“Ecstatic Delivery Cream”). And those in the know would recognize that I’m not using the word “vecdî” (ecstatic) in the Sufi sense [of religious ecstasy] here.”
And reactions on social media, as well as coverage and commentaries in the broader news media, have been stranger than the website itself.
Social media users responded to the news about the “halal” sex shop with a mix of ridicule and disbelief.
Others, betraying a sense of foreboding, wondered what was next. Many cracked predictable jokes about this cream or that sex toy and their compatibility with Islamic law. The more creative types argued how the “halal” store could foster “exports,” “franchises,” and “a much-needed new Turkish opening to the Middle East.”
These reactions reveal two issues: First, despite Turkish society’s conservatism on matters of sex, sexuality, the female body, and religion, that no one has threatened the owners of the “halal” sex store with a lawsuit (or worse) is good news for Demirel. Finally, Turkey seems to be developing a more tolerant streak toward that which is different.
The second point, however, blunts the first one: Much of the negative reaction to the e-helal-sex-store shows how, at the basic level, religious and secular segments of Turkish society share much more in common than they would like to think. A female TV show host recently lost her job because a high-ranking member of the ruling party disliked her décolletage. Meanwhile, an MP from the secular opposition party is attempting to reverse the liberalization of the wearing of Islamic headscarves in government offices.
In Turkey, public discussion of sex continues to be a delicate topic. Some politicians favor to miss the topic altogether.
During a recent visit to a new Ankara shopping centre, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan faced the possible embarasment of walking past a Victoria’s Secret shop, a chain well-known for its lingerie.
Quietly, the owners of the shop pulled down their shutters prior to the prime minister walking by – avoiding the possibility of mutual embarrassment. Last year, conservative Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that all sex shops be renamed “love shops.”
Neighbourhoods in Istanbul, that are unlikely to become disturbed by prime-ministerial walkabouts, several dozen sex shops operate. None claims to operate in the name of religion.
“People come freely to shop here,” says one owner, who preferred not to give his name.
Does he worry about his customers leaving him for Helal Sex Shop?
“I haven’t checked their website,” he answers dismissively.
But numerous other people have. Some accuse the web site of taking benefit of a trend for Islamic-approved goods.
“They invented ‘Islamic fashion’,” writes one Turkey’s most-read newspaper columnist, Ahmet Hakan, “Then ‘Islamic hotels’ and ‘Islamic holidays’. Now, finally, they’ve moved into sexual products.”‘ and ‘Islamic holidays’. Now, lastly, they’ve moved into sexual goods.”
On social media in Turkey, Helal Sex Shop will be the topic of intense, sometimes mocking and graphic debate – a lot of it unrepeatable right here.
“Let your Helal shop be for the best… The only thing you have not exploited for religion was lubricant,” writes one critic on Twitter.
“It’s a website that helps people who are having sex with their spouses,” posts another commentator. “Instead of being criticised it deserves to be appreciated.”The debate has helped to spread the word. Helal Sex Shop now gets about 50,000 clicks a day.
The interest has taken Haluk Demirel by surprise. Under the weight of users, his site has now crashed.
As one contributor pointed out, Turkey has its fair share of liberals, Islamic and secular. But the reactions to “Helal Sex Shop,” décolletage and Islamic headscarves show that liberalism has a long way to go before it becomes a force to be reckoned with in Turkish politics.