DUBAI (AFP) — Emirati love guru Widad Lootah is not your typical marriage counsellor. She is an ultra-conservative Muslim who wears the full veil and talks a lot about sex, often quoting the Muslim holy book the Koran.
On the eve of Valentine's day, Lootah called on Muslim and Arab women everywhere to "embrace love and love making".
"Don't shy away from it, don't feel ashamed by it. Enjoy it, you're supposed to," she said in an interview with AFP, adding that she is trying to break common misconceptions that sex in Islam is only about conceiving children.
"It's also about having fun," she said.
Dressed in a shroud of black revealing only her eyes — a choice, she says, that allows her to emulate the Muslim prophet's wives — Lootah was frank and explicit about the importance Islam places on a healthy sex life.
"It's at the core of a happy marriage," she said.
Lootah noted that her 11 years as a marriage counsellor at the Dubai courthouse made her realise that "what happens (or doesn't happen) in bed" is the main source of marital problems in the United Arab Emirates. Public, and in many cases private, discussions about sex are still taboo in much of the conservative Muslim world, a reality she says contradicts Islam's approach to the subject.
"There are only two simple rules for sex in Islam: you must be married, and anal sex is strictly forbidden," Lootah said.
"Everything else, including all sexually intimate acts below the belly button is allowed. Feel each other, touch each other, kiss each other all over... it's OK."
The problem is, "there is so much shame and disgrace" associated with the enjoyment of sex in the Arab world.
Lootah is an adamant believer in bringing the discussion of sex out into the open, although at times doing so has proven it can be a risky business.
In 2009, she published the much-debated Muslim sex guide Top Secret: Sexual Guidance for Married Couples.
Her book, and her comments in interviews on the subject, initially triggered a slew of insults, condemnation and even threats against her life.
"They called me all sorts of things: crazy, vile, immoral, criminal," she said. "Some even called me a traitor and spy for Israel and America," she added.