Sex, Soul and Islam

Sex, Soul and Islam

We have all heard how JK Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers before seeing her Harry Potter books published. I think we smashed her record to pieces.

But, no … I am not equating our work to her genius. It’s just the kind of trivia we use to motivate ourselves through this long, winding, and agonising journey in putting this book idea to print.

In 1998, we co-wrote Tranquil Hearts (TH), with a fellow activist, Fatimah Eunos. It was used as a marriage preparation course text book for more than a decade. By around 2008, we felt that the book needed updating. As we handle a decade’s worth of marital counselling cases since TH, we sense a certain underlying theme recurring through these cases we are seeing. Besides, new things have emerged, like that brick-sized mobile phone bandied about by the busiest of our businessman friend have shrunk into almost everybody’s pocket and that ubiquitous pager have effectively disappeared. And then there was Internet, and social media, and Facebook … IG and TikTok were not born yet. But the former was already affecting our marriages … not least helped by the online chatter against Islam and its way of life, including marriage, gender roles, sexual norms, that kind of thing. And it was slowly growing into a veritable industry.

While it may be a generalisation, we nevertheless see a battle of ideas developing in response to this – in academia, the news, as well as in our own cases: the progressives vs the fundamentalists. The battle is not even dramatic and far from public arena, to be fair. But do we wait until it becomes so, when we are beginning to hear their battle cries rather un-expertly repeated during counselling? The academic battle is rubbing on certain Muslim quarters calling for liberal reinterpretations of classical laws so that Islam could “fit in” with modern values as opposed to those who “dig in” into literal and unquestioning implementation of such laws as an expression of piety. They both have a point. If they were to stay married, they need a bridge to meet midpoint. If Muslim marriages were to thrive, Muslims need to bridge these opposing ideas. Then we thought, “why can’t we be the bridge?”

So, we tried, since some time around 2008, in our spare time, in between work, to rewrite TH to address these issues … until we gave up. No not the book idea, but we gave up trying to write while working. Not enough IQ to handle both at the same time. So, we put our IQs together and decided one of us needed to stop work and write full-time. Since I was such an under-achieving architect anyway, and Enon has always been a high-flyer in school and career, we decided that she works and I write.

I retired from architectural practice in 2010 and started writing full time. I didn’t even allow her to snoop over my shoulders as I very much dislike my half-cooked ideas and arguments seen by anyone. It took me three years to finish the first draft. She then locked herself in a hotel for four solid days to review the first draft and she loved it … and me too … of course. But she left me red-ink-stained pages and pages of instructions to substantiate my ideas, directing me to these books and those theories and several studies which are more her cup of tea than mine … but I think I could have been a good sociology student myself, if I may say so myself. I mean, our publishing boss, who is an Islamic scholar himself, liked how I used anthropological, sociological and sexological viewpoints to explain the Islamic conception of the sexual phenomenon.

When we were finally satisfied with the manuscript, we saw that the re-write had produced a completely different book. It had deviated from Tranquil Hearts’ instructive tone to be more reflective while focussing more on re-understanding traditional guidance on marriage, family, and sex viz-a-viz the changing socio-politico-economic landscape of contemporary Muslim families. So, we called it Tranquillity Love Mercy – Islamic Ideals, Modern Marriages (TLM, for short).

We also noted that while Tranquil Hearts was meant to address the Muslim community in Singapore, because we live amidst a globally linked cosmopolitan society, the issues we face and hence our approaches in contextualising traditional Islamic guidance could resonate in many other Muslim minority communities the world over. Hence, we decided to try our luck and see if international publishers with a worldwide distribution network would want to sell the book across the English-speaking Muslim world.

We took seven years to write TLM, and as for getting it published, we definitely smashed Rowling’s rejection record. We wrote to a total of 30 publishers in UK, US, Holland, Turkey, and others. Most ignored us, while a few gave really kind and encouraging rejection letters. Two deserve mention: In our desperation, we wrote to Bloomsbury who published the Harry Potter books. You’ll never know. They amused us with a “This sounds incredibly interesting, but I’m afraid … we are not looking for a book on this subject”. We saw that coming, but it was quite a fun moment when it came. Anyway, they kindly suggested we write to a university press and an established Muslim book publisher in UK. The university press in turn, was equally kind in advising that while they liked the book idea, they surmised that it would be more suited for a mass market audience than the bookish academics that their readership is. So, they suggested the same UK publisher, instead.

Unbeknownst to them both, that same publisher had earlier, in 2018, offered us a contract if we agreed to release TLM as a series, as they found it too long to be commercially viable. But instead of releasing it as a series, we decided to reorganise TLM into three separate stand-alone books: the first focussing on marital sex, the second on marital gender roles and the third on family financing. They agreed. Yet, the deal fell through. The editorial executive who liked our manuscript left the publishing company, resulting in little enthusiasm left towards the book.

But all things happen for a reason, as a year later, we found Claritas Books who has the gumption to publish the potentially controversial first book, which we renamed Sex, Soul and Islam (SSI). Between then and now, Covid happened, everything slowed down but eventually, here we are. In the meantime, the second book retains the original name TLM and the search for a publisher resumes. Naturally, the third will have to wait.

In conjunction with SSI’s promotion, we have several educational on-site programs lined up in Singapore, Malaysia, and UK. In addition, we have a YouTube channel with a playlist of sex-related topics available. Our website also hosts an “Ask the Writers” page where readers can ask us anything on sexual relationship. We hope these platforms, together with SSI, would provide the Muslim community an avenue for responsible discourses on this still taboo topic of sex, from an Islamic perspective.

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PS: For fellow Rowling fans, I have written a fan-fiction piece to expose her as a complete fraud. To “disapparate” there click here:


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