Aliaa Magda Elmahdy: Real Life Naturist Hero

I dedicate this post to Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, intrepid feminist, champion of freedom, and culture warrior fighting the oppressive doctrines of Sharia Law. She is also, to my mind, a naturist hero.

In much of the Muslim world, Sharia Law has kept women in positions of inferiority. Women in Afghanistan risk their lives simply going to school. To prevent their education, fanatics throw acid in young girls faces, causing life-long horrific deformities. In countries like Saudi Arabia, women are forbidden from driving, dating, voting, divorcing, or even disobeying their husbands. Whenever leaving their homes, married women must be accompanied by their husbands or a close male relative. Wives can be stoned to death for unfaithfulness or, as is often the case, merely the accusation of unfaithfulness. The same rules do not apply, however, for men, who are legally permitted up to four wives. To fully understand the kind of oppression women endure under Sharia, I highly recommend A Thousand Splendid Suns by Afghan author Khaled Hosseini.

This oppression is vividly demonstrated by how women are allowed, or not allowed, to dress. In Saudi Arabia, a woman cannot show her face or hair in public. In pre-9/11 Afghanistan, the women were forced into burqas, a type of gown that covers every part of the body, including the eyes (allowing vision through a fishnet like screen) enslaving half the country and turning the entire female population into what looked like blue ghosts. Make no mistake, defenders of Sharia are not prudes. In the past, punishments for violating the Law have included forced weddings (to much older men) and gang rape. In Islamic culture, women must dress modestly because, it is believed, men cannot control their urges. In cases of rape, the woman is often blamed for her revealing clothing and the rapist found guiltless. Just as in our own textile culture, this notion of uncontrollable urges is a myth, but under Sharia Law, it is an outright lie, a system designed by men for men. As a naturist, I have spent days surrounded by nude women, many of them attractive. Never once did I struggle with unwanted urges, because I could see beyond the outward appearance; I saw fellow human beings, mothers and daughters and sisters, friends and school mates, people deserving of respect. No woman, under any circumstance, should be seen as anything less. Perversion is the fault of the male mind. But the message Sharia Law sends is clear: women are property. They do not own their bodies and they are not allowed to choose what they can do with it.

This is offensive.

This is where naturism becomes more meaningful, because Naturism = Freedom. It may seem a trite observation. Even textiles understand the sense of freedom being without clothes provides. But what has recently come to my attention is how much the human body can become a symbol of freedom, not just from clothes, but from any oppression, whether political or religious in nature.

Egyptian born and raised Muslim, Aliaa Magda Elmahdy shows real courage, as public nudity is not only forbidden in Islam, it’s unthinkable. Even in the arts, the Koran frowns upon depictions of humans, clothed or otherwise, which makes her actions all the more remarkable. Posting a nude picture of herself on her blog incited outrage throughout the Muslim world among both liberals and conservatives; she inspired hate blogs and received death threats. Even feminists opposed to Sharia admonished her, arguing that by going nude, men now see her as a piece of meat, that by surrendering her dignity, she has harmed her cause. But if clothing represents oppression, what better way to protest that oppression than by the extreme opposite of the burqa? Shamelessly displaying her own nude body was the most powerful message Aliaa could have sent the Muslim world. It reaffirms that her body is hers and belongs to nobody else. It would have been easy for her to keep a low profile, to remain an anonymous blogger, to complain of the many cruelties and injustices against her sex without impacting real change. Instead, she rocked the boat and made waves; she risked her safety for the attention of the world.

Which brings me to my next point, Naturism = Power. As we can see, the human body can be a symbol, and as a symbol, it possesses power to arouse, draw attention, or illustrate a point. Oppressive societies often use shame to steal power from others. In the Bible, slaves were stripped of their clothes (the “naked” were slaves or poor); a rapist will strip his victim to make her feel vulnerable; the Nazis stripped Jews in concentration camps to assert dominance and authority. But if a woman, or man, chooses, of their own accord, to remove their own clothes, what power is left to the oppressor but violence?

On her Facebook page, Aliaa states that the image, “screams against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy.” Now she has done one better, going nude in public in Sweden, which, even in our own Christian culture is taboo, illegal and for some people shocking—that takes real courage. Unfortunately, it will take some time before the Islamic world develops to a level where it can see her point. As a free human being, Aliaa can do with her body what she pleases. It is not the right of any religious or political institution to dictate how she is allowed to dress.

Just to be clear, I do not mean to imply that there is anything wrong with the religion itself. During the golden age of Islam, between 700 and 1200 AD, there was an explosion of artistic and scientific achievement in the Middle East. Muslim scholars mapped out the heavens, translated Greek philosophers like Socrates and Plato into Arabic (therefore preserving them) and invented algebra. Andalusian Spain, once controlled by the Muslims, was a mecca (pun intended) of education. Seville and Cordoba contained libraries with over one hundred thousand books. Islamic architecture also greatly exceeded anything the Christians could make at the time. In the Arabian Nights, high born women are afforded greater freedoms and even political power. Before Taliban control, Afghan women enjoyed the right to work and go to school. The Koran itself states that men and women are equal. Unfortunately, radical practitioners have radicalized their faith. Either way, the outrage of the Muslim world should not be directed at feminists, who choose body freedom over shame, but at the primitive culture that forces half the human race into a position of submissiveness and subservience.

The female body, designed by Allah. How is this offensive?

When I look at you, Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, I see a beautiful, intelligent, courageous woman, an inspiration to oppressed women everywhere, a woman who should be proud. After all, the human body is the direct handiwork of Allah himself. By removing your clothes, the only shameful thing you have exposed is the hate and intolerance of your country.

Post Script: If you’re out there reading this, Aliaa, I want you to know that you have inspired me. The writings of a Greek-American fantasist probably won’t mean much to you (and why should it?) but I have decided to add your name to my novel in your honor. You will be Aliaa, sister to Thelana, from Ilmarinen, a land where women are equal to men, a land free of oppression. 

12 thoughts on “Aliaa Magda Elmahdy: Real Life Naturist Hero

  1. What more can I say? You have said it all, Nick. I completely agree with you. And I do want to thank you for making us think, once again. You are truly a liberated man. Thanks…

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  2. I know quite a bit about Islam, actually. I have been married Muslim for over twelve years. I studied Islam as part of my religious and historical studies in my university, and I have read the Koran, taking special interest on the part about women. I also studied the more esoteric aspects of the faith, including the writings of the Sufis and I have visited several mosques, including the one in Morocco, the 2nd largest mosque in the world. It is true that the Koran does not advocate mistreatment of women (at least not to the extent it is practiced today) and in several surahs women are said to be equal to men (in fact, the word “man” and “woman” appear in the Koran the same number of times). However, Sharia Law, as practiced today, is not in accordance to Koranic teaching. The problem with Islam is those professed Muslims such as the Taliban not familiar with the true teachings of the Prophet. My view, as you put it, is not influenced by media bias but by the very real atrocities Muslim women suffer daily due to the oppressive interpretation of their faith by male members of their faith.

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  3. I would like to say you have skipped many rules which would explain most of what people thinks is bad like stoning. men and women both will be stoned if the had sex with out marrige that is why our communities are safer, tighter and aids free, in the other hand your communities not safe never will be saparated divide to parts and aids created from your part actully I dont have any time to waste, I have read the first paragraph and I knew you are one of those people who loves to write what they think is the truth even thought you dont have this much of knowledge about it, shame on you, I feel sorry for any one reading your articles.

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  4. I am not sure which communities you speak of, specifically. When you make statements like these, you need to avoid broad generalizations. If you are referring to Muslim communities, then you would be mistaken. The crime rate in the Middle East and Africa, with large Muslim populations, are some of the highest in the world. AIDS is responsible for many more deaths in Africa (22.9 million in 2010) than in the U.S. (roughly 1.2 million) even though Africa has a much larger Muslim population (421 million) to the U.S. Muslim population (2.6 million). Also, look at the crime, education, economy and overall living standards of countries in Scandinavia—where women have the most personal freedom; they are greatly superior to any Muslim country on Earth. I think there is much you need learn about other countries, cultures and religions. I am afraid you have been largely insulated. I would start by reading up on Afghanistan. My favorite Afghan author is Khaled Hosseini. Both “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns” are excellent reads. As for religion, I recommend Karen Armstrong's “History of God” and Richard Dawkin's “The God Delusion”. These books should help give you some much needed perspective.

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  5. Just to be clear, I do not mean to imply that there is anything wrong with Islam or Muslim people. The best people I know, in fact (my wife and her family) are from a Muslim country. During the golden age of Islam, between 700 and 1200 AD, there was an explosion of learning and artistic achievement in the Middle East. Islamic astronomers mapped out the heavens, translated Greek philosophers like Socrates and Plato into Arabic (therefore preserving them), and invented algebra. In fact, Andalusian Spain, which was controlled by the Muslims, was a mecca (pun intended) for education. Seville and Cordoba contained libraries with over one hundred thousand books! I visited both cities in my travels and I have to admit the architecture greatly exceeds anything the Christians could make. Muslims were, at the time, far ahead of Christian Europe and the rest of the world. Unfortunately, time's have changed. Women in countries like Afghanistan risk their lives going to school and running for office. If you are familiar with the Arabian Nights (which I highly recommend reading) there was a great deal of women in power, no more. Unfortunately, economic pressures have drastically changed the region. Extreme poverty has radicalized a once moderate faith. I also recommend reading Marjane Satrapi's superb “Persepolis”; the true story of a girl raised in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.

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  6. what can i say? typical liberalist denial. always saying that “i had learn much about the esoteric aspect of Islam, and bla…bla..bla” but the writing just show that your interpretation of Islam is just wrongful… sorry to say it.

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  7. Well I am a muslim and I like getting naked in public but I do not want my inclinations affect my family and society so I do it in places where only a few people know me.
    I am however, unhappy with your comment on her “Shamelessly displaying her own nude body was the most powerful message Aliaa could have sent the Muslim world”. You call her free but you also call her shameless.
    I think you too have some problems with naked display of human body but you use Alia's case only to criticize the muslim world.

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  8. Well, you cannot be free without being shameless. That would be an oxymoron. Shamelessness implies freedom. Like the Bible said, “Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed.” Secondly, I do not know what “problems with naked display” you think I have. Yes, I use Aliaa's case to criticize Muslims, because women like Aliaa are victims of death threats. In other countries, she would be stoned to death for posing naked. It is wrong to believe women are objects of desire; this makes it so that they take the blame for rape and other acts of violence perpetrated against them. If you are a Muslim woman who enjoys going nude in public, I suggest you take a better look at the Koran. It is forbidden. I would also be concerned for your safety, because there are many people out there who would condemn you to death for such actions. This is not a society we should tolerate. Violence against women is inexcusable in any religion.

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