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Hello, doctor
my name is mir muneeb living in Karachi, Pakistan, age is 21.
i have a girl friend and i am very sincere with her so is she, and i want to marry her
some way i found about her ex relation
 and she is really guilty for her attitude towards me and still she is very honest with me as well
but she can't face me now  she is so guilty that she is not even replying my calls, mails and every thing

her family and my family is like an enemy.
i'm not even happy in my home with my family
i am thinking to kill my self and i told her about my plans to suicide but still she is not contacting me
its 10 am here i ll take pills at 4pm and i don't know when i'll get your mail
may be you can help me because i don't wanna die but there is no other way!
Mir Muneeb.

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Don't do it. Don't take the pills. Then write again and tell me more about this and I will be certain to reply.

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Hello, doctor

thanks for replying..
i postpone it for some days.
she is my life, she is my every thing
she was a sign of purity for me
i changed every thing for her
my dressing
my friends
my passion
my way of thinking
my professional study (i was doing fashion designing and being a Muslim its not right so i changed it because i want to make my self pure as she was)
in short i changed every thing!
i do my best to make happy
my love was on its max height like when i go market i saw couple there i start dreaming that some day me and my girl will also do shopping together, go hospital together, etc etc
from past three months i have some doubts that the person she told me about that he was just her friend only really is her boy friend
and yesterday she admits it and i got all the proves.
she is feeling so guilty that she broke-up with me
now i am standing alone and i have no way to go
i love her a lot but there is a big question in mind that is she still that pure?
how can i believe that they didn't have any physical relation?
these question are killing me
and she was breaking my trust since 15 months telling me lie about this ex bf
should my trust on her remains the same? i really dont think so..
what should i do?
Mir Muneeb.

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Hello, Mir Muneeb--

First let me say that I know this situation is very painful for you, and I thank you for trusting me as someone who might be able to help you work through your pain and arrive at making some sense of all this. I hope I can.

Since you are a visitor to my website, you probably already know that when I am asked to help, I must as honest as possible, even if that honesty could be painful or shocking to the reader. Such candor is necessary because important questions about human life and human sexuality require honest answers. If the answers were not honest, those answers could not possible help. Please take this in and, before you continue reading, be aware that my reply may be difficult to hear.

I understand that you fell in love with a girl, and that you put her on a very high pedestal called "purity." You imagined that, before meeting you, she had never had any interest in sex, and certainly never had any sexual experience, and this imagined innocence was one of the things that made you love her. Now you are not so sure that she is as "pure" as you thought, and this is the root of your problem.

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I know that in your country sexual purity is considered very important. In fact, the name Pakistan means "land of the pure," which, although it is said to refer to purity of spirituality, really means sexually pure, because the Islamic faith teaches that without sexual purity one cannot be spiritually pure. Therefore, for a Muslim, sexual "purity" (whatever that means) becomes a very crucial matter indeed. Unfortunately, this attitude--which in my opinion completely denies the actual facts of human sexual desire, human sexual behavior, and childhood sexual development--has lead to some terrible consequences. Your desire to commit suicide because the girl you love may have been touched by another man before knowing you is just one of those terrible consequences. Before saying more about your situation, I want to explain what I mean when I say that Islamic religious tradition has lead to some "terrible consequences."

As a psychologist, I have studied human sexuality in a deep way. Through those studies, I have come to know that human beings are born with extremely powerful instincts towards sexual expression. These instincts can be observed very early in the life of a child. For example, at around five months of age, a normal infant squirms with arousal as the breast approaches. The infant child then clutches at the breast forcefully with both fists and sucks the nipple powerfully. This repeated action generates an ongoing need for sensual gratification and closeness to another person which will then last throughout that person's entire life. At first this is directed towards the child's mother, but later will be focused upon another person in what is called "sexual love," such as the love you feel for your girlfriend.

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A bit later, a normal child begins to masturbate. According to renowned expert, Dr. Benjamin Spock, "Sometime after age six months, infants discover how to create pleasant sensations by touching parts of their bodies, including earlobes, hair, feet, and genitals. Self-stimulation (including stimulation of the genitals) occurs in normal infants," and once masturbation begins, it never really stops. (Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care, revised 2000). When the child reaches the age of active play with other children, sexual contact and sexual pleasure will be part of that play, and later, in adolescence, the sexual play will take on more serious overtones, as boys and girls begin to play games which involve sexual experimentation and getting to know one another's bodies.

In short, Mir, normal human sexual expression begins when an infant is less than six months old—long before that child can even speak or understand a single word, and certainly long, long before that child can be a "Muslim" or any other kind of religious believer—and that powerful need for closeness and sexual pleasure continues throughout ones life.

I put quotation marks on the word "Muslim" because, obviously, there is no such thing as a Muslim child, or a Christian child, or a Jewish child. Muslim, Christian, and Jewish are ways of thinking and believing devised by adults--ways which an adult such as yourself may either accept or reject--but a child is just a child, and has not reached a point in life where he or she is capable of either accepting or rejecting such ideas. To call a child a "Muslim child" (or a "Jewish child," or a "Christian child") is, in my opinion, a kind of crime against that child's humanity.

Please take this in, Mir. You must understand this first if you want to understand my attempt to address your situation with your girlfriend which now has pushed you to the brink of suicide. Because your understanding these facts about human sexuality and how it develops is so important, I will repeat those facts in simpler terms:

Human beings are born with a powerful sexual instinct. That instinct begins to express itself almost from birth and, once that expression begins, it never stops. Human sexuality is completely normal and natural. Islam and other religious traditions have made rules about how sexuality should or should not be expressed, but often those rules deny the plain facts of human sexuality. Sexual curiosity and sexual expression are normal, natural, and central to human life, but the rules are not normal, not natural, because they are not in accord with the reality of human sexuality.

In other words, the expression of innate sexuality is not the problem; the rules are the problem. Those rules--first thought up who knows when, by who knows who--cause people to suffer—sometimes horribly—or even to die, simply for being ordinary human beings with ordinary human sexual instincts, instincts which were a natural part of them on the day they were born, and which never disappear until death. Such suffering simply for being an ordinary, normal human being is what I mean by "terrible consequences."

For example, in your country, Pakistan, Islam teaches that women need protection, which essentially results in their total subjugation physically, mentally and emotionally. If you are honest, Mir, you know this. Most women are not permitted to participate in Pakistani society outside of their family life. According to the 1999 report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, only two percent of Pakistani women participate in the formal sector of employment. Ninety-three percent of rural women and seventy-two percent of urban women are illiterate. They are kept illiterate intentionally. Men often believe that if a woman is defiant then there is nothing morally or legally wrong with beating or even killing her. If a woman is raped, she is usually seen not as a victim but instead as an "immoral" woman; consequently, rape is used as a method of repression and subjugation. If a lawyer tries to defend a woman's rights, often he is threatened with death. Thus, in Pakistan, a woman’s honor, "purity," reputation, and behavior in everyday life are controlled almost entirely by men.

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According to the same report (Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 1999) somewhere between seventy-percent and ninety-percent of Pakistani women are subjected to domestic violence. Typical violent acts include, but are not limited to, murder in the name of "honor," rape, spousal abuse including marital rape, acid attacks, and being burned by family members (often labeled an accident by family members).

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Women are killed in the name of honor due to society’s view that a woman’s every action, most especially her sexual conduct, reflects upon a family’s honor, and especially upon a man’s honor. Therefore, if family members--especially a male family member--consider that a woman’s action is "dishonorable," (and this certainly means any expression of sexuality outside of marriage—any loss of so-called "purity," that is) he feels that in order to restore that honor to him or his family he must kill her.

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He feels that because he has been taught to feel it as he was growing up. He has been indoctrinated to feel it, and perhaps has never even questioned that indoctrination. Of course such honor killings happen in places other than in Pakistan--even in such places as the U.S. or Sweden. They are not specifically a Pakistani problem, but an Islamic one.

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Many women are killed due to an unsubstantiated rumor that has been passed around the community. Most men will not give a women the benefit of the doubt, or bother to find out her side of the story. Many young women are killed due to the mere accusation of having sexual intercourse outside of marriage, only to have been found to be virgins during autopsy. Women who seek a divorce are also often victims of honor killings. For example, newspapers in Lahore reported that an average of more than four women per week were injured when their stoves allegedly burst, killing on average three of the four women.

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Male family members always say that these incidents were "accidents," but many victims (of the ones who survive) have stated that they were intentionally set on fire by their husbands or husbands' families--a practice similar to honor killings. "Although implementation in Pakistan of the 2006 Women's Protection Act somewhat improved women's rights, rape, domestic violence, and abuse against women remained serious problems." (Human Rights Report: Pakistan, U.S. Department of State, 2008)

So in Pakistan, a child who begins as an infant with the ordinary, natural human need to be sexual throughout life, soon ends up a "Muslim child," subject to a bizarre system of Islamic law and tradition which forces that person, particularly if that person is a woman, to act against her own nature, and to accept restrictions on sexual expression which make no sense at all, and which are completely out of accord with human nature. You must remember, Mir, that the child never had any choice about being a "Muslim." That sad transformation--which, by the way, includes being punished by violent death if the person should later want to reject Islam for some other way of thinking--took place automatically on the day the child was born.

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Perhaps reading this account of the terrifying, inhumane, and repressive situation in your country shocks you, and you may feel that I am being unfair to Pakistan or to Islam, but my intention is neither to discredit Pakistan nor to insult Islam. I simply must start with these facts if I am to address your question in an honest and useful way. And, by the way, everything I have laid out above, both about child sexual development and about Pakistani culture, is factual—not my opinion, but facts which are indisputable and widely known.

Just as a fish, having been born in water and always having lived in water, does not ever realize that it is swimming in water, it may be difficult for you to see that you and your girlfriend are swimming in an environment of belief which totally demonizes and represses normal sexuality, and which makes normal human sexual development a crime and a so-called "dishonor," but that is a fact, and you must try to grasp it if I am to help you.

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OK, Mir, now to your situation: In my view, there are two common reasons for suicide. Although one of those could sometimes be a good reason, the other never is. The good reason, as I see it, might be a fatal or incurable disease which causes great physical pain and suffering, and from which that person cannot recover. In a case like that, suicide might be a reasonable choice. The other common reason for suicide is feeling tortured by thoughts and feelings which are so painful that one does not wish to live with them anymore, and so one imagines ending the mental suffering by killing oneself. I say that this is not a good reason because, unlike an incurable disease, thoughts and feelings can change, sometimes quickly and in surprising ways. I know that your suicidal ideas belong to this second category, and that is why I urged you not to do it, but to wait until I could say something to help you pass through the darkness of this mental suffering and out the other side, into the light.

Now as I understand your mental suffering, you imagined that this girl you love was perfectly "pure," by which you meant that she never had a sexual experience of any kind before meeting you. But now that you suspect that she did something sexual with the boy she went around with before knowing you, in your mind, she is not "pure" and that makes her "no good." Also, you are suffering because, feeling ashamed and guilty, she has broken up with you, so now all your dreams of a life together with her have fallen apart. She is not "pure," and you do not even have her in your life any more, so you suffer. I hope I have this right.

Now you say that you "love" this girl, but I am not at all sure of that. I know you love her face and her body, and perhaps you love some of the things she says and does, but you certainly do not love her, because if you did, the fact that she had a life before becoming your girlfriend could not put an end to that love. Love means accepting what another person is, not wishing that that person could be different, which is not love at all, but a desire to control. To put this another way, what you really loved was your idea of her as a "pure" girl you could marry, and now that you believe she is not "pure," you find yourself unable to love her.

You say that she broke your trust because she lied to you about her previous boyfriend, but what choice did she have? If she had told you the truth, you would not have accepted it because you can only imagine yourself being with a "pure" girl. Not only that, Mir. If she had told you the truth she would have risked all the terrible things that can happen to a Pakistani woman if she is found out to be "impure." In effect, her culture and its life-denying, human nature-denying beliefs forced her to lie, just as your sad cultural indoctrination and your life-denying, human nature-denying beliefs are forcing you to reject her now simply because she had a life before the two of you got together. This is just another of what I call the "terrible consequences" of the barbaric, unrealistic, life-denying culture of Islam, not only in your country, but all over the so-called "Islamic world," which is really a medieval world with medieval values which sadly have lasted into the twenty-first century.

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In fact, that medieval culture is destroying your country, just as it is destroying your happiness, destroying your girlfriend's happiness, and threatening even to destroy your life.

Your girlfriend did not want to break up with you. She cares for you—as you well know—just as you care for her. She is attracted to you—sexually attracted—just as you are attracted to her. You forced her to break up with you because you refused to accept her as she is, a person with normal sexual desires which she began to explore with someone else before meeting you. Your lack of acceptance is one of the causes of her guilt because when you questioned her over and over again, and when you rejected her as "impure," your words, those of a Pakistani male, carried the entire weight of the life-denying Islamic religion with them. I don't know if you, Mir, had any sexual experiences (other than masturbation, that is, which I am sure you did lots of) before meeting her, but I am certain that, if you did not have them, you would have had them if your could have. Satisfying sexual curiosity, and experiencing the need for sensuality and closeness—which I explained begins when the child sucks at the breast--is what human beings do unless they have been completely indoctrinated and broken by Islam, orthodox Judaism, fundamentalist Christianity, or some other life-denying system of belief.

If you really do love this girl, Mir, stop feeling sorry for yourself, and try to put yourself in her place in all this. That is what love really is—seeing things through the eyes of the person you say you love. Imagine what all this must be like for her. She is raised in a culture which demonizes any sexual behavior at all outside of marriage (and even makes people feel guilty for sex within marriage unless it is done in certain approved ways and at certain approved times), but finds that her sexual instincts cause her to be curious and so to experiment. No matter what Islam says, this is normal and expected behavior in young human beings even if they are unlucky enough to be born in a place like Pakistan. This is not my opinion. It is a plain fact. Now she meets you, a man she loves and can imagine marrying and spending her life with. That is a beautiful thing which makes her feel happy. You ask her about her past. She lies about it. What choice does she have really? If you are honest, Mir, you will understand that she has no choice but to lie. It is not that she is dishonest at heart, but that the culture in which you both live forces women into an impossible situation: either they completely suppress their normal human sexuality, or they experience some of it but hide those unapproved experiences from everyone, while living in fear of serious punishment for their transgressions against so-called "honor."

Nothing that has happened is her fault, any more than your pain and disappointment at her lack of so-called "purity" (what a barbaric idea!), and the insensitive and unloving way you have treated this girl is your fault. Your culture taught you that "purity" is all-important, and you now believe it. That is not your fault either. It is not so difficult to indoctrinate a human being if you begin at birth. But now you are challenged to see through that sad and destructive upbringing of yours, and to do something better with your life--not something for Islam, not something for Pakistan, not something for your family, but something for Mir, something personal to you alone. It is time, Mir, to awaken from this horrible, violent nightmare called Islam which you never chose, but which was inflicted upon you at birth, and imposed upon you by all the forces in your society.

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Speaking of those forces, by the way, and speaking of purity, how "pure" are the imams and mullahs who cause
young girls to be tortured and even killed for doing what is a normal part of human life. . .

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while finding ways to revel in their own sexuality wherever, however, and whenever they please?

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How "pure" are the husbands who throw lye in the faces of their wives because they simply dared to look at another man?

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How "pure" are the police who rape women who have come to them complaining of just having been raped?

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How "pure" are the fathers and brothers who kill their daughters or sisters because those
unfortunate girls and women have somehow brought imagined "dishonor" to their families?

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Mir, you have a choice. This is your moment to rise to the challenge. You may not know it, and you may not feel it, but please believe me: you have a choice. Something has to end, and what that something is will be completely up to you. Either your life is going to end at your own hand, or your unquestioning acceptance of this medieval Islamic system of so-called "honor" (which dishonors itself and everyone who embraces it) is going to end. I know you are young, and I know this is difficult work, but I hope you can make the right choice.

My recommendation is this: Go to your girlfriend. Tell her that you are sorry for making her lie to you. Tell her you love her and are happy to accept her exactly as she is. Tell her that she has done nothing wrong. Tell her the past is dead and gone, and the future will be whatever the two of you can make of it together. Tell her you will gladly marry her as long as she promises to be faithful to you from now on. Do that, Mir, and be happy. You have a whole life ahead of you, a life which can be filled with good sex, real friendship, warm affection, and all the other sweet things which we human beings can experience if we can let go of our primitive, judgmental religious ideas and simply learn to love. I sincerely hope you can.

Be well.

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Dear Doctor-

Your reply was helpful but i lost her! i tried every thing but i guess every step i took is another mistake for her.. i wont kill my self but i'm so hurt because we are not in relation but i have to live.. it will take some time to get out of it. thank you for your help. your answer were helpful and also informative


Mir Muneeb.

Shortly after posting my reply to Mir Muneeb, but before receiving his second letter explaining that he had lost his girlfriend but would not commit suicide, I received an angry letter--a bit too vulgar for me to post here--from an Pakistani-American who accused me of anti-Muslim bigotry and gross exaggeration. Sir, I am not a bigot. I am simply a person who is totally opposed to the violent subjugation of human beings--and you are simply mistaken. I understand that it must be uncomfortable for you to have to admit that your Islamic cultural traditions not only completely demean women, but induce the violent deaths of many of them by means of so-called "honor killings;" nevertheless, facts are facts. I take the liberty here of attaching an article on this subject from the London Daily Mail newspaper, dated December 17, 2007:

When Aisha Salim marries her fiance in Pakistan next March, it will be the wedding of her dreams.Wearing a veil and gown, she will be every inch the fairytale virgin bride and as befits her strict Muslim religion, after the ceremony, she will hand her blooded wedding-night sheets to her in-laws as proof of her virginity.But far from being the traditional untouched bride that many Muslim families demand, she is a modern-day university graduate who has smoked, drunk, made love to - and even lived with - a previous English boyfriend. To disguise the fact that she has had sex, she has paid for painful surgery to "restore" her virginity.

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It is a drastic and costly measure but as she takes her husband's hand in marriage, she knows it is one which may - quite literally - save her life. The horror and outrage that would ensue if it was discovered she had already slept with a man would be so damning that her own strictly religious relatives might kill her rather than face public shame. "My virginity was restored in a delicate operation just last week, and I honestly view it as life-saving surgery," says Aisha. "If my husband cannot prove to his family that I am a virgin, I would be hounded, ostracised and sent home in disgrace. My father, who is a devout Muslim, would regard it as the ultimate shame. The entire family could be cast out from the friends and society they hold dear, and I honestly believe that one of my fanatically religious cousins or uncles might kill me in revenge, to purge them of my sins." Incredible as it may seem, honour killings are still accepted within our religion. "Ever since my family arranged this marriage for me, I've been terrified that, on my wedding night, my secret would come out. It has only been since my surgery last week that I've actually been able to sleep properly. Now, I can look forward to my marriage."

Aisha is far from alone in seeking such drastic - and almost barbaric - surgery. The rise in Islamic fundamentalism is being blamed for the growing trend for hymenoplasties, where the hymen is re-created from the already torn tissue, or a new membrane is inserted using a gelatine-like substance. In some cases, the vaginal lining can also be used to create a "false" hymen. A blood capsule can be inserted into the lining to ensure realistic blood flow when the false hymen is broken. Twenty-four women in the UK had the procedure on the NHS between 2005 and 2006, but it is thought that hundreds or even thousands more - Aisha included - have plundered their savings to pay up to £4,000 to have private surgery.

Aisha's story illustrates the intense pressures on young British Asian women caught between the strict moral code of their own community and the laxer, permissive attitudes of their white contemporaries. She grew up against a stiflingly strict background as one of seven dutiful Muslim daughters in an affluent middle-class family who moved to England from Pakistan two generations ago. Aisha says: "I've always adored my parents. My father, now 62, is a retired accountant and my mother raised a family of seven sisters in a five-bedroom house in Birmingham. I attended the local Catholic secondary school and although I wore a scarf on my head, I refused to wear a veil, telling my parents that it would make me stand out too much. I was one of the girls, totally accepted by my white, English friends whose lives revolved around shopping and fancying boys.

"But the moment I stepped over the doorstep, normal teenage life would cease and it was like entering an entirely different world. At home, we had to pray together five times a day. We weren't allowed to watch television. My parents were so worried that Western influences might take our minds off the most important things - education and religion - that we were never allowed to bring any schoolfriends home. But it made all the things my friends did more attractive to me. I would sneak out on Saturday afternoons and join them in town, hanging around, shopping and chatting to boys."

Perhaps ironically, it was Aisha's academic success that was to prove her downfall, as she moved away from home to study language and politics at university, and found herself plunged into a world of louche student living. She recalls: "I was a totally naive 18-year-old, and found myself living away from my parents for the first time, and suddenly, everything that I had been bought up to believe was wrong, was being played out in front of me. I decided that drinking, smoking and having boyfriends was just a part of normal, teenage growing up. Like other young girls, I just wanted to be part of a crowd. I stopped wearing the veil and for the first time in my life I wore Western clothes - designs which revealed far more of my body than anything I had ever worn before. I also started drinking. I started off on beer and then gradually things like vodka and cocktails, which naturally helped me lose my inhibitions."

Aisha was in her second year of university when she found love and inevitably, lust. She says quietly: "He was another student in my tutorial class, and the more time we spent together, the more I found myself falling in love. Philip was white, English, charming and kind. When we started dating, I told him I was a virgin and that I was expected to keep my virginity for marriage. But he wore my inhibitions down, and I began to see that having a physical relationship with him would be pleasurable. All my friends were sleeping with their boyfriends and it was entirely accepted. I was the odd one out, so after several months I took the plunge and went on the contraceptive pill as a precaution.

"As the months went past, he became more and more desperate to make love. I wrestled with my conscience night after night, but having taken away the fear of pregnancy by being on the pill, I saw that - as long as my parents never found out - there was no reason not to make love. Marriage was the furthest thing from my mind. Anyway, at that time I assumed I would marry for love, not have an arranged marriage."

She says: "I tried to resist Philip but I discovered that I liked the physical contact. Then one fateful night, we went out and I had too much to drink. My head was spinning, we ended up in bed together and couldn't resist any longer. It was really lovely, and I felt no shame. It was only when I woke up the next morning, and saw Philip lying beside me, that I thought: 'What have I done?' But there was no turning back and it felt entirely natural. He reassured me it was OK and told me that he loved me. Part of me was scared but I was also rather proud of what I'd just done. I wasn't just a little Muslim girl, I was an independent young woman who could make up her own mind how she was going to live her life.

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Muslim brides are expected to be virgins when they marry

"Four months later, Philip and I broke up but I suddenly felt sexually empowered. When I started going out with another student, I knew from the word go that we would sleep together and we did, on the second night. I also had another sexual fling at university with a friend. Having lost my virginity, it didn't seem to matter how many men I slept with, the damage was already done. Besides, I was living away from my parents, and my old life of endless prayer and abiding by the customs of our religion seemed a long way away."

The full reality didn't hit home until Aisha returned home to Birmingham at 22, after she finished her degree. "It was horrible," she says. "It felt like returning to a prison, and I could feel my father's eyes burning into me, as if he knew. I tried to play the dutiful Muslim daughter, but I had changed. I felt as if I was being smothered. My parents wanted me to live at home and work in Birmingham, but I got a job on a graduate sales training scheme in London. I convinced my parents it was a great honour."

With a new job and a new life, Aisha fell in love with a colleague, Steve, and the couple moved in together in an astonishing breach of her strict Muslim upbringing. She says: "I still managed to keep it secret from my parents; my father was quite ill by now and they rarely travelled. "I would talk to them on my mobile phone, and we didn't have a landline in the flat. Steve and I lived together for two years, but then the relationship started to go wrong. He spent too much money, and he was very jealous and possessive of me. When a job opportunity came up in the chain of stores I worked for in Birmingham, I seized it and moved back to get away from him. My parents were thrilled and they started talking seriously about an arranged marriage.

"I realised I had two choices. I could either move back to London and live a Western life, bringing shame on my poor parents and estrange myself from the sisters, aunts and uncles I loved. Or I could go along with their dreams of an arranged marriage. A Muslim husband would have the same values as me, and I would be firmly back within my family support system. For a year I played the part of the dutiful daughter. I wore the hijab, even to work, and I helped my mother care for my father. His pleasure at my return was so touching."

Then last summer, Aisha's mother announced that she had found a prospective husband who came from an affluent Muslim family living in Pakistan. As tradition demanded, the families had shared two ceremonial meetings and the parents of both prospective bride and groom agreed to a match. In July, Aisha flew to Pakistan to meet her "fiance" for the first time. She says: "I was absolutely terrified. This was the man I was supposed to spend the rest of my life with. I didn't know if I would get on with him, or even if he would approve of me. And at the back of my mind was this awful, sickening worry about my virginity.

"But when I met him, I liked him immediately. He is 28, 6ft 3in tall with black hair and very handsome. He made me feel so welcome. I spent a month at his parents' house, and I grew to love my future husband. We didn't kiss in all the time we were together, and I played the diligent Muslim girl who prayed five times a day, wore my hijab and kept my eyes downcast.

"But as I said goodbye to my future husband and flew back to Birmingham, I really started to panic about my virginity. Muslim tradition demands that on my wedding night, my bridegroom will take the bloodied sheets to show his mother and aunts to prove that his bride is pure. If I do not bleed, the wedding will be annulled, and I will be sent home in disgrace. This was all I could think about. How could I fool my own husband and his family into believing that I was pure?"

Through friends, Aisha heard of a new operation to "restore" a torn hymen, and, in her desperation, she went onto the internet to find out more. Aisha explains: "A few friends have already had this operation, though it has to be done with the utmost secrecy, as we would be disowned by our family if the news ever came out. On the internet, I found the clinic of Dr Magdy Hend, at the Regency Clinic on Harley Street.

"I went for an initial consultation, telling my family I was travelling to London on business, and was absolutely reassured. The operation would cost £2,000 and would be done under local anaesthetic. Dr Hend said it would take only about an hour and a half, and I would be able to go back to work the next morning, though I had to be careful not to do anything which would make the hymen break, such as strenuous exercise.

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"The operation would involve taking the 'torn' parts of my hymen and basically stitching them back together, adding further tissue from the side of my vagina. If I wanted, just prior to my wedding he could place a capsule of blood into the hymen which would ensure a healthy amount of blood. It sounds barbaric, but what choice did I have?"

Inevitably, there was controversy when it emerged that taxpayers had funded such operations on the NHS, with MPs suggesting it was a sign of "social regression". But while Aisha felt she had no choice, she preferred the discretion of a private clinic: "The operation went just as he predicted. It was painless, and I can feel no difference at all.

"I think I will have the blood capsule put in place, just to make sure. I've had to save up for months to afford it, and I still have student debts, but it is such a weight off my mind. I had been crying myself to sleep, wondering how I was going to cope, and now I know that my secret is safe. I feel very sad that women like me feel so torn between our two cultures. Our religion is so rigid - yet I was brought up among Western friends who thought nothing of sleeping with their boyfriends. It makes life so confusing and I feel so deeply for all the many Muslim girls in Britain who are caught in the same dilemma.

"I was lucky, I suppose, in that I could afford to repair my 'mistake' so no one would know. But it scares me to think what will happen to Muslim girls who do not have this option and are seen to be 'shaming' their families. They are the ones whose lives will be at risk."

Aisha's name has been changed

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Another self-identified Muslim wrote to me complaining about my reply to the young man who was contemplating suicide because his girlfriend was not "pure." This letter claimed that women are happy to be protected, happy to be veiled because it prevents them from being harrassed by men, and happy to follow the Koranic rules which ensure them a place in paradise after death. I take the liberty here of quoting an article on this subject by noted French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy:

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Why I Support a Ban on Burqas

by Bernard-Henri Lévy

People say, "The burqa is a dress, at most a costume. We're not going to make laws about clothing and costumes." Error. The burqa is not a dress, it's a message, one that clearly communicates the subjugation, the subservience, the crushing and the defeat of women.

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People say, "Perhaps it's subjugation, but it's done with consent. Get it out of your mind that malicious husbands, abusive fathers, and local tyrants are forcing the burqa on women who don't want to wear it." Fine. Except that voluntary servitude has never held water as an argument. The happy slave has never justified the fundamental, essential, ontological infamy of slavery. And, from the Stoics to [19th century thinker] Elisée Reclus, from Schoelcher to Lamartine to Tocqueville, all who rejected slavery provided us with every possible argument against the minor added outrage that consists of transforming victims into the authors of their own misery.

People evoke freedom of religion and conscience, freedom for each of us to choose and practice the religion of his or her choice; in the name of what can anyone forbid the faithful to honor God according to the rules indicated in their sacred texts? Another sophism, for -- and it can never be repeated enough -- the wearing of the burqa corresponds to no Koranic prescription. There is no verse, no text of the Sunna that obliges women to live in this prison of wire and cloth that is the full-body veil. There is not a shoyoukh, not one religious scholar, who is unaware that the Koran does not consider showing the face "nudity" any more than it does showing the hands. And I'm not even mentioning those who tell their congregations loudly and clearly, as Hassan Chalghoumi, the courageous Imam of Drancy, did today, that wearing a full-body veil is downright anti-Islamic.

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People say, "Let's not confuse things! Be careful, drawing attention to the burqa may encourage an Islamophobia -- itself a form of racism in disguise -- that's just dying to explode. We closed the door on this racism, preventing it from infiltrating the debate on national identity. Are we going to let it sneak back in through the window in this discussion of the burqa?" Still another sophism, tireless but absurd, for one has nothing to do with the other. Islamophobia -- and it can never be repeated enough -- is obviously not racism. Personally, I am not Islamophobic. I am far too concerned with the spiritual and the dialogue among spiritualities to feel any hostility towards one religion or another. But the right to freely criticize them, the right to make fun of their dogmas or beliefs, the right to be a non-believer, the right to blasphemy and apostasy -- all these were acquired at too great a cost for us to allow a sect, terrorists of thought, to nullify them or undermine them. This is not about the burqa, it's about Voltaire. What is at stake is the Enlightenment of yesterday and today, and the heritage of both, no less sacred than that of the three monotheisms. A step backwards, just one, on this front would give the nod to all obscurantism, all fanaticism, all the true thoughts of hatred and violence.

And then, people finally say, "But what are we talking about here, anyway? How many cases? How many burqas? Why all this uproar for a few thousand, maybe just a few hundred, burqas to be found in the entirety of French territory, why dig up this arsenal of regulations, why pass a law?" That's the most popular argument at present and, for some, the most convincing. But in reality, it's as specious as all the others. For one of two things is true. Either it's just a game, an accoutrement, a costume (cf. above), if you will, in which case tolerance would be the suitable response. Or else we're talking about an offense to women, a blow to their dignity, a blatant challenge to the fundamental republican rule -- earned at what cost as well -- of equality between the sexes. In that case, it is a question of principle. And when principles are involved, the number is of no consequence. Supposing we called into question the laws of 1881 (outlining the fundamentals of freedom of the press and of expression in France) on the pretext that attacks on the freedom of the press have become rare? And, considering the declining incidence of racist or antisemitic attacks, what would we think of someone who suggested the abolition or even the watering down of current pertinent legislation? If the burqa is really, as I am saying, an affront to women and to their secular struggle for equality, it is, moreover, an insult to the women who, at the very hour I write these words, are demonstrating barefaced in Iran against a regime of assassins who claim the burqa among their symbols. This symbol would divide humanity between those of glorious body, graced with no less glorious a face, and those whose bodies and faces are an outrage in the flesh, a scandal, a filthy thing not to be seen but hidden or neutralized. And that is why, if there is even one woman in France, just one, who enters a hospital or the city hall imprisoned in a burqa, she must be set free.

Posted: February 15, 2010 06:47 PM

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In a smilar vein, this video blog from Pat Condell says a lot, I think:

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