Islam, Western Guilt, Original Sin & Sensuality | Koray's Birand's Alyssa Miller Images Celebrate Female Eroticism

HARPER’S BAZAAR 12/12 from Koray Birand on Vimeo.

Immaculate Conception & Sin

The images of Alyssa Miller in Koray Birand’s editorial ‘Tutku Oyunlari’ are stunning without the ambient music effects of the video. Understanding that the editorial was published in Harper’s Bazaar Turkey intrigues me as a reminder that a Muslim country like Turkey is sensually so much more sophisticated than America. The social conservatives would just hammer an American magazine for producing anything this sensually beautiful, preferring that we down in the guilt of living in Original Sin.

It’s Sunday December 9th, and I want to take a moment to clear up a common misconception about yesterday, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception among Catholics.

So many people think that the Catholic Church’s Feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the conception of Christ in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Not true. It’s the celebration of the Annunciation of the Lord on March 25 that honors the Blessed Virgin Mary’s pregnancy without being impregnated.

Historians say that the Feast of the Immaculate Conception goes back to the seventh century, when churches in the East began celebrating the Feast of the Conception of Saint Anne, the mother of Mary. Others argue that the feast dates bask as early as the 5th century in Syria.

The feast arrived in the West probably no earlier than the 11th century, and at that time, it began to be tied up with a developing theological controversy. Both the Eastern and the Western Church had maintained that Mary was free from sin throughout her life, but there were different understandings of what this meant. via

Western theologians argued that Mary could not have been sinless because of the doctrine of Original Sin. The terms ‘Immaculate Conception’ is concerned with Original Sin and not sexual intercourse, as it’s now commonly believed. Many Catholics believe that Mary became the mother of Christ without sexual relations, having therefore an Immaculate Conception.

Original Sin & Women’s Guilt

The argument was settled on February 28, 1476 when Pope Sixtus IV extended the Feast of the Immaculate Conception throughout the Western Church, followed by threats of excommunication to all who opposed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as proof that Mary was not born into a state of Original Sin.

On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX officially declared the Immaculate Conception a dogma of the Church, which means that all Christians are bound to accept it as true. As the Holy Father wrote in the Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus, “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”

This concept of Original Sin becomes more intriguing because it was Eve — in every probability Adam’s second wife if you believe the Old Testament’s story of the strong-minded Lilith who refused to submit to Adam — who got humankind in trouble in perpetuity. Eve led Adam to disobey God’s commandement not to eat the fruit of the Tree os the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It’s Eve — and women generally — who can’t resist temptation and need men to guide us on the correct path. This belief is espoused in many churches even today.

One might assume then, that Original Sin is passed from mother to child, but this is not true according to Roman Catholic doctrine. The corruption of our nature is passed from father to child and it occurs through the sexual act.

As noted above, Mary was born without Original Sin, being conceived at the time of the Annunciation in this uniquely pristine state.

Protestants have objected to the argument that Mary was spared the state of Original Sin, rather than being redeemed by Christ. Bottom line, this is all very complicated to understand, but I want to set the record straight that December 9th has nothing to do with sexual impregnation at all, with pregnancy being a result.

Islam, Western Guilt & Sensuality

One of the interesting aspects of Islam is its original celebration of sensuality, rather than its current condemnation. In her novel ‘Proof by Honey,’ Salwa al Neimi challenges the current intellectual orthodoxy in the Muslim world which has she says “betrayed the sensuality redolent in several classical Arab texts.”

The poet moved to Paris in the mid-1970s to study Islamic Philosophy and Theatre at the Sorbonne. “Arab erotic literature is the opposite of what we are told about Islam,” argues Salwa al Neimi, who works today at the Institut du Monde Arabe.

Banned at the 2007 Damascus book-fair, al Neimi’s novel Proof by Honey’ was censored in most Arab countries, except in North African Arab nations - such as Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia - and Lebanon.

When, for instance, the author quotes Aicha, Prophet Mohammed’s favorite wife, in connection with the Prophet’s kisses, it’s not to provoke a scandal but to affirm that sensuality is a part of Islamic thought. “Islamic society never regarded sex as something sad or sinful,” she says.

“Arab society today has interiorized all the Western notions of sin and guilt associated with the body,” Salwa al Neimi maintains. The author deplores this Westernization of Islam, riddling it with guilt and she blames the masters of modern Islamic thought for imbibing and regurgitating these values as Islamic doctrine.

This paradox is the one that envelopes me observing the evolution of sensuality in Turkish fashion editorials. Both Vogue Turkey and Harper’s Bazaar Turkey are sensually vibrant, sensually uplifting publications. Many of us believe that Turkey is in the forefront of promoting a positive sensuality for women especially, uplifting us from the guilt and damnation perpetrated against women by modern religious orthodoxy. ~ Anne

See entire Alyssa Miller in ‘Tutku Oyunlari’, lensed by Koray Birand for Harper’s Bazaar Turkey’s December issue in Private Studio.