5. Female entertainers: seduction, sin and shame


Female entertainers are aware of their power to seduce men. A dancer said: "A man, regardless how tough he is, even if he is praying on his prayer mat, it is beyond his power to resist a dancer moving in a revealing costume."

This female power is clearly an instrument for earning money. Women can use their beauty and attractiveness to earn money, a strategy which does not work for male entertainers. A female nightclub performer commented: "The customer wants to see a woman, not a man (...). If he drinks and gets drunk and sees a dancer or a female singer in a nice dress (...) they will bewitch him. Whereas if a man is performing, this will not affect him to the same extent." Men must use their voices and talent. For women however, it is difficult to be evaluated for their talents instead of their bodies. A serious female singer who insisted on being estimated for her voice rather than her appearance, related that unconsciously she had made it a habit to close her eyes during singing. Once at a wedding, a man shouted at her "Are we so ugly that you close your eyes all the time?" Then she realized that she closed her eyes to avoid the lustful gaze of the audience. A nightclub dancer working in cheap clubs saw tantalizing the male audience as part of her job. She said: "They want to see meat, they want to see movements that can make them imagine they are sleeping with you. It's business."

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A serious singer 

Beauty and being desirable thus mean money. Yet, it can also mean trouble. Some female performers make a direct link between revealing costumes and troubles at a wedding. A former performer stated: "The belly-dancing costume should be prohibited. It causes problems because it is too revealing. If men see this part of the body naked, here open, there a small piece of material and, please forgive me the expression, they sleep on their backs and have their legs open [she describes the act in which a dancer, while on the knees, bends backward K.v.N.].

Even the toughest man, if he sees this (...) he is human after all." In the view of female entertainers, men are weak regarding female beauty and seduction, and at the same time threatening and aggressive. They regard women as powerful and tempting but as weak when it comes to physical violence.

Most female performers are thus aware that their activities are seductive and therefore sinful. A former performer, who has now 'repented' and made a pilgrimage to Mecca, looked back and commented: "The profession is haram. Someone can visit a wedding with twenty-five piasters in his pocket from which he could feed his children. If he sees someone dancing beautifully in front of him and hears that the names of all other men are mentioned, he wants to be present as well and must give money. So he will give the twenty-five piasters to the dancer and his children will have nothing to eat."

Several female performers were concerned about the afterlife. "Rabbina yitob `alena," "may God relieve us," is often heard from those working, while those who stopped performing often sigh, "tobt lillah," "I repented." A former performer related that at the time she was working she often exclaimed: "rabbina yitob `alayya, ya rabb," "may God relieve me, O Lord." But since it was her "bread and salt" she had to keep on working. "Five years ago, I repented," she continued. "Praise be to God!" A young dancer was troubled by her sins. She decided that dancing invalidated her prayers and stopped this religious duty. After repentance she intends to resume praying. Others related that they prayed before performing and purified themselves after work. They expressed the hope that God in his omniscience will judge people on their inner selves and will forgive their outer activities. A singer said: "As Muslims it is forbidden to reveal your body, but we do not know who will go to heaven or to hell.

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A retired performer

Maybe a dancer does a good deed which gives her absolution." Some made the pilgrimage to Mecca and were relieved of their sins. A singer from Mansura was not so lucky. She intended to stop working and made the pilgrimage but unfortunately she was forced to start singing again and thus invalidated the remission of her sins. 

Most female performers thus resign themselves to their fate of doing things against Islam. They admit that women seduce, that the profession is haram and that they are sinners. That does not mean however, that they perceive their activities as shameful, `eb. They regard themselves as perfectly respectable people forced to earn a living in this way. They often legitimize their work by saying that is makes people happy. A performer said: "How can our profession be shameful? We make people happy! Someone is going to marry. People want to enjoy themselves. God provides everyone with a livelihood; everyone works for a decent piaster. God created us to make people happy (6).

Haram is a concept from religious discourse, whereas `eb, shame, belongs to the social domain of daily discourse. It was interesting to note that most of the dancers I interviewed during the course of my fieldwork viewed their profession possibly as haram, forbidden, but not as `eb, shameful. Facing God they can only hope for his mercy, but facing human beings they can defend their claim to honor. Although it is difficult to deny their religious transgressions, they can and do strongly defend themselves against accusations of shameful behavior by people.

Accordingly, the fundamentalists find little favor in their eyes. "It is easy for them to talk, they have better jobs. May God make things easy for them but I am one of those who have to earn money from dancing," Ibtisam said before she retired. Another performer bitterly exclaimed: "Fundamentalists say that we do things against our religion, but we eat from it. I raise my children from it. Let them provide us with another job, with enough to pay for the school and all other expenses for my children. I struggle for them."

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