A Halal sex shop has been opened in Turkey. His owner claims that everything in his shop is according to Islam.
The front page of the Helal Sex Shop website is designed not to give fright. It features separate, generic silhouettes of a man and a woman in a headscarf.
Browsers are directed to different pages for men and women. They are offered a range of condoms, massage oils, sprays, and scents.
“Despite what outsiders may believe, sexuality is a normal human necessity in Islam,” says the site’s founder, 38-year-old Haluk Demirel.
“But people, especially women, don’t feel comfortable buying products from pornographic looking web sites. Or they don’t like to go into to Western-style sex shops. So my online shop serves as a comfortable area, where they can easily find something to cater for their natural needs.”
Mr Demirel describes his business as the first online sex shop in the Muslim world to operate in line with Islamic teaching – the world’s first Halal sex shop is, reportedly, in the Netherlands – a regular home for sexual innovation.
He does not have a formal Halal certificate (“Halal”, or “Helal” in Turkish, means permissible under Islamic law), so carries out his own unofficial checks to make sure that the products he sells are allowed in Islam.
In particular, Mr Demirel hopes to attract to his site women who may be put off by the more direct language of traditional sex websites. So far, around 45% of his customers are female.
“We use words which are delicate, not pornographic,” he explains. “For example, instead of ‘horny’ we use ‘desiring’. These details are important.”
In Turkey, public discussion of sex is still a delicate subject. Some politicians prefer to avoid the subject altogether.
During a recent visit to a new Ankara shopping centre, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan faced the potential indignity of walking past a Victoria’s Secret shop, a chain most famous for its lingerie.
Quietly, the owners of the shop pulled down their shutters before the prime minister walked by – avoiding the possibility of mutual embarrassment.
Here in Istanbul, in neighbourhoods unlikely to be disturbed by prime-ministerial walkabouts, several dozen sex shops operate. None claims to operate in the name of religion.
“People come freely to shop here,” says one owner, who preferred not to give his name.
Does he worry about his customers leaving him for Helal Sex Shop?
“I haven’t checked their website,” he answers dismissively.
But many others have. Some accuse the website of taking advantage of a trend for Islamic-approved products.
“They invented ‘Islamic fashion’,” writes one Turkey’s most-read newspaper columnist, Ahmet Hakan, “Then ‘Islamic hotels’ and ‘Islamic holidays’. Now, finally, they’ve moved into sexual products.”
On social media in Turkey, Helal Sex Shop is the subject of intense, occasionally mocking and graphic debate – much of it unrepeatable here.
“Let your Helal shop be for the best… 🙂 The only thing you have not exploited for religion was lubricant,” writes one critic on Twitter.
“It’s a website that helps people who are having sex with their spouses,” posts another commentator. “Instead of being criticised it deserves to be appreciated.”
The debate has helped to spread the word. Helal Sex Shop now gets around 50,000 clicks a day.
The interest has taken Haluk Demirel by surprise. Under the weight of users, his site has now crashed.