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Sheikh Nefzawi the Moslem Writer and His Creation ' The Perfumed Garden'

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The Perfumed Garden is an Arabic manual on Sexual love that has stood the test of Time.

Around 1410-1434 an erotic manual was compiled in Arabic  titled ‘The Perfumed Garden of Sensual delight’ . The significance of the book lies in the fact  that it touched a subject that is anathema in Islam, namely sex. The man who wrote it Sheikh Nefzawi  was directed to write the voluminous tome by none other than the  Grand Vizier of Tunis. That is perhaps the reason that the work and its author survived.  The book spread over 249 pages and 13 chapters is a conniseurs delight and the  writer desrves credit for producing a book that is the anti-thesis of Islam and its philosophy.  It is a wonder that such a book was allowed to be written, for with sex a taboo word in Islam the appearence of this book is itself a pleasent surprise.

The book had remained obscure and unknown and not many people knew about it. However one English man who had a missionary zeal translated the book. He was Sir Richard Burton, who is also the translator of the  Arabian nights and another treatise on sex called the KamaSutra. The book was was published by the Kama Shastra society in 1886.  This society was the vehicle to publish books by Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890) and Foster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot (1833-1901). The society was formed in 1876 with the sole aim to get the erotic books translated by Burton to be published.

The Perfumed Garden 's main subject is the act of sex between a man and a woman. In fact it forms the central theme of the book and in chapter 6 of the book the sheikh lays down 36 positions for the act of coition. But it appears that the positions are heavily borrowed from the Hindu classic on sex the kamasutra. The sheikh also gives names to the various positions, perhaps with the idea to make the book interesting.

Despite 125 years having elapsed since its publication, the book still commands the interest of many readers and writers. Many writers feel it a challange to re-translate this book. One writer named  Rene R Khawam translated this book from the original Arabic into French in 1976. it is worth noting that Renee spent over 4 decades learning Arabic and translating the Koran and Arabian nights as well.  Renee was not the last word in the translation of the Perfumed garden as in 1999  Jim Colville published another translation of the Perfumed Garden. He also translated the book directly from the Arabic  and he noted many differences from Burtons translation as he felt  that Burton’s translation lacked authenticity and had deviated from the original Arabic text. However Burtons translation is the more popular book and very few read Colvile's translation..

The book basically concerns the sexuality of the woman. The sheikh writes of women who are to be held in contempt and women who are to be praised. As the book was not meant to be read by women, the information is supposed to be for the man only. The Sheikh gives sundry names to the sexual organs of women and men. The aim was perhaps to keep the reader engrossed as well as please the Bey, who had commissioned this work.

The Sheikh further discusses the deceits and treacheries of women. The fact that he refers only to women shows the bias of Islamic society against women. But what will interest the reader are the erotic tales  that amplify these qualities of women. The stories are well integrated with the book, though on ecan read them individually and I am sure they will give satisfaction to a reader. The stress of the book is on the sexual union of a man and a woman. As a further amplification to increase the potency and vigor of a man the book contains good advice on the foods to be eaten.Chapter 13 of the book is replete with such advice The sheikh recommends drinking camels milk and eating eggs fried in fried in cinnamon and butter. The Sheikh also lays great stress on consuming honey and eating almonds.There are many other aphrodisiacs mentioned to enhance the sexual prowess of man. As per the Sheikh it is only the power and srength of the male organ that can win the heart and command the respect of a woman. I presume there should be some truth in that even in the modern world.

This manual written in Arabic may perhaps have remained obscure, but for Richard Burton. But the important point is that such a book has come out of the vitals of an Islamic ruled state. Considering the official censorship and the life in the Islamic world where officially Sex is a taboo word, it is a wonder that such a book saw the light of the day.


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Madan G Singh