Last week, I helped my Egyptian friend Mhmd to prepare for his English exam. During a break, he casually brought up the subject of the secret habit. He didn’t know the English word for it, so using his right hand, with his thumb touching his fingers to form an “o”, motioned up and down. I asked for the word in Arabic, but he hesitated, saying it was very vulgar. He was reading from a document in Arabic about the subject. It warned that those who conduct such an activity will suffer from backaches and knee aches. (This is the first time I've ever heard of such a side effect, but not so different from going blind or having hair grow on your palms).
I told him to look up the subject on Wikipedia. Once the page loaded, I asked him to read the “benefits” section. He was a bit surprised. I encouraged him to read more and get more information from various sources, and not just from his Imam.
Dating or the lack of
Mhmd has a girlfriend. Or rather, a lady friend whom he sees once a week. He wants to marry her, but has never kissed her. Or been intimate with her. He doesn’t even greet her with a hug, let alone a handshake. He cannot invite her over to his house for dinner. And she cannot invite him. Because they are not engaged yet. If he wants to take her to the park, he must go with other friends in a group. And of course, the movie theater is out of the question because it’s in the dark. Too much temptation. However, it seems the only quality time he has with her is attending religious lectures with her and his family. Such is life for a single person in Egypt. So, it is rather surprising that the secret habit is not practiced more often.