It's been dubbed the world's first halal online sex shop. But the man behind www.elasira.nl, Abdelaziz Aouragh, is quick to stress that this is a "total misconception" put about by the media. He says it's a web shop - aimed at Muslim couples and coming from an Islamic perspective - that promotes sexual well-being. Sharia compliant.
Listen to a Newsline interview with Mr Aouragh here:
El Asira, or 'The Society', looks nothing like the kind of site regular visitors to internet sex shops might expect. The website's founder, 29-year-old Dutch national Abdelaziz Aouragh, likes to describe it as "elegant and chic". There's no nudity, and nothing sexual about the website's appearance.
More from NRC International
And there are different entrances to the site for men and women. Mr Aouragh even consulted a Muslim scholar before putting the website online to make sure every detail was permissible according to Islam. He hesitates to call the website 'halal', but says that as a Muslim he wouldn't put anything on sale that he wasn't allowed to use himself.
"The important thing is that we try to be sharia compliant. You won't find any pornography or anything that comes close to it. You'll find there's a women's range, a men's range, sexuality and information, and you also have the possibility to ask questions concerning products, or concerning sexuality in Islam in a broader way. There's a large market for it, and it's probably also the first of its kind. So hopefully, insha'Allah, we are pioneers in what we're going to do."
Visitor's to the website finds pictures of bottled lubricants and oils, and jars of what claim to be powerful aphrodisiacs. But despite the absence of naked bodies or sex toys, the website is certainly hot when it comes to web traffic. When over a 100,000 web surfers tried to visit the site, El Asira went down within days.
The response to the website from its Muslim visitors has been positive, says the site's founder - at least, when the initial hostility fanned by media reports died down. The change came as more people saw the site with their own eyes, he says, and found information on sexual health rather than sleaze, vibrators and porn.
El Asira might not be a sex shop, but it's a commercial site, selling products and services. The main items on sale promise to boost the customer's libido - quality aphrodisiacs, says Mr Aouragh, from a Swedish supplier.
"The products actually contain biological herbs. And the herbs have been used for thousands of years as an aphrodisiac. But with modern technology, they've been altered to gain maximum pleasure and function."
Alongside the natural aphrodisiacs, Mr Aouragh says he plans to add a range of lingerie to El Asira's collection. He's already negotiating with a "famous, award-winning lingerie designer" to create a line for the website.
El Asira is based in the Netherlands, which with its thriving sex industry might seem a likely home for a sex website of any description. But for Muslims in more conservative parts of the Islamic world, one might think it would prove to be a step too far. Not so, according to Mr Aouragh. He says you'll find the products he sells on sale in Islam's holiest cities. Many non-Muslims assume sexuality is a taboo subject in Muslim families, but Mr Aouragh says that's far from the truth. In fact he claims the Islam has taught him a lot about the importance of a good sex life. What's more, he adds, Muslims living in the Middle East are much less prudish when it comes to sexuality compared to Muslims living in the in Europe. It's in the West that Muslim's have trouble finding answers to their questions about sex from an Islamic perspective.
"The knowledge level in Mecca or Medina in Saudi Arabia is far higher than the knowledge level they have here in, for instance, Holland. If you have a crucial question concerning sexuality in the Middle East, it's very easy to go an ask it. It's not only Muslims who have difficulties talking about sexuality. If we take the major religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, you'll see that Islam is the broadest concerning sexuality."
Mr Aouragh is keen to stress that his website is for anyone, not just for Muslims. And he has big plans for expansion beyond cyberspace. The location remains top secret, but in the next phase he plans to open a shop. Or in the language of the entrepreneur himself, a "sharia-compliant physical concept store".
Produced in collaboration with NRC Handelsblad