Sexual Harrasment in Places of Worship: #MosqueMeToo
In a Twitter post, Muslim women opened up about their experiences of sexual harassment during their pilgrimage to Hajj.
The Me-Too hashtag movement went viral on Twitter in October 2017. The original founder of the movement, Tarana Burke began using the phrase “Me Too” in 2006 on Myspace to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual abuse and assault within American society. The movement has now spread globally and has given a voice to women, enabling them to voice their experiences of sexual harassment within a safe community.
The lack of legal action regarding sexual harassment cases has been acknowledged as a global epidemic, with recent examples including rapist Brock Turner's mere 6-month sentence. The Me-Too campaign has undoubtedly paved the way for intersectional experiences of sexual harassment to be shared, and in February 2018 #MosqueMeToo was created. Egyptian-American feminist and journalist Mona Eltahawy was the first to use this hashtag when she addressed her experience of sexual harassment during Hajj in 2013. Within 24 hours Mona’s tweet was retweeted 2,000 times and became a trending topic on Farsi Twitter. The twitter hashtag provided Muslim women with a platform to voice their experiences of sexual harassment in places of worship and Hajj.
The hashtag triggered a wave of anger from both men and women challenging the notions of persistent Islamic laws requiring women to cover themselves. There is a general cultural misconception that the veiling of a woman acts as a deterrent or protection from sexual harassment. These beliefs are legally enforced within the Muslim States, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. Supporters of the #MosqueMeToo movement debunk these notions by saying that even in the holiest places, where women are the most covered, they still experience sexual assault. The publication of these offences has rightfully reinstated the belief that what a woman’s dress cannot be a factor in cases of sexual harassment.
In 2016, five women approached CNN to voice their experiences of sexual harassment during Hajj. The Hajj is the fifth and final pillar in Islam and is considered to be the spiritual pinnacle and requirement of every follower of Islam to perform once in their life. The women also shared explicit details of men assaulting them during Tawaf. Tawaf is a ritual where Muslims circle the Kaaba. Usually, within Mosques, there are segregated sides for men and women, during Tawaf the process integrates the two. The women interviewed by CNN had all experienced sexual harassment during Tawaf.
Asra Nadeem, speaking of her experience stated: “Hajj is a spiritual experience -- you're in a different state of mind. You're praying for things, it's very Zen-like. Your first instinct is that it cannot possibly be happening, but it's there, in your face.”
After the publication of sexual harassment and violence cases, the Shura Council of Saudi Arabia responded by passing a law that criminalises sexual harassment.
This discussion of sexual harassment has uncovered a deep societal issue within the Muslim World. In 2012, Mona Eltahawy wrote a feature article for Foreign Policy magazine section called “Why Do They Hate Us?”, the “they” in question are Muslim men and the “us” women. The focus of the article explores the current war on women regarding their lack of rights within the Middle East. In an expansion of the controversial article, Eltahawy wrote Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution. In the opening chapters, Eltahawy opens up about her traumatising visit to Saudi Arabia as a 15-year-old. After witnessing the on-hand brutal regime against women, Eltahawy cites that “the obsession with controlling women and our bodies often stems from the suspicion that, without restraints, women are just a few degrees short of sexual insatiability”. Unlike other revolutionary rhetorics, Eltahawy’s book is a call for equality urging women across the globe to take a stand against misogyny in all its forms.
Eltahawy urges Western society not to confuse Islam with Islamism, as the politicising of religion has enabled harmful interpretations to supersede more progressive values within Islam. Eltahawy and many other Muslim feminists fear their activism is hijacked by Alt-right supporters in the Western States who will manipulate their plea for equality as an incentive to breed Islamophobic narratives.
Women in the Middle East are fighting the same fight as Women in the West. Although their struggles may be different they are no less capable of achieving the recognition and representation that they are entitled to.
There is not one version of emancipation. Women must break free from this purity-piety culture and we, collectively, must make the streets from the East to the West safe for all women.
[Photo credits: GGAADD, CC BY-SA 2.0]