Words by Rayhana Neyazi
Muslim women are using #MosqueMeToo to share their experiences of sexual harassment during the Hajj pilgrimage and other religious settings. Reading an article about Muslim women sharing their experiences of sexual harassment during the Hajj pilgrimage has devastated me on a whole new level. It is not that I wasn’t aware of sexual harassment before, rather I always believed Mecca was one of the holiest i.e. safest place for women. A place where people go to worship, to purify themselves from sins, to become holy and pure. Hearing women’s experiences of being groped and inappropriately touched makes me disgusted of our current civilization where women are harassed everywhere and there is no such thing as “safety” in our world. Just to give a brief overview of Hajj, it is a mandatory pilgrimage for Muslim adults, it is the fifth and final pillar of Islam and one of the fundamental principles is tawheed– oneness. The pilgrimage allows Muslims to perform this spiritual unity by standing together in the Divine presence of God. During this pilgrimage, women are forbidden to show their face or hands to non-mahram men, they must be covered with modest clothing and hijab.Yet, with this type of clothing, women are continuously facing sexual harassment.
This brings me to my discussion of sexual harassment in Islamic countries mostly because coming from Afghanistan myself, I hear stories on gender violence and harassment on a daily basis and I know that other Middle-Eastern countries also face the same concern. One of the problems that I have with my country is that women are forced to cover themselves as a form of protection, consequently, this gives out a false message to society as it sexualizes the female body, making them vulnerable and this leads to violence. With the above example, it clearly shows that women are not safe anywhere despite their form of clothing, and in most cases it is the men who find it most difficult to control themselves. In my view, it is essential to educate both men and women in our society on issues surrounding gender and the discourse on veiling. In order to do this, Islamic countries should become more open towards taboo topics, and should stop sexualizing the female body as this is what shapes one’s perceptions towards gender from a young age.
Although the female body is sexualized everywhere through other platforms such as the media, the western pop culture etc. This is a whole new other topic of debate, but in Islamic countries, one of the most concerning issues underlies within the fact that women are forced to veil due to the belief that women should protect themselves from the male gaze and consequently this presents them as inferior to men. Having said that, I do not think that veiling is a sign of oppression nor is it a symbol of degradation. Veiling is an item of clothing and therefore everyone is entitled to wear this out of choice and free will. In fact, I do agree with some feminists who believe that veiling is a symbol of class, and modesty.
Recently, women across Iran have been protesting against the forced hijablaw, women have been climbing onto telecom boxes, taking off their headscarves and waving them aloft on sticks as an act of revolution and solidarity. Witnessing such events in our modern times is pretty alarming, why do women have to endure this?
Indeed, the headscarf is a symbol of modesty and purity, but covering the head does not mean modesty by itself. The philosophical meaning behind modest clothing is to avoid sexual attraction in others, this can simply be accomplished by a decent piece of clothing, does not necessarily need to involve head covering. Having said that, veiling symbolizes many different things, certainly, it can be used for the elevation of class, and to exhibit purity. But this does not signify men to enforce such laws. In response to the protest, Iran’s prosecutor general has described the event as “childish” and “emotionally charged”. I mean, this is extremely disturbing to think that someone from his position would comment such an ignorant thing. One cannot state that such acts of protest are childish since they themselves have no idea what these women have been experiencing. This further illuminates our hegemonic society which exists not just in Iran, but all around the world. This protest does not merely symbolize an act of rebellion for me, it has value and it is connected to years of gender exploitation that happens globally.
I believe that in order to prevent sexual harassment in religious and holy places, even within the domestic homes, young children must be educated on: 1) Why we wear modest clothing – which is not to feel inferior from the opposite sex, rather to have a balance and to avoid sexual attraction. 2) That the female body is not a sexual site, and therefore shouldn’t be attacked for this reason. 3) Veiling is not a sign of oppression, but should be worn out of choice, and that it is an item of clothing and can be used as fashion.
Thank you so much for reading.
Here are some links to further reading:
Read more from Rayhana on her blog: Let’s end violence everywhere