An increasing number of Muslim women have come forward to speak out against abuse in religious places.
The hashtag #MosqueMeToo quickly began trending on Twitter earlier this month, reaching over 2,000 tags within 24 hours.
The exposure of sexual harassment during hajj – the Muslim traditional journey to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia – was sparked by Egyptian-American journalist and feminist Mona Eltahawy. She felt inspired to address the pertinent issue after a Facebook post by another woman who’d been abused was widely shared.
“It was heartening to see other Muslim women speak out and say ‘Me too’ about something so taboo,” Eltahawy wrote in an article for the Washington Post. “Their experiences were sadly familiar to mine. In 1982, when I was 15, I was sexually assaulted twice while my family and I were performing the hajj.”
A report showed that sexual harassment in Saudi Arabia rose 11.6 percent between 2014 and 2016. It also revealed that 78 percent of Saudi women between the ages of 18 to 48 have been subjected to a form of harassment.
The troubling truth is that modest clothing does not protect against sexual harassment, even in religious places and ceremonies. It doesn’t matter how covered up someone is – they can still be objectified regardless of clothing, according to Step Feed, who conducted a survey on women who had experienced harassment despite being modest.
— MuslimWomensAlliance (@MWAChicago) October 16, 2017
“The first time I shared with an international group of women in Cairo that I had been sexually assaulted during the hajj, an Egyptian Muslim woman took me aside and warned me to stop sharing what had happened in front of foreigners because it would ‘make Muslims look bad,’” wrote Eltahawy. “I told her it was not I but the men who assaulted me who ‘make Muslims look bad.’”
As a Muslim man it hurt my heart reading through all the #MosqueMeToo stories. What hurt more was seeing both men and women assign blame to the victims. We have to do better. Can’t let anti-Muslim sentiments that make us defensive get in the way of taking these issues seriously. https://t.co/EUrJNtcstI
— Aymann Ismail (@aymanndotcom) February 12, 2018
Eltahawy has unapologetically written about her own experience with harassment in her book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution. She referred to the passage as a permanent documentation of what she had gone through in order to warn other Muslim women and provide a space of solidarity.
In September 2017, there were reports that Saudi officials were in the progress of drafting anti-harassment laws that would penalize offenders, however no update on the legislation has been made since.
Saudi women have a long way to go when it comes to achieving justice and protection. Contradicting opinions from powerful legal officials continue to be the cog in the machine of progress.
One of my friends was groped during hajj and when she made a fuss she was asked by fellow hajis to let it go.
— Aisha Sarwari (@AishaFSarwari) February 6, 2018
“I am not naive,” Eltahawy said. “I know too well that Muslim women are caught between a rock and a hard place. On one side are Islamophobes and racists who are all too willing to demonize Muslim men by weaponizing my testimony of sexual assault. On the other side is the “community” of fellow Muslims who are all to willing to defend all Muslim men – they would rather I shut up about being sexually assaulted during the hajj than make Muslims look bad.”
One thing is certain: There is strength in numbers and with the rising accounts of women worldwide, the #MeToo movement continues to elevate the voices of marginalized people.
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