The Hajj is the fifth and final pillar of Islam and takes place on the 12th month of the Islamic calendar. It is an annual pilgrimage completed by Muslims at least once in their lifetimes and is considered to be a mandatory religious duty if the person is healthy, financially stable and has access to resources to make the trip. Hajj takes place over five days in the holy city of Mecca located in Saudi Arabia and approximately made the trip in 2017. The purpose this pilgrimage serves is to create a sense of unity, purify the soul, pursue enlightenment and discover the divine presence. Thus, it is alarming to learn that people are violated while partaking in this religious journey. The abuse was recently publicized by Mona Eltahawy, an American author and columnist, when she tweeted the sexual harassments she underwent on her trip to Mecca.
The tweet said, “I have shared my experience of being sexually assaulted during (Hajj) in 1982 when I was 15 in the hope that it will help fellow Muslim women break silence and taboo around their experience of sexual harassment/abuse during (Hajj)/Umra or in sacred spaces. Let’s use #MosqueMeToo.”
Eltahawy set #MosqueMeToo — inspired by the recent #MeToo movement — in motion to raise awareness of the mistreatment of women at Mecca. It became a platform that made it easier for many other women to speak upon. In the East, among other regions, the topic of sexual harassment is taboo and that is why so few come forward to talk about their experience.
Eltahawy recently opened up to The Washington Post about her experience while performing the Hajj, which is one of the largest human gatherings that takes place internationally. Since there is an abundance of people in a confined space, people are often bumped into or shoved around. But there is a difference between a slight push and a computed grope. There is a difference between a jostle and a placed pinch. There is a difference between a hustle and a calculated fondle. There is the clear distinction between praying at a religious site and having a malicious alternative motive. This is sickening to examine as the pilgrims that visit Mecca are here in the name of Islam. They are here with no other intent other than pursuing religious fulfillment, and yet they are being sexually attacked in the place they believed to be safest in the world. Eltahawy was sexually harassed by a policeman when she was performing a prayer and felt ashamed of what had happened even though none of it was her fault. Speaking from personal experience, it is not easy to come forward and directly address such a violation when you are brought up in a society that victim shames and silences the whole topic of sexual assault. The women that perform Hajj are covered head to toe and yet are groped, proving that assault is not based on the victim’s attire but instead has entirely to do with the predator assaulting them. Being abused in their most religious location, Muslim women cannot easily speak out as they worry about who would believe them. This ideology makes it easier for predators to continue breaking the sanctity of this sacred site, further perpetuating sexual harassment.
When Eltahawy spoke up about her experiences, she was met with massive support as well as equally massive backlash. Many women were relieved to learn they were not the only ones to have undergone mistreatment on their holy journeys since no one had previously publicly addressed their own experience. Others told Eltahawy that she should not be sharing such information as it Muslim women, much like Eltahawy, have to deal with a lot of factors when speaking up. On one end of the spectrum, opening up about assaults that occurred within their own community propagates xenophobia by Islamophobes who will use any negative information as an excuse to paint Islam in a nefarious light, and on the other end are those within the community that will do whatever it takes to defend Islam and its followers even if it means ignoring such cases of abuse. No religion advocates violence and assault, and it is imperative to recognize that sexual assault, even within a religious community, is not due to the faith. Eltahawy said, “I will never ally with Islamophobes and racists. But in the choice between 'community' and Muslim women, I will always choose my sisters.” Forget tainting a community or a religion, at the end of the day it is about the Muslim women being hurt. Their mistreatment is a violation of basic human rights and must continue to be addressed and met with full support.
Harleen Singh is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. Her column, "Got Rights?", runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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