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What Can Muslim Men Do to Counter Sexual Harassment?

Editor’s note:

This article is a complement of part 2 in a series on Sexual harassment among Muslims.

Read part one

Read part two 

For any meaningful change to take place, Muslim men need to exert their positions as qawwaamoon (guardians) in order to fight against oppression, uphold the rights of the vulnerable, and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.

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As qawwaam (guardian), men should be at the forefront of tackling the very serious problem of sexual harassment in the Muslim community. There are many ways in which Muslim men can use their authority to dismantle the silence that surrounds sexual abuse.

Teach the meaning of true gheerah (jealousy). Unfortunately, the term gheerah has been – just like the concept of qiwamah – grossly misunderstood and warped in its implementation. Many Muslims have been taught that a man’s gheerah means to be obsessive and paranoid over his womenfolk, such that if they are harassed, they will blame and punish the woman instead of the harasser.

However, we see a beautiful example of the gheerah that RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) had for women – including those who were not his own family members – in the following hadith:

Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas (radi Allahu anhu):

Al-Fadl bin Abbas rode behind Allah’s Messenger (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) as his companion rider on the back portion of his she-camel on the day of Nahr (slaughtering of sacrifice, 10th Dhul-Hijja) and Al-Fadl was a handsome man. The Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) stopped to give the people verdicts (regarding their matters).

In the meantime, a beautiful woman from the tribe of Khatham came, asking the verdict of Allah’s Messenger. Al-Fadl started looking at her as her beauty attracted him. The Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) looked behind while Al-Fadl was looking at her; so the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) held out his hand backwards and caught the chin of Al-Fadl and turned his face (to the other side) in order that he should not gaze at her. She said, ‘O Allah’s Messenger!

The obligation of performing Hajj enjoined by Allah on his worshippers has become due (compulsory) on my father who is an old man and who cannot sit firmly on the riding animal. Will it be sufficient that I perform Hajj on his behalf?’ He said, ‘Yes.'” [Sahih Bukhari]

In this hadith, we see how RasulAllah’s gheerah for the unnamed young woman was such that when al-Fadhl did not stop staring at her, he physically turned al-Fadhl’s face away – taking direct action to stop this particular act of harassment.

When Muslim men are taught to internalize gheerah correctly, they will automatically understand what it means to respect not just Muslim women, but all women. Even if a woman is not Muslim, a man with true gheerah will know that he is required to deal with her honourably, and to step up if he sees others disrespecting and harassing her.

Narrated ‘Abdullah bin Masud: RasulAllah said:

There is none having a greater sense of Gheerah than Allah. And for that He has forbidden the doing of evil actions (illegal sexual intercourse etc.).” (Bukhari)

“The foundation of the Religion is Gheerah, and the one without Gheerah is one without Religion, for Gheerah protects the heart and enlivens the limbs, and shields one from evil and lewdness, and lack of Gheerah kills the heart so that the limbs die, so that there remains not even shielding from [the minor things].

And the example of Gheerah in the heart is the example of the strength that shields one from sickness and fights it off, so if the strength leaves, he will be faced with the sickness, and will not find anything to protect himself from it, so it will establish itself [within him] and destroy him.” (Ibn Qayyim, Ad-Daa’ Wad-Dawaa’)
It is important for us all to recognize and acknowledge that boys and men, too, can be victims of sexual harassment and abuse. In certain societies and environments, strict segregation of the genders actually provides a fertile breeding ground for predators to attack young boys. Whether it’s the infamous practise of bacha bazi[1] or the horrifying statistics of sexual abuse of boys in America[2], Muslims must know that we are not immune in any way to this disease.

Sadly, many think that it is impossible for boys and men to be raped or sexually harassed (or they treat it as a joke rather than taking it seriously); boys are not taught the same level of self awareness and self protection that girls often are. Whether it is emphasizing ‘awrah between other boys and men, safe and unsafe touch, or the even more sensitive issue of having a physical response to being sexually touched[3], it is extremely important for Muslim fathers and other men to teach young boys about the reality of sexual abuse.

A holistic Islamic sexual education will address the necessary information every Muslim – male or female, child or adult – needs to know about sexual biology, and Islamic sexual ethics. It will also emphasize creating a safe place to turn to in the event of sexual abuse, and helping victims heal from the ordeal.

It should be noted that men can be and are sexually harassed by women as well. Whether it is female teachers abusing their authority and positions to engage in intimacy with male students, or female coworkers and management sexually harassing colleagues in the workplace[4], both scenarios – and any other in which a woman engages in nonconsensual sexual interaction with a man – are valid and unacceptable examples of sexual harassment. Muslim men should be aware that this type of situation can arise and know that they do have the ability to report it.

The points mentioned above are just some examples of how Muslim men can exemplify the principles of qiwamah, gheerah, and ihsaan in order to cultivate a spiritually chaste environment – particularly amongst fellow men – that will heavily discourage, prevent, and appropriately respond to sexual harassment and abuse.

Other tangible actions that various Muslim men already implement include: giving khutbahs on the topics of sexual abuse, harassment, and other related matters[5]; calling out friends and acquaintances who express inappropriate sentiments and attitudes about women, while reminding them of the Qur’an and Sunnahs positions on the issue; asserting one’s presence if a woman is being harassed and stepping in if necessary; and of course, raising one’s own sons (and brothers/ nephews/ other boys and men) to have a holistic understanding of what it means to be a God-conscious Muslim man.

Of course, men alone are not responsible for single-handedly ending rape culture or environments in which sexual harassment flourishes. Rather, the entire Muslim community as a whole – men and women alike – play a role in actively standing against such evil, and in creating a spiritually strong and healthy society where such abuses are not tolerated. In part 3, we will look at the many other ways in which Muslim men and women can work together to bring about this kind of positive change.

 {The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.} (Qur’an 9:71)

[1] http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/10/28/bacha-bazi-an-afghan-tragedy/

[2] http://chauciesplace.org/child-sexual-abuse-statistics

[3] https://1in6.org/get-information/myths/

[4] https://www.plbsmh.com/yes-men-can-be-sexually-harassed-in-the-workplace/

[5] https://www.facebook.com/arkbook/posts/10159517891405224?pnref=story

About Zainab bint Younus
Zainab bint Younus is a young woman who finds constant inspiration in the lives of the Sahabiyaat and other great women in Islamic history. She hopes that every Muslimah is able to identify with the struggles of these inspirational women and follow in their footsteps to become a part of a new generation of powerful Muslim women. She blogs at http://www.thesalafifeminist.blogspot.com