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Muslims Addressing Sexual Harassment Head-On

Part Two

Read Part One

It’s not enough to simply share these stories – if nothing else, #MeToo has reiterated to women that yes, sexual assault and harassment really is that prevalent. The real question is, what are we going to do about it?

It is most certainly not enough to say that the onus is on women not to be harassed or assaulted. It should be clear to anyone with intelligence that while hijab does, in some contexts (but most definitely not all), act as a type of preventative measure from sexual attention, it does not magically ward off undesired looks and certainly does not provide any measure of protection from inappropriate touches.

Although hijab is prescribed in the Qur’an and plays an important role in creating an environment of spiritual chastity, the existence of sexual harassment cannot be blamed solely – or even significantly – on those who do not observe hijab.

In fact, as one woman from Pakistan noted, harassment can in fact worsen when one wears hijab; in societies where wearing hijab and jilbab is seen as a sign of lower socio-economic status, while “Western” clothing is seen as a sign of upper class privilege, those who are dressed more Islamically become targets for sexual assault.

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No one, man, woman, or child, deserves to be sexually harassed or assaulted – regardless of where they are or what they are wearing.

The only way for the Muslim Ummah to move forward is for the conversation surrounding sexual harassment to change.

For over 1400 years, Muslims have been reciting the verses of the Qur’an, including: {Men are the qawwaam of women…} (Qur’an 4:34)

The word ‘qawwaam’ comes from an Arabic root word that means ‘qiyaam bi’: to uphold, to stand up for, and to support.

The expression qawwam is an intensive form of qa’im (one who is responsible for or takes care of a thing or a person)…. The word Qawwam here refers to a duty of care and responsibility…”

Unfortunately, it appears that the true understanding and meaning of qiwamah has been lost to many. Rather than Muslim men being foremost in upholding the rights of women and the vulnerable, there has instead been created a twisted environment in which women are blamed for all abuse that they face. Men who perpetrate such crimes are either turned a blind eye to, or – if they are in positions of authority – given excuses and have their behaviour hidden and swept under the proverbial rug.

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

 What Can Muslim Men Do?

As qawwaam, 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.

1- Regularly teach and remind the importance of respecting women, lowering the gaze, and the severity of zina – whether it is zina of the eyes, the hands, or the private parts. This applies whether or not the women in question are Muslim or nonMuslim, wearing hijaab or undressed, wealthy or poor; regardless of faith, social class, and dress code, Muslims are expected to treat all others with decency and respect.

A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated,

“The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “O Allah, I declare inviolable the rights of two weak ones: the orphans and women.” (An- Nasaa’i)

{Tell the believing men to lower their gazes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do.} (Qur’an 24:30)

It was narrated that Ma’qil ibn Yassaar said: the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said:

“For one of you to be stabbed in the head with an iron needle is better for him than that he should touch a woman who is not permissible for him.” Narrated by al-Tabaraani in al-Kabeer, 486.

2- Be aware of the dangers of sexualization and objectification in the media and pop culture. Beginning with yourselves, cultivate an environment of spiritual chastity in your homes – avoid watching TV shows and movies that feature women who are inappropriately dressed; speak often to your brothers and sons of the importance of purifying oneself from faahishah (lewdness, in thought, speech, and action).

Emphasize the importance of recognizing that despite the commonality and pervasiveness of such media and entertainment, as Muslims we are expected to hold ourselves to a higher, purer moral standard.
It was narrated from Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said:

“Allaah has decreed for every son of Adam his share of zina, which he will inevitably commit. The zina of the eyes is looking, the zina of the tongue is speaking, one may wish and desire, and the private parts confirm that or deny it.” Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 5889; Muslim, 2657.

{And do not approach unlawful sexual intercourse. Indeed, it is ever an immorality and is evil as a way.} (Qur’an 17:32)

3- When you see or hear other men disrespecting women, justifying sexual harassment, or blaming rape victims – step in. Remind them of our moral obligation as Muslims to stand against any and all injustice; remind them of the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), and that on the Day of Judgment, each and every individual is held accountable for their own actions.

While one person may be blameworthy for sinning in a particular way, it never justifies the sin of another person. Make it clear that from an Islamic perspective, their attitude is unacceptable, inappropriate, and contrary to the principle of Ihsaan (excellence).

[Jibreel] said: “Inform me about Ihsan.” He (the Messenger of Allah) answered, “It is that you should serve Allah as though you could see Him, for though you cannot see Him yet (know that) He sees you.” (Sahih Muslim)

Continue to part three

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