'More Muslim women need to speak up against sexual harassment'

When I was asked to be in charge of the coverage for Sheffield's city-wide campaign against sexual harassment 'Know The Line' - I immediately said yes, knowing that this could be a strong platform for women from all walks of life, especially for Muslim women like me.

Thursday, 15th July 2021, 4:49 pm

Growing up, girls like me were taught to hold on to our religious and cultural values. There's a phrase that says 'it takes a village to raise a child' but in our culture it takes a whole village to raise a girl.

Girls who have hit puberty, even if they are as young as nine years old, are encouraged (in some cases – they are compelled) to "guard their modesty" by covering up as instructed by the religion.

But they are also told that one of the reasons they need to cover up is because otherwise men would be distracted.

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The Know The Line campaign was launched on May 17 to coincide with the full reopening of the hospitality sector
The Know The Line campaign was launched on May 17 to coincide with the full reopening of the hospitality sector

I started wearing the headscarf or the hijab when I was 12 but having been 'guarding my modesty', covering from head to toe for more than half of my life - I still fall victim to sexual harassment.

But this, sadly, was also when I had my first encounter.

My family and I were walking along a night market during our pilgrimage in Mecca, when I felt that my bottom was groped by a much older man, who quickly walked away when I turned around.

I never told my family about this as I didn't know that was wrong.

Fast forward to 2019, I was walking with a good friend of mine on a quiet Sheffield street when I suddenly felt a hand on my bottom. I was wearing an oversized coat.

This time, I screamed so loud it even startled the man, who, I believed, was also a fellow Muslim. He must have thought I, as a hijabi, would not have fought back.

My friend, who was a niqabi (a woman who covers everything except her eyes) couldn't believe that a woman like me who adheres to Islamic dress code could still be sexually harassed.

She said the incident had made her realise that the problem doesn't lie on what we wear but on how men perceive women.

Men, especially Muslim men, often forget Islam places the primary responsibility on them as the holy Quran commands men not to stare at women and to not be promiscuous.

The Quran 24:32 says: "Say to the believing men that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Surely, Allah is well aware of what they do." This verse sadly often escapes them.

The notion that there is a link between wearing the hijab and having a lower rate of sexual harassment and violence against women actually makes women more vulnerable.

Men are doing women a disservice by putting the blame on women who don't cover up, as well as implying that a woman who is attacked while wearing the hijab did something to deserve it.

We need to realise that perverts are perverts. They will sexually harass and commit sexual violence against women – no matter what they wear – because they are perverts.

And this is exactly what I am teaching my nine-year-old daughter so I can do my part in breaking that vicious cycle.