International Women’s Day: Confronting Sexual Abuse

Today is International Women’s Day. Honestly, I’ve been smiling to myself while reading wonderful posts on social media that are dedicated to inspiring women all around the world. We have so much to be proud of!

However, I need to get something off my chest. You see, Islam honours us. It gives us dignity and respect and does not discriminate between males and females. This is evident from the very start. As Muslims, we do not make excuses for people who oppress others. We are people who stand up for justice.

1 in 3 women worldwide has gone through physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. Even more have been leered at or experienced inappropriate behaviour. Unfortunately, some of us believe that women are to be blamed. This is happening everywhere, regardless of race, socioeconomic status and religion. When a woman gets assaulted or ogled, we hear comments like “she deserved it for being out so late”, “she asked for it by dressing skimpily” and “she must have secretly wanted it”. These ideas perpetuate the culture of male entitlement. They normalize sexual violence. They allow women to be treated as objects that can be dominated, stared at and manipulated. They agree that rape and beatings should be used to teach a lesson. It means silencing, blaming and shaming victims and thus, enabling men with appalling, inexcusable behaviour.

Unfortunately, some Muslims subscribe to these ideas too. Instead of denouncing sexual assault and disrespect towards women, they immediately blame the victims. Instead of persuading men to lower their gaze, they use it as an excuse to police how women dress. “She wouldn’t have been raped if she was wearing the hijab,” they exclaim. They even justify the men’s revolting actions by saying, “He’s a guy. He can’t help it!”

I went to Makkah recently for Umrah and overall, it was a beautiful experience. I met the kindest people who touched my heart immensely. There was always someone giving out food. I remember waiting in the hot sun for prayer to begin. The lady who was sitting beside me asked me if I could take care of her belongings. A few minutes later, she returned with a cup of cold zam zam water for me! Even with a language barrier, I managed to interact with other women, and we would part with hugs and kisses.

However, there was one experience that made me sick. During tawaaf (this is when Muslims walk around the Kaabah in Makkah), I was shocked to feel someone grabbing my butt. Yes, it was crowded, but the squeeze was very deliberate. I turned around and saw a guy smiling at me creepily as if he had done nothing wrong. Truth be told, I didn’t want to talk about it because I felt too disgusted by what happened to me. However, when I finally opened up to my friends, I found out that I’m not alone. For example, my friend was doing tawaaf when a guy placed his hand on her chest. She was so shocked that she couldn’t speak. She pushed his hand away, angrily. Do you know what he did? He put his hand back on her chest! He looked straight into her eyes, without any guilt. At this point, my friend was so enraged that she almost pounced on him. Only then did he back off.

These people had the audacity to abuse others right in front of the kaabah. Let us get this straight – Someone who cannot control himself will rape a woman, no matter what she is wearing and where she is. Sexual violence can happen to me. It can happen to you. It’s terrifying, but that’s the truth. Once we acknowledge that fact, it would be easier to stop criticizing the victims and start focusing on educating our sons. Yes, we can continue teaching our daughters to be God-conscious, to have the courage to choose modesty, to be observant of her surroundings and how to fend for herself. However, we also need to teach our sons to lower their gaze and to respect women. We need to educate them that it is NEVER okay to rape. We need to let them know that catcalls are not acceptable, and that leering is inappropriate. We need to develop values that will empower them to publicly condemn sexual crimes and disrespect towards women. It’s time to stop bending over backwards to make excuses for violence.

Written by Alia Abdullah

Alia Abdullah

Alia Abdullah graduated with a Bachelor of Laws from Singapore Management University. She writes at www.aliaabdullah.com. The most popular section of the blog is ‘Ordinarily Extraordinary’ where she interviews seemingly ordinary people who are extraordinary in their own special way. Through her blog, she aims to inspire others to dream, to learn and to take action.