Misogyny and sexual harassment – the holistic Islamic antidote

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Melissa Ahmedi, Religious Education Teacher, UK

Let me know when you get home”,is probably one of the most used phrases between women when they part each other’s company; not out of paranoia but the real and fact-based statistics, not reserved for horror films or thrillers but real life; abduction, sexual harassment and murder.

In the wake of the conviction of Sarah Everard’s (33) murder – a victim of “deception, kidnap, rape, strangulation, fire” at the hands of the then serving MET police officer, Wayne Couzens – it’s now come to light the officer had a history of indecent exposure (in which he was under investigation by the police at the time) (www.met.police.uk/notices/met/our-response-to-issues-raised-by-the-crimes-of-wayne-couzens/). The phrase “never again” comes to mind, but how and what promises this? 

This, however, is not just a police issue; it reflects the moral decline and unravelling of the moral fabric of society at large. 

Sabina Nessa’s (28) tragic death – who was another recent victim in the UK of heinous male violence – clearly demonstrates that the age-old epidemic of violence against women is running rife through what’s considered to be one of the most progressive cities of the world; London. It’s happening everywhere. From primary schools all the way up to the seat of power, where one-fifth of parliamentary staff have experienced sexual violence and harassment, some at the hands of MPs themselves. There is an epidemic of indecent exposure through screens; 90% of surveyed British schoolgirls had been sent unwanted unsolicited sexual photos. A harrowing list of schools in the UK is ever being added, with young children sharing testimonies of being survivors of harassment, violence and abuse.

So where does this leave us and what does a safe society for women and girls actually look like in 2021? 

The Holy Quran simply lays down a societal blueprint for effective safeguarding, which places the individual at the heart of one’s own accountability:

“O ye who believe! be strict in observing justice, [and be] witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or [against] parents and kindred. Whether he be rich or poor, Allah is more regardful of them both [than you] are. Therefore follow not low desires so that you may be able to act equitably. And if you conceal [the truth] or evade it, then [remember] that Allah is well aware of what you do.” (Surah al-Nisa, Ch.4: V.136)

In essence, being honest and truthfulwith yourself first is paramount and holding oneself accountable – asking, am I acting justly? Am I holding those around me to account? My Family? Friends? Colleagues? Following vain, base desires does not achieve societal equality or peace. Even if you think something is seemingly harmless as it’s in private; you are never alone, Allah is always watching, and everyone is ultimately held to account. The truth, therefore, always makes its way to light. Lying, deception and ill intention are the roots of countless crimes and thus the qualities of honesty and speaking truthfully, Islam places a huge emphasis on. 

“O ye who believe! fear Allah, and say the right word.” (Surah al-Ahzab, Ch.33: V.71)  

Hazrat Khalifatul Masihaa emphasised this at the recent Khuddam Ijtema in the UK, saying:

“As you leave the Ijtema today, you should do so with a firm and sincere intention to always speak the truth and to act with honesty at all times and in all circumstances.”

The Holy Quran addresses male behaviour in the first instance: 

“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.”(Surah al-Nur, Ch.24: V.31)

The Arabic word used for “restrain” – يَغُضُّوْا – is derived from غَضّ meaning to lower (one’s eyes). So, the Holy Quran teaches men that they should not so much as look twice at a non-relative woman. This applies to real, day-to-day life or online and on social media. The second instruction is to guard one’s private parts, which also has a plethora of meanings; guarding and covering in modest clothing and not revealing one’s chastity save to their married partner, but also guarding oneself against evil and impurity of all kinds. This includes not succumbing to indecent content including pornography and the over-sexualisation of the sexes on social media and the internet; essentially protecting one’s senses (eyes and one’s body) from anything impure. 

To get to the deep-rooted issues, it begins with what is considered harmful or indecent and how this leads to moral destruction in society. Indecent exposure or “flashing” involves revealing oneself in public with the intention of someone seeing them and being alarmed or distressed.For the aggressor, when one’s senses and body are exposed to harmful and morally degrading content e.g., pornography, violent content, harmful images, it rewires one’s brain into a different state of what is “normal” and also releases hormones in your brain which make the behaviour addictive and repeated. An insightful article on how society is ultimately damaged by the misogynistic culture of pornography was written by the Rational Religion team and can be read at: https://rationalreligion.co.uk/as-long-as-pornography-is-normalised-we-will-always-have-harvey-weinsteins-among-us/

During Lajna Imaillah UK’s national Ijtema 2021, Hazrat Khalifatul Masihaa heavily emphasised the dangers of harmful online content:

“If they are streaming a video or playing an online game, pop-up adverts will frequently appear, often promoting harmful products or showing lewd content that is morally destructive and not at all age-appropriate. It is an extremely harrowing state of affairs.” 

Huzooraa was speaking about parents protecting and safeguarding their children, but of course Huzoor’s guidance extends to all, men included. 

The culture of misogyny and male ego and privilege in society is clear. It is something that Islam recognises that men wrongly have tendencies to abuse their power. On the topic being “man enough” or displaying one’s ego and strength, the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa was at the forefront in his private and social life in readdressing the balance of the sexes and ensuring modesty of character was a requirement for both men and women: 

Hazrat Salimra bin Abdillah narrated from his father, Hazrat Abdullah bin Umarra, who said:

“Once Allah’s Messengersa passed by an Ansari man who was admonishing his brother for being too modest and shy. On that, Allah’s Messengersa said: 

دَعْهُ‭ ‬فَإِنَّ‭ ‬الْحَيَاءَ‭ ‬مِنَ‭ ‬الْإِيْمَانِ

“Leave him, for indeed modesty and shyness is a part of faith.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, The Book of Belief)

In the Holy Prophet’s private life, this was also true. It is noted that the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa said: 

“He had the greatest control over his want, desire or sexual desire [Bukhari].” (Five-Volume Commentary, Ch.4: V.32)

This is an important point in refutation of the allegations raised against Prophet Muhammadsa and is an important example in the modern day on restraint on personal desire. In a world which constantly urges individuals to self-serving instantaneous gratification of the senses, Islam is a holistic faith that enjoins both men and women to modesty of actions, demeanour and attire.

What is the pathway out of misogyny and sexual harassment and male violence? 

Islam provides the antidote: men must strive to reform themselves and address the root causes of such egotistical, power-thirsty behaviour which endangers women and puts them at risk of harassment and worse. Holding oneself to a higher standard than what society promotes consistently. 

Male or female violence happened long before the existence of pornography; however, now, widespread nudity and graphic content have been made easily accessible for all. It has proved massively damaging to women’s safety, security and modesty. 

The Holy Prophet Muhammadsa is a timeless example of modesty and upholding purity and modesty of men in his personal and public spheres. 

Huzoor’s wisdom leads people firmly to reform themselves as individuals first, whilst providing the pathway to peace for the collective. 

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