#MosqueMeToo gives Muslim women space to discuss sexual assault in Muslim sacred spaces

The Egyptian-American columnist and gender activist, Mona Eltahawy, last month started two viral social media campaigns that are adding new dimensions to the #MeToo movement, including #MosqueMeToo[1].

Eltahawy has previously spoken about how she was sexually assaulted while on hajj as a 15-year-old, and #MosqueMeToo invites women “to join her in revealing the persuasiveness of sexual harassment experienced on the hajj and in other Islamic spaces”. Thousands of women have come forward with their own stories in response[2].

Eltahawy was inspired to start the movement after reading a Facebook post by Sabica Khan, a young Pakistani women, who wrote about being sexually assaulted at Mecca[3].

Speaking to Time magazine, Eltahawy says that she thinks previously women tended to keep quiet about experiences like this because of the shame associated with experiences of sexual assault. She says, “But to be sexually assaulted in a sacred context, your brain just kind of explodes because you think this surely has to be the safest place. Men who sexually assault women in sacred spaces, whether they are Muslim or Christian – and you see the hashtag #ChurchMeToo – these men use this tremendous power of silence and shame that the sanctity of the place gives them. They understand that women and children in these contexts will not speak out, because everyone in the community, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, whatever, will want to shut down and defend the sanctity of their holy sites and their so-called holy men, rather than confront this terrible fact”[4].

The act of sharing these stories is revolutionary for Muslim women, Eltahawy says, because they reveal a serious truth about women’s lives[5]. She writes in a February article, “Until the Saudi authorities who administer the holy sites take concrete steps to protect female pilgrims, we must protect each other. Men must stop assaulting us, yes. But women the world over, regardless of faith, know that until that happens, we are each other’s keepers”[6].

#MosqueMeToo opens up the #MeToo movement to the voices of Muslim women, as Eltahawy says, despite #MeToo being originally started by black feminist activist, Tarana Burke, in its current form it is “a very privileged, very white kind of thing”[7]. She says, “We must make sure #MeToo breaks the race, class, gender and faith lines that make it so hard for marginalized people to be heard”[8].

However, for all the support and response the #MosqueMeToo movement has generated, it has also received a lot of backlash. Eltahawy says this is because of the prolific Islamophobia which exits globally and the tendency to produce an “incredibly one-dimensional, monolithic, really boring, lazy” stereotype of Muslims. She notes that Islamophobia has become more prevalent since the election of Donald Trump[9].

The way to combat this Islamophobia is “by having these discussions out in the open. When we do that, we strengthen our community”, Eltahawy says[10].

Discussing what other measures can be taken to combat the problem of sexual harassment and assault in Muslim sacred spaces, Eltahawy suggested in February that “the imam of the Grand Mosque of Mecca give a sermon in the run-up to the hajj in which he acknowledges that Muslim women have experienced sexual assault during the pilgrimage and that men at the holy site must respect women”. In addition, Saudi authorities must launch a campaign with this message and reassure women of the authorities’ commitment to their safety. This involves properly training security services at holy sites to deal with sexual assaults, and employing more female security personnel[11].

Eltahawy also launched the hashtag #IBeatMyAssaulter after she recently punched a man who tried to sexually assault her in a club. The hashtag calls “on women to share testimonies of defending themselves” and has also received thousands of responses[12].

She observes a difference in responses of men between the two hashtags; “It’s really interesting for me that under #MosqueMeToo there’s a whole bunch of men saying, “Why didn’t you make more of a fuss?” Under #IBeatMyAssaulter I have a whole bunch of men saying, “You made too much of a fuss. You were too violent.” Whatever a woman does she will always be victim-blamed. I’m at the moment right now where I’m saying, “Women, do whatever you need to at the moment.” This is self-defense”[13].

She adds, “With #MosqueMeToo I hope we’re able to end this silencing and shaming of women who’ve been exposed to violence and abuse in sacred spaces and say that look, my body is sacred too. I’m hoping all of this is a reminder that whatever community you belong to, listen to women’s voices”[14].

[1] Barron, 2018.

[2] Barron, 2018.

[3] Barron, 2018; Eltahawy, 2018.

[4] Barron, 2018.

[5] Barron, 2018.

[6] Eltahawy, 2018.

[7] Barron, 2018.

[8] Eltahawy, 2018.

[9] Barron, 2018.

[10] Barron, 2018.

[11] Eltahawy, 2018.

[12] Barron, 2018.

[13] Barron, 2018.

[14] Barron, 2018.

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Barron, L. (2018) ‘’A Revolutionary Moment.’ Activist Mona Eltahawy Talks Sexual Assault, Self-Defense and #MosqueMeToo’. [online] 7 March. [Accessed 7 March 2018].

Eltahawy, M. (2018) ‘#MosqueMeToo: What happened when I was sexually assaulted during the hajj’. [online] 15 February. [Accessed 7 March 2018].