Haram at the Haram: Sexual Harassment on Hajj

Pilgrims at the Kabah
Pilgrims at the Kabah. Courtesy of wikimedia

So there you are, standing in front of the Ka’bah for the first time in your life. Tears well in your eyes. You get all choked up. You feel deeply connected to the other pilgrims, to the Prophet, to the entire timeline of humanity, and the love of God as never before. And then you feel something else…. someone’s hand on your butt, groping and pinching.

Unbelievable! There can be no doubt that groping another person without consent is completely haram. How much more so doing it at the Haram, the most holy site in Islam, during the Hajj, the most holy days of the year!

And yet, as soon as I read the headlines about Sabica’s experience. I knew it was true. Not just for her, but for thousands if not millions of women. Hajj is an exercise in purification and dedication to living a good life, but our community has so lost sight of the basic fact that men and women are equally responsible to behave appropriately, that some men think the mere presence of a woman is an excuse to behave like a pig. Even on the Hajj.

Just as Saudi Arabia’s government ignores the freedoms and protections the Prophet set in place for women, so too, our community as a whole has forgotten that sexual purity is not achieved by the hijab, or by women alone, but by each individual, male and female, determining that they will only engaged in wholesome sexual activities. While there is room for argument about exactly what is encompassed by wholesome sexual activities, there can be no doubt that groping random women, or worse young girls, who are unable to escape due to the crowds around the Ka’bah cannot be part of anybody’s definition of acceptable behavior. Rather, it is the ultimate act of patriarchal arrogance and male domination.

The Prophet’s teaching stands in stark contrast to so much of modern Muslim practice, which more often than not forbids women from coming to mosques, and when we are allowed to come we are relegated  to grungy back rooms, or put behind screens that limit our learning and our participation. We are harangued about what we wear, how we talk, how we walk, and god forbid we decide to wear perfume or nail polish or eye shadow. There is even talk of changing the Sunnah of Hajj and making women’s only sections, instituting segregation in a ritual that has not been segregated in the entirety of Muslim history.

The Prophet’s example stands in clear contradiction to all this haranguing and limitation of women’s choices and movement and participation: “Al-Fadl bin ‘Abbas rode behind the Prophet as his companion rider on the back portion of his she camel on the Day of Nahr (slaughtering of sacrifice, 10th Dhul-Hijja) and Al-Fadl was a handsome man. The Prophet stopped to give the people verdicts. In the meantime, a beautiful woman From the tribe of Khath’am came, asking the verdict of Allah’s Apostle. Al-Fadl started looking at her as her beauty attracted him. The Prophet looked behind while Al-Fadl was looking at her; so the Prophet held out his hand backwards and caught the chin of Al-Fadl and turned his face”
Sahih Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 74, Number 247

Note that the Prophet did not make the woman cover her face, hide indoors, stop speaking in front of men, or turn around so Al-Fadl couldn’t stare at her. Note, he did correct the man, turning his face away so he didn’t drool over the woman’s beauty. Imagine what he would have done if Al-Fadl had jumped down and started groping her. I’m pretty sure it would have involved controlling Al-Fadl’s behavior even more strongly and more directly.

So why are we making women bear the burden of men behaving badly and refusing to rein in their impulses?

The Qur’an says, “No one will bear the burden of another. Even if an overburdened soul should ask another to bear a part of his burden, no one, not even a relative, will do so. (Muhammad), you can only warn those who have fear of their Lord without seeing Him and who are steadfast in prayer. Whoever purifies himself, does so for his own good. To God do all things return.”

So why are we making women bear the burden of men’s sins? Why are men denying themselves the good that comes from acting well? It’s time to get back to the fundamental teaching of the Qur’an, folks, and accept personal responsibility for all our actions. A women should be able to circumambulate the Ka’bah stark naked and no man would touch her, because they know they are responsible for their own actions. Just as she would be responsible for hers.  For all those Muslims who claim men can’t control themselves in the face of such beauty, I call bullshit. The West, with it’s bikinis and nude beaches has proven men can.

It’s time we said enough is enough. Burn the curtains, tear down the walls, and embrace personal responsibility!

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