Hijab and sexual assault
“Women are not entitled to respect when they walk around without a Hijab. They are to blame for it when they are attacked,” Imam Shahid Mehdi said.
“All the crimes that occur against women is because they are not covered. When they are not covered, you have no respect for them. ”
“She disobeys her master, there are two places in the Qur’an has ordered her to cover themselves (…) Women make a clean society dirty when they walk around without a Hijab. They are not entitled to respect and are not valuable as those who wear a Hijab. ”
If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it … whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat?
“The uncovered meat is the problem.”
”If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred.”
“It is said in the state of zina (adultery), the responsibility falls 90 per cent of the time on the woman. Why? Because she possesses the weapon of enticement (igraa).”
Qua’ran 33:59: O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.
With the above verse, is it any wonder some Muslims think like this? That Allah says to cover, so they will not be molested. Different translations vary. Some say ‘annoyed’, ‘molested’ or ‘abused’. But the message is the same. Cover up to stop men harassing you, which leads to sexual assault and rape. If you don’t cover, it’s your fault.
Not only is this inference disgusting, it’s also factually wrong. Hijab is sexist to both men and women. It places all men under the assumption that they are like wild beasts, animals. That can’t control their lust for women and go insane at the mere suggestion or sight of a stray lock of hair. It degrades all men. We are taught to see men as an enemy to our chastity, which of course was the most important thing about us girls. The pure hymens. How much flesh we could cover. We are taught we have a responsibility as women. We must never be alone or too close to them, we must never let them see us in an inappropriate situation or unveiled. We must not have male friends or even lift our gaze to look at them. We were segregated. The mentality was driven into us, and in particular me. I was the oldest, and had full breasts and a figure. I had to be extra cautious, because I had the weapon of curves and a mature shape. Men were not even to be on the same floor level as me.
The hijab is obviously sexist to women. It teaches us we are nothing but walking hymens. And that we ‘tempt’ men. Also, in a sense that we are inferior to our male counterparts. The hijab makes girls see men as potential rapists, that if they were uncovered, they might launch an attack on their pristine sexuality. This is why, it’s in so many Muslims minds, that hijab = protection for sexual assault and rape, and unveiling = rape, own fault. After all, didn’t these women know showing their cleavage, their bare arms and stomach invited the wrong types of men? Didn’t they know this? To the people in my family, these women were virtually asking for trouble. You don’t show yourself and not expect people to look or try and inspect you closer.
I’m firmly against this narrative now, mostly because it is an attempt to try and rationalise the attackers behaviour and downplay the depravity of sexual harassment and rape. There is no excuse for rape or sexual harassment. In my families and scholars mind, the man has an alibi. The fact the woman was unveiled. It’s almost like an excuse for them, a reason to justify their evil actions. It sounded rational in their minds. Now the attention turns to the woman? Why were you not veiled? It’s your fault, you asked for it.
I remember in my class, I was talking to a non Muslim girl. She told me about the sexual harassment her and her friends faced whilst on a trip to Spain. In their hotel boys they didn’t know attempted to shout at them, call them beautiful, and gain access to their room. They were petrified. When they notified their teacher, an Arab and a Muslim, she pointed to their shorts and said it was their fault, as by wearing shorts, it was expected this would happen. I was appalled. Even though I was draped in a black hijab next to her, I said if men want to rape they will. Even if they wear wearing a burqa, it still won’t protect them. She agreed. I felt a flash of fear and guilt in my stomach at my impulsive speech. I knew my opinion wasn’t Islamic and didn’t agree with Allah in 33:59. I was scared he’d reprimand me for this. Hellfire. My opinions were only meant to be purely Islamic, any freethinking was not allowed.
I thought my headscarf and abaya would signal to the predominantly Muslim Asian boys around my area, that I was unavailable, I was a proper Muslim, I was chaste and would only be available to my husband. I had no intention of any activity. And I expected them to leave me alone, I was covered. I expected them to go after unveiled women. Why, in the park, was my father in a furious altercation with two young men, older than my 15 years, about them ‘staring at his daughter in a way that wasn’t appropriate?’ Why did I turn around, notice their gaze was still on the contours of my body? When I walked past a man on a bench with my father why did he get furious again and tell him to keep his gaze off me? Why when I walked past men, did a hand feel my lower body, my scarf and my right breast? Why did they leer and smile at me? They were Muslim, it shouldn’t be happening. I was veiled. Why did over the next few months, my body feel utterly invaded by their wandering hands they protested was an accident? Why was I groped and chatted up repeatedly? Why was I psychically having to run away from them chasing me? Why in the playground, did one come up behind me and grab my waist? I was frozen. Another time, I felt male legs rubbing up against mine. I felt a hand wander to my thighs. Why when I walked, was I paranoid they were staring at my body walking? Why did they meet my chest level rather than my face? All this brought me to one conclusion: my hijab couldn’t even save me against my own brothers in faith. Let alone those devil kafirs I was told about, that would want me to reveal my most intimate parts. They would destroy me.
When I left Islam, I began tentatively removing my hijab pretty fast, and wearing loose jeans and a long top. I was convinced dressed like this, I would be pounced on in seconds. Months passed. And no one has tried to rape me, or sexually assault me. I am still stunned. This wasn’t what was expected to happen. This wasn’t the message I was told. And that’s when I see the hijab served no purpose whatsoever. And I realised just how sick the supposed correlation between wearing it prevents sexual attacks, because it really, really doesn’t.
I met a man who told me once, his wife wore a niqab. She will not be assaulted, because they will see she is not available, and she is a Muslim woman. 3 months later, whilst out shopping, she was surrounded by a gang of men intent on ripping her niqab off and assaulting her. Thankfully, people came to her rescue and whilst shaken, she was unharmed. I kept in contact with the man, and he told me that he should have been there with her as a mahram, a guardian to protect her. He issued thanks to God, whom he said prevented the assault. I was thinking, if anything did happen to her, you’d say the same. That God is testing her. It wasn’t down to God she was saved, it was fellow human beings.