By Nikhat Sattar
interview of young Middle Eastern men was uploaded on Facebook some months ago,
with the aim to assess their views on their wives and sisters. It was tragic
but not surprising to hear that they were willing to kill them if they ever
ventured out of their homes to earn a living. A girl who posted her traumatic
experience of being harassed on the road in front of her brother was trolled:
Why was she out anyway?
are but two examples of the widespread misogyny and controlling behaviour among
many Muslim men, as well as their misguided belief that they have the right to
determine what a woman should or should not do or wear. Literature, sermons and
instructions from Muslim men to women, about their need to wear the veil and
observe modesty as defined by them, can be found in abundance.
might surprise people to know that modesty and shyness are basic requirements
for men and women equally. “Modesty (haya) is part of faith” (Al Bukhari). This
sense of haya is to be demonstrated in dress, speech and action. In fact, it
must be as evident or more, in privacy as in public, because it is important to
be modest in front of God. If one believes that modesty is the best approach to
reduce fahashi (obscenity) and to establish a ‘moral’ society, then it is
incumbent upon all members, regardless of gender or age.
some reason, the burden of modesty seems to fall upon women. Not only are they
required to be strict with themselves, they are also bound to obey demands of
the larger society, especially of the men around them. Women are restricted to
the most horrific cage-like garments, within walls and refused permission to
breathe fresh air — all in the name of modesty.
Quran gives instructions to men first to be modest: “Say to the believing men
that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for
greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do”
(24:30). A complete code of interactions with women and prevention of sexual
harassment is encapsulated within this verse. Not to stare at women, regardless
of what they are wearing or how attractive they are; guarding their private
parts so that there is no question of sexual assaults; attempting to achieve
more taqwa, fearing their own desires and God. It is only later that God gives
a similar injunction to women.
that nowhere does God enjoin men to enforce laws related to modesty upon women
or to restrict them in any way. In fact, as per the Quran, each person is
responsible for her/his own deeds and shall be accountable to God. The Quran
does, however, ask people to invite others towards good deeds and avoid evil,
but equally it demands self-correction first. Once, when the Prophet (PBUH) was
with a companion, a beautiful woman came to him with some complaint. The
companion stared at the woman and the Prophet turned his face away from her; he
did not ask the woman to cover her face.
with general ethics in other walks of life, Muslim societies have suffered
decay and decadence in men-women relations. This ranges from fiqh and personal
laws to practices detrimental to the well-being of women and their social and
economic status. Patriarchy has taken away or reduced decision-making powers
from women. Within this environment, many men (and even women) concentrate on
the behaviour of women.
many homes, modesty and respect towards women would be taught to boys, but
girls are restricted at every stage. Girls are trained to ‘save’ themselves
from the predatory eyes of men, yet boys are not taught to be less predatory,
although they do become self-appointed ‘moral police’. Stories of sexual
harassment even in holy places are plenty and these acts are committed by men
who would otherwise seek pure, veiled and well-hidden women as their wives.
Books written to train people for Haj ask women to stay away from places reserved
for men, but no men are required to keep a distance. Despite the lack of space
for women, men are found to be ensconced in Masjid-i-Nabavi; women are scuttled
away even from the Ka’aba and told to remain within the small enclosures
reserved for them in Makkah.
of promoting traditions rooted in gender bias, prejudices and wrong
interpretations of Islamic teachings, as many are wont to do, our fingers
should point to perpetrators of harassment and not the victims. It is time that
the focus of societal development and moral training shifts towards boys and
men, without which our moral uplift will remain a dream.
Nikhat Sattar is a freelance contributor with an
interest in religion.