For Muslims who grew up in the West, a mosque can be the only place where you get to be yourself. As a member of a highly politicized minority group, being with other Muslims can feel like the only way to not have your identity assigned to you. Like other places of worship, a mosque is more of a multipurpose building: karate classes, basketball in the parking lot, you grow with the community of regulars. We celebrate holidays and birthdays together there, mourn those who passed together there. The mosque is my home away from home, the congregation is my extended family, and Muslims from other mosques feel like family I just haven’t met yet.
So you can imagine my shock after reading through the seemingly endless stories attached to the #MosqueMeToo hashtag. I was overcome with shame for letting so many of my Muslim sisters down. It’s not that I haven’t been following #MeToo—from Harvey Weinstein to Matt Lauer to Roy Moore, the movement has been formidable. But like every grassroots movement, it’s contested with defensive deflections, particularly when it comes to your own doorstep. And I get it, it’s very easy to be defensive, especially when your experience of a place has always been one of warmth and home. But now is no time for defensiveness. Crimes were committed in the holiest of places for Muslims, and it’s time for accountability.
#MosqueMeToo was started with a tweet from author and columnist Mona Eltahawy. Like me, she’s from Egypt, which has some of the highest rates of street harassment in the world. She started the conversation by opening up about her first experience in the holy city of Mecca, where more than 1 million Muslims gather to complete a pilgrimage, an obligation for every able-bodied Muslim. It’s five days of religious introspection and practice. What it shouldn’t include is a threat of sexual violence.
In an email, Eltahawy described being sexually assaulted during hajj when she was only 15 years old. She kept it to herself until she heard other stories similar to hers. “It became obvious that we had all been too ashamed to speak about it—although we’d done nothing to be ashamed of obviously—because of the sanctity of Mecca and hajj. But it’s that sanctity that predators abuse. They know women will be too ashamed or scared to speak out.” I can’t imagine what it must have been like to expect religious sobriety and in return be taken advantage of. This isn’t OK anywhere, but reading about its prevalence in a holy city made it that much tougher to swallow.
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