So it has come to this. Women and their children attend a mosque gathering to celebrate the birth and life of their Prophet, peace be upon him. In their ephemeral wisdom, the learned ones — these so-called students of knowledge — decide to use the occasion to tell their congregation that most of the followers of the fabled Dajjal will be women, which is apparently an important prelude to the declaration that follows: that we do not support the #MeToo Movement. If that seems crass and idiotic, it’s because it is.
The very same men — who often tell us that Muslim women’s modest dress exists to protect them from harassment and abuse, or that gender segregation is present to safeguard women — now loudly declare that they stand opposed to a movement which aims to help survivors of sexual violence find pathways to healing. They have, perhaps, spent too much time on social media listening to demagogues raging against Muslim feminists to appreciate what the movement stands for. Perhaps they feel threatened that vulnerable people are feeling empowered to speak out about the issues which affect them. Or perhaps they are just not ready for this challenge to the status quo, and so feel compelled to mischaracterise it in order to protect their perilous position as gatekeepers of religion.
Should Muslims be at the forefront here, creating safe spaces for both women and men to lead meaningful lives free of harassment or abuse, as well as practical solutions which interrupt sexual violence in our communities? Of course we should. If we were true to our ethics, which we so proudly proclaim to be the salvation of humankind, we would embrace the movement and stand with survivors of sexual violence as they seek justice and restitution. If we could see beyond the filters constructed by the self-proclaimed spokesmen of the legendary ummah — which relentlessly mix unrelated issues — we would see that the endeavour to interrupt sexual violence is a common goal.
Many Muslims — particularly those who claim to be defenders of faith — cannot see that, however. Some feel threatened by the movement, and therefore attack it instead. Pointedly, in a recent interview with a religious figurehead accused of serious impropriety with respect to his relationship with several women, the interviewer described him as a victim of the #MeToo Movement. This is a common theme in the response to accusations of wrongdoing — that the accused themselves are the real victims, while those making complaints have another agenda altogether.
It goes without saying that some people bear false witness against others. It is not the case that a woman should always be believed and a man disbelieved, or vice versa. It is recognised that not every claim is genuine, sincere or true. But that is not really the issue here. There have been several incidences over the past few years in which men in leadership positions in the Muslim community have been accused of impropriety, and in nearly every case it later came to light that there were indeed serious causes for concern. At the time, however, the accused were presented as victims themselves, and this goes on.
That is how a student of sacred knowledge finds himself able to rise to his feet at a gathering meant to celebrate the life of his Prophet, peace be upon him, to tell a congregation largely made up of women and children, that as Muslims we do not care about a movement which aims to put an end to sexual violence against women. In some cases these men genuinely believe that many of those accused of wrongdoing have done nothing wrong in the eyes of their faith and that it is purely a witch-hunt against purveyors of their particular variant of traditionalism. In other cases, it is an inability to believe that their mentors or companions could be capable of doing what they have been accused of, or that they may have had a hidden life far removed from their public persona. Perhaps such faith in others is commendable, if a little naive.
What is not commendable is the bullying rhetoric aimed at those who feel they need to stand up to speak out against wrongs perpetrated either in the name of religion or by those who use the cover of religion. To tell Muslim women gathering for a noble act of remembrance in a mosque that they are destined for the hell fire, implicitly for lifting their heads up above the parapet to speak out against injustice is just plain wrong. It is actually a betrayal of the message of the one whose life they came together to celebrate. That message was itself about challenging the status quo, disputing the claims of cruel people absorbed in their own importance.
Ustad needs to step back and look beyond the hashtags of social media. Beyond the running battles in Twitter threads he may find real people in need of healing, who are waiting for their imams and community leaders to step forward and be counted; to say, enough is enough. To say we stand up, firm in justice, even against our own selves, or against our own family or friends, or mentors or teachers, or inspirational speakers, when evidence is brought of wrong doing. Yes, if they choose to listen, perhaps they will find real people in need of healing, who are just waiting for them to say, “We hear you too.”