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What the Quran Says about Public Harassment of Women?

One afternoon, I was walking through a street near my office. Lost in my thoughts, I heard a guy in his 20s saying, “I like the way your […] bounces when you walk.” He said this to a girl while standing with his friends. Feelings of anger and disgust soon followed my initial shock at hearing such words. I stopped and turned around to glare at them. I asked, “Why did you pass lewd remarks?” They started laughing, and when I tried to reach them, they ran away. I was blushing with rage. The words and laughter echoing in my mind ruined the rest of my day. This story describes only one of the many forms of how men harry women, a behavior called public harassment.

Forms of public harassment of women

The Minar-e-Pakistan Incident

Let’s take a look at the incident that took place on Independence Day when 400 brutes sexually harassed and tortured a female TikToker.

The police registered an FIR under Sections 354-A, 382, 147, and 149. There are mass arrests of the men involved as well. However, such practices from the government do not provide a real solution to this deep-rooted malaise.

What has forced men to engage in such gross violations in broad daylight? Why do men consider women, as said by Pakistan Observer’s Sargodha-based writer Tariq Mehmood Khalid, “a piece of meat that vultures must gnaw”?

The incident stirs a debate that gets the two ‘sides’ too much in a groove. It’s unfair to take any side (of either men or a girl) because we all know who is right and wrong here. I do not want to join the bandwagon of blaming anyone. Instead, I want to dig deeper and try to explain why such incidents occur. My focus will be on the root of the social problem (public harassment of women) to present a real solution from the Quran.

Let’s Dig Deeper: How the Quran Addresses Public Harassment of Women?

A brief glimpse into the different themes covered in the Quran is necessary to understand the Minar-e-Pakistan incident.

Women before Islam

The pre-Islamic Arabian world was a cruel place for women. Men grieved over the birth of girls. They even buried little girls alive to save face in society. The Quran strongly condemns this immoral behavior:

Burying like girls alive in Pre-Islamic Arabia

Also, like other societies of the time, women had no such rights as inheritance, property, and equal status under the law. The Quran raised the rank of women. Allah says,

Inheritance, property, and equal status of women in Quran

How the Quran Honored Women?

Men in pre-Islamic society also harassed and sexually preyed on them like the Minar-e-Pakistan incident. Allah says,

That is, when addressing modesty (haya), the Quran does not address women alone. The Quran honors both men and women by encouraging haya in clothing and behavior:

Dress for every Muslim men and women

The point in this verse is that haya consists of both outward (that hides your private parts and adds aesthetic value) and inward dresses (of Godwariness, which is the best). That inner attire is the sum of behavior and a moral outlook that stop men to never gawk at women.

The Prophetﷺ states that the outward dress of men involves covering their bodies from navel to the knees. Men must also wear loose (and not-too-thin) clothes that do not define the body shapes. Shirts that display muscles are a no-no, as an example. Such sharm (shame) and haya apply to a boy when he becomes ten years old.

Haya is vital for women as well. Allah says:

How the Quran protects women from public harassment?

The point about the distinction raises an important issue about the way we should understand the above verse. Nearly all scholars agree that the purpose of this verse is to protect (pious) women from (corrupt) men to hurt them. Some Pre-Islamic crooked men harassed and sometimes molested women at night. Their targets were only roving slave girls, not pious or free women. They distinguished girls from their clothes. If a woman wore a dress, as described in the above verse, the harassers assumed that she was pious, and they left her alone.  

The following verse describes the women’s haya in more detail:

Women haya in the Quran

The dress, like the men’s dress, must also be loose. It must not define the shape of the woman’s body. Women also do not have to dress with this level of modesty within the privacy of their home in front of other women, their immediate male relatives, and unrelated children who are innocent of sexual conceptualizations.

This way, the Quran sanctifies the honor of women. The reason behind it is to walk, work, and live honorably in society. In other words, Islam seeks to protect both men and women from looking at each other through a sexual lens. It also encourages a life of mutual dignity and respect.

What Our Beloved Prophetﷺ Says about Public Harassment of Women?

Our beloved Prophetﷺ says the defining characteristic of Islam is haya. Abdullah bin ‘Abbas narrated, 

Public haya rests on men.

This hadith shows the beautiful act of our beloved Prophetﷺ who caught the chin of Al-Fadl (R.A.) and turned his face towards him. It was to stop him from looking at that girl. It means the duty of haya rests on men. Men must take the lead to stop public harassment of women. In another instance, Abu Saeed Al-Khudri narrated:

Beware! Avoid sitting on roads.

Overall, I believe our social norms, media, and government are responsible for incidents like Minar-e-Pakistan. We are complicit in promoting the culture that perpetrates public harassment. We as a society must learn the Quran and Prophet’sﷺ teachings. Such incidents occur just because we forgot most of what our Allah and our Prophetﷺ tell us, or at best remember only the gist of it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter!

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