How Muslim Women Are Challenging Clerics After #MeToo

The urgency of this #MeToo moment, especially its potential disruption of normative social behaviour toward women, has led to the challenging of inter-communal attitudes including those expressed by religious institutions. Congregants from diverse establishments of faith, including Christians and Jews, have come out in opposition of not only the repression of sexual abuse victims but against clerical power structures. Muslim women, who are often speak of rather than to, are also using this moment to advocate on behalf of themselves and each other.

The recent campaign against the election of Brett Kavanaugh for Anthony Kennedy's seat on the Supreme Court, driven in part by an allegation of abuse by Dr Christine Ford, reached a fever pitch before the confirmation hearing. After Kavanaugh had received a majority vote for his confirmation in the Senate, Imam Zaid Shakir weighed in on Ford's accusation.

Shakir, the co-founder of the Zaytuna College in Berkeley, Calif., authored a lengthy Facebook post — which has since been deleted — where he argued Dr. Ford must bring forth corroborative witnesses in order for her testimony be given the weight of authenticity. He wrote 'Were she to do so we would say she has a legitimate claim which we could support and rally behind,” he wrote. “Since she has not we silently avoid voicing any opinion on the issue and if we do speak we do so with a sceptical voice. Other than that we can pray for her and urge her to be patient'. 

The religious framing offered by Shakir relies on a verse from the Qur’an that speaks to adultery — an allegation that requires the proffering of four witnesses — and is inapplicable in this context. The backlash that followed, led by other Muslims, was swift and unyielding, causing Shakir to publish a conciliatory admission of error.

Majida, who asked that her last name is withheld for privacy concerns, describes an overwhelming fear of being isolated from her community if she were to reveal her rape. She is distressed over the likelihood that her allegation will be weaponized by opportunists in an effort to malign all Muslims.

“It's like I'm fighting two battles: to be believed and supported by my own community, and against people who want to use my pain as a justification for their Islamophobia,” Majida told me. “I don't see how I can heal.”

After seeing a prominent Muslim American cleric attempt to discredit Dr. Christine Ford, Majida emphasized how such language is used to further alienate victims and cast aspersions upon their character. “Religious leaders in our communities who plant the seeds of doubt when it comes to these types of allegations are what keep people like me from coming forward,” she explained.

I asked Majida how this kind of rhetoric has impacted her spirituality, and specifically her bond with local congregants. She described it as a feeling of loss: “It's seriously like having a scarlet letter drawn on you by your family.”


Roqayah Chamseddine


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