In 2006 I wrote a rant titled Why I Hate Ramadan. I posted it in 2007 and you can see the whole post here. The post was concerned with the hypocrisies and inconsistencies in the way that Egyptians, and particularly Cairenes, practiced this month. The bulk of the post, not surprisingly, had to do with sexuality and sexual harassment. The article was intended to be argued within the Islamic frame of reference. Despite being written in a much different context than post-revolutionary Egypt and by a 5-years less intellectually mature me, the main points stand. I am copying the relevant portion here.
Temptations of the Flesh
I first came up against this several years ago when my much older (around 50 now) cousin was working downtown. It was Ramadan, and he complained about how, on his way home, he had to be very careful where he looked while passing by AUC because the girls there broke his fast. This immediately struck me as odd. First of all, broke his fast? Personally, I didnt exactly get a hard-on every time i saw a girl’s hair or arms. Second, how is it her fault?
Obviously, this has been a recurring theme. Every Ramadan I have to hear from my female friends about how much shit they get for walking around in what is usually as modest as you can get without wearing a tent. And every Ramadan I have to hear misogynistic Egyptian men, bitch about how unveiled girls break their fast. I think this is absolutely absurd.
It seems to stem from a widely accepted, by even the most liberal and secular of people, Egyptian belief that God created man with hormones and that he has no control over this and that is the duty of women to make sure that they don’t get men’s thoughts going (on a side note, this is, unfortunately, so institutionalized that until recently rapists could get off of charges by proposing to the girl and if a couple is caught having extramarital sex, guess who goes to jail? Yep! the woman for prostitution!). Absurd!
God created man (and woman) with a multitude of fleshly, earthly desires and urges. These include the need for food and drink, the urge for sexual satisfaction (both sexes, believe it or not), tendencies towards anger, greed, glutton, sloth and a weakness for temptations of alcohol and drugs. And on top of all this, he made it all available to man (and woman, of course) to test their mettle.
Some of this is obviously unacceptable (ie, a sin) regardless of context. Others, are a matter of regulation. God expects you to eat and drink, but not to be a glutton; to have sex, but not out of marriage, etc…
And in order for Muslims to learn to control their urges, we, thankfully, have Ramadan. A time of piety when one is expected to control all urges from food and drink to sex and anger. You’re supposed to develop self-discipline and patience. What does this have to do with sex? If you cant stop yourself from thinking sexual thoughts, it’s YOUR FAULT. No one else can take the blame for you. Seeing flesh is not what breaks your fast, it’s the unbridled lust that does.
Now, whether or not you think that women should be veiled is completely and utterly besides the point. Why? I’m not even going to bother with the argument about foreign or christian women, who aren’t bound by Islamic tradition. It’s a moot point when you consider this: Let’s say you’re standing around and Morkos (your coptic friend) is eating a sandwich or Sara (yes, she’s veiled. don’t worry) is smoking today because shhh-you-know-what. It’s so ingrained in our understanding of Ramadan that even a third grader can tell you that you will be further rewarded for your perseverance. So the next time you see a half-naked (and by that i mean that her forearms, face and hair are showing), stop thinking about jumping her. Think about god, lower your gaze and keep on moving. If you don’t stare at her long enough to cuss her out, you could just stand a chance of keeping those thoughts out of your mind.
In short, there is absolutely no excuse for sexual harassment. It is a disease. It reflects a lack of tolerance and acceptance. It is in part a symptom of decades-long entrenchment of power imbalance, the systemic institutionalization of a lack of personal dignity, and arguably culturally relative inconsistencies in the valuing of individually and community rights.
But most importantly it reflects a lack of personal responsibility. It entails the underlying fatalistic assumption that man cannot take ownership of his actions and destiny. While this may have been understandable before, there is no longer any excuse. If we want to build a new Egypt then we have to each take responsibility for ourselves and our actions. We have to also take on the responsibility of fighting the good fight in our daily lives and not just in Tahrir. People talk about partisan demands (mataleb fe2aweyya), but what they dont understand is that while we may have ridden Egypt of Mubarak, his legacy still stands in every institution and aspect of our society and we must all work within out circles of influence to rout out the pervasive corruption of our society. This is a fight on all fronts simultaneously. And what more important and worthy front than one that includes half of our society and that can be fought at every level, whether personal or societal?
Stop treating women like second-class citizens in their own land. Give them the dignity we have fought so long and hard to achieve for everyone. Take responsibility. Stand up to Sexual Harassment when you see it.
End Sexual Harassment.