This is the Season 2 premiere of “Who’s Afraid of Aymann Ismail?,” a video series featuring Slate’s Aymann Ismail investigating fears about Islam in America. Watch the entire first season on Facebook.
In 1983, Mona Eltahawy, then 15, went on hajj, the obligatory Muslim holy pilgrimage. As she approached the Kaaba, at the center of the sacred site, she felt a man grope her from behind. Unsure what to do, she broke down in tears and continued the pilgrimage—only to be groped a second time by a policeman.
Eltahawy, now a renowned Muslim feminist writer and activist, kept this story to herself for years. But in 2013, she broke taboo and discussed it live on Egyptian television. In February, she used the hashtag #MosqueMeToo to invite other Muslims to break their silence about abuse in Islamic religious spaces. Hundreds did.
I was stunned scrolling through all the anecdotes. It was evidence of a long-standing epidemic of men violating women in sacred spaces. But soon, the hashtag was met with harsh, and frankly disgusting, responses. Anti-Muslim bigots used it as an opportunity to validate their stereotypes. And many Muslims, fearing the backlash, condemned the women for providing more ammunition to demonize Muslim men and Islam. Neither side seemed to care about the women themselves.
But #MosqueMeToo, like its sister movements, is designed to start a conversation that can no longer be ignored. In the episode above, I began that conversation at home with my wife, Mira, who shared her own experiences and qualms about the choice Muslim women face when they’re harassed or assaulted. Then I visited Eltahawy in her New York City apartment, where she made it clear what needs to happen next—that it’s Muslim men like me, not women, who now need to act.
This series is written and produced by Aymann Ismail and Jeffrey Bloomer, and edited by Aymann Ismail.