Can Sharia law help tackle sexual harassment?

[Image: Huff Post]

Journalist Hasnet Lais says aspects of Sharia law can help tackle the rampant problem of sexual harassment in “modern societies”.

In light of the sexual harassment epidemic which has swept the world of showbiz and politics, the national debate on gender interactions should add to its growing voice the bane of the feminist movement: religion.

As an orthodox Muslim male, commenting on this topic is fraught with challenges. Not only do I belong to a demographic which Islamophobes equate with grooming gangs and honour killings, I’m very conscious of how any male judgement on women’s brush with bigotry can quickly devolve into accusations of victim-shaming.

Nonetheless, I feel the Islamic concept of gender segregation which is so often the target of liberal outrage, can inspire a confident realisation in women who have endured the brunt of male chauvinism to re-evaluate their definitions of safe spaces.

Free mixing

It is worth noting that Islam is not the only faith which prohibits free mixing between men and women. The Quran’s command for both sexes to lower their gaze and protect their chastity before marriage is also common to the Judeo-Christian tradition. An example would be the Talmudic injunction Yichud, which occupies an important place in rabbinic literature and is considered a powerful deterrent against unwanted sexual encounters.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule and the purpose of this decree is not, as is erroneously claimed, to eliminate temptation between the sexes. Rather, these boundaries invite transparency and oversight in human relationships, appropriately channelling any form of sexual desire towards the bonds which sustain a family life-marriage.

As condescending as these practices may be to contemporary advocates of women’s rights, religious ethics can minimise the chances of impropriety between the sexes, based on the recognition of human fallibility and the undesirable effects which the darkest corners of our sexual psyche can produce in everyday social interactions.

Yes, the mere suggestion that public decorum could be restored through some degree of gender segregation will affront the social justice horde, according to which the abuse of male power is the chief culprit in the sexual harassment of women. But there are voices which depart from this consensus, embracing a different set of personal values which many leftists see as a social aberration.

Among them, US Vice President Mike Pence who provoked a storm of outrage following the revelation that he never socialises alone with a woman other than his wife, and a likeminded community of conservative Christians upholding the Billy Graham Rule, where frivolous social contact between genders is undesirable.

Recently, Matt Walsh, author of ‘The Unholy Trinity’ was treated to a barrage of insults for defending Pence’s position on the grounds that healthy marriages have boundaries, highlighting the different degrees of sensitivity and perception generated in the aftermath of what has quickly developed into a major flashpoint in our culture wars.

While these opinions are largely criticised for being the guilty admissions of predatory males who view women as temptresses, they recognise that at the root of the problem is our innate disposition. Thus, the command to segregate does not merely function on appearances and reputation but helps both sexes to reckon with the flawed human condition.

Segregated spaces 

This does not imply that every male-female interaction is conducted in a permissive environment or with promiscuous intent.  But in countries like Britain where sexual harassment is more prevalent than in other nations, the debate on our national scandal is desperately seeking a higher calling.

From recommendations that schools introduce lessons on sexual harassment as part of the curriculum to discussions on policing sexist behaviour on social media, the testimonies of women’s daily encounters with casual sexism restores my confidence in how cordial our gender interactions would be if we internalised some good old fashioned puritanism in the public domain, instead of regurgitating tired tropes which dismiss these habits as the paternalistic ethics of depraved men who penalise women for merely existing.

As a practising Muslim who tries to embody this ethic, I believe such a moral imperative which imposes these safeguards is not only more effective in preserving marital intimacy but less susceptible to the kinds of sexual misconduct practiced by politicians in Westminster and those in Harvey Weinstein’s Hollywood. Far from being an unreasonable imposition on our freedom, the designation of segregated spaces is more conducive to fidelity where both sexes are off limits to sexual advances.

There is nothing self-serving about this precautionary principle, for men and women are equally responsible in Islam to guard against immorality and betrayal at all costs. As a result, social interactions guided by this principle are more likely to be protected from indiscretions as opposed to those subscribing to the liberal gender paradigm, which cannot claim the same level of protection against unwanted solicitations stemming from its laissez-fare attitude to gender relationships which aids and abets sexual predation.

Picture by Bhavna Barratt

The male-female interactions deemed a red flag may be broadly formulated and ill defined as many liberals claim. While there is a fine line between segregation and the everyday practicality of protecting personal space, this should not detract from how gender segregation offers many women a catalyst for social change. Nor should it ignore the fact that behind the practice of segregation lives a thriving sexuality reserved for the institution of marriage, which many have misinterpreted given westerners’ unhealthy obsession with Muslim social mores.

The suggestion that our cultural nemesis, Sharia law can help trigger a more nuanced if uncomfortable discussion on the ailment continuing to plague western societies will undoubtedly generate a paranoid defence of western freedoms and manufactured fear of #creepingsharia.

But we no longer have the luxury of scapegoating our convenient bogeyman and insisting a culture of appropriateness can be bred by recourse to liberalism alone. To claim reality is yet to catch up with women’s expectations would be disingenuous. After all, it was liberal values espoused by the likes of Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique which helped midwife our loose sexual culture, chiding against the institutions of marriage and family which were natural buffers against the normalisation of sexual excess and bigotry.

Instead of resorting to whataboutery and counter-accusations of segregation amounting to gender apartheid, it’s time liberals come to terms with their pseudo-progressive cultural dysfunction by allowing non-liberal convictions to moralise on this thorny subject and reshape our personal boundaries if not our public policies.

If advocating for a social system which can potentially help protect the integrity of male-female relationships makes me an accessory to sexism, then so be it.

You can follow Hasnet Lais on Twitter @haznet1

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