When the whole world was cheering the new year with optimism and joy, a hundred Muslim women in India woke up on the first day of the new year with a sense of shock, numbness, and revulsion. Bulli Bai, the app that was developed on Github platforms that auctions off photos acquired from Indian Muslim women’s social media accounts, had advertised the women under their own names for auction with photos. Members of the app were prompted to place bids on individual women. It’s not just the Indian government’s anti-Muslim rhetoric that’s making headlines; it’s also the nation’s anti-Muslim hatred.
Sadly, this is not the first time we Indian Muslim women have been assaulted, tragically harmed, or humiliated. Six months ago, a similar thing happened, and the same app was developed under the name Sulli Deals by the Right-wingers (Sulli is the derogatory term used for Muslims). The women who were targeted were assertive, vocal Muslim women that included journalists, pilots, and students, battling at the forefront for the rights of their community and refusing to bow down in the face of the Hindutva regime.
Seeing our own names, we attempted to contact one another and began to express solidarity. While it may have appeared to be a simple app with a photo to several, it was a week of sleepless nights and simmering wrath on the inside for all of us, who were affected by it. It was a dreadful nightmare that left us outraged with little prospect of achieving justice. I, personally, had never experienced such a thing before. It had been a horrendous experience. Even the fourth pillar of democracy has failed us; few international media outlets did cover this heinous crime, but there had been no outrage in the mainstream media, which had turned a blind eye to the target of Muslim women. As a result, the criminals were able to repeat the crime again.
Right-wingers attempted to degrade and stifle the voices of Indian Muslim women by portraying them as burqa-clad oppressed women and when women tried to affirm their identity in mainstream society they auctioned and slut-shamed them. All of the Muslim women who were listed on that obnoxious app made the decision to fight back, fully cognizant of the gravity of the issue, and much aware of the difficult circumstances they were in and that this would not be easy. Despite the fact that there was little prospect for justice to be served, they rolled up their sleeves and made certain that Indian Muslim women did not appear as victims, but as fighters.
In this case, fighting for one’s self-respect and civic rights has never been a simple effort to undertake. We were already engaged in conflict with the Hindutva mob. Soon after, a number of scuffles erupted, one of which involved the liberal women (so-called supporters) who attempted to centralize themselves and end up making everything about them, distorting the suffering and trauma of Indian Muslim women. The patronizing and balancing attitudes of allies only serve to aggravate the plight of Indian Muslims. Even though hate was at our door for too long, these liberals always mocked Muslim voices, particularly Muslim women voices. Many of our supporters even labeled us “scaremongers” and accused us of playing victim-card every time.
There was a rapid barrage of attacks against Indian Muslim women from all sides, including our own Muslim community. It appears as if people were attempting to take them down and turn them off. We were left with battles from all directions.
Women in Muslim communities face the third and most challenging battle: defending themselves in the face of their own community. Although, the male of the Muslim community are among the prime target of the Hindutva regime misunderstanding of Islam and a patriarchal environment lead men to believe blaming women is acceptable. In order to prevent harassment-related circumstances, Islam recommends the adoption of preventative measures, such as prescribing modesty and vigilance for both men and women. In contrast, Islam does not accept the victim’s lack of caution as a reason for any type of harassment or criminal activity against him or her. The unfortunate outcome has been that victim-blaming has become the norm in many Muslim societies, and some people have even attempted to excuse their defense of the perpetrators by claiming the name of Islam, which is incorrect.
Victim blaming has the effect of diminishing the accountability of the perpetrator while making the victim feel responsible for the crime. It can have a negative impact on the victim’s self-esteem and reputation. However, even though almost every woman listed on that ridiculous App was wearing a headscarf or having a passport-sized photograph of herself dressed modestly as a Muslim, combatting the Islamophobic narrative on social media, certain people from our community began victim-blaming, harassing, and criticizing Muslim women, causing us to lose our mind calm.
Let us examine the Islamic perspective on victim-blaming in light of scriptural evidence. The occurrences analyzed below occurred during the Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime and clearly show Islam’s uncompromising position against victim-blaming.
A woman in Madinah used to do business by selling dates. while her husband was away from the town, One day, she went about her business, a man lured her into his home under the guise of offering her better dates. However, once she got inside, the man kissed her forcibly. He eventually came to regret his actions and sought forgiveness from the Prophet. “Is this how you take care of a woman whose husband is away striving in the service of Allah?” the Prophet scolded him fiercely. The Prophet humiliated the man to the point where he believed he was “destined for Hell” at the time. (According to Tirmidhi)
What is noteworthy here is not just the Prophet’s empathy and compassion for the harassed woman, but also the fact that he did not blame her in the least. A typical reaction would have been to inquire about the woman’s intentions. “What was she doing inside an unknown man’s house?” Why did she bother knocking on the doors of strangers in the first place? “Wouldn’t it be better if the woman hired a man to sell it for her?” The Prophet, on the other hand, didn’t ask any of those questions. Instead, he placed the fault fully on the male, who should have acted decently and with respect toward the woman.
Islam, as evidenced by such occurrences, accords dignity to victims of harassing behavior, slandering behavior, or other similar offenses while providing them with support, rather than holding them liable in any way for the conduct committed.
Thus, Islam neither supports victim-blaming nor tolerates it.
It is challenging for Indian Muslim women to assert their identities in the mainstream of society because of their religious and cultural backgrounds. We, Indian Muslim women, are striving to seize control of the narrative by demonstrating that we are here and existing, that we can speak for ourselves, and that we do not require rescue or intervention. It’s a common misconception that Muslim women are meek and confined to the kitchen, but this is not the case if you look at the Islamic history of the great women of Islam.
They were forward and shy. They were assertive and confident, Dynamic and calm, Loud and quiet. They were warriors who accompanied the prophet on the battlefield. They were single, married, divorced, re-married, and widowed. They were mothers with husbands, single mothers, or not mothers at all. They worked and they didn’t. They were each unique, but they were present, they existed. They weren’t a monolith. Islam did not come to mute our womanhood. It is intended to assist us in utilizing the unique traits Allah has bestowed upon us and honing them to what is pleasing to Him in order to favorably impact society. Men and women are allies in the effort to make the world a better place.
Note to the Indian Muslim community: Irrespective of our internal issues, we must grip each other’s hands firmly no matter what the cost and resist the Hindutva regime as a united front.
Shaikh Tabinda is an MBA student and aspiring entrepreneur.