Artivism: Muslim Women’s Experiences with Harassment

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The photos and interviews below were part of an artivism project by Dejah K. Greene of the Sanctuaries.

Khadija Ali

Have you ever experienced street harassment on the metro or around the DMV area?

Though I’m not from the metro/DMV area, I have experienced street harassment on my visits there and in other major cities, such as in Benghazi, Libya (where my parents are from and where I spent many summers as a teenager), and in Germany.

What happened, and how did you respond?

When I was visiting my friend in Silver Spring, a lot of the harassment consisted mostly of just annoying things like “smile” or “hey beautiful” and it was just very demeaning. It caught me off guard too because I’ve been living in the south in Nashville for the better part of a decade and you don’t experience as much harassment here. Whenever I’d spend my summers in Libya, I remember being between the ages of 13-16 and being catcalled — still a child! I couldn’t walk down less than a mile to the convenience store to pick up some things without the neighborhood boys commenting on my clothes or hijab.

In Libya and the rest of the Middle East, a lot of the men and boys who catcall would use one specific religious saying called “mashaAllah,” which roughly describes a sort of thankfulness, or joy at something good or happy that God has willed. Keep in mind that this is a term Muslims around the world use on a day to day basis. So I remember as a teenager just being appalled at how this wonderful phrase that reminds us of God would just be defiled and degraded by sick men and boys. And no one cared if I was walking with my dad or my brother or with one of my aunts or my mother, they would just exhibit zero shame. It was difficult because in that culture, responding would mean encouraging them. I learned this the hard way when I decided to flip some of these catcallers off once and they started jeering and following me around for awhile until I decided to ignore them and they left me alone.

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