Millions of Muslims have embarked on a spiritual journey this week and traveled to the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj. The annual pilgrimage, a mandatory religious duty for all Muslims who are physically and financially capable, distances pilgrims from worldly desires and engulfs them in a world of purity and spirituality - well, apparently, that's not always the case.
Some men seem to forget the essence of Hajj and take their vile habits all the way to the holiest city in Islam, going as low as sexually harassing women while conducting religious rituals.
Plenty of women have spoken up about falling victim to sexual harassment during pilgrimage to Mecca, detailing their encounters as part of an online movement that went viral last year.
In February 2018, a Pakistani woman named Sabica Khan inspired a viral online movement after sharing her experience with sexual harassment in Mecca. Countless women came forward and recounted incidents of being harassed verbally and touched inappropriately by male pilgrims, noting that such encounters had overshadowed their entire experience in the holy city.
The movement was met with mixed reactions, with many online users shaming women for speaking up, discrediting them, and accusing them of casting Islam in a negative light.
Soon after, in May of that year, the kingdom passed a new anti-harassment law that criminalizes sexual harassment and punishes all violators. It remains unclear what measures - if any - have been taken to particularly combat sexual misconduct in Mecca.
With Muslims currently performing Hajj, it is crucial to bring the issue back to the limelight, remind the world that women cannot feel safe in the most sacred of places, and ask men to please, for the love of all things holy, refrain from sexually harassing women in Mecca (and in any other place, for that matter).
This should go without saying, but here goes
The topic of sexual harassment in Hajj brings to mind, among many other somber thoughts, the photo of an older woman holding a sign that reads: "I can't believe I still have to protest this f*cking sh*t."
I can't believe we have to beg men not to assault women, that we should explain why harassment in Mecca is inappropriate - not to mention haram - on so many levels, that women continue to be silenced and their struggles undermined. I can't believe society continues to blame victims of sexual misconduct, burden them with the responsibility of avoiding it, and neglect to hold men accountable for their violations.
I can't believe government entities still make light of women's struggles and fail to adequately protect them. And I can't, for the life of me, believe Muslim men still exploit religion to oppress women and exercise their sexist views.
It seems like common decency is a foreign concept for some men, which is why I am compelled to spell out the message in the clearest of terms.
Dear men, stop harassing women altogether. But, let's start with baby steps: Please hold back your repulsive actions in Hajj. Respect the holiness of the site and acknowledge that female worshipers are in a pious state that need not be disrupted by the fear of being violated.
Spare us the hypocrisy of calling yourselves "Hajj" when you've proven yourself unworthy of that title and tarnished the sacred site with your ongoing sins. Stop abusing religion to further your corrupt, misogynist tendencies.
Focus on your own spiritual journeys and seek a fresh start. Otherwise, if you're not willing to fulfill the true purpose of pilgrimage, simply opt out of it and find some other place to plague with your presence.