A debate about the sexual harassment of women in Sudan took place on Shabab Talk, an Arabic-language TV show on Deutsche Welle TV. Professor Muhammad Uthman Saleh, who is the head of the Sudanese Islamic Scholars' Association and who participated in the debate, said that the statistics that demonstrated that Sudan is a dangerous country for women were from sources "hostile to Sudan." Professor Saleh said that harassment "ensues" when young men are aroused by seeing uncovered women. Wi'am Shawqi, a 28-year-old audience member who spoke during the debate, said that Professor Saleh is to blame for sexual harassment because he gives men "the right to harass [women]." Shawqi also said that clothing has "nothing to do with the sick customs and backwards traditions of society" The interview aired on September 18. Shawqi's comments garnered attention from German and Arabic-language news sources, and Deutsche Welle TV claimed that Shawqi and show host Jaafar Abdul Karim received death threats following the debate.
Following are excerpts:
Show Host Jaafar Abdul Karim: According to a survey by the Thomson Reuters Corporation, Sudan's customs and traditions make it one of the most dangerous places for women. So, there are figures and facts, and we can hear women's testimonies here, yet you say that this is not true. This is your opinion, but I am obligated to present the facts.
Professor Muhamad Uthman Saleh: I am certain that your statistics come from sources that are hostile to Sudan. I have to say it loud and clear. Secondly, regarding freedom…
Jaafar Abdul Karim: Why would Thomson Reuters be hostile to Sudan? It also mentioned India, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Yemen, and Egypt. Is it hostile to all these countries?
Professor Saleh: Who is carrying out these surveys? This is just a question.
Jaafar Abdul Karim: Professor Muhammad Uthman says that these are anti-Sudanese statistics. What is your reaction?
Azza Taj Al-Sirr: I am a Sudanese woman, and I am a part of these statistics. I am certainly not an enemy of Sudan. I am a Sudanese woman and I face these things on a daily basis. This is not merely about statistics. It's our daily reality.
Jaafar Abdul Karim: I am asking why there is harassment to begin with.
Professor Saleh: The harassment is caused by arousing the feelings of these young men. When their feelings are aroused by seeing an uncovered woman – a woman who is not dressed modestly – harassment immediately ensues. This is the reason. This is the reason.
Azza Taj Al-Sirr: Can I comment?
Jaafar Abdul Karim: Go ahead , Azza.
Azza Taj Al-Sirr: I also look at…
Professor Saleh: Harassment is caused by immodest clothing.
Azza Taj Al-Sirr: I also look [at men] but I do not harass them. I look at young men – I also have urges – but I do not harass them.
Jaafar Abdul Karim: She could be harassing them as well.
Azza Taj Al-Sirr: But I do not.
Professor Saleh: I personally met a young man who told me that he was harassed by a woman. What do you think about that?
Azza Taj Al-Sirr: He complained…
Professor Saleh: It was because he was dressed immodestly.
Azza Taj Al-Sirr: You are justifying sexual harassment.
Jaafar Abdul Karim: Come again?
Azza Taj Al-Sirr: You say that sexual harassment is justified.
Professor Saleh: It could be. This is why the shari'a stipulates that both men and women must dress modestly.
Jaafar Abdul Karim: I believe you have something to say. I see that you are furious. Go ahead. Go ahead. Stand here so you can talk to…
Wi'am Shawqi: This country, which tries to…
Jaafar Abdul Karim: What is your name?
Wi'am Shawqi: Wi'am Shawqi.
Jaafar Abdul Karim: How old are you?
Wi'am Shawqi: I'm 28. But 30… 40… It doesn't matter, because even my 65-year-old mother, who wears traditional Sudanese clothes, is sexually harassed in the street. If I walk down the street and I am treated as an object, as a body, not as a human being, and then [Professor Utham] gives him the right to harass me – he is the sick one. It's not about what I wear. What I wear is respectful of my humanity and my freedom of choice. It has nothing to do with the sick customs and backwards traditions of society, which are labeled as shari'a.
Jaafar Abdul Karim: What is wrong with what she is wearing? Let's have a practical example. What's wrong with what she's wearing?
Professor Saleh: Let me tell you the religious principle that applies to Muslim women. A Muslim woman's clothing must not outline her body, and it must not reveal what's underneath. For example, she must not reveal her chest to Tom, Dick, and Harry, who would then be aroused and might start harassing her – like what happened in the case of the woman here. So the religious principle is that clothing must not outline or reveal… If she is not dressed properly and someone harasses her, she has only herself to blame.
Azza Taj Al-Sirr: Excuse me, but you have no idea what happened to me. With all due respect, you have no idea what happened to me. You did not ask me what happened before you passed your judgment.
Professor Saleh: I can see you in front of me…
Azza Taj Al-Sirr: You cannot see anything…
Professor Saleh: I do not need to ask you…
Azza Taj Al-Sirr: What you are saying means that you want to harass me.
Professor Saleh: No, not at all. Shame on you.
Azza Taj Al-Sirr: Shame on me? Shame on you for judging me based on how I look.