In a Friday sermon delivered at the Al-Shura Mosque, Vienna, on February 5, 2016, Sheikh Tarafa Baghajati related to the New Year's Eve sexual assaults on women and exhorted the congregation not to keep silent about sexual harassment. "No problem in the history of Mankind has ever been resolved by keeping silent about it," he said. Making a plea for self-control and respect for fellow human beings, Baghajati said: "Other women are not merely an object for our pleasure, or our property." In the sermon, which was posted on the Internet, he praised Muslims who had stepped up to protect women in Cologne on New Year's Eve, saying that the media had dubbed them heroes.
Following is a transcript:
Sheikh Tarafa Baghajati: Of course, not all forms of harassment are of the same degree of severity. One form of harassment is ogling, which is staring in a way that constitutes harassment. As I said once, from this pulpit: Muslim father, when you go to meet the mother of your son... Sorry, I meant your son's teacher... When you speak to her, look into her eyes, so that you understand one another, because if you are looking at the wall when you speak to her, you will not understand her and she will not understand you, and she may even interpret this as a sign of disdain toward her.
I said this from this pulpit and at another mosque in Vienna too. After the prayers, a brother approached me and asked: "What about the Quranic verse that tells men to lower their gazes [in modesty]?" I told him that the kind of looking that I was talking about was not the gazes mentioned in the verse. Allah will not hold you accountable for this kind of gaze, if you have your son's interests in mind, or if you are talking to a female doctor, or even if you are a student, talking to a female colleague at university. We do not want to instill fear in our youth, and to make them feel nervous, as if it will be a big deal if they so much as look at a woman.
As I said, we do not want [our youth] to be nervous, but we do want to instill in them self-control and respect for other human beings, male and female. Other women are not merely an object for our pleasure, they are not our property, and they are not slave girls, regardless of how they dress, talk, or act. They are human beings just like us, and [the Quran says]: "We honored the Children of Adam."
It is very dangerous to say: "It is her fault. Who told this woman to leave her house? If she had stayed at home, nobody would have harassed her." Others say: "Who told her to wear trousers? It would have been better if she had worn something else." Then they say: "Who told her to wear only a hijab? It would have been better if she had worn a niqab." Then they say: "Who told her to let her eyes be seen through the niqab? Eyes that are visible through the niqab are attractive and very sexy. She should cover even her eyes. That way, there would be no harassment."
But we will blame her no matter what. But even if she wears a black cloak, people ask: "Why did she walk this way?" If Allah gave her a beautiful body, we ask: "Why was she showing off her beauty? It's her fault." And then there is another tragedy: Because of our education, the poor girl feels that she is to blame. If anything happens to her, she does not tell her father or her brother. She feels ashamed. She thinks that she is responsible for what happened. Not at all!
Why are we angry if anybody approaches our daughter, sister, or mother, yet we consider other people's daughters to be free prey for us? Another issue is that harassment is not reported. The girls' shame makes them keep silent about it and not say anything. How come? Because even their family is ashamed of them, or as I said before, they say: "It is your fault." This is why our society says: "We do not have this problem." "There are no reports." "Nobody has heard of such things." "This is a European problem," or "This is a problem in other places," or "This is a problem only for girls who do not wear the hijab." Not true at all! Statistics show that [sexual harassment] in Islamic countries has nothing to do with clothing. Everybody harasses everybody when moral values are lacking.
No problem in the history of mankind has ever been resolved by keeping silent about it. Even in cases of harassment or rape within the family, the mother, the son, or whoever is the victim must report it quickly to the relevant people within the family or out of the family.
There is another very important issue. There is another very important issue. The right of children not to be abused is a sacred human right, which should never be violated.
Let's return to the issue of [Muslim] youth in this country, and to the issue of Western youth and Eastern youth. Many young people, when they sexually harass someone, say: "The girl smiled at me." Brothers, there are [different] norms. Guys, not every smile is an invitation for harassment. Not every invitation to someone's home for drinking or dining is an invitation for moral depravity. Not every touch means that you are allowed to do whatever you want to a girl. This is forbidden.
Are we, as Muslims, required to respect everyone, Muslims and non-Muslims? Yes. The girls of this country – a country that respected us, welcomed us, and gave us visas and citizenship – are just like our own girls. We will not allow anyone to harm them. Allah be praised, even in Cologne [New Year's Eve mass sexual assaults], there were some wonderful cases of Arab and Muslim youths who protected the girls. The media spoke about them and called them the "Heroes of New Year's Eve.