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Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia on Sept. 7, 2016.
Nariman El-Mofty/AP
Girls & Women

Women Break Their Silence Over Sexual Harassment At Islam’s Holiest Site

Women online are posting shocking accounts of being sexually harassed during the Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

Every year, more than 2 million Muslims make the journey to Mecca. Once there, they must circle the Kaaba — a cubic structure that is the holiest site in Islam — seven times in an act called Tawaf.

And every year waves of hundreds of thousands of people circling the Kaaba can be seen. 

But women online are saying that within the throngs of people, pressed body to body, many men have sexually harassed and assaulted women, often passing the contact off as accidental, during what should have been a sacred experience.

Take Action: Tell World Leaders to Redouble Their Efforts By Amending Laws to Prevent Sexual Violence

Since a woman named Sabica Khan shared her story on Facebook last week, several other women have joined her in breaking their silence.

Khan prefaced her post by saying she had been afraid to speak out because she didn’t want to offend anyone’s “religious sentiments.” She went on to share her experience of being persistently harassed.

“It's sad to say that you are not even safe at holy places,” Khan said. “I've been harrased [sic], not once, not twice, but thrice. My entire experience at the holy city is overshadowed by this horrible incident.”

Dozens of women responded to Khan’s post sharing similar experiences.

“I'm a victim of harassment there too, not only me, not only for one Umrah or one Hajj, whenever I go I expect to experience that again because nothing guarantee your safety,” one woman commented. “The ones who do that expect and depend on the fear, the shock and the silence of women especially in crowded places, holy places like these.”

Read more: These Are the Most Dangerous Cities for Women

Several women not only commiserate with Khan, but commended her on breaking the taboo to speak out. 

“I am so, so sorry. Something along the lines of what you experienced happened to me as well,” another woman commented. “You are so courageous to share this, and you are definitely not alone.”

And even more women came forward with their own stories of sexual harassment at the holy site on Twitter.

While sexual harassment in Saudi Arabia is not uncommon, it is rarely reported, according to the Huffington Post.

Until recently, there was no law in the Middle Eastern country that criminalized sexual assault, but King Salman bin Abdulaziz ordered the drafting of a law to address sexual harassment last September, Al Araby reported.

Since allegations of sexual misconduct by producer Harvey Weinstein came to light last fall, women around the world have been saying “me, too” and joining a larger conversation about harassment and violence against women. From France to India, from hotel rooms to holy sites — women are finally breaking their silence on this issue.

Global Citizen campaigns in support of gender equality and against violence against women. You can take action here to help protect women and girls against sexual violence.