Since 2012, a Muslim mother in France, Henda Ayari, kept secret the identity of a controversial Muslim academic who allegedly seduced and then sexually assaulted her in a Holiday Inn hotel room in Paris, during an Islamic conference. She wrote about him in a memoir, J’ai choisi d’être libre (“I chose to be free”), chronicling the assault, in her escape from the extremist brand of Islam known as Salafism, and assigned her attacker the moniker, “Zoubeyr,” or “strong” in Arabic. Ayari also spoke exclusively to Women in the World in August but declined to identify the name of her attacker.
This week, however, with the #MeToo hashtag ricocheting around the globe, as women worldwide shared their experiences of sexual harassment and assault, Ayari found new courage. She penned a Facebook post on Friday to friends with the hashtag, #balancetonporc, or “squeal on your pig.”
“#balancetonporc,” she wrote, “It is a very difficult decision but I too have decided it is time to denounce my attacker. It is Tariq Ramadan.” Ramadan is the grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement of political Islam that, as illustrated by its name, separates, secludes, shrouds, and makes invisible women in a perverted notion that to do so “honors” and “protects” women. And Ramadan with strong financial support from the ultra-fundamentalist Qatari regime, is professor of Islamic Studies at Oxford University, despite scandals surrounding him, including his acceptance of female genital mutilation and the stoning of women.
The global Muslim community now has its Rose McGowan, the fierce American actress who has alleged rape against fallen Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. And now, if the allegations are true, the conservative Muslim world has its Harvey Weinstein — because Ayari’s alleged attacker is one of the most charismatic and powerful preachers of orthodox Islam.
Not only that, Ayari, who claims Ramadan threatened her and her children if she ever spoke about his treatment of her, filed an official complaint of rape, sexual assault, harassment and intimidation with a French prosecutor.
Ramadan did not return numerous attempts by Women in the World to reach him for comment.
In her Facebook post, Ayari notes, “I will go all the way with this fight whatever it costs me.”
She recounts how she corresponded regularly with this “preacher theologian,” seeking “ethical and religious guidance” — until the day when he allegedly assaulted her. “It is very hard but I feel relieved,” she wrote. “I felt the need to speak also for all the other victims. I really hope that other women victims, like me, will dare to speak and denounce this perverse guru who uses religion to manipulate women!”
The new allegations expose the wholly-misguided — but widely-held — notion in conservative and extremist Muslim circles (not to mention other religious circles) that segregating, shrouding and silencing women and girls will somehow protect our “honor,” prevent us from being “temptations” to men and safeguard us from sexual assault and harassment by men.
In an interview this year with Women in the World correspondent Emma-Kate Symons, Ayari, now an anti-extremism activist, encouraged Muslim women to fight the misogyny in ideologies such as Salafi Islam. “Fight with determination and without compromise against an ideology that is like a gangrene eating away at our most fundamental values, and that reduces women at best to the level of sub-citizen, and at worst to an object, who educates her children in violence and hate of others — which is the real fertile ground that breeds terrorism,” she said.
Ayari’s allegations include the same dynamics of abuse of power that we see in the horror of Harvey Weinstein. A young mother at the time of her meeting with Ramadan, she was vulnerable, struggling with depression following her escape from extremist Salafi circles and a husband, ensconced in Salafi teachings, whom she says beat her.
In her book about “Zoubeyr,” Ayari wrote that one day she posted a photo on Facebook of herself in a black leather jacket, wearing makeup and enjoying her hair, uncovered, blowing in the wind. “Zoubeyr” wrote to her, she said, noting, “Posting such a photo is not good.” She was annoyed by the comment and replied, she said, and started to Skype with “Zoubeyr.”
At one point, in a scene eerily similar to the modus operandi of disgraced Hollywood producer Weinstein, she says, he suggested she meet him at his hotel.
“He gave me his hotel room number and told me to come in a taxi and be as discreet as possible. I was surprised but I had total confidence in him.”
“I was standing, a little stiff, very intimidated,” she wrote. “Suddenly, he turned to me, hugged me, and kissed me passionately. I had initially stiffened in surprise, but I let myself very quickly…I was upset, this man had made me come, he was kissing me, it meant that, for him, also this moment was important. His warm voice whispered in my ear. I had the feeling of living a dream. ”
Then, she wrote, “Alas, the dream turned into a nightmare.”
“This man, Zoubeyr, transformed before my very eyes into a vile, vulgar, aggressive being – physically and verbally,” she wrote. “For modesty, I will not give the precise details here of the acts he made me submit to. But it is enough that he took great advantage of my weakness and the admiration I felt for him. ”
“He allowed himself gestures, attitudes and words that I could never have imagined.”
“And when I resisted,” she writes, “when I cried to him to stop, he insulted and humiliated me. He slapped me and attacked me. I saw in his crazy eyes that he was no longer master of himself. I was afraid he would kill me. I was completely lost. I started crying uncontrollably. He mocked me.”
In a similar pattern to the fog of confusion and numbness that Weinstein cast over the targets of his abuse, Ayari writes, “I loved and hated this man.”
She notes, “I felt like a drug addict.”
“I should have gone to complain,” she recognizes. “The kind and caring man that I idealized had abused my naivety and hurt me, physically and morally.”
“I was completely under the thumb of this intelligent, seductive and manipulative being,” she writes. “This toxic relationship stopped after a few months. Yet, he continues to give lessons in Islamic morality, to pose as an enlightened philosopher, calm defender of a modern Islam.”
She recounts the controlling relationship that grew, messages and meetings that he suggested two times a month.
Ayari also writes that, in another parallel to Weinstein, her attacker had “an impressive number of mistresses.”
She notes, “Some of them also have reproached him for behaving in a bestial and degrading way,” adding, “It isn’t so great for an ethicist of Islam.”
She returned home, she writes, “sick with shame.”
But, today, eschewing the shame, Ayari stands strong, inspired the world over by women who are also refusing shame. In a follow-up post, she updated her friends on Facebook that she had filed a legal complaint in the city of Rouen, France. “A complaint was filed today at the rouen public prosecutor’s office, justice will now do its job …”
A friend responded in French with a word that translates easily into many languages, “Bravo!!!”
Asra Q. Nomani is a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal and a cofounder of the Muslim Reform Movement. She is working on a new book project, “Make Islam Great Again,” to be published in 2018 by St. Martin’s Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @asranomani.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is independent of and separate from any views of The New York Times.