Canada
Women need 'dress code' to prevent sex assaults: Islamic street preacher

Islamic street preacher Al-Hasshim Kamena Atangana at the intersection of Yonge and Dundas. He says North American women should be made to "cover up" as a way of avoiding sexual assault.

Credits: Terry Davidson/QMI AGENCY

TERRY DAVIDSON | QMI AGENCY

TORONTO -- Canadian laws should be changed to require women to "cover themselves" to prevent sexual assaults, an Islamic street preacher in Toronto says.

Al-Haashim Kamena Atangana, 33, an Islamic convert, called for legal change in response to recent sex attacks at York University.

Atangana is connected with a group called Muslim Support Network and is one of a number of street-corner clerics commonly seen at Yonge and Dundas Sts. in the heart of the city.

In an e-mail to the QMI Agency, Atangana said "the reason ... these sex attacks are continuously happening is because (of) Canadian laws, which give too much freedom to women" when it comes to how they dress.

"You should take your example from the way Muslim women dress," he wrote. "Why does (sic) Muslim women who wear long dress and covers her head aren't targeted for sex attacks?"

The clash between Western culture and values and the beliefs of some Muslim adherents has been a source of controversy and conflict across North America.

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Atangana, who plans to distribute his views on paper in the coming weeks, went on to state that "the reason ... a woman gets raped is because of the way she (dresses)," and suggests that "Toronto (become) the first city in North America to introduce laws that would make it illegal for women to dress provocatively."

If Toronto did this, Atangana said in an interview, other Canadian cities would follow suit.

"If (women) want to prevent being sexually assaulted, they should cover themselves," Atangana said, adding that while he doesn't expect Western women to dress as Muslim women do, they should have a "dress code" and take note of the burka, the head scarf and face veil some Muslim females wear.

Atangana said he began planning to distribute his views after a recent spate of sex assaults at a York University campus in north Toronto, and praised Const. Michael Sanguinetti, a Toronto police officer who ended up in hot water after telling students at a York University safety forum in January that women should avoid dressing like "sluts" if they didn't want to be victimized.

The website Atangana provided for his group, muslimsupport.net, is sparsely populated but contains links to other sites that offer advice on conversion to Islam and Islamic dress, including such advice as this:

"Men must cover their body from the navel to the knees. But when praying he must also cover his shoulder."

"Women must cover their whole body except the face, hands and feet while inside. But they are also required to cover their whole body including a part of the face while going out, according to the majority of the Madhabs (school of taught)."

Moderate Muslim writer Tarek Fatah said Atangana's view is a stark example of radical Islamist misogyny.

It is an example, Fatah said, of passages taken from the Qur'an, Islam's holy book, and exaggerated to fit an antiquated, patriarchal ideology such as that of the Muslim Brotherhood.

"This is not about what women wear," Fatah said. "This is about ... some Muslim men believing that any woman whose head is uncovered is fair game because she is lustful ... and doesn't belong to the pious (Islamic) sisterhood."

Fatah said it is "hogwash" to think a woman wearing traditional Islamic dress will not be sexually assaulted and points to an ongoing problem of sexual harassment in Egypt, where Muslim faith dominates.

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According to a 2008 report from the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights, 83% of Egyptian women had experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault at some point. And around 70% wore veils of some kind, particularly head scarves.

"These results disprove the belief that sexual harassment is linked to the way women dress," the report states. "This confirms that the stereotypical ideas of a patriarchal culture that blames women even if they are victims, is opposite to reality."

But Alia Hogben of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women sees things differently: Atangana's opinions are not as much to do with Islam as much as they reflect a general patriarchal desire among some men to control women.

"There is absolutely no connection between how women dress and being sexually assaulted," Hogben said, adding that other religions from Judaism to Christianity have traditional dress codes of their own.

She did agree, however, that "good, pious" Muslim women are sexually harassed, despite wearing modest and traditional clothing.

"If (Atangana) thinks good, pious Muslim women are not sexually assaulted, he's wrong. If he thinks this is not happening in India or Egypt ... it is not true."

As for Atangana, who converted to Islam in 1998 after finding the Trinity of Christianity the belief in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit too "confusing," he remains steadfast in his views.

"Women here should have a dress code," he says. "That would prevent sexual assault."

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