“I just thought at that moment to free myself, free my words, and that did me some good, it relieved me a bit,” she said. “But, the name, I did not think it would cause such a noise.”
The man she accused of raping her in a Paris hotel room in the spring of 2012, and who she says threatened her into silence, was Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss-born Muslim scholar who teaches contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University and who is a familiar face on television news programs speaking about Islam and the Western world.
The same day Ms. Ayari exposed him on Facebook, she filed a complaint about the assault with the police in her hometown, Rouen, France. She has accused Mr. Ramadan of rape, sexual assault, willful violence, harassment and intimidation, they said.
Mr. Ramadan said in an announcement on his Facebook page over the weekend that the allegations were unfounded and that they were part of an organized campaign of slander by his enemies. He added that he had ordered his legal counsel to sue Ms. Ayari for defamation. “The law has to take its course,” he wrote. “My attorney is handling the case, we expect a long and bitter fight.”
Ms. Ayari, 40, is a fighter.
After the 2015 Facebook post, she went on to write a book, “I Chose to be Free: A Survivor of Salafism in France,” which exposes the mental and physical subjugation that she and other women suffered inside the Salafi community. She also described the sexual assault by Mr. Ramadan but did not name him.
That stance brought her threats and condemnation, even from her own family. She is not on speaking terms with either of her parents, and her eldest son, now 18, has sided with her Salafi ex-husband against her. She has once again been subjected to torrents of online abuse.
She grew up in a working class family in Rouen, the daughter of an Algerian father and Tunisian mother, both Muslims but not particularly religious. Her parents divorced when she was young and both remarried, leaving Ms. Ayari feeling insecure and unwanted.
She enrolled in college to study psychology and began to explore religion. She started to wear the veil and was quickly welcomed into a circle of conservative Muslims. Within months, they had set her up with a Tunisian Salafi who lived in Lyon. They married when she was 21.
One of the first things her husband, Bachir, did was buy her a jilbab, which covers a women from head to toe, and a niqab, the veil that hides all but the eyes. The niqab was, in his words, the height of religiosity, the female garb that most pleased Allah.
If she wore gloves, she was guaranteed to go to heaven, he told her. “A wife goes to paradise if her husband is pleased with her,” he added.
For the next 10 years, Ms. Ayari lived a life of almost complete seclusion, bearing three children, sometimes spending days without leaving her bedroom and barely talking to anyone outside her husband’s family and immediate circle. Salafis teach that only they follow the true way, drawn from the time of the Prophet Muhammad. They reject association with those outside their sect.
The family survived on government aid, as her husband spent his time with Salafi companions at the mosque. As the children grew up, she urged him to find work but he complained that racism and discrimination in France prevented him from finding a job. She gradually came to regard his Salafi dress and long beard as an excuse not to work.
As their marriage deteriorated, her husband became abusive. When a social services official told her she lived in a prison and advised her to seek psychological help, she realized she had to break out.
“It is a trap, especially for women, because they say you have to take the veil, and marry and not study, and they want you just to be a submissive woman,” she wrote.
She began to question the patriarchal Salafist strictures that command adherents to obey the example of the prophet unquestioningly, and that seemed arranged particularly to suit men. She describes how a Salafi woman is not permitted to live alone, since then she is considered a prostitute. So in the event of a divorce, Salafi women often remarry immediately. The men can take several wives, and can even marry a woman for a single day.
Eventually, Ms. Ayari fled with her children. But restarting her life as a single mother while grappling with a crisis of faith proved to be too big a leap. She suffered a nervous breakdown and lost custody of her children for two years.
The internet and particularly Facebook have been her companions along the way, her main vehicle of healing as she researched her own religion and shared the story of her life. As she started questioning the extreme ideology of Salafism, she began following the teaching of Mr. Ramadan, who became an online instructor and mentor, eventually proposing that they meet in Paris where he was attending a conference.
She said she viewed him as a saint, such was her respect for his religious standing and scholarship, and was shocked and terrified by what she says was his violent assault and his threats to her to remain silent afterward.
Since naming him as her attacker, she says she has been inundated with insults and abuse. “The reaction, the buzz, really frightened me,” she said in the phone interview.
“I am very scared of being recognized when I go out in the street,” she went on. “I am scared that they will hurt my children, that they know where I live. It is very hard.”
Yet, she says the messages she has received from other women, many of them in abusive marriages, struggling with similar dilemmas over abandoning the veil, or who have suffered rape and assault, give her a sense of purpose.
Two years ago she founded a nonprofit association called Liberatrices, which helps Muslim women in the same straits she had been in. She gives talks in schools and at workshops against radical Islam, and helps women seeking legal advice and refuge from abuse.
In July, she wrote an open letter to President Emmanuel Macron of France, urging him to create programs to help women trapped in radical Islamic movements. “There are a lot of women in need,” she said.
Banning the burqa and niqab, as France has, was not the solution, she said. Salafi leaders have used the ban to stoke anger among their followers, and many women have opted to stay home rather than go out without the coverings, and so have become even more isolated.
Instead of being hit with fines, women should be made to attend educational workshops, she said. “You need to resolve the problem with discussion, comprehension, softness and above all not exclusion.”
And countering the Salafist message, she said, is essential.
“I took a long time to open my eyes, to understand that they indoctrinated us,” she said. “It is important to say to all women that they should speak out, that they should not be scared, that they are not inferior beings to men, that they are equal to men, that they should fight to be respected and that you do not have to wear a veil to be a good Muslim.”
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