Iran’s Hijab Protest Can Become The Harbinger Of A New Dawn for Muslim Women In General And Iranian Women In Particular

Iran’s Hijab Protest Can Become The Harbinger Of A New Dawn for Muslim Women In General And Iranian Women In Particular

On September 16, 2022, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman named Mahsa Amini died at a hospital in Teheran. She was a commoner and a law-abiding citizen of Iran going about her daily business, who payed with her own life for not paying enough attention to her dress.

Hijab Protest

On September 13, 2022, Mahsa Amini was arrested by Iran’s morality police, which is a force that is tasked with enforcing the dress code on the people of Iran, particularly women.

This morality police detained Amini for not properly covering her hair with her headscarf as is the custom in the Islamic republic. She was taken into custody and three days later she was declared dead in a hospital. How and why did she die in police custody?

The Iranian officials claim that she suffered a heart stroke and passed away. Her family claims her death was due to torture.

They allege that Amini was beaten up in custody because of which she went into a coma and eventually died. It is not possible to ascertain with certainty as to what was the exact cause of her death given the strict and stringent state secrecy apparatus in place.

But one thing is for sure. Amini’s death has enraged the average Iranian, be it man or woman, to such an extent that the entire nation has been engulfed by protest against the draconian morality police and the sharia laws that are in force in Iran. Her death has become a rallying point for thousands of Iranian women who are totally disgusted with the clerics telling them what to wear.

They have hit the streets with gusto. They are chopping their hair and burning their headscarves in defiance of the strict rules of attire to express solidarity with Mahsa Amini. There is palpable outrage against the personnel of morality police who are tasked with enforcing the dress code.

The first protest took place on September 17, 2022 in the city of Saqez where Amini was buried. From here, the protest spread like wildfire to Isfahan, Chabahar, Sanandaj, Rasht, Siraj, Tabriz and Teheran.

The protests have now spilled over to other cities as well and almost 40 cities have witnessed aggressive protests involving tens of thousands of women and men against the clergy.

Protests are now taking place almost everyday with women setting their hijabs on fire after which the Iranian police beats them up with batons.

The protests seem to have brought about a tectonic shift in the way women respond to such brutality and have spread like wildfire engulfing the whole country.

This has shook the establishment out of its indolence and insensitivity so much so that the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had to make a statement that the protests were a zionist and American conspiracy to destabilize Iran and are being funded and fuelled by them.

The intensity of the protests has forced the Iranian President to order a probe into the death of Amini. 

The protests are not restricted to the elite and intellectual class of the Iranian society. It has seeped deep down into the lower echelons of the Iranian society and has become a grass-root level movement.

People from varied background, class, caste and ethnicity are protesting together with a firm determination to suffer the dire consequences that may befall on them. The protests have gone global with lawmakers from European countries like Sweden also standing up in solidarity with Mahsa Amini.

Iranian expatriates in cities like Istanbul, Athens, Madrid, Berlin, Paris, Brussels, London and New York have been protesting. A Molotov cocktail was hurled at the Iranian embassy in Athens. A violent street demonstration was held in front of the Iranian embassy in London.

A similar protest was held outside the Iranian embassy in Paris forcing the police to resort to anti-riot tactics. Women were seen having haircuts in front of the embassy.

Protests outside Iran have been inconsequential in the sense that the protesters were not harmed in any way, but the protesters inside Iran had to bear the brunt of the security forces leading to the death of nearly 90 activists.

More than 1200 journalists, academics and activists have been arrested who were suspected of stoking the anti-clergy movement.

The crackdown has been severe as this is by far the most serious challenge the Iranian leadership has faced in years.

The public dissent and outrage is unprecedented. The protesters are braving batons and teargas risking their lives but are unwilling to kowtow to the dictates of the clergy.

The protests are centered around the hijab, but they are also an outburst against a generation of gender-based discrimination based on rigid religious rules.

Ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that led to the ouster of the Shah of Iran and the establishment of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the Supreme Leader, clerics have policed women’s lives and their bodies, from what they do to what they wear and how they behave.

The state enforces these laws through the Gasht-e-Ershad, the Iran’s morality police, which is tasked with ensuring that Islamic morals are being followed. They do so at any cost, many a times employing heavy-handed tactics like fines, imprisonment as well as physical abuse as punishment for non-compliance.

The targets of the morality police are mostly women as Iranian men get away with wearing whatever they want to.

Islamic scholars say the purpose of hijab, as defined in the Holy Quran, is that all Muslims should behave modestly, dress decently, cover their private parts and avoid sexual exploration irrespective of their gender.

However, in practice, these rules are applied only on women as most Muslim men believe that they are meant only for the feminine of gender. This misinterpretation stems largely from patriarchy and misogyny. Iran is a classic example of this mindset.

All the rules and laws around women’s clothing are dictated by individuals who invariably happen to be male. Obscurantist Islamic scholars, orthodox clerics, patriarchal priests as well as politicians are the ones who dictate what women can wear or cannot invariably happen to be men.

They cherry pick Islamic verses to suit their narrative. The enormous mass public demonstration stem from such discrimination that takes place day in and day out.

The hijab is just one of the several draconian laws for women which they have to follow in toto. There are a host of other laws such as the minimum age for marriage for a women is 13 which previously was a horrifying 9 years.

Iranian women need to seek official permission from the family patriarch for marriage whereas Iranian men do not need any such permission and can marry 4 times.

Women need the intervention of a third party like a cleric to divorce their husbands, but men do not need any such arrangement and they can get a divorce just pronouncing the world three times which is called “triple talaq.”

A similar discrimination takes place when it comes to inheritance of property. A man gets to inherit all the wealth of his wife in the event of her death but a widow gets only one-eighth of the share of her husband’s property.

Similarly, the son gets twice the amount than the daughter when it comes to inheriting the father’s property. There is a whole litany of rules and laws which are heavily skewed in favor of men.

This has triggered a debate across the world drawing parallels between liberties and freedom enjoyed by women in other parts of the world to what the women have to undergo in Iran in the name of religion.

This is in sharp contrast to what happened in India few months back where some Muslim girl students encouraged and supported by Islamic fundamentalist organizations like the PFI demanded that they be allowed to wear hijab in schools as the school rules did not permit them.

This had led to a severe outcry among the minorities as an infringement of their personal laws.

Hijab is an anachronism in the 21st Century. It is a gross manifestation of patriarchal mindset combined with misogyny. It is also a result of theocracy which does not allow any debate or questioning of rules set in the medieval age as they are enforced with state support.

The basic issue here is whether women have the right to decide for themselves what is good for them and what is not. Iranian women have decided that enough is enough, and they are not going to take things lying down anymore. They have taken the matter into their own hands now. The Iranian government should not dismiss these revolts as a storm in a tea cup. This has the potential to completely transform the Iranian society and set a benchmark for the entire Islamic world to follow.

edited and proofread by nikita sharma 

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