High-ranking Shi’ite cleric Nasser Makarem Shirazi has criticized Iranian officials for using the expression “compulsory hijab,” fearing its “negative connotation” would undermine the Islamic nature of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Speaking in Qom during a meeting with Police Chief Hossein Ashtari on March 24, Makarem Shirazi, better known as Makarem, tried to reduce a social and political problem to a debate about vocabulary by claiming that the Iranian government has not “forced” hijab upon Iranian women. “it is rather a requirement women should comply with,” Makarem insisted.
Referring to Iranian women’s popular peaceful protests against compulsory hijab, Makarem said: “Anti-revolutionary elements want to eliminate hijab in order to undermine Islam and the Islamic regime.”
He advised: “The police should treat women who do not observe the hijab in a friendly and decent manner, but a “militant” campaign against hijab should be dealt with differently.”
Iranian police has violently supressed peaceful demonstrations against compulsory hijab, in some cases while arresting protesters. Meanwhile, reports say some of the women arrested for taking off their hijab have ben beaten in jail.
Makarem stressed “There is no difference in the opinion of various clerics regarding hijab,” but clerics and other theologians speaking to media in Iran and abroad do not agree on dress code for women, and many believe that it is up to women to decide on what to wear.
Others, such as Shi’ite cleric Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari had said in the past that rules about hijab can change as times change. Iranian judiciary later disrobed and jailed Eshkevari.
Iraq-based Shi’ite clerics Ayatollah Mohammad Es’haq Fayyaz declared during a meeting with Iran’s Judiciary Chief Sadeq Larijani in 2016 “Forcing women to wear hijab will not make the dress code popular.”
Political figures such as reformist Mostafa Tajzadeh have voiced their opposition to compulsory hijab.
Alireza Beheshti, the son of Islamic Republic’s first Chief Justice Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, has said that his father was against compulsory hijab, and that women were allowed to enter his office without hijab.
In one of the strongest comments against compulsory hijab, Ayatollah Mohamad Ali Ayazi, a prominent theologian in Qom, quoted renowned Shi’ite scholars such as Ayatollahs Morteza Motahari, Mohammad Beheshti and Mahmoud Taleghani as saying that “forcing women to wear hijab is not a religious practice and is against the Islamic cannon, the Shariah.”
Makarem, however, insisted during his meeting with the police chief that “Hijab is an Islamic law that should not be broken.”
On social media, Makarem has been the subject of numerous anecdotes for “banning anything that feels good, including scratching an itching foot.”
Lawyers such as Mehrangiz Kar have contended on Twitter that laws cannot be against the society’s norms and customs.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and some of his hardline aides such as Ahmad Jannati have opposed demonstrations against compulsory hijab and attacked “insiders who have criticized compulsory hijab,” alluding to earlier remarks by President Hassan Rouhani.
Peaceful demonstrations against compulsory Hijab took a new momentum in late December 2017 while massive protests against social and economic injustice and political mismanagement were going on in about 100 Iranian cities.
At least 35 women who took off their headscarf in public have been arrested so far and some later freed on bail. Two of those women have been sentenced to 24 and 23 months in jail, although the sentence of one of them has been commuted to three months.