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How Iran’s Ruling Clerics Distort Facts About Hijab

Dozens of Iranian women have defied hijab since last December, by publicly removing their headscarf and hoisting it above their heads.
Dozens of Iranian women have defied hijab since last December, by publicly removing their headscarf and hoisting it above their heads.

An increasing number of young women have been hoisting their headscarves on sticks in the streets of Tehran and other major Iranian cities all this week in protest to mandatory veil regulations.

Here are five points about the kind of dress code and veil requirement the fundamentalists have imposed not only on Iranian women, but also on foreign female diplomats visiting Iran.

Veiled women, a majority or a minority?

Islamists and religious intellectuals have always portrayed hijab as something most Iranians want. There has been no study or opinion poll to support this.

Portraying hijab as something demanded by the Iranian society is obviously a distortion of reality. Even before the establishment of the Islamic republic there was no proof to suggest that a majority of the society want hijab for women.

Women are not free in the Islamic Republic to wear what they like. Meanwhile, there is no freedom of expression or reliable polling agency to explore the facts about hijab.

Mandatory or legal?

Islamic republic officials portray hijab as a legal matter although no law can violate individuals’ freedom even if they are part of a minority.

Hijab did not become mandatory based on law. It was based on use of force against women and was imposed by Baseej militia and vigilante groups branded as Hezbollah. Hijab became mandatory by use of violence and based on suppression of women and was then given a legal facade, not vice versa.

The first mandatory hijab law was passed in 1983 by the Iranian parliament. An addendum was added to the law in 1996. In fact, the legislation was first introduced after more than four years of suppression of women by beating and threatening them of dismissal from workplace and univerities.

How did women dress before the 1979 revolution

Many women who worked for the Iranian government already used head scarves before the Islamic Republic decided to force it on them. Nevertheless, there were problems.

“In March 1979, it was not easy to talk about a dress code or hijab. A lot of women did not have head scarves at schools and offices immediately after the February 1979 revolution. Women in hijab were a minority”, wrote President Hassan Rouhani in his memoir.

“I was tasked to make hijab compulsory in the offices that were part of the army. First I told the women at the office of the Joint Chief of Staff to come to work with hijab. Some of them objected to the idea, but I stood firm. Then I made the hijab mandatory across the armed forces gradually, although I told them they did not necessarily need the head to toe black cover (chador),” Rouhani continued.

Many women who could not cope with hijab, left their work place for good. Women’s share in the overall workforce shrank from 11.1 percent in 1976 to 6.8 percent in 1986.

Required by Shariah

Many Iranian clerics believe they are enforcing the Shariah while imposing hijab on women. This is also a distortion of reality.

Many Muslim scholars believe that neither in the Koran, nor in Shariah hijab is mandatory for non-Muslims and non-believers. For those who are Muslim and true believers, hijab is not mandatory either. It is a matter between the individual woman and God.

Khamenei's human rights and forced hijab

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in June 2004: “Our position about human rights is not defensive. It is offensive. We should not worry if Americans or Zionists say that human rights are violated in the Islamic republic. Your position about women should not be defensive either. You should have an offensive position. They protest that our women in Iran should wear compulsory hijab. In the West, it is mandatory for women not to cover their hair.”

Khamenei attempts to portray the West as a place where not covering one’s hair is a must for women. This is baseless. Khamenei has distorted reality in three ways:

What Khamenei ignores is that no one in the West has asked why Iranian women wear hijab, not wearing hijab is not mandatory in the West, and most important of all: No Iranian woman has relinquished her right to dress how she likes to Khamenei.

No matter how leaders of the Islamic Republic try to portray their insistence on forcing a dress code, veil and hijab pose one of the most complicated problems for Islamists. They dug a hole for themselves and are trying hard to climb out.

The opinions expressed in the article are not necessarily those of Radio Frada
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    Majid Mohammadi

    Majid Mohammadi is an Iranian sociologist and political analyst residing in the U.S., who contributes opinion and analysis to Radio Farda.