Accessibility links

Breaking News

Should Hijab Laws Apply To Tourists? Iranian Clergy Debate

A beach on Kish Island in the Persian Gulf, 2016.

Renowned conservative cleric Mohsen Gharavian has called on the Iranian government July 9 to abolish compulsory hijab regulations for foreign tourists in the country’s free trade zones.

Iran has eight free trade zones and over 60 special economic zones across the country, particularly at the borders with its neighbors. Kish Island and Qeshm Island are the most important free trade zones where, at least in theory, there are less restrictions on tourism, import and export activities.

Gharavian, a prominent teacher at the Qom Seminary, said “Foreign tourists do not have any obligation to behave according to rules of Shariah. They may or may not choose to wear hijab, but there is no religious requirement that would force them to wear the hijab.”

He told reporters in Tehran, “When we go to other countries we still adhere to our own country’s regulations and dress code. Likewise, we should allow foreigners to observe their own dress code when visiting Iran,” adding that he was against imposing Islamic rules on foreign visitors.

Gharavian is a former pupil of ultraconservative Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, who is the spiritual father of hardliners such as former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Foreigners travelling in Iran.
Foreigners travelling in Iran.

But following the disputed 2009 Presidential election that brought Ahmadinejad to power, Gharavian aligned his political line with the pragmatist Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and distanced himself from the hardliners that control most of the political establishments in the Islamic Republic.

Iran is currently the only country in the world where a strict compulsory dress code is imposed on both the locals and foreign visitors.

While Gharavian as a conservative cleric has called on the government to ease compulsory hijab regulations, ironically a reformist cleric, Ahmad Mazani, said in an interview with the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) on Monday that “it would be a strategic mistake to assume that tourism could be promoted by undermining religious behaviour.”

Mazani said, “The minimal hijab foreign women observe in Iran does not hinder the growth of tourism.”

In an open letter widely circulated on the Internet in February, Iranian religious intellectuals wrote that compulsory hijab regulations have not had any positive outcome but have cost the nation a lot and have discredited religion and proven the political inefficiency of the system.

Several Iranian women have been imprisoned in Iran since December 2017 for removing their headscarves in public in protest to the compulsory hijab rule.

Iran has several free trade zones among which the ones in Kish and Qeshm Islands are more popular with tourists.

According to the Iranian laws for free trade zones, entry visa will be issued to foreign visitors on the spot without the need for prior application. Visas are valid for two weeks and may be extended to six months.

However, the Iranian free trade zones have become extremely unpopular destinations for foreign tourists after a US visitor to Kish Island, Robert A. “Bob” Levinson disappeared in 2007, and his whereabouts have remained unknown.